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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 12

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-21

2 Corinthians 12:1 . It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. To disclosures of the divine pleasure, which cannot be known by any researches of the human mind. The English gives us here two distinct sentences. Many of the old interpreters read subjunctively, Though it be not expedient for me to glory; yet I will come to visions and revelations. The high character and authority of Paul in the church at Corinth was insupportable to the false apostles. They had accused them of a capital error in making him equal to the first prophets of the Hebrew nation, prophets who had seen the glory of the Lord. Well then, says Paul, if I must glory a little in self-defence against such accusations, I affirm that I also have seen the Lord. Acts 9:4; Acts 22:14, 1 Corinthians 9:1. That alone is sufficient to justify my call to live and preach as I do, for I know whose servant I am.

2 Corinthians 12:2 . I knew a man in Christ, a regenerate man, as in Romans 8:1, and 2 Corinthians 5:17; for the Word of the Lord came in ancient times to holy men. This distinguishes St. Paul from all the raptures and ecstasies of the pythonesses or sibyls of heathen temples.

Above fourteen years ago. Paul was converted about the thirty fifth year of our Lord. Three years he had spent in Arabia and Damascus, before he went up the first time to Jerusalem. Then, after fourteen years, he went up again. Galatians 1:18; Galatians 2:1. In reference to this period he says, “When I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance, or ecstasy, as in the Greek. Acts 22:17. In Acts 15:1-6, we read that Paul, and others, went up to Jerusalem to consult the brethren on the question of circumcision. Critics generally suppose that this was the time of the ecstasy: if otherwise, as we have no dates, it is useless to enquire.

Cau g ht up to the third heaven. The angelic or highest heaven, as in Acts 1:8; Acts 1:11. It is the same as paradise, or Abraham’s bosom. In other words, it is the Eden of God, where Christ dwells with the spirits of the just. Erasmus says that Paul was taken from the third heaven to paradise. See on John 3:13. The grand point is the vision. As few persons were allowed to enter the holy of holies, let us glean what is revealed of knowledge so precious. St. Peter had an ecstasy, or trance, and was transported beyond himself. Acts 10:10. John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. Revelation 1:10. When the allied armies of Israel and Judah were fainting for want of water, Elisha, having no vision, called for a minstrel, and by psalmody raised his soul to that divine abstraction which sees light in the light of the Lord. Though, we sinners, must not obtrude on paths so high and holy, yet we should follow the prophets in seeking all the glory of regeneration.

2 Corinthians 12:4 . Heard unspeakable words. Αρρητα ρηματα , secret or ineffable words. Paul was here admitted into the cabinet of heaven. John heard words which were sealed up till future times. Luke mentions the subject on which Moses and Elias talked with Christ on the mount, but does not relate the words. Our Saviour testified on earth the things he had seen, and the words he had heard in heaven. John 3:32; John 3:34. The vision with which Paul was favoured was no doubt designed to support him in his arduous work, by showing him the future state of the church, and the visitations which should fall on the Jews, and the Roman persecutors. Of course they were things not lawful then to be published, or uttered.

2 Corinthians 12:7 . Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, which, in an evangelical view, exalted me above Moses, who saw the glory on the mount; and Isaiah, who saw the Messiah enthroned in the temple, there was given to me a double stroke, the one to afflict the body, the other more painful still, a messenger of Satan to depress my mind. That which regards the body, he calls a σκολοψ ; and the precise idea has given rise to many conjectures. Tertullian thinks it was a sudes, a species of thorn; and again, dolor auriculæ, anguish or pain in the ear. Perhaps he might have some idea of the new name which the French physicians have given to an old disease, tique douloureux. Theophylact follows the more ancient opinion of those who call it capitis dolorem, a pain in the head, or nervous head ache. And this seems to agree with the messenger or angel of Satan to buffet him. The evil angel continually reproaching him with his infirmities, magnifying his weakness, and bidding him retire from labours and sufferings so severe, adding, that he was not fit to contend with mobs and tumults, or with griefs and troubles in the church, and a world of outward foes. This thorn in the flesh the apostle elsewhere calls an infirmity of the flesh, and his temptation that was in the flesh, which exposed him to some kind of contempt. Galatians 4:13-14. It must therefore have been some bodily weakness, or deformity, which operated strongly to his disadvantage, the tempter meanwhile availing himself of it to encrease his difficulty and discouragement.

2 Corinthians 12:8 . I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. By the word Lord is understood Christ, who appeared to him. Christ who gave him this after vision. Christ in whom he would glory, that his power and grace might rest upon him. Paul therefore prayed to the Lord Jesus, and often besought him in this affliction. Thrice, it would seem, with prayer and fasting, and probably for three successive days. Dr. Carpenter has written a book to prove that all the apostles were unitarians! Yet he fully grants in this place, and he could not do otherwise, that Paul really did pray to the Saviour. This we still do in all the common prayers, throughout the christian world.

Paul received a gracious answer of compromise, that though the thorn was not removed, the Lord would be so with him, affording every divine support, that the great work of converting the gentiles should be effectuated, even by a worm of the dust, clothed with the power and grace of Christ.

2 Corinthians 12:12 . Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you, by unheard-of patience and perseverance in the work. By special miracles also, which were wrought by the hand of Paul; by the conversion of multitudes of gentiles, in twenty provinces of Asia and Europe. The work spoke for the workman: what more could mortals ask?

2 Corinthians 12:20-21 . I fear, lest when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, in regard of envy, strifes, backbitings, parties, and swellings of a haughty spirit. Nay, worse: I fear lest some should not have renounced their grosser immoralities, and that I should have to purify the church, before I could build you up. Take proper measures; be decided in what character I shall come the third time to Corinth.


We are here farther indebted to the judaizing teachers, or false apostles, for this account of the rapture and ravishment of St. Paul into the third heavens. These visions placed him among the first friends of God. They equalled him with Moses, who saw the throne and glory of God on Sinai; and to Isaiah, who saw the same glory in the temple. Ezekiel 1:4. Peter, James, and John, had honours of a similar kind. Matthew 17:5. These are rare and special favours. We must not in this world know too much of heaven; it would take us off from the duties of life. Now and then a prophet has been favoured with revelations of this kind; and now and then a saint receives comfort from the Spirit in so extraordinary a degree, as to menace the body with dissolution. St. Paul was at this time praying in the temple, as is conceived; and his faith penetrated within the veil. He launched away beyond the faith of mortals, and even beyond his own consciousness and recollection. This stretch perhaps enfeebled his body for future years.

It is thence apparent, that exalted favours require a proportionable ballast of crosses and afflictions, lest we founder, as a ship for want of lading. So Jacob, after wrestling with the angel, went halting on his thigh. David was likewise prepared for the throne by adversity. Joseph also by imprisonment, and Moses by exile, were tutored and prepared for the honours which came from God.

Though we see not as St. Paul saw, yet we learn that the happiness of heaven is unutterable. If believers here rejoice with joy unspeakable, what would mortals attempt to say of the joy of heaven. We see now by analogy only. We have only the light of the sun to afford us ideas of the light of heaven, which shall darken the sun by its lustre. Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him.

The happiness of heaven is completely freed from all anxieties about this life. St. Paul did not know whether he was in the body, or out of the body: and this abstraction of mind is no small presumption of the life to come. So while the holy apostles were on the mount of transfiguration, they forgot the world, and wished to build tabernacles. Moses also, communing with God on the holy mountain, needed neither meat nor drink. He lived as the inhabitants of heaven, and apparently forgot the multitude on the plain.

The special favours of God should never be forgotten. St. Paul noted the time and the place of this rapture, and counted the years. It was to him a time to be remembered. This sight of heaven supported him in his sufferings, and fortified him against the jews, who would not receive his testimony. Let us keep in lively recollection the favours of God, and the covenant we have made with him on special occasions.

The high favours and comforts of heaven are ever accompanied with modesty and humility. These visions were above the reach of ordinary believers, and therefore the apostle said little about them. He would rather glory in his infirmities, that the power of Christ might rest upon him in his preservation, amidst all the calamities mentioned in the preseding chapter.

The grace of God is sufficient to support us against the worst and sorest assaults of Satan. Our temptations and conflicts with the enemy of souls are all common to man; and the voice of our captain in the day of battle, crying, Be strong, be valiant, my grace is sufficient, will incessantly win the field, and give us the victory.

Lastly, guile is incompatible with holiness. The false apostles suggested that though St. Paul had wrought and preached a free gospel, yet he had shared in the contributions of the church through his colleagues; so he craftily caught them with guile. This charge he repels in the face of the church, that the shame and mischief of defamation might rest at its own door.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/2-corinthians-12.html. 1835.
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