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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 1



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Verse 1

1.Paul an Apostle As to the reasons why he designates himself an Apostle of Christ, and adds that he has obtained this honor by the will of God, see the foregoing Epistle, where it has been observed that none are to be listened to but those, who have been sent by God, and speak from his mouth, and that, consequently, to secure authority for any one, two things are required — a call, and fidelity on the part of the person who is called, in the execution of his office. (214) Both of these Paul claims for himself. The false apostles, it is true, do the same; but then, by usurping a title that does not belong to them, they gain nothing among the sons of God, who can with the utmost ease convict them of impertinence. Hence the mere name is not enough, if there be not the reality along with it, so that he who gives himself out as an Apostle must also show himself to be such by his work.

To the Church of God We must always keep it in view, his recognising a Church to exist, where there was such a conflux of evils. For the faults of individuals do not prevent a society that has genuine marks of religion (215) from being recognised as a Church. (216) But what does he mean by the expression — with all saints? Were those saints unconnected with the Church? I answer, that this phrase refers to believers, who were dispersed hither and thither, throughout various corners of the province — it being likely, that in that greatly disturbed period, when the enemies of Christ were everywhere venting their rage, many were scattered abroad, who could not conveniently hold sacred assemblies.

Verse 3

3Blessed be God He begins (as has been observed) with this thanksgiving — partly for the purpose of extolling the goodness of God — partly, with the view of animating the Corinthians by his example to the resolute endurance of persecutions; and partly, that he may magnify himself in a strain of pious glorying, in opposition to the malignant slanderings of the false apostles. For such is the depravity of the world, that it treats with derision martyrdoms, (217) which it ought to have held in admiration, and endeavours to find matter of reproach in the splendid trophies of the pious. (218) Blessed be God, says he. On what account? who comforteth us (219) — the relative being used instead of the causal particle. (220) He had endured his tribulations with fortitude and alacrity: this fortitude he ascribes to God, because it was owing to support derived from his consolation that he had not fainted.

He calls him the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and not without good reason, where blessings are treated of; for where Christ is not, there the beneficence of God is not. On the other hand, where Christ intervenes,

by whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
Ephesians 3:15,)

there are all mercies and all consolations of God — nay, more, there is fatherly love, the fountain from which everything else flows.

Verse 4

4.That we may be able to comfort There can be no doubt, that, as he had a little before cleared his afflictions from reproach and unfavorable reports, so now he instructs the Corinthians, that his having come off victorious through heavenly consolation was for their sake and with a view to their advantage, that they may stir themselves up to fellowship in suffering, instead of haughtily despising his conflicts. As, however, the Apostle lived not for himself but for the Church, so he reckoned, that whatever favors God conferred upon him, were not given for his own sake merely, (221) but in order that he might have more in his power for helping others. And, unquestionably, when the Lord confers upon us any favor, he in a manner invites us by his example to be generous to our neighbours. The riches of the Spirit, therefore, are not to be kept by us to ourselves, but every one must communicate to others what he has received. This, it is true, must be considered as being applicable chiefly to ministers of the Word. (222) It is, however, common to all, according to the measure of each. Thus Paul here acknowledges, that he had been sustained by the consolation of God, that he might be able himself to comfort others

Verse 5

5.For as the sufferings of Christ abound This statement may be explained in two ways — actively and passively. If you take it actively, the meaning will be this: “The more I am tried with various afflictions, so much the more resources have I for comforting others.” I am, however, more inclined to take it in a passive sense, as meaning that God multiplied his consolations according to the measure of his tribulations. David also acknowledges that it had been thus with him:

According to the multitude, says he, of my anxieties within me,
thy consolations have delighted my soul. (
Psalms 94:19.)

In Paul’s words, however, there is a fuller statement of doctrine; for the afflictions of the pious he calls the sufferings of Christ, as he says elsewhere,

that he fills up in his body what is wanting in the
sufferings of Christ. (
Colossians 1:24.)

The miseries and vexations, it is true, of the present life are common to good and bad alike, but when they befall the wicked, they are tokens of the curse of God, because they arise from sin, and nothing appears in them except the anger of God and participation with Adam, which cannot but depress the mind. But in the mean time believers are conformed to Christ, and

bear about with them in their body his dying, that the life of Christ may one day be manifested in them. (2 Corinthians 4:10.)

I speak of the afflictions which they endure for the testimony of Christ, (Revelation 1:9,) for although the Lord’s chastisements, with which he chastises their sins, are beneficial to them, they are, nevertheless, not partakers, properly speaking, of Christ’s sufferings, except in those cases in which they suffer on his account, as we find in 1 Peter 4:13. Paul’s meaning then is, that God is always present with him in his tribulations, and that his infirmity is sustained by the consolations of Christ, so as to prevent him from being overwhelmed with calamities.

Verse 6

6.Whether we are afflicted. From the circumstance that before the clause our hope of you is steadfast, there is introduced the connecting particle and, Erasmus has conceived the idea, that some word must be understood to correspond with those words — for your consolation and salvation — in this way, whether we are afflicted, IT ISfor your consolation. I think it, however, more probable, that the connecting particle and is used here as meaning: Thus also, or in both cases. He had already stated, that he received consolation in order that he might communicate it to others. Now he goes a step farther, and says, that he has a steadfast hope, that they would be partakers of the consolation Besides, some of the most ancient Greek manuscripts introduce immediately after the first clause this statement — and our hope of you is steadfast. (227) This reading removes all ambiguity. For when it is introduced in the middle, we must necessarily refer it to the latter clause, equally as to the former. At the same time, if any one wishes to have a complete sentence in each clause, by supplying some verb, there will be no great harm in this, and there will be no great difference as to the meaning. For if you read it as one continued statement, you must, at the same time, explain the different parts in this manner — that the Apostle is afflicted, and is refreshed with consolation for the advantage of the Corinthians; and that he entertains, therefore, the hope, (228) that they will be at length partakers of the same consolation, with what is in reserve for himself. For my own part, I have adopted the way that I have judged the more suitable.

It is, however, to be observed, that the word afflicted here refers not merely to outward misery, but also to that of the mind, so as to correspond with the opposite term comforted. ( παρακαλεῖσθαι) Thus the meaning is, that the person’s mind is pressed down with anxiety from a feeling of misery. (229) What we render consolation, is in the Greek παράκλησις, — a term which signifies also exhortation. If, however, you understand that kind of consolation, by which a person’s mind is lightened of grief, and is raised above it, you will be in possession of Paul’s meaning. For example, Paul himself would well-nigh have fallen down dead under the pressure of so many afflictions, had not God encouraged him, by raising him up by means of his consolation. Thus, too, the Corinthians derive strength and fortitude of mind from his sufferings, (230) while they take comfort from his example. Let us now sum up the whole matter briefly. As he saw that his afflictions were made by some an occasion of holding him in contempt, with the view of calling back the Corinthians from an error of this nature, (231) he shows in the first place that he ought to be in high esteem among them, in consideration of advantage redounding to themselves; and then afterwards he associates them with himself, that they may reckon his afflictions to be in a manner their own. “Whether I suffer afflictions, or experience consolation, it is all for your benefit, and I cherish an assured hope, that you will continue to enjoy this advantage.” (232)

For such were Paul’s afflictions, and his consolations also, that they would have contributed to the edification of the Corinthians, had not the Corinthians of their own accord deprived themselves of the advantage redounding from it. He, accordingly, declares his confidence in the Corinthians to be such, that he entertains the assured hope that it will not be vain, that he has been afflicted, and has received consolation for their advantage. The false apostles made every effort to turn to Paul’s reproach everything that befell him. Had they obtained their wish, the afflictions which he endured for their salvation, had been vain and fruitless; they would have derived no advantage from the consolations with which the Lord refreshed him. To contrivances of this nature he opposes his present confidence. His afflictions tended to promote the comfort of believers, as furnishing them with occasion of confirmation, on their perceiving that he suffered willingly, and endured with fortitude so many hardships for the sake of the gospel. For however we may acknowledge that afflictions ought to be endured by us for the sake of the gospel, we, nevertheless, tremble through a consciousness of our weakness, and think ourselves not prepared for it. (233) In that case, we should call to mind the examples of the saints, which should make us more courageous.

On the other hand, his personal consolation flowed out to the whole Church, inasmuch as they concluded, (234) that God who had sustained and refreshed him in his emergency, would, in like manner, not be wanting to them. Thus their welfare was promoted in both ways, and this is what he introduces as it were by way of parenthesis, when he says — which is made effectual in the endurance, etc. For he wished to add this clause, by way of explanation, that they might not think that they had nothing to do with the afflictions which he alone endured. Erasmus takes the participle γουμένης in an active sense, (235) but a passive signification is more suitable, (236) as Paul designed simply to explain in what respect everything that befell him was for their salvation. He says, accordingly, that he suffers, indeed, alone, but that his sufferings are of use for promoting their salvation — not as though they were expiations or sacrifices for sins, but as edifying them by confirming them. Hence he conjoins consolation and salvation, with the view of pointing out the way in which their salvation was to be accomplished.

Verse 7

7.Knowing, that as However there might be some of the Corinthians that were drawn away for the time by the calumnies of the false Apostles, so as to entertain less honorable views of Paul, on seeing him shamefully handled before the world, he, nevertheless, associates them with himself both in fellowship of afflictions, and in hope of consolation. (237) Thus he corrects their perverse and malignant view, without subjecting them to an open rebuke.

Verse 8

8.For I would not have you ignorant He makes mention of the greatness and difficulty of his conflicts, that the glory of victory may thereby the more abundantly appear. Since the time of his sending them the former epistle, he had been exposed to great dangers, and had endured violent assaults. The probability, however, is that he refers here to the history, which Luke relates in Acts 19:23, though in that passage he does not so distinctly intimate the extent of the danger. As, however, he states that the whole city was in a tumult, (Acts 19:29,) it is easy from this to infer the rest. For we know what is the usual effect of a popular tumult, when it has been once kindled. By this persecution Paul declares he had been oppressed beyond measure, nay more, above strength, that is, so as not to be able to endure the burden. For it is a metaphor taken from persons who give way under the pressure of a heavy load, or from ships that sink from being overladen — not that he had actually fainted, but that he felt that his strength would have failed him, if the Lord had not imparted fresh strength. (238)

So that we were in anxiety even as to life itself — that is, “So that I thought life was gone, or at least I had very little hope of it remaining, as those are wont to feel who are shut up so as to see no way of escape.” Was then so valiant a soldier of Christ, so brave a wrestler, left without strength, so as to look for nothing but death? (239) For he mentions it as the reason of what he had stated — that he despaired of life. I have already observed, that Paul does not measure his strength in connection with help from God, but according to his own personal feeling of his ability. Now there can be no doubt, that all human strength must give way before the fear of death. Farther, it is necessary that even saints themselves should be in danger of an entire failure of strength, that, being put in mind of their own weakness, they may learn, agreeably to what follows, to place their entire dependence on God alone. At the same time I have preferred to explain the word ἐξαπορεῖσθαι, which is made use of by Paul, as denoting a trembling anxiety, rather than render it, as Erasmus has done by the word despair; because he simply means, that he was hemmed in by the greatest difficulties, so that no means of preserving life seemed to remain. (240)

Verse 9

9.Nay more, we had the sentence of death This is as though we should say — “I had already laid my account with dying, or had regarded it as a thing fixed.” He borrows, however, a similitude from those who are under sentence of death, and look for nothing but the hour when they are to die. At the same time he says, that this sentence had been pronounced by him upon himself, by which he intimates, that it was in his own view that he had been sentenced to death — that he might not seem to have had it from any revelation from God. In this sentence, (241) therefore, there is something more implied than in the feeling of anxiety ( ἐξαπορεῖσθαι) that he had made mention of, because in the former case there was despair of life, but in this case there is certain death. We must, however, take notice, chiefly, of what he adds as to the design — that he had been reduced to this extremity, that he might not trust in himself For I do not agree with what Chrysostom says — that the Apostle did not stand in need of such a remedy, but set himself forth to others as a pattern merely in appearance. (242) For he was a man that was subject, in other respects, to like passions as other men — (James 5:17) — not merely to cold and heat, but also to misdirected confidence, rashness, and the like. I do not say that he was addicted to these vices, but this I say, that he was capable of being tempted to them, and that this was the remedy that God seasonably interposed, that they might not make their way into his mind. (243)

There are, accordingly, two things to be observed here. In the first place — that the fleshly confidence with which we are puffed up, is so obstinate, that it cannot be overthrown in any other way than by our falling into utter despair. (244) For as the flesh is proud, it does not willingly give way, and never ceases to be insolent until it has been constrained; nor are we brought to true submission, until we have been brought down by the mighty hand of God. (1 Peter 5:6.) Secondly, it is to be observed, that the saints themselves have some remains of this disease adhering to them, and that for this reason they are often reduced to an extremity, that, stript of all self-confidence, they may learn humility: nay more, that this malady is so deeply rooted in the minds of men, that even the most advanced are not thoroughly purged from it, until God sets death before their eyes. And hence we may infer, how displeasing to God confidence in ourselves must be, when for the purpose of correcting it, it is necessary that we should be condemned to death.

But in God that raiseth the dead As we must first die, (245) in order that, renouncing confidence in ourselves, and conscious of our own weakness, we may claim no honor to ourselves, so even that were not sufficient, if we did not proceed a step farther. Let us begin, therefore, with despairing of ourselves, but with the view of placing our hope in God. Let us be brought low in ourselves, but in order that we may be raised up by his power. Paul, accordingly, having brought to nothing the pride of the flesh, immediately substitutes in its place a confidence that rests upon God.Not in ourselves, says he,but in God

The epithet that follows, Paul has adapted to the connection of the subject, as he does in Romans 4:17, where he speaks of Abraham. For to

believe in God, who calleth those things that are not, as though they were, and to hope in God who raiseth the dead,

are equivalent to his setting before him as an object of contemplation, the power of God in creating his elect out of nothing, and raising up the dead. Hence Paul says, that death had been set before his eyes, that he might, in consequence of this, recognize the more distinctly the power of God, by which he had been raised up from the dead. The first thing in order, it is true, is this — that, by means of the strength with which God furnishes us, we should acknowledge him as the Author of life; but as in consequence of our dulness the light of life often dazzles our eyes, it is necessary that we should be brought to God by having death presented to our view. (246)

Verse 10

10.Who hath delivered us from so great a death Here he applies to himself personally, what he had stated in a general way, and by way of proclaiming the grace of God, he declares that he had not been disappointed in his expectation, inasmuch as he had been delivered from death, and that too, in no common form. As to his manner of expression, the hyperbole, which he makes use of, is not unusual in the Scriptures, for it frequently occurs, both in the Prophets and in the Psalms, and it is made use of even in common conversation. What Paul acknowledges as to himself personally, let every one now take home as applicable to himself.

In whom we have an assured hope. He promises himself as to the future, also, that beneficence of God, which he had often experienced in the past. Nor is it without good reason; for the Lord, by accomplishing in part what he has promised, bids us hope well as to what remains. Nay more, in proportion to the number of favors that we receive from him, does he by so many pledges, or earnests, as it were, confirm his promises. (247) Now, although Paul had no doubt that God would of his own accord be present with him, yet he exhorts the Corinthians to commend to God in their prayers his safety. For when he assumes it as certain, that he will be aided by them, this declaration has the force of an exhortation, and he means that they would not merely do it as a matter of duty, but also with advantage. (248)

“Your prayers, also,” he says, “will help me.” (249) For God wills not that the duty of mutual intercession, which he enjoins upon us, should be without advantage. This ought to be a stimulus to us, on the one hand, to solicit the intercession of our brethren, when we are weighed down by any necessity, and, on the other, to render similar assistance in return, since we are informed, that it is not only a duty that is well pleasing to God, but also profitable to ourselves. Nor is it owing to distrust that the Apostle implores the friendly aid of his brethren, (250) for, while he felt assured, that his safety would be the object of God’s care, (251) though he were destitute of all human help, yet he knew that it was well pleasing to God, that he should be aided by the prayers of the saints. He had respect, also, to the promises that were given, that assistance of this kind would not be in vain. Hence, in order that he might not overlook any assistance that was appointed to him by God, he desired that the brethren should pray for his preservation.

The sum is this — that we follow the word of God, that is, that we obey his commandments and cleave to his promises. This is not the part of those who have recourse to the assistance of the dead; (252) for not contented with the sources of help appointed by God, they call in to their aid a new one, that has no countenance from any declaration of Scripture. For whatever we find mentioned there as to mutual intercession, has no reference to the dead, but is expressly restricted to the living. Hence Papists act childishly in perverting those passages, so as to give some colour to their superstition. (253)

Verse 11

11.That the gift bestowed upon us through means of many persons. As there is some difficulty in Paul’s words, interpreters differ as to the meaning. I shall not spend time in setting aside the interpretations of others, nor indeed is there any need for this, provided only we are satisfied as to the true and proper meaning. He had said, that the prayers of the Corinthians would be an assistance to him. He now adds a second advantage that would accrue from it — a higher manifestation of God’s glory. “For whatever God will confer upon me,” says he, “being as it were obtained through means of many persons, will, also, by many be celebrated with praises:or in this way — “Many will give thanks to God in my behalf, because, in affording help to me, he has favorably regarded the prayers, not merely of one but of many.” In the first place, while it is our duty to allow no favor from God to pass without rendering praise, it becomes us, nevertheless, more especially when our prayers have been favorably regarded by him, to acknowledge his mercy with thanksgiving, as he commands us to do in Psalms 50:15. Nor ought this to be merely where our own personal interest is concerned, but also where the welfare of the Church in general, or that of any one of our brethren is involved. Hence when we mutually pray one for another, and obtain our desire, the glory of God is so much the more set forth, inasmuch as we all acknowledge, with thanksgiving, God’s benefits — both those that are conferred publicly upon the whole Church, and also those that are bestowed privately upon individuals.

In this interpretation there is nothing forced; for as to the circumstance that in the Greek the article being introduced between the two clauses by many persons, and the gift conferred upon me appears to disjoin them, (254) that has no force, as it is frequently found introduced between clauses that are connected with each other. Here, however, it is with propriety introduced in place of an adversative particle; (255) for although it had come forth from many persons, it was nevertheless peculiar to Paul. To take the phrase διὰ πολλῶν (by means of many) in the neuter gender, (256) as some do, is at variance with the connection of the passage.

It may, however, be asked, why he says From many persons, rather than From many men, and what is the meaning of the term person here? I answer, it is as though he had said — With respect to many. For the favor was conferred upon Paul in such a way, that it might be given to many. Hence, as God had respect to many, he says on that account, that many persons were the cause of it. Some Greek manuscripts have ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν on your account; and although this appears to be at variance with Paul’s design, and the connection of the words, it may, nevertheless, be explained with propriety in this manner: “When God shall have heard you in behalf of my welfare, and that too for your own welfare, thanks will be given by many on your account.”

Verse 12

12.For our glorying is this. He assigns a reason why his preservation should be a subject of interest to all — that he had conducted himself (258) among them all insimplicity and sincerity He deserved, therefore, to be dear to them, and it would have been very unfeeling not to be concerned in reference to such a servant of the Lord, that he might be long preserved for the benefit of the Church. “I have conducted myself before all in such a manner, that it is no wonder if I have the approbation and love of all good men.” He takes occasion from this, however, for the sake of those to whom he was writing, to make a digression for the purpose of declaring his own integrity. As, however, it is not enough to be approved of by man’s judgment, and as Paul himself was harassed by the unjust and malignant judgments of some, or rather by corrupt and blind attachments, (259) he adduces his own conscience as his witness — which is all one as though he had cited God as a witness, or had made what he says matter of appeal to his tribunal.

But how does Paul’s glorying in his integrity comport with that statement,

He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord?
2 Corinthians 10:17.)

Besides, who is so upright (260) as to dare to boast in the presence of God? In the first place, Paul does not oppose himself to God, as though he had anything that was his own, or that was from himself. Farther, he does not place the foundation of his salvation in that integrity to which he lays claim, nor does he make confidence in that the ground of his dependence. Lastly, he does not glory in God’s gifts in such a way as not at the same time to render all the glory to him as their sole Author, and ascribe everything to him. (261) These three exceptions lay a foundation for every godly person glorying on good grounds in all God’s benefits; while the wicked, on the other hand, cannot glory even in God, except on false and improper grounds. Let us therefore, first of all, acknowledge ourselves to be indebted to God for everything good that we possess, claiming no merit to ourselves. Secondly, let us hold fast this foundation — that our dependence for salvation be grounded exclusively on the mercy of God. Lastly, let us repose ourselves (262) in the sole author of every blessing. Then in that there will be a pious (263) glorying in every kind of blessing.

That in the simplicity (264) of God. He employs the expression simplicity of God here, in the same way as in Romans 3:23, the glory of God; and in John 12:43, the glory of God and of men. Those who love the glory of men, wish to appear something before men, or to stand well in the opinion of men. The glory of God is what a man has in the sight of God. Hence Paul does not reckon it enough to declare that his sincerity was perceived by men, but adds, that he was such in the sight of God. Εἰλικρινείᾳ (which I have rendered purity) is closely connected with simplicity; for it is an open and upright way of acting, such as makes a man’s heart as it were transparent. (265) Both terms stand opposed to craft, deception, and all underhand schemes.

Not in fleshly wisdom. There is here a sort of anticipation; for what might be felt to be wanting in him he readily acknowledges, nay more, he openly proclaims, that he is destitute of, but adds, that he is endowed with what is incomparably more excellent — the grace of God “I acknowledge,” says he, “that I am destitute of fleshly wisdom, but I have been furnished with divine influence, and if any one is not satisfied with that, he is at liberty to depreciate my Apostleship. If, on the other hand, fleshly wisdom is of no value, then I want nothing that is not fitted to secure well-grounded praise.” He gives the name of fleshly wisdom to everything apart from Christ, that procures for us the reputation of wisdom. See the first and second chapters of the former epistle. Hence, by the grace of God, which is contrasted with it, we must understand everything that transcends man’s nature and capacity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which openly manifested the power of God in the weakness of the flesh.

More abundantly towards you Not that he had been less upright elsewhere, but that he had remained longer at Corinth, in order that he might (not to mention other purposes) afford a fuller and clearer proof of his integrity. He has, however, expressed himself intentionally in such a way as to intimate that he did not require evidences that were far-fetched, inasmuch as they were themselves the best witnesses of all that he had said.

Verse 13

13.For we write no other things Here he indirectly reproves the false apostles, who recommended themselves by immoderate boastings, while they had little or no ground for it; and at the same time he obviates calumnies, in order that no one may object, that he claims for himself more than is his due. He says, therefore, that he does not in words boast of anything that he is not prepared to make good by deeds, and that, too, from the testimony of the Corinthians.

The ambiguity, however, of the words, has given occasion for this passage being misinterpreted. Αναγινώσκειν, among the Greeks, signifies sometimes to read, and at other times to recognize. Επιγινώσκειν sometimes signifies to discover, while at other times it means what the Latins properly express by the verb agnoscere , to own, as among lawyers the phrase is used to own a child, (266) as Budaeus also has observed. In this way ἐπιγινώσκειν means more than ἀναγινώσκειν For we say that a person recognises a thing, that is, that being silently convinced of it in his judgment, he perceives it to be true, while at the same time he does not acknowledge it, or, in other words, cordially intimate his assent to it.

Let us now examine Paul’s words. Some read thus — We write no other things than what ye read and acknowledge, which it is very manifest is exceedingly lifeless, not to say senseless. For as to Ambrose’s qualifying the statement in this way — You not only read, but also acknowledge, there is no one that does not perceive that it is quite foreign to the import of the words. And the meaning that I have stated is plain, and hangs together naturally, and, up to this point, there is nothing to prevent readers from understanding it, were it not that they have had their eyes shut, from being misled by the different meanings of the word. The sum is this — that Paul declares, that he brings forward no other things than what were known and perceived by the Corinthians — nay more, things as to which they would bear him witness. The first term employed is recognoscere , (to recognize,) which is applicable, when persons are convinced from experience that matters are so. The second is agnoscere , (to acknowledge,) meaning that they give their assent to the truth. (267)

And, I hope, will acknowledge even to the end. As the Corinthians had not yet perfectly returned to a sound mind, so as to be prepared to weigh his fidelity in a just and even balance, (268) but at the same time had begun to abate somewhat of their perverse and malignant judgment respecting him, he intimates, that he hopes better as to the future. “You have already,” says he, “to some extent acknowledged me. I hope that you will acknowledge more and more what I have been among you, and in what manner I have conducted myself.” (269) From this it appears more clearly what he meant by the word ἐπιγινώσκειν. (acknowledge (270)) Now this relates to a season of repentance, for they had at the beginning acknowledged him fully and thoroughly; afterwards their right judgment had been beclouded (271) by unfair statements, but they had at length begun to return in part to a sound mind.

Verse 14

14.For we are your glorying. We have briefly adverted to the manner in which it is allowable for saints to glory in God’s benefits — when they repose themselves in God alone, and have no other object of aim. Thus it was a ground of pious glorying on the part of Paul, that he had, by his ministry, brought the Corinthians under obedience to Christ; and of the Corinthians, on the other hand, that they had been trained up so faithfully and so virtuously by such an Apostle — a privilege that had not been allotted to all. This way of glorying in men does not stand in the way of our glorying in God alone. Now he instructs the Corinthians, that it is of the greatest importance for themselves that they should acknowledge him to be a faithful, and not a merely pretended, servant of Christ; because, in the event of their withdrawing from him, they would deprive themselves of the highest glory. In these words he reproves their fickleness, inasmuch as they voluntarily deprived themselves of the highest glory, by listening too readily to the spiteful and envious.

In the day of the Lord By this I understand the last day, which will put an end to all the fleeting (272) glories of this world. He means, then, that the glorying of which he is now speaking is not evanescent, as those things are that glitter in the eyes of men, but is abiding and stable, inasmuch as it will remain until the day of Christ. For then will Paul enjoy the triumph of the many victories that he had obtained under Christ’s auspices, and will lead forth in splendor all the nations that have, by means of his ministry, been brought under Christ’s glorious yoke; and the Church of the Corinthians will glory in having been founded and trained up by the services of so distinguished an Apostle.

Verse 15

15.In this confidence. After having given them reason to expect that he would come, he had subsequently changed his intention. This was made an occasion of calumny against him, as appears from the excuse that he brings forward. When he says that it was from relying onthis confidence that he formed the purpose of coming to them, he indirectly throws the blame upon the Corinthians, inasmuch as they had, by their ingratitude, hindered, to some extent, his coming to them, by depriving him of that confidence.

That ye might have a second benefit The first benefit had been this — that he had devoted himself for the entire period of a year and six months (Acts 18:11) to the work of gaining them to the Lord; the second was their being confirmed, by means of his coming to them, in the faith which they had once received, and being stirred up by his sacred admonitions to make farther progress. Of this latter benefit the Corinthians had deprived themselves, inasmuch as they had not allowed the apostle to come to them. They were paying, therefore, the penalty of their own fault, and they had no ground for imputing any blame to Paul. If any one, however, prefers, with Chrysostom, to take χάριν (benefit) as used instead of καράν , (joy,) I do not much object to it. (275) The former interpretation, however, is more simple.

Verse 17

17.Did I use fickleness? There are two things, more especially, that prevent the purposes of men from being carried into effect, or their promises from being faithfully performed. The one is that they make changes upon them almost every hour, and the other is that they are too rash in forming their plans. It is a sign of changeableness to purpose or promise what you almost immediately afterwards regret. With that fault Paul declares he had not been chargeable. “I have not,” says he, “through fickleness drawn back from the promise that I made.” He declares also that he had been on his guard against rashness and misdirected confidence; for such is the way in which I explain the expression — purpose according to the flesh For it is, as I have stated, the common practice of men, as though they were not dependent on God’s providence, and were not subject to his will, to determine rashly and presumptuously what they will do. Now God, with the view of punishing this presumption, defeats their plans, so as to prevent them from having a prosperous issue, and in many instances holds up themselves to ridicule.

The expression, it is true, according to the flesh, might be extended farther, so as to include all wicked schemes, and such as are not directed to a right end, as for example such as are dictated by ambition, avarice, or any other depraved affection. Paul, however, in my opinion, did not intend here to refer to any thing of that nature, but merely to reprove that rashness which is but too customary on the part of man, and in daily use in the forming of plans. To purpose, therefore, according to the flesh, is not owning God as our ruler, but, instead of this, being impelled by a rash presumption, which is afterwards justly derided by God, and punished. The apostle, with the view of clearing himself from these faults, proposes a question, as if in the person of his opponents. Hence it is probable, as I have already said, that some unfavorable report had been put in circulation by wicked persons.

That with me there should be yea, yea Some connect this statement with what goes before, and explain it thus: “As if it were in my power to perform whatever I purpose, as men determine that they will do whatever comes into their mind, and order their ways, as Solomon speaks, (Proverbs 16:1,) while they cannot so much as govern their tongue.” And, undoubtedly, the words seem to imply this much — that what has been once affirmed must remain fixed, and what has been once denied must never be done. So James in his Epistle (James 5:12) says,

Let your yea be yea, and your nay nay, lest ye fall into dissimulation.

Farther, the context would in this way suit exceedingly well as to what goes before. For to purpose according to the flesh is this — when we wish that, without any exception, our determinations shall be like oracles. (276) This interpretation, However, does not accord with what immediately follows God is faithful, etc., where Paul makes use of the same form of expression, when he has it in view to intimate, that he had not been unfaithful in his preaching. Now it were absurd, if almost in the same verse he reckoned it as a fault that his yea should be yea, and his nay nay, and yet at the same time laid claim to it as his highest praise. I am aware of what could be said in reply, if any one were disposed to sport himself with subtleties, but I have no relish for anything that is not solid.

I have, therefore, no doubt, that in these words Paul designed to reprove fickleness, although they may seem to be susceptible of another meaning, for the purpose of clearing himself from that calumny — that he was accustomed to promise in words what he failed to perform in deeds. (277) Thus the reiterating of the affirmation and negation will not have the same meaning as in Matthew 5:37 and in James, but will bear this meaning — “that yea should with me be in this instance yea, and on the other hand, when it pleases me, nay, nay ” At the same time it is possible that it may have crept in through the ignorance of transcribers, as the old translation does not redouble the words, (278) However this may be, we ought not to be very solicitous as to the words, provided we are in possession of the apostle’s intention, which, as I have said, clearly appears from what follows. (279)

Verse 18

18.God is faithful. By the term word he means doctrine, as is manifest from the reason that he adds, when he says, that the Son of God, who is preached by him, is not variable, etc. As to his being always consistent with himself in point of doctrine, and not differing from himself, (280) he intends that by this they shall form a judgment as to his integrity, and in this way he removes every unfavorable suspicion of fickleness or unfaithfulness. It does not, however, necessarily follow, that the man who is faithful in doctrine, is also observant of truth in all his words. But as Paul did not reckon it of much importance in what estimation he was held, provided only the majesty of his doctrine remained safe and sound, he, on that account, calls the attention of the Corinthians chiefly to that matter. He intimates, it is true, that he observed in his whole life the same course of fidelity, as the Corinthians had seen in his ministry. He seems, however, as if intentionally, in repelling the calumny, to transfer it from his person to his doctrine, because he was unwilling that his apostleship should be indirectly defamed, while he was not greatly concerned as to himself in other respects.

But observe, with what zeal he applies himself to this. For he calls God to witness, how simple and pure his preaching was — not ambiguous, not variable, not temporizing. In his oath, too, he connects the truth of God with the truth of his doctrine. “The truth of my preaching is as sure and stable as God is faithful and true.” Nor is this to be wondered at, for the word of God, which Isaiah says endureth for ever, (Isaiah 40:8,) is no other than what prophets and apostles published to the world, as Peter explains it. (1 Peter 1:25.) Hence, too, his confidence (281) in denouncing a curse upon angels, if they dared to bring another gospel, one that was at variance with his. (Galatians 1:8.) Who would dare to make the angels of heaven subject to his doctrine, if he had not God as his authority and defense? With such an assurance of a good conscience does it become ministers (282) to be endowed, who mount the pulpit to speak the word in Christ’s name — so as to feel assured that their doctrine can no more be overthrown than God himself.

Verse 19

19.For the Son of God Here we have the proof — because his preaching (283) contained nothing but Christ alone, who is the eternal and immutable truth of God. The clause preached by us is emphatic. For, as it may be, and often does happen, that Christ is disfigured by the inventions (284) of men, and is adulterated, as it were, by their disguises, he declares that it had not been so as to himself or his associates, but that he had sincerely and with an integrity that was befitting, held forth Christ pure and undisguised. Why it is that he makes no mention of Apollos, while he mentions by name Timotheus and Silvanus, does not exactly appear; unless the reason be, as is probable, that the more that individuals were assailed by the calumnies of the wicked, (285) he was so much the more careful to defend them.

In these words, however, he intimates that his whole doctrine was summed up in a simple acquaintance with Christ alone, as in reality the whole of the gospel is included in it. Hence those go beyond due limits, who teach anything else than Christ alone, with whatever show of wisdom they may otherwise be puffed up. For as he is the end of the law, (Romans 10:4,) so he is the head — the sum — in fine, the consummation — of all spiritual doctrine.

In the second place, he intimates that his doctrine respecting Christ had not been variable, or ambiguous, so as to present him from time to time in a new shape after the manner of Proteus; (286) as some persons make it their sport to make changes upon him, (287) just as if they were tossing a ball to and fro with their hand, simply for the purpose of displaying their dexterity. Others, with a view to procure the favor of men, present him under various forms, while there is still another class, that inculcate one day what on the next they retract through fear. Such was not Paul’s Christ, nor can that of any true apostle (288) be such. Those, accordingly, have no ground to boast that they are ministers of Christ, who paint him in various colors with a view to their own advantage. For he alone is the true Christ, in whom there appears that uniform and unvarying yea, which Paul declares to be characteristic of him.

Verse 20

20.For all the promises of God — Here again he shows how firm and unvarying the preaching of Christ ought to be, inasmuch as he is the groundwork (289) of all the promises of God. For it were worse than absurd to entertain the idea that he, in whom all the promises of God are established, is like one that wavers. (290) Now though the statement is general, as we shall see ere long, it is, notwithstanding, accommodated to the circumstances of the case in hand, with the view of confirming the certainty of Paul’s doctrine. For it is not simply of the gospel in general that he treats, but he honors more especially his own gospel with this distinction. “If the promises of God are sure and well-founded, my preaching also must of necessity be sure, inasmuch as it contains nothing but Christ, in whom they are all established.” As, however, in these words he means simply that he preached a gospel that was genuine, and not adulterated by any foreign additions, (291) let us keep in view this general doctrine, that all the promises of God rest upon Christ alone as their support — a sentiment that is worthy of being kept in remembrance, and is one of the main articles of our faith. It depends, however, on another principle — that it is only in Christ that God the Father is propitious to us. Now the promises are testimonies of his fatherly kindness towards us. Hence it follows, that it is in him alone that they are fulfilled.

The promises, I say, are testimonies of Divine grace: for although God shows kindness even to the unworthy, (Luke 6:35,) yet when promises are given in addition to his acts of kindness, there is a special reason — that in them he declares himself to be a Father. Secondly, we are not qualified for enjoying the promises of God, unless we have received the remission of our sins, which we obtain through Christ. Thirdly, the promise, by which God adopts us to himself as his sons, holds the first place among them all. Now the cause and root of adoption is Christ; because God is not a Father to any that are not members and brethren of his only-begotten Son. Everything, however, flows out from this source — that, while we are without Christ, we are hated by God rather than favorably regarded, while at the same time God promises us everything that he does promise, because he loves us. Hence it is not to be wondered if Paul here teaches, that all the promises of God are ratified and confirmed in Christ.

It is asked, however, whether they were feeble or powerless, previously to Christ’s advent; for Paul seems to speak here of Christ as manifested in the flesh. (1 Timothy 3:16.) I answer, that all the promises that were given to believers from the beginning of the world were founded upon Christ. Hence Moses and the Prophets, in every instance in which they treat of reconciliation with God, of the hope of salvation, or of any other favor, make mention of him, and discourse at the same time respecting his coming and his kingdom. I say again, that the promises under the Old Testament were fulfilled to the pious, in so far as was advantageous for their welfare; and yet it is not less true, that they were in a manner suspended until the advent of Christ, through whom they obtained their true accomplishment. And in truth, believers themselves rested upon the promises in such a way, as at the same time to refer the true accomplishment of them to the appearing of the Mediator, and suspended their hope until that time. In fine, if any one considers what is the fruit of Christ’s death and resurrection, he will easily gather from this, in what respect the promises of God have been sealed and ratified in him, which would otherwise have had no sure accomplishment.

Wherefore, also, through him let there be Amen. Here also the Greek manuscripts do not agree, for some of them have it in one continued statement —As many promises of God as there are, are in him Yea, and in him Amen to the glory of God through us. (292) The different reading, however, which I have followed, is easier, and contains a fuller meaning. For as he had said, that, in Christ, God has confirmed the truth of all his promises, so now he teaches us, that it is our duty to acquiesce in this ratification. This we do, when, resting upon Christ by a sure faith, we subscribe and set our seal that God is true, as we read in John 3:33, and that with a view to his glory, as this is the end to which everything should be referred. (Ephesians 1:13, and Romans 3:4.)

The other reading, I confess, is the more common one, but as it is somewhat meagre, I have not hesitated to prefer the one that contains the fuller meaning, and, besides, is much better suited to the context. For Paul reminds the Corinthians of their duty — to utter their Amen in return, after having been instructed in the simple truth of God. If, however, any one is reluctant to depart from the other reading, there must, in any case, be an exhortation deduced from it (293) to a mutual agreement in doctrine and faith.

Verse 21

God, indeed, is always true and steadfast in his promises, and has always his Amen, as often as he speaks. But as for us, such is our vanity, that we do not utter our Amen in return, except when he gives a sure testimony in our hearts by his word. This he does by his Spirit. That is what Paul means here. He had previously taught, that this is a befitting harmony — when, on the one hand, the calling of God is without repentance, (Romans 11:29,) and we, in our turn, with an unwavering faith, accept of the blessing of adoption that is held out to us. That God remains steadfast to his promise is not surprising; but to keep pace with God in the steadfastness of our faith in return — that truly is not in man’s power. (294) He teaches us, also, that God cures our weakness or defect, (as they term it,) when, by correcting our belief, he confirms us by his Spirit. Thus it comes, that we glorify him by a firm steadfastness of faith. He associates himself, however, with the Corinthians, expressly for the purpose of conciliating their affections the better, with a view to the cultivation of unity. (295)

21.Who hath anointed us. He employs different terms to express one and the same thing. For along with confirmation, he employs the terms anointing and sealing, or, by this twofold metaphor, (296) he explains more distinctly what he had previously stated without a figure. For God, by pouring down upon us the heavenly grace of the Spirit, does, in this manner, seal upon our hearts the certainty of his own word. He then introduces a fourth idea — that the Spirit has been given to us as an earnest — a similitude which he frequently makes use of, and is also exceedingly appropriate. (297) For as the Spirit, in bearing witness of our adoption, is our security, and, by confirming the faith of the promises, is the seal ( σφραγὶς), so it is on good grounds that he is called an earnest, (298) because it is owing to him, that the covenant of God is ratified on both sides, which would, but for this, have hung in suspense. (299)

Here we must notice, in the first place, the relation (300) which Paul requires between the gospel of God and our faith; for as every thing that God says is more than merely certain, so he wishes that this should be established in our minds by a firm and sure assent. Secondly, we must observe that, as an assurance of this nature is a thing that is above the capacity of the human mind, it is the part of the Holy Spirit to confirm within us what God promises in his word. Hence it is that he has those titles of distinction — the Anointing, the Earnest, the Comforter, and the Seal. In the third place we must observe, that all that have not the Holy Spirit as a witness, so as to return their Amen to God, when calling them to an assured hope of salvation, do on false grounds assume the name of Christians.

Verse 23

23.I call God for a witness. He now begins to assign a reason for his change of purpose; for hitherto he has merely repelled calumny. When, however, he says that he spared them, he indirectly throws back the blame upon them, and thus shows them that it would be unfair if he were put to grief through their fault, but that it would be much more unfair if they should permit this; but most of all unfair if they should give their assent to so base a calumny, as in that case they would be substituting in their place an innocent person, as if he had been guilty of their sin. Now he spared them in this respect, that if he had come he would have been constrained to reprove them more severely, while he wished rather that they should of their own accord repent previously to his arrival, that there might be no occasion for a harsher remedy, (303) which is a signal evidence of more than paternal lenity. For how much forbearance there was in shunning this necessity, when he had just ground of provocation!

He makes use, also, of an oath, that he may not seem to have contrived something to serve a particular purpose. For the matter in itself was of no small importance, and it was of great consequence that he should be entirely free from all suspicion of falsehood and pretence. Now there are two things that make an oath lawful and pious — the occasion and the disposition. The occasion I refer to is, where an oath is not employed rashly, that is, in mere trifles, or even in matters of small importance, but only where there is a call for it. The disposition I refer to is, where there is not so much regard had to private advantage, as concern felt for the glory of God, and the advantage of the brethren: For this end must always be kept in view, that our oaths may promote the honor of God, and promote also the advantage of our neighbours in a matter that is befitting. (304)

The form of the oath must also be observed — first, that he calls God to witness; and, secondly, that he says upon my soul For in matters that are doubtful and obscure, where man’s knowledge fails, we have recourse to God, that he, who alone is truth, may bear testimony to the truth. But the man that appeals to God as his witness, calls upon him at the same time to be an avenger of perjury, in the event of his declaring what is false. This is what is meant by the phrase upon my soul. “I do not object to his inflicting punishment upon me, if I am guilty of falsehood.” Although, however, this is not always expressed in so many words, it is, notwithstanding, to be understood. For

if we are unfaithful, God remaineth faithful
and will not deny himself (
2 Timothy 2:13.)

He will not suffer, therefore, the profanation of his name to go unpunished.

Verse 24

24.Not that we exercise dominion He anticipates an objection that might be brought forward. “What! Do you then act so tyrannically (305) as to be formidable in your very look? Such were not the gravity of a Christian pastor, but the cruelty of a savage tyrant.” He answers this objection first indirectly, by declaring that matters are not so; and afterwards directly, by showing that the very circumstance, that he had been constrained to treat them more harshly, was owing to his fatherly affection. When he says that he does not exercise dominion over their faith, he intimates, that such a power is unjust and intolerable — nay more, is tyranny in the Church. For faith ought to be altogether exempt, and to the utmost extent free, from the yoke of men. We must, however, observe, who it is that speaks, for if ever there was a single individual of mortals, that had authority to claim for himself such a dominion, Paul assuredly was worthy of such a privilege. Yet he acknowledges, (306) that it does not belong to him. Hence we infer, that faith owns no subjection except to the word of God, and that it is not at all in subjection to human control. (307) Erasmus has observed in his Annotations, that by supplying the Greek particle ἕνεκα, it may be understood in this way — Not that we exercise dominion over you with respect to your faith a rendering which amounts almost to the same thing. For he intimates, that there is no spiritual dominion, except that of God only. This always remains a settled point — pastors have no peculiar dominion over men’s consciences, (308) inasmuch as they are ministers, not lords. (1 Peter 5:3.)

What then does he leave to himself and others? He calls themhelpers of their joy — by which term I understand happiness. At the same time he employs the term joy as opposed to the terror which tyrants awaken through means of their cruelty, and also false prophets, (309) resembling tyrants, that rule with rigor and authority, as we read in Ezekiel 34:4. He argues from contraries, that he did by no means usurp dominion over the Corinthians, inasmuch as he endeavored rather to maintain them in the possession of a peace that was free, and full of joy.

For by faith ye stand. As to the reason why he adds this, others either pass it over altogether in silence, or they do not explain it with sufficient distinctness. For my part, I am of opinion that he here again argues from contraries. For if the nature and effect of faith be such that we lean, in order that we may stand, (310) it is absurd to speak of faith as being subject to men. Thus he removes that unjust dominion, with which, he had a little before declared, he was not chargeable.


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 1:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

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Monday, December 16th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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