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We see St.Paul writing to the Corinthians in 2 Cor 4:6-9 (NRSVCE):

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed

The jar of clay is evidently a metaphor which stands for the missionary spirit of Paul and his team. Now, solid treasures, say gold, kept in a clay jar remain the same even if the jar breaks, but a liquid treasure, say vintage wine, stored in a clay jar gets lost if the jar is broken. St Paul goes on to say that his spirit is not fragile as a clay jar is (verse 9). So, a doubt arises as to why he used the metaphor of clay jar.

My question therefore is: Is the use of metaphor of a clay jar used by St Paul in 2 Cor 4:6-9, appropriate to context?

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  • The context (and the use of the metaphor) continues into chapter 5 if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved ... The 'doubt' is your own forcing of a metaphor (regarding solid and liquid) when the metaphor clearly relates to the treasure of an enlightened gospel. I don't think your criticism of Paul is at all substantial. You would need more clarity and detail to support your criticism in this passage.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 4 at 8:16
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Jar of clay is evidently a metaphor which stands for the missionary spirit of Paul and his team.

No, not really. Clay jar refers to the physical body.

Genesis 2:7

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

The physical body is from the dust and the spirit is from the breath of God.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

This treasure (saith he) we, even we that are the apostles of the Lord, have in our souls, which are clothed with bodies; and these not made of iron, or stone, or any other matter not capable of impressions of violence, but made of earth, like earthen pots or shells, that easily receive impressions of violence, and are presently broken in pieces.

2 Corinthians 4:7

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

The point is to contrast the heavenly and earthly. God has entrusted his heavenly gospel to the weak earthly humans.

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First the treasure of 1 Cor 4:7 is found in V6, "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

Paul's metaphor, likening us to clay jars is to make the greatest contrast between the value of the treasure, "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" and the vessels that God chose to contain that treasure.

The metaphor may also allude to

  • Gen 2:7, "the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being",
  • Ps 103:14, for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
  • When we die we return to the dust of the ground, Eccl 3:20, 12:7, Job 34:15, Gen 3:19, Ps 104:29, etc.

The metaphor conjures the idea of invaluable gold coins and jewels beings stored in worthless clay jars - an extremely fitting metaphor indeed. benson comments on this as follows:

But we — The apostles, and all other ministers of Christ, yea, and all true believers; have this treasure — Of the gospel, or of the truth and grace of God; in earthen vessels — In frail, feeble, perishing bodies, formed out of the dust of the earth, and, because of sin, returning to it; mean, vile, compassed about with infirmity, and liable to be broken in pieces daily. Even the whole man, the soul as well as body, is but a vessel, in which the treasure is lodged, and upon which it confers a value and dignity, but from which it receives none, but is rather disgraced and injured, by being deposited in such a mean and impure vessel.

Similarly, Barnes notes:

But we have this treasure - The treasure of the gospel; the rich and invaluable truths which they were called to preach to others. The word "treasure" is applied to those truths on account of their inestimable worth. ...

In earthen vessels - This refers to the apostles and ministers of religion, as weak and feeble; as having bodies decaying and dying; as fragile, and liable to various accidents, and as being altogether unworthy to hold a treasure so invaluable; as if valuable diamonds and gold were placed in vessels of earth of coarse composition, easily broken, and liable to decay.

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The Metaphor is appropriate to the context.

In Paul's time's earthen vessels were useful in carrying oil, grains, food, and coins, and other valuables, after use, the vessels were broken or discarded. The scriptures often refer to humans as earthen vessels, that are frail grow old and die.

Acts 9:15 KJV

15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

Isaiah 64:8 KJV

8 But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so what is this treasure?

The "treasure" referred to in Paul’s illustration is the God-given commission, to proclaim the truth, "the word of God"

2 Corinthians 4:1-2, 5 (NASB)

Paul’s Apostolic Ministry

1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, 2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in trickery nor distorting the word of God, but by the open proclamation of the truth commending ourselves to every person’s conscience in the sight of God. . 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants [d]on account of Jesus.

Matthew 13:44 (NASB)

Hidden Treasure

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from [a]joy over it he goes and sells everything that he has, and buys that field.

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The author uses the metaphor of the clay jar to contrast the weakness of the human mind and body against the endurance of the spirit:

  • Vs 16: So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

If we examine the text in verses 8-9, ideas are paired together but describe two different things. The first part of each pairing refers to the afflictions to the “outer" nature. The second part refers to the endurance of the “inner” spirit. For instance, “We are afflicted in every way” refers to the afflictions to their body, while “but not crushed” refers to the strength of their spirit, and so on:

  • Vs 8-9: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

The clay jar is an appropriate metaphor because it refers only to the fragility of the “outer nature.” It does not represent the condition of the “inner nature,” which is always undergoing a process of renewal through Christ.

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