Lectionary Calendar
Friday, September 29th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Take our poll

Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 12

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors


Paul still continues the assertion of his apostleship, with an avoidance of the charge of self-glorification. He next proves his apostleship

Verse 1

1. Not expedient Whether from its intrinsic propriety, its moral effect on me, or its exposing me to the retorts of my opponents. Nevertheless their imputations render a reference to my apostolic claims a necessity, modestly as it must be done.

For And this self-reminder of the inexpediency of glorying is now specially needed, for I am now to come to revelations which are an apparent ground of boast.

Visions Are revelations to the sight; revelations in general are made to any power of perceiving them.

Of the Lord By or from the Lord.

Verses 1-12

3. By revelations, divine infliction, and miracles, 2 Corinthians 12:1-12.

As it becomes not him to glory, he relates the revelations as being another man’s, avoiding any undue personal exaltation from them, 2 Corinthians 12:1-6. He emphasizes the thorn in the flesh as his self-humiliating glory, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. He apologizes for even this glorying, and yet refers to their own memories for apostolic miracles wrought by him among them, 2 Corinthians 12:11-12.

Verses 1-21


From this long level of preliminary apologies and explanations the apostle now suddenly takes an upward spring, and maintains an eagle flight to the end of the epistle. Claiming to boast not of great talents or grand exploits, and with an occasional flash of irony, he rehearses his sufferings and humiliations for Christ, as well as his revelations and self-sacrifices; and from this elevation comes down in authority upon the infected part of the Corinthian Church.

St. Paul unfolds his equality to, and immense superiority over, his opponents

Verse 2

2. A man Commentators are agreed that the man was the apostle himself. This view is confirmed by 2 Corinthians 12:7.

Fourteen years ago As in the narrative just given, (2 Corinthians 11:32-33,) St. Paul recalls an instance of distant date, but not for the same reason. The reason here is his desire to separate the distant self, in whom he could glory, (see note, 2 Corinthians 12:5,) from his present self. Fourteen years would bring us back to A.D. 44, about the time of St. Paul’s first residence at Antioch. It was, at this present writing, about twenty years since his conversion.

In… out of the body St. Paul’s doubt clearly shows that he held the soul to be fully capable of existing and acting separately from the body. He was no materialist. He believed in the twofold nature of man, bodily and spiritual. If he was in the body, then his body was translated for the time, like those of Enoch, Elijah, and Christ, to the abodes of the saints after their resurrection in the body. If out of the body then his soul alone was translated to that region, leaving the body still under the power of organic life. Paul does not decide whether he was in the body or out; nor, of course, can we. But we should imagine that he was in the body when he visited the resurrection state, and out of the body when he visited the abode of disembodied spirits.

Caught The usual word for a miraculous snatching up of the person by a divine power. Acts 8:39; Rev 12:5 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

To the third heaven Greek, even to the third heaven, implying a greater height than simply into paradise, without the even. Grotius says, that the Jews “reckoned three heavens.” 1. The aerial, including the atmosphere occupied with the clouds; 2. The sidereal, or starry firmament; and, 3. The habitation of God and his angels. “But he quotes no authority, and the accuracy of his statement is questioned. Meyer. On the other hand, the Jewish number was the sacred seven; “God makes six heavens and dwells in the seventh.” Meyer thinks that St. Paul here recognises the seven, and so admits four heavens above the level of his ascent. Bengel ingeniously says, that the Hebrew dual shamaim supposes two heavens, and it was reserved to the gospel to reveal the third.

But, as is shown in M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopaedia, (on the word Heaven,) a classification of biblical texts shows well the three heavens in both the Old and New Testaments: “(1.) Under the first head, coelum nubiferum, ( the AERIAL HEAVEN,) the following phrases naturally fall ( a) ‘Fowl,’ or ‘fowls of the heaven, of the air,’ see Genesis 2:19; Genesis 7:3; Genesis 7:23; Genesis 9:2; Deuteronomy 4:17; Deuteronomy 28:26; 1 Kings 21:24; Job 12:7; Job 28:21; Job 35:11; Psalms 8:8; Psalms 79:2; Psalms 104:12; Jeremiah 7:33 et passim; Ezekiel 29:5 et passim; Daniel 2:38; Hosea 2:18; Hosea 4:3; Hosea 7:12; Zephaniah 1:3; Mark 4:3, ( τα πετεινα του ουρανου ;) Luke 8:5; Luke 9:58; Luke 13:19; Acts 10:12; Acts 11:6 in all which passages the same original words in the Hebrew, Chaldee, and Greek Scriptures ( שׁמין שׁמים , ουρανοι ) are with equal propriety rendered indifferently ‘air’ and ‘ heaven ’ similarly we read of ‘the path of the eagle in the air,’

(Proverbs 30:19;) of ‘the eagles of heaven,’ (Lamentations 4:19;) of ‘the stork of the heaven,’ (Jeremiah 8:7;) and of ‘birds of heaven’ in general. Ecclesiastes 10:20; Jeremiah 4:25. In addition to these zoological terms, we have meteorological facts included under the same original words: for example, ( b) ‘ The dew of heaven,’ (Genesis 27:28; Genesis 27:39;) Deuteronomy 33:28; Daniel 4:15 et passim; Haggai 1:10; Zechariah 8:12:) ( c) ‘ The clouds of heaven,’ (1 Kings 18:45; Psalms 147:8; Daniel 7:13; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62:) ( d) ‘ The frost of heaven,’ (Job 38:29:) ( e) ‘ The winds of heaven,’ (1 Kings 18:55; Psalms 78:26; Daniel 8:8; Daniel 11:4; Zechariah 2:6; Zechariah 6:5, [see margin;] Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27:) ( f) ‘ The rain of heaven,’ (Genesis 8:2; Deuteronomy 11:11; Deuteronomy 28:12; Jeremiah 14:22; Acts 14:17, [ ουρανοθεν υετους ;] James 5:18; Revelation 18:6:) ( g) ‘ Lightning, with thunder,’ (Job 37:3-4; Luke 17:24.) (II.) Coelum astriferum, (ASTRAL HEAVEN) The vast spaces of which astronomy takes cognizance are frequently referred to: for example, ( a) in the phrase ‘ host of heaven,’ in Deuteronomy 17:3; Jeremiah 8:2; Matthew 24:29, [ δυναμεις των ουρανων ;] a sense which is obviously not to be confounded with another signification of the same phrase, as in Luke 2:13, [see ANGELS:] ( b) ‘Lights of heaven,’ (Genesis 1:14-16; Ezekiel 32:8:) ( c) ‘ Stars of heaven,’ (Genesis 22:17; Genesis 26:4; Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 1:10; Deuteronomy 10:22; Deuteronomy 28:62; Judges 5:20; Nehemiah 9:23; Isaiah 13:10; Nahum 3:16; Hebrews 11:12.) (III.) Coelum angeliferum, (ANGELIC HEAVEN.) It would exceed our limits if we were to collect the descriptive phrases which revelation has given us of heaven in its sublimest sense; we content ourselves with indicating one or two of the most obvious: ( a) ‘ The heaven of heavens,’ (Deuteronomy 10:14; 1Ki 8:27 , 2 Chronicles 2:6; 2 Chronicles 2:18; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalms 115:16; Psalms 148:4:) ( b) ‘ The third heavens,’ (2 Corinthians 12:2:) ( c) ‘ The high and lofty’ [ place, ] (Isaiah 47:15:) ( d) ‘ The highest,’ (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:10; Luke 2:14, compared with Psalms 148:1.) This heavenly sublimity was graciously brought down to Jewish apprehension in the sacred symbol of their tabernacle and temple, which they reverenced (especially in the adytum, of ‘the Holy of Holies’) as ‘the place where God’s honour dwelt,’ (Psalms 26:8,) and amid the sculptured types of his celestial retinue, in the cherubim of the mercy-seat, (2 Kings 19:15; Psalms 80:1; Isaiah 37:16.)” This classification, in our view, furnishes the correct sense of St. Paul’s terms.

Yet it is to be noted that the first two of these heavens are perceptible to our senses, and known to science; while the third is but imagined in thought, without assignable locality. This is alike true of heaven, paradise, and hell. See note on Mark 16:19.

Verse 3

3. And It is a strange idea held by some commentators, endorsed by Alford, that St. Paul here twice states the same narrative. Less absurd, but quite unsupported, is the idea that the two are different parts of one vision. The formal beginning of both narratives, assigning both to the same year, obviously indicates that they were not at the same time. Nor were the two visits to the same region. To the question why Paul should visit paradise later than the third heaven, it might in answer be asked, Why should he see paradise first? To see the heaven of heavens to stand in the body, for the moment glorified, by the side of Enoch, Elijah, Christ, and, perhaps, Moses to know with them, by a divine intuition, all that the first two knew to realize the realities of eternity, were the first and main thing. To visit paradise the intermediate state, the place of departed, disembodied spirits was the after-thought. The former was, perhaps, necessary as a qualification for Paul’s apostolicity; the latter only important. As to him was visibly disclosed the Son of God in his glorified person, so to him were revealed, in glimpse, the arcana of the highest heaven, and the lower mysteries of paradise.

Verse 4

4. Paradise Compare our notes on Luke 16:19-31, and xxiii, 43. Meyer says this paradise is not here under the earth, as sheol, in which the spirits of the dead saints abide until the resurrection, as if such were the view in Luke 16:0. But, however it may be in the Old Testament, or in the heathen poets, it is not the conception of the New Testament that paradise is under the earth. We do think of it as below, in relation to the highest heavens, but not as subterranean. See note on Ephesians 4:8-10.

Heard He appears to have heard nothing in the third heaven. Seeing and knowing were all he had to do there. But in the region nearer to his present life he was enabled to hear. Says Olshausen, “In that paradisaical scene of light he received wondrous impressions, which he describes as perceptions through the medium of hearing.” The thought is, that in the spirit-world there is no communication by articulate sounds, but by mutual impartation of thought from mind to mind. And in this view, distance in space may be no preventive of the most perfect communication. The rich man and Abraham were both in hades, (including tartarus and paradise,) both visible and audible to each other, as spirits see and hear; but that proves not that even if tartarus were below the earth’s surface, paradise must be so also. Hades may be down, but we doubt whether paradise is ever any otherwise than up.

Unspeakable words Unutterable utterances. St. Paul borrows a charmed phrase from the rites of the pagan priesthood, who professed to possess many mysteries that must not be divulged, and words not lawful to utter. There are wonderful mysteries for us in paradise; and the words that spirit utters to spirit are too sacred for human speech, and cannot be uttered without a wonderful gift of tongues.

Verse 5

5. Of such a one Of that man of fourteen years ago.

Glory Will assert that he was in this divine way fitted for an apostleship.

Myself My present personality.

Infirmities In which my detractors triumph.

Verse 6

6. Though I would If I should. He abstains from glorying over his present self, not because he might not, if he were anxious, so glory.

Will Would.

Truth There are personal points on which his personal glorifying would not be folly, but truth.

Think of me above He might so unfold his personal points as to show himself truly superior to their view of his personality; but he prefers to leave them to the simple impression made upon them from merely seeing and hearing him.

Verse 7

7. Abundance of the revelations A clear intimation that 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 narrate his own experience. The word thorn, in the Greek, signifies any pointed peg, or piece of metal or wood. Hence it was used to designate a strike or pale; especially the pale by which the terrible punishment of impalement was inflicted. Hence Dr. Lightfoot is very positive that it is here used in that sense, and thus as the cross the instrument of crucifixion is used to figure any terrible endurance, so the pale the instrument of impalement is selected by Paul to figure the infliction he suffered. But the meaning thorn seems equally well supported, and more suitable to the present case. We gather from all the allusions, that, though a source of most poignant irritation, Paul’s thorn was more a mortification and an obstacle than a pain. Nor does the Greek of Galatians 4:14, suggest that Paul’s suffering was “loathsome” to the eyes, like the eruption or cancer of King Alfred, but rather provocative of contempt and ridicule, as if he were a failure in oratory. See notes, 2Co 1:8-9 ; 2 Corinthians 10:10.

Messenger of Satan Job was vexed by Satan himself; St. Paul only by his messenger. This has suggested to some interpreters the idea of a living, troublesome opponent, who was, as we say, “a thorn in the side.” But to a Jew, the “angel of Satan” was an invisible foe, and a spiritual. We are unable to say whether St. Paul believed that it was truly a Satanic work, or only that, like all other ailments, it was the natural result of sin and Satan in general. Given to me, implies that whether Satan was the permitted inflicter or not, the infirmity was a divine, severe gift.

Buffet Literally, to box or beat with the hand or fist, and figuratively applied to any maltreatment or hard usage. To our own mind it suggests an epileptic stroke, the result of nervous suffering under severe trial. It particularly negatives the idea of Alford and others, that the thorn was a disease of the eyes. It equally refutes the notion that it was the lust of the flesh. In short, the most excited of all lives, which St. Paul lived, “brought on,” as Bloomfield rightly says, “chronical infirmities of the paralytic sort, such as, especially with diabolical cooperation, might occasion distortion of countenance, defect in utterance, and nervous affections; all which would tend to raise contempt in the minds of the multitude, which, joined with his diminutive form,” would furnish a full solution, meeting the demand of every relevant passage.

Verse 8

8. For this thing On this account.

The Lord Not God, but Christ, as from him the answer was received. For it was the power of Christ (next verse) which rested upon me, and was made perfect. This is, therefore, a distinct case of prayer to Christ.

Thrice Not, as some explain, repeatedly merely; but precisely three times. For St. Paul is giving a plain, literal narrative. He prayed twice without response; the third time, and the answer came.

Verse 9

9. He said… grace… sufficient My sustaining power must be a substitute for the removal vainly asked. Let thy natural weakness remain, supplemented by a divine power. Yet it is apparent from the history that the thorn was ultimately withdrawn. It seems to have commenced about the year 44, and ended about 58.

Made perfect Is brought to the complete intended result, namely, its manifested exhibition in the triumphs of the gospel.

In weakness Which shows the power to be divine.

Gladly His prayer was not granted, but something better was. Hence the Christian, save under special guidance, is rightfully chary about specifying particular temporal objects to pray for; for the object, if granted, might prove injurious, and when the prayer is rejected, it may be in mercy; in still greater mercy if some higher blessing is granted instead.

Rather Than have the thorn drawn out. He preferred the Lord’s way to his own.

Glory in my infirmities Which, as it glorifies Christ and not myself, is far better than glorying in my oratory and other powers. Hence, while compelled by his adversaries to self-assertion, he so asserts himself as not to portray his romantic excellences, but to unfold his sufferings and weaknesses. And even so his superiority over his detractors comes out all the more resplendently.

Power of Christ In this utter abolition of himself that Christ may be all, what a victory does he gain over his adversaries who claimed to be Christ’s, yet depreciated Christ! How evident it became to the Corinthians that he was the true servant of Christ!

Verse 10

10. Take pleasure All his sufferings and disgraces were a joy for Christ’s sake.

Reproaches Insulting words.

Necessities Compulsions to what I would not.

Persecutions From the enemies of Christ.

Distresses Narrow circumstances. All four points are endurances, or under-goings of evil.

Weak In myself.

Strong Through a divine strength; and to what divine results!

Verse 11

11. I… a fool in glorying The last allusion of Paul, after a back glance, over what he has said, to his glorying.

I have become well, they will say a fool; even though I have gloried only in my sufferings, passive revelations, and disgraces.

Ought… of you For all the folly of my self-assertion, even thus much, I am justified, and the responsibility rests with you. You ought, by your bold, magnanimous assertion of me against my detractors, to have made my self-assertion unnecessary. But for even this un-trueness the apostle would not have reprehended them were it not that their untrueness to him was, in the case, an untrueness to Christ.

For Giving reason why they ought to have asserted him. Am Was, Greek aorist, namely, was in my apostolate at Corinth.

Chiefest apostles The overmuch apostles. Note, 2 Corinthians 11:5; same as the false apostles, 2 Corinthians 11:13.

Be nothing In myself, though something in Christ; as they are nothing in themselves, and something in nothing.

Verse 12

12. As if in a brief undertone to the Corinthians themselves, out of hearing of the overmuch apostles, Paul reminds these Corinthians of what they well knew, that his confining his self-assertions to infirmities and passivities was not because he had not every bold and positive boast within his power.

They well know, for the mighty proofs had been wrought among them. The apostle appeals to facts within their own knowledge.

Signs of an apostle All the proofs you could ask for any apostle.

In all patience St. Paul, like Jesus, endured patiently contradiction from sinners and gainsayers, even in the midst of lessons of holiness and deeds of power.

Signs… wonders, and mighty deeds Are the same miracles viewed in different aspects. As signs, they are tokens and proofs of the apostle’s mission; as wonders, they are impressive and startling to the mind; as mighty deeds, literally, powers, they are interpositions of omnipotence. The apostle could fearlessly appeal to his Corinthians to testify that such were wrought among them. And, thence, he was authorized to believe that they would entertain no doubt of the truth of his narrative given in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4.

Verse 13

13. What is it My labours and signs had placed you in a rank equal to the best.

Inferior But you complain, and I admit, that to labour for you and to place you on the gratuitous level, when I was aided by other Churches, was disparaging.

Burdensome See note on 2 Corinthians 11:9.

Forgive me this wrong As truly and persistently putting the Church in a disparaged position, there was a wrong justified by the facts, yet requiring some overlooking by the Corinthians. Their equivocal course towards their noble founder in dallying with his detractors had obliged him to place himself on high, independent ground.

Verses 13-18

4. By disinterestedness, both in declining compensation (2 Corinthians 12:13-15) and in using no guile for gain, (2 Corinthians 12:16-18,) 2 Corinthians 12:13-18.

From his powerful apostolate among them to his declining to accept, St. Paul makes a very graceful transition. His apostolate had placed the Corinthians at the highest eminence among the Churches; but there is this drawback He had declined to be pecuniarily obligated to them. Under vail of apologizing for this slight, He asserts, gently, as if in view of his detractors, his own disinterestedness.

Verse 14

14. Third time No account in Acts, or elsewhere, exists of more than one visit by Paul to Corinth, during which he founded their Church, as fully and well narrated by Luke, Acts 18:1-18. Moreover, 2 Corinthians 1:15 of this present epistle speaks of a visit to them intended, but not accomplished, as being a second one; which seems clearly to show that at the present writing no real second visit had taken place. St. Paul, then, meant here, in making out his third count, this second intentional visit as a real. Or, rather, it is intentions fulfilled and unfulfilled that he is counting, both here and at 2 Corinthians 12:1. Neither of the last two intentions had been as yet fulfilled.

Ready to come As he was ready to come in 2 Corinthians 1:15, though he did not. In strict grammatical construction the third time qualifies the readiness.

We could easily concede to Alford and others, who maintain a second visit, did the words justify it. We have noted, at 2 Corinthians 11:25-26, that there were many movements of St. Paul which no history has commemorated. But the second visit seems to us really precluded by St. Paul’s words, taking the three passages together.

Will not As I did not during my first sojourn with you; when I partly maintained myself by labour with Aquila, at tent-making, and was partly supplied from Macedonia by Timothy and Silas.

Seek not St. Paul’s real motive in refusing aid from Corinth was to silence cavil from all quarters. In what he here says, however, he overleaps that reason in words, but places himself on his reserved rights, as their spiritual parent, to be benefactor and not beneficiary.

Not yours, but you Not their money for his own benefit, but their souls for their own salvation.

Children… parents Not but that the current should often rightly flow upwards. Children are often obligated by duty to provide for parents. But this is not the usual direction: parents are always expected to provide for their children; vice versa, sometimes.

But Paul claims here the parental right to provide, and not be provided for.

Verse 15

15. Very gladly A rich, hearty flow of unselfishness. Others joy in gaining and taking, I in expending and giving.

Spend Expend what I possess.

Be spent All I am.

Less I be loved A repayment, at least in love, would be grateful; but this is no condition to my expenditure of all I have and am. Nay, though the more I expend the less be your love, I still joy in the sacrifice.

Verse 16

16. So… nevertheless Paul passes to the next and last fling of his detractors. He did not, they plainly admit, take pay or gift from them; but he juggled, forsooth, about “contributions,” and takes of the avails. This is said, however, rather in anticipation than from the past.

Be it so The detractor concedes thus much.

Guile Under pretext of making a benevolent collection for the Jerusalem poor.

Verse 17

17. Did I A confident appeal to their own knowledge, for he had taken express precaution against this imputation.

Verse 18

5. By apostolic intimations and judicial warnings of apostolic penalties, 2 Corinthians 12:19 to 2 Corinthians 13:10.

18. Titus The most marked instance among them whom I sent. This is that sending of Titus, the return from which is stated in chap. 7.

A brother As his attendant: the brother in the Greek: implying the one whom, of course, the Corinthians well knew.

In the same spirit Same unselfish temper.

Steps Were not our actions as disinterested as our spirit?

Verse 19

19. Herein St. Paul cautions against their notion that in these defences he is accepting them as his judge, which God alone is; whereas he has only been showing the rectitude of his character in apostolically judging them.

Again A third time; referring to 2 Corinthians 3:1, and 2 Corinthians 5:12.

You Emphatic in contrast with God. Instead of παλιν , again, another παλαι , long since. With this reading, and removing the interrogation point, the rendering would be, You are, for some time, (that is, during my defence,) imagining that I am defending myself to you. This makes good sense; but obviously there is a reference to 2 Corinthians 3:1, and the received text is preferable.

Edifying But not as being arraigned before you.

Verse 20

20. I fear To the close of the epistle the self-defensive tone is now dropped, and the apostolic authority is persistently assumed.

Would… would not A very terse and pregnant antithesis. He may find them criminals; they may find him a severe judge.

Debates We would translate the catalogue thus: strifes, emulation, resentments, partisanships, slanders, surmises, self-importances, frays. These are all vices of hate, as the list in the next verse is of vices of lawless love.

Verse 21

21. Humble me In being made to feel the special disgrace of their sexual vices.

Many which have sinned It may be again noticed that St. Paul addresses alternately the better part and the worse part of the Church as being the whole; yet passages like the present indicate that both the parts are meant, and that each is expected to make the proper application.

Bewail Weep. As the disgrace would humble him, so the sin and apostasy would melt him with grief. If they have neither shame nor sorrow, he blushes and weeps for them. Thus far he expresses only the overwhelming effect of their sins upon him. Of penalty he will soon speak to them.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/2-corinthians-12.html. 1874-1909.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile