Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentZerr's N.T. Commentary

2 Corinthians 12

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Verse 1

2Co 12:1. In the preceding chapter Paul's boasting refers to the weaknesses and handicaps that were imposed upon him by his enemies, or as a result of his difficult labors for Christ. In this chapter he speaks of infirmities that were placed upon him directly by the Lord. Several verses are used to explain how those infirmities were brought about. Visions is from OPTASIA, and Thayer defines it at this place, "the act of exhibiting one's self to view." Revelations is from APOKALUPSIS, and Thayer's definition is, "properly [primarily] a laying bare, making naked." He then explains it to mean, "tropically [figuratively], in New Testament and ecclesiastical language, a disclosure of truth, instruction, concerning divine things before unknown." The verse means, therefore, that the Lord appeared to Paul, and while in his presence He revealed some truths to the apostle that had not been known by him before.

Verse 2

2Co 12:2. The aforesaid truths (or facts) were concerning a man in Christ whom Paul says he knew, and these facts occurred more than fourteen years before the present writing. Caught up is from HARPAZO, which Thayer defines, "to snatch or catch away," and he explains it to denote, "divine power transferring a person marvelously and swiftly from one place to another." It is the word used in Act 8:39 where the Lord "caught away" Philip. The original words for third and heaven have no specific meaning here as far as the lexicon definition is concerned, hence the connection in which they are used must determine their sense in any given case. Since the first heaven is the region where the birds fly (Gen 1:20), and the second is that where the stars are held (Gen 22:17), it leaves the third heaven to mean where God's throne is. That will account for some things that are said about the experience of this "man in Christ." In the body and out of the body is equivalent to "alive" and "dead," and Paul did not know which was the man's condition when he had this experience.

Verse 3

2Co 12:3. This is the same as verse 2.

Verse 4

2Co 12:4. Paradise is the same as the third heaven, because the word is defined in the lexicon as "pleasure gardens," regardless of what specific location may be in the mind of a writer. Unspeakable and not lawful are accommodative in their meaning. The things heard were in the third heaven, hence the words were not to be repeated by a man, although he was permitted to hear them.

Verse 5

2Co 12:5. Such an one and myself are different persons, since Paul says he will glory of one and will not of the other. Neither Paul nor any other inspired man has told us the name of the one who was caught up, and I am not disposed to guess at it. Had Paul considered it important for his readers to know it he certainly would have told them; he could have done so since he knew him. There is an important truth made evident by this incident that is often overlooked. Paul says this man heard words while being caught up, yet he did not know whether he was in the body or out, which shows that a human being will be conscious after the death of the body, which refutes the fundamental theory of materialists.

Verse 6

2Co 12:6. Fool does not mean a person without intelligence, but one who does not use it aright, or who goes to extremes in expressing his sentiments. Paul had so much ground for his glorying that he could not be justly accused of going to such extremes as the word fool signifies. However, to avoid any misunderstanding, he determined to forbear going as far as the truth would have justified him to go.

Verse 7

2Co 12:7. To be exalted above measure means to be filled with pride or a feeling of self-importance. The Lord wished to prevent Paul from being tempted into such a frame of mind. Note it was the revelations that might cause the evil effect. Nothing is said of the visions in connection with the temptation. It is not shown anywhere who had the visions and hence they do not figure in the consideration of this danger. The revelations were what the Lord told Paul, and that alone is stated as being the possible cause of his being too much exalted. Although the English word thorn occurs several times in the New Testament, this is the only place where it comes from SKOLOPS, which Thayer defines, "a sharp stake." Robinson defines it, "anything pointed," and he explains it to mean in the New Testament, "something which excites severe and constant gain, probably some bodily infirmity." The only other place where this subject is evidently referred to is Gal 4:13-14. Paul tells the brethren there that they "despised [belittled] not" his temptation which was in the flesh. From what is said in the inspired writings, we know that this thorn was some kind of bodily infirmity that was painful and humiliating, but to be more specific would be speculation. Messenger (or agent) of Satan. Since all human afflictions have come upon man because of Satan's evil work, and since this thorn was a bodily ailment of Paul, he calls it the messenger of Satan.

Verse 8

2Co 12:8. Paul had gloried in his infirmities, hence it was not the humiliating feature of this thorn that he wished to have removed. It was therefore the actual physical suffering about which he prayed three times to the Lord.

Verse 9

2Co 12:9. The Lord did not see fit to remove the thorn, but assured the apostle that he would not be overcome by it. Strength made perfect in weakness. There is an old saying that "man's extremity is the Lord's opportunity," and that is agreeable with the passage here. Hence, with the assur ance of God's help, Paul was glad to be resigned to the inconvenience of this thorn in the flesh.

Verse 10

2Co 12:10. Paul took pleasure in his infirmities because of the good results they had on his morale. The greater his trials might be the more he would realize the value of the Lord's help. That is why he said when he was weak, then he was strong.

Verse 11

2Co 12:11. We often hear it said that "overindulgence will result in a spoiled child." That is what Paul is admitting has occurred from his treatment of the Corinthian brethren. They seemed to have taken his kindness for granted, and as a result had failed to recognize the greatness of the apostle; at least they had not expressed their appreciation. That induced him to make up for it with his own glorying, which has been explained in several preceding verses. Their selfish attitude had even implied that he was an inferior apostle, and some of his personal enemies even called in question whether he could rightfully claim to be an apostle. (See 1Co 9:1-2.) Against such an attitude he asserts that he was not only an apostle, but was not inferior to the chiefest of them. Though I be nothing. Paul gives all credit to the Lord for what he was accomplishing, otherwise he could not have performed the evidences of his apostleship that they had seen.

Verse 12

2Co 12:12. These signs of an apostle are mentioned also in the passage referred to in 1Co 9:1-2 cited in the preceding verse. In all patience. In performing these signs, the apostle was brought into contact with conditions that required much patience on his part.

Verse 13

2Co 12:13. Inferior to other churches. It was the Lord's plan that preachers should be supported by the people to whom they gave the Gospel (1Co 9:14), and to accept such support from a group was one important item in recognizing it as a church of the Lord. By preaching to the Corinthians free of charge, they had been deprived of that advantage and so might have complained of a spiritual "inferiority complex." Because of such an unintentional wrong having been done them the apostle asks their forgiveness. However, since he asked permission to make an exception to the rule for support of the preachers of the Gospel (1Co 9:18), he proposed to maintain that course toward them of Corinth.

Verse 14

2Co 12:14. A third time would imply two previous ones, but Paul's first visit to Corinth as recorded in Acts 18 th chapter is the only one that is shown in that book. We need only conclude that the apostle conducted himself on the second visit according to the requirements of the occasion. Not be burdensome denotes that he will continue to relieve them of financial obligation to him, just as he has done up to this time. He uses the common rule of provisions being made by parents for their children, to illustrate his feeling for the Corinthian brethren. Of course he is regarding the relationship from a spiritual standpoint. (See 1Co 4:14-15.)

Verse 15

2Co 12:15. Though . . . the less I be loved. Paul would not let the indifference of the Corinthians keep him from continuing his fatherly concern for them. Spend and be spent is somewhat figurative. He would go on devoting his time and talents upon them, and also permit them to make use of him for their own benefit.

Verse 16

2Co 12:16. Be it so. It was admitted that Paul did not personally burden them with the duty of supporting him, but some of them were accusing him of getting something from them in a round-about way. The rest of this verse should be understood as a quotation by Paul of what some of his accusers were saying. Moffatt renders this passage thus: "I was not a burden to you, no, but I was clever enough to dupe you with my tricks? Was I?"

Verse 17

2Co 12:17. In aswer to their implied accusation, Paul asks in general terms if he had taken anything from them through the men he had sent among them.

Verse 18

2Co 12:18. In 2Co 8:16-22 is an account of the visit of Titus and the "brother" to the church at Corinth. Paul asks if Titus got anything from them wrongfully at that time. Had he done so they would have used it as evidence, which would have been easily proved since Titus was not alone. This other brother who was with him was "praised" or recommended "throughout all the churches." Walked we not, etc. Paul's question is really a challenge for them to show any inconsistency in his conduct, in view of what they knew concerning this visit of Titus.

Verse 19

2Co 12:19. Paul did not make the preceding argument as an excuse (he needed no such defence), but was speaking the truth in the fear of God in Christ. He was speaking for the sake of these brethren whom he loved, and for their edification.

Verse 20

2Co 12:20. In the preceding verse Paul expresses his purpose to be the edifying of the brethren. That would mean their improvement in spiritual things, so that there would be less to chastise in connection with their conduct. Were such improvement not made, Paul would not be satisfied with them when he arrived and would hence be required to discipline them which would be unpleasant to all. For that reason the meeting would be a disappointment also to the Corinthians. The apostle then gives a list of evil conditions he fears might exist when he came which would need to be corrected. Debates are not all alike; some are right and others are wrong. The word here means wrangling and quarreling and that is always wrong. Envying means to be indignant because of the good fortune of another. Wrath is defined by Thayer, "indignation which has arisen gradually and become more settled." Thayer defines the original for strifes as, "a desire to put one's self forward." Backbiting means the attempt to defame another's good name. Whisperings means secret slanderings for the purpose of injuring the reputation of another. Swelling is from a word that denotes one who is puffed up with pride. Tumults denotes a state of disturbance that threatens to result in a riot.

Verse 21

2Co 12:21. God will humble me. Not that God would blame Paul for the conditions, for he had done his duty in rebuking them for all their wrongs. But the apostle would be humiliated were he to find the Corinthians guilty of these evils, and it would be chiefly because such practices are displeasing to God. To find them active in these evils when he arrived would be disheartening, but it would likewise be saddening to find those previously rebuked still unrepentant of their corruptions. If Paul should find such a state of affairs when he reached Corinth, he could but bewail the condition and feel the need of administering severe chastisement.
Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.