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Thursday, July 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 5

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In the first paragraph of this chapter, Paul spoke of the spiritual body which is to replace the present earthly body of Christians at the time of the Second Advent and judgment of the last day (2 Corinthians 1:10), and then delivered some of the profoundest teachings in Holy Scripture regarding the ministry of reconciliation, of which Paul, along with the other apostles, was an ambassador (2 Corinthians 1:11-21).

Verse 1

For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

This is Paul’s declaration of his certainty (not mere belief) of the existence of the soul after death, when clothed with a glorious new body, it shall live in eternal felicity with God. Of course, this should be understood as the distinctive hope of Christians.

We know … "This accent of certainty is found only in the Christian writers."(F1) Such confidence did not derive from any human conclusions; but, as Hillyer said, "This was not by human reasoning, but by divine revelation."(F2)

Earthly house … tabernacle … The word here is actually "tent," which is as good a symbol of that which is transient and temporary as could be imagined. Paul was a tentmaker, and this is exactly the type of metaphor that should have been expected from him; and, added to that was the fact of Israel’s having dwelt in tents during the forty years of the wilderness wanderings. No tent could last permanently when exposed to the elements; and the same is true of people’s mortal bodies when exposed to the inevitable erosion of time.

A building from God … This does not deny that people’s mortal bodies are also, in a sense, "from God"; but it has special reference to that God-created spiritual body which shall replace the decaying bodies of mortal flesh.

A house not made with hands … Paul made tents with his hands; but the glorious resurrection body is far above and beyond anything that human hands might contrive.

Eternal in the heavens … When the soul of a Christian is clothed with that wonderful and glorious spiritual body, decay and death shall be no more; and the soul of the redeemed shall enjoy eternal life.

Regarding the hope of eternal life, it is a fact that the deepest instincts of people’s hearts perpetually turn to it. "Man is, by terms of his existence, a being of eternity; and he cannot unmake himself."(F3) "There is a deep and wide testimony in man’s nature to the existence of God, and of a future life. It may be pronounced either true or false, but it must be admitted to exist."(F4) The great affirmation of Christianity is that all of the subliminal longings for immortality in human hearts shall be gloriously realized in Christ Jesus.

Verse 2

For verily in this we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven.

In this we groan … has reference to mortal infirmity and the increasing burden of years which press more and more upon every earthly life. Paul’s own extraordinary hardships and sufferings might have been in view primarily in this place; but, as Kelcy said, "In this body we groan from pains to which flesh is heir."(F5) Or, as Filson stated it: "This reflects Paul’s desire to be free from the afflictions and imperfections of this life."(F6)

Longing to be clothed upon … The notion that Paul was here expressing a dread of being a disembodied spirit during the interval between death and the judgment is obviously incorrect. "Clothed upon" does not refer to something Paul hoped for at death but to the ultimate replacement of the old body with a new one in the final day. The idea is that of "putting on a new garment to replace the old one."(F7) Some commentators, arguing from the peculiar expression "clothed upon," have interpreted this as something that would be done to the physical body, and not to something that would replace it.

Verse 3

If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.

Not be found naked … It is a gross error to suppose that this has any reference to the notion of the ancient Greeks, to the effect that "disembodied spirits were under the earth and capable of taking part in life anywhere in the universe."(F8) Paul had in mind here the sad truth that some who might expect to be clad with the glorious resurrection body in the final judgment will have no such thing, but be found naked instead. True Christians will be gloriously clothed in eternity; but for those lukewarm and self-satisfied Christians who think their "faith alone" is all they need, eternal nakedness shall be their disappointment. That is why the apostle John instructed that class of Christians to "Buy of me (the Lord) white garments that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest" (Revelation 3:18). Although salvation is of grace and of the free gift of God, there is a certain "clothing of oneself" that is required of all who would not be naked in eternity. However people may deny this, it is true, as Paul will state dogmatically a little later in 2 Corinthians 5:10.

Wesley’s comment on "We shall not be found naked" is most perceptive, saying that it referred to one whose appearance in the presence of the King was without "the wedding garment."(F9) The application of the man without the wedding garment to the "nakedness" in view here is perfect (Matthew 22:11). In the Saviour’s parable, the naked one was indeed a guest; he had been invited, had answered the call, and had accepted the King’s invitation, even sitting down at his table; but not having the wedding garment, he was "naked" in the eyes of the King and was cast into "the outer darkness." In exactly the same way, Christians who neglect or refuse to do the things Christians are commanded to do will appear "naked" in judgment. "Faith only" is nakedness in the eyes of God.

Verse 4

For indeed we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened; not for that we would be unclothed, but that we would be clothed upon, that what is mortal may be swallowed up of life.

Being burdened … This is by further explanation of what Paul meant by "groan." The physical body is an increasing burden with advancing years; and this is perhaps the saddest thing about life on earth. However powerful and glorious the physical body may be for a season, the burden grows heavier and heavier until at last the weary burden bearer stumbles into a grave. This thought was touched upon by Paul in this:

The Lord Jesus Christ; who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself (Philippians 3:21).

The body of our humiliation … This is inspired comment upon the body which is a burden and in which Paul said "we groan." The body of any mortal, at last, is the body of his humiliation. Many years or even decades may pass with little evidence of the humiliation in view here; but inevitably the blow falls.

Illustration: This writer’s father was a man of extraordinary strength, and at the age of 80 years still led singing for the village congregation. Then, one day when he was 90 years old, he took this son into a private room where they played a phonograph record, made many years earlier, when the father’s voice was young and vigorous and beautiful. As we listened, both of us burst into tears; and Dad said "Ah son now we know what Paul meant by "the body of our humiliation."

Not that we would be unclothed … This has the meaning, "Not that we want to die."

But that we would be clothed upon … means, "Nevertheless, we still long to possess that eternal body."

That what is mortal may be swallowed up of life … This has the same weight as 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, being an obvious reference to what is written there; and here also, in all probability, lies the explanation of the peculiar form "clothed upon."

Verse 5

Now he that wrought us for this very thing is God, who gave us the earnest of the Spirit.

Other references of the apostle to the "earnest" of the Holy Spirit are in 2 Corinthians 1:22 and Ephesians 1:13. The meaning of "earnest" is exactly that of the word as used by realtors in sealing the purchase of a piece of property. It is a token, or pledge, that the whole contractual price will be paid. The application is that through God’s impartation of the Holy Spirit (in token measure) to all who are baptized into Christ, there is a pledge of the total redemption God promised to them that believe and obey his word. Some have taken this "gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38), or "Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13), as it is called, for a promise of direct guidance of his children on the part of God, without regard to the sacred scriptures; but, of course, this is the grossest error. In any language, a "token" may not be misconstrued as the full possession of God’s gracious gift of the Spirit. Evidence of possession of this gift is found in the manifestation of the fruits mentioned in Galatians 5:22.

Verse 6

Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.

Russell’s explanation of this is: "Christ is indeed here and with us always; but, in the clearer vision of the life to come, our realization of his presence will make this present existence to have been absence by comparison."(F10)

Always of good courage … Confidence in the fundamental Christian truth that "No matter what may happen to my body, absolutely nothing can happen to ME!" is the basis of true Christian courage. The thought is like that expressed poetically:

Like the bird be thou That for a moment rests Upon the topmost bough. He feels the branch to bend And yet as sweetly sings, Knowing he hath wings!

Verse 7

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

This is only a parenthesis, and yet one of the epic statements of Scripture. In the previous chapter, Paul had just enunciated the principle that it is regard for the "things unseen" which motivates all Christian behavior, and that only those "things invisible" are eternal; and, since faith regards primarily eternal things, it is impossible to walk by sight. Furthermore, in the cosmic dimensions of that super-astronomical theater where is played out the colossal drama of human redemption from sin, faith in God is a far better aid of the understanding than mere knowledge (or sight) could ever be. The simplest facts of eternity, everlasting life, salvation and knowing God are totally beyond the powers of finite exploration. Therefore the word is, "Trust God; for you cannot KNOW!" This does not disparage revelation, but it is intended to stress the truth that the finite cannot fully know the infinite.

Verse 8

We are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be at home with the Lord.

Wesley made this verse the basis of declaring that "The happiness of saints (upon their death) is not deferred until the resurrection";(F11) because, as he said, "Paul evidently thinks of no alternative except to be either at home in the body or at home in the Lord."(F12) Much as people desire to know about that interval between death and the resurrection, very little may be dogmatically affirmed. None of the dead whom Jesus raised to life ever spoke one word about their experience in death; and such statements as "they rest from their labors" (Revelation 14:13), "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep" (John 11:11), etc. — such words forbid the building of any "explanations" on such a passage as this.

Verse 9

Wherefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well-pleasing unto him.

This was merely Paul’s way of saying, "Whether we live or die, it is our total purpose to please the Lord."

Verse 10

For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad.


For we must all … This means everybody who ever lived, or ever yet shall live, upon this earth. It is absolutely astounding that brilliant men would try to limit this to "All Christians." Hillyer declared this to mean "all Christians, i.e., no unbelievers."(F13) The same opinion was voiced by Clines, "All Christians, not all men."(F14) Inasmuch as the New Testament knows and mentions only one judgment, there can be no reconciliation of that truth with any opinion limiting the judgment scene in this verse to Christians only. The problem does not lie in what Paul taught here, but in the theory of justification by "faith only"; of which, as Tasker said, "Some commentators stress the seeming inconsistency between the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the doctrine of 2 Corinthians 5:10 that Christians no less than non-Christians will be finally judged by their actions."(F15) The blunt truth is that verse 10 is not merely "inconsistent" with the theory of justification by "faith alone"; it is a dogmatic contradiction of it.

As Plumptre said:

It would have seemed almost impossible, but for the perverse ingenuity of the system-builders of theology, to evade the force of this unqualified assertion of the working of the universal law of retribution. No formula of justification by faith, or imputed righteousness, or pardon sealed in the blood of Christ, or priestly absolution, is permitted by St. Paul to mingle with his expectations of that great day, as revealing the secrets of men’s hearts, awarding to each man according to his works!(F16)

Thus, it was for the clever and ingenious purpose of supporting the "faith only" theory of justification, that scholars have tried to make the judgment scene in 2 Corinthians 5:10 something different from the general judgment. However, attention is called to the following:


The judgment seat of Christ … In this phrase, the apostle followed the invariable pattern of the New Testament in referring to the judgment day in the singular. Not even once in the New Testament is there any reference to more than one judgment. Note:

Jesus said, "They shall give an account in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36).

The men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation (Matthew 12:41).

The queen of the south shall rise up in judgment with this generation (Matthew 12:42).

Whosoever shall say, "Thou fool" shall be in danger of the judgment (Matthew 5:22).

It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you (Luke 10:14).

More tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, etc. (Matthew 10:15).

God hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world by that man whom he hath appointed (Acts 17:31).

We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10).

It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this, judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

From this it is crystal clear that the foolish notion of a succession of judgment days is nowhere to be found in the word of God, despite the fact of its being advocated in the notes to the Scofield Bible! There is no reason whatever to believe that "the judgment seat of Christ" which Paul mentioned in this verse is any different from the one he mentioned in Romans 14:10. The Gospel of John likewise supports the concept of one judgment day (see my Commentary on John, pp. 149-50; also my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 408-411).

Thus, we may be absolutely certain that every man, including every Christian, shall in the last analysis be judged according to his deeds, whether good or bad. There will be no such thing in the judgment as a man of vile deeds being entered into heaven on the basis that "Well, after all, he was a believer!" This cornerstone of Protestant heresy is effectively blasted by Paul’s stern words in this passage.

In this connection, however, it is appropriate to add that "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7); but this promise is for them that "walk in the light." Even the most deplorable sins can be forgiven, and will be forgiven them that continue "in Christ," as believing, baptized Christians, striving to do the will of the Lord, and visibly associated with his kingdom in the present world; nor is it alleged that they could ever achieve or merit redemption as being due to their success in living as God directed; but the whole premise of eternal salvation includes the conscious, serious EFFORT of the twice-born to live the new life which was bestowed upon them. "Faith" is no magic device for avoiding this eternal truth.

The whole thrust of this verse is that people who do not live right shall perish eternally. It is not expected that this truth could ever be popular.

Verse 11

Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest unto God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.

The fear of the Lord … One of the genuine errors of the King James Version was the rendition of this as "the terror" of the Lord. Paul used the same word in Ephesians 5:21, and Luke used it in Acts 9:1; but as Lipscomb said," `Fear’ in all of these passages means reverence and devotion."(F17)

We persuade men … It is not God but people who should be persuaded, God having already done everything that even God could do to bring redemption to fallen humanity.

Made manifest unto God … Paul was saying in this that God already knew the sincerity and integrity of his soul and that he hoped the Corinthians also had been able to discern the same thing. "If Paul had not walked continually in the fear of God (Acts 9:31), he might have yielded to the temptation to curry favor with his hearers by whittling down his message to suit their tastes."(F18)

Verse 12

We are not again commending ourselves unto you, but speak as giving you occasion of glorying on our behalf, that ye may have wherewith to answer them that glory in appearance, and not in heart.

Throughout this part of this noble epistle, Paul was laying the groundwork for a decisive attack upon his enemies that would be unleashed in 2 Corinthians 10. There is a hint of what is to come here; but for the moment Paul was establishing a few facts with reference to himself, these being: (1) his integrity (2 Corinthians 5:11); (2) the acute need to commend himself (2 Corinthians 5:12); (3) his motivation of doing it all for the sake of the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 5:13); (4) that the love of Christ compelled such action on his part (2 Corinthians 5:14); and (5) that as an ambassador of Christ commissioned to deliver the word of reconciliation to people, the utmost necessity lay upon him to the effect that he should not merely affirm his own credentials but that he should also press an unrelenting attack against the enemies of the truth (2 Corinthians 5:18 ff).

Commending ourselves … "What Paul says is not sell praise; he is only giving his friends in Corinth some facts which they may use in his defense."(F19) "Paul had dangerous detractors at Corinth, about whom he will have more to say in 2 Corinthians 10 and 2 Corinthians 11."(F20) Hughes also was impressed with the overtones of this verse which are a clear indication of "the unity and coherence of this epistle."(F21) We join him in the following quotation from Allo:

It is plain as Windisch has well observed, that this as yet vague allusion to a subject which will be treated with such precision and emphasis in the concluding chapters shows that those chapters were not yet written. When they read or hear them, the Corinthians will no longer need that "something by way of rejoinder" should modestly be suggested to them. The eagle is beginning to cast its gaze from on high on the martens and foxes; but the moment has not yet come to swoop down in vertical descent.(F22)

Paul could never have written the mild words of this verse if the Corinthians had already received such a forthright and devastating exposure of Paul’s enemies as that contained in 2 Corinthians 10 and 2 Corinthians 11. Thus, the notion (and it is only that) of those chapters being a fragment of a lost "severe letter" Paul had delivered to Corinth in the interval between the two canonical epistles cannot be logically supported. As this mighty epistle moved to its climax, the holy passions of the matchless apostle gradually reached a plateau of inspiration, from which, with a vigor unsurpassed in scripture, he unleashed the full powers of his righteous anger against those emissaries of the devil who were opposing his work in Corinth.

Them that glory in appearance … The false teachers were boasting of certain external advantages, probably their wealth or social standing; but "in heart" they were wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Verse 13

For whether we are beside ourselves, it is unto God; or whether we are of sober mind, it is unto you.

It is difficult to know exactly what Paul was saying in this.

Whether we are beside ourselves … This could be a hint of criticism directed against Paul by the false teachers. A governor called Paul "mad" (Acts 26:24); and even the Saviour was accused of being "beside himself" (Mark 3:21). In any case, all that Paul did was "unto God" and "unto" the Corinthians, i.e., for their sake.

Verse 14

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died.

Love of Christ constraineth us … Did Paul here refer to his own love of Christ, or to Christ’s love of him? "It matters little whether this be interpreted as a subjective genitive, `Christ’s love to men,’ or as an objective genitive, `our love to Christ’; the two suppose and interfuse each other."(F23)

One died for all … Here is the same "all" encountered in 2 Corinthians 5:10, and it includes all who ever lived. "He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2). The atonement established in Christ’s death was no piecemeal affair, but was big enough to cover all the people and all the sins of all times and places.

Therefore all died … Carver’s discerning comment is:

In view of Christ’s death, ALL MEN ARE DEAD in respect to any spiritual self-sufficiency. The simplest interpretation is that the fact that Christ died for all proves that all were dead.(F24)

From this it appears that those who are not converted, and by means of the new birth "raised with Christ," shall inevitably continue in a state of death throughout eternity. The death of Christ proved that every man deserves death; and, in the spiritual sense, all died and continue in death, until they shall be "raised to walk in newness of life" IN CHRIST.

Verse 15

And he died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again.

The argument is that people who have been redeemed from death by Christ who died (and rose again) in their stead should live in conscious appreciation of their eternal debt of love and gratitude to Christ.

And rose again … This is the climax of the verse. Without the resurrection of Christ, his death was nothing; for a dead Saviour could not save. The grand theme of the New Testament is "the death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God, according to the scriptures." "Death without resurrection would evacuate Calvary of all meaning."(F25)

Verse 16

Wherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh: even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more.

Know no man after the flesh … The new manner of life for Christians follows the principle laid down here. "They no longer measure men by human standards of race, natural gifts, social standing, or possessions."(F26) No sooner had Paul written this than he remembered how, before his conversion, he had measured the Christ himself by those very standards. This he at once confessed and repudiated.

Even though we have known Christ after the flesh … There are some things this does not mean. It does not mean that Paul associated with Christ during the Lord’s ministry. It does not mean that Paul was drawing any distinction between the historical Christ and the risen Christ. It does not mean that Paul’s apostleship was here taking some radical turn away from truth which he had believed and taught up to this time. This latter interpretation, of course, has been advocated by men like Baur and Stanley;(F27) but such theories overlook the fact that this whole epistle was written by Paul to prove just the opposite of their speculation, namely that the totality of Paul’s life and teaching since his acceptance of Christ was absolutely true and consistent.

Regarding the alleged meaning that Paul, as a disciple of Gamaliel, might have had some association with Jesus during his ministry; although this was by no means impossible, it is clear that Paul’s meaning here is that:

Prior to his conversion, his knowledge of Christ had been after the flesh, formed in accordance with external and mistaken standards; but his conversion had meant the transformation of his knowledge of Christ.(F28)

Yet now we know him so no more … Paul no longer judged Christ after the false and artificial standards of the Pharisaical class to which he had once belonged.

Verse 17

Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold they are become new.


In Christ … A phenomenal blindness is the only thing that could account for the total absence from the writings of so many scholars of any reference whatever to this little prepositional phrase which is nothing if not THE VERY EYE OF CHRISTIANITY. Paul used this expression, or its equivalent, 169 times!(F29) Failure to appreciate what Paul means by this is to misunderstand everything. Paul had just written that all people are dead spiritually, a deadness that shall never abate unless they are risen again IN CHRIST. In Christ, a new spiritual life is given to the convert; in Christ all of his previous sins are cancelled; in Christ he is endowed with the Holy Spirit; in Christ a new and glorious life begins; in Christ old values are rejected, old standards repudiated, and old lusts are crucified; in Christ are "all spiritual blessings" (Ephesians 1:3); out of Christ, there is nothing but death, remorse, hopelessness and condemnation; in Christ there is the life eternal!

In the light of the above, how is it that one can read 57 commentaries and find not one single reference to the all important question of "How does one find the status of being `in Christ’"? The answer to this question is the concern of every man ever born, or at least it should be. Here is the answer:

Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3).

As many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ (Galatians 3:27).

For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13).

The baptism "into one body" in the third reference above is exactly the same as being baptized into Christ, because the one body is the spiritual body of Christ. The entire New Testament gives no other means, provides no other device, and suggests no other ceremony or action that can bring the believer INTO CHRIST. Why? Because there is none.

But, it is alleged that "faith in Christ" saves; and so it does, but notice the meaning of this oft-repeated and frequently misunderstood expression. "Faith in Christ" means faith exercised by a believer who is "in Christ," having been baptized into him. For any believer who has not been baptized, his faith is not "in Christ" (because HE is not in Christ); and thus the believer’s faith prior to his baptism is not "in Christ" at all, but "out of Christ." The preposterous assumption that one who is not "in Christ" at all may have, in fact, "faith in Christ" is an utter impossibility. These are among the significant reasons why the dominating expression in this marvelous verse is in the words "if any man is in Christ," which appear at the head of the verse. Not a word subsequently appearing in the verse applies to any person in heaven or upon earth who is NOT "in Christ."

Verse 18

But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation.

All things are of God … The marvelous blessings "in Christ" are of God, as Paul would explain a moment later, because God was in Christ, Christ being called GOD no less than ten times in the Greek New Testament. It was the Second Person of the Godhead, however, who entered earth life as a man, bore the sins of the whole world and offered himself upon Calvary as a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.

Who reconciled us … People are the ones who need to be reconciled; and this thought is again implied here.

And gave unto us … This is a reference to the apostles of Christ, to whom was committed the ministry of reconciliation, meaning the glad news of the redemption available to every man "in Christ." In a far lesser sense, every Christian is also a custodian of the good news; but in the original and plenary sense, this applies only to the apostles of Christ.

Verse 19

To wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses, and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation.


God was in Christ … The English Revised Version (1885), the RSV and others revised the punctuation of this verse, omitting the comma after Christ, doing so for the sole purpose of avoiding the dogmatic affirmation that "God was in Christ"; but, even as the verse is allowed to stand without the comma, the meaning shines through in spite of all efforts to soften it. If God was not in Christ, it would have been impossible for him through Christ to have reconciled the world unto himself! It was precisely this perfect identity with Christ that gave meaning and efficacy to all that Christ did.

It is the presence of God in Christ which gives to the sacrifice of the cross its infinite value; the doctrine of redemption depends on that of the hypostatic union, a doctrine with which these verses are impregnated.(F30)

The many translators and commentators who leave out the comma make up a rather noisy chorus to the effect that the old rendition is not correct; but noise is not argument; and, as Wesley said, "Either translation is grammatically and theologically admissible";(F31) and this writer prefers the KJV rendition for its stress upon the divinity of Christ. Furthermore, some of those who prefer the RSV, etc., do so not upon textual grounds, but upon prior theological positions. Thus Clines said, "The phrase sounds Johannine rather than Pauline, so the latter translation is preferred."(F32) The fundamental error in such a view is the failure to see that Paul and John are one in their views of salvation in Christ. Young scholars, especially, ought not to be intimidated by the nonsense that would try to cover up the agreement between John and Paul. And, as for the impression prevailing in some, to the effect that recent scholars know anything about translating scripture that was unknown to older translators (with the one exception of new manuscript evidence and certain archeological discoveries), this may be confidently denied. This verse as it stands in the KJV was so translated by many of the greatest scholars who ever lived, including: Origen, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Bachmann, Allo, Chrysostom, Meyer, Alford, Olhausen, Hodge, Denney, Plummer, Strachan, Filson, and the RSV margin. "God was in Christ."

Not reckoning unto them their trespasses … The heavenly strategy by which God could, in righteousness, leave off reckoning unto sinners their sins is simply that of the "spiritual body" of Jesus Christ. People who renounce self, obey the gospel, and are added to the body of Christ, are no longer (legally) themselves, but CHRIST. They are then reckoned to be "in Christ," truly identified with Christ, participants in his death, sharers of Christ’s righteousness, and thus wholly justified, not in their original personal identity, but "in Christ and as Christ." Extensive studies of the whole problem of justification are given in the Commentary on Romans. See my Commentary on Romans, chapter 3, etc.

Unto us the word of reconciliation … This is parallel to the last clause of the preceding verse; and this double reference led quite naturally to Paul’s exposition of his status as God’s ambassador, in the next verse.

Verse 20

We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God.

Ambassadors … Throughout history, the office of an ambassador has been one endowed with plenary authority; and it is this aspect of Paul’s ministry which is stressed here. David Lipscomb laid heavy stress upon this most important office of Christ’s apostles. He said:

The apostles were and are the ambassadors of Christ. They sustained a relation to the gospel that no other preachers in their day or since ever sustained or could sustain. They were the REVEALERS of the gospel. All others are only proclaimers of what the apostles revealed. No preacher today has any revelation, nor can he claim to be a witness of the resurrection. He has no authority to declare remission of sins; but he can only point to the apostles’ declaration on the subject. He may preach the gospel, but he cannot reveal it. He has no message that is not already made known. He does not have the credentials of an ambassador; he cannot work miracles; and God will not work with him in signs and wonders confirming the word that he preaches … We may not expect any more ambassadors until the Lord has a new message for mankind.(F33)

Be ye reconciled to God … People can be reconciled to God in only one way, and that is by complying with the conditions God has laid down in the gospel, which conditions are antecedent and prerequisite to salvation. "There are conditions on the part of man. Christ died for all, but not all will be saved."(F34) The ambassadors of Christ, in the New Testament, have made it clear what people should do to be reconciled to God. There is no other way.

Christ … God … "The apostle makes no difference between Christ and God, Christ himself being the Second Person of the eternal Godhead."(F35) As Christ’s ambassador, Paul could declare the conditions of reconciliation with God.

Verse 21

Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

The great substitutionary passages of Isaiah 53 are behind such a declaration as this. Christ bore the sins of all people; his stripes were the healing of all people; his chastisement was the peace of all people; his suffering was the salvation of all people. "God laid upon him the iniquity of us all."

The righteousness of God … All of the righteousness of God ever achieved upon earth was wrought by Jesus our Lord. Those who would participate in the righteousness of God must do so "in him," that is, "in Christ." It has been admitted by all who ever studied the question that only "the righteousness of God" can save people; and that righteousness is "in Christ"; thus no man can be saved out of Christ. In this context, it should also be observed that the righteousness of God was the achievement of God himself in Christ; and, in answer to the question of what constituted that righteousness, it was the perfect faith and obedience of Christ. The faith that saves, in any absolute sense, is therefore the FAITH OF CHRIST, a fact dogmatically affirmed no less than seven times in the Greek New Testament (see my Commentary on Romans, pp. 118-140). Furthermore, even in the case of the faith of Christ, it was not "faith only," but the perfect faith and obedience of the Son of God which wrought the true righteousness which is the foundation of all human salvation in him!

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-corinthians-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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