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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
2 Corinthians 12

 

 

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Verse 1

2 Corinthians 12:1. After enumerating, in the former chapter, his almost incredible labours and sufferings for the gospel, the apostle, in this, proceeds to speak of some visions and revelations that had been made to him, as a further proof of his apostleship, and of the regard which ought to be paid to his doctrines, his advices, exhortations, or reproofs. It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory — Or boast of any thing I have done or suffered, as a minister of Christ, unless on so pressing an occasion. Yet, or nevertheless, as γαρ must be here understood to signify, I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord — That he might not offend any one’s delicacy, he forbears to say that these visions and revelations were given to himself; although, doubtless, some of the Corinthians would inter, from his manner of speaking, that he himself had been favoured with them. Visions were things presented to a person in a supernatural manner, so as to be the objects of his sight while awake. Thus Zacharias, (Luke 1:11.) and Mary, (Luke 1:26,) and Cornelius, (Acts 10:3,) had visions of angels. Probably here the apostle means his seeing the Lord Jesus on different occasions, after his ascension; and especially those visions of Christ which he saw when he was caught up into the third heaven. And revelations of the Lord — These were discoveries of matters unknown, which Christ made to Paul by an internal impression on his mind; or by speech, such as the revelations mentioned Acts 13:2; 1 Timothy 4:1. Perhaps also those which, he says, (2 Corinthians 12:4,) he heard in paradise. Of the former kind were all the inspirations of the Spirit bestowed on the apostles, and on those who in the first age, preached the gospel by revelation.


Verse 2-3

2 Corinthians 12:2-3. I knew a man in Christ — That is, a Christian. He must undoubtedly have meant himself, or the whole article had been quite foreign to his purpose. Indeed, that he meant himself is plain from 2 Corinthians 12:6-7. Fourteen years ago — So long, it seems, the apostle had concealed this extraordinary event; a circumstance which shows how little disposed he was to speak vauntingly of himself. Whether in the body — And by the intervention of its senses; or out of the body — And without any such intervention, the things which I saw and heard were communicated to me; I know not — It is equally possible with God to present distant things to the imagination in the body, as if the soul were absent from it, and present with them, as seems to have been the case with Ezekiel in the visions mentioned Ezekiel 11:24, and Ezekiel 37:1; and with John in those recorded Revelation 17:3; Revelation 21:10; or, as the Spirit caught away Philip, (Acts 8:39,) to transport both soul and body for what time he pleases to heaven; or to transport the soul only thither for a season, and in the mean time to preserve the body fit for its re-entrance. But since the apostle himself did not know whether his soul was in his body when he had these visions, &c.; or whether one or both were actually in heaven; for us to inquire into that matter would be vain curiosity, and extreme folly. “It is of more importance to observe, that he supposed his spirit might be carried into the third heaven, and into paradise, without his body. For, from his making such a supposition, it is plain he believed his spirit could exist out of his body; and that, by the operation of God, it could be made to hear and see, without the intervention of his bodily organs.” Such a one caught up into the third heaven — The habitation of the divine glory, far above the aerial and the starry heavens. For, “in the language of the Jews, the first heaven is the region of the air, where the birds fly, which therefore are called the fowls of heaven. The second heaven is that part of space in which the stars are. This was called, by the Jews, the heaven of heavens. See 1 Kings 8:27. The third heaven is the seat of God, and of the holy angels, into which Christ ascended after his resurrection, but which is not the object of men’s senses, as the other heavens are.”


Verse 4

2 Corinthians 12:4. How that he was caught up into paradise — The seat of happy spirits, in their separate state between death and the resurrection. See note on Luke 23:43. Most of the ancients, (except Origen,) as Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Ireneus, Tertullian, and, among the moderns, Bull, Whitby, Bengelius, were of opinion that the apostle had two different raptures; because, as Methodius very well argues, If one rapture only were spoken of, the repetition of whether in the body, &c., would have been needless, when speaking of his being caught up into paradise. And heard unspeakable words — Or things, words being frequently used by the Hebrews to denote matters: which it is not lawful — Or possible, as the word εξον properly signifies, and as the apostle doubtless means; for a man to utter — Men having no terms of speech fit to express such sublime ideas as the apostle was there taught to understand: nor, probably, would it be consistent with the schemes of Providence, which require that we should be conducted by faith rather than by sight, to suffer such circumstances as these to be revealed to the inhabitants of mortal flesh. It is justly observed by Dr. Macknight here, that since the things which he saw and heard in paradise could not, or might not, be expressed in human language, “it is plain that the purpose for which he was caught up was not to receive any revelation of the gospel doctrine, because that could have served no purpose, if the apostle could not communicate what he heard. But it was to encourage him in the difficult and dangerous work in which he was engaged. Accordingly, by taking him up into paradise, and showing him the glories of the invisible world, and making him a witness of the happiness which the righteous enjoy with Christ, even before their resurrection, his faith in the promises of the gospel must have been so exceedingly strengthened, and his hope so raised, as to enable him to bear with alacrity that heavy load of complicated evils to which he was exposed in the course of his ministry. Not to mention that this confirmation of the apostle’s faith is no small confirmation of ours also.” Some suppose that it was here the apostle was made acquainted with the mystery of the future state of the church, and received his orders to turn from the Jews, and go to the Gentiles.


Verse 5-6

2 Corinthians 12:5-6. Of such a one will I, or, I might, glory — As a person highly favoured of Christ; yet of myself — Considered as in myself; I will not glory — Willingly; but in my infirmities — See on 2 Corinthians 11:30. Instead of boasting of his raptures into the third heaven and into paradise, he will boast of those very weaknesses for which his enemies ridiculed him, because, the more weak and contemptible he appeared in the eyes of the world, the more clearly was his success in preaching shown to be the effect of the divine power. For if I should desire θελησω, will, or, resolve; to glory — Referring to, I might glory, (2 Corinthians 12:5,) of such a glorious revelation; I should not be a fool — That is, it could not justly be accounted folly to relate the naked truth. But now I forbear — I speak sparingly of these things; lest any one should think of me — Whose presence is so mean, and whose speech is so contemptible; above that which he seeth me to be, &c. — Above what my spirit and conduct and the constant exercise of my ministry would warrant. Macknight thinks he addresses the faction here by way of irony, and that the sense is, “I might with truth boast of the visions and revelations of the Lord with which I have been honoured, but I will not, for fear any of you should think me a greater person than my mean bodily appearance which he seeth, and my contemptible speech, which he heareth, warrant him to think me.”


Verse 7

2 Corinthians 12:7. Lest I should be exalted above measure — Made to think highly of myself, and to put confidence in myself, and thereby should be exposed to the displeasure of him who resisteth the proud, 1 Peter 5:5; through the abundance υπερβολη, the transcendency, of the revelations — That is, the number and the extraordinary nature of them; there was given to me — By the wise and gracious providence of God; a thorn in the flesh — A visitation more painful than any thorn sticking in the flesh. Let it be observed, says Whitby, 1st, That this thorn in the flesh was surely some infirmity in the flesh or body of St. Paul. So he himself informs us Galatians 4:14, saying, My temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; (the original expressions, ουκ εξουθενησατε, ουδε εξεπτυσατε, properly signify, you did not account me as nothing, nor spit upon or ridicule me;) but received me, notwithstanding, as an angel, or messenger, of God. Whence we may observe, both that this thorn, or temptation, was in his flesh, or in his body, and that it was such as rendered him, in his preaching, obnoxious to great contempt, and made him despicable in the eyes of others. 2d, It is highly probable that this infirmity in the flesh happened to him after these visions and revelations of which he here speaks, for he says it befell him that he might not be exalted through the multitude of his revelations; and therefore must have been given him after he had that temptation to self exaltation. 3d, It is certain it was some infirmity of the flesh, which naturally tended to obstruct the efficacy of his preaching, by rendering it less acceptable to his hearers, and made him subject to reproach and contempt in the discharge of his ministry. This is extremely evident from Galatians 4:14, above cited, which Theodoret thus paraphrases; “Though I brought with me great ignominy in my body, you did not reject me;” and also from Christ’s answer to him, that his power was perfected in Paul’s weakness: that is, the greater is thy infirmity in preaching the gospel, the greater is my power in rendering it efficacious. In the same sense Macknight understands the apostle, observing, “I have followed Whitby and others in thinking that the thorn in the apostle’s flesh was some bodily weakness occasioned by his rapture, and which, affecting his looks, and gesture, and speech, rendered his manner of preaching less acceptable, and perhaps exposed the apostle himself to ridicule. Thus we find the revelations made to Daniel occasioned in him a change of countenance, (Daniel 7:28,) and sickness, Daniel 8:27.”

The messenger of Satan to buffet me — These words, being here put by way of apposition, must signify the same thing with the thorn in the flesh, and he must mean that he was buffeted by Satan, when, by the false apostles and ministers of Satan, (2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Corinthians 11:15,) he was contemned and made the subject of their scorn, for this infirmity in his flesh. But it must be observed, that the original words here may be properly rendered, There was given me a thorn in the flesh, that the angel, or messenger, of Satan might buffet me. “Since, then, he calls the false apostles ministers of Satan, it is not to be wondered that he here styles them, or the chief of them, who thus reviled and contemned him for this infirmity, and laboured to take off the affections of the Corinthians from him, an angel of Satan buffeting him.” — Whitby. Lest I should be exalted, &c. — This clause is wanting in some MSS., and in the Vulgate version, being omitted, doubtless, because it occurs in the beginning of the verse. But the repetition of it here is not improper, as it is intended to draw the reader’s attention. The following observations of Baxter are worthy of every reader’s particular attention: “1st, Even the holiest Christians, after their most heavenly acquaintance, [their most intimate communion with God, and largest communications of light and grace from him,] are not out of danger of pride, or of being too much exalted. 2d, This spiritual pride is so dangerous a sin, that it is a mercy to be saved from it, even by bodily pain. 3d, God will hurt the bodies to save the souls, even of his dearest children. 4th, Satan, that intendeth hurt, is oft God’s instrument to do us good. 5th, Bodily pains are oft the messengers of Satan, and yet of God.”


Verses 8-11

2 Corinthians 12:8-11. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice — All kinds of affliction had befallen the apostle, yet none of these did he deprecate. But here he speaks of his thorn in the flesh, as above all the rest one that macerated him with weakness, and by the pain and ignominy of it, prevented his being lifted up more, or at least not less, than the most vehement headache could have done, which many of the ancients say he laboured under. That the Lord to whom the apostle prayed was Christ, is evident from 2 Corinthians 12:9. It is supposed by some, that in praying thrice he imitated his Master’s example in the garden. But perhaps his meaning is only that he prayed often and earnestly. That it might depart from me — Hence we see that it is lawful to pray for the removal of bodily pain, weakness, or any peculiar trial; yea, to be frequent and fervent in prayer for it. But he said to me — In answer to my third, or often-repeated request; My grace is sufficient for thee — Namely, to support thee under these trials, though I permit them to continue. How tender a repulse! Probably Christ appeared to his apostle and spake to him. At any rate, it was another revelation of the Lord, which his subject led him to mention, though his modesty did not allow him to insist on it directly. “This example of prayer rejected ought to be well attended to by all good men, because it shows that they neither should be discouraged when their most earnest prayers seem to be disregarded, nor discontented when they are rejected; because in both cases their good is designed and effectually promoted.” My strength is made perfect in weakness — That is, is more illustriously displayed in the weakness of the instrument by which I work. Therefore will I glory in my infirmities — Rather than my revelations; that the power of Christ may rest upon me — Greek, επισκηνωση, may pitch its tent over me, or cover me all over like a tent, and abide on me continually. We ought most willingly to accept whatever tends to this end, however contrary to flesh and blood. Therefore I take pleasure ευδοκω, I am well pleased with, or take complacency in, infirmities — Of the flesh, bodily weaknesses of whatever kind. In reproaches — Suffered on that account; in necessities — The various wants which I suffer in the execution of my office; in persecutions, in distresses — To which I am exposed; for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak — Deeply sensible of my weakness; then am I strong — Through the power of Christ resting on me; and my ministry is then most successful, the Lord working with me in a peculiar manner. I am become a fool in glorying — As I have done above, but consider where the blame lies; ye have compelled me — To do it, even against my will. For I ought to have been commended by you — Or vindicated, when my character, as an apostle, was attacked by the false teachers. For in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles — As ye well know: he means Peter, James, and John, whom he calls pillars, Galatians 2:9. Though I be nothing — In the account of some, or of myself, without the aids of divine grace; not would I assume to myself any glory from what grace hath made me.


Verse 12-13

2 Corinthians 12:12-13. Truly the signs of an apostle — The signs whereby a person was known to be an apostle, were his performing great and evident miracles openly in the view of the world, especially his healing diseases, his casting out devils, and his speaking foreign languages. But the greatest of all the signs was his conveying spiritual gifts to them who believed; a power which none possessed but the apostles. All these signs St. Paul having exhibited at Corinth, and in particular having communicated the spiritual gifts to many of the Corinthians, he, on account thereof, called them, in his former letter, the seal of his apostleship, 1 Corinthians 9:2. In all patience — Under my various sufferings, and in the midst of the unreasonable opposition I have met with. By mentioning his patience, the apostle brought to the remembrance of the Corinthians the hardships which he had endured while he executed his office among them, and supported himself by his own labour; as also the persecutions which he had suffered before he first visited them, namely, in the Lesser Asia and in Macedonia, of which they had undoubtedly received information from himself or others. Perhaps likewise, as Locke supposes, there is here an oblique reproof to the false teachers, for the luxury and ease with which they were living among the Corinthians. In signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds — The effects of divine and supernatural power. See on Romans 15:19. “The appeal which the apostle here, and 1 Corinthians 4:7, made to the whole church of the Corinthians, (in which there was a great faction which called his apostleship in question,) concerning the miracles which he had wrought in their presence, and the spiritual gifts which he had conferred on many of them, is a strong proof of the reality of these miracles and gifts.” — Macknight. For what is it — What is the spiritual gift or privilege; wherein ye were inferior to other churches — Planted by the other apostles? Except that I was not burdensome to you — In respect of maintenance, as the other apostles have been to the churches which they planted. Forgive me this wrong — As if he had said, If it be a wrong, I know you will easily pardon it.


Verse 14-15

2 Corinthians 12:14-15. Behold, the third time I am ready — That is, resolved; to come to you — Having purposed it twice before, and been disappointed, 1 Corinthians 16:5; 2 Corinthians 1:15-16. And I will not be burdensome to you — More than formerly; for I seek not yours, but you — Not your money or goods, but the salvation of your souls. For children ought not — That is, it is not according to the course of nature for children to lay up temporal things for the parents, who commonly die before them; but the parents for the children — I therefore, your spiritual father, do not desire to partake of your temporal things, but to bestow my spiritual treasures upon you. And I will very gladly spend — My time, strength, and all I have; and be spent for you — Hazard, nay, and lose my life for your salvation, John 10:11; Philippians 2:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:8. Though the more abundantly I love you, &c. — How unkind soever your returns may be, and though my love should be requited with neglect, or even with contempt.


Verses 16-18

2 Corinthians 12:16-18. Be it so, &c. — But some may object; though I did not burden you — Though I did not take any thing of you myself; yet being crafty, I caught you with guile — I did secretly by my messengers what I would not do openly or in person. I answer this lying accusation by appealing to plain fact. Did I make a gain of you by any of my messengers? — You know the contrary. It should be carefully observed that St. Paul does not allow, but absolutely denies, that he had caught them with guile. So that the common plea for guile, which has been drawn from this text, is utterly without foundation. I desired Titus — To go to you; and with him I sent a brother — Who that brother was, is not known. He may have been one of the apostle’s companions in travel, who was with him in Ephesus when he wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians. Or he may have been one of the Ephesian brethren, whose zeal for the gospel moved him to accompany Titus to Corinth, when he carried the former letter. Did Titus make a gain of you? — Did he draw any money from you, either on account of his own maintenance, or on pretence that he would persuade me to receive it for mine? Walked we not in the same spirit, &c. — Did we not all agree in mind and practice?


Verses 19-21

2 Corinthians 12:19-21. Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves — That I say all this to insinuate myself into your esteem for any secular ends? We speak before God in Christ — As if he had said, I have a higher end in view, namely, the glory of God, in whose presence I speak it; for we do all things for your edifying — Your edification is the end I have in view, in this and all other things that I do concerning you. For I fear — And have I not reason so to do? lest when I come — With a heart full of Christian tenderness, and with all imaginable readiness to do every thing in my power to comfort and refresh your spirits; I shall not find you such as I would — Namely, truly reformed persons; and that I should be found unto you — By inflicting necessary censures and punishments upon you; such as ye would not — I should be. I fear I shall have some work before me of a very unpleasant kind, and which I would desire, if possible, by this admonition to prevent. Lest there should be debates ερεις, contentions; envyings — Or emulations, as ζηλοι also signifies; wraths

For injuries received; strifes — Arising from a clashing either of opinions or secular interests; backbitings — Speaking evil of the absent; whisperings — Insinuations uttered secretly against others; swellings — Vain boastings, by which proud and ambitious men endeavour to make themselves look big in the eyes of their fellows; tumults — Factions, disorderly parties raised against me, and your proper authorized ministers; lest when I come my God will humble me — By showing me your church, which I planted, corrupted with many vices; and I shall bewail — Shall mourn over; many who have sinned, and have not repented — Notwithstanding my many admonitions. The incestuous person was not of this number; for he had repented, 2 Corinthians 2:7-8. Those of whom the apostle speaks, were probably such as had not refrained from partaking in the idolatrous sacrifices of the heathen, and from the lewd practices connected with idolatry, to which, by their former customs and habits, they were still addicted. Of the uncleanness, &c., which they have committed — By uncleanness, Estius thinks the apostle meant those sins of the flesh, which are against nature; by fornication — The conjunction of male and female out of marriage; lasciviousness — He says, consists in lustful looks, touches, motions, and other things of that kind. But by lasciviousness, Bengelius understands sodomy, bestiality, and other vices contrary to nature. But, says Macknight, “although some of the faction at Corinth may have been guilty of uncleanness, fornication, and lasciviousness, in the ordinary sense of these words, fancying, through the prejudices of their education, that these things were no sins, I scarcely think that any of them, after their conversion, would continue in the commission of the unnatural crimes mentioned by Estius and Bengelius.” One thing is evident: in the absence of the apostle, the exercise of a proper Christian discipline must have been awfully neglected in this church, otherwise such scandalous sinners would have been excluded from it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/2-corinthians-12.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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