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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 1

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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After the salutation (2 Corinthians 1:1-2), this chapter is wholly given to Paul’s affirmation of his absolute sincerity and integrity. As Hughes said, "The import of 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 seems to have been missed by many commentators."(F1) In the very forefront of Paul’s defense regarding his coming to Corinth stands this amazing record of his affliction which had made it IMPOSSIBLE for him to come. Therefore, this record of that dreadful happening in Asia is a definite and convincing refutation of all charges of insincerity on his part. 2 Corinthians 1:12-14 have the dogmatic answer that in the case of the apostle Paul, "There were no hidden actions in his life … there were no hidden motives in his life … and there were no hidden meanings in any of his words."(F2) A further explanation of the necessities which had entered into certain changes in his plans was given in 2 Corinthians 1:15-24.

Verse 1

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints that are in the whole of Achaia.

Paul, an apostle … In nine of the thirteen (fourteen) epistles of Paul, the affirmation of his apostleship stands in the salutation. Thus, as Lipscomb said, "He used it (the title of apostle) in all but five of his letters."(F3) (Lipscomb counted Hebrews as Pauline.) No title of Paul was given in either of the Thessalonians or Hebrews. To the Philippians he spoke of himself and Timothy as "servants of Jesus Christ"; and to Philemon he called himself "a prisoner of Jesus Christ." It was most appropriate that in this epistle, wherein a major section concerns the vindication of his rights as an apostle, and to a community where his authority was being challenged, this bold declaration of his apostolic authority should stand at the very beginning.

Timothy our brother … Sosthenes stands in the salutation to the Corinthians in the first epistle, as Timothy was not at that time with Paul. It may be assumed that Sosthenes was not present when this letter was sent. Timothy had aided in the evangelization of Corinth when the church was founded there; but he did not share any apostolic authority with Paul in this letter. Timothy was a faithful and devoted helper of the apostle; but the contrast between "an apostle of Jesus Christ" and "our brother" is meaningful.

The church of God which is at Corinth … In view of all the disorders and sins which beset the Christians who received this letter, it may be asked, How, in conscience, could Paul refer to them as the "church of God"? John Calvin’s explanation is as good as any that has come down through history. He said:

Paul discerned among them the doctrine of the gospel, baptism and the Lord’s Supper … They retained the fundamental doctrine, adored the one god, and invoked in the name of Christ; and since they placed the confidence of their salvation in Christ, and had a ministry that was not altogether corrupted, the church still continued to exist there.(F4)

It is apparent everywhere in the New Testament that the legitimacy of congregations and Christians alike depended more upon the ideals and intentions of their heart than upon any perfection in the realization of them. All Christians should take encouragement from this.

With all the saints … This is a common designation for Christians in the New Testament; but it should be understood more as a description of what they should have been than as a description of what they were. As Carver put it:

Paul does not address his readers as saints because they have realized in life the full implications of the name, but simply because they authentically belong to Christ as a body of believers.(F5)

However, there is also in this word a prospect of the ultimate destiny of every Christian. Whatever the shortcomings now, there is certain to come the hour when every child of God shall be presented "without blemish" and "perfect in Christ" (Colossians 1:28). It is in that manifest destiny of ultimate perfection that a true Christian, regardless of mistakes, is authentically a "saint." Of course, there is absolutely nothing in this word that is connected with the pretensions of this historical church in the so-called canonizing of dead people. The saints at Corinth were very much alive.

That are in the whole of Achaia … The geographical area of Achaia had two meanings. In the classical sense, "It meant only the northern strip of the Peloponnesus; as a Roman province the name included both Hellas and the Peloponnesus."(F6) In fact, it included "the whole area south of the province of Macedonia."(F7) In this probably lies the explanation of why Stephanas was called the "firstfruits of Achaia" (1 Corinthians 16:15), whereas it would appear that "Dionysius, Damaris and others" were the first-fruits (Acts 17:34). Concerning what Paul meant by Achaia in this passage, McGarvey thought it was the whole province, basing his conclusion upon the use of the word "whole."(F8)

Verse 2

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace to you and peace … Broomall has an excellent comment on this, as follows:

In the protocol of salvation, recognized even in a salutation, GRACE always precedes PEACE. The former is the basis and the foundation of the latter. Therefore, the order cannot be changed. No man can have peace who has not previously experienced divine grace.(F9)

God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ … "It should be noticed that the deity of Christ is plainly implied by the language of this verse."(F10) He is linked on an equality with God as the source of grace and peace. Furthermore Jesus Christ is distinguished by the title "Lord." "This is the very term ([@kurios]) which is used in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament to translate the sacred four-letter name of God ([Hebrew: Y-H-W-H, Yahweh])."(F11) See further discussion of this title in my Commentary on Luke, pp. 8-10.

Verse 3

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … This is not a denial of the deity of Christ implied in the previous verse; but it brings to view the incarnation, during which the sonship of our Lord was predominant.

Father of mercies … It is the mercy of God, more than any other attribute, which has captured the imagination of mankind. Every chapter in the Koran, except one, begins with the words, "In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate."

God of all comfort … "The word COMFORT, either as a verb or a substantive, occurs ten times in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7."(F12) As a matter of truth, God is the God of everything beautiful and desirable. He is the God of patience and of comfort (Romans 15:5), the God of glory (Acts 7:2), the God of hope (Romans 15:33), the God of peace (Romans 15:33), and the God of love and peace (2 Corinthians 13:11).

Verse 4

Who comforteth us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

Affliction … Here is introduced the word which flies like a banner over the entire epistle. The word with its synonym "suffering" occurs eight times in this paragraph.

That we may be able to comfort … Inherent in Paul’s statement here is the fact that only those who have suffered are able to comfort others. Also, it is God who is the source of all comfort, except that which is merely superficial; and even those purely human sources of comfort are themselves related to the nature of God.

Who comforteth us … One of the great comforts Paul had received and which he acknowledged here "seems to have resulted from the good reports brought from Corinth by Titus."(F13) Paul’s 1 Corinthians letter had accomplished his purpose; the Corinthians had repented; and Paul was comforted in the knowledge that the crisis in Corinth had passed.

Before leaving this verse it should be pointed out that in the KJV the word "comfort" is rendered "consolation" in several places. Farrar called the variations "needless"; and, although granting that they were well intentioned, he said:

They arose from a false notion of style, a deficient sense of the precision of special words, and an inadequate conception of the duties of faithful translation, which requires that we should as exactly as possible reflect the peculiarities of the original, and not attempt to improve upon them.(F14)

It is precisely in this conceit of "improving" the word of God that many of the "modern" translations are unqualified failures. The instance cited by Farrar from the KJV is fortunately rare in that version; but many of the current so-called "translations" are nothing but commentary, and in countless examples unwholesome and inaccurate commentary.

Verse 5

For as the sufferings of Christ abound unto us, even so our comfort also aboundeth through Christ.

The sufferings of Christ … These may not be understood as the usual hardships and tribulations of life, but as sufferings, oppositions, threatenings and dangers resulting directly from the sufferer’s engagement in the service of the Lord. Christ promised his apostles that they would suffer terrible persecutions in the course of their ministry; and Paul certainly sustained his share of them, and even more. See 2 Corinthians 11:23 ff.

Verse 6

But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which worketh in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.

For your comfort and salvation … All of the hardships endured by the apostle were for the sake of the eternal salvation of his converts. This is the motivation which even yet supplies the energy for many faithful ministries of the gospel. Whatever earthly hardships and persecutions attend the work, either of ministers or others, the goal of saving souls from eternal death is paramount.

The same sufferings … In this Paul acknowledged that the Corinthians themselves were under the same hatred and opposition of Satan that he himself endured.

Patient enduring … The Christian answer to the devil’s opposition, however manifested, is patient endurance. Steadfastness is the prime requirement of all Christian living.

Verse 7

And our hope for you is stedfast; knowing that, as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so also are ye of the comfort.

This says that all sufferings received in the service of Christ are also certain to receive the comfort of Christ, the sufferings and the comfort being inseparably linked together. "We suffer with him, that we may be glorified with him" (Romans 8:17). "If we endure, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12).

Verse 8

For we would not have you ignorant brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life.

Which befell us in Asia … Although it is impossible for us to know exactly what it was that befell Paul in Asia, it is as Hughes said, that a commentator "is bound to examine such information as the text affords."(F15)


McGarvey followed the reasoning of such commentators as Calvin, Paley, Olshausen and others in identifying this affliction as the riot at Ephesus, described by Luke (Acts 19:23—20:1). However, the narrative in Acts appears to indicate that Paul escaped without any suffering at all. Furthermore, "I would not have you ignorant" in this verse seems to say that the knowledge of this affliction would be news at Corinth; and as Ephesus was only 200 miles from Corinth, we may not suppose that such a riot as that described in Acts would have been unknown at Corinth. The intercourse between the two cities was too constant and sustained for that.

Tertullian authored the earliest comment that has come down through history; and he stated that Paul in this passage referred to his fighting wild beasts at Ephesus, stating that Paul "enumerated it to induce an unfaltering belief in the resurrection of the flesh."(F16) Besides the question of whether or not Paul’s fighting wild beasts was physical or metaphorical, there is also the fact that Paul had already mentioned that episode (whatever it was) in the first epistle (15:32).

Charles Hodge thought Paul might have referred in general terms to "plots and attempts against Paul’s life." Windisch thought it may have been an attempt to lynch Paul. Hoffmann applied the reference to a shipwreck (2 Corinthians 11:25), one not reported by Luke. Stanley and Rendell suppose that it may have been the agonizing anxiety concerning the state of the church in Corinth. Many commentators explain it as some terrible illness from which Paul recovered.

Among so many learned opinions, another, whether learned or not, can do no harm. It is believed by this writer that reference is here made to some terrible danger from which Paul was delivered, but which remains unreported in the New Testament. That such an awful danger did in fact exist is proved by Paul’s crediting Priscilla and Aquila with having saved his life, placing the Gentile churches of the whole Roman empire in debt to them for "laying down their own necks" on his behalf (Romans 16:4). This event of their saving Paul’s life was extensively known among the Gentile churches everywhere; and when Paul later arrived at Corinth, he surely gave them all the details of it. Just why the details were not given for us is not known; but there was possibly something sensitive about it that made it dangerous, at least for a while, to elaborate the details. See my Commentary on Romans, p. 512.

Verse 9

Yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead.

Paul treasured the awful experience through which he had passed for the great lesson which it reinforced; namely, that one’s trust should never be in himself but in the Lord, even God who raises the dead. By this reference to raising the dead, there is brought into view the passage in Hebrews 11:19, in which Abraham’s offering of Isaac was enabled through his confidence that God was able to raise the dead, giving incidental support to the view that the author of Hebrews and the author of this passage are one and the same person. Where else in all the Bible is Abraham’s reliance upon God’s ability to raise the dead even hinted at? And how did Paul know it? He himself had trusted God in the same manner when death loomed as a certainty, and at a time when many of God’s promises to the blessed apostle were as yet unfilled.

Verse 10

Who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver: on whom we have set our hope that he will also still deliver us.

So great a death … How could anyone refer to any ordinary fatal illness in terms like these? The implication is overwhelming that something extraordinary was involved; and common fatal diseases are not extraordinary.

Will deliver … Paul could not have meant that he still had remnants of the "fatal infection"; but rather that whatever danger might beset him in the future, he would still confidently rely upon God to deliver him.

Verse 11

Ye also helping together on our behalf by your supplication; that, for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many, thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.

Ye also helping … This is not a declaration that the Corinthians had helped, by their prayers, Paul’s deliverance from the affliction in Asia, just mentioned; although, in a general sense, their constant prayers on Paul’s behalf certainly had a part in it. The second clause shows that Paul expected their participation in the thanksgiving for his deliverance.

By means of many … The gift of Paul’s deliverance had resulted from the participation of many people, among whom, no doubt, were Priscilla and Aquila; and it was appropriate that many people, including the Christians in Corinth, should participate in the thanksgiving.

Before leaving the record of this episode, it should be remembered that the sensational event of Paul’s deliverance from the terrible affliction in Asia was reason enough, prima facie, to refute the insinuations of Paul’s enemies at Corinth to the effect that his delay in visiting them was irresponsible.

Verse 12

For our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of God, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we behaved ourselves in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.

This verse is Paul’s affirmation of total sincerity and godliness in all of his dealings with the Corinthians. He gloried in the fact of the absolute integrity and uprightness of his behavior among them. He had not indulged in the tricks and devices of "fleshly wisdom." His actions were open before God and themselves; there were no hidden deeds of darkness and dishonesty on his part.

Verse 13

For we write no other things unto you, than what ye read or even acknowledge, and I hope ye will acknowledge unto the end.

Furthermore, there were no hidden things in his writings. If his enemies had perpetrated the slander that his writings were deceptive, or that he wrote one thing and meant another, this verse nailed their accusations as falsehoods. The very fact of Paul’s answering them is proof that slanders were made.

Unto the end … These words should be translated "fully," as thoroughly explained by Hughes.(F17) The widespread error to the effect that Paul thought the end of the world was just around the corner probably lay at the base of the mistranslation. As Allo said:

Those who wish to understand this in an eschatological sense are not only misled by the mistaken idea that Paul and the Corinthians were expecting the end of the world as near at hand … they also commit a serious error of literary judgment in failing to notice the intentional antithesis between KNOW and KNOW FULLY, as here, and as in 1 Corinthians 13:12.(F18)

Verse 14

As also ye did acknowledge us in part, that we are your glorying, even as ye are also ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus.

In part … The significance of this is that "a portion of the church believed him to be sincere and consistent, though there was a faction that denied it."(F19)

In the day of our Lord Jesus … This is a glance at the final day of judgment at the Second Coming of our Lord. All of the affairs of the Christian’s daily life must be evaluated in the light of that final reckoning.

Verses 15-16

And in this confidence I was minded to come first unto you, that ye might have a second benefit; and by you to pass into Macedonia, and again from Macedonia to come unto you, and of you be set forward on my journey to Judaea.

Paul’s first purpose was to go via Corinth to Macedonia, and thence via Corinth again to Judea; but in 1 Corinthians 16:5, he wrote that this plan had given way to another, and that he proposed to go to Macedonia first. This was apparently the basis of the slander that Paul could not make up his mind, or that he was deceitful. If the plan made originally could have been carried out, it would have meant a double visit to Corinth, described by Paul here as "a second benefit."

Set forward on my journey … This is a reference to the early custom of members of the congregation accompanying the apostle part of the way upon occasions of his departure, as in Acts 15:3; Acts 20:38; Acts 21:5 and in Romans 15:24.

Verse 17

When I therefore was thus minded, did I show fickleness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with one there should be the yea yea and the nay nay?

Paul’s argument is simply that: Surely I cannot be accused of fickleness merely upon the basis of changes in my plans! He further declared that he had made his plans in good faith, changing them only when there appeared good and sufficient reasons for doing so. Incidentally, there is a glimpse in this of the fact that even so Spirit-filled a person as the blessed apostle was compelled to make future plans, not upon the basis of direct inspiration, but upon the basis of sober, practical good judgment. Some of the charismatics of our own times should take note of this.

According to the flesh … is a reference to plans made without sincerity, or for the purpose of deception. There is one sense in which all of a Christian’s plans for the future are made "in the flesh," that is, without the benefit of inspiration.

Yea yea and nay nay … This is an idiom for double talk, insincerity, and deception.

Verse 18

But as God is faithful, our word toward you is not yea and nay.

Paul’s promises were sincerely made; and there was no deception whatever. How could the promises of an apostle through the will of God be otherwise?

Verse 19

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timothy, was not yea and nay, but in him is yea.

By me and Sylvanus and Timothy … These were with Paul in the founding of the church at Corinth; and the very fact of their having preached the truth that is in Christ Jesus made it morally impossible for them to have engaged in the kind of petty deceptions alleged against him by his foes.

In him is yea … "Yea and nay" continues to be used here as an idiom of fraud and deception. In Christ there is neither fraud nor deception; but in him is yea; and in this context "yea" is an idiom for utmost truth, sincerity and integrity. This verse means that integrity is the hallmark of every Christian. Being "in Christ" is one and the same thing as being absolutely honest, truthful and straightforward in all communications of every kind. In the light of this, is it not true that some who may claim to be so are not really "in Christ" at all?

Sylvanus … This is the same person identified as Silas in Acts 15:32; Acts 15:40, who was one of the prophets of the early church, and also a companion of Paul on the second missionary tour. He was with Paul in jail at Philippi and throughout that exciting tour.

Verse 20

For how many soever be the promises of God, in him is the yea; wherefore also through him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us.

In God is yea … and the Amen … There is a profound inference in this verse to the effect that disbelieving God’s chosen apostle Paul is a denial of the truth and righteousness of the Father himself. Paul said, in these words, "Believe me; believe God." No sterner or more dogmatic affirmation of his apostleship could be imagined.

The Amen … God will not only honor his promises, which are invariably true; but he will sum them up with a heavenly Amen. God’s word is the last word. God is the Amen; but so also is Christ. "These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Revelation 3:14). Thus, "The Amen is through him who is himself the Amen."(F20) Many of our Lord’s most solemn pronouncements began with "Amen, Amen, I say unto you … etc." This is translated, "Verily, verily, I say unto you." This was a most arresting manner of declaring for those who heard him the absolute authority and immutability of Jesus’ teachings.

Verses 21-22

Now he that establisheth us with you in Christ, and anointed us, is God; who also sealed us, and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.

Three things in these verses — (1) the anointing; (2) the sealing; and (3) the giving of the earnest are all references to one action, that of conversion — by which the believer is united with Christ "in Christ." This action, as evident on Pentecost, was a compound act of obedience: believing, repenting, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. After discussing various theories on this, Hughes stated that:

It is more satisfactory to identify the anointing, sealing, and giving of the earnest with the single event of baptism, and the continuous establishing with the other and constantly repeated New Testament sacrament of the holy communion.(F21)

Establishes us with you … Paul affirmed in this the essential unity of all Christians, himself as well as the Corinthians, "in Christ." By virtue of unity with Christ and "in Christ," there is no fraud, insincerity or deception in any Christian, apostle or otherwise, all such evils being fundamentally opposed to their very nature in the Lord.

Sealed us … earnest of the Spirit … The earnest (or token) of the Holy Spirit is identified with "the Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13) and is the invariable inheritance of all who obey the gospel of Christ. For further discussion see my Commentary on Romans, p. 124. Even the Corinthians possessed the earnest of the Holy Spirit, despite their delinquency in so many particulars.

Verses 23-24

But I call God for a witness upon my soul, that to spare you I forbare to come to Corinth. Not that we have lordship over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for in faith ye stand fast.

I call God for a witness … Some call this an oath; but others deny it. Even God himself, for a righteous purpose, "interposed with an oath" (Hebrews 6:17); and Paul’s appeal to God as witness in this passage would seem to indicate that the prohibition of Christ in Matthew 5:34 ff should not be applied to the kind of oath (if it is an oath) in evidence here. Certainly, it would appear that courts of justice should be allowed to administer oaths, even to Christians. See more on this in my Commentary on Matthew, p. 67.

To spare you, I forbare to come … Here Paul finally got around to the dogmatic reason why he changed some of his plans of going to Corinth. The situation was so bad there that he considered it profitable and righteous to wait a while until they had more time to repent of their sins. An earlier confrontation might have resulted in thwarting God’s will among them. As these words stand in the English Revised Version (1885), they seem to imply that Paul had not yet gone to Corinth (after the founding of the church); but Tasker pointed out that a permissible translation is, "I came not any more,"(F22) thus avoiding a denial of the "painful visit" which was probably made between the writing of the two epistles.

Not that we have lordship … Paul’s statement that he would "spare" the Corinthians by delaying another visit could have had implications of apostolic authority not intended by Paul; therefore he at once entered a disclaimer of any "lording it over" God’s heritage. Not even an apostle might do such a thing as that (1 Peter 5:3).

There is then no scriptural warrant for hierarchical domination or lordship in the church of Christ.

Absolute authority is not vested in any supposed apostolic office or succession, but in the person and office of Christ.(F23)

Not even the apostle Peter, upon whom such an overwhelming burden of overlordship has been imposed during the historical progression of Christianity, did not consider himself as an ecclesiastical overlord any more than did Paul (1 Peter 5:2).

For in faith ye stand fast … The literal Greek rendition gives this as "In the faith ye have stood firm."(F24) The meaning is clearly that the Corinthians are continuing in the Christian religion; and there is no statement in the passage about salvation being "by faith." Translators never miss an opportunity to plug the favorite heresy of "salvation by faith only"; and despite the fact that they no longer dare to add the word "only," that is definitely intended as the meaning in such renditions as this.

The chapter break here is right in the middle of Paul’s line of thought. Chapter 1 should have ended at verse 14, or have been extended through verse 4 of chapter 2.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-corinthians-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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