The Roman Triumph, the highest military distinction possible, was the crowning achievement of a Roman General (dux). In order to receive a Triumph, the dux was required to win a war against a foreign nation (civil wars and rebellions did not qualify because they did not bring spoils or slaves to the public treasury), be acclaimed by his legions in the field of battle, and apply to and be approved by the Senate.

Normally a Triumph was granted only to one who had won a decisive victory in the complete subjugation of a province. If approved, the dux was given a magnificent procession in his honor. He entered the city of Rome in a chariot drawn by four horses and crowned with laurel. He was preceded by the Senate and magistrates, musicians, the spoils of his victory, and the captives in fetters. He was followed by his army on foot in marching order. The procession thus advanced along the Via Sacra to the Capitol, where a bull was sacrificed to Jupiter, and the laurel wreath deposited in the lap of the god.

During the triumphal entry the priests burned incense—to the victor the “savor” of his triumph; to the wretched captives the “savor” of a rapidly approaching death in the Roman arena or in the damp vaults of the Tullianum. To better celebrate the triumph, a monument was sometimes erected. This is the origin of the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Constantine, not far from the Coliseum in Rome.

In 2 Corinthians 2:14 it is grammatically impossible to know for certain where Paul is placing himself in God’s Triumph. What is clear is that it is God’s Triumph and not Paul’s (or ours). God always “triumphs” us is a literal rendering into English. (Many scholars assert that the KJV, causeth us to triumph is without linguistic justification.)

Given the overall context of the letter, it is my judgment that Paul considers himself not to be the one celebrating the Triumph but, rather, to be a captive slave in God’s Triumph. If this is a correct understanding then to a secular Roman, Paul’s position in the Triumph as a captured slave would appear to be a place of disgrace, humiliation, and certain death; however, Paul says that it is the love of Christ that “compelled” him (2 Corinthians 5:14) to remain enslaved to a higher calling: human redemption.

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