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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament
2 Corinthians 12

 

 

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Verse 1

2 Corinthians 12:1. With Tisch., W.H. and the R.V. we adopt the reading (see crit. notes): καυχᾶσθαι δεῖ· οὐ συμφέρον μέν, ἐλεύσομαι δὲ κ. τ. λ.: I must needs glory, though it is not expedient (sc., my opponents drive me to it); but I will come to visions such as were seen by Daniel (2 Corinthians 10:1), which were predicted as to be granted in the New Dispensation (Joel 2:28 f., quoted in Acts 2:17), which were seen by St. Peter (Acts 10:10), and by St. John (Revelation 1:10; Revelation 4:1), as well as by St. Paul himself (Acts 9:3, cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1, Acts 9:12; Acts 22:17) and revelations of the Lord, sc., revelations granted by Christ (Revelation 1:1). St. Paul repeatedly insists that he received his message διʼ ἀποκαλύψεως ἰη. χρ. (Galatians 1:12, Ephesians 3:3; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3); on one occasion he went up to Jerusalem κατὰ ἀποκάλυψιν (Galatians 2:1); and he claims to have the power of speaking ἐν ἀποκαλύψει (1 Corinthians 14:6), as had also some of his Corinthian converts (1 Corinthians 14:26). He now mentions one signal instance of such a “vision and revelation” which was vouchsafed to him.


Verses 1-6

2 Corinthians 12:1-6. THE APOSTLE’S VISION: IF HE CHOSE, HE COULD BOAST OF IT.


Verse 2

2 Corinthians 12:2. οἶδα ἄνθρ. ἐν χρ. κ. τ. λ.: I know (not “I knew” as the A.V. has it) a man in Christ, i.e., a Christian (see reff.), fourteen years ago (for the constr. πρὸ ἐτ. δεκ. cf. John 12:1)—whether in the body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not (the words distinctly indicate St. Paul’s belief that perception is possible for a disembodied spirit); God knoweth—such an one caught up to the third heaven. Cf. Ezekiel 8:3. “The Spirit lifted me between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem.” The date of this trance must have been about 41 or 42 A.D., years of which we have no details so far as St. Paul’s life is concerned; probably he was then at Tarsus (Acts 9:30; Acts 11:25; cf. the reference to St. Paul in the dialogue Philopatris, § 12; ἐς τρίτον οὐρανὸν ἀεροβατήσας). The mention of “the third leaven” raises interesting questions as to Jewish beliefs. There is no doubt that a plurality of “heavens” is recognised all through the O.T. (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 10:14, 1 Kings 8:27, Nehemiah 9:6, Psalms 68:33; Psalms 148:4); but it has been matter of dispute whether the Rabbinical schools recognised seven heavens or only three. However it is now fairly well established that, in common with other ancient peoples (e.g., the Parsees, and probably the Babylonians), the Jews recognised seven heavens. This view not only appears in the pseudepigraphical literature, but in some of the Fathers, e.g., Clement of Alexandria, Its most detailed exposition is found in the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, a Jewish apocalypse written in Greek in the first century of our era (now only extant in a Sclavonic version). In chap. viii. of this work we find that Paradise is explicitly located in the “third heaven,” which is the view recognised here by St. Paul (see Charles’ Sclavonic Enoch, pp. xxxi: ff.).


Verse 3-4

2 Corinthians 12:3-4. καὶ οἶδα τὸν τοιοῦτον κ. τ. λ.: and I know such a man (he speaks with such caution and reticence of this momentous event in his spiritual life that he will not even describe it in the first person) … how that he was caught up into Paradise (see previous note), and heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter; such words are reserved for the Divine voice which speaks to man, although this restriction does not apply to all Divine words.


Verse 5

2 Corinthians 12:5. ὑπὲρ τοῦ τοιούτου κ. τ. λ.: on behalf of such an one will I glory, but on mine own behalf, i.e., of myself in my normal state, I will not glory save in my weaknesses, as he has already done, 2 Corinthians 11:23 ff.


Verse 6

2 Corinthians 12:6. ἐὰν γὰρ θελήσω καυχ. κ. τ. λ.: we must supply a suppressed clause: “And yet, as you see, if I did choose to boast, I should keep within the truth” is the sense. For if I should desire to glory, I shall not be foolish (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:1 and 2 Corinthians 12:11), for I shall speak the truth (2 Corinthians 11:31); but I forbear, lest any man should account of me above that which he seeth me to be or heareth from me. He is anxious that he should be judged, not by his report of his own spiritual experiences, but by his laborious and painful life in the service of the Gospel. It is instructive to notice that he does not bring forward this vision as evidence of the truth of doctrine; he only mentions it incidentally and with reserve as a Divine manifestation of which he might legitimately boast, if he chose. On the other hand, he appeals to the fact that he had seen the Risen Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:8) as of great evidential importance, which indicates that he believed that vision to be “objective” in a sense in which the visions of an ecstatic trance are not.


Verse 7

2 Corinthians 12:7. καὶ τῇ ὑπερβ. τῶν ἀποκ. If we read διό, these words ought either to be taken with the concluding words of 2 Corinthians 12:6 (as by W.H.), or—regarding 2 Corinthians 12:6 as a parenthesis—with 2 Corinthians 12:5 (as by Lachmann). Neither gives a satisfactory sense, and we therefore follow the R.V. in regarding the construction as broken. He says and by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations—and then suddenly changes the form of the sentence.— διὸ ἵνα μὴ ὑπεραίρ. κ. τ. λ.: wherefore, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me, sc., by God (as at 1 Corinthians 11:15; 1 Corinthians 12:7, Galatians 3:21), a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan (who is regarded as having power over the σάρξ, Luke 13:16, 1 Corinthians 5:5, Job 2:5), that he might buffet me (see reff.), the pres. tense indicating that this “buffeting” was not a single isolated trial but continual, that I should not be exalted overmuch. In classical Greek σκόλοψ means a “stake,” and this is given as an alternative rendering in the R.V. margin. Thus the Apostle’s trial would be likened to a continual “impalement”. Stanley, who adopts this rendering, compares Galatians 2:20 “I am crucified with Christ”. But in the Greek of the LXX (see Numbers 33:55, Hosea 2:8, Sirach 43:19) σκόλοψ undoubtedly means “thorn,” not “stake” (Ezekiel 28:24 is, perhaps, doubtful). Illustrations of its use in this sense also occur in Artemidorus, Babrius and the medical writers (see Field in loc. and Hermathena, xix., p. 390); e.g., of the pain of cutting a tooth it is said ὅταν ἐμπεπαρμένος σκόλοψ σαρκί (Comm. in aph. Hippocr., 25). We hold, then, that σκόλοψ here certainly means “thorn,” and that St. Paul’s trial is compared to the vexatious irritation of a thorn rather than to the agonising and fatal torture of impalement on a stake. We have no knowledge as to what this trial was. It is a mere fancy, and not a happy one (probably suggested by the Latin stimulus carnis), that it consisted in violence of sensual passions (cf. contra 1 Corinthians 7:7-9 and 2 Corinthians 12:9 below). That the σκόλοψ is an individual opponent who was a “thorn in his side” (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:7, 2 Corinthians 11:14) was held by Chrysostom; Ephraim Syrus identifies him with Alexander the coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14)! But this guess hardly explains σαρκί; the trial was not of the spirit, but in the flesh. It seems likely on the whole that it was a bodily infirmity, probably the ἀσθένεια τῆς σαρκός of Galatians 4:13. Jerome (Gal., iv., 13) and Tertullian (de Pudic., 13) mention the tradition that it was headache; this was probably (if there be any truth in the tradition) only a symptom. Another view (supported by the Celtic name for the disease) is epilepsy, a disease to which “visionaries” are said to be prone, but which afflicted two such strong men as Napoleon and Peter the Great. Those who hold this view generally point to the circumstances of St. Paul’s conversion as illustrating an attack of the disorder. But this at least is excluded by the Apostle’s own words; the “thorn in the flesh” was “given” him after the “vision” of fourteen years before; i.e., this infirmity came upon him after the year 41. Another plausible conjecture (see Farrar, St. Paul, Excurs. xi., but cf. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, p. 39) is that the Apostle suffered from ophthalmia (cf. Acts 9:9, Galatians 4:15; Galatians 6:11), a very common disease in the East. Prof. Ramsay (loc. cit., p. 94 ff.) thinks it was chronic malarial fever. Whatever his infirmity was, it apparently affected the dignity of his outward appearance (Galatians 4:14), and was evident to the eye. For a full discussion of the various theories on the subject see Lightfoot, Galatians, p. 186 ff.


Verses 7-10

2 Corinthians 12:7-10. HIS “THORN IN THE FLESH”.


Verse 8

2 Corinthians 12:8. ὑπὲρ τούτου τρὶς κ. τ. λ.: concerning this thing (or “this angel”; for ὑπέρ = “concerning” see on 2 Corinthians 1:8) I besought the Lord, i.e., Christ (see 2 Corinthians 12:9), thrice that it (or “he”) might depart from me. “Thrice” seems to point to three special occasions, when his prayers for the removal of his trial were specially urgent. Like Another who prayed thrice that the cup of suffering might pass from Him (Matthew 26:44), St. Paul did not receive the answer his spirit longed for. But he did receive an answer abundantly sufficient to strengthen and to console.


Verse 9

2 Corinthians 12:9. καὶ εἴρηκέ μοι κ. τ. λ.: and He hath said (note the perf. as expressing the abiding validity of the Divine promise; so often in quotations from the O.T., e.g., Acts 13:34, Hebrews 4:4; Hebrews 10:9) to me, “My grace is sufficient for thee (cf. Isaiah 43:2), for My power is being made perfect ( τελεῖσθαι is found here only; the tense indicates a continuous fact in St. Paul’s life) in weakness”. So it is said of Christ that He was “made perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10); and of the power which He communicates from Himself the same law holds good. Cf. Isaiah 40:29-31.— ἥδιστα οὖν κ. τ. λ.: most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses (sc., rather than that they should be removed), that the power of Christ (see on 2 Corinthians 6:7 and reff. there) may rest upon me, lit., “may spread a tabernacle over me”. The image is that of the Shechinah or σκηνή, the glory which was the symbol of the Divine presence in the Holy of Holies, descending upon the faithful (cf. John 1:14, Revelation 7:15; Revelation 21:3). The two renderings (“strength” and “power”) of δύναμις in the A.V. of this verse are preserved (although interchanged) in the R.V. by a curious inadvertence on the part of the Revisers, who are generally scrupulous even to pedantry in maintaining uniformity in such matters.


Verse 10

2 Corinthians 12:10. διὸ εὐδοκῶ κ. τ. λ.: wherefore I am well content in (for εὐδοκεῖν ἐν cf. 2 Samuel 22:20, Matthew 3:17, 1 Corinthians 10:5) weaknesses, in insults ( ὕβρις is used for “injury” to a ship in Acts 27:10; Acts 27:21; it does not occur elsewhere in N.T.; but cf. ὑβρίζειν, Acts 14:5, 1 Thessalonians 2:2), in necessities, in persecutions and distresses, for Christ’s sake (cf. Matthew 5:11); for whenever I am weak, then am I strong. Wetstein compares Philo’s τὸ ἀσθενὲς ὑμῶν δύναμίς ἐστι (Vit. Mos., i., § 13). St. Paul’s words are more than a verbal paradox: they express the fact, to which history abundantly testifies, that the world’s throne is the Cross.


Verse 11

2 Corinthians 12:11. γέγονα ἄφρων· ὑμεῖς κ. τ. λ.: I am become foolish, sc., boasting thus: ye compelled me, i.e., it was your doing; for I ought to have been commended by you (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:1, 1 Corinthians 9:1), i.e., you should not have left it to me to speak my own praises: for in nothing was I behind the superfine Apostles, whom you trust so readily, although I am nothing, sc., in God’s eyes (cf. John 8:54, 1 Corinthians 3:7). Of the Apostles properly so called, St. Paul calls himself ἐλάχιστος (1 Corinthians 15:9); but he will not admit for a moment the superiority of the Corinthian Judaisers.


Verses 11-13

2 Corinthians 12:11-13. THE FOREGOING TESTIMONY TO HIS CLAIMS OUGHT TO HAVE COME FROM THE CORINTHIANS WHO WITNESSED HIS APOSTOLIC LABOURS.


Verse 12

2 Corinthians 12:12. τὰ μὲν σημεῖα κ. τ. λ.: truly (there is no antithesis to μέν) the signs of an Apostle ( τοῦ is generic, “such as might be expected from an Apostle”; cf. Mark 16:20) were wrought (note the passive; he does not claim to be anything more than God’s instrument; οὐδέν ἐστι) among you in all patience, sc., on my part ( ὑπομονή is an essential quality for a Christian missionary; see on 2 Corinthians 1:6), in signs and wonders and powers. This direct assertion, made as if it were indisputable, that miracles had been wrought at Corinth through his agency (see also Romans 15:19, 1 Corinthians 2:4) is noteworthy. The three words used should be distinguished. τέρας is something anomalous, outside the ordinary course of nature. This, however, is not the prominent idea in the N.T. miracles; τέρας is never used in the N.T. (save in the quotation Acts 2:19) except in combination with σημεῖον = a “sign” of the Divine purpose. σημεῖα καὶ τέρατα is the regular phrase both in O.T. (Exodus 7:3, etc.) and in the N.T. for “miracles”; but it is their signal rather than their wonderful character upon which stress is laid. To describe them as δυνάμεις (Matthew 7:22, Acts 19:11, 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28) directs attention to the Omnipotent Being to whom they are due.


Verse 13

2 Corinthians 12:13. τί γάρ ἐστιν ἡσσ. κ. τ. λ.: for what is there wherein ye were treated as inferior (cf. 2 Peter 2:19) to the rest of the churches, except indeed that I myself did not burden you? Cf. Acts 20:33, 1 Corinthians 9:12 and 2 Corinthians 12:16. The emphatic αὐτὸς ἐγώ may indicate that it was only he himself (and not his colleagues) who refused maintenance (see on 2 Corinthians 11:12). This was the only σημεῖον τοῦ ἀποστόλου which he did not exhibit at Corinth, and he ironically adds, Forgive me this wrong.


Verse 14

2 Corinthians 12:14. ἰδοὺ τρίτον τοῦτο κ. τ. λ.: behold this is the third time that I am ready to come to you. While these words only express that he had been ready to go twice before, they are quite consistent with the hypothesis, required by 2 Corinthians 13:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 2:1 (see Introd., p. 5), that he had actually paid two previous visits to Corinth, the first of which is described in Acts 18. That we have no details of the second is no argument against its having taken place.— καὶ οὐ καταναρκ. κ. τ. λ.: and I will not be a burden to you, following in this my practice on the two former occasions; for I seek not yours but you; for the children are not bound to lay up for the parents, in which relation he stands to them (1 Corinthians 4:14 f., cf. Galatians 4:19), but the parents for the children (cf. Proverbs 19:14). See on 2 Corinthians 11:12 for St. Paul’s principles of action in this matter.


Verses 14-18

2 Corinthians 12:14-18. THAT HE DID NOT CLAIM MAINTENANCE AT CORINTH WAS DISINTERESTED ON HIS PART.


Verse 15

2 Corinthians 12:15. ἐγὼ δὲ ἥδιστα κ. τ. λ.: and I will most gladly spend and be wholly spent for your souls’ sake (cf. chap. 2 Corinthians 1:6, Romans 9:3, Philippians 2:17, 1 Thessalonians 2:8, 2 Timothy 2:10 for the like expressions of unselfish devotion). ψυχή is here used (as at Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 2:11) of the spiritual part of man, the interests of which are eternal.— εἰ περισσοτέρως ὑμᾶς ἀγαπῶ κ. τ. λ.: if I loved you more abundantly, i.e., than I love other Churches of my foundation (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:11), am I loved less (sc., than I am loved by other Churches)? Is it thus that you requite my affection?


Verse 16

2 Corinthians 12:16. ἔστω δὲ κ. τ. λ.: but he it so! I did not myself burden you (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:9 and 2 Corinthians 12:13). This the Corinthians grant as indisputable, but they allege a sinister reason, viz., being crafty (for ὑπάρχων see on 2 Corinthians 8:17) I caught you (see on 2 Corinthians 11:20) with guile (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:2, μὴ περιπατοῦντες ἐν πανουργίᾳ μηδὲ δολοῦντες κ. τ. λ.). That is, his adversaries hinted that, although he did not accept maintenance directly, yet the collection made for the Judæan Christians was under his hand, and that he was not above suspicion in his disposal of it. To this he returns an indignant denial, and appeals directly to their own observation of the messengers whom he had sent, of whom Titus (at least) had met him in Macedonia with a report (2 Corinthians 7:6) and was sent back to Corinth with two companions to complete the business, carrying this letter (2 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 8:18 ff.).


Verse 17

2 Corinthians 12:17. μή τινα ὧν κ. τ. λ.: of those whom ( ὧν by attraction for ἐκείνων οὕς) I have sent, was there one by whom I took advantage of you? The constr. is broken, and the resulting anacoluthon is one of the most striking in St. Paul’s writings (cf. Romans 8:3, Galatians 1:20).


Verse 18

2 Corinthians 12:18. παρεκάλεσα τίτον κ. τ. λ.: I exhorted Titus (see on 2 Corinthians 8:6), and I sent the brother with him. This was the mission from which Titus’ return is recorded above (2 Corinthians 7:6), We do not know the name of his companion; but it is highly probable that Titus and this ἀδελφός are the ἀδελφοί who were the bearers of the former letter to Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:12).— μή τι ἐπλεονέκτ. κ. τ. λ.: surely Titus took no advantage of you? walked we not (i.e., Titus my emissary and I myself) by the same spirit and in the same steps? It is plain that Titus’ first mission had been admirably fulfilled, and that the Corinthians had recognised his single-mindedness and sincerity (see 2 Corinthians 7:13). To their good opinion of him St. Paul might fairly point, for Titus, after all, had only carried out his instructions.


Verse 19

2 Corinthians 12:19. πάλαι f1δοκεῖτε κ. τ. λ.: ye are thinking this long time (i.e., since they read 2 Corinthians 11:1 ff.; for πάλαι cf. Matthew 11:21, Hebrews 1:1, 2 Peter 1:9) that we are excusing ourselves to you, which is very far from his intention (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:3). On the contrary, in the sight of God speak we in Christ (as he had said before, 2 Corinthians 2:17). But all the things, sc., which we speak, beloved, are for your edifying, sc., of which you sorely stand in need.


Verses 19-21

2 Corinthians 12:19-21. HIS GLORYING HAS NOT BEEN BY WAY OF APOLOGY, BUT TO EDIFY THEM UNTO REPENTANCE.


Verse 20

2 Corinthians 12:20. φοβοῦμαι γὰρ κ. τ. λ.: for I fear lest by any means, when I come, I should find you not such as I would, and should myself be found of you such as ye would not, i.e., indignant to severity at their backsliding (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:2), lest by any means there should be strife (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:11; 1 Corinthians 3:3), jealousy, ragings (this seems to be the force of the plur. θυμοί; cf. Wisdom of Solomon 7:20), factions ( ἐριθεῖα is derived from ἔρῑθος, a hired labourer, and signifies a mercenary cabal), backbitings, whisperings (i.e., open and secret defamation of character), swellings, i.e., insolences, tumults (see on 2 Corinthians 6:5). Cf. James 3:16, ὅπου γὰρ ζῆλος καὶ ἐριθεία, ἐκεῖ ἀκαταστασία.


Verse 21

2 Corinthians 12:21. μὴ πάλιν ἐλθόντος μου κ. τ. λ.: lest when I come, my God should humble me again before you, sc., because of the scanty fruit of his preaching (as had been the case on his second visit), and I should mourn for many (observe, not “all”) that have sinned heretofore, i.e., before my second visit, and did not repent, i.e., after my second visit (we thus retain the force of the aorist part; for μετανοέω see on 2 Corinthians 7:9, and for μετανοεῖν ἐπὶ cf. Joel 2:13, Amos 7:3), of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they committed. There is nothing in the anxiety here expressed which is inconsistent with the language of 2 Corinthians 7:9 ff. There he expresses his satisfaction that in the matter of the incestuous person the Corinthians had obeyed his directions; but their proneness to sins of the flesh he is fully alive to. See, e.g., 2 Corinthians 6:14, 2 Corinthians 7:1.


 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/2-corinthians-12.html. 1897-1910.

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