Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

2 Corinthians

Book Overview - 2 Corinthians

by Charles John Ellicott


The Second Epistle to the Corinthians






IT is not without some reluctance that I have undertaken to treat of an Epistle which stands in such close connection with that which precedes it that it can scarcely be dealt with by a different hand without some risk of want of unity of treatment.

I have, however, kept on the same main lines of thought and method of interpretation which have been followed in the Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, and have been glad to find myself on all important points of one mind with the commentator.

Of the genuineness of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians there has never been a moment’s doubt, even among critics who allow themselves the widest range in their attacks on the canon of New Testament writings. External evidence is in itself adequate. The Epistle is quoted by Irenæus (Hær. iii. 7, § 1), by Athenagoras (De resurr. Mort), by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iii. 94, iv. 101), and by Tertullian (De Pudicitiâ, c. 13). Testimony of this kind is, however, hardly needed. The Epistle speaks for itself. In its intense personality, its peculiarities of style, its manifold coincidences with the Acts and with other Epistles (especially with 1 Corinthians,. Romans, and Galatians), its vehement emotions, it may fairly be said to present phenomena beyond the attainment of any later writer wishing to claim for what he wrote the authority of a great name. Pseudonymous authorship is, in this case, simply out of the question.

Conceive all these barbed arrows of sarcasm falling on the ears, and through them piercing the very soul, of a man of singularly sensitive nature, passionately craving for affection, and proportionately feeling the bitterness of loving with no adequate return (2 Corinthians 12:15), and we may form some estimate of the whirl and storm of emotion in which St. Paul began to dictate the Epistle on which we are about to enter. Joy, affection, tenderness, fiery indignation, self-vindication, profound thoughts as to the mysteries of the kingdom of God which flashed upon his soul as he spoke—all these elements were there, craving to find expression. They hindered any formal plan and method in the structure of the Epistle. They led to episodes, and side-glances, and allusive references without number.

It follows from this that an analysis of such an Epistle is not a very easy matter, and that which follows must be received only as an approximately complete one, helping the student to follow the manifold oscillations of thought and feeling.

1.—St. Paul wishes the Corinthians to know his troubles and sufferings before the return of Titus (2 Corinthians 1:1-14).

2.—He tells them of his first plan of coming to them, and defends himself against the charge of fickleness in changing it (2 Corinthians 1:15 to 2 Corinthians 2:1).

3.—He is glad that he did change his plans, for thus there was time for the repentance on the part of the incestuous offender of 1 Corinthians 5:1. Such a one now needed sympathy and pardon (2 Corinthians 2:2-11).

4.—He is about to tell them of his meeting with Titus, but the remembrance of the triumphant joy of that moment overpowers him, and fills him with a profound sense of the issues of life and death which hang upon his words (2 Corinthians 2:12-17).

5.—Will this be called the self-assertion of one who has no credentials? His thoughts pass rapidly to the true credentials of effective preaching, and so to the new covenant of which he is the preacher, and so to the contrast between that covenant and the old (2 Corinthians 3:1-18).

6.—The sense of the tremendous responsibility of the work thus committed to him, leads him to dwell on his own fitness and unfitness for it. On the one side there is nothing but infirmity and disease, on the other there is the life of Jesus working in his life (2 Corinthians 4:1-18), and the hope of a life after death, in which all that is spiritual in us now shall find itself emancipated from the flesh and clothed with a new spiritual organism (2 Corinthians 5:1-9).

7.—That hope does not, however, exclude the fear of the judgment through which all must pass. At the risk of seeming mad he must dwell on that fear. Only so can he lead men to estimate rightly the preciousness of the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:10-21).

8.—Will those to whom he writes receive that message in vain? He pleads with them by all he has done and suffered for them to give him a place in their affections, above all to give Christ the supreme place in them. Only so can they be indeed God’s children (2 Corinthians 6:1-18). They cannot serve Him and the lust-demon, Belial.

9.—His thoughts turn from the party of license, whom he had in view in the previous section, to those who had shown themselves zealous against impurity. Now he can tell these, and such as these, why meeting Titus had given him matter for such warm rejoicing; why he feels that he can trust them (2 Corinthians 7:1-16).

10.—A new topic begins, apparently after a pause. He is about to show that he trusts them, by asking them to let their performance in the matter of the collection for the saints be equal to their readiness of will. He tells them of the arrangements he has made for it, and stirs them up by the example of the Macedonians, by appeals to their own self; by the hope of God’s favour (2 Corinthians 8:1 to 2 Corinthians 9:15).

11.—As if by the association of contrast, he turns from what he viewed with satisfaction and hope to the sarcasm and insinuations which had caused such acute pain (2 Corinthians 10:1-18). He charges his opponents, the Judaising teachers, with intruding into his province, defends himself against some of their special accusations, and challenges them to a comparison of their labours and sufferings with his own (2 Corinthians 11:1-29). Even the infirmities with which they taunted him are for those who understand them rightly, a ground of confidence and strength (2 Corinthians 11:30 to 2 Corinthians 12:18).

12.—Having thus defended himself, his thoughts travel on to the time of his projected visit. He looks forward, not without anxiety, to the possibility of having to exercise his apostolic authority in punishing the offenders both of the party of license and that of the Judaisers. But he hopes that that necessity will not arise. His wish and prayer is that they may be restored to completeness without it. The agitation of his own spirit is calmed, and he ends with words of peace and blessing for them (2 Corinthians 12:19 to 2 Corinthians 13:14).

Somewhat later on, about A.D. 135, the Church of Corinth was visited by Hegesippus, the historian of the Jewish Church, to whom we owe the narrative of the death of James, the Bishop of Jerusalem. He touched at that city on his voyage to Rome, and remained there for several days. He found the Church faithful to the truth under its bishop Primus (Euseb. Hist. iv. 22). Dionysius, who succeeded Primus in his episcopate, brought out all that was good in the Church over which he ruled, and extended his activity to the Macedonians, the Athenians, the people of Nicomedia, of Crete, and of the coast of Pontus. He bears his testimony to the liberality of the Church of Corinth in relieving the poverty of other churches, to the traditional liberality which it had, in its turn, experienced at the hand of the Roman churches. The teaching of 2 Corinthians 8, 9, had, it would seem, done its work effectually. He records the fact that the Epistle of Clement was read, from time to time, on the Lord’s Day. A female disciple named Chrysophora, apparently of the same type of character as Dorcas and Priscilla, was conspicuous both for her good works and her spiritual discernment (Euseb. Hist. iv. 23). With this glimpse into the latest traceable influence of St. Paul’s teaching, our survey of the history of the Church of Corinth may well close.