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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

2 Corinthians 4

Verses 1-99

Ch. 4:1 15. Entrusted with so glorious a mission, the Ministers of the Gospel shrink from neither danger nor difficulty

1. Therefore ] The connection between this and what precedes is sufficiently obvious. Sustained by so great and glorious a mission, the Apostles of Christ are daunted by no trials.

as we have received mercy ] St Paul not only bears in mind the glory of his commission, but the mercy, of which he never fails to feel himself undeserving (1 Corinthians 15:9 ; Ephesians 3:8 ; 1 Timothy 1:12-16 ). Thus there is a double reason for not sinking under the burden of his ministry.

we faint not ] It is to be noted that in both these Epistles the Apostle now uses the singular and now the plural. He uses the first when his vindication is distinctly personal to himself, the second when he speaks of Christian ministers in general. This is clear from the two passages (ch. 1:19 and 1 Corinthians 9:6 ) in which he defines who ‘we’ are. The genuine Apostles of Christ, he would say, do not lose heart when all does not go smoothly with them. Nay, the very fact that they have sufferings to undergo stamps them the more unmistakeably as followers of Christ.

2. But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty ] Far from shrinking from the labour and suffering and opposition entailed by the preaching of the Gospel, and so inclining to suppress its utterance, the true ministers of Christ “even rejoice and speak boldly” (Chrysostom). Cf. ch. 3:12. The word here rendered dishonesty (a word, however, which had three centuries ago a wider meaning than it has now, cf. As you Like it ,Acts 3:0 . Sc. 3) is rather disgrace . It is translated shame wherever else it occurs in the N. T., as, for instance, Luke 14:9 ; Philippians 3:19 ; Revelation 3:18 . What the Apostle has renounced is all secret practices, which, when found out, cause shame. Cf. John 3:20 .

craftiness ] The word means the conduct of a man who resorts to all kinds of contrivances to attain his end. An excellent illustration of the meaning of the word may be found in Luke 20:20-23 . See also ch. 11:3, where it is rendered subtilty . St Paul was accused of this. See ch. 12:16, note.

nor handling the word of God deceitfully ] This word is the nearest translation of the Greek δολοῦντες . Adulterantes , Vulgate; neither corrupte we , Tyndale. Our translation is due to Cranmer. “It is done,” says Meyer, “by alterations and strange admixtures.” Cf. ch. 2:17.

but by manifestation of the truth ] i.e. by bringing the truth clearly and plainly to light, without any attempt at concealment.

commending ] The word commend has here obviously the same signification as recommend . This cannot be said of ch. 3:1, where see note.

to every man’s conscience ] See note on ch. 1:24. The individual conscience is, and always must be, the ultimate tribunal to which all teaching must appeal, and St Paul assumes that in it there resides a faculty of appreciating and acknowledging truth.

3. But if our gospel be hid ] Literally, But if our gospel, too, be hidden or veiled (see last chapter). The Apostle here refers to an objection: “You say that a vail lay upon the hearts of the Jews when Moses was read. But your Gospel is not clear and evident to all.” For his answer see next note.

it is hid to them that are lost ] Literally, is hidden among the perishing . Our Gospel is hid, too, in some cases, I grant. But it is hid only to perishing souls, who will not lay hold on the only hope of deliverance. Cf. John 3:18 ; Acts 4:12 . This is not the language of logic, but of deep and strong conviction.

4. in whom the god of this world ] i.e. the devil, who is called the prince or ruler of this world in John 12:31 , John 14:30 , John 16:11 . So also Matthew 4:9 ; Luke 4:6 ; Ephesians 2:2 , Ephesians 6:12 . He is so called because for the present he has power in it, Revelation 12:12 . The early fathers, in their zeal against the two gods (one good and one evil) of the Manichaeans and some sects of the Gnostics, repudiate this interpretation, and render, in defiance of the plain meaning, ‘ God hath blinded the understandings of the unbelievers of this world .’ On this Calvin makes some wise remarks: “We see what the heat of controversy does in such disputes. If all these men had read the words of Paul with a tranquil mind, it would never have come into their mind so to wrest his words into a forced sense. But because their adversaries bore hardly on them, they thought more of vanquishing them than of endeavouring to ascertain the mind of Paul.”

hath blinded the minds of them which believe not ] The meaning is either (1) that all were perishing alike (John 3:18 ), but that some believed and Satan blinded the minds of the rest, or (2) that all were formerly unbelieving, but that some, by rejecting the good tidings of salvation through Christ, passed over into the category of the perishing. In support of (1) we may render ‘in whom’ by ‘among whom.’ The word here translated ‘ them which believe not ’ is used in 1 Corinthians 6:6 , 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 , 1 Corinthians 10:27 , 1 Corinthians 14:22-24 , of those who do not believe in Christ . For the word translated ‘minds,’ see note on ch. 2:11. The word translated ‘ blinded ’ is not the same as that used in ch. 3:14.

lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ ] Rather, lest the enlightenment (Rhemish, illumination ) of the Gospel of the glory of Christ . The word translated ‘light’ in the A. V. signifies rather the result of light than light itself. The words translated ‘glorious gospel’ are so translated in virtue of the constant occurrence of Hebraisms of this kind in the N. T. But it seems impossible to doubt that there is here a reference to the ‘glory’ so frequently mentioned in the last chapter, as in the word ‘blinded’ there is an obvious reference to the vail.

who is the image of God ] Cf. ch. 3:18, Colossians 1:15 . The word in the original is exactly equivalent to our word likeness . An image or likeness is a visible representation of an object. So Christ in His humanity (cf. Genesis 1:27 ; 1 Corinthians 11:7 ) is a visible representation of the unseen God. Cf. John 1:1-14 (especially the last verse), and Hebrews 1:3 . Also John 14:8 , John 14:9 . No revelation of the wisdom and power of God that man has received can compare with that made in the Life, Death and Resurrection of the Incarnate Son. Also as the ‘Mediator of the New Covenant’ (Hebrews 12:24 ), glory, the glory of the Invisible God, streams from His Face, a glory far brighter than that with which Moses’ face shone after communing with God.

5. For we preach not ourselves ] A reason is here given for the foregoing statement. If St Paul’s Gospel be hid, it is not because it is his own, and therefore destined to come to nought (see ch. 3:7). No, it is the Gospel of Christ which he preaches, and if any refuse to listen to it, it is because he has suffered himself to be blinded by the devil. See note on v . 3.

but Christ Jesus the Lord ] i.e. Christ Jesus as Lord, not ourselves.

and ourselves your servants ] The original is stronger, and ourselves your slaves . “He does not say ‘the slaves of Jesus,’ but what is by far more humble and lowly, ‘ your slaves.’ Yet that he may not appear to speak or think in too abject a strain, he adds, ‘for Jesus’ sake.’ ” Estius.

6. For God … shined ] Literally, Because it is God Who shined , and therefore, if the doctrine of the ministers of Christ were not received by any, it was not because they exercised any concealment or reserve (ch. 3:13), much less on account of any adulteration of the pure word of God ( v . 2), but because the soul of the unbeliever deliberately refused to receive the light of God’s truth. Cf. John 1:5 .

who commanded the light to shine out of darkness ] First in the physical world (Genesis 1:3 ) and then in the moral and spiritual world, in the person of Jesus Christ. Cf. John 1:4 , John 1:3 :19, John 1:8 :12, &c.

hath shined in our hearts ] God makes use of human instrumentality in spreading the knowledge of His glory. Cf. ch. 2:15, 16, 3:3, 6.

to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God ] Literally, in order to the enlightenment : illumination , Rhemish. Knowledge is here spoken of rather as the effect of light than light itself. See note on v . 4.

in the face of Jesus Christ ] The same word is used here as in ch. 2:10. See note on the words ‘image of God,’ above. “A notable place, whence we learn that God is not to be investigated in His unsearchable height, for He inhabits the light unapproachable (1 Timothy 6:16 ), but to be known as far as He reveals Himself in Christ … It is more useful for us to behold God as He appears in His Only-begotten Son, than to investigate His secret essence.” Calvin. There is another interpretation of these words. We may translate them ‘in the person of Christ,’ and then the sense is that Christ was Himself the revealer of the glory of God. John 1:14 , John 1:18 .

7. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels ] ‘I grant you that the exterior of the ministers of the Gospel is by no means in accordance with the description I have just given of the Gospel they preach. But why is this? but because, as I have said before, they desire not, they are not intended, to claim the glory and power as their own. It is stamped in their character, appearance, demeanour, sufferings, that they seek nothing for themselves, but are simply the servants of God, while the extraordinary results of their labours prove that it is He Whose messengers they are.’ The metaphor of the glory is dropped, and the Apostles represented as the earthenware vessels in which treasures were frequently in those days kept, and often (see Wordsworth in loc .) carried in triumphal processions. Cf. ch. 2:14. The treasure is Christ Himself, ministered by His disciples. See ch. 3:3, and cf. Matthew 13:44 .

excellency ] This word has somewhat lost its force in modern English, its place has been taken by the word superiority. See v . 17, where the Greek is the same as here.

of us ] The Greek implies from ourselves as a source .

8. We are troubled on every side ] Perhaps ‘ in every way .’ For the word rendered troubled,’ cf. ch. 1:4, 6:4.

yet not distressed ] This word, says Bengel, denotes angustias tales e quibus non detur exitus , “such straits as there are no escape from.”

perplexed, but not in despair ] The play upon words here (cf. ch. 1:13, 3:2) has no exact equivalent in English. The nearest approach to it would be ‘at our wits’ end, but not out of our wits.’ See also note on ch. 1:8.

9. cast down, but not destroyed ] i.e. struck or thrown down, as in warfare or wrestling, but not yet deprived of life, and therefore not unable to renew the conflict.

10. always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus ] Rather, the slaying (Vulg. mortificatio ) of the Lord Jesus . So Wiclif. The word is only to be found in Romans 4:19 , where it signifies the process by which a thing became dead, i.e. age. The same spirit of hostility to good which put Jesus to death is still at work in the world against His servants. Their sufferings, therefore, for His sake, are a kind of slaying Him anew. Cf. Colossians 1:24 .

that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body ] The life of Jesus dwelling in the hearts of His saints is shewn in the power they possess of enduring, in their often feeble frames, sufferings and toils such as might daunt the strongest men, as well as in the unselfishness which welcomes such sufferings and toils for the glory of God and the well-being of man. Meyer cites Ignatius ad Magnes . 6, “If we do not of our own accord accept death after the manner of His Passion, His Life is not in us.”

11. For we which live ] We, the possessors of the Divine life in Christ, the spiritual life which takes the place of the natural. Cf. ch. 3:3, 6, 17, and 1 Corinthians 11:12 , 1 Corinthians 11:16 , and 15:45, 46, and notes.

are alway delivered unto death ] Literally, are alway being delivered unto death , i.e. while we are engaged in this ministry on behalf of Jesus Christ our Lord, calling on us as it does for a perpetual conflict with enemies without, and the weakness of our mortal flesh within.

that the life also of Jesus ] Not only is what was stated in the last verse the fact, but it was God’s purpose that it should be so. The labours and trials of the Apostles are due to the working of a principle of death which is ever hostile to life and God. But the operation of that principle in the mortal bodies of the Apostles is destined only to display the working of a still stronger principle, the life that comes from God. See next note.

12. So then death worketh in us, but life in you ] See 1 Corinthians 4:9 . The Apostle here enunciates a principle common to the material and the spiritual world. From death comes life, from decay regeneration. The death of Christ was the life of the world; the daily dying (1 Corinthians 15:31 ) of His disciples, by virtue of the same Spirit that lives in Him, is the means whereby that life spreads among mankind. Death may be said to be working in Christ’s ministers, because of their visible sorrows, anxieties, persecutions (but see v . 16); life in their converts, because of the visible change in their character and acts. Cf. Plato, Phaedo , ch. 16: “ ‘What is that which is produced from life?’ ‘Death,’ he said. ‘What then,’ replied he, ‘from death?’ ‘It must be confessed that life is.’ ”

13. We having the same spirit of faith ] The idea of boldness and outspokenness is still present with the Apostle. He speaks openly, because he has reason to believe what he says. And the thought is connected with the last verse by the fact that it is to his speaking that the Corinthians owe their life. The ‘same spirit’ means the spirit that dwelt in the Psalmist. See next note.

according as it is written ] See Psalms 116:10 . The Psalmist was ‘sore troubled,’ but his faith enabled him to triumph over affliction and to declare the loving-kindness of the Lord. A similar faith enabled St Paul and his fellow-labourers to declare the good tidings of Christ, though encompassed by infirmity and trouble.

14. knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus ] Here we have the source of the Apostle’s faith and confidence. He knew that the Resurrection of Christ was an accomplished fact (see notes on 1 Corinthians 15:0 , and Introduction to First Epistle). Hence arose his persuasion that a life was given to him which should survive and overcome even death itself.

by Jesus ] All recent editors substitute with Jesus , which, however, does not mean at the same time with, but by virtue of the operation of the same life and spirit. For the life that dwells in Jesus dwells also in His disciples, John 6:54 . We are the members, Christ the Head; we are the crop, Christ the firstfruits, 1 Corinthians 15:23 . Cf. Romans 1:4 , as well as ch. 3:17, 18, and Ephesians 2:5 , Ephesians 2:6 ; Colossians 2:13 . Chrysostom omits the words altogether. Meyer remarks that though St Paul believed that he and the majority of his readers would live to see the actual coming of Christ in the flesh, the possibility that this might not be the case was ever before his eyes. See 1 Corinthians 15:51 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:15 .

and shall present us with you ] i.e. shall place us in His own Presence. Cf. Romans 14:10 ; Colossians 1:22 ; Jude 1:24 ; ch. 5:10, and 1 Corinthians 8:8 , and note.

15. For all things are for your sakes ] Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:22 , as well as the numerous passages in that Epistle where the well-being of mankind is represented as St Paul’s (and indeed God’s) only object, e.g. 6:12, 10:23.

that the abundant grace ] Literally, that grace having abounded . There is a very similar passage in ch. 1:11. And this passage, like that, is capable of being construed in various ways. We may either take it (1) that grace, having abounded, might multiply on account of the thanksgiving of the greater number ; or (2) that grace, having abounded, may by means of the greater number, multiply the thanksgiving to the glory of God , or (3) that grace, having abounded through the greater number, may multiply the thanksgiving to the glory of God . The last would seem the preferable rendering. For (1) God’s grace or favour abounds the more, the greater the number who are turned to Him, (2) the larger the number of converts, the greater the thanksgiving to God (for this use of ‘the greater number, see 1 Corinthians 9:19 ); and (3) the word translated ‘redound’ in the A. V. has also the transitive sense of ‘make to abound,’ as in Ephesians 1:8 ; 1 Thessalonians 3:12 , and ch. 9:8. The Greek here, as in v . 11, indicates God’s purpose, which having its origin in His love, issues in beneficence. In the happiness and gratitude of the beings He has created, He has thought fit to find His own.

4:16 5:10 The Preachers of the Gospel are sustained by the hope of a Future Life

16. For which cause we faint not ] The Apostle now returns to the topic he has already introduced ( v . 1). But the digression, if indeed it be a digression, only tends to strengthen the assertion he has made. ‘We faint not,’ he says, ‘not merely because we have a glorious ministry ( v . 1), not merely because we have the knowledge of God ( v . 6), not merely because, though oppressed and afflicted ourselves, we see the blessed results of our ministry in others, but because (cf. v . 10, 11) our sorrows and sufferings, the decay of our mortal body, are but external. There is a spring of life within that can never fail, the new life, which comes to us from God through Christ.’

17. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment ] Literally, For the momentary lightness of our affliction . The argument is advanced another step. Not only have we this inner fount of strength and consolation, but we know that it is eternal, while our afflictions endure but for a moment. Cf. Romans 8:18 .

worketh for us ] Literally, worketh out, bringeth to perfection . The precise opposite of the word translated ‘brought to nought,’ ‘done away.’ See ch. 3:7.

a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory] Over measure an everlasting birthun into higness of glorie , Wiclif. Literally, a weight of glory in excess and unto excess : the whole passage denoting that the glory to come exceeds the power of words to tell. The Vulgate renders ‘supra modum in sublimitate.’ Alford, ‘in a surpassing and still more surpassing manner.’ The old English versions, including the A. V., follow Tyndale here. An expression very closely approaching to this is the usual one in Hebrew for anything immeasurably great, as for instance, in the original of Genesis 7:19 . The word glory in Hebrew is derived from the original idea of weight . It is possible that this connection of ideas may have influenced St Paul in the choice of this expression.

18. while we look not ] Rather, since we look not, do not fix our attention .

at the things which are not seen ] The Christian habitually views all that comes before him from the standpoint of the invisible world, which is revealed to him by the Spirit from within. See 1 Corinthians 2:9 , 1 Corinthians 2:10 , 1 Corinthians 2:13 ; 1 John 4:5 , 1 John 4:6 . Also Hebrews 11:1 .

for the things which are seen are temporal ] Rather, temporary , i.e. they last, and are intended to last, but a season.

but the things which are not seen are eternal ] Here was the secret of the Apostle’s confidence. The invisible truths of which he was persuaded, which lay at the root of the Resurrection of Christ, and therefore of the moral strength he felt within him and was enabled to impart to others, rested upon no uncertain basis, but upon the unchangeable Will of the Eternal God. See notes on ch. 1:19, 20.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/2-corinthians-4.html. 1896.