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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 7

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) Having therefore these promises . . . let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness.—The thought is identical with that of 1 John 3:3. In each there is the contrast between the high ideal to which the believer in Christ is called and the infinite debasement into which he may possibly sink. St. John characteristically presents the law of the spiritual life as a generalised fact of experience: “Every man who has the hope actually does purify himself.” The word for “filthiness” does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. In 2Ma. 1:27, it is used of the “pollution” of idolatry; in the LXX. of Jeremiah 23:14 (where the English version gives “a horrible thing,” and the margin “filthiness”) of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. The cognate verb is used of sexual impurity in Revelation 14:4, and probably with the same sense in Revelation 3:4, and this is manifestly what St. Paul has in his thoughts here. The two thoughts—idolatry and impurity—were inextricably blended in his mind. He had been warning men against the feasts that were held in the idol’s temple. He cannot close his eyes to the “hidden things of shame” that were their constant and inevitable accompaniments. But that contagion of impurity might spread to the inward parts. Mind and conscience might be defiled (Titus 1:15). The literature of the Empire, as seen in Catullus and Martial and Juvenal, shows only too terribly what St. Paul meant by “filthiness of the spirit.” The very element in man by which he is raised above the brute creatures that lead a simply animal or natural life—his imagination, fancy, discernment of analogies—sinks him to an infinite depth below them.

Perfecting holiness in the fear of God.—The word for “holiness” involves the idea of consecration, and grows out of the thought that the “saints” of God make up collectively, as in 2 Corinthians 6:16, the Temple in which He dwells. As the former clause of the verse presents the negative aspect of purity, abstinence from all that desecrates, this presents the positive, the perfect consecration, and this is wrought out in its completeness, in “the fear of God”—the reverential awe before the thought of God’s presence. The word is the same as that mis-translated “terror” in 2 Corinthians 5:11.

Verse 2

(2) Receive us; we have wronged no man.—Better, Make room for us; we wronged no man: with the same change of tense in the verbs that follow. There is an almost infinite pathos in that entreaty, uttered, we may well believe, as from the very depths of the soul—“Make room for us.” The under-current of thought flows on. He had complained of their being straitened in their affections, had entreated that they would enlarge their hearts towards him, as his heart was enlarged towards them. He has travelled on—his thoughts turning now to the party of license, with whom he had pleaded so earnestly in 1 Corinthians 8-10—to the terribly unutterable contaminations to which they were exposing themselves by their companionship with idolaters. He now, almost, as it were, with sobs, entreats once more: “You can find a place for such as these in your heart. Have you no place for me?” In the words “we wronged no man” we find reference to charges of greed of gain and self-interested motives that had been whispered against him, and to which he refers again in 2 Corinthians 8:20; 2 Corinthians 12:18. Perhaps, also, he contrasts himself with others, who “did wrong and defrauded” (1 Corinthians 6:8).

We have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man.—The word for “corrupt” is the same as that translated “defile” in 1 Corinthians 3:17, and is used with manifest reference to sensual impurity in 2 Peter 2:12; Jude 1:10; Revelation 19:2. The word for “defrauded” is not the same as that in 1 Corinthians 6:8, and though meaning literally “to make a gain,” or “seek a gain,” had, with its cognate nouns, acquired a darker shade of meaning. The verb is used in obvious connection with impurity in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6, where see Note. The nouns often appear in closest companionship with those which indicate that form of evil (1 Corinthians 5:10-11; Ephesians 5:5; 2 Peter 2:14; Romans 1:29; Colossians 3:5). Mere greed of gain is commonly described by another word, which we translate “the love of money” (Luke 16:14; 1 Timothy 6:10; 2 Timothy 3:2). There seems, then, sufficient reason for connecting this verb also with the same class of sins. It would seem as if the word had colloquially acquired a secondary meaning, and was used of those who sought gain by ministering to the vice of others—who became, as it were, purveyors of impurity. The words, so understood, give us a momentary glimpse into a depth of evil from which we would willingly turn our eyes. But they leave no room for doubt that, in the infinite pruriency of such a city as Corinth, even such things as these had been said of the Apostle in the cynical jests of the paganising party of license. They tolerated such things themselves. They welcomed those who practised them to their friendship (1 Corinthians 5:11). They whispered, we may well believe, of private interviews in lonely lodgings, of public gatherings at night of men and women, and of the kiss of peace. They insinuated that, after all, he was even such a one as themselves. So, in like manner, was the fair fame of a disciple of St. Paul’s attacked by Martial, not apparently with malignity, but only in the wantonness of jest. (See Excursus on the Later. Years of St. Paul’s Life, at the end of the Acts of the Apostles.) So like charges were levelled at the reputation of Athanasius (Sozomen. Hist. ii. 25), and of Hooker (Walton’s Life). So, generally, it was the ever-recurring calumny of the heathen against the Christians that their Agapae, or Feasts of Love, were scenes of foulest license. It is obvious that there is much in the popular outcry against confession that partakes more or less of the same character. Against charges of this nature St. Paul utters his indignant denial: “No,” he virtually says; “you find a place in your affections for those who do such things: can you not find a place also for us who are free from them?” The sense which some have given to the word “corrupt,” as referring only to doctrinal corruptions, is manifestly out of the question.

Verse 3

(3) I speak not this to condemn you.—Better, I do not speak as condemning. There is no “you” in the Greek, and the form of expression seems intentionally vague, as leaving it an open question whether his words might refer to his readers or to others. We trace here a sudden revulsion of feeling. What he had just said seemed to imply that he condemned them for even listening to the calumnies which had been circulated against him, for joining in any measure even of outward friendship with men of evil lives; and then there rushes on his memory the recollection of all the good news which Titus had brought. Indignation and jealous sensitiveness are swallowed up in the overflowing thankfulness to which those tidings had given birth at the time, and which were now renewed.

I have said before . . .—He had not used the form of expression before, as far as this letter is concerned, but the fact was implied in what he had said in 2 Corinthians 6:11 : “Our heart is enlarged.” The words that follow are partly an almost proverbial expression for strong attachment, as in Horace (Odes, iii. 9): “Tecum vivere amem, tecum obeam libens”—

“With thee I fain would live,
With thee I fain would die;”

partly with a profounder meaning, that, whether in death or life (the order of the words throws us back on “dying, but behold, we live,” in 2 Corinthians 6:9), his heart and prayers would be with them and for them.

Verse 4

(4) Great is my boldness of speech.—The context shows that he is not apologising for bold and plain speaking, but uses the word as implying confidence (1 Timothy 3:13; Philemon 1:8). He can speak without reticence now, because he is going to express his comfort and joy at what had been reported to him.

I am exceeding joyful.—Literally, I exceedingly abound (or, overflow) in joy. The verb is the same as in Romans 5:20, and answers to the “pressed above measure” which he had used in 2 Corinthians 1:8, in speaking of his troubles.

Verse 5

(5) For, when we were come into Macedonia . . .—His feeling has led him back to the narrative from which he had digressed in 2 Corinthians 2:13. He had come from Troas full of anxiety and agitation. He arrived in Macedonia. Much remained the same. His body was still suffering from want of rest, even though his spirit had found relief in the thought that the coming of Titus could not now be far off. (Comp. “our flesh” here, with “I had no rest for my spirit” in 2 Corinthians 2:13.)

Without were fightings, within were fears.—We have no knowledge to what the first clause refers. It is natural to think either of dangers and persecutions from the heathen, or, probably, of conflicts with the party of the circumcision, or, as he calls them in Philippians 3:0, of the “concision,” at Philippi. The “fears” manifestly refer to his alarm and anxiety about the effect produced by his first Epistle.

Verse 6

(6) God, that comforteth those that are cast down.—The fact of his own experience seems almost to present itself to his thoughts as constituting an attribute of the divine character. In the word for “cast down” (lowly) we may, perhaps, trace an allusion to the same word used of him by others as a disparaging epithet. (See Note on 2 Corinthians 10:1.)

Verse 7

(7) And not by his coming only.—There was joy, doubtless, in seeing his true son in the faith (Titus 1:1) once again, but the great comfort was found in the news which he brought with him. On the part of the majority, at least, of those who had been present when the Epistle was read, there had been all the feelings which he most desired to rouse—longing to see him as he longed to see them (see Romans 1:11; Philippians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Timothy 1:4, for the meaning of the word), their “mourning” (uttered lamentation) for having grieved him; their zeal (not “towards” him, but) on his behalf and for him, as against those who slandered him. All these were elements of comfort, and his sorrow was turned into a yet greater joy than had been caused by the mere arrival of Titus.

Verse 8

(8) For though I made you sorry with a letter.—Better, For even if, and, as the Greek has the article, with my letter. This Titus had told him; and commonly to have caused pain to others would have been a source of grief to him, but he cannot bring himself now to say, I regret. (This is, perhaps, better than repent. On the words, see Notes on Matthew 21:29; Matthew 27:3.) He owns, however, that there had been a moment, either on first hearing of their grief or in his previous anxiety, when he had half regretted that he had written so strongly. Now he sees that that grief was but transient, and he trusts that the good wrought by it will be abiding.

Verse 9

(9) That ye sorrowed to repentance.—Here the true word for “repentance” is used in all the fulness of its meaning. (See Notes on Matthew 3:2; Matthew 3:8.) There is nothing in the Greek corresponding to the variation “ye sorrowed” and “were made sorry,” the same word being used in both clauses.

After a godly manner.—The English is but a feeble equivalent for the Greek. Literally, according to Godi.e. (as may be seen by comparing the sense of the same or like phrases in Romans 8:27; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 2:8), after His will and purpose. “God allowed you,” he tells them, “to be grieved in order that you might sustain no loss, as you might have done had we held our peace.”

Verse 10

(10) For godly sorrow.—Again we note the needless variation which is the easily besetting sin of the English version. Better, as before, the sorrow which is after the will of God.

Repentance to salvation not to be repented of.—Here the English effaces a distinction in the original. (See Note on Matthew 27:3,) Better, repentance unto salvation, giving no matter for regret. The adjective, or adjectival phrase, may qualify either “repentance” or “salvation.” The latter seems preferable.

But the sorrow of the world worketh death.—As contrasted with “salvation,” death must be taken in its widest sense. The mere sorrow of the world leads only to remorse and despair, to the death of a broken heart, possibly to suicide; in any case, to the loss of the true eternal life.

Verse 11

(11) That ye sorrowed after a godly sort.—Better, as before, that ye sorrowed after the will of God. The series of emotional words that follow represent the Apostle’s estimate of what he had heard from Titus. There was (1) earnestness where there had been indifference to evil, or even approval of it (1 Corinthians 5:2); and this was shown (2) in the vindication of their conduct which they had sent through Titus, and (3) in their stern “indignation” against the offender; (4) in their “fear,” partly of the supernatural chastisement which St. Paul had threatened, partly of the judgment of God, which was against such things; (5) in the longing to have him once more among them which mingled with their fear; (6) in their new “zeal” for the law of purity; (7) in their actual vengeance, i.e., their sentence of condemnation passed upon the offender.

To be clear in this matter.—Literally, in the matter, possibly with exclusive reference to the sin condemned in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, but possibly also, as in 1 Thessalonians 4:6, as an euphemistic expression for the sin of impurity generally.

Verse 12

(12) Wherefore, though I wrote unto you.—The reference to the man that had suffered wrong implies that the offender in 1 Corinthians 5:1 had married his step-mother during his father’s life. All other inter pretations—such as those which make St. Paul or the community the injured party—are fantastic. But in what sense was the father injured? The union was a marriage, not a mere concubinage or adultery (see Note on 1 Corinthians 5:1), and it could not have been so unless the first marriage had been dissolved by a divorce. But if the husband had divorced the wife, then, though the son’s marriage may have shocked men as immoral, the father could hardly be said to have suffered a wrong to which he had exposed himself by his own act. The probable explanation is found in supposing that the wife, seduced by her step-son or seducing him, had divorced herself. Wives had this power under Roman law; and it was used with such license under the Empire, that Juvenal speaks of one woman of rank who had—

“Eight husbands in five autumns. Do you laugh?
The thing reads well upon an epitaph.”—Sat. vi. 230.

On this assumption the father had, of course, sustained a very grievous wrong. There is an obvious tone of impatience, almost of annoyance, in the way in which St. Paul speaks of the whole business. It was one of those scandals in which, though it had been necessary to assert the law of purity and enforce the discipline of the Church, he could not bring himself at the time to feel any special interest in either of the parties. Afterwards, when the sinner was repentant, there came, it is true, a new feeling of pity for him, as in 2 Corinthians 2:6-8. But when he wrote, it was with a larger aim, to show them how much he cared for his disciples at Corinth, how jealous he was to clear away any stains that affected their reputation as a Church. It is noticeable that no mention is made of the woman’s repentance, nor, indeed, of her coming, in any way, under the discipline of the Church. The facts of the case suggest the conclusion that both husband and wife were heathens, and that the son was the only convert of the family. In this case we may fairly assume that she had played the part of temptress, and that his conscience, though weak, had been the more sensitive of the two. On this view the exhortations against being “unequally yoked together” with unbelievers gains a fresh significance. Possibly some idolatrous festival had furnished the first opportunity of sin, and so the fact gave special protest against any attempt to combine the worship of Christ with that of Belial.

Verse 13

(13) Therefore we were comforted.—The tense of the Greek verb implies a different structure of the sentence: Therefore we have been comforted: and upon (i.e., over and above) our comfort we rejoiced more exceedingly at the joy of Titus. That was to St. Paul a new source of happiness. The intense sympathy of his nature would have made him share the disappointment of his delegate, and in like manner he now shares his joy. The messenger had shown himself to be his true son in the faith (Titus 1:1).

His spirit was refreshed.—Better, as expressing the permanence of the effect, has been refreshed. The term was a favourite one with the writer. Stephanas, and Fortunatus, and Achaicus had “refreshed” his spirit (1 Corinthians 16:18. Comp. also Philemon 1:7; Philemon 1:20). The primary idea of the word is, however, rather that of “giving rest” to the weary, as in Matthew 11:28; Matthew 26:45.

Verse 14

(14) For if I have boasted any thing to him of you.—It is obviously implied that he had boasted. He had encouraged Titus, when he sent him, with the assurance that he would find many elements of good mingled with the evil which he was sent to correct. And now St. Paul can add: “I was not shamed” (the tense requires this rendering) “when he came back with his report.”

Even so our boasting, which I made before Titus.—The words “I made” are, as the italics show, not in the Greek. Some of the better MSS. give, indeed, “your boasting,” and with this reading the sense would be: “As what I said of you to Titus turned out to be true, so I recognise that what you said to him of yourselves, of your zeal and longing (as in 2 Corinthians 7:11), was spoken truly.” The Received reading rests, however, on very good authority, and certainly gives a better sense: “We spoke truly to you of your faults; we spoke truly to Titus of your good qualities.”

Verse 15

(15) His inward affection.—The margin gives the literal meaning of the Greek, which is used here with the same meaning as in 2 Corinthians 6:12. Perhaps “heart,” or “feelings,” would be the best English equivalent. The recollection of what had passed at Corinth had bound him by ties of closest sympathy with the disciples there.

With fear and trembling.—The combination is a favourite one with St. Paul. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 2:3; Ephesians 6:5; Philippians 2:12.) What it means is that Titus had been received, not, as he feared, with petulant resistance, but with respectful reverence, not without an element of fear.

Verse 16

(16) I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things.—Most of the better MSS. omit “therefore,” which may have been inserted for the sake of connecting the verse. “I have confidence in you,” though, in one sense, a literal translation of the Greek, fails to give its exact meaning. He does not mean, “I trust you,” but “I am of good cheer, I take courage in you, being what you are.” With this expression of thankfulness he leaves the painful subject of which he had been compelled to speak, and passes, probably after a pause of greater or less length, to another.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 7". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/2-corinthians-7.html. 1905.
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