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Wednesday, July 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 2

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) But I determined this with myself.—Better, I determined for myself. The chapter division is here obviously wrong, and interrupts the sequence of thought. St. Paul continues his explanation. He did not wish to come again, i.e., to make his second visit to Corinth, in grief, and if he had carried out his first plan that would have been the almost inevitable result. He consulted his own feelings (“for myself”) as well as theirs.

Verse 2

(2) Who is he then that maketh me glad?—The force of the “for,” with which the verse opens, lies below the surface. He had wished to avoid a visit that would cause sorrow to himself and others, and events had shown that he was right. But it might be said, perhaps had been said, that he didn’t seem to care about giving pain when he wrote, as, e.g., in 1 Corinthians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 5:2-7; 1 Corinthians 6:5-8. “Yes,” is his answer; “but then the pain which I inflict” (the pronoun is emphatic) “gives to him who suffers it the power of giving me joy, and so works out an ample compensation;” a thought to which he returns in 2 Corinthians 7:8. The abruptness of the question and the use of the singular number shows that he has the one great offender, the incestuous adulterer of 1 Corinthians 5:1, before his mind’s eye. He sees him, as it were, and can point to him as showing how well the course he had taken had answered.

Verse 3

(3) And I wrote this same unto you.—Here, again, we have to read between the lines. The pronoun, which does not refer to anything that has been actually said, shows with what definiteness certain passages in his first letter were stamped upon his memory. The question might be asked, “Why had he written so sharply?” And he makes answer to himself that the result had been what he had intended: that his motive in so writing as to give pain had been to avoid giving and receiving pain when he came in person. He wanted his visit to be one of unmixed joy for himself, and if so, it could not fail, looking to their mutual sympathy, to give his disciples joy also.

Verse 4

(4) Out of much affliction and anguish.—Men might think that it had cost him little to write sharp words like those which he has in his mind. He remembers well what he felt as he dictated them—the intensity of his feelings, pain that such words should be needed, anxiety as to their issue, the very tears which then, as at other times (Acts 20:19; Acts 20:31; 2 Timothy 1:4), were the outflow of strong emotion. Those who were indignant at his stern words should remember, or at least learn to believe this, and so to see in them the strongest proof of his abounding love for them. The heart of St. Paul was in this matter as the heart of Him who said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Revelation 3:19). The motive in such a case is not to give pain, but to lead those whom we reprove to feel how much we love them. On the word for “anguish,” see Note on Luke 21:25. Looking to the fact that it is used only by St. Luke and St. Paul in the New Testament, we may, perhaps, see in it another example of medical terminology. The anguish was like that of a tight pressure or constriction of the heart.

Verse 5

(5) But if any have caused grief.—The man who had been the chief cause of his sorrow is now prominent in his thoughts. He will not name him. He is, as in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, and here in 2 Corinthians 2:7, “a man,” “such a one.” The abrupt introduction of the qualifying clause, “but in part,” and the absence of any authoritative punctuation, makes the construction ambiguous. It admits of three possible explanations: (1) “If any have caused grief, it is not I alone whom he hath grieved, but in part, to some extent—not to press the charge against him too heavily—all of you” They, the members of the Corinthian Church, were really the greatest sufferers from the scandal which brought shame upon it. (2) “If any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, save in part” (i.e., he is not the only offender), “that I may not press the charge against all of you—so that I may not treat you as if you were all open to the same condemnation, or had all caused the same sorrow.” (3) Combining parts of (1) and (2): “It is not I whom he hath grieved, save in part, that I may not lay the blame on all of you.” Of these (1) seems the simplest and most natural. In any case, it is important to remember that the position of the pronoun in the Greek, “me he hath not grieved,” makes it specially emphatic.

Verse 6

(6) Sufficient to such a man is this punishment.—Better, perhaps, this censure, or rebuke: the Greek word epitimia being different from those in Matthew 25:46, and in Hebrews 10:29. It is natural to infer that this was somewhat after the pattern of the course marked out in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5. A meeting of the Church had been held, and the man delivered to Satan. Possibly this was followed by some suffering of body, supernaturally inflicted, or coming as the natural consequence (not less divine because natural) of remorse and shame. It was almost certainly followed by ex-communication and exclusion from religious and social fellowship. St. Paul had clearly heard what it had been, and thought that it had been enough.

Which was inflicted of many.—Actually, by the majority. The decision, then, had not been unanimous. The minority may have been either members of the Judaising “Cephas “party, resenting what they would look upon as St. Paul’s dictation, and perhaps falling back on the Jewish casuistry, which taught that all the natural relationships of a proselyte were cancelled by his conversion; or the party of license, against whom the Apostle reasons in 1 Corinthians 6-8, and who boasted of their freedom. The Passover argument and the form of the sentence in 1 Corinthians 5:0 alike suggest the idea that the offender and those who defended him were Jews. On the other hand, see Note on 2 Corinthians 7:12.

Verse 7

(7) Ye ought rather to forgive.—The indignation which St. Paul had felt has passed, on his hearing of the offender’s state, into pity and anxiety. The time had come for words of pardon and comfort and counsel. What if he should be “swallowed up,” and sink as in the great deep of sorrow? Suicide, madness, apostasy, seem to float before his mind as but too possible results.

Verse 8

(8) That ye would confirm your love.—The word for “confirm” (better, perhaps, ratify—comp. Galatians 3:15) suggests the thought of an act as formal and public as the rebuke had been. The excommunicated man was to be re-admitted to fellowship by a collective act of the Church.

Verse 9

(9) For to this end also did I write . . .—The tense of the Greek verb, which may be what is known as the Epistolary aorist, used by the writer of the time at which he writes, would not be decisive as to what is referred to, and the words may mean: “I write to you thus to see whether you are as obedient now as you were before—in one line of action as in the other.” If he refers to the First Epistle, it is to intimate that he gave the directions in 1 Corinthians 5:3-7, not only for the removal of a scandal and the reformation of the offender who had caused it, but as a test of their obedience. On the whole, the former interpretation seems preferable. It scarcely seems like St. Paul to make the punishment a trial of obedience. There is a characteristic subtle delicacy of thought in his suggesting that, having shown obedience in punishing they should show it also in forgiving.

Verse 10

(10) To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also.—The procedure of 1 Corinthians 5:3-7 is again, obviously, in his mind. Though absent in body, he had made himself a sharer spiritually in that censure. He now, anticipating their compliance with his request, makes himself a sharer in the sentence of absolution.

For if I forgave any thing.—Better, if I have forgiven; and so in the following clauses. The case is put hypothetically, though he has an actual offender in his thoughts, because he had, in 2 Corinthians 2:5, all but disclaimed the character of being an aggrieved person. He confines himself, therefore, to saying: “So far as I was aggrieved, I have forgiven; so far as I have forgiven, it is for your sake as a body, not merely for my own and that of the offender.”

In the person of Christ.—Literally, in the face of Christ (See Note on 2 Corinthians 1:11.) In the presence of Christ is, therefore, a possible rendering. The English version is probably correct, the phrase conveying the same sense as “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” in 1 Corinthians 5:4, but in a somewhat stronger form. He had forgiven, as though Christ was acting in or by him. The forgiveness would be as authoritative as the censure. It will be noted that he claims in its fulness the authority given to the Apostles of Christ in John 20:23.

Verse 11

(11) Lest Satan should get an advantage of us.—Literally, lest we should be cheated (or out-maneuvered) by Satan. The phraseology is that of one who is, as it were, playing a game against the Tempter, in which the souls of men are at once the counters and the stake. The Apostle’s last move in that game had been to “give the sinner over to Satan” with a view to his ultimate deliverance. But what if Satan should outwit him, by tempting the sinner to despair or recklessness? To guard against that danger required, as it were, another move. Stratagem must be met by strategy. The man must be absolved that he may be able to resist the Tempter.

We are not ignorant of his devices.—The language comes from a wide and varied experience. St. Paul had been buffeted by a messenger of Satan (2 Corinthians 12:7); had once and again been hindered by him in his work (1 Thessalonians 2:18); was ever wrestling, not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12); and so he knew how the Tempter could turn even the rules of an ascetic rigour, or the remorse of a sin-burdened conscience, into an occasion of yet further and more irremediable sin.

Verse 12

(12) Furthermore, when I came to Troas.—The article, perhaps, indicates the Troad as a district, rather than the city, just as it does in the case of Saron. (See Note on Acts 9:35.) The case of the offender had come in as a parenthesis in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8. He returns to the train of thought which it had interrupted, and continues his narrative of what had passed after he had written the First Epistle. (On Troas, see Notes on Acts 16:8.) A Church had probably been founded in that city by St. Luke, but St. Paul’s first visit to it had been limited to a few days, and there are no traces of his preaching there. Now he comes “for the gospel’s sake.” That there was a flourishing Christian community some months later, we find from Acts 20:6.

A door was opened unto me.—Opportunities for mission-work, as we should call them, are thus described in 1 Corinthians 16:9. There is something of the nature of a coincidence in his using it of two different churches, Ephesus and Troas, within a comparatively short interval.

Verse 13

(13) I had no rest in my spirit.—Instead of coming himself straight from Ephesus, as he had at first intended, and had intimated probably in the lost letter of 1 Corinthians 5:9, or by Timotheus (1 Corinthians 4:17), or pressing on through Macedonia, as he purposed when he wrote the First Epistle (1 Corinthians 16:5), he had sent on Titus (himself possibly connected with Corinth: see Note on Acts 18:7) to ascertain what had been the effects of that Epistle on the Corinthian Church. Titus was to return to him at Troas. Not meeting him there, St. Paul, in his eager anxiety to hear something more than Timotheus had been able to tell him, left Troas, in spite of the opening which it presented for his work as a preacher of the gospel, and hastened on into Macedonia. Taking the route that he had taken before, he would probably go to Philippi, where he would find St. Luke; and we may conjecture, without much risk of error, that it was there that he and Titus met.

Verse 14

(14) Now thanks be unto God.—The apparent abruptness of this burst of thanksgiving is at first somewhat startling. We have to find its source, not in what the Apostle had written or spoken, but in what was passing through his memory. He had met Titus, and that disciple had been as a courier bringing tidings of a victory. The love of God had won another triumph.

Causeth us to triumph.—Better, who always leads us in His triumph. There is absolutely no authority for the factitive meaning given to the verb in the English version. In Colossians 2:15, it is translated rightly, “triumphing over them in it.” It is obvious, too, that the true rendering gives a much more characteristic thought. It would be unlike St. Paul to speak of himself as the triumphant commander of God’s great army. It is altogether like him that he should give God the glory, and own that He, as manifested in Christ, had triumphed, and that Apostle and penitent, the faithful and the rebellious, alike took their place in the procession of that triumph.

The imagery that follows is clearly that of the solemn triumphal procession of a Roman emperor or general. St. Paul, who had not as yet been at Rome, where only such triumphs were celebrated, had, therefore, never seen them, and was writing accordingly from what he had heard from others. Either from the Roman Jews whom he had met at Corinth, many of them slaves or freed-men in the imperial household, or the Roman soldiers and others with whom he came in contact at Philippi, possibly from St. Luke or Clement, he had heard how the conqueror rode along the Via Sacra in his chariot, followed by his troops and prisoners, captive kings and princes, and trophies of victory; how fragrant clouds of incense accompanied his march, rising from fixed altars or wafted from censers; how, at the foot of the Capitoline hill, some of the prisoners, condemned as treacherous or rebellious, were led off to execution, or thrown into the dungeons of the Mamer-tine prison, while others were pardoned and set free. It is not without interest to remember that when St. Paul wrote, the latest triumph at Rome had been that solemnised at Rome by Claudius in honour of the victory of Ostorius over the Britons in A.D. 51, and commemorated by a triumphal arch, the inscription on which is now to be seen in the court-yard of the Barberini Palace at Rome; that in that triumph Caractacus had figured as a prisoner; and that he and his children, spared by the mercy of the emperor, had passed from the ranks of the “lost” to those of the “saved” (Tacit. Ann. xiii. 36). According to a view taken by some writers, Claudia and Linus (2 Timothy 4:21) were among those children. (See Excursus on the Later Years of St. Paul’s Life, at the close of the Acts of the Apostles.

The savour of his knowledge.—There is obviously a reference to the incense which, as in the above description, was an essential part of the triumph of a Roman general. It is there that St. Paul finds an analogue of his own work. He claims to be, as it were, a thurifer, an incense-bearer, in the procession of the conqueror. Words, whether of prayer or praise, thanksgiving or preaching, what were they but as incense-clouds bearing to all around, as they were wafted in the air, the tidings that the Conqueror had come? The “savour of his knowledge” is probably “the knowledge of Him:” that which rests in Him as its object.

Verse 15

(15) We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ.—If we believe this Epistle to have been written from Philippi, it is interesting to note the recurrence of the same imagery of a “sweet savour” in the Epistle to that Church (Philippians 4:18). Here the mind of the writer turns to the sterner, sadder side of the Roman triumph. Some who appeared in that triumph were on their way to deliverance, some on their way to perish (this is the exact rendering of the words translated saved and lost), and this also has its analogue in the triumph of Christ. He does not shrink from that thought. In his belief in the righteousness and mercy of Christ, he is content to leave the souls of all men to His judgment. He will not the less do his work as incense-bearer, and let the “sweet savour” of the knowledge of God be wafted through the words which it has been given him to utter. All things are for His glory, for His righteousness will be seen to have been working through all.

Verse 16

(16) To the one we are the savour of death unto death.—As with other instances of St. Paul’s figurative language, we note the workings of a deeply, though unconsciously, poetic imagination. Keeping the image of the triumph in his mind, he thinks of the widely different impression and effect which the odour of the incense would work in the two classes of the prisoners. To some it would seem to be as a breath from Paradise, giving life and health; to others its sweetness would seem sickly and pestilential, coming as from a charnel house, having in it the “savour of death,” and leading to death as its issue.

And who is sufficient for these things?—The question forced itself on St. Paul’s mind as it forces itself on the mind of every true teacher, Who can feel qualified for a work which involves such tremendous issues? If we ask how it was that he did not draw back from it altogether, the answer is found in other words of his: “God has made us able (sufficient) ministers of the New Testament” (2 Corinthians 3:6); “our sufficiency is of God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). It is obvious that even here he assumes his sufficiency, and gives in the next verse the ground of the assumption.

Verse 17

(17) For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God.—More accurately, We are not as most, as the greater number. There is a ring of sadness in the words. Even then the ways of error were manifold, and the way of truth was one. Among Judaisers, and the seekers after Greek wisdom, asserters of license for liberty, questioners of the resurrection: how few were those who preached the true word of God in its purity! The word for “corrupt,” formed from a word which signifies “huckster” or “tavern-keeper,” implies an adulteration like that which such people commonly practised. We, says St. Paul, play no such tricks of trade with what we preach; we do not meet the tastes of our hearers by prophesying deceits. The very fact that we know the tremendous issues of our work would hinder that. Comp. St. Peter’s use of the same figure in “the sincere (the unadulterated) milk of the reason” (1 Peter 2:2). It is doubtful whether the imagery of the triumph is still present to his thoughts. If it were, we may think of the word “corrupt” as connected with the thought of the sweet savour: “Our incense, at any rate, is pure. If it brings death it is through no fault of ours. It is not a poisoned perfume.”

As of sincerity, but as of God.—The two clauses are half connected, half contrasted. To have said “of sincerity” alone would have been giving too much prominence to what was purely subjective. He could not feel sure that he was sincere unless he knew that his sincerity was given to him by God. (For the word “sincerity,” see Note on 2 Corinthians 1:12.)

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 2". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/2-corinthians-2.html. 1905.
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