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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 13

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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Having already exercised marvelous patience with the Corinthian congregation, the apostle in this chapter stated his intention of coming to them as soon as he could with a view to having a genuine showdown regarding the minority of the congregation, including the false apostles, who had been causing the trouble (2 Corinthians 13:1-10); he concluded with an affectionate greeting to them all, a thumbnail summary of the epistle, and the world-famed trinitarian doxology, perhaps the most widely used on earth (2 Corinthians 13:11-14).

Verse 1

This is the third time I am coming to you. And by the mouth of two witnesses or three shall every word be established.

The third time … Paul’s establishing the church in Corinth was his first visit; and afterward there had been a second, probably between the times of the two canonical epistles; and the one Paul proposed here was the third. Nothing is known of that second visit except what may be inferred from the scanty allusions to it in this epistle. There is no basis for giving any credibility to the imaginative descriptions of that second meeting, in which it is alleged that Paul was insulted, etc., etc. If anything like that had happened, and we cannot believe that it did, would he at this time have convened a court with himself in charge, summoned the witnesses, named the occasion, declared the rules of procedure and ordered the Corinthians to get ready for it?

Two witnesses or three … The principle of justice requiring that no accused person be convicted upon the testimony of a single witness was established in the law of Moses (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 19:15); and Jesus had indicated the continuing validity of the principle in Matthew 18:16. Paul’s introduction of this Old Testament injunction without the usual "it is written" indicates that even at this early date it was universally accepted in the church. Hughes observed that "The minimum number of witnesses was two; and three were preferable to two."(F1) Barclay’s description of what Paul announced in these verses is:

To put it in our modern idiom, Paul insists there must be a showdown. The ill situation must drag on no longer. Paul knew that there comes a time when trouble must be faced. If the healing medicines fail, there is nothing for it but the surgeon’s knife.(F2)

Every word shall be established … Incredibly, some scholars have so far missed the meaning of this that they actually suppose that by this Paul meant, "Any charge still being made against Paul when he arrives will need substantiation by witnesses."(F3) It is impossible to imagine, however, that Paul was going to Corinth to clear himself On the contrary, he would go to discipline and correct THEM and to cast out of God’s church all incorrigible offenders. Clines was therefore correct in referring this to charges "of Corinthian against Corinthians,"(F4) and not to Paul. A full reading of the Old Testament passage appealed to by Paul in this verse makes it absolutely clear what he intended to do:

This is almost verbatim the rendition from the Septuagint (LXX), meaning: "I will judge, not without examination, nor will I abstain from punishing upon due evidence; I shall now assuredly fulfill my threats."(F5)

Some scholars, apparently convinced by their own imaginations of what happened on the second visit, are in gross error by viewing the forthcoming confrontation as a church trying the apostle Paul. Such a notion is incompatible with everything in the New Testament.

Verse 2

I have said beforehand, and I do say beforehand, as when I was present the second time, so now, being absent, to them that have sinned heretofore, and to all the rest, that, if I come again, I will not spare.

The English Revised Version (1885) version in this place is inferior to the RSV, which gives the proper sense and should be read instead of this, the same being one of the exceptions to the general superiority of the English Revised Version. The labored and unnatural rendition in the E.R.V. was contrived as a conformity to the generally held opinions of scholars (until recent times) that there was no "second visit." The literal translation from the Greek makes it certain that there was a second visit.

The RSV rendition of 2 Corinthians 13:2 is as follows:

I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, and that if I come again I will not spare them.

This significant rendition makes it absolutely clear that Paul was just as much in charge of that "painful visit" as he proposed to be in charge of the proposed third visit, having given all of those sinners there a firm and vigorous warning.

If I come again … does not imply any doubt as to Paul’s return. As Clines said, "`If I come again’ is not hypothetical but = `when I come again.’"(F6) This idiom was used by Christ himself in John 14:3, where "if I go" means "when I go."

Regarding the long-established interpretation of the three visits spoken of here, Schoettgen and Clarke insisted that the three visits were: (1) Paul’s establishing the Corinthian church; (2) the first epistle to the Corinthians; and (3) the present epistle, understood in the epistolary sense as already sent, and yet also identified as a visit Paul yet intended to make.(F7) In close connection with that interpretation, Farrar and others understood the "three witnesses" of (1) to be the two canonical Corinthians plus the apostle himself.(F8) As McGarvey said, "Such interpretations are fanciful."(F9) Nevertheless, it was for the purpose of accommodating some of these fanciful views that the English Revised Version thus rendered the passage.

I will not spare … This shows that "The apostolic churches were not independent democratic communities, vested with supreme authority over their own members. Paul could cast out of them whom he would."(F10) Of course, apostolic authority was eventually succeeded by a government of independent congregations by scripturally appointed and qualified elders functioning under the authority of the Scriptures.

Verse 3

Seeing that ye seek a proof of Christ that speaketh in me; who to you-ward is not weak, but is powerful in you.

Broomall was correct in seeing this verse "as a definite affirmation of the apostle’s inspiration and authority. Rejection of him meant rejection of Christ."(F11) Denney also pointed out that:

In challenging Paul to come and exert his authority, in defying him to come with a rod, in presuming on what they called his weakness, they were really challenging Christ.(F12)

Some of the false apostles had been saying: "No matter how boldly he writes, when he comes he will be weak and unimpressive"; but Paul here promised to come and discipline them in the sternest manner.

Verse 4

For he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth through the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live in him through the power of God toward you.

Macknight’s paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 13:4 is thus:

For, though indeed Christ was crucified by reason of the weakness of his human nature, which was liable to death, yet he now liveth by the power of God. And though I also, his apostle, am weak, as he was, being subject to persecution, infamy, death; I shall nevertheless show myself alive in him, by exercising the power of God among you, punishing you severely if you do not repent.(F13)

The weakness of Christ mentioned here applies only to those weaknesses inherent in the fact of incarnation. Being a man, Christ was subject to death. "The Lord assumed our nature with all its infirmities, death included, bore them all for our sake, and then shook them all off forever when he rose from the dead."(F14)

We shall live in him through the power of God in you … By this, Paul meant that severe punishment would be visited upon gross and impenitent sinners at Corinth. Just as Christ the humble sufferer has now ascended to the throne of God, Paul will put aside the weakness of his patience and forbearance and exercise the full power of his apostolic office against the wicked deceivers. Some believe that Paul referred to supernatural judgments like that which afflicted Elymas.

Verse 5

Try your own selves, whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves. Or know ye not as to your own selves, that Christ is in you? unless indeed ye be reprobate.

Someone at Corinth had suggested that Paul "prove" himself by exercising the authority he claimed, perhaps suggesting that they would like to examine him; but here Paul thundered the message that he would conduct a trial, not of himself, but of them, they, not himself, being the persons who needed to prove that they were in the faith.

Christ is in you … is a complimentary remark. Despite the sins of some, Christ was yet in the Corinthian church, unless, of course, the whole church had become "reprobate," a possibility that Paul rejected in the last clause. Again, there is witness here to the fact that the major part of the Corinthian congregation was entitled to all the wonderful things Paul said about them in 2 Corinthians 1—9, a further attestation of the unity of the epistle.

In the faith … is a significant word, as used here, being a synonym for the Christian religion. In many references where Paul speaks of "faith," it has exactly the same meaning as here. Usually, when Paul says "saved by faith," it is not the subjective faith of the believer, but an objective reference to Christianity, which is meant.

Verse 6

But I hope that ye shall know that we are not reprobate.

Paul’s logic here is to this effect: "You know only too well that Christ is in you; and by that very fact you already have proof of Christ speaking in me, through whom the message of Christ was brought to you."(F15) If any should consider Paul reprobate, then they themselves would inevitably be reprobate also, as Paul was, in a sense, their father in the gospel.

Verse 7

Now we pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we may appear approved, but that ye may do that which is honorable, though we be reprobate.

The meaning of this is: "We pray to God that you may lead a pure and holy life, not to do us credit, but because it is right, even though we should be like false apostles."(F16) A shade of meaning is also present as in Clines’ comment: "I would rather you did what is right, even if that means that I should not look like a true apostle, because of no need to take strong disciplinary measures."(F17) Of course, Paul would have been more completely demonstrated as a true apostle if, in response to gross evil, he should have invoked such a penalty as fell on Elymas; on the other hand, if the Corinthians repented, as he hoped they would, he would appear among them as his usual kindly and tolerant self; and, in that latter case, Paul’s honor would not have been so dramatically demonstrated.

Verse 8

For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.

"The word `truth’ here refers to the gospel message which Paul preached";(F18) we … is a reference to Paul himself along with all the other holy apostles, having this meaning: "We apostles cannot exercise our miraculous power in opposition to the truth, but always in support thereof."(F19) It was a moral impossibility for Paul to use the great powers God had given him, merely for the sake of impressing the false apostles at Corinth. The reason for bringing that up here was that if the Corinthians should set things in order before Paul’s arrival, there would be no startling powers displayed when Paul came. Of course, that is exactly the way Paul wanted it to be.

Verse 9

For we rejoice when we are weak, and ye are strong: this we also pray for, even your perfecting.

When we are weak … means "when we appear weak" because of no need to exhibit divine power. "He is perfectly willing to be deprived of the opportunity to manifest apostolic power at Corinth, and thus be thought weak by some."(F20)

Even your perfection … It is not the conversion of a whole congregation which is suggested by this, but the conversion of the rebellious minority, thus perfecting the whole congregation. The word thus rendered in the Greek is "restoration"; as Hughes said, "The word means a correct articulating of limbs and joints in a body."(F21) Thus is made clear the necessity of seeing these last four chapters, not as a blanket indictment of the whole church. The body had not at this point been destroyed, although some of its members needed "restoration," or "perfecting" as in English Revised Version (1885).

Verse 10

For this cause, I write these things while absent, that I may not when present deal sharply, according to the authority which the Lord gave me for building up, and not for casting down.

This is a more concise statement of what Paul has been saying in the previous verses. "Paul’s ardent desire to forestall any need for rebuke shows his great wisdom in developing the church along lines of love, with no display of authority"(F22)

Verse 11

Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfected; be comforted; be of the same mind; live in peace: and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

Farewell … is actually "rejoice";(F23) for Paul is not saying "good-bye" until a little later. Lipscomb was impressed with the fact that "no names are mentioned here"(F24) despite the fact of Paul’s knowing so many of them. This is quite natural. Any minister writing to a great congregation where his acquaintance was extensive would never single out just a handful for personal reference. It is a failure to understand this evident fact which led to Brunner’s repudiation of Romans 16 because of the many personal references in a letter to a church where he had never labored,(F25) However, it was precisely because Paul had NOT lived in Rome that he could send greetings to all of his friends in a general letter to the church. To have done so here at Corinth would have offended every person whose name he might have omitted. See discussion of this in my Commentary on Romans, p. 14. Such a criticism proves that some scholars are totally ignorant of the personal relations problems invariably associated with a congregation of Christians.

Be perfected; be comforted; be of the same mind; live in peace … "This closing fourfold appeal aptly summarizes Paul’s letter."(F26) A similar summary of 1 Corinthians is in 1 Corinthians 16:13. As this passage stands, it fails to give the vigorous impact Paul probably intended. Filson admitted that these words "may be in the middle voice,"(F27) thus giving the meaning exactly as it is rendered in the Nestle Greek text: "restore yourselves" and "admonish yourselves." This is the true meaning, because as regards both restoration and admonition, it is the will of the person which is prerequisite to either one of them being accomplished. Thus the thought is similar to "work out your own salvation" (Philippians 2:12).

Verse 12

Salute one another with a holy kiss.


Dummelow called this "the token of brotherhood in the early church.(F28) Other references to it in the New Testament are Romans 15:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, and 1 Peter 5:14. Peter called it the "kiss of love"; but it is called the "holy kiss" elsewhere. This form of brotherly greeting, however, existed long before Christianity. Jesus rebuked the Pharisee for withholding the customary kiss of greeting (Luke 7:45), and Judas used it treacherously in the betrayal (Mark 14:44 f). Carver said the practice came from "the Jewish synagogues, where the sexes were segregated in worship."(F29) It is plain that Paul was not here commanding a form of greeting, but regulating a custom that already existed. Kelcy understood this verse to mean, "The kiss of greeting, a social custom of the times, was not to be a meaningless formality; it was to be holy."(F30) Lipscomb also took the same view of this, saying, "The object of the Holy Spirit in referring to the kiss was to regulate a social custom, and not to institute an ordinance."(F31) "Like our handclasp today, the kiss was a symbol of mutual confidence; and, where the Corinthians were concerned, a sign of the healing of old divisions."(F32)

Paul’s reference to the "holy" kiss thus contained an embryonic warning of things to come. The Christian congregations continued to use it as Christianity spread over the world; and the historical churches soon developed the custom into a liturgy. Plumptre tells how the custom was observed about the third century, as described in Apostolic Constitutions. Instructions were sent to the churches with this:

Let the deacons say to all, "Salute ye one another with a holy kiss"; and let the clergy salute the bishop, the men of the laity salute the men, and the women were to salute the women. Deacons were to watch that there was no disorder during the act.(F33)

Another very early testimony regarding this kiss, and the abuses that had crept into the observance of it, was given by Clement of Alexandria, thus:

Love is not proved by a kiss … There are those that make the church resound with a kiss, not having love itself within. The shameless use of a kiss occasions foul suspicions and evil reports … Gentle manners require that a kiss be chaste and with a closed mouth. There is an unholy kiss, full of poison, counterfeiting sanctity. "This is the love of God," says John, "That we keep his commandments," not that we stroke each other on the mouth.(F34)

Despite abuses, the custom prevailed until the thirteenth century, when the Western Church abolished it, and substituted "the act of kissing a marble or ivory tablet, upon which some sacred object, such as the crucifixion, had been carved."(F35) The device was passed from one person to another during the observance of what by that time had become a "rite"; and the device itself was called "the Osculatorium."(F36)

Verse 13

All the saints salute you.

This included not merely Paul and his companions but included all Christians throughout the world. Although the Corinthians were not personally known by very many Christians throughout the ancient world, nevertheless the community of interest, mutual affection, and highest brotherly respect were properly considered to be the right of every Christian on earth. This word indicated clearly that Paul still considered the church at Corinth as a valid part of the larger body of Christ on earth, and that in spite of the disorders which threatened them. See 2 Corinthians 1:1, and also 1 Corinthians 1:4.

Verse 14

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

This great trinitarian doxology is one of the most widely used on earth, the beauty and effectiveness of it being known to millions in all nations. The New Testament nowhere mentions by name the doctrine of the Trinity; and there are doubtless aspects of that doctrine which are not fully scriptural; but the fact of there being three persons in the Godhead unmistakably shines in passages like this and Matthew 28:18-20. For further thoughts on this subject, see my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 33, 34, 525.

Commentators are agreed that there is nothing formal or stylized about this doxology; otherwise, the Father would have been mentioned first. As Clines said, "What makes it so impressive is the spontaneous, unconscious formulation of it."(F37)

The fact that, only a short generation after the crucifixion of Christ, his name should have been adoringly linked with that of Almighty God and the blessed Holy Spirit in a prayer is an allegation of his deity. Thus, as Broomall said, "This epistle opens (2 Corinthians 1:2) and ends with an affirmation of the deity of Christ."(F38)

Grace of Christ … love of God … communion of the Holy Spirit … As Tasker said, "As the first of the three genitives here is subjective, it is probable that the other two should be construed in the same way."(F39) It is therefore the grace Christ showed to people, dying for their salvation (not the grace of men toward Christ), and the love of God toward man in the sending of his only begotten Son, and the communion with mankind on the part of the Holy Spirit. in the sacred writings of holy scripture, and not personal indwelling in Christian hearts as the earnest of human redemption. Just as the grace of Christ and God’s love are their actions, the communion of the Holy Spirit is the Spirit’s action (a thing not true of the earnest at all, for the earnest is sent by the Father, as in Galatians 4:6); and the epic achievement of the Holy Spirit for all people is seen in the inspired messages of holy writ.

This priceless doxology prayerfully closes the Second Epistle to the Corinthians; and, after all that has been said, of censure and warning, the lowest sinner in the congregation is made a beneficiary of this apostolic benediction, no less than all the rest. "It is upon all, the slanderers, the gainsayers, the seekers after worldly wisdom, the hearkeners to false doctrine, as well as upon the faithful and obedient."(F40) Surely here is the overflowing of a heart full of true love for the tried and tempted, for weak and sinful Christians. Nothing ever written before or since this Spirit-breathed epistle to Corinth ever succeeded in reaching and sustaining such a high level of personal impact, not only upon a troubled church of nineteen hundred years ago, but upon every soul that has the grace to receive it.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-corinthians-13.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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