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Bible Commentaries

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

2 Corinthians 2

Verses 1-4

SECTION 2. — PAUL’S REASON FOR NOT COMING TO CORINTH CH. 1:12-2:4.

For this our exultation is the witness of our conscience that in holiness and sincerity of God, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have behaved ourselves in the world and especially towards you. For no other things are we writing to you except what you read, or indeed acknowledge, and I hope that to the end you will acknowledge, according as also you have acknowledged us in part; because a ground of exultation to you we are, as also you to us, in the day of our Lord Jesus.

And with this confidence I wished to come first to you, that you might have a second grace; and through you to pass on into Macedonia, and again from Macedonia to come to you, and by you to be sent forward to Judaea. While wishing this then, do you infer that I acted at all with levity? Or, the things which I purpose, is it according to flesh that I purpose them, that there may be with me the Yes yes and the No no? But faithful is God that our word to you is not Yes and No. For, God’s Son, Christ Jesus, who among you through us was proclaimed, through me and Silvanus and Timothy, did not become Yes and No, but in Him there has come to be Yes. For, so many promises as there are, in Him is the Yes, for which cause also through Him is the Amen, for glory to God through us. And He who confirms us with you for Christ, and has anointed us, is God, who also sealed us, and gave the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.

And for my part I call upon God as witness upon my soul that it was to spare you that I did not come again to Corinth. Not that we are lords of your faith: but we are joint-workers of your joy. For by faith you stand. But I determined this with myself not again with sorrow to come to you. For, if it is I that make you sorrowful, who then is it that makes me glad, except he that is made sorrowful through me? And I wrote this very thing, lest having come I should receive sorrow from those from whom I must needs rejoice; being confident about all of you that my joy is that of you all. For out of much affliction and constraint of heart I wrote to you amid many tears, not that you may be made sorrowful, but that you may know the love which I have the more abundantly towards you.

From (2 we learn that at first Paul intended to go direct by sea from Ephesus to Corinth, then to Macedonia and back to Corinth, and then to Judaea. This purpose he had already abandoned when he wrote 1 Corinthians 16:5 ff. And the earnestness of his self-defence in 2 Corinthians 1:23 suggests that its abandonment had been quoted against him by enemies at Corinth as a mark of levity or guile. For his defence against this charge, he prepares the way by appealing in 2 Corinthians 1:12-14 to his conduct at Corinth: he then meets it expressly by appealing in 2 Corinthians 1:15-22 to the Gospel he preached; and by explaining in 2 Corinthians 1:23 to 2 Corinthians 2:4 his real motive.

2 Corinthians 1:12. Ground of Paul’s confidence that he shall have the effective prayers of his readers, viz. his conduct towards them.

This our exultation: the joyful expectation just expressed.

Is the witness etc.: the strongest possible way of saying that Paul’s joyful confidence is an immediate outflow of his consciousness (see 1 Corinthians 8:7 and Romans 2:15) of having lived a holy and pure life at Corinth. 2 Corinthians 1:11, in which this confidence found utterance, is a voice of his conscience bearing witness.

In holiness: with a constant aim to work out the purposes of God. See note, Romans 1:7.

Sincerity: as in 1 Corinthians 5:8.

Of God: wrought and given by God. Cp. “peace of God,” Philippians 4:7.

Fleshly wisdom: a faculty of choosing the ends and means best fitted to satisfy the desires, and supply the needs, of the body. Cp. James 3:15. See note, 1 Corinthians 3:4. Such wisdom takes into account only those ends and means which the eye can see and the hand can grasp.

In the grace of God; expounds of God above. Paul’s heart tells him that he has acted with pure loyalty to God, not on principles which are wise from the limited point of view of the present bodily life: but he remembers that his holiness and sincerity are gifts to him of the undeserved favor of God. Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:10. And he has acted thus even in the present wicked world.

Especially to you: giving them during his long intercourse (Acts 18:11) abundant proof of the principles which guide him.

2 Corinthians 1:13-14. No other things: in writing 2 Corinthians 1:12 he means nothing more than they read in the plain meaning of his words, or than they already acknowledge to be true. His words have no hidden meaning.

To the end: as in 1 Corinthians 1:8.

As also etc.: courteous acknowledgment that all the recognition Paul hopes for in the future he already has.

In part: either a partial recognition by the whole church, or a recognition by a part of the church. Probably the latter, in accordance with the severe censure of DIV. III.

Because a-ground-of-exultation to you etc.: a fact justifying the foregoing words. Just as the Corinthian Christians, who are a result of Paul’s toil and a proof of the power of the Gospel, call forth in him joyful confidence in God, so Paul, as a great monument of the grace of God, calls forth in their hearts a similar confidence.

In the day etc.: 1 Corinthians 1:8 : suggested probably by you to us, (Philippians 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:19,) but embracing also we are to you. They who save a soul from death lay up for themselves joy in that Day when the light of eternity will reveal the true value of a soul. And the same light will reveal the true grandeur of the heroes of the church, and thus increase the joy of those who have been associated with them on earth. Paul declares that, just as he already possessed in his readers that which would be a joy to him in the day of Christ, so they regarded him.

This justified him in saying that they had already recognized the truth of his words about himself in 2 Corinthians 1:11. Thus 2 Corinthians 1:12-13 support 2 Corinthians 1:11.

Notice how wisely and lovingly Paul approaches his defence of himself in 2 Corinthians 1:15-22. He appeals to his readers’ sympathy, by speaking of his great peril and its effect upon him. He wins their confidence by saying that he expects to be saved from future peril because they are praying for him. This reliance upon their prayers he justifies by saying that it is the voice of his conscience, of that faculty in man which knows the secrets of man’s heart, declaring that he has acted towards the Corinthians as a man of God. For such a one, and one intimately associated with themselves, they cannot but pray. This testimony about himself Paul supports by saying that he means only what he says, and that his readers’ exultation about him, an exultation which looks forward to eternity, is a proof that they recognize the truth of his words.

2 Corinthians 1:15-16. The change from “we,” “us,” to I (to be noted carefully throughout the Epistle) marks a transition to matters pertaining only to Paul after matters pertaining to his helpers, especially Timothy who joins in this letter and who shared his labors at Corinth and his perils in Asia.

First to you: before going to Macedonia. 2 Corinthians 1:17 suggests that the apostle’s change of purpose had brought against him a charge of carelessness or vacillation, against which in 2 Corinthians 1:15 he begins to defend himself.

Grace, or favour, i.e. from God: cp. “gift-of-grace,” Romans 1:11; also Romans 15:29. Through Paul’s visit God’s favor will reach and bless his readers.

A second grace: a second visit, i.e. one visit on the way to Macedonia and one on the return journey.

And through you etc.: continuation of Paul’s wish.

To be sent forward etc.: the same wish is expressed in 1 Corinthians 16:6. This purpose to go to Judaea agrees with Acts 21:15. To this plan of travel Paul was prompted by his confidence that he is to his readers a ground of exultation and that to the end they will recognize the godliness and purity of his conduct. He wished to see them as often as possible, and to have their assistance for his journey to Judaea.

2 Corinthians 1:17. Paul comes now to the charge against himself based on the foregoing purpose. Consequently, this purpose, afterwards abandoned must have been in some way, possibly in the lost letter, (1 Corinthians 5:9,) made known to the Corinthians.

With levity: hastily forming a purpose, and caring little whether it was accomplished.

Or etc.: another possible supposition. Paul answers his first question touching one special case in the past, I acted, by asking a second question about an abiding principle of his life, I purpose.

The Yes, yes and the No, no: emphatic assertion and emphatic denial of the same thing, of which one or other must necessarily be deliberate falsehood.

According to flesh: see Romans 1:4. If Paul makes directly contrary statements about his own purposes, his purposes must, since the Spirit of God is the Spirit of the Truth, be prompted by considerations drawn from the present bodily life. But, of such considerations, his whole career of hardship and peril was an evident and utter trampling under foot. It was therefore impossible for him to say one thing and mean another; and equally impossible to form a careless purpose.

May be with me: graphic picture of the inconsistency of Yes and No dwelling together in a man like Paul. This inconsistency is represented as an aim which Paul is supposed deliberately to set before himself, and for which he sinks down to worldly motives. For without such motives he could not be guilty of the insincerity with which he was charged.

2 Corinthians 1:18-20. Solemn answer to the foregoing questions, followed by proof.

Our word: of Paul and his colleagues, for all whom holds good Paul’s reply to a charge made against himself alone. Our word, not “words”; puts together in one category all they say and write, including the Gospel. This all-embracing word is not contradiction, but harmony. Of this, the trustworthiness of God is a pledge. Cp. 1 Corinthians 1:9. For we cannot conceive that God who claims implicit belief would send, and attest by miraculous powers, untruthful ambassadors. Of 2 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 1:19 is proof. See under 2 Corinthians 1:22.

God: placed before Son for emphasis, and taking up faithful is God. The full title of Christ is emphatic.

Among you through us: by the agency of Paul and his colleagues the incarnate Son of God was first proclaimed at Corinth.

Through me etc.: exact specification of us. Notice the agreement with Acts 18:5.

Silvanus: in Acts, Silas: a prophet, and leading man in the church at Jerusalem, sent by that church to Antioch as bearer, in company with Paul and Barnabas, of the decree. After preaching for a time at Antioch and then returning to Jerusalem, he went with Paul on his second missionary journey. He and Timothy remained behind when Paul left Berea suddenly, but rejoined him at Corinth. See Acts 15:22; Acts 15:32; Acts 15:40; Acts 18:5. With this last verse agrees 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

Whether 1 Peter 5:12 refers to the same man, we do not know: or why he disappears so suddenly and at the same time both from the Book of Acts and from the Epistles of Paul.

Did not become; i.e. prove itself to be.

The Son of God, whose advent as Jesus, the anointed King, Paul proclaimed at Corinth, and who is Himself the Word of God, did not prove Himself to be a self-contradictory word.

In Him there has come to be, in a sense unknown before, assertion; viz. the unwavering promise of God. This is explained and proved in 2 Corinthians 1:20.

In Him is the Yes. Christ incarnate was a solemn and costly declaration by God that He will fulfill every one of the ancient promises, a declaration not admitting denial of doubt.

The Amen: Romans 1:25 : the expression of man’s faith that the promise will be fulfilled. Since in Christ God reasserts the old promises, also through Christ men believe them, and shout Amen.

Through us: by whose preaching the Amen has risen from the lips of many who never spoke it before. And this has been in order that glory may come to God, i.e. that His grandeur may shine forth and thus elicit admiration for men. Cp. Romans 15:7; Romans 15:9.

Through us; keeps up the connection between the Gospel and Paul, and it thus parallel to the same words in 2 Corinthians 1:19.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22. The source in God of that stability of Paul’s character which excludes the possibility of levity or deception. We are thus led back to the faithfulness of God (2 Corinthians 1:18) with which the argument began.

Confirms us: gives to us an immovable Christian character. So 1 Corinthians 1:8; Colossians 2:7; Hebrews 13:9. Of such character trustworthiness is an essential element.

With you: courteous recognition that the readers have or may have the same stability.

For Christ; who is the aim of all Christian excellence. In all our relations to Christ God makes us stable.

And has anointed us: formal installation into a sacred office. So Luke 4:18; Exodus 28:41; 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:13; 1 Kings 19:16. It recalls the divine authority of these heralds of Christ. With you is not repeated: for the readers did not hold the same sacred office.

Sealed us. See Romans 4:11; 1 Corinthians 9:2; Revelation 7:3; John 6:27. God had not only formally installed them in the office of herald but had also put a visible mark upon or in them as specially His own. What the seal was, he need not say. The following words sufficiently suggest it. Cp. Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30. The Holy Spirit given to Paul and his colleagues was a divine mark, visible to himself and in some measure to those who knew him, that they belonged to God. Nay more. The Spirit in their hearts was an earnest of the good things for which they were sealed.

Earnest: English rendering of a Hebrew word (used in Genesis 38:17) which through Phoenician sailors passed into Greek and Latin, denoting a sum of money paid at the time of purchase as a pledge of the whole price. The Spirit in the hearts of believers is the beginning and pledge of future blessedness. Cp. “first-fruit of the Spirit,” Romans 8:23. Day by day God confirms them, ever increasing their firmness: once for all He anointed and sealed them, and gave to them the Spirit.

Review of 2 Corinthians 1:18-22. The questions of 2 Corinthians 1:17 were their own answers. For, evidently, Paul’s purposes were not prompted by the present bodily life. But he thinks it fit to record an emphatic denial followed by proof. And his denial covers everything said to his readers from time to time by himself and his colleagues. In proof that their word was not contradictory Paul reminds his readers that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who had become known to them through the agency of himself and his helpers, was Himself the solemn and unwavering voice of God to man, and had proved Himself to be such to the Corinthians. In Him every one of the old promises was reaffirmed, in a manner which called forth the response of faith. And at Corinth this response had been elicited by Paul’s agency, for the glory of God. To the office of herald he and his companions had been anointed by God and in their hearts they bore the proof and pledge that they belong to Him and are heirs of infinite blessing. And Paul acknowledged that the unwavering stability which gave them a right to claim the confidence of their converts was God’s work in them day by day. Now, could it be supposed that heralds, to whom had been committed the proclamation of this unfailing word of God, could themselves be guilty of vacillation and deception? The dignity of the office in which God has placed them forbids the thought.

This argument warns us not readily to charge with frivolous or selfish motives those who bear, in the success of their Christian work a visible mark of God’s approval and support. And it is a warning to all engaged in such work, to speak and act, by exact truthfulness and by fulfilling all their promises as far as they can, worthily of Him whose sure word they proclaim as the ground of all our hope and the source of our life.

2 Corinthians 1:23. After showing in 2 Corinthians 1:18-22 how inconsistent with the Gospel he preached amid God’s evident approval and help would be a worldly change of purpose, Paul will explain in 2 Corinthians 1:23 to 2 Corinthians 2:4 his real motive for the change.

I for my part: about Paul alone, in contrast to the foregoing general statements. See 2 Corinthians 1:15. The solemn earnestness of the appeal implies that on the ground of his delay in coming to Corinth a serious charge had been brought against the Apostle. Cp. 2 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 4:18.

Upon my soul: as in Romans 2:9. Laying open the seat of life to be smitten if he speak falsely, Paul appeals to God. In delaying his visit he was sparing them the punishment which, had he come, he would have been compelled to inflict. Cp. 1 Corinthians 4:21. Instead of punishing, he wrote (2 Corinthians 2:3) the First Epistle.

Come again; implies, taken with 2 Corinthians 2:1, that between the departure recorded in Acts 18:18 and the writing of the First Epistle Paul had visited Corinth; and places the unrecorded visit in some relation to that which Paul now proposes. See under 2 Corinthians 2:1.

2 Corinthians 1:24. A corrective to 2 Corinthians 1:23. By using the word “spare,” which implies authority to punish, Paul does not mean that he can control their faith, and thus cut them off from Christ. In spite of all he can do, his readers may still take hold of Christ by faith and thus obtain eternal life. This ought never to be forgotten by those who pronounce an ecclesiastical sentence.

But joint-workers etc.: Paul’s true relation to his readers and a reason for “sparing” them. He was working with them and was thus working out joy for them. For all growth in the Christian life in both individuals and communities, is an increase of joy. Only as a means of greater joy ought Christ’s servants to inflict pain; and therefore as little pain as possible to attain this end. This being Paul’s mission, he delayed his visit to Corinth. For, had he come sooner, he would have been a messenger of sorrow. And he preferred to give pain by a letter rather than by a personal visit.

By faith you stand; justifies not lords etc. Open as they were to censure, they yet maintained, though imperfectly, their Christian position; and this by their belief of the words of Christ. And the dignity of their position he cannot forget, even while using words of authority.

2 Corinthians 2:1-2. Paul will now show how his delay was designed to spare his readers.

I determined: as in 1 Corinthians 2:2.

For myself: i.e. saving himself sorrow by sparing them.

With sorrow: which he will inflict, as proved by 2 Corinthians 2:2.

Again with sorrow; can only mean a second painful visit. For this only will account for the prominent and emphatic position of again. Otherwise this word is quite needless. For, since Paul has already been at Corinth, to go there now is necessarily to go again. Whereas again with sorrow has almost tragic force. Paul remembers a former sad visit, and fears that his next will be the same. This former visit cannot have been his first, recorded in Acts 18:1 : for then there was no church at Corinth to whom or from whom he could give or receive sorrow. It must therefore have been a visit not mentioned in the Book of Acts. See further under 2 Corinthians 13:2. For the foregoing decision 2 Corinthians 2:2 is a reason, betraying Paul’s earnest love for his readers. To give them sorrow, is to inflict sadness upon the only persons who are a joy to himself. In other words, he has no human joy except the fellowship and love of his converts; and therefore cannot lightly make them sad.

2 Corinthians 2:3-4. To Paul’s resolve (2 Corinthians 2:1) 2 Corinthians 2:3 a adds what he actually did to accomplish it.

This very thing: his First Epistle, which in thought now lies before him.

Lest having come: he wrote instead of coming.

I should have sorrow: in contrast to “makes you glad” in 2 Corinthians 2:2.

I must needs etc.] To rejoice in his converts was to Paul an absolute necessity. Cp. 1 Thessalonians 3:8, “we live if you stand in the Lord.”

Being confident etc.: a confidence which moved him to write instead of incurring the risk of a painful visit. To avoid what his confidence in his readers tells him would be sorrow to them as well as to himself, he wrote instead of coming.

All of you: even the erring ones, who in their heart of hearts loved Paul.

Out of much affliction etc.: state of mind which moved him to write, given in support of the just mentioned aim of his letter. His sorrow and tears prove the purity of his motive.

Constraint: cognate with “holds fast” in 2 Corinthians 2:14. A great burden resting upon his heart, and holding him as if in bonds, forced him to write. There is nothing to suggest a reference here to anything except the First Epistle. For its tone is condemnatory almost throughout. Would that all Christian reproof had a similar motive!

Amid many tears: interesting mark of the intensity of the apostle’s feelings, and a close coincidence with Acts 20:19; Acts 20:31.

That you may be made sorrowful: an evitable and foreseen result of the letter, but not its aim. Love to the Corinthians moved him to write and guided his pen. And he wrote that his love might reveal itself to them.

Specially towards you: as in 2 Corinthians 1:12. As he writes to, and thinks of, them, he feels how specially dear to him are his converts at Corinth.

With 2 Corinthians 2:1-4 agrees 1 Corinthians 16:5, which shows that while writing the letter Paul had already given up his purpose of coming direct to Corinth.

From 2 Corinthians 1:23 to 2 Corinthians 2:4, and from this whole epistle more than any other, we gain an insight into the inner life of Paul. Little did we think as we read his former letter and felt the severity of its indignant reproofs that it was prompted by deep sorrow and moistened with tears.

While purposing to come direct to Corinth Paul received bad news about the state of the church. Perceiving that to come now would be a visit of sorrow, not to himself only but to them, he resolved to delay his visit. And, while thinking of punishment, he remembers that, apart from anything he can do, his converts at Corinth can and do take hold of Christ by faith, and thus maintain, in spite of many imperfections, their place in the family of God. His work is simply to increase their joy. Already he has come once to Corinth as a bearer of sorrow; and he does not wish to do so again. And for this he has a personal motive. To grieve them is to cast a shadow on the only earthly source of joy to himself. To avoid this he wrote to them, moved by an assurance that in writing he was seeking the joy both of himself and them. The burden of heart which moved him to write and the tears which fell as he wrote testify that he had no other motive, and that his letter was an outflow of his special love to his converts at Corinth.

Verses 5-11

SECTION 3. — HE REQUESTS THEM TO RECEIVE BACK THE EXCOMMUNICATED PERSON CH. 2:5-11.

Moreover, if any one has caused sorrow, not to me has he caused sorrow, but (in part, that I may not press heavily) to all of you. Sufficient for the such man is this punishment, that inflicted by the more part: so that on the contrary for you rather to show favour and encourage, lest by his more abundant sorrow the such man be swallowed up. For which cause I exhort you to confirm towards him love. For to this end also I wrote, that I may know the proof of you, whether in reference to all things you are obedient. And to whom you show any favour I also do. For I also, the favour which I have shown, if I have shown any favour, it is because of you, in the presence of Christ, that we may not be over-reached by Satan: for of his thoughts we are not ignorant.

In saying (2 Corinthians 1:23) that he delayed his visit to Corinth in order to spare his readers, Paul doubtless thought chiefly of the immoral man whom in 1 Corinthians 5:3 f he bids them hand over to Satan, and of their guilty toleration of his sin. For to this case refers the severest passage in the First Epistle. Cp. 2 Corinthians 7:12. About this man Paul has now something more to say.

2 Corinthians 2:5. If any one: delicate allusion to the excommunicated man.

Not to me. The bitterness of spirit resulting from the spiritual injury caused by this man’s sin fell not upon Paul but upon every member of the church. For all tolerated the offence (1 Corinthians 5:2) and were therefore damaged by it. It is true that it gave Paul holy grief: but this, as not implying the deeper bitterness of spiritual injury, he leaves out of sight.

In part; i.e. not quite full of sadness. This modifies sorrow to all of you. These words Paul inserts that he may not, by what he says here, press heavily, i.e. upon the guilty man. The strong words of 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 might lead some to suppose that Paul looked upon the offence as a special sin against himself. He reminds them that the real injury was inflicted not upon himself but upon those who tolerated the crime. That he needs, in mercy to the guilty man, to modify these words, reveals how great was the injury inflicted by this one man upon the whole church.

2 Corinthians 2:6. The such man; points to a definite man, and takes into account all that he has done and is.

By the more part; implies a dissenting minority.

This punishment, was doubtless in obedience to Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. Apparently, some deliberate opponents of the apostle had refused to concur in, and execute, the sentence. But the rest had in some way punished the offender. What this punishment actually was, and how far it went towards that prescribed by the apostle, viz. surrender to Satan, we do not know. But it was followed by genuine and overwhelming sorrow in the guilty man: and, this being taken into account, it was considered by the apostle to be sufficient. Probably, by quick and full repentance the sinning one saved himself from the full mysterious penalty.

So that etc.: result and measure of this sufficiency.

On the contrary: his total change calling for corresponding change in the action of the church.

Show-favour: by forgiving him. Same word in 2 Corinthians 2:10 three times, also Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; in the same sense of forgiveness, i.e. favor towards those who have injured us.

More abundant sorrow: which he will have if you refuse to forgive and encourage him.

The such man: again substituted, in kindness, for the man’s name.

Swallowed up: nothing left of him. Same word in 1 Peter 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:54.

For which cause: because the punishment already inflicted is sufficient, and to avoid this more abundant sorrow.

I exhort] Laying aside his apostolic authority, he begs them to do it, that thus it may be their act as well as his.

To confirm: to declare formally and authoritatively that he is an object of their love: same word in Galatians 3:15, and (LXX.) Genesis 23:20.

2 Corinthians 2:9. Motive for “confirming love.”

I also wrote: viz. the First Epistle, as in 2 Corinthians 2:3.

The proof of you: as in 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:13; 2 Corinthians 13:3; Romans 5:4.

Whether in reference to all things you are obedient: an element of character which Paul wished to test. Notice the apostolic authority here assumed. To evoke, for his own satisfaction, his readers’ loyalty to his authority, was one purpose of his former letter. To say this is a quiet assertion of authority; and therefore supports the exhortation of 2 Corinthians 2:8.

2 Corinthians 2:10-11. Paul supports his request still further by saying that if his readers in their favor forgive anything he seals their forgiveness with his own authority; thus expressing his confidence in their judgment. And this he confirms by saying that the pardon he has already granted was for their sakes, in the sight of Christ, and to save both himself and them from the greed of Satan.

Favour-I-have-shown: viz. in 2 Corinthians 2:7 towards the excommunicated man.

If I have etc.: modifies the foregoing words. Paul hesitates to say that he has forgiven. For this would imply an offence against himself; whereas he has said in 2 Corinthians 2:5 that the real injury was done not to himself but to those who tolerated the offender.

Because of you: moved by desire for your good.

In the presence of Christ: before whom, and to please whom, Paul acts and speaks. He forgives the excommunicated man and wishes to save him, lest Satan gain a victory, by robbing the church of a member and the apostle of a child in the Gospel. Thus that we may not etc. (cp. Ephesians 6:11 f; 1 Peter 5:8) expounds because of you. And while expounding it Paul puts himself among his readers as one who will suffer loss if the man be not saved.

Of his thoughts: viz. his purpose to overreach the people of God. Paul’s knowledge that Satan was planning their injury, a knowledge shared by others, moved him to take steps to guard against such injury. Of these steps, pardon of the notorious offender was one.

REVIEW. Paul’s mention of the tears amid which he wrote his First Epistle prompts him to speak further about the saddest matter it contained. He reminds us that the injury which caused his tears was done, not to him, but to the whole church. The punishment inflicted, though all did not concur in it, is nevertheless sufficient; so that now it may give place to public and formal pardon and encouragement. Indeed, the erring man’s deep penitence calls for this. While begging mercy for him, Paul reminds us of his apostolic authority. He also expresses confidence in his readers’ judgment by saying that he is ready to endorse at any time their forgiveness by his own authority, and that the forgiveness he has just pronounced is for his readers’ good, to save them from the wiles of that enemy who, as all know, ever seeks to defraud the people of God.

Of the light shed by this section on the effect at Corinth of the First Epistle, further use will be made under 2 Corinthians 7:16.

Verses 12-17

SECTION 4. — PRAISE FOR GOD’S MANIFEST APPROVAL OF HIS LABORS. CH. 2:12-3:6.

Moreover, when I came to Troas for the Gospel of Christ, and a door was open to me in the Lord, I had no relief for my spirit, through my not having found Titus my brother: but I bade farewell to them and went forth into Macedonia. But to God be thanks who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and makes manifest through us in every place the odour of the knowledge of Him. Because a perfume of Christ we are to God, among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing to these, an odour from death for death; but to those, an odour from life for life.

And for these things who is sufficient? For we are not, as the many are, huckstering the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, before God in Christ we speak.

Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some do, commendatory letters to you or from you? Our letter you are, written in our hearts, known and read by all men: being made manifest that you are a letter of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not in stone tablets but in tablets which are fleshen hearts. A confidence of this kind we have through Christ in reference to God. Not that of ourselves we are sufficient to reckon anything, as from ourselves: but our sufficiency is from God. Who also has made us sufficient to be ministers of a New Covenant, not of Letter but of Spirit.

2 Corinthians 2:12-13. Further proof, after the necessary digression of 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 of Paul’s deep interest in his readers, shown in his movements after writing his First Epistle. This is followed by an assertion and proof and defence of the grandeur of his ministry, occupying 2 Corinthians 2:12 to 2 Corinthians 6:10. See under 2 Corinthians 6:10.

Having come to Troas; agrees with Acts 20:1, which says that after the tumult Paul left Ephesus for Macedonia.

Troas: now Eski Stamboul or Old Constantinople, where there are considerable ruins: an important Roman colony on or near the site of ancient Troy, on the coast of Asia Minor and near the entrance of the Dardanelles. It was the chief landing place for those coming by sea from Macedonia to western Asia. Cp. Acts 16:8; Acts 20:6.

For the Gospel: Romans 1:1 : i.e. to proclaim it.

Door being open, or standing opened: as in 1 Corinthians 16:9. The opportunity afforded at Troas was in the Lord: i.e. in relation to the Master Christ. Notice an important coincidence with Acts 20:7 ff, where, though we have no account of Paul’s previous preaching at Troas, (cp. Acts 16:8; Acts 20:1), yet on his return after visiting Macedonia and Corinth we find Christians at Troas with whom he celebrates the Lord’s Supper. These were probably, in whole or part, a result of labors at the time referred to here. We must therefore suppose that after the tumult at Ephesus Paul went to Troas with a view to preach the Gospel there; and found an abundant opportunity of doing so.

To my spirit: as in 2 Corinthians 7:13; 1 Corinthians 16:18.

Had no rest: cp. and contrast 2 Corinthians 7:5.

Titus my brother; suggests the special relation of Titus to Paul as colleague in apostolic work. This trouble at not finding Titus suggests that he had been directed to rejoin Paul at Troas; and implies clearly that Paul expected him to bring news about the Corinthians. See note under 2 Corinthians 9:5. The expected meeting at Troas was prevented either by Paul’s earlier arrival owing to the tumult, or by some delay of Titus.

Bid farewell; suggests reluctance to leave Troas.

To them: to the converts at Troas. All details about them are unknown to us.

Notice the vivid picture in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 of Paul’s deep anxiety about his readers’ spiritual welfare. He has come to the important city of Troas to proclaim there the good news about Christ; and finds a way open to do so. But he cannot preach. For his spirit is ill at ease, waiting eagerly for tidings about his beloved children at Corinth. Drawn by this intense desire he bids adieu to some at Troas who would gladly keep him, and once more crosses the blue Aegean to Europe. This anxiety suggests the greater importance, recognized by all true evangelists, of securing old converts than making new ones.

2 Corinthians 2:14 a. In Macedonia Paul met Titus, (2 Corinthians 7:6 f,) and received from him most gratifying news about the effect of his First Epistle. And we cannot doubt that this caused really the joy which finds utterance here. But instead of mentioning these tidings Paul begins a long digression (2 Corinthians 2:14 to 2 Corinthians 6:10) about the grandeur of his work. This suggests that the good news received in Macedonia revealed to Paul’s mind and heart the success and grandeur of his work as a whole, and thus called forth his thanks to God. Hence the word always, in emphatic prominence. The Greek word Thriambos, rendered here triumph, denoted originally a hymn sung in those festal processions to the honor of the god Dionysius which were so common in ancient Greece. But in this sense it is found, in all extant Greek literature, perhaps only once. It is, however, found some four times as an epithet of the god to whom the hymns were sung. It was also the usual Greek equivalent for the Latin word triumph, the technical term for the military processions in which illustrious conquerors, accompanied by their soldiers, captives, and booty, entered in state the city of Rome and marched to the Capitol. Cp. Polybius, bk. vi. 15. 8, iv. 66. 8 xvi. 23. 5; Plutarch, Pompey xlv. 14, subst. six times, verb three times; Josephus, Wars bk. vii. 5. 3, 4, 7. This use of the word suggests that it had been used not only for the hymn sung to Dionysius but for the procession in which it was sung. But of this use no example is extant. In later ages, when both pagan festivals and Roman triumphs had passed away, the word was used for any public procession. It is difficult to say to what extent details of a Roman triumph or of a pagan festival* (*See an interesting paper by G. G. Findlay in The Expositor, vol. x. p. 403.) were present to Paul’s mind when writing these words. But in any case the two kinds of triumph had enough in common to link with these words a definite idea. And the Roman triumph suggests a good meaning here. Paul thinks of his life of wandering and hardship, driven from Ephesus by a tumult and from Troas by anxiety about the Corinthians. But he remembers that, just as in Roman triumphs the long and sad train of captives and booty revealed the greatness of the victory and the victor, so his own long and weary wanderings over sea and land revealed the grandeur of God. Cp. Polybius, bk. xvi. 23. 5: “And, when he entered the city in triumphal procession, then even still more, being reminded of their former dangers by sight of those led along, their emotions were aroused both of thanks to the gods and of goodwill towards the cause of so great a change.” Perhaps Paul’s words were suggested in part by remembrance, ever present to him, of his former hostility to God. As a captive he is led along. And his absolute submission, shown in his apostolic work, reveals the completeness of the victory of Him against whom Paul once fought. That his march in the train of his conqueror was with a song of praise to the conqueror, is explained in the words which follow.

In Christ: as the cause, the aim, the director, and the encompassing element, of all his journeys.

2 Corinthians 2:14 b. Explains “leads in triumph,” and accounts for Paul’s “thanks to God.”

Odour: John 12:3; Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 4:18 : any kind of scent.

Manifest: set conspicuously before men. See under Romans 1:19.

Knowledge of Him: of Christ, as proved by “perfume of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 2:15. This knowledge of Christ is an odour which, by leading Paul along in triumph, God manifests, i.e. presents to men’s minds. We may conceive the triumphal procession accompanied by incense-bearers, and revealing its approach by the perfume scattered around. So Paul’s presence, wherever he went, made Christ known, as it were silently and invisibly but pervasively, to those among whom he moved. And that he was a means through which God made Christ known to men to be their eternal life, filled his lips, even amid weariness and anxiety, with “thanks to God.”

The two parts of this verse present two aspects of Paul’s life. He was both well known and unknown. Before the eyes of men the once proud Pharisee walked, a conspicuous token of the victory and majesty of God; meanwhile imparting unobtrusively to those ready to receive it, the life-giving knowledge of Christ.

2 Corinthians 2:15-16. A fact which explains and justifies the assertion of 2 Corinthians 2:14 b.

Perfume of Christ: something revealing, as perfumes do, the nature of that from which it proceeds; and therefore practically the same as “odour of the knowledge of Him,” but adding to it the idea of pleasantness to God.

Similarly, the self-sacrifice of Christ (Ephesians 5:2) and the money given by the Philippians to Paul (Philippians 4:18) were “an odour of perfume.” Same words in Leviticus 1:9; Leviticus 1:13; Leviticus 1:17, etc. Wherever Paul went he presented unobtrusively to men around the knowledge of Christ, and thus pleased God. He was, therefore, himself a perfume of Christ to God. For through his life and work shone the glory of Christ. And this, both when surrounded by those who accept Christ and are thus in the way of salvation and by those who reject Him and are thus perishing. See under 1 Corinthians 1:18. For in each case his word is acceptable to God, as accomplishing a divine purpose. In 2 Corinthians 2:16 Paul lingers on these contrasted cases, and explains more fully the meaning of his solemn words.

Odour: more appropriate to the word death than is “perfume.”

From death for death: (cp. Romans 1:17 :) a scent proceeding from, and thus revealing the presence of, death; and, like malaria from a putrefying corpse, causing death. Paul’s labors among some men revealed the eternal death which day by day cast an ever deepening shadow upon them; and, by arousing in them increased opposition to God, promoted the spiritual mortification which had already begun. But even among such he was nevertheless a revelation of Christ, acceptable to God, i.e. “a perfume of Christ to God.” For it pleases God, the righteous Judge, that the foundation Stone crushes to death (Luke 20:18) those who refuse to build upon it. Among those who believed, Paul’s labors both gave proof of the eternal life they already possessed, and strengthened it. Thus, through the apostle and his colleagues, driven rudely from place to place, revealing and causing among different men different moral states and different results, God was spreading, unobtrusively yet pervasively, the knowledge of Christ. And for this honor Paul cannot forbear to give exultant “thanks to God.”

2 Corinthians 2:17. A question suggested by the solemnity of the position just described, before Paul passes to God’s commendation of his work by the conversion of the Corinthians; and a reason for this question, viz. that Paul is very far from looking upon the Gospel as mere merchandise for self-enrichment.

Huckster: one who bought from the merchants and sold by retail. Same word in Sirach 26:29; Isaiah 1:22 “thy hucksters mix the wine with water.” Cp. Plato, Protagoras p. 313d: “They who carry about education from city to city and sell and huckster it.” Not thus did Paul with the Gospel, making gain of it.

As the many are: a terrible charge. It does not necessarily mean the greater part of Christian teachers; but implies a large and definite number present to Paul’s thought. Sincerity was the human source or motive of his words, as it was (2 Corinthians 1:12) the element of his whole behavior. The original source was from God.

As from (cp. John 1:14)… as from: his words correspond with their human and divine source.

Before God etc.: completes the inward picture of Paul’s preaching; his words spring not from selfish, but from genuine purposes, and from God; and are such words as men speak when sincere and when moved by God. They are spoken in the presence of God and in union with Christ as their encompassing element. Cp. 2 Corinthians 12:19.

2 Corinthians 3:1. Paul now proceeds to recall plain proof (in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3) of the dignity claimed by him in 2 Corinthians 2:14 f. But he remembers that his words above may be thrown in his teeth by opponents at Corinth as mere self-commendation. This hostile reply he anticipates by the first question of 2 Corinthians 3:1; and overthrows it by a second question, which compels his opponents to admit that he has no need to commend himself. Then as an answer to the second question he gives proof of his divine mission.

Commendatory letters: containing credentials needful for those who go among strangers. Such letters Apollos brought (Acts 18:27) to Corinth. But Paul did not need them either to the Corinthians or from them to others.

As some do: probably Jewish or Judaizing teachers who came with letters from known Jewish teachers in other places. The mention of such letters reveals the infinite difference between the great Apostle who came alone to Corinth and founded the church and these unknown teachers.

2 Corinthians 3:2-3. Our letter: practically the same as “the seal of my apostleship,” 1 Corinthians 9:2. Both to themselves and to others, “to you” and “from you,” the Christians at Corinth were a proof that God sent Paul. “Others bring letters in their hands: but in our hearts you ever are as a plain declaration to ourselves of our divine mission.” This shut out all need for commendatory letters. These words are forerunners of “confidence” in 2 Corinthians 3:4 and “hope” in 2 Corinthians 3:12.

Known and read. The Corinthian church was not only in the heart of the apostle but was also visible to all men, as a proof of Paul’s divine mission. His credentials were so conspicuous that all saw them; and so plain that all read their significance.

All men: believers and unbelievers: for in their hearts even enemies knew the work Paul had done at Corinth.

Being manifested that you are etc.: since you stand before the eyes of the world as a letter written by Christ and therefore carrying His authority.

Ministered (see under Romans 12:7) by us: by Paul and Timothy, who, as servants of Christ, founded the Corinthian church, which is here described as a letter written by Christ. These words correspond with “through us” in 2 Corinthians 2:14. Not “written by us”: for the writer was Christ, whose helper Paul was. The Holy Spirit dwelling in the hearts of the Christians at Corinth through the agency of Paul and Timothy was an abiding divine testimony to them, to their converts, and to others that they were sent by God. To the converts, the presence of the Spirit was known directly by the new cry Abba, Father, put into their hearts and lips, and by victory over sin given to them day by day; and to others, by “the fruit of the Spirit” in their holy lives. Cp. Romans 8:13-16; Galatians 5:22.

Living God: in contrast to lifeless ink or stone. Cp. 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Timothy 4:10; Acts 14:15; Hebrews 9:14; Deuteronomy 5:26; Joshua 3:10; Psalms 42:2, etc. It suggests the activity of God, ever blessing, protecting, or punishing. After placing in contrast to the letters written with ink brought by his opponents the gift of the Holy Spirit, Paul places this gift in further contrast to the stone tablets received by Moses on Mount Sinai. And very suitably. For these tablets of stone, preserved during long ages, were an abiding and visible and famous witness of the divine authority of Moses and of the Covenant of which he was minister. No human hand, but the Hand which made Sinai and the world, traced those venerable characters. But they were written only on lifeless stone, on material apparently the most lasting yet doomed to perish. But the divine writing of which Paul had been the pen was on living human hearts, destined to retain and show forth in endless life the handwriting of God.

Flesh: the visible and controlling embodiment of human life, and a conspicuous contrast to stone. Same contrast, and same phrase, in Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26 f. Paul’s commendation was engraved on the flesh and blood walls of the inmost chamber of his readers’ being.

By the second contrast of 2 Corinthians 3:3 Paul opens a way for important teaching to follow. And this second contrast increases immensely the force of the foregoing rebuke to his opponents. Amid much affliction but in words of glowing gratitude to God Paul has been speaking (2 Corinthians 2:14 f) about his own ministry. To this some might object as being self-commendation. The apostle asks whether he has any need for commendation. The absurdity of this suggestion, and the infinite difference between himself and his detractors, he reveals by asking whether when he came to lay the foundation of the church at Corinth he brought commendatory letters with him, or had ever asked his readers for such. Yet he has a letter of commendation, not in his hand but in his heart. His readers themselves are a divine commendation of himself and his fellow-laborers. Others brought letters written in characters of ink. His commendation was the presence of the life-giving Spirit in his readers’ hearts. Nay more. Not only were Paul’s credentials of a kind quite different from those of his opponents, but they were infinitely superior even to the venerable credentials with which God confirmed the Covenant made amid the thunders of Sinai and confirmed the authority of the great Lawgiver of Israel. For Moses brought down from the mountain a testimony written by God on blocks of silent stone. But Paul could point to a testimony written also by God, in the hearts of living men. On Jewish opponents glorying in Moses, this argument would fall with overwhelming force.

2 Corinthians 3:4-6 a. A comment on 2 Corinthians 3:2-3.

Confidence: an idea recurring throughout 5, 6.

Of this kind: viz. grounded on the fact that through his agency God had written His name by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of living men.

Through Christ: “through whom we received grace and apostleship,” Romans 1:5.

In reference to God; as in Romans 4:2. Paul’s confidence took hold of God and came through the work and death of Christ. For it rested on what God had wrought through Christ. To 2 Corinthians 3:4; 2 Corinthians 3:5 is a corrective: cp. 2 Corinthians 1:24.

Reckon: the mental process resulting in Paul’s confidence. See under Romans 6:11.

Of ourselves: apart from influences from without or from above. (Similar words convey important truths in John 5:30; John 16:13.) Paul’s confidence just expressed, is not a result of mere human reasoning. For confidence referring to God, mere mental powers are not sufficient.

As from ourselves: i.e. looking to our own powers as the source of success. Had Paul’s confidence been a result of mere human calculation, it would have looked for results from his own unaided powers.

Our sufficiency: our ability to make the reckoning which results in the confidence of 2 Corinthians 3:4. Of this confidence God is the source. And He has also given us spiritual powers fitting us to be ministers of a new covenant. These last words take up again, in order to develop it fully, the contrast introduced for a moment in 2 Corinthians 3:3.

A New Covenant; implies a complete difference between the gospel dispensation and the older one: for it implies a new engagement of God with men. These words confirm Luke 22:20, (which, supported by all the oldest Greek MSS., I cannot doubt to be genuine,) where, as in 1 Corinthians 11:25, similar teaching is attributed to Christ; teaching from which Paul’s words here were doubtless derived. Cp. also Hebrews 8:6 ff; Hebrews 9:16. Christ, and, taught by Him, Paul, thus proclaimed that in the Gospel the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31 was fulfilled.

Ministers of a New Covenant: whose work it is to make known and carry out a new agreement of God with men. So “ministers of righteousness,” 2 Corinthians 11:15; “of the Gospel,” Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23; Colossians 1:25; Galatians 2:17.

Not of letter etc.: in apposition to new covenant, and describing its nature. As minister of the New Covenant it was Paul’s work to convey to his hearers an indwelling Spirit; not a written letter, like that given to Israel through Moses and engraved on tablets of stone or written on the pages of a book. Similar contrast, in the lips of the Baptist: John 1:17. This contrast Paul expounds in 2 Corinthians 3:6-11; and shows in 2 Corinthians 3:12 to 2 Corinthians 4:6 that his conduct corresponds with it.

REVIEW. After speaking about his former letter and the man whom in that letter he excommunicated, Paul speaks in (4 of his movements after writing the letter. He came to Troas to preach the Gospel. But, drawn by intense anxiety about the Corinthian church, he abandoned the favorable opportunity there presented and came at once to Europe. At this point, without assigning any cause, he bursts into a song of praise to God. The state of mind which made this outburst of praise easy was doubtless prompted, though Paul does not say so, by his joyful meeting with Titus. But the matter of his praise is his entire apostolic work. His sad and weary journeys are a triumphal procession revealing the greatness of God his conqueror, a procession which makes Christ known everywhere, as by the silent perfume of incense. A perfume to God is Paul’s whole life, both among those who receive and those who reject his word. The responsibilities of his work well-nigh appall him. For to him the preaching of the Gospel is no cloak for self-seeking; but is intense reality. This is not self-commendation. For such is needless. While others bring letters of commendation he merely points to God’s evident work in the hearts of his readers, an evidence treasured in Paul’s own heart. The presence in them of God’s Spirit is a nobler testimony than the letters brought by his adversaries, or even than the tablets of stone brought by Moses from Sinai. The confidence in God which moves him to speak thus is no mere human interference, but a gift of that God who has also given him ability to do gospel work, and has made him a minister of a Covenant nobler than that established through the medium of Moses.

Notice that Paul’s appeal in support of his apostolic authority is a courteous recognition of the genuineness of the religion of his readers. They cannot deny the one without denying the other.

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Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 2". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/2-corinthians-2.html. 1877-90.