Bible Commentaries

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

2 Corinthians 12

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Verse 1

I must needs glory, though it is not expedient; but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. [I feel constrained to go on with my boosting, though I recognize that it is not expedient for me to do so since it gives my enemies further material for detraction and vilification. Yet I will speak of the visions which the Lord gave me and the revelations which they brought me.]

Verse 2

I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), such a one caught up even to the third heaven.

Verse 3

And I know such a man (whether in the body, or apart from the body, I know not; God knoweth);

Verse 4

how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for man to utter.

Verse 5

On behalf of such a one will I glory: but on mine own behalf I will not glory, save in my weaknesses. [Here Paul speaks of an experience of his, but declines to name himself, or use the first person, lest he might be thought to be glorying in his own exaltation. He had been caught up into paradise, or the secret place of the Almighty. This he calls the third heaven, for in the Jewish estimation the air was the first heaven, the region of the sun, moon and stars was the second heaven. Somewhere beyond the stars was the abode of the Almighty. He was miraculously drawn up into heaven, but whether his whole personality went thither, or whether merely that part of him (his spiritual nature) which was suited to comprehend and enjoy heaven, he could not tell. While here he had heard words which it was not lawful for him to try to interpret by the insufficient and consequently misleading worth of earth. He tells this event, but it was an honor so much above his deserving that he avoids even such a method of telling it as might be construed to be boastful. If he gloried on his own behalf, it would still be in his weaknesses. As Paul wrote this epistle in A. D. 57, the deduction of fourteen years would bring us to A. D. 43, the season when Paul was in Antioch.]

Verse 6

For if I should desire to glory, I shall not be foolish; for I shall speak the truth: but I forbear, lest any man should account of me above that which he seeth me to be, or heareth from me. [Now, if I should desire to boast, I should not need to foolishly vaunt myself as to imaginary things, but I could confine myself to truth, and tell many wonderful experiences of visions exposed to my eyes and revelations imparted to my mind. But I forbear to proceed further, lest any man should think of me as more excellent than my conduct or my speech would indicate. This I do not want. I desire no exaggerated reverence, but seek only that goodwill and esteem which my conduct merits.]

Verse 7

And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch. [From the earliest ages down men have indulged in wild speculation as to what Paul meant by his thorn in the flesh. See comment on 1:10. The most plausible theory is that it was disfiguring and acute ophthalmia. Suffice it to say that it was some bodily infirmity which acted as a balance to Paul’s mind, drawing his thoughts and attention to his earthly state, lest they should dwell too constantly in meditation upon the things which had been revealed to him.]

Verse 8

Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice [Matthew 26:44], that it might depart from me.

Verse 9

And he hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness. [Philippians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 2:3-5] Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. [The prayer was not granted, but a compensation was made for denying it. How evident it must have been to the Corinthians, from the sufferings he so cheerfully endured, that he was the true messenger of Christ! Paul’s use of the phrase "rest upon me" suggests the resting of the Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost-- Acts 2:3]

Verse 10

Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. [God so orders it that the times of my weakness are the very hours when my strength is revealed, and thus each period of death is turned into a season of resurrection-- 2 Corinthians 4:10]

Verse 11

I am become foolish: ye compelled me; for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing was I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I am nothing. [You, who should have spoken in my defense and commendation, by keeping silence have compelled me to boast, and to show that, nobody as I am, I am at least equal to these overmuch apostles.]

Verse 12

Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, by signs and wonders and mighty works.

Verse 13

For what is there wherein ye were made inferior to the rest of the churches, except it be that I myself was not a burden to you? forgive me this wrong. [And you are without excuse in thus compelling me to defend myself by proving my apostleship, for it was proved long since among you by the miracles which I wrought among you as signs and evidences of it (evidences which his enemies wholly lacked); and also by the patient spirit in which I wrought the miracles, for I have again and again forborne to use my power to crush my wicked opposers (2 Corinthians 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 4:21). And I so fully proved my apostleship among you, that you showed to no disadvantage whatever when compared with other churches founded by any others, for you had all the signs, gifts, graces, etc., which they had, unless it be that I myself did not aid my opposers in the good work of extorting wages from you--forgive me for thus wronging you! These last words, though ironical, are superbly dignified and pathetic. By his disinterested kindness to them, the apostle had favored them above all other churches-- 2 Corinthians 11:8]

Verse 14

Behold, this is the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be a burden to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. [There has been much dispute as to whether Paul says that this is his third visit, or the third time he has intended to visit. Evidently it was to be his third visit. See 2 Corinthians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 12:21; 2 Corinthians 13:1-2 . Knowing that if this letter moved them to repentance or shame, the Corinthians would wish him to accept some compensation for his services, and that if he did so his enemies would revive their slanders against him, and assert that his whole purpose in writing was to gratify his mercenary desires, Paul makes it easy to decline any such offer on their part by declining it now beforehand. He asserts that he will maintain himself without their support, as he has done on his two former visits, and lest they should resent this independence on his part, he declares that he is actuated thereto by an intense love for them--a love which seeks not their money for his benefit, but their souls for their own benefit. He affectionately, yet almost playfully, bases his conduct on that rule as to parents and children which, though it sometimes permits children to aid parents, obliges parents always to maintain children. He was their spiritual father (1 Corinthians 4:14-15), and he claims the obligations of his parental relation as if they were much-coveted rights. Thus, as throughout the epistle, the thunders of the apostle have quickly subsided into the tender accents of the parent.]

Verse 15

And I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more abundantly, am I loved the less?

Verse 16

But be it so, I did not myself burden you; but, being crafty, I caught you with guile. [And as a doting parent I will gladly spend all that I have and all that I am for your soul’s sake. Gladly, as it were, will I break the earthen vessel that its contents may be lavishly poured out upon you (2 Corinthians 4:7; Mark 14:3). And can it be possible that you will be so unnatural as to love me less in proportion as I love you the more? "But," say my detractors, "you apparently did not burden us; we concede this to be so; but you caught us with guile, for you have levied contributions, ostensibly for the poor in Jerusalem, but really to reimburse yourself for the wages which you feel to be due you, and about which you have been so noisily boasting."]

Verse 17

Did I take advantage of you by any one of them whom I have sent unto you?

Verse 18

I exhorted Titus, and I sent the brother with him. Did Titus take any advantage of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps? [Now let us look at the facts and see where I used such guile. My detractors admit that I myself took nothing: then I must have taken it through the agency of others. If so, by whom? Titus and the brother who accompanied him were the only agents I sent. Did Titus thus cheat you in my behalf? Did he not, on the contrary, show you the same inner spirit of self-sacrifice which I displayed? Did he not outwardly follow my plans, exhorting you not to give it to him, or send it to me, but to lay it up in your own treasury weekly as I directed? See 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 . If Titus, as we have supposed, accompanied the messengers who bore Paul’s first epistle to Corinth, he very naturally carried out the directions of that epistle. Who was then with him we do not know. Titus had not yet reached Corinth to undertake this work a second time as Paul directed (2 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 8:16-17). Paul’s actions were ever free from guile or covetousness-- 1 Thessalonians 2:3-5]

Verse 19

Ye think all this time that we are excusing ourselves unto you. In the sight of God speak we in Christ. But all things, beloved, are for your edifying.

Verse 20

For I fear, lest by any means, when I come, I should find you not such as I would, and should myself be found of you such as ye would not; lest by any means there should be strife [1 Corinthians 6:7], jealousy [2 Corinthians 11:19; 2 Corinthians 11:22], wraths, factions [1 Cor 1:11], backbitings, whisperings, swellings [1 Corinthians 8:1-2], tumults [disorders];

Verse 21

lest again when I come my God should humble me before you, and I should mourn for many of them that have sinned heretofore, and repented not of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they committed. [Doubtless all the while you have been reading or listening to my words you have been thinking that you are sitting in judgment on my case, and that I have been making my defense before you, anxiously hoping for a favorable verdict. Be not deceived. We can never be judged by you, but are divinely appointed a judge over you (Matthew 19:28). My only object is to speak before God in Christ, that is, to acquaint you with the truth as it appears in God’s sight, that you may be instructed and not left in harmful ignorance. For I fear that even yet after all this instruction you may not profit by it, so that when I come I may find you not obedient as I would have you, and that I may be found of you not gentle as you would have me to be. For I expect to find among you the very sins which I have reproved in these epistles, and which were there when I last visited you (2 Corinthians 2:1). I will not spare you this time as I did then, but I shall exercise discipline, and therefore I fear that I shall mourn for many whom I shall be compelled to deliver over to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5), because they still impenitently persist in their unchaste sins despite all my reproof.]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.