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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 4

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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The section to 2 Corinthians 5:6 is the after-part, in strictest connection, of 2 Corinthians 3:1-18. This unfaltering boldness is the same as the plainness of speech in 2 Corinthians 3:12, and both arise from the transcendent glory of the gospel Paul proclaims.

Verse 1

1. This ministry The ministry of ever-increasing glory just described, shed from the image of Christ as beaming from the gospel.

Faint not We falter not from timidity before the sons of the letter, the Corinthian Jew-Christians, upon whose heart still rests the vail.

Verse 2

2. Hidden things of dishonesty Dishonesty is here the old English word for dishonour or shame; and this whole phrase means concealed deeds of shame. It refers not to obscene practices, but either to secret partisan managements imputed to Paul, or, more probably, to the methods by which the Jerusalem party obtained a foothold in the Corinthian Church. Paul’s unvailed gospel is too open and above-board for such secrecies.

Craftiness Unscrupulousness; the conduct of a party capable of any thing and of every thing.

Handling the word… deceitfully The same as 2 Corinthians 2:17, corrupting the word of God, that is, adulterating it with that obsolete Judaism which belittled Christ.

Manifestation Not only taking off the vail, but showing in clear, strong light the truth.

Every man’s conscience Literally, every conscience of men; the universal human conscience.

Verse 3

3. Hid It is a marked defect that our translators failed to preserve the exact sense of this word, which is vailed, and so have lost the connexion for the English reader. Paul’s whole stress has been, (2 Corinthians 3:7-18,) that while the old covenant to which the Judaists hung so pertinaciously was a vailed one, and a vail is on the Jews’ heart in reading it, our gospel is an unvailed outbeaming of the truth and of the glorious face of Jesus the Messiah. But, he now says, if our gospel is vailed, it is vailed to the intrinsically blinded. It is a vail created by the glaze or scales on their own retinas.

To them that are lost Literally, to them that are being lost: or, who are perishing. The participle is present, and would include present as well as future perdition. But we believe the truer rendering to be, If our gospel is vailed, it is vailed by those perishing things with which the god of this world blinded the eyes of the unbelieving.

Verse 4

4. Blinded is aoristic, and would seem to refer specially to the time when Jesus was personally visible to men on earth. The perishing things would, in the specific case of the Judaists, be the Mosaic ritual and traditions, through adhering to which Christ is either rejected or reduced to mere humanity. The same process, however, of blindness from the god of this world, is constantly recurring from perishing mundane things of every kind.

God of this world It is hardly wonderful that the Marcionites, or ultra-Paulines, who rejected not only the ritual and circumcision of the Old Testament, but even its Jehovah as an evil deity, quoted this as a chief proof-text. The ablest of the patristical commentators, Tertullian, Augustine, Chrysostom, and others, refuted them, as Alford remarks, by a violation of grammar, referring god to the true God, and translating unbelievers of this world. The process by which the god of this world blinds men is described by Jesus in John 5:44.

Them which believe not This blinding is not the antecedent but the consequent of their free unbelief. Evidence was at first ample; faith was in their full power; the rejection of Christ was free and voluntary, and the yielding to the blinding sway of the god of this world which followed was a self-surrender to falsehood and wickedness of the most guilty kind. This was the exact history of the Jewish rejection of Christ as recorded in the gospels. At first the Jews paused and deliberated; they then rejected; and then, to them, blinded by the god of this world, the gospel was vailed, and they were given over to crucify Him whom they had rejected. The phrase god of this world was not, perhaps, unknown in Jewish literature. Olshausen quotes from Schoettgen the words of Jalkut Ruberic: “God the first is God the living, god the second is Sammael.” In John’s gospel Satan is thrice called “Prince of this world,” John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11.

World, in John, is κοσμος the space world; in the present text it is αιων , or time-world; the dispensation extending to the second advent.

Lest The error of the Jews, and of Paul’s Judaistic-Christian opponents, was the ignoring the divine in Christ; the former utterly rejecting him as an impostor, the latter accepting him as a mere human continuator of Mosaicism. St. Paul now shows them what a divinity they rejected.

The light… Christ Literally, the illumination of the gospel of the glory of Christ. Compare note on 2 Corinthians 3:18. The god of this world, blinding their eyes, shuts out the incoming rays from the gospel, or glad news of Christ’s glory. How great that glory is, St. Paul now declares.

Image… God As our bodily eyes behold the image of the firmament, with the sun or, perhaps, the stars, reflected in the clear surface of a placid lake, so does the image of God, viz., Christ, disclose itself in the gospel. From that image pours a light of glory; but upon these seared eyes in vain. The god of this world has glazed their retinas, and that glaze is a vail upon the gospel. To the eye of a hardened unbelief, the true Christ is invisible.

Verse 5

5. Preach not ourselves Literally, Proclaim not ourselves. The professed party of Christ might, in fact, think so little of Christ as to have ample room for proclaiming themselves; but Paul’s ideal of Christ left no room for any rival or substitute. Christ is the Lord, and we are servants.

For Jesus’ sake On his account, and in order to the extension of his gospel.

Verse 6

6. For To assign the reason why we are ready thus to humble ourselves, God has wrought in our hearts an illumination as wonderful as his first speaking mundane light into existence. Out of darkness, such as was once in our hearts. An allusion to Genesis 1:3.

Shined… God Literally, God hath shined into our heart even to a radiation ( into our hearts) of the knowledge of the glory of God. And that radiation into our hearts of the knowledge of the glory of God comes from the face of Jesus Christ, the image of God, appearing in the gospel.

Verse 7

7. Treasure… vessels The divine gold gives even now its own lustre and imperishability to the brittle clay.

Excellency of the power… of God The fragility of the clay proves that it is divinized. Its natural weakness proves that it survives by God’s power.

Verses 7-18

2. Antithesis of apostolic trials and triumphs resulting in glory, | 2 Corinthians 2 Corinthians 4:7 to 2 Corinthians 5:5.

In the divine glow of martyrly enthusiasm of this passage a passage which doubtless did much towards rousing the Christian heroism of the martyr age Paul draws, in a series of antitheses, the sublime contrast between the more than golden treasure and the earthen vessels in which it was contained a contrast meeting in contact in his own person. By the glorifying power of the treasure the vessel could bear unbroken all the raps the world could administer. The striking sentiment of Whitefield runs through the whole, that “a minister is immortal until his work is done;” and then, it may be added, he is doubly immortal. Paul views his preservation as essentially a sort of bodily immortalization. The life, life of Jesus, which conserves and immortalizes his present body amid daily deaths, is the same divine vitality as will produce his resurrection and glorification; and his own very suffering and death are transfigured into a oneness with the divine martyrdom of Jesus, the dying of the Lord.

Through the whole lofty passage the Corinthian opponents entirely sink from view, and do not reappear until 2 Corinthians 10:1.

Verses 8-9

8, 9. We are troubled Tightly pressed.

Yet not distressed Not crushed together.

Perplexed Dubious, but not desperate.

Persecuted Pursued, (as by a huntsman,) but not by God abandoned to his power.

Cast down Prostrated, but not destroyed.

Verse 10

10. Always bearing a virtual martyrdom in the body; which martyrdom is truly one with the dying of the Lord; that the death-defying life of Jesus might be made manifest.

Verse 11

11. For Explanatory of the last verse. We, apostles, which live, are daily martyred in possibility, that the divine conserving life of, or from, Jesus, may appear by our very immortalized mortality.

Verse 12

12. So then Thus far both sides of the antithesis have united in the apostles. In this verse they are divided between the apostles and the Corinthians. The death side is effective to magnifying God’s power in us, but the life side, alone in you. The life in you is manifested not by supernatural conservation amid martyrdoms, for those you do not encounter; but as vitalizing you even now with a resurrection life from Christ. See 2 Corinthians 4:14.

Verse 13

13. We Apostles.

The same… faith As the psalmist who wrote the quoted words.

Spirit of faith Not merely temper of faith, but the divine Spirit with our spirit inspiring assurance, at the same time attesting itself.

I believed… spoken Essentially quoted from Psalms 116:10, where the exact Hebrew is, “I believe, for I spoke;” the connexion between speaking and faith is in both psalmist and apostle the same. Firm faith is instinctively vocal; it seeks to express the great truth it realizes to create the same blessed realization in others. We also inherit the inspired faith and readiness for the same giving of our testimony as the saints of the Old Testament.

Verse 14

14. Raised up The same reasoning as in chap. 15, that the resurrection of Christ is the basis and assurance of ours. The spirit of faith, of the last verse, is a knowing, in this.

Raise up us also… with you A decisive proof that St. Paul did not expect the second advent before his own death. On the contrary, he expected that both himself and the Corinthians would pass through death and the resurrection.

Verse 15

15. With you, I say, (see last verse,) for all things in the glorious provisions made through Christ’s death, and insured by his resurrection, are not only for us apostles, but also for your sakes. A divine reason is now given why these provisions are not limited to apostles, but flow over to embrace the whole Church: namely, in order that (literally) the abounding grace may, through the thanksgiving of a greater number, redound to God’s glory. The greater the number saved the more immense the gratitude, and, in climax, the more superabounding the glory thence accruing.

Verse 16

16. For which cause From this embracement of you all in the glories of Christ’s resurrection.

Faint not Falter not (note 2 Corinthians 4:1) through fear, despondency, or endurance of hardship and wear-out. But the reverse, though our outward, bodily, man perish, by hardship and wear-out, the inward, spirit, is renewed, so as to administer a refreshment and indestructibility for the time being to an earthly vessel.

Day by day Each day has its waste and repair. Nevertheless the renewal does not fully replace the waste, for the earthly is slowly or rapidly transitory. The machine will run down or be violently struck down. Still, as the cessation is in the outward man, and the renewal is in the inward, the fountain of energy will empower the inward to survive the wreck of the outward.

Verse 17

17. For our light affliction Literally, the immediate lightness of our affliction.

Worketh The continuous present is working. This very affliction, while wasting, is, through the power of Christ, working out a divine result. The wonderful result is a weight of glory; a glory so massive, so solid, that it is a weight. The darkness of Egypt was so dense that it could be “felt.” The celestial glory is so dense that it can be weighed.

This weight of glory is not a transient radiance, but outlasts the sun; is eternal. It never grows any lighter or thinner. And as to amount, the apostle troubles the energies of the Greek language to express it. It is καθ ’ υπερβολην εις υπερβολην , if any body knows what that is. Good scholars view this as a Hebraism, according to which intensity is expressed by repetition of the same word, as if it were aboundingly abounding. So 2 Corinthians 4:16, day by day, is in St. Paul’s Hebraized Greek, day day. So Theophylact, quoted in Bloomfield’s “Recensio Synoptica,” renders it υπερβολικως υπερβολικον , surpassingly surpassing. But we cannot help suspecting, though we find no suggestion of the kind in our commentators, that the idea of progression is expressed in the preposition, upon an abounding to an abounding: taking stand upon one abounding and mounting up to another. We might then freely render it, “is working out an abounding upon abounding eternal weight of glory.” The abounding does not qualify the verb, (as Meyer and Alford,) but it qualifies eternal weight, which is a unit which, so far from diminishing, is ever more and more increasing and over-swelling. It is ever abounding and superabounding. The phrase, then, if we view it correctly, suggests the idea of eternal progression in glory.

Verse 18

18. Look The expressive Greek word signifies to look at a mark, to fix our gaze upon a definite object or prospect. Seen, by the bodily eye, the eye of the outward, (2 Corinthians 4:16,) and which can see only the outward.

Not seen We must see the unseen if we would see the true and the real. Our eyes are material, and can see only material things.

Seen Are visible.

Temporal An expressive Greek word again, for a season, season-lasting. The visibles are temporaries: the invisibles the great unseen, the stupendous frame-works, beheld only by the eye of the inward, (2 Corinthians 4:16,) are eternal, aeonic, belonging to the aeons, cycles, ages, time-worlds, of the invisible. As opposed to the temporal, which is limited, they are unlimited. Revelation contemplates the settlements of the judgment day as finalities; and if the rolling aeons make any change, revelation knows, certainly says, nothing about them. See on Matthew 25:46.

It is deeply true that our eyes can see nothing but the changing. And science states this fact more intensely than popular observation. Astronomy beholds the visible universe as ever moving with amazing rapidity. The laws by which these changes work are, indeed, held by science to be immutable; but no eye, no telescope, can see these laws; they are inward, and beheld only by the eye of the inward. And by the eye of the inward it is seen that the universal outward is completely ruled by the inward. But as laws are nothing in themselves, except by the force that moves things in accordance with laws, so the inward eye perceives that FORCE, in order to act harmoniously in accordance with rational law, must spring from an infinitely rational Source, which, as the primal spring of all force, must be Almighty. Thus most truly does our philosopher-apostle declare that it is the seen which is transient, and the not seen which is permanent nay, eternal.

Blessed are they whose spiritual inward can see that the world unvailed by revelation is included in the real and the eternal; and that the blessed eternal is theirs. So far as the spirit of faith animates them, they realize that our bodily frames may safely and cheerfully be allowed to dissolve in earnest duty under the eye of the Master. Whether our outward shall disappear by decay or death, a serene hope unfolds an unfading future before the eye of the soul. That future, from the standpoint of a frail present, the apostle is now about to contemplate in the next chapter.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/2-corinthians-4.html. 1874-1909.
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