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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

2 Corinthians 12

Verses 1-11


To boast is needful. It is not indeed profitable: I will come, however, to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ fourteen years ago (whether in body I do not know, whether outside of the body I do not know: God knows) such a one caught up as far as the third heaven. And I know such a man, (whether in body or apart from the body I do not know: God knows,) that he was caught up into Paradise and heard utterances not to be uttered which it is not allowed to a man to speak. On behalf of such a one I shall boast. But on behalf of myself I shall not boast, except in my weaknesses. For, if I may wish to boast, I shall not be foolish, for I shall speak truth But I forbear; lest any one in reference to me reckon beyond what he sees me, or hears from me.

And by the superabundance of the revelations-for which cause, that I may not be beyond measure lifted up, there was given to me a stake for the flesh, an angel of Satan to strike me, that I may not be beyond measure lifted up. About this three times I besought the Lord, that it might depart from me. And he has said to me, Sufficient for thee is my grace: for the power is in weakness accomplished. Most gladly then I shall rather boast in my weakness, that there may encamp over me the power of Christ. For which cause I am well pleased with weaknesses, with wantonnesses, with necessities, with persecutions, with positions of helplessness, on behalf of Christ: for when I am weak then I am powerful. I have become foolish. It was you that compelled me. For, as to me, I ought by you to be recommended. For, nothing have I fallen short of the overmuch apostles; if I am even nothing.

2 Corinthians 12:1. The narrative of Paul’s first great peril seemed to be the beginning of a series of similar adventures. But the series is suddenly broken off by another expression of reluctance to speak about himself. He writes under necessity. This reveals again his deep consciousness of the folly of boasting.

Needful: in order to put his opponents to shame, and thus rescue the readers from their snares. Cp. 2 Corinthians 12:11; 2 Corinthians 11:30.

Not profitable: as a general principle; neither for him who speaks nor those who hear.

I shall come, however: though boasting is not profitable, I shall pass on to other matters of boasting.

Revelation: a lifting up of a veil to disclose something unknown before, either by an outward and conspicuous event, (1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 3:13; Romans 2:5; Romans 8:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8,) or by the inward teaching of the Spirit in His ordinary (Philippians 3:15; Ephesians 1:17) or extraordinary (1 Corinthians 14:30; Ephesians 3:5) operations. See under Romans 1:17.

Visions, i.e. presentations of unseen realities in visible form: one class of revelations. Interesting coincidences in Acts 26:19, compared with Galatians 1:16; Luke 1:22; Luke 24:23. Same words together in Daniel 10:1.

Of the Lord: either as Himself revealed, 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 4:13; (Romans 2:5; Romans 8:19; Romans 16:25,) or as Himself revealing, Galatians 1:12; Revelation 1:1. The plural number suggests that here Paul refers to various kinds of visions, and (to use a wider word) to revelations in any mode, imparted by Christ.

2 Corinthians 12:2-4. An example of these.

In Christ; points to spiritual contact with Christ as the source of all that follows. While writing, Paul knows a man who, united to Christ, was fourteen years ago caught up to heaven. The introductory words “to boast is needful” prove that Paul refers here to himself. See under 2 Corinthians 12:5. That Paul speaks of himself in the third person, is akin to the ideal standpoint in time assumed in Romans 4:24; Romans 5:1; Romans 7:14; Romans 8:30; and betrays his vivid imagination.

In body: i.e. body and spirit together caught up.

Outside of the body: the spirit alone, leaving the body behind. The state of the body, in this case, Paul probably does not think of. It might be in sleep or trance. If so, since we cannot conceive the body to be inanimate, the suggestion of Lactantius (quoted by Meyer) may practically be near the truth: “the mind goes away; the soul remains.”

I do not know: emphatic repetition, in contrast to I know. That Paul did not know whether his body as well as his spirit was caught up to heaven, shows how intensely supernatural was the event.

God knows: before whose hand and by whose power the rapture took place.

Caught up: carried away by a strong hand. Same word in 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Acts 8:39; Revelation 12:5.

As far as; suggests distance.

Third heaven: cp. Ephesians 4:10 “above the heavens”; Hebrews 4:14. Lucian (lxxvii. 12) speaks in satire of “a Galilean who walked upon air to the third heaven.” We cannot decide whether Paul thought of seven heavens, as the Jews did; who, however, distinguished them variously. The words suggest naturally the unseen world, beyond the place (Matthew 6:26; Matthew 16:2 f; 24:30) of the birds and clouds and that (Matthew 24:29; Mark 13:25) of the stars. In 2 Corinthians 12:3 Paul lingers upon his knowing the man but not knowing whether the rapture was in the body or without it, this however known clearly by God.

Apart from: rather more emphatic than outside of.

2 Corinthians 12:4. Paradise: probably a Persian word, but found in Hebrew (A.V. “orchard”) in Sol. Song Song of Solomon 4:13; Ecclesiastes 2:5, (A.V. “forest”) in Nehemiah 2:8; in the Greek LXX., Genesis 2:8, etc., Genesis 13:10; Numbers 24:6; Isaiah 51:3, etc.; Sirach 24:30; Sirach 40:17; Sirach 40:27, Susanna 4, 7, etc.; in Josephus frequently, and in classic Greek. It denotes a park or pleasure ground, especially around a palace. So Xenophon, Anabasis bk. i. 2. 7: “there Cyrus had a palace and a great paradise, full of wild beasts which he hunted on horseback whenever he went to exercise himself and the horses. Through the middle of the paradise flows the river Meander.” In Genesis 13:10 the Jordan valley looks like “the paradise of God”: and in chs. ii., iii. the “garden of Eden” is constantly rendered “paradise of pleasure.” To this last, Revelation 2:7 evidently refers: and 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Luke 23:43 suggest it. In Luke 23:43 it is evidently the pleasant place where the souls of the departed righteous wait for the resurrection. The associations of the words suggest that Christ by His entrance made the dark Sheol or Hades (Hebrew and Greek names for the place of the dead) into a place of delight. Revelation 2:7 (cp. Revelation 22:2) refers to the place of final glory, which will surround the palace and throne of God. It is practically the same as the New Jerusalem which John saw coming down out of heaven from God; and which may therefore be supposed to be already existing in heaven. It is thus distinguished from the paradise into which at His death Christ entered. It is difficult to say whether Paul refers here to the happy place of the departed righteous, or to that more glorious place before the throne where we may conceive sinless spirits of other races already dwelling in glory and which will in the great day extend its boundaries to earth that it may be the final home of redeemed mankind. The word paradise may be either identical with or the higher part of, or higher than the “third heaven.” This last supposition would imply that the rapture to Paradise was a further rapture beyond that to the third heaven. But of this there is no hint whatever. The word paradise was used by later Jewish writers for the present abode of the departed: and, that in this sense it was generally understood, is implied by Christ’s use of it without further specification in Luke 23:43. On the other hand Revelation 2:7 is an express allusion to Genesis 2:9. It is therefore perhaps better to understand by the word paradise here, where it is used without explanation and must therefore be understood in its more familiar sense, the present abode of the faithful dead. And, since those whose bodies are not yet rescued and who are waiting (Revelation 6:10) for the completion of their number must be conceived to be in the lowest part of the celestial universe, paradise cannot in this verse be higher than, and must therefore be identical with, the third heaven. Paul lingers over, and thus lays stress upon, this remarkable event of his life. The word paradise expounds the “third heaven.” He was carried not only above the sky and clouds but into the beautiful resting place of the departed servants of God.

Not to be uttered: not “unutterable,” or the following prohibition would be needless. Same word used for sacred secrets in Herodotus bk. v. 83; and in bk. vi. 135, where the secret was divulged.

Which it is not allowed etc.; expounds and limits not to be uttered. Man may not speak it.

If our reckoning be correct (see Dissertation iii.) this rapture took place in A.D. 44, about the time of the death (Acts 12:23; Josephus, Antiq. bk. xix. 8. 2) of Herod Agrippa, and probably shortly before Paul’s solemn separation (Acts 13:1 f) for the mission to foreign countries. Perhaps by this rapture God was preparing His servant for the new and perilous work now before him.

2 Corinthians 12:5-6. Such a one refers certainly to Paul himself: for, no other reason is suggested why this revelation should be to him a matter of boasting, and it is clearly implied in 2 Corinthians 12:7. Paul’s rapture was so utterly independent of his own effort and merit that the raptured person seemed to be some one other than himself. And the lapse of time made this conception more easy to him. Ourselves long ago seem to us other than our present selves. Thoughts about the man who fourteen years ago was caught up to Paradise fill Paul with an exultation he cannot forbear to express.

On behalf of myself: “so as to bring honour to myself, for something I have done or can do.”

Except in my weaknesses: 2 Corinthians 11:30 : an exception which seems to be a contradiction. An example is given in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

For if I wish etc; gives weight and worth to Paul’s refusal to boast, by saying that he might boast if he would.

I shall not be foolish; reveals again (cp. 2 Corinthians 11:16) Paul’s deep sense of the folly of boasting and his jealous care to have the esteem of his readers. The folly of boasting is its usual untruthfulness. But Paul will speak truth.

Reckon: as in 1 Corinthians 4:1. He refrains from boasting because he does not wish his readers to form any estimate of him beyond what they actually see him to be; and, since so great a part of his activity was speech, beyond the worth of the words they hear from his lips. In this jealous care for the esteem of others, and in this refusal to acquire fame by talking about oneself, a fame always precarious, we shall do well to imitate the apostle.

2 Corinthians 12:7. Continues the narrative of 2 Corinthians 12:4, which was interrupted by the comment of 2 Corinthians 12:5-6. It recalls an affliction probably well known to the readers, and delineates its effect upon Paul.

The revelations; implies others besides the one just mentioned.

Superabundance: surpassing in grandeur or number those granted to others. These words are pushed prominently forward to connect the stake in the flesh with the rapture to Paradise.

For which cause: various reading: see Appendix B.

That I be not beyond-measure-lifted-up: kind foresight of God. That Paul felt himself exposed to this danger, warns us of the spiritual peril which always accompanies special gifts. None but a great and humble man could have made such confession.

There was given to me; probably by the Giver of all good. For it follows close after a divine and merciful purpose and before any mention of Satan. Cp. Philippians 1:29.

Stake: any sharp piece of wood, artificial or natural; most frequently artificially sharpened, especially for military palisades; more rarely splinters; or (metaphorically, as here) in Numbers 33:55; Ezekiel 28:24; Sirach 43:19, a thorn. The evident severity of this affliction (proved by Paul’s earnest prayer), and the deliberate purpose of it, suggest perhaps the figure of a sharpened piece of wood driven intentionally into his body.

For the flesh: viz. to pierce it.

Angel: anglicized form of a Greek word for one who brings news or a message, constant equivalent (LXX.) for a Hebrew word denoting sometimes (Job 1:14) one who brings news but usually one sent either (1 Samuel 11:3; 1 Samuel 16:19; 2 Samuel 11:19) with a message or (1 Samuel 19:11) to do some work. Naturally the Greek word took up (cp. Luke 9:52; Luke 7:24) the full compass of the Hebrew word. The common use of it for heavenly beings sent to do for God all sorts of work on earth (Acts 12:7; Acts 12:23, etc.) suggested its use here for an affliction caused (and therefore sent) by Satan to do his malicious work.

To strike me, as if with a fist: business of the angel sent by Satan. Same word in 1 Corinthians 4:11; Matthew 26:67; 1 Peter 2:20. Notice the change of metaphor. That which, looking at its point of attack, viz. the body, and its obstructiveness and pain, is a stake driven into the flesh, is represented also as a personal combatant sent by Satan to strike at Paul from time to time severe blows. The repetition of that I may not be lifted up (see Appendix B) reveals Paul’s deep consciousness of the merciful divine purpose which underlay the malicious satanic purpose of the affliction.

The word flesh suggests that this affliction was a bodily ailment. For, in a moral sense, to Paul the flesh with its desires (Galatians 5:24) was crucified. In Luke 13:16; Job 2:7 such ailments are attributed to Satan. Probably all forms of sickness, being directly or indirectly a result of sin, have the same source. The word stake suggests acute suffering and a hindrance to the apostle’s work. This latter is confirmed by in weakness, 2 Corinthians 12:9. [The present subjunctive implies continuous or recurrent suffering.] The word strike suggests recurrent attacks. A humiliating malady is suggested by its divine purpose. The word given suggests that it was not inborn, or if inborn afterwards greatly aggravated. Paul’s prayer implies that its removal was conceivable. It therefore cannot have been a memory of past sin. Christ’s refusal implies that it was not sinful; and so does Paul’s resolve to boast in it. These indications suggest severe and recurrent and painful bodily ailment, which Paul recognized as a work of Satan but also as a gift of the kind forethought of God, and which seemed to hinder his apostolic activity. Its mention here suggests, but does not quite prove, that it came soon after the rapture to Paradise. Certainly it was something calculated to counteract any lofty self-estimate which the rapture might create. The above is the oldest explanation of this verse. It was held probably by Irenaeus, bk. v. 3; and certainly by Tertullian, On Modesty ch. xiii.: “a pain as they say of ear or head.” And it is given by most modern expositors. Purely inward temptations either sensual (Roman Catholic writers) or spiritual (Luther) would hardly have been matter of boasting; while the former contradicts 1 Corinthians 7:7, and the latter the word flesh. Outward persecutions (Greek fathers) would be hardly sufficiently personal.

The kind of bodily malady is a matter of mere conjecture. Possibly Galatians 4:14, “your temptation in my flesh” refers to a recurrence of it, detaining Paul in Galatia and thus leading to the founding of the churches there, and such as to test the loyalty of the Galatian converts. But of the nature of this sickness in Galatia we have no indication. An affection of the eyes, or epilepsy, are plausible guesses, but not much more. [To suggest the former in Galatians 4:15, a more emphatic pronoun would be needed.] See the very good notes in Lightfoot’s Galatians, and in vol. i., excursus x., of Farrar’s St. Paul.

2 Corinthians 12:8-9 a. On behalf of this: i.e. that I might be delivered from it.

Three times: definite and memorable prayers, perhaps at different attacks of the malady. The repetition reveals Paul’s earnestness.

The Lord: Christ. Cp. 2 Corinthians 12:9, “power of Christ.” Notice an express prayer to Christ.

Depart from me] it was therefore removable, either with or without a miracle.

He has said (or in idiomatic English he said) to me: after the third petition. [The Greek perfect notes the abiding effect of Christ’s words. See The Expositor, First Series, vol. xi. pp. 198, 301.] Whether this was by special revelation or by the ordinary operation of the Holy Spirit casting divine light upon truth already received, we are not told.

Sufficient for thee etc: “My smile and My purpose to do thee good will afford everything needful for thy highest welfare even in spite of this great affliction.” This implied refusal is at once justified by a great truth.

The well-known power: with which Christ makes His people strong (Philippians 4:13) to do and to dare and to suffer.

Weakness: conspicuous contrast to power.

Accomplished: attains its full goal, works out its full results, and thus reveals its full grandeur. Same word in Romans 2:27; Galatians 5:16; Luke 12:50; Luke 18:31; Luke 22:37; John 19:28; John 19:30 : cognate to end in 2 Corinthians 11:15; see note. The power of Christ manifests to the full its irresistible energy and attains its highest results by performing works of power with powerless instruments. For this reason Christ refused to remove the stake in the flesh which seemed to be to Paul an element of weakness. Cp. 2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Corinthians 1:9. Notice that the power of Christ makes His grace sufficient for us. For He who smiles upon us is able to accomplish His kindly purpose.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10. Paul’s comment on the words of Christ.

In my weaknesses: of which the stake in the flesh was only one example. In these he will boast, rather than pray for their removal; and with joy. Then follows a purpose which in his boasting Paul cherishes, and which is to some extent attained by his boasting. He desires that like a tent there may be spread over him the power of Christ, guarding him on every side. Similar word in John 1:14; Revelation 7:15; Revelation 21:3 : cognate to “tabernacle,” Hebrews 9:2 ff. In view of this desire, his weaknesses can evoke only exultation: for they afford opportunities for the might of Christ to attain through him its noblest results, results proportionate to the confidence of his exultation. This illustrates Romans 5:3. Boasting in our weaknesses is justified because it is virtually a boasting in the power of God.

For which cause: because the power of Christ will encamp over, and realize itself in him.

Acts of wantonness (Romans 1:30) etc.: four outward circumstances in which Paul often felt his weakness. They mark a transition from the matter of the stake in the flesh. Acts of purposeless cruelty, repeated lack of the most needful things, the repeated pursuit of enemies, positions in which there seemed to be no way of escape, in all these Paul cheerfully acquiesced, because by revealing his own weakness they revealed the power of Christ.

On behalf of Christ: connected, not with the words immediately preceding, to which it would be a needless addition, but with I am well pleased to which it adds immense force. In all these things Paul acquiesces for Christ’s sake, i.e. because in them Christ’s power and glory will be revealed.

For when etc.: reason why Paul is well-pleased in weaknesses. In want and persecution Paul is absolutely weak; for his own powers can do nothing. But in these circumstances he finds that the power of Christ supplies all his need and shelters him from every foe: and therefore, because that power encamps over him, he is practically so powerful that nothing can hurt him. And this strength in weakness moves him to acquiesce in these various afflictions, for Christ’s sake.

When, then: as in 1 Corinthians 15:28, conspicuous coincidence in time. When we are consciously powerless to work out by our own strength any good result, then do we rely simply and only on the infinite power of Christ, and are truly strong.

2 Corinthians 12:11. At the end, as at the beginning, of (17 Paul utters his deep sense of the foolishness of boasting. By not speaking in his favor as they ought to have done and by listening to his detractors, Paul’s readers compelled him to speak about himself, which in itself is foolish, that thus he might rescue them from the guile of his opponents. For the good of others he condescends to say things which but for their motive would be unworthy of an intelligent man. Than this, no kind of self-denial is to sensible persons more difficult or more noble Recommend: as in 2 Corinthians 3:1.

For, nothing etc.: 2 Corinthians 11:5 : proof, from Paul’s intrinsic worth as compared with his rivals, that his readers ought to have spoken in his defence.

I am nothing: although not less than others who claim to be much, yet, measured by a correct standard all that Paul has and is can do nothing to attain the well-being of himself or others, and is therefore of no intrinsic worth. And this is the last word of all human boasting. And it is Paul’s last direct rebuke to his adversaries.

SECTION 17 is full of instruction and comfort. Not infrequently now special exaltation in the service of God is accompanied by a special drawback, a drawback which may sometimes be attributed to enemies, human or superhuman. Such drawbacks, from whatever immediate source, are given by the kind forethought of God, to counteract the danger which, as the case of the apostle emphatically and solemnly warns us, accompanies spiritual elevation. Nor need we lament the drawback. For Christ who smiles on us, will by His own power supply all that we need in order to do His work on earth in perfect peace and exultant joy. For, His power will make us strong. And our weakness will make His strength more conspicuous. Consequently, as revealing Christ’s power, the weakness which we cannot by our own efforts or prayers remove may well be to us matter of exultation and delight. Of such exultation we have in Romans 8:31-39 a splendid example.

Verses 12-18


The signs indeed of the apostle were worked out among you in all perseverance, by signs and wonders and powers. For what is there in which you were made worse beyond the other churches? Except that I myself did not press upon you. As a favour forgive me this injustice.

Behold, this third time I am in readiness to come to you; and I will not press upon any one. For I do not seek yours but you. For the children ought not to lay up treasure for the parents, but the parents for the children. And for my part I most gladly will spend and will be spent out on behalf of your souls; if more abundantly loving you the less I be loved.

But, be it so, it was not I that burdened you, but, being crafty, with guile I laid hold of you. Any one of those whom I have sent to you, by him did I defraud you? I besought Titus and sent with him the brother. Did Titus at all defraud you? Was it not by the same Spirit that we walked? was it not in the same steps?

Section 18 supports the contrast of Paul and his rivals at the end of 17 by pointing to his apostolic credentials, and then concludes his boasting by returning to the first specific matter of it, viz. his refusal to be maintained by the church. This last matter he supplements by rebutting the charge that, if not directly, yet indirectly, he had made gain of his readers.

2 Corinthians 12:12. Signs of the apostle: visible proofs justly demanded from him who claims to be an ambassador-extraordinary of Christ.

Were worked out: more modest and more correct than “I worked.” That they were evidently wrought by God, gave to them their validity as signs of the apostle. This is a definite assertion that Paul wrought miracles among his readers. An assertion so bold is in the last degree unlikely to be false.

We shall not doubt it for a moment if we believe that Christ rose from the dead. See my Romans, Dissertation i. An important coincidence in Acts 15:12; Romans 15:19.

Perseverance, or endurance: see under Romans 2:7. The miracles continued for some time and in face of obstacles.

Signs and wonders and powers: miracles, looked at in three aspects, as meaning something, as prodigies exciting attention, and as manifestations or power. See under Romans 15:19 : cp. Hebrews 2:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:9.

Powers: a very common term for miracles; Matthew 7:22; Matthew 11:20 ff; Matthew 13:54; Matthew 13:58, etc.: cp. Matthew 14:2. For, our chief thought is the divine power therein manifested. These miracles proved that Paul “fell nothing short of the overmuch apostles.” He thus puts them utterly to shame: for they had no such credentials to show. This decisive contrast is reserved to the last.

2 Corinthians 12:13. Appeal to the readers, in proof of 2 Corinthians 12:12, that in miracles wrought among them no church surpassed them. They had therefore, within their own observation, abundant proof that in his credentials Paul did not “fall short of the over-much apostles.” But while in this point equal to any church, Paul cannot forget that in another point they fell short of others, viz. in not contributing to his support. Although this arose from Paul’s own refusal, it none the less put them in a worse position (cognate word in 1 Corinthians 6:7; Romans 11:12) than the other churches: for his refusal was prompted by their liability to misunderstand his reception of payment. In bitter irony he represents his damage as his own doing; and in still more bitter irony begs for their forgiveness. Cp. 2 Corinthians 11:7.

Press-down-upon: 2 Corinthians 12:14 : same rare word in 2 Corinthians 11:8, which by its rarity it recalls.

I myself; was no paralyzing load weighing you down.

This verse implies that, though at Thessalonica (2 Thessalonians 3:8 f) and probably at Ephesus (Acts 20:34) Paul preached without cost to his hearers, yet this was not his invariable rule; or, that the Corinthians had not, like (2 Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:16) the Philippians, sent him help while laboring elsewhere.

2 Corinthians 12:14-15. As in 2 Corinthians 11:9, Paul strengthens “I did not press down” by saying that he will continue the same course, thus showing that his refusal sprang from a settled resolve.

This third time: to pay a third visit. For it refers evidently to two occasions on which he did not burden them. An unfulfilled purpose to come a second time would be meaningless here. So 2 Corinthians 13:1 f. Already twice he has labored among them without remuneration: and he is in readiness to come a third time and do the same.

For I do not seek etc.: an abiding general purpose, supporting the foregoing specific resolve.

Seek you: cp. 1 Corinthians 9:19; Matthew 18:15. His converts saved are the eternal enrichment which Paul seeks.

For the children etc.: modest admission that the foregoing principle of Paul’s action is only his duty: and this sense of duty is given as a motive of his action. But while thus professedly giving up all claims on his readers, Paul really lays them under heaviest obligations, viz. those of children, if not to lay up treasure for, yet to obey and love and protect their parents. For by accepting a parent’s obligation he reminds them that he is their Father in Christ. Cp. 1 Corinthians 4:14 f. By renouncing all claim as matter of right he casts himself upon their gratitude and love.

2 Corinthians 12:15. Paul’s cheerful acceptance of the foregoing general principle as a guide of action.

Will-be-spent-out: will permit the complete consumption of all he has and is.

On behalf of your souls: i.e. to save their souls, to save them from eternal death; implying their peril. For this Paul does not hesitate to make the greatest conceivable sacrifice. 2 Corinthians 12:15 b is a contingency (see Appendix B) which would make this great sacrifice needful to save their souls. For if their love is in inverse proportion to his love to them, their souls are in danger. The very ingratitude of his readers, (if they be ungrateful, which is left open to question,) will only spur him, by the spiritual peril it reveals, to more unsparing sacrifice to save them. Thus Paul concludes his long boast by words of love, the greatest we can conceive, a love not destroyed but moved to greater sacrifice by the unloving spirit of those loved. Such is the love revealed in God’s gift of His Son for rebellious man.

2 Corinthians 12:16-18. Paul’s last word in self-defence against a last insinuation of his enemies. To give definiteness to this insinuation, that he may expose it, Paul suggests it as his own thought. But the definiteness of his words makes it almost certain that they were taken from the lips of his opponents.

Be it so: it was not I etc.: an admission prefacing the insinuation.

Laid-hold-of: same word in same sense, 2 Corinthians 11:20. Crafty and guile suggest at once Paul’s known opposite character. The meaning of 2 Corinthians 12:16 is made clear by the sudden question of 2 Corinthians 12:17. It was insinuated that, though not himself receiving maintenance, Paul did practically the same thing by sending friends to be maintained at Corinth; and that for his design to enrich them his own refusal was but a guileful cloak. This insinuation, 2 Corinthians 12:18 meets by stating what Paul actually did, and by appealing to his readers’ knowledge of what his messengers did.

I besought Titus: begged him to go to Corinth. This refers, as 2 Corinthians 12:17 implies, to an actual visit of Titus to Corinth some time before this letter was written, a visit made at Paul’s request. On this visit Titus began, doubtless by Paul’s suggestion, the collection for the poor at Jerusalem. So 2 Corinthians 8:6. And perhaps to this the insinuation refers. The similar words of 2 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 8:18 refer to the visit Titus was now about to make. See note under 2 Corinthians 9:5.

The brother: quite unknown to us.

Did Titus etc.; directly meets the insinuation, which was probably made indefinitely in the words perhaps of 2 Corinthians 12:16, by appealing to matter of fact.

The same spirit, the same steps: the One Holy Spirit (to whom the word spirit most frequently refers) guiding both men along the same path. Cp. 1 Corinthians 12:4; Galatians 5:16; Romans 8:4. The same divine inward principle manifested itself in the same outward actions. This implies that Titus, like Paul, refused to be maintained by the Corinthians. And, in this fact, falls to the ground the insinuation that through Titus Paul enriched himself.

PAUL’S BOASTING, 2 Corinthians 11:1 to 2 Corinthians 12:18, or (15-18, is now complete. It was forced upon him by the boast (2 Corinthians 10:12; 2 Corinthians 11:18) of certain Jewish (2 Corinthians 11:22) opponents at Corinth, who are kept in view (2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 11:12; 2 Corinthians 11:18 ff; 2 Corinthians 12:11) throughout; and by the submission to them (2 Corinthians 11:4; 2 Corinthians 11:19) of the Corinthian Christians. It is prefaced by a broad Old Testament principle which ought to rule all human boasting. Paul’s deep consciousness of the unseemliness of boasting and his reluctance to this boasting are betrayed by apologies and explanations both at the beginning of the whole and at each transition from one to another of its four specific matters. These are, his refusal to be maintained by the church, 2 Corinthians 11:7-12; his hardships and perils, 2 Corinthians 11:23-33; his rapture to Paradise and counterbalancing affliction, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; his divine credentials, 2 Corinthians 12:12-13. At the beginning of his boast Paul justifies it by his peculiar relation to his readers and by their readiness to be led away. After claiming to be at least equal to his opponents, he claims to have given full proof of his knowledge. In contrast to the deceitful pretensions of others he has labored without cost to his readers and will continue to do so. Like his opponents, he can claim Jewish descent; and he surpasses them in the hardships and perils of his service for Christ. He has been so completely under supernatural influence that he knows not whether with or without his body he was caught up to Paradise: and he is not ashamed to speak of his terrible bodily affliction, and to glory in it as an occasion for a manifestation of the power of Christ. Not only in other churches but in equal measure at Corinth his apostolic authority has been confirmed by miraculous works. He concludes his boasting by recalling for a moment the first specific point of it, which he uses as a stepping stone to an expression of parental love for his readers, a love which even ingratitude does but kindle into an intenser glow of self-sacrifice. The same topic also suggests an insinuation of his foes, which vanishes in a moment before an appeal to simple matter of fact.

Verses 19-21


For a long time you are thinking that to you we are making reply. Before God, in Christ, we speak. But all things, beloved ones, are on behalf of your edification. For I fear lest in any way, when I come, not such as I wish I find you, and I be found by you such as you do not wish, lest in any way there be strife, jealousy, outbursts of fury, factions, evil-speakings, whisperings, self-inflations, disorders; lest again when I have come my God will humble me with regard to you and I bewail many of those who sinned-before and have not repented, about the uncleanness and fornication and wantonness which they practiced. This third time I am coming to you. “At the mouth of two witnesses and of three every word shall stand.” (Deuteronomy 19:15) I have said before and I say beforehand, as when present the second time and absent now, to those who have before sinned and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare. Since a proof you seek of Him who speaks in me, even Christ, who towards you is not weak but is strong in you. For indeed He was crucified through weakness, but He lives through the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him, through the power of God, towards you.

Try yourselves whether you are in faith: prove yourselves. Or, do not understand yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? Except perhaps you are reprobates. But I hope that you will know that we are not reprobates. But we pray to God that you do nothing bad; not that we may be seen to be approved, but that you may do the good and we be as unapproved. For we cannot do anything against the truth but on behalf of the truth. For we rejoice when we are weak but you are strong. This we also pray, your full equipment. Because of this, these things while absent I write, that when present I may not act severely, according to the authority which the Lord gave to me, for building up and not for pulling down.

Paul’s boasting is now complete. He therefore returns to the matter which prompted it, viz. the misconduct of some whom he has already (2 Corinthians 10:2) threatened to punish. He writes fearing that there are evils at Corinth which will make his visit painful to him, 2 Corinthians 12:19-21: if the sinners do not repent he will give them severe proof of his authority, 2 Corinthians 13:1-4 : but he begs them to prevent this by self-examination and well doing, 2 Corinthians 13:5-10.

2 Corinthians 12:19. For-a-long-time: viz. while listening to Paul’s boasting, 2 Corinthians 11:1 to 2 Corinthians 12:18.

Making reply: anglicized into “apology”: same word in Romans 2:15; Acts 26:1-2; Acts 26:24; 1 Corinthians 9:3; 2 Corinthians 7:11.

We: as in 2 Corinthians 10:2-11 : suggested perhaps by Paul’s defence (2 Corinthians 12:18) of Titus.

To you: emphatic: “your approval being my aim.”

Before God, in Christ, we speak: 2 Corinthians 2:17 : in the presence of God, and prompted by spiritual contact with Christ as the encompassing element of Paul’s life. Cp. Romans 9:1.

All things: all he says and does, including the foregoing boast.

On behalf of your edification: to help forward your spiritual development. Notice the triple reference of Paul’s words, before God, in Christ, for the spiritual growth of men. So 2 Corinthians 5:13 f. These three are ever united.

2 Corinthians 12:20-21. Explanation of the kind of “edification” Paul has in view in his self-defence. He has magnified his authority and has threatened to punish, to lead some guilty ones to repentance, lest he find them, and they him, other than he and they wish.

In any way: as in 2 Corinthians 11:3.

When I come: on the visit proposed in 2 Corinthians 9:4; 1 Corinthians 16:2 ff.

Be found by you: literally to you, as in Romans 7:10, denoting the influence upon them of this discovery.

Lest… lest… lest; expounds in full Paul’s fear. The second lest introduces two classes of sins which Paul fears that he will find but does not wish to find at Corinth.

Strife, jealousy, outbursts of fury, factions: same words in same order in Galatians 5:20. See under 1 Corinthians 3:3; Romans 2:8.

Evil-speakings, whisperings: Romans 1:29. Their place here reveals the evil of them.

Self-inflations: special failing of the Corinthian Christians: cognate to “puffed up,” 1 Corinthians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 4:18 f.

Disorders: 2 Corinthians 6:5; 1 Corinthians 14:33.

2 Corinthians 12:21. Will humble] Nothing brings a Christian teacher into the dust so much as the defection of those whom he has looked on as fruits of his labor and as his crown of rejoicing. This humiliation Paul now fears.

Again: i.e. will again humble. Its conspicuous position allows no other connection. Thus understood it has almost tragic force. For it implies (cp. 2 Corinthians 2:1) that on a previous visit Paul had already been thus humbled. And, remembering that time, he now fears that it will be so again.

My God: as in (1 Corinthians 1:4,) Romans 1:8. It is a reverent acknowledgment that even the feared humiliation, though caused by man’s unfaithfulness, will be from God, i.e. taken up into His plan to work out His purposes of mercy for Paul. In regard of you, or in reference to you. Contrast 2 Corinthians 3:4; Romans 4:2.

I shall bewail: sorrow for the guilty will accompany Paul’s own humiliation.

Before-sinned: probably before Paul’s second visit, to which the word again refers. So “before-sinned” in 2 Corinthians 13:2. This does not necessarily imply that before Paul’s second visit they had committed the gross sins mentioned immediately afterwards, but simply that they had committed sin. He fears that he shall find that the sins he reproved long ago (2 Corinthians 13:2) had developed into these aggravated forms.

And have not repented: at the time of Paul’s expected visit, of which he is now speaking. Not all but many of those who had before sinned were, Paul fears, guilty of the gross sins mentioned below.

About the uncleanness etc.; may go with repented, but has more force as giving the specific matter of Paul’s sorrow about these unrepentant ones.

Uncleanness: general sensuality.

Fornication: a specific form of it, viz. intercourse with harlots.

Wantonness: insolent casting aside of all restraint. Same three words together in Galatians 5:20.

Which they have practised; gives vividness to, and lingers over, the picture.

2 Corinthians 12:21 forms with 2 Corinthians 12:20 a climax, touching what Paul fears he will find when he comes to Corinth. He has written for his readers’ good (2 Corinthians 12:19) strong words, because he fears there are at Corinth the evils enumerated in 2 Corinthians 12:20. He also remembers those who before his last visit had committed sins, and who have not yet repented. And he now writes fearing lest, touching many of these, he will find and will have to mourn over their gross sensuality and reckless insolence, sins far more terrible than those of 2 Corinthians 12:20. To find this at Corinth, will fill him with sorrow and smite him down to the very dust. Cp. 2 Corinthians 2:3. Therefore, seeking their edification, (2 Corinthians 12:19,) he has defended his own apostolic authority, which Jewish strangers have taught them to despise; that thus he may with more force reprove those who have sinned. He hopes thus to save himself from pain and humiliation. And the pain and humiliation which he dreads reveal the greatness of the sins he reproves.

2 Corinthians 13:1-2. Paul has already (2 Corinthians 12:20 b, 2 Corinthians 12:21) told his readers what sort of men he expects, but does not wish, to find them. He will now tell them what sort of man they will find him.

This third time; implies clearly that he has twice before been at Corinth. For the first coming was an actual visit. And Paul refers now to what will happen, not on his way towards Corinth, but after his arrival. With this he could not compare a never-completed second journey. Song of Solomon 2 Corinthians 12:14. He evidently wishes to recall, in view of a third visit, his conduct on two earlier visits.

I am coming: written from Macedonia on the way from Ephesus to Corinth. Cp. 1 Corinthians 16:5.

At the mouth etc.: word for word from Deuteronomy 19:15. When Paul comes, a church court will be held: and every charge will be judged, according to the Mosaic Law, on the evidence of two witnesses and, where available, of three. A similar quotation with the same purpose in Matthew 18:16. There is no indication whatever that, as some have suggested, Paul’s journeys were the witnesses; or that this word has here any but its common meaning of one who has seen and can testify.

2 Corinthians 13:2. Said-before; contrasts with his previous words on his second visit Paul’s present words by letter: say-before; contrasts his present words with their approaching fulfillment. Paul’s words by letter now when absent correspond with his words of mouth when present the second time, i.e. on his bygone second visit.

To those who before-sinned: i.e. before his second visit, as in 2 Corinthians 12:21. But his present words by letter apply of course to any who sinned subsequently. Before, reminds us that some had sinned long ago.

And to all the rest: all the church-members, by way of warning. The tone of uncertainty, if I come again, when Paul was actually on his way to Corinth, suggests that he here quotes his own words on the second visit.

He would then speak naturally of his next visit as coming again. Notice the emphatic prominence (cp. 2 Corinthians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 12:21) of this word.

I will not spare; is more than exclusion from the church, and suggests bodily punishment similar to that of 1 Corinthians 5:5; Acts 5:5; Acts 13:11. The miraculous powers in the apostolic church made more inexcusable the case of those who by open sin set at nought such powers. And now this dread power is ready to fall in supernatural punishment on those who are continuing to treat it with contempt.

Of this INTERMEDIATE VISIT of Paul to Corinth, we have no express mention. But without it the conspicuous and emphatic word again in 2 Corinthians 2:1 and 2 Corinthians 12:21, and this third time in 2 Corinthians 12:14 and 2 Corinthians 13:1, are practically meaningless; whereas with it they have almost tragic force; and xiii. 2 would otherwise be uncouth. No doubt is cast on it by absence of reference to it in the Book of Acts. For, how much of Paul’s career is not mentioned there, 2 Corinthians 11:23-26 proves. That no reference is made to it in the First Epistle, is more remarkable; especially as on this unmentioned visit Paul found at Corinth the sins which in that epistle he severely condemns. (This objection is well put in Baur’s Apostle Paul pt. ii. ch. 2.) Certainly the visit cannot have been later than the First extant Epistle: or the explanation in 2 Corinthians 2:3 f about that epistle would be needless. But if it took place some time before the lost letter was written, the fact that by this letter Paul had given the Corinthians a later expression of his mind about sensuality might account for his silence about the visit: whereas his thoughts, while writing this second extant letter, about his approaching visit to Corinth would naturally and sadly recall his last visit It is much easier to suppose this than to reconcile the passages referred to above with the supposition that Paul had visited Corinth only once. Opportunities of going there would be frequent during his three years’ (Acts 19:10; Acts 20:31) sojourn at Ephesus: and his anxiety about the church at Corinth would be a constant motive for such a journey. It has been suggested that the unmentioned visit was a return to Corinth after a temporary absence during Paul’s eighteen months’ residence there But the lapse of time between his departure from Corinth narrated in Acts 18:18 and the writing of this epistle, which included three years at Ephesus, makes the other supposition more likely. The whole subject is well discussed in Conybeare’s St. Paul, ch. xv. Dr. Farrar (Life of St. Paul vol. ii. p. 118) silently agrees with Baur in rejecting an intermediate journey.

The silence of the Book of Acts, and the indications in this epistle, suggest that the visit was short. To Paul it was (2 Corinthians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 12:21) painful and humiliating. But, instead of punishing at once those whom he then found guilty of gross sin, he threatened that, if they did not repent, he would do so at his next visit. And he now fears that; with similar sorrow and humiliation, he shall be compelled to fulfill his threat.

2 Corinthians 13:3-4. Since you seek a proof: reason why he “will not spare.” By punishing he will prove, to those who doubt it, his apostolic authority.

Proof of Him etc.: probably (cp. 2 Corinthians 9:13) proof afforded by Christ. But such proof is also proof that Christ speaks in Paul.

Not weak but powerful: and therefore able to give the proof sought.

Towards you: as influencing from without.

Among you: as working in the midst of you. A climax: Of Christ’s power towards and among the Corinthians, Paul has already given full proof, viz. (2 Corinthians 12:12) the miracles wrought in their midst and (2 Corinthians 3:2) the spiritual effects of the Gospel in their hearts. He will now add the more terrible proof of special punishment.

2 Corinthians 13:4. Proof of the (2 Corinthians 13:4 a) power of Christ (2 Corinthians 13:4 b) in Paul, in view of admitted human weakness. The crucifixion of Christ was a result of His human weakness. This involves, as does 2 Corinthians 8:9, the mystery of the Incarnation. And the dread reality of these words must not be set aside. We are here told expressly that Christ was crucified because He had not power to save Himself. Yet He is unchangeably divine, and had dwelt from eternity in infinite power. We must therefore conceive the Eternal Son as willingly taking upon Himself at His incarnation, in a mode to us inconceivable but divine, for a time and for our salvation, real human weakness; and as being in His dying moments forsaken (Matthew 27:46) by God, and powerless in the hands of His enemies. The ridicule of the Jews, (Matthew 27:42) “others He saved: Himself He cannot save,” was solemn truth. So in the garden (Matthew 26:53) the only way of deliverance which Christ mentions is prayer to His Father for angelic assistance. Thus “in all things He was made like His brothers”: Hebrews 2:17.

But He lives: upon the throne.

By the power of God: “who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory,” 1 Peter 1:21. The resurrection of Christ is ever attributed to the Father’s power: 2 Corinthians 4:14; 1 Corinthians 15:15; Romans 4:24; Romans 6:4; Romans 8:11, etc. He who was so weak that He could not save Himself from the cross now lives by the outstretched arm of God. And the power thus manifested is proof that (2 Corinthians 13:3) Christ is “powerful” in His Church to save and to punish. For the power of the Father abides in those whom it rescues; even, we may reverently suppose, in the Risen God-Man. (Cp. John 5:26; John 6:57; Colossians 1:19.) Therefore the power of God which raised Christ is proof that Christ has power to inflict punishment in His Church.

2 Corinthians 13:4 b. Expounds “speaks in me”: as 2 Corinthians 13:4 a expounds “who is not weak.” It shows how Christ’s life by the power of God bears upon Paul and his readers.

Weak in Him: helpless amid peril, as Christ was and because the Spirit of Christ moves Paul to similar self-devotion for the salvation of men.

We shall live, on earth rescued from imminent peril by the power of God so as to minister for you. And, just as Christ’s rescue from death by the power of God is a proof of His present power towards and among His professed servants so Paul’s frequent and almost miraculous deliverance from impending death, from perils endured for Christ’s sake, proves that in him the power of God is enabling him to exercise apostolic authority. Compare and contrast 2 Corinthians 4:7 ff; 2 Corinthians 10:1 ff. Guilty men may well fear both Him who was raised from the dead and His servant who, even within the jaws of death protected by the arm of God, continues and will continue to live.

2 Corinthians 13:5. Direct appeal, coming with great force after the solemn words of 2 Corinthians 12:20 to 2 Corinthians 13:4.

Try, or tempt: put to the test, with good or bad intention. Same word in 1 Corinthians 7:5; 1 Corinthians 10:9; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Matthew 4:1; Matthew 16:1; Hebrews 11:17; James 1:13; Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5 : cognate to “temptation,” 1 Corinthians 10:13; Galatians 4:14; 1 Timothy 6:9, etc.

In faith: i.e. having belief of the gospel promise of eternal life as the element of life. [The article presents this as a well-known and therefore definite object of thought.] Cp. “stand in the faith,” 1 Corinthians 16:13; “continue in faith,” 1 Timothy 2:15; “live in the faith,” Galatians 2:20. Paul has in mind men guilty of open sin. But such cannot (see under Romans 10:9) believe the Gospel. He therefore urges his readers generally to search their hearts whether they are continuing in faith; that thus the guilty ones may find that they have lost the condition of salvation and no longer belong to Christ, and may by this discovery be led to repentance.

Prove: a nobler word than try, only used of a trial with good intent: “find out, by testing, your own genuineness.” So 2 Corinthians 8:8; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 11:28; 1 Corinthians 16:3. The addition of it here suggests a hope that the trial will be satisfactory. These words are very emphatic. “Yourselves, test ye: yourselves prove ye.”

Or do you not etc.: alternative appeal, which ought to supersede those going before. For, Christ in them is a proof that they are in faith. “Is it needful to make the examination? do you not read your own hearts and find there marks of the presence of Christ?

Christ Jesus in you: by His Spirit giving victory over sin, prompting filial confidence in God, and reproducing the whole mind of Christ. Cp. Romans 8:9 ff; Ephesians 3:17. This is a result of faith; and a proof that it is not vain.

Except perhaps etc.; adds force to this question by stating the only alternative.

Reprobate, or disapproved: rejected after trial. Same word in 1 Corinthians 9:27; Romans 1:28; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:16; Hebrews 6:8.

2 Corinthians 13:6. A severe but disguised warning, in view of the foregoing alternative.

We: emphatic transition from the readers to Paul and his colleagues. Whether or not the Corinthians test themselves, their conduct will put to the proof Paul’s apostolic faithfulness. In this trial he will not fail. And he hopes that they will know this. That he refers to proof given by inflicting punishment, 2 Corinthians 13:7 shows.

Reprobate: as in 2 Corinthians 13:5, one who fails in trial: chosen in order to contrast Paul’s faithfulness with the faithlessness of some at Corinth. It also suggests that his faithfulness will compel him to punish. It is, like 2 Corinthians 13:3, a severe warning to those who question his authority.

I hope: 2 Corinthians 5:11. He desires that, in case of obstinacy, they may have, and may recognize, the proof.

2 Corinthians 13:7-9. A disinterested prayer for the readers, appropriately concluding the warning.

Pray to God: formal transition from the presence of men to the presence of God. Cp. 2 Corinthians 5:13.

May be seen to be approved: as is every teacher by the excellence of his pupils. Paul’s prayer that they do nothing bad is not prompted, as it might easily be, by a selfish wish to gain approval through their goodness, but simply by a desire that they may do what is good And their well-doing will deprive Paul of a proof of his apostolic authority, viz. that afforded by the punishment he would inflict. In this case, he will not be reprobate i.e. one who has failed in trial; but, as destitute of the proof afforded by inflicting supernatural punishment, he may speak of himself comparatively as unapproved: same word as reprobate, 2 Corinthians 13:5. (Similarly unscrupulous rulers have sometimes wished for a weak rebellion as an occasion for showing their power to crush it.) Paul thus reminds his readers that his prayer for their good behavior is not self-seeking, but self-denial. For their continued obstinacy would magnify his power.

2 Corinthians 13:8-9 a. The foregoing unselfish prayer traced to a necessity of Paul’s nature.

We cannot: because it would be contrary to our inmost disposition.

The truth: the word of God, which corresponds always with absolute reality. See under Romans 1:18. It is designed to mold men’s conduct in correspondence with God’s will, that thus they may “do the truth.” Consequently, to lead men into sin, is to act against the truth. This, to Paul’s renewed nature, was impossible. His powers like those of Christ, can be put forth only on behalf of the truth.

For we rejoice etc.: reason of this impossibility.

We, you: each emphatic.

Strong: capable of spiritual activity and endurance. Cp. Romans 15:1.

Weak: not spiritual weakness, which could not be a joy to Paul or help others to be strong. It is, as in 2 Corinthians 13:4, human incapacity for doing anything great. The spiritual strength of his readers was a joy to Paul: and this joy was not lessened by the fact that, in order to impart to them this strength, Paul himself went into positions of weakness. And this was with him an abiding principle. For the objects which give us joy determine our whole character. And this joy of Paul kept him back from doing anything to hinder the truth from molding his readers’ conduct; and compelled him to put forth his powers on behalf of the truth.

Consequently, since for their strength he was willing to be weak, he cannot wish them to persevere in sin that thus he may have an opportunity of showing his apostolic power. For this would run counter to his very heart, which rejoices in their spiritual strength. 2 Corinthians 13:7-9 a are full of terrible warning. So completely are the unfaithful ones in Paul’s power that selfish motives would suggest a wish that they would continue obstinate. Consequently, desire for their repentance is pure self-sacrificing love for them.

2 Corinthians 13:9 b. Leads us back to the starting point in 2 Corinthians 13:7.

Also pray: as well as rejoice when you are strong.

Your full equipment: in apposition to this. Paul prays that his readers be strong; or, what is practically the same, that they be fully equipped. Cognate word in 1 Corinthians 1:10. See note. He prays that they be thoroughly furnished with all gifts of the spiritual life, fitting them to do the work and fight the battles of God. For the fallen ones, this implied complete restoration. That of these Paul here thinks chiefly, is proved by foregoing and following warnings.

2 Corinthians 13:10. Concludes DIV. III., by giving its purpose, with a solemn warning; and by restating a principle of clemency which has been kept in mind throughout. It is thus an epitome of the whole.

Because of this: “because I rejoice in and pray for your spiritual strength and complete restoration.” This prompts him to write to them while absent. For the same reason (2 Corinthians 1:23 to 2 Corinthians 2:4) Paul changed his purpose of coming to Corinth direct from Ephesus, and wrote his First Epistle. This implies that the reformation (2 Corinthians 7:11) wrought by the First Epistle was not a complete one. Even after its good results Paul finds it needful to add the severe words of DIV. III. of the Second Epistle.

That when present etc.; develops because of this, in view of the readers’ present state.

Severely: by inflicting punishment. Cognate word in Romans 11:22.

The authority which etc.: almost word for word as in 2 Corinthians 10:8. Even if Paul act severely, he will act according to his divinely-given authority. But he remembers that the purpose of this authority is not to pull down but to build up the church. Therefore, if he is obliged to pull down he will do so as little as possible. And these are his last words to the refractory church-members.

Building up, or edification; takes hold of 2 Corinthians 12:19, marking the completion of (19 there begun.

REVIEW. Throughout his long boasting, in 15-18 or 2 Corinthians 11:1 to 2 Corinthians 12:18, Paul has been appealing, in self-defence, to his readers. He now tells them, with the dignity of a true servant of God, that their approval has not been the aim of this self-defence. He has spoken before God, resting in and united to Christ. Not the approval, but the spiritual good, of his readers has been his aim. His fear about them prompts him to write, lest when he comes the gross and unrepented sins of some of them humble him into the very dust. His readers know him well. Already he has been with them twice. When he comes again he will fulfill his threat, and punish those who by sufficient witnesses are proved to be guilty. Those who call in question his apostolic authority will then have the proof they profess to seek. Just as Christ, though powerless to save Himself even from the cross, yet reigns now by the power of God, so they will find Paul, though apparently a poor weak man, but weak for Christ’s sake, yet armed with divine power. He bids them put themselves to the test whether they continue believing and whether Christ still dwells in them: else they are already rejected as unfaithful. They will soon find that Paul is not unfaithful. He prays for them with disinterested love. For their obstinacy will magnify his apostolic authority. But this he does not desire: for he cannot but wish for their highest good. He therefore writes these severe words, that thus he may be spared from severe actions, remembering that severity is not the purpose of the authority with which he has been invested by Christ.

DIVISION III. opens to us a terrible view of the church of Corinth in Paul’s day. As we look from our modern standpoint into the confusion which reigned then and there and into the strange mixture of diverse and mutually opposing elements, we distinguish two groups of opponents to Paul, each one with marked characteristics. One of these comes into view gradually, assuming greater definiteness as we watch it, until at last the features of its leaders are clearly seen. The second group startles us by its sudden appearance in distinct and dark colors. The former group was Jewish; the latter, probably Gentile. Doubtless both came under Paul’s warning at the outset of DIV. III. (2 Corinthians 10:2) to those who reckoned him as walking according to flesh. For, both they who openly disputed his authority and they who set it at nought by open sin looked upon the apostle as acting from merely human motives and as armed only with human powers.

Paul’s Jewish opponents were professed Christians: for they boasted (2 Corinthians 10:7; 2 Corinthians 11:23) that they belonged to Christ. He that comes (2 Corinthians 11:4) suggests that they were not inhabitants of Corinth, but arrivals from elsewhere. They claimed (2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Corinthians 12:11) the highest rank in the Church, viz. to be apostles of Christ. Doubtless it was they who needed (2 Corinthians 3:1) commendatory letters. They professed to be disinterested friends (2 Corinthians 11:12) of the Corinthians: but their claim was (2 Corinthians 11:13) falsehood and guile. For they were bad men, doing Satan’s work, and on the way to perdition. they (2 Corinthians 11:20) ate up the Corinthian church and caught it unawares: they tried to bring it into bondage to the Mosaic Law, or rather to themselves: and treated it with insolence. They openly charged the apostle with being bold only at a distance, and powerless when present; and insinuated (2 Corinthians 12:16) that he had guilefully made others his instruments for plundering the Corinthians. Yet even these men were listened to and tolerated (2 Corinthians 11:19) in the church which owed its existence to the long toil and the dauntless courage of Paul. In Galatians 2:4 we find similar men in the birthplace of Christianity.

The second group of adversaries was guilty of gross sensuality. Such men, Paul was humiliated at finding (2 Corinthians 12:21; 2 Corinthians 13:2) even on his unrecorded second visit. He forbore to punish them, but threatened to do so when he should come again if they were still unrepentant. This sensuality seems (1 Corinthians 5:9) to have prompted his lost letter. A very aggravated case of it, which Paul could not tolerate even while absent, he deals with (1 Corinthians 5:1 ff) in his first extant letter. And the general unfaithfulness was his chief reason (2 Corinthians 1:23) for writing that letter instead of coming, as he first intended, direct from Ephesus to Corinth. Although the letter moved the church generally to repentance, it failed to reach some of the worst cases of sensuality. And Paul wrote the severe threatenings of DIV. III. of this Second Epistle to avoid, if possible, severe discipline, painful both to them and to him, when he comes to see them.

Paul declared that these disorders at Corinth would, if continued evoke a proof of his apostolic authority. They have done so, in a way beyond his thought and to us most valuable. For Paul’s reproof of these disorders is an infallible mark of the genuineness of the Epistles before us. That against the Corinthian church we find charges of sensuality far more terrible than anything else we have from his pen, accords with the world-wide infamy of the city whose temple to the goddess of lust had once been served by a thousand impure priestesses. And certainly no forger personating the apostle after his death would venture to write thus about the early days of a church which in the second century was well known and important. The severity of these Epistles proves that they came from the only man who would have dared to write thus.

In dealing with these serious disorders Paul begins with an implied threat of punishment, which he supports by appealing to the supernatural results which his gospel has already produced in the hearts of his readers. And then, since his authority had been openly questioned by his Jewish opponents, he boldly contrasts himself with them. This leads to his long boasting, of which I have given a summary under 2 Corinthians 12:18. And this is followed by an explanation of his purpose in writing to them these bold words, an explanation full of warning and of disinterested love.

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Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". Joseph Beet's Commentary. 1877-90.