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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 13

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-10


In this third and last major division of his epistle the apostle Paul defended his apostolic authority. He did this to silence his critics in Corinth and perhaps elsewhere permanently and to confirm the united support of the Christians there. One of Paul’s major purposes in writing this letter was to prepare the way for his next visit. He had just referred to that "anticipated visit" (2 Corinthians 9:3-4). Consequently he felt compelled to establish his apostolic authority firmly.

". . . the reason for the new subject (as in 1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 15:1) lies primarily in the situation [Paul faced in Corinth] rather than in Paul’s logic." [Note: Keener, p. 216.]

Broomall’s observation on the tone of 2 Corinthians generally is especially true of chapters 10-13.

"The progress of thought in this epistle is like the movement of a mighty army advancing over rugged terrain still inhabited by pockets of stubborn resistance." [Note: Broomall, p. 1261.]

". . . 2 Corinthians 10-13 presents us with what might almost be called a new kind of Judaizing: a Hellenistic Jewish movement that opposed Paul but was less concerned (so far as we know) with circumcision and with detailed observance of the Mosaic law than with prestige and power in accord with the contemporary values of Corinthian society. Paul’s response (2 Corinthians 10-13) is the most intense, revealing, and emotional of all his writings." [Note: Carson and Moo, p. 447.]

C. Exhortations in view of Paul’s approaching visit 12:19-13:10

As he concluded his epistle Paul looked forward to his anticipated return to Corinth in the immediate future (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:14). He shared his concerns about what he might experience and warned his readers to make certain changes before he arrived. He did this so he would not have to shame or discipline them when he arrived.

Verse 1

There are at least four possibilities about what Paul meant by the two or three witnesses that would confirm his credibility and his critics’ guilt. First, he may simply have been saying that the church would pass judgment and, on the testimony of the witnesses that Jesus Christ prescribed, should decide who was right (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:3-5). Second, Paul may have viewed his three visits to Corinth as three witnesses to his innocence. Third, he may have been referring to his warnings that he would not spare the Corinthians. These may be the one in 1 Corinthians 4:21, possibly a warning given during the painful visit, and the one in 2 Corinthians 13:2 b. Fourth, Paul may have meant the witness of his fellow workers when he returned to Corinth. He may have meant Titus and the brethren who accompanied him (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:23) and or Paul’s fellow travelers. I tend to favor the first possibility because it views the witnesses as people, which is the normal meaning of witnesses in the passage quoted (Deuteronomy 19:15). The fourth view seems weak to me since Paul’s friends would have appeared biased to his critics.

Verses 1-10

2. Paul’s warnings 13:1-10

Verse 2

Paul had warned the Corinthians during his second or painful visit. He was now issuing a second warning in anticipation of his return to Corinth. When (Gr. ean, not "if") Paul came, he would use his apostolic authority to discipline any in the fellowship who required correction. "Those who have sinned in the past" probably refers to the immoral individuals who had failed to respond to Paul during his painful visit (2 Corinthians 12:21 b). "All the rest" probably includes the larger group that failed to submit to Paul’s authority (2 Corinthians 12:20 b).

Verse 3

Then his critics would have first-hand proof of his divinely given power. Christ-like gentleness and humility (2 Corinthians 10:1) did not impress the Corinthians as displays of power did (2 Corinthians 11:20). Paul’s threatened judgment of the erring in the church would provide the proof that many of them required that the powerful Christ was working through Paul. Jesus Christ will Himself likewise experience vindication one day when He comes in judgment.

Verse 4

Jesus experienced crucifixion because He was obedient to His Father’s will and therefore did not assert Himself against His enemies who eventually executed Him. He appeared to be very weak to onlookers. However, His "weakness" was in reality an evidence of great strength, strength of commitment to His Father’s will even to death on a cross. The Father rewarded His Son by sustaining Him with supernatural power. Similarly Paul in submitting to God’s will had appeared weak to some in Corinth. Nevertheless God would sustain him too supernaturally. That supernatural power would be evident to the Corinthians when Paul arrived in Corinth and dealt with them as Jesus Christ will deal with His people when He returns (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10).

"It appears that Paul and the Corinthians did not understand ’power’ in the same way. For them it was on display in an aggressive and a mighty personality. For the apostle, it is seen in weakness." [Note: Martin, p. 476.]

Verses 5-6

In anticipation of Paul’s judgment he called on his Christian readers to examine themselves to make sure every one of them was walking in the faith. Testing themselves would preclude him having to discipline them (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:31). Paul believed that Jesus Christ was working in each one of them unless they failed this test. In that case there was some doubt whether they were walking in the faith. Paul himself claimed to be walking in the faith.

This verse may at first seem to be talking about gaining assurance of one’s salvation from his or her works. [Note: See John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 190; idem, Faith Works, pp. 162-63; and Wiersbe, 1:679.] However this was not what Paul advocated here or anywhere else in his writings. He was writing to genuine believers (2 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 2 Corinthians 3:2-3; 2 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 8:9). He told them to examine their works to gain assurance that they were experiencing sanctification, that they were walking in obedience to the faith.

"Paul’s question is usually construed with regard to positional justification: were they Christians or not? But it more likely concerned practical sanctification: did they demonstrate that they were in the faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:13) and that Christ was in them by their obeying His will. To stand the test was to do what was right. To fail was to be disobedient and therefore subject to God’s discipline." [Note: Lowery, pp. 586-87. Cf. Barnett, pp. 607-8; and V. P. Furnish, II Corinthians, p. 577.]

"After twelve chapters in which Paul takes their Christianity for granted, can he only now be asking them to make sure they are born again?" [Note: Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free! p. 200.]

"Fail the test" translates the Greek word adokimos (disqualified) which everywhere else in the New Testament refers to Christians (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27).

"In 2 Corinthians 13:3 Paul indicates that some of the Corinthians were seeking proof (dokimen) that Christ was speaking in Paul. Then in 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul turns the tables on them and challenges them to prove themselves (dokimazo). What some of the Corinthians questioned was not Paul’s salvation. It was his sanctification. They questioned whether he was a true spokesman and apostle of Christ. Likewise, when he turned the tables he questioned their sanctification, not their salvation." [Note: Bob Wilkin, "Test Yourselves to See If You Are in the Faith: Assurance Based on Our Works? 2 Corinthians 13:5," Grace Evangelical Society News 4:10 (October 1990):2.]

". . . even though Paul asked the Corinthians to examine their objective standing in Christ, his remarks are structured in such a way that he knew there was no possibility they were still unregenerate. He asked them to examine themselves, not because he doubted their salvation, but because he was absolutely sure of their salvation, and that assurance formed an undeniable foundation for his appeal in 2 Corinthians 13:5 b and 6. Paul’s jolting challenge in 2 Corinthians 13:5 a is best understood when placed in the context of his self-defense in the entire letter. . . .

"The logic of Paul’s argument is compelling: If the Corinthians wanted proof of whether Paul’s ministry was from Christ, they must look at themselves, not him, because Paul had ministered the gospel to them (Acts 18:1-11; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5)." [Note: Perry C. Brown, "What Is the Meaning of ’Examine Yourselves’ in 2 Corinthians 13:5?" Bibliotheca Sacra 154:614 (April-June 1997):181. Cf. also Bruce, pp. 253-54; Lenski, p. 1333; Tasker, pp. 188-89; Harris, p. 403; Hughes, p. 481; Barrett, p. 338; and Martin, p. 457.]

"Nowhere in the Bible is a Christian asked to examine either his faith or his life to find out if he is a Christian. He is told only to look outside of himself to Christ alone for his assurance that he is a Christian. The Christian is, however, often told to examine his faith and life to see if he is walking in fellowship and in conformity to God’s commands." [Note: Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, p. 288. Cf. pp. 299-300. His twelfth and thirteenth chapters on faith and assurance, pp. 271-91, and self-examination and faith, pp. 293-310, are helpful.]

"Instead of a threat, Paul’s challenge in 2 Corinthians 13:5 is a sobering reminder about the true mark of a Christian’s ministry. The barometer of Paul’s ministry was people-the believers in Corinth, as well as those in Ephesus, Philippi, and other cities where he ministered. Eternally redeemed people were the proof of his apostolic authenticity and of God’s presence in his life." [Note: Brown, p. 188.]

Verse 7

The apostle’s greatest desire was the obedience and godliness of his readers. This was more important to him than his own vindication, as important as that was (2 Corinthians 13:6).

Verse 8

Paul could not bring himself to do anything that would harm the truth, even to vindicate himself. Promoting the truth (i.e., the gospel) was his great ambition even if it meant that some regarded him as a false apostle. This acting for the truth included judging the Corinthians if necessary (2 Corinthians 13:2).

Verses 9-10

The great apostle was willing to appear weak if by that weakness his disciples could become stronger and more mature (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:5; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Colossians 1:28). In harmony with this objective he had written 2 Corinthians. He wanted his distance from the Corinthians to cushion his severe admonitions. Nevertheless if it were necessary he would deal severely with them in person. Some destruction through judgment of sinful conduct might be necessary before construction of the church in Corinth could proceed.

"This verse brings to a conclusion the section of the epistle which began at 2 Corinthians 10:1. The theme there announced as it were in a minor key is now happily transposed into the major key: there he is accused of being bold and terrifying when absent, especially in his letters, but weak and innocuous when present; here he concludes his answer to this charge by saying that if he writes with sharpness when absent it is with the purpose of obviating the need for acting with sharpness when present. There is, however, no renunciation of authority on his part, but his conduct is governed by the principle that (as he has previously stated in 2 Corinthians 10:8) his authority has been entrusted to him by the Lord to be used for constructive, not destructive, ends." [Note: Hughes, pp. 484-85.]

Evidently Paul’s anticipated visit to Corinth was a pleasant one. Paul wrote Romans during the three months he was in Corinth (Acts 20:2-3, A.D. 56-57). In it he gave no indication that there were problems in Corinth. Moreover he proceeded with his plans to evangelize unreached areas, which he would not have done if the Corinthian church still needed his attention (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:14-16). Furthermore Paul wrote that the Corinthians "were pleased" to complete their collection for the Jerusalem saints (Romans 15:26-27). Finally the Corinthian church’s preservation of 2 Corinthians argues for this church’s acquiescence to Paul’s admonitions and warnings. [Note: See Barnett, p. 619.]

Verse 11

Obedience to five commands would result in one condition that Paul wanted his readers to express in a particular practice.

First, they were to rejoice, probably because they had the opportunity to judge themselves before God would judge them (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:31). What is more important, they could and should rejoice in the Lord. Second, they were to mend their ways (RSV) and thus experience completion or restoration, as God would bring them to maturity (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:9). They needed to break permanently with all idolatry (2 Corinthians 6:14 to 2 Corinthians 7:1), to complete their collection (chs. 8-9), and to change their attitude toward Paul (chs. 10-13).

Third, they were to accept Paul’s exhortation that would result in their comfort (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3-10). Fourth, they were to foster a united outlook by putting first things first (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:8). Specifically they needed to unite in their attitude to Paul and his authority. Fifth, they were to live at peace with one another and with Paul.

These conditions being met the God who manifests love and peace as the fruit of His Spirit would remain in fellowship with them. They should emulate God and cultivate love and peace toward one another and toward the apostle.

"It is not by sitting with folded hands that we enter into the blessings of God, but by actively and purposefully promoting those dispositions which are in accordance with God’s will for His people: rejoicing, harmony, unity in the truth, living together in peace. It is true that we look to God alone to supply the grace for their achievement; but it is the actual daily practice of love and peace that ensures, from the human side, the realization of the promise that the God of love and peace will be with us." [Note: Hughes, pp. 487-88.]

Verses 11-12

A. The exhortation 13:11-12

Verses 11-14

V. CONCLUSION 13:11-14

Paul concluded this letter with an exhortation, a salutation, and a benediction. He intended each of these to draw the emphases of this epistle together to impress on his readers the basis and importance of their unity with one another and with himself.

Verse 12

They could then exchange the holy kiss sincerely. The believers practiced this custom commonly. It symbolized the forgiveness, reconciliation, unity, and fellowship that existed between the people who kissed each other. Until unity prevailed in the church this kiss was hypocritical.

Verse 13

B. The salutation 13:13

The love of the body of Christ elsewhere reached out to enfold the Corinthians in unity. Perhaps Paul meant "all the saints" with him where he was in Macedonia when he wrote this epistle.

"Like the ’holy kiss,’ this epistolary greeting was an expression of unity within the one body of Christ." [Note: Harris, p. 405.]

Verse 14

C. The benediction 13:14

This so-called "Trinitarian benediction" is one of the most widely quoted verses in the Pauline corpus. In each of the three phrases the genitive is subjective (i.e., the grace that comes from Jesus Christ, etc.).

Paul wished that God’s grace demonstrated in the work of Jesus Christ on Calvary might be the atmosphere in which all his readers lived their lives. Appreciation for that grace banishes self-assertiveness and self-seeking. He hoped that God’s love demonstrated in the Father’s work in sending Jesus Christ as our Savior might be the motivation for their lives. Thankfulness for His love subdues jealousy and strife. He longed that the fellowship that God’s Spirit produces among all the saved might unite their lives in fellowship with one another and with all believers. Gratefulness for that fellowship minimizes quarreling and factions.

Note the centrality of Jesus Christ’s cross work in Paul’s arrangement of these prayerful wishes. Note, too, the clear testimony to the Trinity that this verse provides. It is in the grace of Jesus Christ displayed in His substitute sacrifice (2 Corinthians 8:9) that we see God’s love (Romans 5:8), which the Spirit uses to produce fellowship (Ephesians 4:3).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-corinthians-13.html. 2012.
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