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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

2 Corinthians 12

Verses 1-99

Ch. 12:1 6. The Visions and Revelations vouchsafed to St Paul

1. It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come ] The Greek text here is in the most utter confusion. Out of the seven Greek words which commence this chapter, the genuineness of only three is guaranteed by the agreement of the MSS. and versions. Some MSS. read, instead of as the A. V., I must glory, it is not expedient for me, for (or yet ). Others again, I must glory, it is not, I grant, expedient, yet . The Vulgate begins with if ( if it bihoveth to have glorie, it spedith not, but I schal come , Wiclif), no doubt from ch. 11:30. The A. V. avoids the difficulty of choosing between for and but before I will come by leaving out both. The usual rule in the case of a doubtful reading is to prefer the more difficult one, on the ground that a transcriber was more likely to evade what seemed to him to be a difficulty by the substitution of an easier word, than of his own accord to add to the difficulty of the passage. This rule is inapplicable here, where the alterations have clearly proceeded from an inability to comprehend the passage as it stood. The reading is therefore to be preferred which falls in best with the general scope of St Paul’s argument. As regards the first portion of the sentence it makes very little difference to the sense whether we follow the A. V. and render I am quite aware ( δή ) that it is not well for me to boast , or with other authorities, I must boast, I know it is not good for me . With regard to for or but , the latter seems to fall in best with the context. If we read for , we must regard St Paul as intending to give an additional proof of the undesirableness of boasting, as shewn by the fact that ( v . 7) even when there be anything to boast of, it is invariably in the end a source of weakness. If we read but , we must suppose St Paul to feel himself compelled to boast, lest the incident to which he has just referred (ch. 11:31 33) should be turned into an accusation of cowardice. Therefore in spite of himself he gives a proof which few would venture to challenge, that he has a right to speak in the name of God, in order that his confessions of weakness might not be used against him. For expedient and glory see ch. 8:10 and 5:12.

visions and revelations of the Lord] Visions are the sight of things ordinarily beyond our mortal ken, whether waking or in dreams. Revelations (see 1 Corinthians 1:7 in the Greek, and Galatians 1:12 , Galatians 1:16 , Galatians 1:2 :2) are here the mental and spiritual discoveries resulting from such visions.

2. I knew a man ] That this is the Apostle is proved by v . 7. The word knew should, both here and in v . 3, be rendered know.

in Christ ] i.e. after his conversion, when he had become united to Christ.

above fourteen years ago ] And yet, as Chrysostom and Calvin remark, he had kept silence about it all this time. The secret raptures of the soul should be matters between it and God, not subjects of boasting save where necessity compels it. After all the main point ( v . 6) is what a man is , not what he has seen, even of things beyond the sphere of sense. Whether this were the ‘revelation’ spoken of in Galatians 1:12 , Galatians 2:2 , we cannot tell. St Paul had many such revelations (see note on 1 Corinthians 9:1 ), and he gives here no distinct intimation of the time at which the vision occurred.

whether out of the body ] “The Apostle here by implication acknowledges the possibility of consciousness and receptivity in a disembodied state.” Alford.

I cannot tell ] The fact of the vision was certain enough. He saw clearly what God gave him permission to see, but whether the soul was rapt from his body left without life, or whether body and soul were caught up together to the third heaven and to Paradise, was known only to God.

the third heaven ] Some commentators have explained this passage by the Jewish tradition (see Dean Stanley in loc .) of seven heavens. But if St Paul had this in his mind, he here meant the clouds , a notion combated by Irenaeus, who (see next note) had unusually good opportunities of knowing the Apostle’s meaning. He says distinctly ( Adv. Haer . ii. 30) that the third heaven is regarded by St Paul as a place preeminently exalted, and he rejects the idea of the seven heavens as taught by the Valentinian heretics, regarding it as absurd to suppose that four heavens remained as yet unexplored by St Paul. Some of the Jewish teachers held that there were two , others that there were seven heavens. So in Chagigah f. 12 b, “R. Jehuda said there are two heavens, as it is said in Deuteronomy 10:14 , ‘the heavens and the heaven of heavens.’ Rish Lakish said there were seven, &c.” See also Debarim Rabba , § 2, fol. 253. 1. Rashi on Isaiah 44:8 says, “ye are my witnesses because I have opened to you the seven heavens (firmaments),” i.e. I have disclosed to you all that pertains to the knowledge of God.

4. how that he was caught up into paradise ] Was this a second vision, or only an extension of the first? St Paul’s language makes the latter more probable. Early tradition is not very clear upon the subject, but the general opinion seems to have been that St Paul was not only caught up to the highest heaven, and there saw visions of God like those of Isaiah and St John, but that he was transported among the saints departed to that particular region of heaven called Paradise, and was permitted to hear the words there uttered. The word Paradise is probably an Aryan word, and is found in Sanscrit and Persian as well as in Greek. But it is also found in Hebrew, Arabic and Syriac. It signifies originally a park or pleasure-ground. It is used apparently in this sense in Revelation 2:7 . But in St Luke 23:43 it clearly means the place (or rather state , since it is difficult to predicate place of a disembodied spirit) of rest and refreshment to which the Lord conducted the soul of the penitent thief as well as (1 Pet. 3:19, 4:6, cf. Iren. Adv. Haer . iv. 27) the souls of those who were waiting in the unseen world for the revelation of Him. So says Irenaeus ( Adv. Haer . v. 5), who, quoting as he often does the words of the Elders who had seen the Apostles, with whom he had often conversed, describes Paradise as a state of things “prepared for righteous men and men led by the Spirit, who remain there until the consummation, as a preparation for immortality.” Some have thought that Paradise is a yet more exalted place than the third heaven. But if we are right in regarding the third as the highest heaven, it is scarcely possible to see in Paradise something higher still. For visions of this kind cf. Isaiah 6:1 ; Ezekiel 3:14 , Ezekiel 3:22 , Ezekiel 3:24 , Ezekiel 3:8 :1, Ezekiel 3:11 :1, Ezekiel 3:24 , 37:1, 40:Ezekiel 3:1-3 , 43:5; Revelation 1:10 , and in a lesser degree Acts 8:39 .

unspeakable words ] Literally, unspoken words, which may in this case have been the fact, since if St Paul were out of the body, as he himself tells us he may have been, the words could not have been spoken in our sense of the word. But the epithet usually has the sense which the context attaches to it here, words not to be uttered . Calvin asks to what purpose then were they uttered to St Paul, and replies that he needed such spiritual consolation to sustain him in the heavy load of afflictions and cares which was laid upon him. We may also hence learn, he continues, that there are depths in the counsels of God which we must not hope or even wish to penetrate while here on earth. Dean Stanley contrasts the reticence of St Paul with the full details of his supposed visions given by Mahomet, and he might have added many others who have given detailed accounts of things seen in their ecstasies.

5. Of such a one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory ] St Paul desires to put the fact in the background that it is of himself he is speaking (see next verse). He has been compelled by the folly and perversity of certain among the Corinthians to touch on these proofs of Divine favour, but he just glances at the topic and passes it by; nay, he even seems to make a distinction between himself as he is and the man once so highly glorified by God, and returns to a kind of boasting more in accordance with his own sense of propriety. So he expatiates on the thorn in the flesh as an instance of how human weakness does but serve to manifest the power of God.

6. For though I would desire to glory ] St Paul here identifies himself with the man who saw the visions. ‘I shall not be foolish, even if I do boast, for I shall only be speaking the truth. But I refrain.’

forbear ] See ch. 1:23, 9:6, 13:2, where the word is the same in the Greek. Also 1 Corinthians 7:28 , and Romans 8:32 , Romans 11:21 .

lest any man should think ] It is not visions or revelations, however exalted, for which a man ought to be esteemed, but his conduct and the message with which he is entrusted.

7 10. The Thorn in the Flesh

7. And lest I should be exalted above measure ] Rather, ‘lest I should be too much exalted.’

a thorn in the flesh ] See Introduction.

the messenger of Satan ] Or, an angel of Satan. Cf. St Matthew 12:45 , Matthew 12:25 :41; Revelation 12:7 , Revelation 12:9 .

8. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice ] Literally, Concerning this. For the word translated besought see ch. 1:3, 8:6, and v . 18 of this chapter. With St Paul’s prayer here compare St Matthew 26:39-44 and the parallel passages in the other Gospels. It is not wrong to offer such petitions, or our Lord would not have done so. But humanity in its weakness often shrinks from trials which God in His wisdom knows to be best for it. The only requisite for such prayers is that they shall be offered in a spirit of submission to a Higher Will. Dean Stanley remarks on St Paul’s vivid sense of a Personal Lord, to Whom all difficulties may be taken, and Who never fails to answer such appeals.

the Lord ] Jesus Christ. We may compare St Paul’s invocation of his Master with that of St Stephen. See Acts 7:59 , and cf. St Luke 23:46 .

that it might depart ] Or he might depart. See above.

9. And he said unto me ] Jesus Christ said it, “but how the answer from Christ was received, whether through an inner voice or by means of a vision, is entirely unknown to us.” Meyer.

My grace is sufficient for thee ] “Gratia mea, id est, favor ac benevolentia mea qua tibi volo benefacere,” Estius, which is the case with every one who is in covenant with Christ. The meaning is ‘Trust all to me. I will never fail thee nor forsake thee. Even that which thou feelest to be a hindrance will be overruled into a source of strength.’ This was the answer; the thorn was not taken away, but strength was given to bear it.

my strength is made perfect in weakness ] Rather, power . The word is the same as that rendered power below. This is a paradox very common with St Paul. See ch. 4:7, 10, 13:4. Also 1 Corinthians 1:21-30 , 2:1 Corinthians 1:1-4 ; Hebrews 2:10 . The extraordinary results which God has worked in all ages through means apparently most insufficient are the best commentary on these words, and the best answer to despondent thoughts, when men are weighed down with the sense of their own insufficiency. Many MSS. and editors follow the Vulgate here, omitting the word my , and render for strength is perfected in weakness . So Wiclif, for vertu is perfigtly made in infirmity , “We learn to regard the Apostle not as sustained by a naturally indomitable strength of mind and body, but as doing what he did by an habitual struggle against his constitutional weakness.” Stanley.

Most gladly therefore will I rather glory ] Better, boast . This intimation from our Lord gives St Paul an additional reason why he should boast in his infirmities. When compared with the results of his labours they furnish the most decisive proof (cf. ch. 4:7, and 1 Corinthians 2:5 ) that the work he has been doing is of God.

that the power of Christ may rest upon me ] Rather, tabernacle upon me . Cf. St John 1:14 . The five other versions render dwell in me . The true meaning combines the two translations, ‘come down upon, and dwell in me.’ St Paul would have us understand that if he boasted of his own powers, he could not expect to be endowed with power from on high, but that if he gave God all the glory by laying stress on his infirmities, he might hope that Christ would dwell and work in him.

10. in reproaches ] Rather, perhaps, insults .

in distresses ] See note on ch. 6:4.

for Christ’s sake ] This refers to all the preceding list of things endured.

strong ] Perhaps better, powerful ( migty , Wiclif), as the word is cognate with power above. The word strong is scarcely adequate.

11 18. Continuation of the Defence

11. I am become a fool in glorying ] Or perhaps, with some, Have I become a fool? The words in glorying are not in the best MSS. and versions. Thus Wiclif, following the Vulgate, translates, I am made unwitti, ye constreineden me .

ye have compelled me ] Literally, ye compelled me , as Wiclif above. The word ye is emphatic. It was not my desire, but your conduct that led me to boast. See notes on ch. 11.

for I ought to have been commended of you ] See ch. 3:1, 5:12, 10:12, 18. The word I is emphatic. The reason is given in the next verse. They had had abundant evidences of his true Apostleship, and yet they needed that he should himself recal them to their minds.

the very chiefest apostles ] See note on ch. 11:5.

though I be nothing ] Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:8-10 . Chrysostom connects these words with what follows, and the meaning certainly then comes nearer to the passage just cited from the First Epistle. The Apostle arrogates no greatness to himself, but nevertheless that mighty deeds had been wrought by his means was undeniable.

12. Truly the signs of an apostle ] Rather, of the Apostle, i.e. of him who is an Apostle. These are of two kinds, (1) inward, consisting in endurance for the Gospel’s sake, and (2) outward, in credentials of his mission given from on high.

signs, and wonders ] These words are continually conjoined in Scripture not only by St Paul and St Luke, but by the other three Evangelists. The first refers to miraculous works, considered as signs of a Divine power dwelling in the worker; the second is perhaps equivalent to our word portents .

and mighty deeds ] Literally, powers , referring to the inner power which worked them. Dean Stanley remarks on the claim to miraculous powers here made by St Paul. Cf. Acts 13:11 , Acts 13:14 :10, Acts 13:16 :18, Acts 13:19 :11, Acts 13:12 .

13. For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches ] ( hadden lesse than , Wiclif). There is no need to regard this, with some commentators, as “bitter irony.” There is nothing bitter about it. Ironical indeed it is, but it is irony of the very gentlest kind. ‘Everything that an Apostle can do has been done amongst you, except the throwing himself upon you for his maintenance’ (which had been made by the Apostle’s opponents one of the ‘signs of an Apostle;’ see 1 Corinthians 9:5 , 1 Corinthians 9:6 ). ‘Surely this is an offence which you might very readily forgive.’

I myself ] St Paul’s resolution to decline maintenance at the hands of the Corinthians seems to have concerned himself alone, and not to have extended to his companions.

burdensome ] See ch. 11:9.

14. Behold, the third time ] We can either interpret this (1) with most commentators, of some unrecorded visit to Corinth, or (2) with Paley, that St Paul is speaking here and in ch. 13:1 of the intention merely of visiting Corinth, such as we know (ch. 1:15 17) was frustrated once, and probably more than once. (1) is rendered improbable by the fact that St Paul had carefully avoided visiting Corinth for some time. The whole tenor of the Epistles, moreover, implies that he had not been to Corinth since his long stay there, since it would have been hardly possible, had such a visit been paid, that some more distinct notice of it should not appear in letters so overflowing with personal details as these. On the other hand, it must be admitted that our information (see notes on ch. 11) of St Paul’s movements is extremely incomplete.

I am ready ] The phrase is almost the same as in ch. 10:6. St Paul does not say here that he has been to Corinth twice before, but simply that this is the third time in which he is holding himself in readiness to come. Whether he comes or not will depend upon their conduct. See ch. 13:10. Also ch. 13:1.

not yours, but you ] Not their money, nor their praise, nor even their affections (see next verse), but simply to induce them to give themselves to Christ.

but the parents for the children ] Cf. 1 Corinthians 4:15 . The treasures which were laid up by St Paul for his converts were the inexhaustible stores of Divine love and mercy given us in Jesus Christ. See Romans 9:33 ; Ephesians 1:7 , Ephesians 1:18 , Ephesians 1:2 :7, Ephesians 1:3 :8; Colossians 2:9 , &c.

15. very gladly ] Or most gladly.

spend and be spent ] St Paul regards himself but as a gift of Christ’s love, in that he has been made a channel of His grace. Simply as such, as a means whereby Christ is enriching them with Himself, he will not only spend himself, but be spent by others, just as money is, which is worthless in itself, and is only valuable for what it enables us to obtain.

though the more abundantly I love you ] This passage shews us how the man valued and yearned for affection, even while the Apostle knew it to be right to do his duty, without expecting the least return of any kind.

16. But be it so ] St Paul returns to the charge in v . 13. He supposes his antagonists to admit that, as far as he himself is concerned, he has given it a satisfactory answer. But he is prepared for any amount of unjust insinuations. He expects (see note on v . 13, on the words ‘I myself’) that they will attempt to charge him with making use of others to do what he boasted of not doing himself.

nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile ] These words are frequently quoted as though the practice here referred to were a defensible one. The next verse shews that St Paul repudiates such an imputation with the utmost distinctness. For crafty see ch. 4:2, 11:3.

17. make a gain of you ] See ch. 2:11.

by any of them whom I sent unto you ] They may have been maintained at the expense of the Churches, but they certainly made no attempt to enrich St Paul by their mission. In their disinterested labours they followed implicitly the example of the great Apostle. Some have thought that there is a reference here to the collection for the poor Christians at Jerusalem, but this can hardly be, for the mission of Titus was simply for the purpose of urging the Corinthians to complete their preparations. St Paul had anticipated all objections as to his making use of that money for his own purposes by arranging (see 1 Corinthians 16:3 ) that it should be sent in the charge of brethren selected by the Corinthian Church itself. See also ch. 8:19, 21. We must therefore understand the words as an appeal to the conduct of Titus and his companions while at Corinth, and as a refutation of a charge which St Paul thought might possibly be brought, that he had endeavoured in an underhand manner to obtain money from Corinth through them.

18. I desired Titus ] See ch. 8:6. This has also been thought to be the Epistolary aorist, and to have a present signification, as though the present letter had been sent by Titus, but the rest of the verse seems to point to some past occasion. See also ch. 13:2, 10, in the Greek.

a brother ] Literally, the brother. See ch. 8:18, 22.

in the same spirit ] i.e. the Holy Spirit. Cf. Galatians 5:16 .

in the same steps ] Perhaps those of Christ. See 1 Peter 2:21 . At least the expression marks the precise accordance between the conduct of the Apostle and his messengers.

12:19 13:10. The Apostle’s intentions on his arrival

19. Again, think you that we excuse ourselves ]. Rather, Do ye think that we are defending ourselves again ? Many MSS. and versions read, Do you think (or You think ) that we have been defending ourselves to you this long time ? The word excuse gives a false impression, as though the Apostle were exculpating himself from blame rather than meeting accusations by sufficient answers. If we take the first reading the reference will be to the former Epistle or the commencement of this one. Cf. ch. 3:1. If the second, the meaning will be ‘you think that I have been making a long and perhaps tedious defence of myself, yet I can assure you that I shall not stand upon my defence when I come. I only desire your improvement. But if words will not suffice, I shall have, when I come, to proceed to deeds.’

we speak before God in Christ ] This sense of saying and doing everything in the sight of God and Christ, Who will avenge all deceit by unmasking the deceiver, is a characteristic of St Paul’s whole nature, but is never more clearly displayed than in this Epistle. See ch. 1:18, 23, 2:17, 3:4, 4:2, 6, 5:11, 7:12, 8:21, 11:10, 11, 31.

edifying ] See 1 Corinthians 8:1 , and ch. 5:1, 10:8.

20. For ] The connection of thought is, ‘I do this for your edification, of which there is much need, for there are many disorders among you.’

such as ye would not ] “He here completely and finally throws off the apologist and puts on the Apostle.” Alford. He will rule by love rather than by fear, if possible. But if it be not possible, in the last resource he must use his Apostolic power. See notes on ch. 10:8, 11.

debates ] Rather, strifes . The word debate , however, derived from the French débattre , had, like the French débat , a stronger meaning than it has now. So Shakespeare, K. Hen. IV . Pt II. Act iv. Scene iv.:

“Now, lords, if Heaven doth give successful end

To this debate that bleedeth at our doors.”

envyings ] See note on ch. 7:7.

strifes ] Our translators have been misled by an apparent similarity between this word and that rendered debates above. It is derived from a word signifying a hired labourer, and may either mean (1) party spirit , (2) personal aims in public life, in which sense Aristotle seems to have used the word in his Politics , and hence (3) self-seeking in general, and (4) faction. The word occurs in Romans 2:8 ; Galatians 5:20 ; Philippians 1:16 , Philippians 1:2 :3; James 3:14 , James 3:16 .

backbitings, whisperings ] “Open slanders, secret revilings.” Alford. Wiclif renders detracciouns, privie spechis of discord . He is followed by the Rhemish in the rendering detractions . Tyndale, Cranmer and the Geneva render as A. V. See 1 Peter 2:1 for the first word, which is there rendered evil speakings . Its literal meaning is speakings against , but no idea of secrecy is implied, as in our version, but rather the contrary. Whisperings , on the other hand, imply secrecy as a matter of course.

swellings ] Rather, puffings up (Wiclif, well, bolnyngis in pride ). See 1 Corinthians 4:6 , 1 Corinthians 4:18 , 1 Corinthians 4:19 . The word and its cognates occur only in these two Epistles and in Colossians 2:18 .

tumults ] See ch. 6:5.

21. among you ] Or, with some interpreters, in reference to you. The literal translation is to you.

which have sinned already ] Literally, those who have sinned before , i.e. either (1) before their conversion and who did not cast off their evil habits when they became Christians, or (2) those who sinned before the Apostle’s letter came, and who did not pay any attention to his rebukes. The latter seems to fall in best with the tenor of the first Epistle and with ch. 2, 7, and 10:1 6.

and have not repented ] This makes it clear that, as 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 would imply, there were other offenders in the particular sin here mentioned beside the incestuous person. It also appears that the Apostle was willing to forgive such offenders as soon as they had abandoned their sin. For repentance see ch. 7:9. The literal rendering of his sentence is many of those who have sinned and did not repent . Many commentators have asked, Why many and not all ? But they have overlooked the difference of tense in the original. There were many who had sinned, and who, up to the arrival of the second Epistle, had not repented. But it is quite clear that St Paul hoped that his second Epistle would have much influence upon those whom his first Epistle and the visit of Titus had failed to move.

lasciviousness ] The term in the original has reference to the unnatural condition of restless excitement which licentious habits produce in their victim.

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"Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/2-corinthians-12.html. 1896.