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the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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2 Corinthians 4

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1


St. Paul shows the integrity with which he had preached the

Gospel of Christ, 1, 2.

And that, if it was unprofitable to any who had heard it, it

was because their unbelieving hearts were blinded, 3, 4.

How he preached, and how he was qualified for the work, 5-7.

The troubles and difficulties he met with in his labours, and

the hope and consolations by which he was supported, 8-15.

And the prospect he had of eternal blessedness, 16-18.


Verse 2 Corinthians 4:1. Seeing we have this ministry — The Gospel, of which he gave that noble account which we read in the preceding chapter.

We faint not — We meet with many tribulations, but are supported in and through all by the grace of the Gospel. Instead of ουκ εκκακουμεν, we faint not, ουκ εγκακουμεν, we act not wickedly, is the reading of ADFG, and some others. Wakefield thinks it the genuine reading; it certainly makes a very good sense with what goes before and what follows. If we follow this reading the whole verse may be read thus: Wherefore, as we have obtained mercy, or been graciously intrusted, ηλεηθημην, with this ministry, we do not act wickedly, but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, &c.

Verse 2

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:2. But have renounced — απειπαμεθα. We have disclaimed the hidden things of dishonesty; τα κρυπτα της αισχυνης, the hidden things of shame; those things which wicked men do; and which they are ashamed to have known, and ashamed to own. Dr. Whitby thinks that the apostle refers to carnal abominations, of which the Jews and their rabbins were notoriously guilty. And it does appear from the first epistle that there were persons in Corinth who taught that fornication was no sin; and it appears also that several had taken the part of the incestuous person.

Not walking in craftiness — πανουργια. In subtlety and clever cunning, as the false teachers did, who were accomplished fellows, and capable of any thing. The word is compounded of παν, all, and εργον, work.

Nor handling the word of God deceitfully — Not using the doctrines of the Gospel to serve any secular or carnal purpose; not explaining away their force so as to palliate or excuse sin; not generalizing its precepts so as to excuse many in particular circumstances from obedience, especially in that which most crossed their inclinations. There were deceitful handlers of this kind in Corinth, and there are many of them still in the garb of Christian ministers; persons who disguise that part of their creed which, though they believe it is of God, would make them unpopular, affecting moderation in order to procure a larger audience and more extensive support; not attacking prevalent and popular vices; calling dissipation of mind, relaxation; and worldly and carnal pleasures, innocent amusements, c. In a word, turning with the tide, and shifting with the wind of popular opinion, prejudice, fashion, c.

But by manifestation of the truth — An open, explicit acknowledgment of what we know to be the truth-what we are assured is the Gospel of Jesus concealing nothing blunting the edge of no truth; explaining spiritual things, not in the words of man's wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit of God.

Commending ourselves to every man's conscience — Speaking so that every man's conscience shall bear its testimony that we proclaim the truth of God. This is one characteristic of Divine truth: even every man's conscience will acknowledge it, though it speak decidedly against his own practices.

In the sight of God. — Whose eye is ever on the heart and conscience of man, and who always bears testimony to his own word.

Verse 3

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:3. But if our Gospel be hid — κεκαλυμμενον. Veiled; he refers to the subject that he had treated so particularly in the conclusion of the preceding chapter. If there be a veil on the Gospel, it is only to the wilfully blind; and if any man's heart be veiled that hears this Gospel, it is a proof that he is among the lost, απολλυμενοι, those who are fully under the power of sin; who have given up themselves to work wickedness; persons who are mere heathens, or live like such, and yet such as Jesus Christ came to seek and save; for the word does not necessarily imply those that will perish eternally, but is a common epithet to point out a man without the Gospel and without God in the world. Christ commands his disciples in preaching the Gospel to go to προβατα τα απολωλοτα, the LOST sheep of the house of Israel; Matthew 10:6; for himself says, Matthew 18:11, and Luke 19:10: The Son of man is come ζητησαι και σωσαι το απολωλος, to seek and to SAVE that which is LOST. And such persons he represents under the parable of the lost sheep; for to find το απολωλος, that which is LOST, the good shepherd leaves the ninety-and-nine in the wilderness, and goes in search of it; Matthew 18:12; Luke 15:4. The word more properly signifies, in all those connections, and in the parallel passages, not those who ARE LOST, but those who are perishing; and will perish, if not sought and saved.

Verse 4

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:4. In whom the god of this world, c.] We see here that those whose minds are blinded, are they who believe not and because they believe not, their minds continue in darkness, and are proper subjects for Satan to work on; and he deepens the darkness, and increases the hardness. But who is meant by the god of this world? It is generally answered, the same who is called the prince of this world, John 16:11. But the question recurs, who is the prince of this world? and the answer to both is, SATAN. The reader will do well to consult the notes on "John 12:31", and the concluding observations on "John 14:30". I must own I feel considerable reluctance to assign the epithet ο θεος, THE God, to Satan; and were there not a rooted prejudice in favour of the common opinion, the contrary might be well vindicated, viz. that by the God of this world the supreme Being is meant, who in his judgment gave over the minds of the unbelieving Jews to spiritual darkness, so that destruction came upon them to the uttermost. Satan, it is true, has said that the kingdoms of the world and their glory are his, and that he gives them to whomsoever he will; Matthew 4:8; Matthew 4:9. But has God ever said so? and are we to take this assertion of the boasting devil and father of lies for truth? Certainly not. We are not willing to attribute the blinding of men's minds to God, because we sometimes forget that he is the God of justice, and may in judgment remove mercies from those that abuse them; but this is repeatedly attributed to him in the Bible, and the expression before us is quite a parallel to the following, Isaiah 6:9: Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. MAKE the HEART of this PEOPLE FAT, and MAKE their EARS HEAVY, and SHUT their EYES; LEST they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, c. And see the parallel places, Matthew 13:14; Matthew 13:15 Mark 4:12; John 12:40; and particularly Romans 11:8-10: God HATH GIVEN THEM THE SPIRIT of SLUMBER, EYES that they SHOULD not SEE, and EARS that they SHOULD not HEAR; let their EYES be DARKENED, c. Now all this is spoken of the same people, in the same circumstances of wilful rebellion and obstinate unbelief and the great God of heaven and earth is he who judicially blinds their eyes; makes their hearts fat, i.e. stupid; gives them the spirit of slumber: and bows down their back, c. On these very grounds it is exceedingly likely that the apostle means the true God by the words the god of this world.

And as to the expression this world, αιωνος τουτου, we are not to imagine that it necessarily means wicked men, or a wicked age for it is frequently used to express the whole mundane system, and all that is called time: Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither εν τουτω τω αιωνι, in THIS WORLD, nor in the world to come; Matthew 12:32. In Luke 20:34, the children, υιοι του αιωνος τουτου, of THIS WORLD, mean simply mankind at large in their state of probation in this lower world, in opposition to their state in the world to come. The same meaning the word has in several other places, to which l need not refer; it simply implying the present state of things, governed by the Divine providence, in contradistinction from the eternal state: and it is very remarkable that, in 1 Timothy 1:17, God himself is called βασιλευς των αιωνων, the King of the WORLD; what we call King eternal; but here it evidently means him who governs both worlds, and rules in time and eternity. This character among the Asiatics is considered essential to God; and therefore in the very first surat of the Koran he is called [Arabic] Rubbi Alalameen, "the Lord of both worlds," an expression perfectly similar to that above. But it is needless to multiply examples; they exist in abundance. Some, and particularly the ancient fathers, have connected του αιωνος τουτου with των απιστων, and have read the verse: But God hath blinded the minds of the unbelievers of this world, c. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Chrysostom, Theodoret, Photius, Theophylact, and Augustine, all plead for the above meaning and St. Augustine says that it was the opinion of almost all the ancients.

Lest the light of the glorious Gospel — They have resisted the grace which God gave them, and have refused to yield to the evidences which amply prove the Messiahship of Jesus; and therefore their eyes were judicially darkened, as it is said in the prophet: He hath closed their eyes, and hath given them the spirit of slumber. That is, they have shut their eyes against the light, and their blindness and stupor are the consequence.

By glorious Gospel we are to understand the luminous Gospel; that which comes with so much light and evidence to every candid mind.

Who is the image of God — Christ is called, Hebrews 1:3, the brightness of God's glory, and the express image of his person. See the note there.

Verse 5

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:5. For we preach not ourselves — We neither proclaim our own wisdom nor power; we have nothing but what we have received; we do not wish to establish our own authority, nor to procure our own emolument.

But Christ Jesus the Lord — We proclaim the author of this glorious Gospel as CHRIST, ο χριστος, the same as המשיח hammashiach, the MESSIAH, the Anointed One; him of whom the prophets wrote; and who is the expectation, as he is the glory, of Israel, We proclaim him as JESUS יהושע Yehoshua, the Saviour and Deliverer, who saves men from their sins. See Matthew 1:21. And we proclaim Jesus of Nazareth to be the long-expected Messiah; and that there will be none other. And farther we proclaim this Jesus the Messiah to be the LORD, ο κυριος, the great Ruler who has all power in heaven and earth; who made and governs the world; and who can save to the uttermost all that come to God through him. Such was the Redeemer preached by St. Paul.

And ourselves your servants — Labouring as fervently and as faithfully for your eternal interests as your most trusty slaves can do for your secular welfare. And we do this for Christ's sake; for although we by our labour show ourselves to be your servants, yea, your slaves, δουλους, yet it is a voluntary service; and we are neither employed by you nor receive our wages from you. We belong to Jesus; and are your servants on his account, and by his order.

Verse 6

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:6. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness — The apostle refers here to Genesis 1:3. For when God created the heavens and the earth DARKNESS was on the face of the deep; and God said, Let THERE BE LIGHT; and there was light. Thus he caused the light to shine out of darkness.

Hath shined in our hearts — He has given our hearts the glorious light of the Gospel, as he has given the world the glorious light of the sun. As sure, therefore, as God is the author of the light and the creator of the universe, so sure is he the author of the Gospel; it is no human invention; and is as far beyond the power of man's wisdom and might, as the creation of the world is beyond all created power, energy, and skill.

The light of the knowledge — To give us that light, that we might enlighten others; this appears to me to be the design of the apostle's προς φωτισμον της γνωσεως της δοξης του Θεου, or, as Dr. Whitby paraphrases it, to give us, and enable us to give to others, the light of the knowledge of God through Christ.

In the face of Jesus Christ. — It is in and through Jesus that we can receive the Divine light, and it is in and by him that we can be made partakers of the Divine glory. The light mercy, holiness, and glory of God, are reflected upon and communicated to us through Jesus the Christ; and it is εν προσωπω, in the appearance and person of Jesus Christ that these blessings are communicated to us.

Verse 7

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:7. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels — The original, οστρακινοις σκευεσιν, signifies, more literally, vessels made of shells, which are very brittle; and as the shell is the outward part of a fish, it is very fit, as Dr. Hammond observes, to resemble our bodies in which our souls dwell. The Platonists make two bodies of a man: the one they call οξημα φυχης, the chariot of the soul; the other, that which we see and touch; and this they call οστρακινον which is the same to us as the shell is to the fish. The word οστρακον not only signifies a shell, or vessel made of shell, but also πηλος ωπτημενος, an earthen vessel which has been burnt in the kiln, and earthen vessels or pottery in general; the difference between σκευηοστρακινα, earthen ware, and σκευη κεραμεως, the potter's vessel, is this: the latter implies the vessel as it comes out of the hands of the potter BEFORE it is burnt; and the other is the vessel AFTER it has passed through the kiln. St. Chrysostom, speaking of this difference, observes that the vessels once baked in the kiln, if broken, are incapable of being restored, δια την εκ τουπυρος εγγινομενην αυτοις ἁπαξ αντιτυπιαν, because of the hardness once gotten by fire; whereas the others are of clay unbaken, if they be spoiled ῥᾳδιωϚπρος το δευτερον επανελθῃ σχημα, they may easily, by the skill of the potter, be restored to some second form. See Hammond. This comports excellently with the idea of St. Paul: our bodies are in a recoverable form: they are very frail, and easily marred; but by the skill of the workman they may be easily built up anew, and made like unto his glorious body. The light and salvation of God in the soul of man is a heavenly treasure in a very mean casket.

The rabbins have a mode of speech very similar to this. "The daughter of the emperor thus addressed Rabbi Joshua, the son of Chananiah: O! how great is thy skill in the law, and yet how deformed thou art! what a great deal of wisdom is laid up in a sordid vessel! The rabbi answered, Tell me, I pray thee, of what are those vessels in which you keep your wines? She answered, They are earthen vessels. He replied, How is it, seeing ye are rich, that ye do not lay up your wine in silver vessels, for the common people lay up their wine in earthen vessels? She returned to her father, and persuaded him to have all the wine put into silver vessels; but the wine turned acid; and when the emperor heard it he inquired of his daughter who it was that had given her that advice? She told him that it was Rabbi Joshua. The rabbi told the whole story to the emperor, and added this sentence: The wisdom and study of the law cannot dwell in a comely man. Caesar objected, and said, There are comely persons who have made great progress in the study of the law. The rabbi answered, Had they not been so comely they would have made greater progress; for a man who is comely has not an humble mind, and therefore he soon forgets the whole law." See Schoettgen. There is a great deal of good sense in this allegory; and the most superficial reader may find it out.

That the excellency of the power may be of God; and not of us. — God keeps us continually dependent upon himself; we have nothing but what we have received, and we receive every necessary supply just when it is necessary; and have nothing at our own command. The good therefore that is done is so evidently from the power of God, that none can pretend to share the glory with him.

Verse 8

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:8. We are troubled on every side — We have already seen, in the notes on the ninth chapter of the preceding epistle, that St. Paul has made several allusions to those public games which were celebrated every fifth year at the Isthmus of Corinth; and those games have been in that place particularly described. In this and the three following verses the apostle makes allusion to the contests at those games; and the terms which he employs in these verses cannot be understood but in reference to those agonistical exercises to which he alludes. Dr. Hammond has explained the whole on this ground; and I shall here borrow his help. There are four pairs of expressions taken from the customs of the agones.

1. Troubled on every side, yet not distressed.

2. Perplexed, but not in despair.

3. Persecuted, but not forsaken.

4. Cast down, but not destroyed.

Three of these pairs belong to the customs of wrestling; the fourth, to that of running in the race.

Troubled on every side, c.] Εν παντι θλιβομενοι. The word θλιβεσθαι, belongs clearly to παλη wrestling. So says Aristotle, Rhet. lib. i. cap. 5, (and the Scholiast on that place,) ὁ γαρ δυναμενος - θλιβειν και κατεχειν, παλαιστικος·. "He that can gripe his adversary, and take him up, is a good wrestler" there being two dexterities in that exercise:

1. to gripe, and

2. to throw down, which Hesychius calls ωθειν and κρατειν; the first of these is here mentioned, and expressed by θλιβεσθαι, to be pressed down; to which is here opposed, as in a higher degree, στενοχωρεισθαι, to be brought to distress, as when one cannot get out of his antagonist's hands, nor make any resistance against him. So in Isaiah: στενοχωρουμενοι ου δυναμεθα μαχεσθαι, we are brought to such extremities that we can fight no longer.

Perplexed, but not in despair — Απορουμενοι, αλλ' ουκ εξαπορουμενοι. The word απορεισθαι, to be in perplexity, is fit for the wrestler, who being puzzled by his antagonist's skill knows not what to do: so in Hesychius, απορουντες, αμηχανουντες, they that are not able to do or attempt any thing, yet are not εξαπορουμενοι, they miscarry not finally, ορθοι ισταμενοι, stand after all upright; ουκ απογινωσκοντες και ἡττωμενοι, despair not, nor are they overcome, but find a happy issue out of all, being at last conquerors.

Verse 9

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:9. Persecuted, but not forsaken — Διωκομενοι, αλλ' ουκ εγκαταλειπομενοι. The διωκομενοι, pursued, is peculiar to the δρομος, or race, when one being foremost others pursue, and get up close after him, endeavouring to outstrip him, but cannot succeed: this is the meaning of ουκ εγκαταλειπομενοι, not outstripped, or outgone, as the word implies. So in PLUTARCH: τους απολειφθεντας ου στεφανουσι, they do not crown them that are distanced or left behind. So says the apostle, 1 Corinthians 9:24: All run, but only ONE receiveth the PRIZE.

Cast down, but not destroyed. — Καταβαλλομενοι αλλ' ουκ απολλυμενοι. This also belongs to wrestlers, where he that throws the other first is conqueror. And so Hesychius: καταβαλει, νικησει, ῥιψει, to cast down is to overcome, to throw. And then, the being not destroyed signifies that, although they were thrown down-cast into troubles and difficulties, yet they rose again, and surmounted them all.

Verse 10

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:10. Always bearing about in the body, c.] Being every moment in danger of losing our lives in the cause of truth, as Jesus Christ was. We, in a word, bear his cross, and are ready to offer up our lives for him. There is probably an allusion here to the marks, wounds, and bruises which the contenders in those games got, and continued to carry throughout life.

That the life also of Jesus might be made manifest — That in our preservation, the success of our ministry, and the miracles we work, we might be able to give the fullest demonstration that Jesus is risen again from the dead and that we are strengthened by him to do all these mighty works.

Verse 11

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:11. For we which live — And yet, although we are preserved alive, we are in such continual dangers that we carry our life in our hands, and are constantly in the spirit of sacrifice. But the life-the preserving power, of Christ is manifest in our continual support.

Verse 12

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:12. Death worketh in us, c.] We apostles are in continual danger, and live a dying life while you who have received this Gospel from us are in no danger.

Verse 13

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:13. We having the same spirit of faith — As David had when he wrote Psalms 116:10: I believed, therefore have I spoken: we also believe that we shall receive the fulfilment of all God's promises; and being fully convinced of the truth of the Christian religion, we speak and testify that our deliverance is from God; and that he does not fail those who trust in him, and that he saves to the uttermost them who come unto him through Christ Jesus.

Verse 14

Verse 14. Knowing that he which raised up the Lord, &c.] And though we shall at last seal this truth with our blood, we fear not, being persuaded that as the body of Christ was raised from the dead by the power of the Father, so shall our bodies be raised, and that we shall have an eternal life with him in glory.

Verse 15

Verse 15. For all things are for your sakes — We proclaim all these truths and bear all these sufferings for your sakes, thinking all our sufferings nothing if we can gain converts to Christ, and build believers up on their most holy faith.

That the abundant grace — Ἡ χαρις πλεονασασα· The abounding benefit-the copious outpouring of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, by which you have been favoured and enriched, may, through the thanksgiving of many, redound to the glory of God: i.e. that the gratitude of the multitudes which have been converted may keep pace with the blessings which they have received, and περισσευση, abound, as these blessings have abounded.

Verse 16

Verse 16. For which cause we faint not — ουκ εκκα κουμεν. See note on 2 Corinthians 4:1. Here we have the same various reading; εγκακουμεν, we do no wickedness; and it is supported by BDEFG, and some others: but it is remarkable that Mr. Wakefield follows the common reading here, though the various-reading is at least as well supported in this verse as in verse first. The common reading, faint not, appears to agree best with the apostle's meaning.

But though our outward man — That is, our body-that part of us that can be seen, heard, and felt, perish-be slowly consumed by continual trials and afflictions, and be martyred at last;

Yet the inward man — Our soul-that which cannot be felt or seen by others, is renewed-is revived, and receives a daily increase of light and life from God, so that we grow more holy, more happy, and more meet for glory every day.

It was an opinion among the Jews that even spirits stood in need of continual renovation. They say that "God renews the angels daily, by putting them into the fiery river from which they proceeded, and then gives them the same name they had before." And they add, that in like manner he renews the hearts of the Israelites every year, when they turn to him by repentance. It is a good antidote against the fear of death to find, as the body grows old and decays, the soul grows young and is invigorated. By the outward man and the inward man St. Paul shows that he was no materialist: he believed that we have both a body and a soul; and so far was he from supposing that when the body dies the whole man is decomposed, and continues so to the resurrection, that he asserts that the decays of the one lead to the invigorating of the other; and that the very decomposition of the body itself leaves the soul in the state of renewed youth. The vile doctrine of materialism is not apostolic.

Verse 17

Verse 17. For our light affliction, c.] Mr. Blackwall, in his sacred classics, has well illustrated this passage. I shall here produce his paraphrase as quoted by Dr. Dodd: "This is one of the most emphatic passages in all St. Paul's writings, in which he speaks as much like an orator as he does as an apostle. The lightness of the trial is expressed by το ελαφρον της θλιψεως, the lightness of our affliction as if he had said, it is even levity itself in such a comparison. On the other hand, the καθ' ὑπερβολην εις ὑπερβολην, which we render far more exceeding, is infinitely emphatical, and cannot be fully expressed by any translation. It signifies that all hyperboles fall short of describing that weight-eternal glory, so solid and lasting, that you may pass from hyperbole to hyperbole, and yet, when you have gained the last, are infinitely below it. It is every where visible what influence St. Paul's Hebrew had on his Greek: כבד cabad, signifies to be heavy, and to be glorious; the apostle in his Greek unites these two significations, and says, WEIGHT of GLORY."

St. Chrysostom's observations on these words are in his very best manner, and are both judicious and beautiful:

ΤΙΟΗΣΙ παραλληλα τα παροντα τοις μελλουσι· το παραυτικα προς το αιωνιον· το ελαφρον προς το βαρυ· την θλιψιν προς την δοξαν· και ουδε τουτοις αρκειται, αλλ' ἑτεραν τιθησι λεξιν, διπλασιαζων αυτην, και λεγων, καθ' ὑπερβολην εις ὑπερβολην - τουτεστι, μεγεθος ὑπερβολικως ὑπερβολικον.

"The apostle opposes things present to things future; a moment to eternity; lightness to weight; affliction to glory. Nor is he satisfied with this, but he adds another word, and doubles it, saying, καθ' ὑπερβολην εις ὑπερβολην. This is a magnitude excessively exceeding." See Parkhurst, sub voce υπερβολη.

Verse 18

Verse 2 Corinthians 4:18. While we look not at the things which are seen — μη σκοπουντων. While we aim not at the things which are seen; do not make them our object; are not striving to obtain them; for they are not worthy the pursuit of an immortal spirit, because they are seen; they are objects to which the natural eye can reach; and they are προσκαιρα, temporary; they are to have a short duration, and must have an end. But the things which we make our scope and aim are not seen; they are spiritual, and therefore invisible to the eye of the body; and besides, they are αιωνια, eternal-things that are permanent; that can have no end; they are things which belong to God; holiness, happiness, and the endless communication and fruition of himself.

But we must remark that the light afflictions work out this far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory only to those who do not look at the things which are seen. A man may be grievously afflicted, and yet have his eye bent on temporal good; from his afflictions he can derive no benefit; though many think that their glorification must be a necessary consequence of their afflictions, and hence we do not unfrequently hear among the afflicted poor, "Well, we shall not suffer both here and in the other world too." Afflictions may be means of preparing us for glory, if, during them, we receive grace to save the soul; but afflictions of themselves have no spiritual nor saving tendency; on the contrary, they sour the unregenerated mind, and cause murmurings against the dispensations of Divine Providence. Let us, therefore, look to God, that they may be sanctified; and when they are, then we may say exultingly, These light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. O world to come, in exchange for the present! O eternity, for a moment! O eternal communion in the holy, blessed, and eternal life of God, for the sacrifice of a poor, miserable, and corrupted life here on earth! Whoever sets no value on this seed of a blessed eternity knows not what it comprehends. That which the eyes of the flesh are capable of perceiving is not worthy of a soul capable of possessing God. Nothing which is of a perishable nature can be the chief good of a being that was made for eternity!-Quesnel.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/2-corinthians-4.html. 1832.
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