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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 4

Gann's Commentary on the BibleGann on the Bible

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Verse 1

2 Corinthians 4:1

Broomall has an interesting outline of this chapter, as follows:

The hidden and the open (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).

The blinded and the enlightened (2 Corinthians 4:3).

Slaves and Master (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Darkness and Light (2 Corinthians 4:6).

The frail and the mighty (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Trials and triumph (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

Death and life (2 Corinthians 4:11-12).

The written and the spoken (2 Corinthians 4:13).

The past and the future (2 Corinthians 4:14).

Grace and thanksgiving (2 Corinthians 4:15).

The outer and inner man (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Affliction and glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).

The seen and the eternal 2 Corinthians 4:18 b)

Therefore -- Διὰ τοῦτο Dia touto. On account of this. That is, because the light of the gospel is so clear and glorious.

we -- In this chapter "we" refers to Paul, at least mainly, and secondarily to his fellow workers." However, it is especially the apostles who are in view here.

this ministry -- is a reference to "the new covenant," so much more glorious than that of Moses, 2 Corinthians 3:6.

as we have received mercy -- Paul is affirming that it is because of God’s mercy that he is a minister of this new covenant, 1 Timothy 1:13.

This clause is very significant as showing that the new covenant brought to mankind through the gospel of Christ "is not an achievement of human ability but a consequence of divine mercy. - Coffman

we do not lose heart [faint not] -- Recognizing God’s mercy upon him prompts him to continue steadfastly and faithfully and not become disheartened by difficulties or persecution. Luke 18:1; 2 Corinthians 4:16;

The word used here (ἐκκακοῦμεν ekkakoumen) G1573 means, properly, to turn out a coward; to lose one’s courage; then to be fainthearted, to faint, to despond, in view of trial, difficulty, etc. - Robinson.

Ellicott says it means "to retire through fear out of it. - CGNT

we faint not -- in boldness of speech and action, and patience in suffering (2 Corinthians 4:2, 2 Corinthians 4:8-16.). - JFB

Verse 2

2 Corinthians 4:2

we have renounced -- The word (ἀπειπάμεθα apeipametha, from ἀπὸ apo and εἶπον eipon, G550) properly means "to speak out". Here is seems to indicate that Paul has spoken out against such teachers that mishandle the word of God.

disgraceful, underhanded way. -- The Greek word most commonly means shame, or disgrace. The hidden things of shame here mean disgraceful conduct; clandestine and secret arts, which were in themselves shameful and disgraceful. - BN

hidden things ... craftiness ... deceitfully -- -- Rather than viewing this as Paul’s defense of himself from criticism imputing such devices to him by his enemies, it is preferable, as Kelcy did, to see this as Paul’s allusion "to such underhanded methods of certain false teachers at Corinth." - Coffman

craftiness -- refers to tricky and deceitful devices which no faithful preacher of the word of God may use. Paul indicates that the false teachers at Corinth uses such means as he would never use.

handling the word ... deceitfully -- No greater sin exists than that of perverting and polluting the word of God, whether by toning down its requirements, or adulterating it with purely secular teachings. Such a corruption of the word of God, according to Lenski, is "the most dastardly of all the dastardly deeds done in the world. - Coffman (2 Corinthians 2:17)

handling . . . deceitfully -- so "corrupt" or adulterate "the word of God" (2 Corinthians 2:17; compare 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4). - JFB

by the open statement of truth -- By clear and exhibition of the truth

to every man’s conscience -- Conscience it that faculty of the mind which distinguishes for himself what is right and wrong and which prompts one to chose a course. Paul appeals to man’s faculty of appreciating and acknowledging truth. John 8:9; Romans 2:15; 1 Corinthians 10:25, 1 Corinthians 10:27-29

in the sight of God -- As in the immediate presence of God. We act as if we felt that His eye was upon us; and this consideration serves to keep us from the hidden things of dishonesty, and from improper arts in spreading the true religion; see the note on 2 Corinthians 2:17. - BN

in the sight of God -- This seems to be an idiomatic phrase parallel to "God is my witness." Other Pauline texts also use this phrase in a similar way (cf. Galatians 1:20; 1 Timothy 5:21; 1 Timothy 6:13; 2 Timothy 2:14; 2 Timothy 4:1), also notice Paul’s oath formula in 2 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 11:31; and 1 Thessalonians 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:10). - Utley

Verse 3

2 Corinthians 4:3

But even if -- Paul seems to refer to an objection. Many Jews could not or would not try to understand how the Gospel shed light on the O.T. prophesies and promises, and they drown in unbelief.

gospel is veiled -- "The veil (that prevents their seeing) is woven by their own prejudices and corrupt affections." As Jesus said it, "Men love darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil" (John 3:19). - Coffman

The problem the Gospel is obscure to some is not in the Gospel itself but in men’s hearts.

them that perish -- The scholars insist that this is a mistranslation and should read, "in them that are perishing." Plumptre said, "The force of the present participle, as not excluding the thought of future change, should be noted." Even hardened sinners who will not see the truth still have the option of changing if they will. - Coffman

Verse 4

2 Corinthians 4:4

the god of this world [age] -- "Satan is not here called the god of the COSMOS, but god of THIS AGE." - Coffman

This passage does not impute deity to Satan. "Satan is not a god properly, but is merely one in reference to those who have sinfully made him such." - McGarvey

In John 12:31, he is called “the prince of this world.” In Ephesians 2:2, he is called “the prince of the power of the air.” And in Ephesians 6:12, the same bad influence is referred to under the names of “principalities, and powers,” “the rulers of the darkness of this world,” and “spiritual wickedness in high places.” The name “god” is here given to him, not because he has any divine attributes, but because he actually has the homage of the people of this world as their god, as the being who is really worshipped, or who has the affections of their hearts in the same way as it is given to idols. By “this world” is meant the wicked world; or the mass of people. - BN

blinded the minds -- This refers to "hardening" as it is called in other places in the New Testament (Romans 1:21; Romans 11:7, Romans 11:25, etc.).

Blinding, darkening and hardening all refer to the same thing. Hardening occurs when the individual rebels against God, who then allows Satan to have his way, with a result of further hardening; and thus, in a sense God hardens people, as in the case of Pharaoh (Romans 9:17-18). Satan was never able to blind any person who had not already rebelled against God. -- Coffman

light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, -- The gospel of Christ is the source of all spiritual light. It is a gospel of glory, and that glory is of Christ. - Coffman

That the minds of unbelievers are blinded; that they perceive no beauty in the gospel. This is often affirmed of those who reject the gospel, and who live in sin; Matthew 23:16-17, Luke 4:18; John 9:39; John 12:40; Romans 11:7 note. The sense is, that they did not see the spiritual beauty and glory of the plan of redemption. (BN)

the glory of Christ, -- The Gospel is like a light revealing the glory of Christ.

It is all light, and splendor, and beauty, compared with the dark systems of philosophy and paganism. It is glorious, for it is full of splendor; makes known the glorious God; discloses a glorious plan of salvation; and conducts ignorant, weak, and sinful man to a world of light. No two words in our language are so full of rich and precious meaning, as the phrase “glorious gospel.” (BN)

the image of God. -- Other New Testament passages in which Christ is referred to as God’s image are:

"Who is the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15).

"The very image of his substance" (Hebrews 1:3).

"He that beholdeth me beholdeth him that sent me" (John 12:45).

"He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).

Christ is the image of God in two ways:

(1) As a perfect man, he, like Adam, was "in the image of God" (Genesis 1:26). In his moral attributes as Mediator, as showing forth the glory of the Father to people. He “resembles” God, and in him we see the divine glory and perfections embodied, and shine forth.

(2) As God in human form, Jesus accurately mirrored the Father’s will for mankind. In respect to his divine nature, his exact resemblance to God in his divine attributes and perfections; see Colossians 1:15; and Hebrews 1:3;Philippians 2:5-11.

Verse 5

2 Corinthians 4:5

what we proclaim is not ourselves, --The meaning is that Paul rejected all personal claims to any human authority on his part, preaching only what Christ commanded him to preach. "All is of God; nothing is of self." - Coffman

but Jesus Christ as Lord, -- The supreme Lordship of Christ was central in all apostolic preaching. This is recognized by every Christian whose very confession, at the time of his conversion, begins with "confessing Jesus as Lord" (Romans 10:9).

ourselves as your servants -- The Greek word here rendered "servants" is doulos; and it Paul was a servant of Christ ministering (serving) the gospel to the Corinthians.

for Jesus’ sake. -- It was for the sake of preaching Jesus’ message that he was a "servant/slave" ministering to the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 1:1-2. 2 Corinthians 1:1-2; and notice Paul’s introduction to the Romans, Romans 1:1-2; etc. Philippians 1:1-2;

Verse 6

2 Corinthians 4:6

God who said, -- Genesis 1:3; John 1:4-5; John 1:7-9; The design of this verse seems to be, to give a reason why Paul and his fellow-apostles did not preach themselves, but Jesus Christ the Lord, 2 Corinthians 4:5.

Let light shine -- Genesis 1:3; John 1:4-5; John 1:7-9; God caused it to shine by his simple command. He said, “let there be light, and there was light.” The fact that it was produced by “his saying so” is referred to here by Paul by his use of the phrase (ὁ εἰπὼν ho eipōn) “Who saying,” or speaking the light to shine from darkness.

has shone in our hearts -- “Light” is every where in the Bible the emblem of knowledge, purity, and truth; as darkness is the emblem of ignorance, error, sin, and wretchedness. See John 1:4-5. And the sense here is, that God had removed this ignorance, and poured a flood of light and truth on their minds.

light of the knowledge of he glory of God -- This shows the “object,” or the “effect” of enlightening the mind. It is that Christians may behold the divine glory. The meaning is, that it is for the purpose of enlightening and instructing them concerning the knowledge of the glory of God

The sense is, that the purpose of his shining into their hearts was to give light (πρὸς pros φωτισμὸν phōtismon) that is, to acquaint them with the knowledge of the divine glory of God.

the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. -- The glory of God is seen the person of Jesus Christ. He is the image and glory of God.

Verse 7

2 Corinthians 4:7

this treasure -- The treasure of the gospel. The word “treasure” is applied to those truths on account of their inestimable worth. Paul in the previous verses had spoken of the gospel, the knowledge of Jesus Christ, as full of glory, and infinitely precious.

In the book of Ephesians one of the key words is "riches."

in earthen vessels -- The figure is possibly drawn from the "small pottery lamps, cheap and fragile, that could be bought in the shops of Corinth" - Coffman

treasure in jars of clay [earthen vessels] -- The word “vessel” (σκεῦος skeuos) means properly any utensil or instrument; and is applied usually to utensils of household furniture, or hollow vessels for containing things, Luke 8:16; John 19:29. It is applied to the human body, as made of clay, and therefore frail and feeble, with reference to its “containing” anything, as, e. g., treasure; compare Romans 9:22-23.

The word rendered “earthen,” (ὀστρακίνοις ostrakinois) means that which is made of shells (from ὄστρακινον ostrakinon), and then burnt clay, probably because vessels were at first made of burnt shells. It is suited well to represent the human body; frail, fragile, and easily reduced again to dust.

Paul’s point is that the "treasure" of the Gospel is not in gold, silver, or other precious metal vessels, but, essentially, in "dirt" vessels.

to show that the surpassing power -- An elegant expressing denoting exceeding great power. The power seen in the apostles, in healing the sick, casting out devils, etc., did not reside in the apostles themselves, but was power belonging to God.

the power belongs to God -- Romans 1:16;

not us. -- Not us, apostles and preachers, who deliver God’s message.

Verse 8

2 Corinthians 4:8

See Text C-

xxx illustration about "Ice Bergs"

we are perplexed [troubled, afflicted, pressed] - - (ἀπορούμενοι aporoumenoi). G639. This word (from ἄπορος aporos, “without resource,” which is derived from α a, the alpha privative (“not”), and πόρος poros, way, or exit) means to be without resource; to know not what to do; to hesitate; to be in doubt and anxiety, as a traveler is, who is ignorant of the way, or who has not the means of prosecuting his journey.

It means here, that they were often brought into circumstances of great embarrassment, where they hardly knew what to do, or what course to take. They were surrounded by foes; they were in want; they were in circumstances which they had not anticipated, and which greatly perplexed them. - BN

in every way [on every side] -- In every respect, in every way. We are subjected to all kinds of troubles.

but not crushed [distressed; constricted; defeated]; -- The Greek word used here (στενοχωρούμενοι stenochōroumenoi) G4729 has a relation to the word which is rendered “troubled.” It properly means “to crowd into a narrow place; to straiten as to room; to be so straitened as not to be able to turn oneself.”

The idea is, that though he was closely pressed by persecutions and trials, yet he was not so hemmed in that he had no way to turn himself; his trials did not wholly prevent motion and action.

perplexed, but not driven to dispair. -- Not utterly left without resource. The word here is G1820, but Paul used "not" ουκ G3756 in front of the word.

The idea of Paul here is, that they were not left “entirely” without resource. Their needs were provided for; their embarrassments were removed; their grounds of perplexity were taken away; and unexpected strength and resources were imparted to them.

Verse 9

2 Corinthians 4:9

persecuted -- Often persecuted, persecuted in all places. The Book of Acts shows how true this was.

but not forsaken -- Not deserted; nor left by God

struck [cast, thrown] down, -- Thrown down by our enemies, perhaps in allusion to the contests of wrestlers, or of gladiators.

but not destroyed; -- Not killed. They rose again; recovered their strength. Acts 14:19-20.

Verse 10

2 Corinthians 4:10

always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, -- cf. Galatians 6:17. Paul was exposed to many dangers and had on his body the marks and stripes of punishment and persecution. cf. Acts 16:22-23; Acts 16:33;

the death of Jesus, -- The idea is that he (Paul) was always exposed to death like Jesus, and for preaching the message about Jesus.

the life of Jesus -- Jesus was described (Acts 1:1-3) going about doing and preaching the good message from God. Jesus’ life was a life of self denial and service to others.

also manifested in our bodies. -- As Jesus led a peaceable, loving, caring life, so Paul wanted to imitate that in his life.

There might be a hint also of what Paul is going to bring out more clearly in the next verse, that as Jesus’ was resurrected to life after death, Paul wants and expects the same for himself.

Also, it should be noted here that Paul viewed both the death of Jesus and the life of Jesus as historical facts. For him there was no such distinction as that alleged by unbelieving critics who speak of "the historical Jesus" and the "risen Jesus." They were both historical! - Coffman Commentaries

Verse 11

2 Corinthians 4:11

For we who live are always being given over [delivered] to death -- Some of the Lord’s ministers, like Stephen and James, had already been put to death (Acts 7:59-60; Acts 12:2). Paul and all the apostles were in the same danger. 1 Corinthians 15:31.

delivered to death. -- Refers to the transferring of a prisoner to the executioner. It was used to refer to Christ’s being delivered to those who crucified Him (Matthew 27:2). In this case, it refers to the potential physical death constantly faced by those who represented Christ.

for Jesus’ sake, -- Their lives were threatened for preaching the gospel, Acts 4:18; Acts 17:6.

so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested [revealed] in our mortal flesh. -- In our body on earth and in our glorified body in heaven.

mortal body -- With the addition of “mortal” (θνητῇ, thnçtos) to “body” (σαρκὶ, sarx), Paul leaves no doubt that what is primarily in his mind is the physical abuse his human body has endured for the sake of the gospel. - College Press

Verse 12

2 Corinthians 4:12

So then death is at work in us, -- . This is a strong and emphatic mode of saying that they were always exposed to death. The preaching of the gospel exposes us to trials which may be regarded as death working in us.

Paul is basically saying, “I am always exposed to physical death for your sake (v. 15); you have spiritual life as a result.”

but life is at work in you. -- You live as the effect of our being constantly exposed to death. You reap the advantage of all our exposure to trials, and of all our sufferings.

Thus understood, this passage means, that the sufferings and self-denials of the apostles were for the good of others, and would result in their benefit and salvation.

Verse 13

2 Corinthians 4:13

It is written: -- This passage is found in Psalms 116:10.

same spirit of faith. --The attitude of faith, not the Holy Spirit. Paul had the same conviction about the power of the message as did the psalmist .

"I believed; therefore I have spoken." -- When the psalmist uttered the words, he was greatly afflicted; see Psalms 116:3, Psalms 116:6-8. In these circumstances, he prayed to God, and expressed confidence in him, and placed all his reliance on him.

I believe -- We believe in the truths of the gospel; we believe in God, in the Saviour, in the atonement, in the resurrection, etc. The sentiment is, that they had a firm confidence in these things, and that, as the result of that confidence they boldly delivered their sentiments.

with that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, -- Paul finds himself often in a similar situation as that of David, and now boldly also speaks of his trust and confidence in God.

Verse 14

2 Corinthians 4:14

we know -- Being fully confident; having the most entire assurance. It was the assured hope of the resurrection which sustained them in all their trials.

will also raise us -- In the hope of the resurrection they were ready to meet trials, and even to die. Sustained by this assurance, the apostles went forth amidst persecutions and opposition to preach the Gospel.

present us with you -- Will present us before the throne of glory with exceeding joy and honor. They shall not only be raised up from the dead; but they shall be publicly and solemnly presented to God as his.

The Corinthians will be "stars" in the Paul’s crown. See 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20.

Verse 15

2 Corinthians 4:15

For all things are for your sakes [your benefit] -- All these things; these glorious hopes, and truths, and prospects; these self-denials of the apostles, and these provisions of the plan of mercy.

so that the [abundant] grace -- Grace abounding, or overflowing. The rich mercy of God that should be manifested by these means. It is implied here, that grace would abound by means of these labors and self-denials of the apostles.

Most modern translations show grace to abounding more and more, or reaching more and more people.

that is reaching more and more people -- That many may have occasion of gratitude to God; that by these labors more persons may be led to praise him. It was an object with Paul so to labor that as many as possible might be led to praise God, and have occasion to thank him to all eternity.

may cause thanksgiving to overflow -- Cause thanksgiving to abound.

[Redound] to the glory of God. -- That God may have the praise and his glory abound in the salvation of many people. The sentiment of the passage is, that it would be for the glory of God that as many as possible should be brought to give praise and thanksgiving to him;

Redound -- The word “redound” (περισσεύῃ perisseuē) here means abound, or be abundant; and the sense is, that the overflowing grace thus evinced in the salvation of many would so abound as to promote the glory of God.

Verse 16

2 Corinthians 4:16

So we do not lose heart [we faint not] -- We are not exhausted, desponding, or disheartened. We are sustained, encouraged, emboldened by having such an object in view.

Though our outer nature [outward man] is wasting away, -- Man’s physical body that houses his spirit. By using the phrases, “the outward man,” and the “inward man,” he shows that he believed that man was made up of two parts, body and soul.

Sometimes he speaks of the three-fold nature of man, his physical body, his physical breath or life, and his spirit, 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

outward man is perishing. -- The physical body is in the process of decay and will eventually die. On the surface Paul was referring to the normal aging process, but with the added emphasis that his lifestyle sped up that process.

While not an old man, Paul wore himself out in ministry, both in the effort and pace he maintained, plus the number of beatings and attacks he absorbed from his enemies (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27). - MSB

out inner nature [inward man] -- The soul; the undecaying,

immortal part of man, the spirit.

is renewed -- How renewed? See Colossians 3:10. Strengthen, invigorated, courage becoming bolder; growing, increasing faith.

Matching the progressive weakening of Paul’s physical powers is the daily renewal of his inner person (cf. Ephesians 3:16) that is part of the progressive transformation of all believers into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), a process resurrection will complete (2 Corinthians 4:14).

day by day. -- Constantly, regularly. There was a daily and constant increase of inward confidence or assurance.

Verse 17

2 Corinthians 4:17

For this slight [light] momentary affliction -- All the trials Paul endured would seem to be anything but light, yet in the face of the eternal reward he considers them trifling.

The passage abounds with intensive and emphatic expressions, and manifests that the mind of the writer was laboring to convey ideas which language, even after all the energy of expression which he could command, would very imperfectly communicate.

which is but for a moment [KJV] -- The Greek word used here (παραυτίκα parautika) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is an adverb, from αὐτίκα autika, αὐτός autos, and means properly, “at this very instant; immediately.” Here it seems to qualify the word “light,” and to be used in the sense of momentary, transient.

The apostle evidently wished to express two ideas in as emphatic a manner as possible; first, that the affliction was light, and, secondly, that it was transient, momentary, and soon passing away. His object is to contrast this with the glory that awaited him, as being heavy, and as being also eternal.

is preparing [working] for us -- 2 Corinthians 4:12; Will produce, will result in.

Affliction and trials tend to purify, Isaiah 48:10.

an eternal weight of glory -- Eternal, this stands in contrast with the affliction that is for a moment (παραυτίκα parautika). The one is momentary, transient; so short, even in the longest life, that it may be said to be an instant; the other has no limits to its duration. It is literally everlasting.

weight -- βάρος (baros). The Greek word for “weight” refers to a heavy mass

This stands opposed to the (ἐλαφρὸν elaphron) light affliction. That was so light that it was a trifle, like a feather. It was easily borne. It was like the most light and airy objects, which constitute no burden. It is not even here called a burden, or said to be heavy in any degree.

of glory, -- (δόξης doxēs). It refers here to the splendor, magnificence, honor, and happiness of the eternal world. In this exceedingly interesting passage, which is worthy of the deepest study of Christians, Paul has set in most beautiful and emphatic contrast the trials of this life and the glories of heaven.

Verse 18

2 Corinthians 4:18

we look not [not considering; fix our eyes;] -- Or, rather, since we look not, do not fix our attention. We not looking at the things which are seen. The design of this is, to show in what way the afflictions which they endured became in their view light and momentary.

the things which are seen [troubles, NLT] -- The things here below; the things of this life - poverty, want, care, persecution, trial, etc.

the things which are not seen. -- The glories of heaven, cf Hebrews 11:1.

The contrast is not exactly between visible and invisible realities, but is between what mortals can now see and what they cannot yet see, between the “already” and the “not yet” (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12; Romans 8:24-25).

temporal [transient; temporary; will soon be gone; things not lasting] -- Proves that everything seen will pass away. Hebrews 1:11; 2 Peter 3:9-12.

This refers particularly to the things which they suffered. But it is as true of all things here below. Wealth, pleasure, fame, the three idols which the people of this world adore, are all to endure but for a little time. They will all soon vanish away. So it is with pain, and sorrow, and tears. - BN

Paul is certainly not rejecting interest in the visible world. Rather, his affections are set on the realm above (Colossians 3:1-2), on lasting realities as yet unseen, on “the hope stored up … in heaven” (Colossians 1:5; cf. 1 Peter 1:4).

things that are unseen are eternal [everlasting;] -- Everything which pertains to that life beyond the grave.

Bibliographical Information
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gbc/2-corinthians-4.html. 2021.
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