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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 2

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

Ch. 2. St Paul’s only Object the Spiritual Advancement of his Converts

1. But I determined this with myself ] St Paul now further vindicates his consistency. Not only did he stay away from Corinth to spare the Corinthians the sharp rebukes which his immediate presence would have necessitated, but he hoped by means of the Epistle to work so salutary a reformation as to make his visit to Corinth a time of the deepest spiritual joy. The ‘but’ in the English version should be rendered and , thus carrying on the explanation from ch. 1:23. For ‘ with myself recent commentators prefer the rendering for myself,’ i.e. for the better carrying on of the work St Paul had in hand, which however (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 , 1 Corinthians 10:33 ) was not his own profit, but the good of his converts. We may thus paraphrase his words, I decided that the best course for me to pursue was not to come again to you in heaviness .

that I would not come again to you in heaviness ] There seems no need to suppose, with some commentators, that ‘again’ belongs to ‘in heaviness,’ and to explain it of some unrecorded visit which the Apostle paid in trouble of mind. The very contrary seems to be implied. St Paul’s great anxiety was not to visit the Corinthian Church in such a frame of mind. It falls in best with the context to explain ‘I determined that my second visit should not be paid while under the influence of painful feelings.’ Olshausen remarks that the ‘heaviness’ here spoken of belongs as much to the Corinthians as to the Apostle. See next verse.

2. For if I make you sorry ] So all the principal English translators. But the rendering gives a false impression to a modern ear. The best equivalent in modern English is ‘if I pain you.’ The idea of sorrow for the sin does not appear to have been introduced as yet. The ‘ I ’ in this passage is emphatic; ‘if I, whose sole delight is to see you happy, inflict pain, it is with the object of bringing about happiness in the end.’ The connection of this verse with the preceding implied in the word ‘for’ seems to be as follows: “I wrote to cause pain, it is true, but it was in order that such pain should be removed before I came.” Cf. ch. 7:8.

who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me? ] The apparent selfishness of this passage, in which St Paul appears to think that the grief he has caused is amply compensated for by the pleasure he receives from that grief, is explained by the words in the next verse, ‘having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all.’ See note there. The meaning would seem to be that St Paul wished not to come to Corinth in sorrow, but in joy, and that this end was attained by the result of the rebukes of his Epistle, which produced pain, and pain reformation, and reformation a pure and heavenly joy on the part of all, of St Paul, of the Corinthian community, and of the offender himself, conditions obviously the most favourable to an Apostolic visit. Cf. ch. 7:11, 12, where the same idea is more fully expressed.

3. And I wrote this same unto you ] Either (1) the announcement in 1 Corinthians 16:7 of the Apostle’s change of purpose, or (2) the rebukes in the former Epistle that grieved them, especially the passage in ch. 5 of that Epistle which (cf. also vv . 2, 5 8 of this chapter) refers to a single person . The former agrees best with the context. In 2 Peter 1:5 , however, (3) the words here translated ‘this same’ are translated ‘beside this.’

I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice ] St Paul hoped by his letter to produce such an effect that those who were blamed in it would abandon their sin. He ought to rejoice in such persons, for his rejoicing is to see them ‘walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they were called’ (Ephesians 4:1 ; cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:8 ); and this, by virtue of their union with Christ, they might do if they would. Had he come, instead of writing, they must have caused him sorrow and not joy by the inconsistency of their Christian walk. Cf. ch. 12:21.

having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all ] Cf. ch. 7:16. The Apostle still keeps in view that on which he had lately insisted, the identity of his feelings, hopes, aspirations with those of the Corinthians in virtue of their common life in Christ (see note on 1 Corinthians 1:9 ). His joy and theirs is to see the members of the Corinthian community entirely led by the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:14 ) and producing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22 ) in all their actions. See John 15:11 .

4. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart ] The word here translated anguish denotes a drawing or holding together , as we say, a spasm . It is only found here and in Luke 21:25 . It was from no proud consciousness of superiority that St Paul wrote the rebukes of his former Epistle. He was no Pharisee who ‘thanked God that he was not as other men are.’ Neither did he take pleasure in grieving them, except so far as it tended to their profit. Therefore he wrote out of (i.e. they were the source from which his Epistle proceeded) much affliction and anguish of heart, not to distress them, but in order to shew his love, which took the shape of an anxious desire for their perfection. “It is the truest mark of affection,” says Estius, “not to cloke the sins of those who are entrusted to your care, to rebuke them openly and plainly, even at the risk of causing considerable distress.”

with many tears ] “Which,” says Calvin, “in the case of a brave and high-spirited man, are a token of intense grief.”

not that you should be grieved ] Cf. ch. 7:12.

5. he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all ] According to the A. V. the meaning is that the Apostle, anxious not to lay too heavy a charge at the door of the Corinthian Church, to which (see 1 Corinthians 5:2 , 1 Corinthians 5:6 ) he considers the guilt to attach, declares that the offender has only pained him to a certain extent. But the words are capable of another rendering, ‘But if any one hath caused pain, it is not me whom he has pained, but to a certain extent not to press too heavily upon him all of you .’ This rendering is susceptible of two interpretations (1) he has caused pain to the whole community; but not to be too severe upon him, the Apostle is willing to admit that this pain is to a certain extent lessened by the mutual sympathy of the members of the Church. Or perhaps (2) there is a slight reproof here, implying, as in 1 Corinthians 5:2 , that the Corinthians had not sufficiently felt the disgrace brought on them all by such a crime. Cf. ch. 1:14. The Apostle thus, with no less adroitness than simple honesty, places the personal aspect of the question in the background, and deals with it as a matter of public principle, with which every member of the Church is as intimately concerned as himself. The whole passage refers to the offender mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:0 .

6. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment ] See note on 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 . The discipline of the Apostolic Church, which had as its main object the restoration of the offender, was content when this object was attained. As soon as the offender renounced his sin, the end of the discipline was reached, and there was no further need of punishment. It was no desire of the Church in the Apostle’s times, however much that important principle may have been lost sight of afterwards, that the offender should be ‘swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.’ “A plan diligently to be observed, for it teaches with what equity and clemency the discipline of the Church should be tempered, lest its rigour should exceed proper bounds.” Calvin.

punishment ] ( Blamynge , Wiclif.) The word in the original signifies rebuke as well as punishment. Perhaps here it partakes of both senses. The public rebuke, coupled with separation from the Christian community and formal delivery over to Satan which St Paul prescribed (1 Corinthians 5:5 ), was itself a severe punishment.

which was inflicted of many ] Literally, by the majority . Some, perhaps, may have declined to take part in it, for there were many, as the latter part of the Epistle plainly shews, who still refused to acknowledge St Paul’s authority.

7. comfort him ] Better, perhaps, encourage him. See note on ch. 1:3.

such a one ] ὁ τοιοῦτος , the man of that description, the name by which St Paul always denotes the offender. See note on 1 Corinthians 5:5 . St Paul will not disgrace him to all future ages by mentioning his name.

swallowed up ] Some commentators have supposed that St Paul here meant apostasy or suicide. But he designedly leaves the result indefinite. It is impossible to foresee what will become of a man overwhelmed with excessive sorrow.

with overmuch sorrow ] Literally, by the excess of sorrow. “Nothing is more dangerous than to give Satan a handle whereby he may harass a sinner into despair.” Calvin. Cf. also Galatians 6:1 and Ecclus. 8:5.

8. Wherefore I beseech you, that you would confirm your love towards him ] The word ‘your’ is not in the original. It is not their love, but love itself , the fundamental principle (see 1 Corinthians 13:1 ; 1 John 4:8 , 1 John 4:16 ) of the Christian covenant. The word here rendered confirm is used of the ratification, i.e. by some public act or token, of a covenant. See Galatians 3:15 , Galatians 3:17 , where the same word is used in the original. The Vulgate, Calvin, Wiclif, the Geneva and Rhemish versions render confirm , Tyndale and Cranmer that love may have strength .

9. For to this end also did I write ] St Paul here gives a third reason for writing the first Epistle. Not only was he anxious for the restoration of the offender, for a visit to Corinth which should have nothing of a painful character about it, but he wished to test the readiness of the Corinthians to submit to his authority (cf. ch. 7:15, 10:6), a point on which (1 Corinthians 9:2 Cor. 10 12) at that moment there was considerable doubt. See also note on v . 6. Some commentators, however, contend that the word ἔγραψα , though an aorist, is, as what is called the Epistolary aorist, to be translated “I write” (as in 1 John 2:14 ), and that it refers to the present letter, and that the test of obedience St Paul desired was the display of forgiveness. But this seems hardly consistent with 1 Corinthians 5:2 . See also Philippians 2:12 , and v . 3 of this chapter.

the proof ] That which has been tested and has borne the test. The word is variously translated in our version. In Romans 5:4 it is translated experience , in ch. 8:2 of this Epistle, trial , in 9:13, experiment , in 13:3 and in Philippians 2:22 , proof .

10. To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also ] St Paul is here exercising the power of the keys (see Matthew 16:19 , Matthew 16:18 :18; St John 20:23 ). He is not speaking of any private forgiveness of a personal injury, but of the public absolution of an offender lying under the censure of the church. See 1 Corinthians 5:4 , 1 Corinthians 5:5 . We may observe (1) that St Paul acts upon the report of the Corinthian Church properly authenticated by Titus, his representative there (ch. 7:6 14), and (2) that he gives his official sanction to their act.

to whom I forgave it ] Most modern Editors read what for to whom , and the verb stands in the perfect, implying that the affair is at an end. ‘ What I have forgiven, I have forgiven on your account .’ St Paul does not claim the right to ratify their act for the satisfaction of his own sense of importance, but because his Apostolic office is necessary for their edification and guidance.

in the person of Christ ] Cranmer and the Geneva version render ‘in the sight ’ (literally, in the face ) of Christ. So also Calvin. The Vulgate which is followed by Wiclif, and of course the Rhemish, renders as in the text. Tyndale renders roume . As the Greek word signifies both person and face , the point must be left undecided. If the A. V. be correct, then St Paul acts in this matter as Christ’s representative. If the other is the correct rendering, then he performs a solemn public act in the sight of Christ and the powers unseen. It should however, be added that in this Epistle we have the word here used in the sense of person in ch. 1:11, and in the sense of face in ch. 3:7, 13, 18, and that the expression occurs again in ch. 4:6, where see note.

11. Lest Satan should get an advantage of us ] See note on 1 Corinthians 5:10 . The word signifies (1) to have more, (2) to be greedy, and hence (3) to overreach, to defraud.

devices ] The word properly means mental processes , “the product of mind.” Meyer. It is translated minds in ch. 3:14, 4:4, 11:3; Philippians 4:7 , thought in ch. 10:5. In reference to Satan, all whose thoughts are evil, it may legitimately be translated devices, i e. things which he devised . Luke 22:31 . 1 Corinthians 7:5 . Cf. 1 Peter 5:8 . Revelation 12:12 . St Paul’s meaning here is that to refuse forgiveness when the time for it had come would be only to give Satan an advantage. The offender had been delivered over to him (see 1 Corinthians 5:5 and notes). Not to release him from the bondage when he was truly repentant would be to afford the enemy of souls an opportunity of which he would not be slow to avail himself. Nothing is so likely to plunge a man into every kind of crime as despair. See notes on v . 7.

12. Furthermore, when I came to Troas ] Another proof is now given of the Apostle’s sincere desire for the well-being of his converts, his distress at the non-arrival of Titus at the time expected. In spite of the opportunity afforded him of preaching the gospel at Troas, his anxiety would not suffer him to rest, but he hurried on to Macedonia, where at length he found Titus, and heard from him the tidings for which he had scarcely dared to hope.

to Troas ] Rather, to the Troad, the angle of territory to the south of the Hellespont on which Troy was situated. See Acts 16:8 , Acts 16:11 , Acts 16:20 :5; 2 Timothy 4:13 . “Still, it must have been at the city that the Apostle stayed. It had been built” (upon the ruins of the ancient city, as Dr Schliemann’s discoveries seem to prove) “by Antigonus (Alexander’s lieutenant) under the name of Antigonia Troas, was afterwards called by Lysimachus, another of Alexander’s generals, Alexandria Troas, and was at this time a Roman ‘colonia Juris Italici’ and regarded with great favour by the Roman emperors, as the representative of the ancient Troy, of which it has been supposed to occupy the site.” Stanley. It must be remembered that the Romans, as Virgil’s Aeneid testifies, were under the belief that they were the descendants of the ancient Trojans. See Acts 16:8 , Acts 16:20 :5, Acts 16:6 also Conybeare and Howson’s St Paul , and Smith’s Dictionary of Geography .

to preach Christ’s gospel ] Literally, unto , i.e. for the furtherance of the good tidings of Christ . The word gospel , as is well known, is derived from the Anglo-Saxon god , good, and spell , history or narrative. Some have supposed it to have been God’s spell or history, but the former derivation accords best with the Greek. Spell is now used only to signify the naming the letters of which a word is composed, or of a magical incantation. But both these are derived from the same Anglo-Saxon root.

and a door was opened unto me of the Lord ] Door , in New Testament phraseology, is equivalent to opportunity . See 1 Corinthians 16:9 ; Revelation 3:8 . St Paul had come to Troas with the special purpose of preaching the Gospel, and not merely as a traveller. Unusual opportunities offered themselves, but his anxiety about the condition of the Corinthian Church caused him to forego them all. Calvin and Estius discuss the propriety of St Paul’s leaving unused the opportunity offered to him at Troas. But he soon (Acts 20:6 ) returned thither, and he evidently had good reason to believe the state of things at Corinth to be the more urgent of the two. It was of more importance to keep those who were called by the name of Christ from disgracing Him, than to bring fresh souls to the knowledge of Him.

13. I had no rest in my spirit ] i.e. the higher and nobler part of his being, superior to the soul. Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14 , 1 Corinthians 2:15 and notes. Also 1 Corinthians 15:44-46 .

because I found not Titus my brother ] Titus (see ch. 8:6, 12:18) had been sent by the Apostle to superintend the ‘collection for the saints’ at Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:1 ). He was most probably the bearer of the former Epistle, and was anxiously expected by the Apostle (ch. 7:6) to bring information regarding the effect it had had upon the Corinthian Church. Though Titus is not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, he possessed in a high degree the confidence of the Apostle (ch. 8:16), as is shewn by his taking the chief place he seems even to have held a position of greater prominence than ‘the brother whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the Churches’ (ch. 8:18) in this important mission. Before this, he, as a Gentile, had been the subject of some discussion between St Paul and the Judaizing party at Jerusalem. The latter maintained that Titus ought to be circumcised, the former that he ought not; but St Paul carried his point. His character seems to have been one of deep earnestness and zeal (ch. 7:13, 15, 8:16, 17) calculated to win the confidence of the great Apostle. He was afterwards placed in charge of the church in Crete, and in this capacity received from St Paul a letter of instruction known as the Epistle to Titus. The last mention of him in point of date is in 2 Timothy 4:10 , when he is said to have ‘departed to Dalmatia,’ doubtless on a mission. For the Apostle’s feelings on this occasion (ch. 7:5 13) compare a similar anxiety displayed at an earlier period of his Apostolic career in 1 Thessalonians 3:2 , 1 Thessalonians 3:5-9 .

I went from thence into Macedonia ] Cf. Acts 20:1 .

14. Now thanks be unto God ] This passage is an instance of the abrupt digressions peculiar to St Paul’s style. See Introduction to the first Epistle, p. 16, and 1 Corinthians 4:8 . Also Introduction to this Epistle. “As soon as St Paul came to the word Macedonia, memory presented to him what had greeted him there,” i.e. the favourable intelligence brought by Titus (ch. 7:6, 7) “and in his rapid way thoughts succeeding each other like lightning he says, without going through the form of explaining why he says it, ‘Now thanks be to God.’ ” Robertson.

which always causeth us to triumph in Christ ] The verb here rendered causeth us to triumph may also be rendered, leadeth us in triumph . It is used in the latter sense in Colossians 2:15 , the only other place in which it occurs in the Bible, but the former sense is defended here by the analogy of other verbs used causatively. See Romans 8:37 .

and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge ] The word savour (from the Latin sapor , flavour) is, with one exception (Matthew 5:13 ), used in the Scriptures to denote an odour. See Genesis 8:21 ; Ecclesiastes 10:1 ; Joel 2:20 , &c. The Apostle as yet does not refer to the ‘sweet savour’ of the sacrifices (Exodus 29:18 ; Leviticus 1:9 , Leviticus 1:12 , &c.). If we take the rendering of the A. V. in the former part of the verse, ‘the savour of his knowledge’ (i.e. the sweet scent of the knowledge of God), is the incense, either “rising from fixed altars or wafted from censers” (Dr Plumptre in loc .), which it was customary (see Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities , Art. Triumphus ) to burn as the conqueror to whom a triumph was decreed passed along. This custom has been revived in our own day, on the occasion of the public entry of the Princess of Wales into London before her marriage. If the sense ‘ leadeth us in triumph,’ be adopted, it regards the ministers of Christ either, ( a ) as the partners in the triumph of their Master, or ( b ) as the captives of the enemy he has overcome, delivered by His victorious arm, or ( c ) as the enemies he has defeated and led captive. Either of these yields a good sense, while the ‘savour’ is still the incense which attends the victor’s triumph. See Wordsworth in loc . Dr Plumptre notices the fact, one of great interest to the inhabitants of these Islands, that the last triumph which had taken place at Rome before these words were written, was in commemoration of the victories of Claudius in Britain, and that the British king Caractacus was then led in triumph through the streets of Rome.

by us ] St Paul is either (1) the altar (Romans 12:1 ) from which the odour of God’s knowledge arises, or more probably (2) the thurifer or incense-bearer who diffuses that odour abroad as he passes along.

in every place ] The history of the church shews that the first ministers of the Gospel extended their operations over a wide area. It is hardly tradition which regards St Thomas and St Bartholomew as having preached in India, and St Andrew in Scythia. And the first Epistle of St Peter bears witness to a wide dissemination of the Gospel in Asia. See 1 Peter 1:1 , and 5:13.

15. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ ] The form of the expression is here altered in two ways: (1) the Apostle himself now becomes the ‘sweet savour,’ while (2) the idea of sacrifice is first brought in. The Apostle now uses the phrase used in the LXX. for a sacrificial odour (see note on last verse). The ministers of Christ are a sweet savour of Him, the great Atoning Sacrifice, not only because they make Him known, but because they are imbued and interpenetrated with the spirit of His Sacrifice, ‘always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.’ And this not only in themselves but in those to whom they minister the Spirit of the Lord (cf. ch. 3:3) as soon as they in their turn begin to display the same spirit, or even in a certain sense (see next note) when they do not. See Ephesians 5:2 ; Philippians 4:18 .

in them that are saved, and in them that perish ] The tense in the original speaks of no completed work, but is strictly present: those who are in process of being saved or of perishing. Cf. Luke 13:23 ; Acts 2:47 ; 1 Corinthians 1:18 ; ch. 4:3. The imagery of the triumphal procession is still before the Apostle. Some of those who took part in it were destined to rewards and honours, others were doomed to perpetual imprisonment or death. Christ and His servants are a savour of life unto them who are in the way of salvation, because through conformity to the spirit of Christ’s sacrifice arises conformity to His life, a savour of death unto those who are not in the way of salvation, because a deliverance refused does but make destruction inevitable. Cf. Matthew 21:44 ; Luke 2:34 ; John 3:18-20 , John 9:39 , John 12:48 , John 15:22 .

16. To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life ] The reading accepted by most recent editors is ‘a savour arising from death and resulting in death,’ and ‘a savour arising from life and resulting in life,’ according to a construction common to St Paul, of which the most remarkable instance, perhaps, is Romans 1:17 . The Gospel is a savour arising from death, because it proclaims the Death of Christ as the foundation of all reconciliation. Cf. John 9:39 ; 1 Corinthians 1:23 , 1 Corinthians 1:24 , 15:1 Corinthians 1:14-18 ; 1 Peter 2:7 , 1 Peter 2:8 . To those only who believe in a risen, ascended, living Christ, is the Gospel a savour arising from, and tending to life. Dr Plumptre remarks on the way in which the figure of the triumphal procession is kept before the reader. To some of those who were being led in procession the odour of the incense “would seem as a breath from Paradise, giving life and health; to others its sweetness would seem sickly and pestilential, coming as from a charnel house.”

And who is sufficient for these things? ] The thought occurs to the Apostle that the wondrous effects consequent on the first proclamation of Christ’s Gospel are far above unassisted human powers. Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:12-16 . But he defers the consideration of this topic to ch. 3:5, confining himself at present (see next verse) to assigning the reason for his exclamation, namely, that he can fearlessly appeal to what was above man’s natural ability, the transparent honesty, and thorough faithfulness to God, of his preaching. Perhaps also the Apostle intends to convey the idea that what may be an easy task for those who proclaim a spurious Gospel, is one that demands the utmost watchfulness on the part of the genuine minister of Christ.

17. For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God ] The original makes ‘many’ definite with the article, thus clearly pointing out the false teachers, against whom so much of this and the former Epistle is directed. The word of God may be corrupted (1) by the admixture of foreign doctrines, e. g. those of the Judaizers, who grafted on Christianity the alien doctrine of the universal obligation of the Jewish law, (2) by degrading the doctrine of Christ into a system of argument and disputation (1 Corinthians 1:17-31 , 1 Corinthians 1:2 :1, 1 Corinthians 1:4 , 1 Corinthians 1:5 , 1 Corinthians 1:14 ), and (3) by the introduction of personal objects, such as influence, authority, the praise of men (1 Corinthians 4:6 ; 2 Corinthians 10:12 , 2 Corinthians 10:11 :18; Galatians 4:17 ). The word here translated corrupt occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is derived from a substantive equivalent in meaning to our higgler or huckster , especially a dealer in wine (See the LXX. of Isaiah 1:22 . The word is not in the Hebrew), and hence from the dishonest practices of these small dealers it has come, by a process somewhat similar to that of our reproachful terms ‘higgling’ or ‘huckstering,’ to mean adulterate , i.e. to mix what should be pure with worthless or even deleterious substances.

but as of sincerity, but as of God ] See note on 1:12. The word is here opposed to the idea of corrupting by admixture. The Apostle does not lose sight even here of the truth to which he returns in ch. 3:5, that his purity of heart is a supernatural gift. If he preaches Christ of sincerity, it is because the power to do so comes from God, Who gave the mission.

in the sight of God ] A task imposed by God, and performed with the consciousness that His All-seeing Eye is upon those whom He has sent.

speak we in Christ ] St Paul, throughout the whole of this chapter, has had in view the vindication of himself from any ulterior motives or lower principles of action in preaching Christ. His sole object is to minister Him. He desires nothing for himself. If he rebukes, it is for the offender’s sake. If he tests the obedience of the Church, it is because he is set over it for its benefit, not for his. If he preaches the word of God, it is by virtue of an inspiration from Him, whereby he preaches simply and faithfully the words put in his mouth by Christ. His doctrine is of God, delivered as in His sight, and spoken in Christ .

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