People’s behavior during New Testament times was not a lot different than the way people act today. Christian Americans can get a general picture of the Greco-Roman age by watching how non-Christians behave. The “each man for himself” rule affected all areas of life, including religion; America has its greedy televangelist just as New Testament Corinth had its unsavory preachers. The apostle Paul challenges the Corinthians in this area and tries to close the door on false apostles.
In 2 Corinthians 2:17, Paul was confirming that he was a man of integrity, a man of his word, one who would not lead them in a false direction but keep them on the straight path to God. He was contrasting himself to something the people of that day would readily recognize – the professional hawker, the Stoic, cynic, or some other philosophical minded individual out to make a fast buck through his oratory skills.
Street venders were as popular then as they are now in some parts of the world. People had items to sell and street corners and sidewalks were the ideal places to hawk their wares. It’s good marketing strategy to provide a service that is in demand and to go to where the people are requiring that service. The market place, the forum, or especially during the Isthmian games would have been great places to make money through the hawking of their wares.
Paul acknowledged that perhaps he was lacking in the oratory skills department, but that was okay because he wanted nothing to come between the Corinthians and Jesus. He wanted them to believe in Jesus as Savior not because he convinced them with his exalted capacity for delivering God’s word, but for the Word itself. Paul even went so far as to not accept any money from them at all, distancing himself from those who could weave words of enticement for profit.
Perhaps the people of Corinth were deceived because of their natural inclination to believe gifted orators, or perhaps it was because of their relative youth as children of God. We might never know in this lifetime why they chose to follow false apostles, just as we may never know why some American Christians decide to follow self-promoting, greedy, golden-voiced preachers today. Peddling God’s word will always be a lucrative business.