Most Bibles say something like the NIV, which says:
we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity as those sent from God.[emphasis added]
However, this could be a mistranslation, or at least, a misunderstanding. Firstly, note that no Greek manuscripts actually say ‘for profit’ like the NIV does above – no, that’s just a translator insertion.
What about the rest? Well, we defer to the Aramaic manuscripts whenever they say something differently from the Greek (see why) – and interestingly, the Aramaic version doesn’t use a word meaning ‘peddle’ here. Instead, the Aramaic uses a word for ‘mixing’ or ‘diluting,’ and this is probably where the problem started...
Dishonest merchants would water down (dilute) wine by mixing it with water, to boost their profits. So this word came to mean such ‘diluters’ or ‘mixers,’ which implied an ‘unscrupulous merchant,’ or as we say in English: a ‘peddler.’ So while it’s true that some people make money from God’s word, was that really the point? Was Paul emphasizing making money? Or was he emphasizing the watering down of God’s word for a dishonest purpose?
Indeed, if the point was only about money-making, it wouldn’t completely fit the context, because Paul contrasts it by saying, ‘instead we speak the truth.’
Is money-making the opposite of truth-speaking? Perhaps in some contexts. But isn’t the opposite of making money, giving something away for free?
Let’s ask it another way: What is the opposite of speaking truth? Is it making money? No – the opposite of speaking truth is speaking lies.
Indeed, according to the lexicons, the Greek word translated as ‘peddlers’ can also mean to ‘adulterate’ or ‘corrupt.’ So a 1st-century Greek reader may have understood it to mean watering-down after all; perhaps Paul was saying that, unlike dishonest merchants who dilute and adulterate their wine, he doesn’t water-down or adulterate God’s word, but instead says says the whole, unadulterated truth – the real, genuine article!
But of course, the Greek doesn’t say he is ‘speaking the truth,’ it says he speaks ‘with sincerity.’ So what about that?
Well, the Aramaic clearly says ‘truth’ instead of ‘sincerity’ here. Yet there’s more to it...
The word is a very specific version of ‘truth’ – more like ‘reality’ or ‘actuality,’ and doubles as meaning ‘firmness.’ So the Apostle wasn’t just saying he speaks truth, but he speaks reality – he says things that actually exist and are true, and these facts are strong, firm, and sure. This contrasts nicely with people who might water down or dilute God’s message to be weaker – just like wine diluted with water.
And lo and behold, according to the lexicons, the Greek word translated as ‘sincerity’ has an additional definition that (depending on the context) means ‘clearness’ – or as we might say, he speaks with ‘plainness.’
So if this line of thought is correct... Paul was actually saying that he doesn’t dilute God’s words to make them weaker (like a dishonest merchant might do to his wine), but instead he repeats God’s words plainly, and firmly, just as they are.
Also, note that the Aramaic manuscripts speak of the plural ‘God’s words,’ and not the singular ‘God’s word.’
So, while making money off religion is indeed wrong – that perhaps wasn’t Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 2:17. So this translation puts it this way:
Well, we aren’t like the rest who dilute and weaken God’s words [like a dishonest merchant does to wine]. No, instead we speak the plain truth from God in God’s sight (through the Anointed One).
Our Bible uses older manuscripts than most Bibles do. Check us out!