174. When Paul Experienced No “anesis” (2 Corinthians 2:13)

Paul’s relations with the Christians at Corinth were tempestuous according to his letters. 2 Corinthians seems to be the fourth letter that Paul writes to them over the course of several years. Paul shares his distress (1:5-6, 8-10) that he is experiencing in his ministry, but rejoices at God’s intervention and deliverance. He explains the change in travel plans that prevented him from visiting Corinth earlier (1:15-17, 23; 2:1). Apparently, he left Ephesus and was travelling northward on his way to Macedonia, where churches existed at Philippi, Thessalonika, and Berea. It seems he intends eventually to visit Corinth in order to complete the collection for the Christians in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8).

However, God “opened a door” for him to share the gospel in the city of Troas, a city near the ancient site of Troy and the major port from which a person sailed to Macedonia (just south of modern day Istanbul). Perhaps he had opportunity to lay the foundation for a church in this city. Apparently he was expecting to find his co-worker Titus at Troas. However, Titus did not arrive and Paul confesses that this situation gave him “no peace of mind” ( anesis 2:13; NIV). And so, despite the great opportunity that presented itself for the gospel at Troas, Paul decides to leave for Macedonia. 

When Paul uses this term anesis (2:13), what cognitive or emotional condition does it reference? Paul uses the same verbal phrase in 2 Corinthians 7:5 (“we had no rest” NIV). Similarly at 8:13 he declares that “our desire is not that others might be relieved (anesis) while you are hard pressed (thlipsis)” (NIV). The same contrast occurs in 2 Thessalonians 1:7 where he offers hope to these new Christians by affirming that “God will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief (anesis) to you who are troubled (thlibomenois),…”(NIV). Luke employs this word once (Acts 24:23) where the governor, Felix, orders the centurion guarding Paul “to give him some freedom (anesis)” (NIV). These are the five contexts in the NT where this lexeme occurs — either in Paul’s letters or Acts. It is cognate to the verb aniēmi used to describe “loosening chains” (Acts 16:26) or “unfastening ropes” (Acts 27:40),  once to describe the action of desertion (Hebrews 13:5), and once in Ephesians 6:9 with the sense “to cease from, give up” threats.

The term anesis occurs in classical and Hellenistic Greek writers. The standard Dictionary of Classical Greek (Liddell, Scott, Jones, 135) provides a range of meanings, including “loosening of the strings of a musical instrument, abatement of bad things, remission of taxes, relaxation, indulgence.” Philo and Strabo, first century contemporaries of Paul, use it frequently, sometimes in the verbal phrase “to have rest, relaxation.”  For example, Philo describes the importance of honouring the seventh day by giving “anesin ponōn kai hraistōnēn (“rest and relaxation”) to himself, his neighbours, freeman and slave alike, and his beasts” (Life of Moses 2.21).

It occasionally occurs in the Greek Old Testament, usually where there is no corresponding Hebrew text (e.g., 2 Chronicles 23:15; 1 Esdras 4:62; Wisdom of Solomon 13:13; Sirach 15:20; 26:10). Muraoka, A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint (49) glosses it as “licence to act in a certain way, freedom of action from restriction lifted, freedom from routine employment; insufficient attention and neglect.”

So the sense of the term seems to be some kind of ‘relief from work, oppression; relaxation, ease; indulgence’. Paul’s use of this term in 2 Corinthians 2:13 and 7:5 is undoubtedly related. In 7:5 he attributes his lack of anesis to en panti thlibomenoi, “being pressured or afflicted in every way.” It is his sarx that finds no relief because of external conflicts and internal fears. Paul may be referring to the physical ailment that afflicts him and is exacerbated by these afflictions (2 Corinthians 12:7 skolops tēi sarki “thorn in the flesh”). Some measure of relief occurs with the arrival of Titus (7:6) and the news of some degree of reconciliation with antagonistic elements at Corinth (7:7).

The note in 2 Corinthians 2:13 says that Paul “had no relief en pneumati mou [“for my spirit”]because he did not find Titus at Troas. Pneuma probably refers to Paul’s inner person and psychologically may suggest anxiety created by the disturbance in his relationship with some Corinthian believers. Paul uses a perfect tense form with the main verb, perhaps emphasizing the idea “I continued to be in a state of agitation” that had started some time previous. The good news he received when he arrived in Macedonia and finally met Titus is what he was hoping to hear at Troas.  Titus was the carrier of the “severe letter” that Paul penned. The more detailed description of his situation in 7:5 sheds light on what Paul experienced in the context of 2:13. The intensity of his agitation compels Paul to abandon his church planting project in Troas and sail to Macedonia, presumably to find Titus.

This combination of bodily and psychological relief that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 2:13 and 7:5 may find illustration in Felix’s instructions to the Centurion regarding Paul’s imprisonment (Acts 24:23). Felix tells the Centurion to “allow Paul both to have relief (from custody) and to not forbid visitors.” The normal tight restraints of arrest would be relaxed somewhat in Paul’s case.

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