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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 5

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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The opening verses of this chapter immediately follow up the closing verses of chap. 4: Why do we not “faint” under the weight of our ministry? and why, in the light of unseen and eternal things, do we feel “our affliction” to be “light, momentary, and more and more productive of an eternal weight of glory”? The answer here follows:

Verse 1

2 Corinthians 5:1. For we know that if [1] the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved or ‘our earthly tent-house be taken down,’

[1] Several modern critics think the “if” is here used to leave it an open question whether he and his generation might not see the coming of the Lord, and so not die at all. To us such an allusion does not seem probable.

we have a building from God meaning the resurrection-body, called “a building” in contrast with the tent-house of our present frame,

a house not made with hands (like the buildings we erect), eternal in the heavens.

Verse 2

2 Corinthians 5:2. For verily in this (tabernacle) we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven viewed as “from heaven,” because the distinguishing properties of the resurrection-body will be the efflux of that resurrection-life which resides in “the Lord from heaven.” And, as Bengel says, if it be “ from heaven,” the thing meant cannot be heaven itself.

It will be observed that a new figure is here introduced; the glorified body, first held forth as a house, is now figured as a clothing. But the one figure is not substituted for the other; the two are combined; and by what in ordinary writings would be called a mixture of metaphors, we are said to be “clothed upon” with a “house.” But besides that the Scripture figures form so light a vehicle for conveying spiritual truths that the thing figured often shines through, and, in fact, absorbs, the figure, it so happens that in the present case the incongruity is only apparent. For “our house which is from heaven” will be no such gross fabric as the word “house” might suggest, but of such refined and subtle spirituality that, to represent it as a clothing of celestial radiance enshrining the perfected spirit, if a figure at all, is one as natural as it is beautiful. [1]

[1] To one accustomed (says Dean Stanley) to make Cilician hair-cloth into tents, the double metaphor of a habitation and of a vesture would naturally occur; and he refers to Psalms 104:2. “Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment, who stretchest forth the heaven like a curtain ” (of the tent).

Verse 3

2 Corinthians 5:3. seeing that we shall indeed be found clothed, not naked. This rendering, though not so literal as the Authorised Version, seems necessary to convey in our language what is certainly meant; Rendered as in our Authorised Version, a shade of doubt is undoubtedly conveyed to every English ear; while full certainty as to his eternal future is, in every varied form, conveyed here in almost every verse down to the ninth. And though competent scholars question whether in Biblical Greek the same certainty is conveyed by the particle here used as in classical Greek, vet, since this is only doubted, while it is admitted that the context must be our chief guide, we seem shut up by the present context in order to exclude that shade of doubt which the Authorised Version suggests to render the words as we have done. As to the word “naked” here, it would be a mistake to refer it, as some do, to the spiritual ‘defencelessness’ in which the wicked will be found at the great day an idea foreign to the passage, and particularly incongruous just after an assurance of the very opposite had just been expressed. Bengel’s idea, too, is equally alien from the manifest sense ‘if so be we shall be found not in the disembodied state of the deceased’ when Christ comes. The next verse points to the real allusion to that notion (so natural to all thoughtful Pagans, who were strangers to the doctrine of a resurrection) that the body, in its very nature, is nothing better than a clog to the only real part of man, his soul, which will never be capable of full development till disengaged by death from that encumbrance. (In this the best interpreters agree.)

Verse 4

2 Corinthians 5:4. For indeed we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but that we would be clothed upon, that mortality ( Gr. ‘that which is mortal’) may be swallowed up of life: ‘It is not that we are weary of a body, as if it were a mere cage from which it were bliss simply to make our escape; but we long that the mortality with which it is smitten, with all the ills which that carries with it, may pass away, and we may find ourselves wearing a form instinct with a life that cannot die.’ The sublime expression “swallowed up” was doubtless suggested by Isaiah 25:8, quoted in the former Epistle (1 Corinthians 15:54), where the same word is used (taken from the LXX., which gives the exact sense of the original).

Verse 5

2 Corinthians 5:5. Now he that wrought us for this very thing is God, who gave unto us the earnest of the Spirit ( i.e., ‘the Spirit as the earnest’). This “groaning” is not the mere feeling which nature forces out from many a weary spirit, especially under the manifold ills of life; it is that instinct of the new nature, “wrought of God,” which is eternal life itself begun in the souls of all that believe (John 5:24; John 11:26), and the earnest of all that this will yet be we have in the Spirit given unto us. This last thought is one the apostle often dwells on (see Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:23),

Verse 6

2 Corinthians 5:6. Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are abroad (or ‘away from home’) from the Lord (the Lord Christ): (for we walk by faith, not by sight) ‘we live by the faith of things yet future.’

Verse 8

2 Corinthians 5:8. we are of good courage, I say, and are willing rather to be abroad from the body, and to be at home with the Lord. [1]

[1] πρ ὸ ς τ ὸ ν Κύριον compare John 1:1, πρὸς τὸν Θεόν .

Note. Since the states contrasted in the previous verses are states of embodiment in mortality now, and hereafter when mortality shall be swallowed up of life it might seem that the exchange from being “at home in the body” to being “at home with the Lord” means the transition from the one body to the other (and so Meyer and others view it). But (with Alford) it appears to us that the homely wav in which the indefinite phrase “absence from the body and presence with the Lord” is introduced, after the more clearly-defined references to the resurrection-body in the preceding verses, was chosen just to avoid that inference; and this is confirmed by what he says in another place, in the actual prospect of death “having a desire to depart (or ‘break up’ as from a temporary sojourn) and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23), an expression which all understand of the intermediate state; that state of which our Lord said to the penitent on the cross, “Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Of this intermediate state Scripture says next to nothing in detail. Indeed this is one of those things in which the silences of Scripture are as remarkable as its utterances. It indulges no prurient curiosity; on some things we yearn intensely to know more, on these we are left quite in the dark, having only conjecture to guide us, and this it is not safe to rest much on. But on its fundamental characteristics we have some clear and precious light: (1) That it will be a state of conscious existence, we are perfectly certain. To be told that that very day “he would be with Christ in paradise” would have been to mock the dying man if he was to be unconscious of the fact; and since the apostle tells us that while he lived he was in daily communion with Christ about his work with its difficulties, triumphs, and prospects how could he say that “to depart and be with Christ was far better” if this was all to be extinguished, and he was to be unconscious even of his own existence? whereas, to be in the immediate and conscious presence of his Lord could not but be felt by him to be “far better.” (2) It will be to be “ at home with the Lord.” This word “at home,” when applied to such a case, conveys to the heart what language cannot express. We may call up the feelings of the weary traveller, far away and long away, with no hope of ever reaching it save through perils of every sort, and then ask what word to him is the sweetest, winsomest, warmest, that can greet his ear. But to us strangers and sojourners here, harassed with cares and worried often out of our peace and rest, to whom “without are fightings and within are fears” not to speak of sorrows and tears the thought that no sooner is the believer’s spirit disengaged from its clay tabernacle than it finds itself “ at home with the Lord” transcends all that language can describe: “He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still: then are they glad, because they be quiet; so He bringeth them to their desired haven.” Yet even this is but the entrance-gate, the threshold, of resurrection-glory; when that organ which was originally formed to be the inlet of all that the soul receives from without, and the outlet of all that it gives out from within, shall be restored, with capacities suited to the higher sphere which it will then occupy.

Verse 10

2 Corinthians 5:10. For we must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ (The word means more than ‘appear:’ compare 1 Corinthians 4:5, ‘till the Lord come . . . and make manifest the counsels of the heart’),

that each one may receive the things done in the body ( Gr. ‘the things through the body’) the organ of all human action,

according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad. The ‘we all’ who are to appear together, refer specially here to the preachers and those they have preached to. (The universality of the judgment is expressed sufficiently elsewhere.)

Note. Three important points are made plain here: (1) That it is untrue that there will be no formal judgment of the righteous when Christ comes. For here the “bad” and the “good” meet together, to be both alike judicially treated; and whatever formality of judgment there may be in the process, it will be the same for both. And though our Lord says that on believing, men “come not into judgment, but have passed from death unto life” (John 5:24), this only means that on believing men cease to be in a condemned, and enter on a justified state, passing from death unto life. Hence (2) that there is no ground for alleging that the judgment of the wicked will take place a thousand years after the Lord comes, and consist exclusively of the wicked; nor (3) that after death saints, imperfectly sanctified here, will (whether by purgatorial fires or any otherwise) experience a change to greater perfection. For if it is on the deeds done in the body that the judgment is to be held, it follows that no change effected after they have left the body will be taken into account in fixing their final state.

Verse 11

2 Corinthians 5:11. Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord the Lord Christ who is to be our Judge, we (in the exercise of our ministry) persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God (who knoweth our hearts), and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences to which we willingly leave all charges against ourselves and our work (see on 2 Corinthians 4:2).

Verse 12

2 Corinthians 5:12. We are not again commending ourselves unto you (see chap. 2 Corinthians 3:1), but speak as giving you occasion of glorying on our behalf enabling you to meet all unworthy attacks upon us, by pointing to what the Gospel which we brought you has made yourselves, that ye may have wherewith to answer them that glory in appearance, and not in heart the parties referred to in chap. 10, and described in chap. 11.

Verse 13

2 Corinthians 5:13. For whether we are beside ourselves, it is unto God; or whether we are of sober mind, it is unto you: ‘If tarried away by the glory of the message with which we are burdened, we at times seem beside ourselves (Acts 26:24), it is our zeal for God that urges us on; but if at other times we change our course, and our speech and action seem suspiciously calm, it is to avoid prejudice to our message, and win you to receive it.’

Verse 14

2 Corinthians 5:14. For the love of Christ not our love to Christ, but (as the following words shew, and other places confirm) Christ’s love to men (see Romans 8:35; Romans 8:37; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:19), constraineth us so shuts us up that we cannot choose but act as we do, because we have thus judged. The aorist is used to express a fixed principle of action, which was laid down once for all and at the outset of his Christian life: that one died for [1] all, therefore all died the all in the One; realized in each on his believing (Romans 6:8-12), and he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live onto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again: ‘Until this new principle of action took possession of us, we all lived to ourselves; some of us for one thing, some for another, but all for self: now, the love of Christ has dissolved every old principle of action, and become the all-absorbing passion of our life: “we are crucified with Christ, nevertheless we live; yet not we, but Christ liveth in us; and the life that we now live in the flesh we live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us, and gave Himself for us.”’

[1] The preposition “for,” here used, means in Greek ‘on behalf of;’ but in what sense, the context and the nature of each case must determine, Here, and in all such case, the sense of substitution is clearly meant

Note. Had the apostle held that Christ was a mere creature, and that the supreme duty of every creature is to live to the glory of God, such a principle of action as that here expressed must have amounted to a deliberate withdrawal of his allegiance from God, and making it over to a creature. But since it is certain that he did not consider that his allegiance to God was thereby in the least compromised, it is for those who deny the supreme divinity of Christ in the one Godhead to solve this difficulty.

Verse 16

2 Corinthians 5:16. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: ‘Our old principles of judgment are at an end; we now look on persons and things alike in a quite new light;’ even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. There is no reference here to any view of Christ which the apostle himself took before his conversion (as Plumptre and others): the reference is to what Christ during His public ministry on earth appeared even to His own disciples to be, and the light in which they afterwards saw Him. Men may boast that they saw, and heard, and talked with Him in the days of His flesh; but so far from that being any recommendation, so mean and unworthy were the views which the best of us (says the apostle) then entertained of Him, that they are a trouble to us even to remember them; henceforth we wish to know every person and everything in a new light, yea, to know even Christ Himself only as we have now learned to regard Him.

Verse 17

2 Corinthians 5:17. Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they [1] are become new. This verse simply generalizes the preceding statements, stripping them of all reference to himself and those written to, and extending them to all who are “in Christ.”

[1] The words “all things,” in the received text, are wanting in all the principal authorities; and though it is true (as Meyer says), that owing to the next verse beginning with the same words, they might very easily have dropped out (and this would decide us in their favour, if the want of them involved anything unnatural), yet, since they are not required for anything in the sense, the authorities seem to demand their exclusion.

Verse 18

Comprehensive View of the Christian Ministry, 18-21.

2 Corinthians 5:18. And to express in brief the whole Divine plan all things (in this matter) are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ [1] Those who take this to mean ‘induced us to give up our enmity to Him,’ go entirely against what the very next verse shews to be meant that, by putting away the cause of His enmity to us, which lay in sin, He has brought about peace between Himself and us sinners. Meyer, whose testimony here is most valuable, refers to Romans 5:10-11, Ephesians 2:16, Colossians 1:20-21, where men are represented as God’s “enemies,” their uncancelled sin bringing upon them God’s holy wrath, only removed by Christ’s death as a “propitiation.” It is exactly that kind of reconciliation of which our Lord says, “If thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught (any good ground of displeasure) against thee ... go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother (not, dismiss thy bad feeling towards him, but get him to put away his bad feeling towards thee) and then . . . offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23-24), [2]

[1] The word “Jesus” before “Christ” here is an addition to the true text.

[2] Though the compound forms of the same word used in the two passages are different, Fritzsche (who will not be thought unduly biassed by orthodox leanings) has shewn by an elaborate collection of examples that there is no real distinction in the use of them by classical writers ( Aa Rom. Epist. I. pp. 276 280).

and gave unto us th e ministry of reconciliation the office of proclaiming this great fact to the world;

Verse 19

2 Corinthians 5:19. to wit (to be more particular) that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses. This shews conclusively, as already said, that the reconciliation of the preceding verse means the removal on God’s part of His just ground of offence against us

His not “reckoning” to men their “trespasses.” This is here said to take place “in Christ;” though in what sense, is reserved for the last verse, But a noteworthy change is made in the form of expression. In 2 Corinthians 5:18 it was that “God reconciled us,” meaning, once for all by that propitiatory death of His Son, in which He received righteous satisfaction for our “trespasses” (see Romans 5:10; Hebrews 9:26): here, it is “ God is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself,” expressing the continued reconciliation of individual souls to Himself, as each successively welcomes this reconciliation, made once for all on the cross, as the appointed way of his personal reconciliation to God,

and having committed unto us the word of reconciliation the glad tidings to proclaim to men.

Verse 20

2 Corinthians 5:20. We ace ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were intreating by us (as His mouth), we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God. Calvin would extend this reconciliation to the daily forgiveness which believers themselves stand in need of, because the Epistle is addressed to believers. But besides that the opening verse of the next chapter is a word to them, the call is evidently to all unreconciled ones whom his words might reach, no longer to withhold their seal to that great act of God in the death of His Son in which lay their only hope of reconciliation to Him.

Verse 21

2 Corinthians 5:21. Him [1] who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf, [2] that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. This is the most systematic, the most comprehensive, and the most unmistakeable expression of the Divine intention in the death of Christ which the New Testament contains; settling vital questions in Christian theology, and affording unspeakable relief to consciences burdened with a sense of sin. (1) So far from God requiring to be moved by the death of Christ to compassionate and provide salvation for a sinful world, it was God Himself who spontaneously sent His Son on this errand into our world. (2) Sinlessness, in the most absolute sense applicable to a creature nature, is here ascribed to Christ; expressing precisely what Christ said of Himself immediately before His apprehension, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me ” (John 14:30); and what the Epistle to the Hebrews says of His death (2 Corinthians 9:14), “He offered Himself without blemish unto God.” Therefore (3) to be “made sin” cannot mean to be made personally sinful, either in act or inclination: but neither must it be rendered “made a sin -offering,” to which many expositors would reduce the words. ‘It is to be noted (says Meyer) that the word “sin” here and the precisely similar phrase, Galatians 3:13, “ made a curse for us” necessarily includes in itself the notion of guilt, but guilt not His own (who knew no sin ); hence the guilt which through His death was to be removed from men was transferred to Him, and so the justification of men is imputative.’ (4) This settles beyond dispute the “ righteousness of God” which we become in Him. For if Christ, while personally righteous, was “made sin” not personally, but by transference to Him of our guilt, with all its penal effects clearly “we,” while personally guilty, are “made the righteousness of God in Him” by transference of His righteousness to us. Both are equally imputative; in both cases the act is purely judicial. (See Romans 5:18, where the same judicial sense of “ sin ” in the sense of guilt, and of “righteousness” in the sense of justification, is clearly intended.)

[1] The “For,” which in the received text introduces this great verse, though clearly no part of the genuine text, is so natural an addition that it could hardly tail to creep in, since the verse is added as a great motive for complying with the entreaty of the preceding verse, “Be ye reconciled to God.”

[2] In the footnote to 2 Corinthians 5:14, it was stated that the pre-position here rendered “for” means ‘for the benefit of;’ but that the nature of the case and the context of each place must decide in what precise way the benefit is conferred. There the way being that of substitution, the sense ‘instead of’ underlies the statement; but here the idea of substitution is conveyed by another clause of the verse, and therefore in this verse ‘on our behalf’ is the proper reading.

“Our faith receives a righteousness

That makes the sinner just.”

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/2-corinthians-5.html. 1879-90.
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