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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 12

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

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2 Corinthians 10:1 to 2 Corinthians 13:10 . At this point ( 2 Corinthians 10:1) Paul turns sharply upon certain opponents and proceeds to defend himself with energy against their attack and insinuations, to enlarge on his claim to obedience and affection, and then adds to stern remonstrance threats of what he will do at his coming if he does not find the situation changed.

The change of tone and attitude which here takes place is both obvious and startling. Up to this point, the letter has been the expression of almost exuberant relief, thankfulness, and confidence; due to the fact that, contrary to what he feared, Paul and the church at Corinth had been reconciled. From this point onward we have the expression of anxiety, alarm, anger. All that in the first part of the letter seems to have been accomplished, here waits for accomplishment. The people whom Paul here addresses are not yet reconciled to him. They are definitely hostile, and they are not an isolated group. They are linked at heart by sympathy with the congregation as a whole.

The explanation which has commonly been given is that in the earlier part of the letter Paul has been dealing with the section (? majority) of the congregation which had partly remained loyal to him, partly returned to their loyalty, and that he now turns to deal with the other section, an obstinate and embittered minority. But in that case there would surely be at the beginning of this section some indication that he was addressing a new class of people, and the earlier part of the letter must have betrayed some consciousness of the presence of this unreconciled section of the people. The difficulty of accounting for this change, sudden, unexplained, and maintained almost to the close of the epistle, is the ground of the opinion now widely held, that 2 Corinthians 10:1 to 2 Corinthians 13:10 belongs not to this but to some other letter sent by Paul to Corinth. It has further been conjectured that we have here part of the intermediate, or “ painful” letter. And though that cannot be proved, the contents of these chapters certainly agree very closely with what we can gather as to the character of that letter, and would go far to explain the tense anxiety with which Paul waited to hear how it had been received ( 2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 2:13, 2 Corinthians 7:6).

Verses 1-10

2 Corinthians 12:1-10 . A Special Revelation and its Sequel.— By an account of a great spiritual experience which he had enjoyed, Paul explains the reason why he has been called on to suffer, and the Divine interpretation of the suffering, in the light of which he can ever rejoice in this weakness and in all similar experiences. An expression of his proud confidence is wrung from him, however he may doubt its expediency. He recalls memorable experiences of “ visions and revelations of the Lord,” and one in particular, fourteen years before, when, under conditions that he could not explain; he found himself in “ the third heaven,” in “ Paradise.” Here he employs language drawn from late Jewish speculation, imagining a series of “ heavens” one above another, and means the highest heaven. A man who has had such experiences has a right to a proud self-confidence, and may express it without incurring a charge of folly. But still Paul shrinks from doing so, lest men should be overawed by the excessive glory of such privileges. His desire still, as always, is to be judged by what he says and what he does. In this shrinking from putting forward the marvellous as a ground on which to claim allegiance of others, we may find a striking parallel to an important element in the Synoptic portrait of Jesus.

2 Corinthians 12:7 . The first clause should be connected with what precedes, and the whole may be paraphrased thus: “ That no one may be led even by the vast number of revelations I have enjoyed to appraise my work otherwise than by what he has seen me do and heard me say.” The “ thorn in the flesh” was plainly some kind of torturing pain (? epilepsy, malaria) by which the apostle was frequently attacked (p. 769 ). Probably it produced temporary or permanent disfigurement of some kind, and so made him less acceptable as a preacher of the gospel, and gave his opponents an excuse for belittling his authority. Not once, but thrice, he had prayed to Christ for its removal. The answer had been heard in the assurance that Divine grace is directly proportioned to human need; the great weakness of the apostle is balanced by the manifestation of God’ s power on his behalf, so that we reach the paradox of Christian experience—“ When I am weak, then am I strong.”

Verses 11-21

2 Corinthians 12:11-21 . Retrospect of the Boasting.— This paragraph is marked by rapid oscillation of feeling. Now that he has made and proved his claim, the same doubt seizes him as when he began ( 2 Corinthians 11:1, 2 Corinthians 11:16). Has he not been foolish? It was the duty of the Corinthians to testify to his legitimate authority. And they had quite sufficient ground for doing so in what they had seen ( 2 Corinthians 12:12; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:6), “ the signs of an apostle” ( cf. Acts 2:22 *), wrought by Paul. Corinth had enjoyed all the privileges conferred by him on any church— except the privilege of supporting him ( cf. 2 Corinthians 11:7). Once more, he can make no alteration in that policy. He will act in the same way on his approaching third visit as he has done on the previous ones. He will set no limits to his self-sacrifice on their behalf. Once more ( cf. 2 Corinthians 11:6), is it reasonable that he should receive less affection from those to whom he shows affection even in excess? In 2 Corinthians 12:16 ff. he waives this criticism as disposed of, and deals with a subtler insinuation, viz. that in accordance with his native deceitfulness of character he has indeed abstained from drawing reward from the Corinthians, but has done it nevertheless indirectly through his agents. But where was the evidence? Had not Titus and the unnamed brother [106] shown the same spirit as their master?

[106] [For the theory that Luke and Titus were actual brothers see ET, 18285, 335, 380 against it, Exp., May 1917.— A. J. G.]

Once more the old anxiety seizes him, lest in thus defending himself he should seem to be submitting himself to the Corinthians and to their judgment. So far from that, his fear is that when he comes he may find such a situation, such evidence of moral unfaithfulness, that he will be himself humiliated before God through the failure of his work and compelled in God’ s name to exercise severe discipline on the backsliders.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/2-corinthians-12.html. 1919.
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