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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 10

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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2 Corinthians 10:0


Paul Defends His MinistryThe Spiritual WarAn Appeal for True ApostleshipPaul Defends His MinistryPaul's Reply to Accusations of Weakness
2 Corinthians 10:1-62 Corinthians 10:1-62 Corinthians 10:1-62 Corinthians 10:1-62 Corinthians 10:1-11
Reality of Paul's Authority
2 Corinthians 10:7-112 Corinthians 10:7-112 Corinthians 10:7-112 Corinthians 10:7-11
Limits of Paul's Authority His Reply to the Accusation of Ambition
2 Corinthians 10:12-182 Corinthians 10:12-182 Corinthians 10:12-182 Corinthians 10:12-162 Corinthians 10:12-18
2 Corinthians 10:17-18

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Chapters 10 through 13 form a literary unit where Paul defends himself against the accusations of the false teachers. The false teachers had made Paul himself the crux of the argument. Therefore, reluctantly, he defends himself on human grounds, using their catch words and rhetorical style. His purpose ultimately was to defend the gospel.

B. Some examples of the charges levied against Paul.

1. He was condescending when face to face, but courageous in his letters, 2 Corinthians 10:1, 2 Corinthians 10:9, 2 Corinthians 10:11.

2. He was acting from the lowest human motives, 2 Corinthians 10:2.

3. His personal appearance was not pleasant and his rhetorical delivery was poor; 2 Corinthians 10:2, 2 Corinthians 10:10

4. He preached simply for money, 2 Corinthians 11:8, 2 Corinthians 11:12; 2 Corinthians 12:16.

C. Paul's enemies

1. There seem to be three groups involved.

a. a native Corinthian contingent (the factions of 1 Corinthians 1-4)

b. a Jewish contingent from Palestine (similar to Judaizers, 2 Cor. 10-13).

c. possibly a hybrid of both

2. From 1 Corinthians there seem to be groups attacking him for and from opposition positions

a. a legalistic group (asceticism)

b. an antinomian group (libertines)

D. Because Paul mentions several letters that he had written to the church at Corinth, which apparently have not been preserved, there has been scholarly speculation about 2 Corinthians being a composite of these lost letters. It is certainly true that Paul's use of the Epistolary aorist in referring to his different letters has caused confusion as well as the obvious different literary units which make up 2 Corinthians , which often seem to be out of chronological and rational arrangement.

It is surely possible that the disjunctions were caused by Paul writing this letter over a period of time and that new information continued to arrive after he had written a literary unit. The letter begins in a positive affirmation, but then turns negative.

Personally, the possibility that some of Paul's letters were lost does not bother me (possibly they contained information that the Spirit did not want to become Scripture), but the proposed composite nature of 2 Corinthians , which has no evidence in the Greek manuscript tradition nor church tradition, but is simply the speculation of modern western scholars does bother me! We must not force ancient eastern thinkers and writers into modern western literary categories.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Explain the obvious break between chapters 9 and 10.

2. What were some of the charges of the false teachers against Paul?

3. Why does Paul use military terms to describe his struggle against the false teachers?

4. Were these false teachers sincere Christians who were just wrong on minor points of theology or were they cult leaders who were trying to pervert men from the truth of the Gospel?

Verses 1-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2 Corinthians 10:1-6 1Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ-I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! 2I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh. 3For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 6and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.

2 Corinthians 10:1 "Now I, Paul, myself urge you" Paul does not use the "we" of previous chapters because he is defending himself personally before the accusations of the false teachers. Paul used autos and ego (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 7:25; Romans 9:3; Romans 15:24; and in Galatians 5:2 egô and Paulos) to emphasize that this was his personal plea.

For "urge" see full note at 2 Corinthians 1:4-11.

"by the meekness and gentleness of Christ" Paul used the appropriate attitude and methodologies even with these false teachers (cf. Matthew 11:29). Meekness was not seen as a virtue by Greek thinkers (i.e., Socrates, Aristotle, Stoics). This reflects one of their criticisms of Paul. M. R. Vincent's Word Studies, vol. 2, asserts that in the Septuagint that "meekness" (praus, 2 Corinthians 10:1), "meek" (tapeinos, 2 Corinthians 10:1), and "poor" (pençs, v 2 Corinthians 9:9) are used to translate the same Hebrew words. They contrast the rich and powerful vs. the lowly and down-trodden (p. 832).

"who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent" This evaluation may refer to Paul's severe letter that was lost (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:9-11). Notice his play on the concept of "meekness." He calls Christ meek (i.e., praus used of the Messiah in Matthew 21:5 and of believers in Matthew 5:5; 1 Peter 3:4, 1 Peter 3:15). In this phrase he uses the synonym tapeinos (cf. Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, vol. 1, p. 748), which is also used of Jesus (cf. Matthew 11:29) and of Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:7; 2 Corinthians 12:21).

"bold" See note at 2 Corinthians 5:6.

2 Corinthians 10:2 "I ask" This is the Greek term deomai, which means to ask with urgency or to plead. It is synonymous to the term (i.e., parakaleô, cf. Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, vol. 1, p. 408) Paul used it in 2 Corinthians 10:1 (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:8; 2 Corinthians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 9:5; 2 Corinthians 12:8, 2 Corinthians 12:18; 2 Corinthians 13:11). He is urgently pleading with these believers to reevaluate what they have heard from the false teachers.

"that when I am present" Paul did not want to return to Corinth until things had changed. He did not want to be bold, but gentle.

"I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some" There is a play on the Greek word for "flesh." The false teachers were accusing Paul of acting from the lowest, base human motives (i.e., in the flesh). While Paul admits that he is in the flesh (i.e., physical body, cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3), he strongly asserts that he is not acting from fleshly motives (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:17; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:3; 2 Corinthians 7:2; 2 Corinthians 10:3-4).

For "confidence" see note at 2 Corinthians 3:4.

"propose. . .regard" This is a play on the Greek word logizomai. Paul uses the verb (present middle [deponent] indicative) to describe his thoughts and the participle (present middle [deponent]) to describe the false teachers' false accusations. This may even have been a technical term from the Sophists (see Bruce W. Winter, Philo and Paul Among the Sophists). See fuller note of the term at 2 Corinthians 3:5.

"walked" This is a Hebrew idiom for lifestyle behavior (e.g., Ephesians 4:1, Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 5:2, Ephesians 5:1).

"according to the flesh" They were judging Paul in light of their society's norms (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:8; 1 Corinthians 15:32; Romans 3:5; Galatians 1:11; Galatians 3:15). Believers have a different standard-the revealed word of God: (1) Old Testament; (2) Christ; and (3) New Testament. See Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 1:26.

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 Paul uses a series of military metaphors to describe the daily struggle between the Christian and spiritual wickedness (cf. Romans 7:0; Romans 8:3-11). This spiritual wickedness is defined in 2 Corinthians 10:5 as human logic, wisdom, and argumentation against the gospel (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18).

2 Corinthians 10:3 "in the flesh" See Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 1:26.

"war" This is the term strateuô, from which we get the English term strategy. It was used of a soldier (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Timothy 2:4) or metaphorically of a spiritual battle (cf. here and 1 Timothy 1:18). There is an ongoing conflict in the spiritual realm.

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 There is a series of things mentioned in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 which Paul attacks.

1. destruction of fortresses (ochurôma)

2. destruction of speculation (logizomai)

3. destruction of every lofty thing (huphôma)

4. taking captive every thought (noçma)

These things possibly refer to the Sophists' rhetoric, which Paul had depreciated in 1 Cor. 1-4 (cf. Bruce W. Winter, Philo and Paul Among the Sophists, pp. 180-202).

2 Corinthians 10:4 "the weapons of our warfare" Paul has alluded to this spiritual warfare earlier in 2 Corinthians 6:7. The book of Romans was written from Corinth about this same time. He also mentions this warfare in 2 Corinthians 10:3 and 13:12. Peter uses the verb form in 1 Peter 4:1, where he encourages believers to arm themselves in their fleshly struggles.

A good resource book in this area is Three Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare by Clinton E. Arnold, published by Baker.

"for the destruction of fortresses" This may be an allusion to Proverbs 21:22 (larger context 2 Corinthians 10:2 Cor. 10:13-31). There has been much discussion about the meaning of this phrase among commentators, but it is obvious that 2 Corinthians 10:5 is a description of what spiritual fortresses Paul is referring to. It appears he is addressing the false theology of the false teachers.

2 Corinthians 10:5

NASB"destroying speculations" NKJV"casting down arguments" NRSV"destroy arguments" TEV"pull down" NJB"It is ideas that we demolish"

See note at 2 Corinthians 3:5.

NASB"and every lofty thing" NKJV"and every high thing" NRSV"and every proud obstacle" TEV"every proud obstacle" NJB"every presumptuous notion"

This is the word for "height" used in the sense of lofty, human thinking. This reflects the false teachers' over-emphasis on

1. knowledge and human reasoning (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Colossians 2:8)

2. legalism (cf. Colossians 2:16-23)

"taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" The verb is a compound of "spear" and "to capture in battle." These false teachers were capturing the thought and minds of the Corinthian believers. Paul would have us "renew our minds" (cf. Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23); protect our minds (cf. Philippians 4:7). Salvation is free, but the Christian life is characterized by obedience, service, worship, and perseverance. These are covenant responsibilities. There is an ongoing spiritual conflict!

Paul uses the word "thought" (noçma) often in 2 Corinthians (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 11:3), but only one other time, in Philippians 4:7. The Corinthian over-emphasis on knowledge may have been the reason for his recurrent use of the term. The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, Harold K. Moulton, ed., lists several connotations (p. 280).

1. the mind, the understanding, intellect - 2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4

2. the heart, soul, affections, feelings, disposition - 2 Corinthians 11:3

3. a conception of the mind, thought, purpose, device - 2 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Corinthians 10:5

2 Corinthians 10:6 Paul warns the false teachers and their followers that their day of reckoning is coming. They accused him of being weak, but they simply misunderstood his patience with them (1) for Christ's sake and (2) for the corporate health of this church. Paul is warning this church to deal with its problems before he arrives or else he will deal with them (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:3-5).

Verses 7-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2 Corinthians 10:7-11 7You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ's, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ's, so also are we. 8For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame, 9for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters. 10For they say, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible." 11Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present.

2 Corinthians 10:7 "You are looking" In Greek the inflected form could be an imperative (cf. NRSV, NJB) or an indicative (cf. NASB, TEV, NIV). The NKJV and ASV translate it as a question.

The church at Corinth was analyzing and criticizing on a fleshly/worldly/physical level instead of a gospel focus.

"If" This is a first class conditional sentence. There were some in the church at Corinth who had deceived themselves (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:37) as to their spiritual condition and standing (i.e., "is confident," perfect active indicative).

"himself" Paul uses this term, eautou, twice in this verse. These false teachers had deceived themselves. This is the hardest spiritual condition to reason with or to affect.

"that just as he is Christ's so also are we" The false teachers were claiming their own spiritual authority and standing, but were denying Paul's.

2 Corinthians 10:8 "if" This is a third class conditional sentence, which implies potential action (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:1-13).

"boast" This term (i.e., kauchaomai and its other forms) is used so often in Paul's Corinthian letters.

1. kauchaomai (glory, boast, cf. 1 Corinthians 1:29, 1 Corinthians 1:31; 1 Corinthians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 13:3; 2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 7:14; 2 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 10:8, 2 Corinthians 10:13, 2 Corinthians 10:15, 2 Corinthians 10:16, 2 Corinthians 10:17; 2 Corinthians 11:12, 2 Corinthians 11:16, 2 Corinthians 11:18, 2 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Corinthians 12:1, 2 Corinthians 12:5, 2 Corinthians 12:6, 2 Corinthians 12:9)

2. kauchçma (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 9:15, 1 Corinthians 9:16; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 9:3)

3. kauchçsis (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:31; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 7:4, 2 Corinthians 7:14; 2 Corinthians 8:24; 2 Corinthians 11:10, 2 Corinthians 11:17)

See fuller note on use of the word at 2 Corinthians 1:12 and Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 5:6.

"about our authority, which the Lord gave" This refers to Paul's Damascus Road experience (cf. Acts 9:15, Acts 9:16; Romans 1:5; Galatians 2:9).

"for building you up and not for destroying you" Paul repeats this phrase in 2 Corinthians 13:10. This is similar to the call of Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 6:0) and Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 1:0), except they were called to do both! Paul uses the same verb (i.e., kathairesis), which he used in 2 Corinthians 10:4 (twice) for destroying strongholds of human reasoning. Paul is called to destroy some things and ideas, but not the church itself. He is called to defend and protect the church (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:9). See SPECIAL TOPIC: EDIFY at 1 Corinthians 8:1.

"I will not be put to shame" Paul is going to defend himself because the false teachers had made him the issue. He defends himself to defend (1) the authority he had been given and (2) the gospel he preached.

This may reflect the OT promises of God (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3 and 10:11, quoting Isaiah 28:16), where those who trust in God will not be ashamed or disappointed. Paul knew in Whom he trusted!

Even if Paul had boasted too much (cf. NRSV, TEV) in his call and appointment, it was still true and God would defend him! Those who reject Paul's authority are condemned (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:37-38).

2 Corinthians 10:9 Paul's letters were to promote their repentance, not to bring condemnation (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:5-13a). But for the false teachers it was a different story (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:8, 2 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Corinthians 13:10).

2 Corinthians 10:10 "For they say" "They say" follows MSS B, the Latin Vulgate, and the Peshitta (Syriac translation of the fifth century). Most other Greek manuscripts have "he," which may refer to a ring leader of the false teachers (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:7, 2 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Corinthians 11:4).

"his personal presence is unimpressive" A second century tradition of Paul's physical description comes from Thessalonica in part of a book entitled Paul and Thekla. It says that he was short, bald, bow-legged, had bushy eyebrows and protruding eyes. Paul was not a physically attractive man (cf. Galatians 4:14). Some of these physical characteristics may be related to his thorn in the flesh (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7), which I think was eye problems, probably related to his "road to Damascus" blinding.

It is possible that this phrase, like the next one, refers to Paul's public speaking skills, which were a major item of contention (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17). This phrase often was used of a "stage presence" (cf. Bruce W. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth, p. 35).

"and his speech contemptible" This is a Perfect passive participle. This is a strong Greek term (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:28; 1 Corinthians 6:4; 1 Corinthians 16:11; Romans 14:3, Romans 14:10). Paul was not a polished public speaker (i.e., Greek rhetorical style, cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17; 2 Corinthians 11:6). Apollos was the eloquent, rhetorically trained preacher from Alexandria. However, Paul claims that though unskilled in rhetorical style (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:6), his message and authority were from Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:11 The false teacher(s) have accused Paul of having strong letters, but a weak personal presentation. Paul affirms that the strength which they affirmed in his letters would be equaled by the strength of his personal presence if he had to come personally and set things straight himself!

Verses 12-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2 Corinthians 10:12-18 12For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. 13But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you. 14For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ; 15not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men's labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, 16so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another. 17But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord. 18For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.

2 Corinthians 10:12 "but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves" Paul has alluded to human commendations in 2 Corinthians 3:1 (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:18); now he expands this to human comparisons. Obviously these false teachers were comparing themselves to Paul in such a way as to accentuate their position and depreciate his.

Paul knew from his study of the OT (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 21:2) how fruitless this was. He was probably also familiar with Jesus' teaching about people who justify themselves (cf. Luke 10:29; Luke 16:15; Luke 18:9, Luke 18:14).

There is a note of sarcasm in this verse as there is in 2 Corinthians 10:1. Paul used this literary form often in 1 Corinthians.

There is an obvious word play between the two aorist active infinitives.

1. egkrinai (en and krinô), judge as belonging to the same category

2. sugkrinai (sun and krinô), judge by comparing

In codex Bezae (fifth century uncial MS) there is a phrase left out at the end of 2 Corinthians 10:12 and the beginning of 2 Corinthians 10:13. It seems that a scribe's eye moved from "ou" of 2 Corinthians 10:12 to "ouk" of 2 Corinthians 10:13 and left out the intervening words ("do not understand. But we will not"). See the second appendix on Textual Criticism. The UBS4 gives the phrase's inclusion a "B" rating (almost certain).

"they are without understanding This was quite a shocking statement.

1. to Greek philosophers it would depreciate their claim to superior spiritual knowledge

2. to Hebrew thinkers it would be an allusion to the animals.

2 Corinthians 10:13 Paul is alluding to his divine call and mandate (i.e., his "road to Damascus" experience, cf. Acts 9:0; Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18) to be an Apostle to the Gentiles. He was not comparing or commending, but stating God's call.

God's call on him as special representative to the Gentiles even included the church at Corinth (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:14-15).

"the sphere which God apportioned to us" The NASB Study Bible (p. 1701) has a good comment on this phrase.

"2 Corinthians 10:13 the sphere which God apportioned to us. The picture Paul has in mind may be that of an athletic contest in which lanes are marked out for the different runners. In that case 'sphere' should be rendered 'lane' (also in 2 Corinthians 10:15-16). In intruding themselves into Corinth, the false apostles had crossed into Paul's lane, which was the lane that God had marked out and that had brought him to the Corinthians as their genuine apostle. He has no intention of invading the territory marked out for others and claiming their work as his own, as these false teachers were doing. Others understand the Greek word in question to refer to an assigned sphere of authority."

2 Corinthians 10:14 "For we are not overextending" This is another "huper" compound, huperekteinô. See Special Topic: Paul's Use of Huper Compounds at 1 Corinthians 2:1.

"we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ" Paul was the founder of the Corinthian church, yet the false teachers were trying to take credit (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:18b).

2 Corinthians 10:15 "not boasting beyond our measure. . .in other men's labors" The false teachers were taking credit for the Corinthian church, which Paul established.

2 Corinthians 10:16 "so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you" This seems to refer to Paul's desire to go to Rome and/or Spain (cf. Acts 19:21; Romans 15:22ff). He wanted established churches to help him both with a contribution for Jerusalem and to enable him to travel to the western Mediterranean and establish more churches.

For "beyond," this is another "huper" compound, (huperekeinç), see Special Topic: Paul's Use of Huper Compounds at 1 Corinthians 2:1.

2 Corinthians 10:17 "he who boasts is to boast in the lord" This is a quote from the Septuagint of Jeremiah 9:23-24. It is also quoted in 1 Corinthians 1:31. All human boasting is folly. See Special Topic: Boasting at 2 Corinthians 1:12.

2 Corinthians 10:18 The real question is which faction, teacher, or theology does Jesus approve (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1-5).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/2-corinthians-10.html. 2021.
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