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Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies
2 Corinthians 4



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Verse 1

As we have received mercy

Construe with we have this ministry. Having this ministry as a gift of divine mercy. Compare 1 Corinthians 7:25. Bengel says: “The mercy of God, by which the ministry is received, makes us earnest and sincere.”

Verse 2

Dishonesty ( τῆς αἰσχύνης )

Rev., more correctly, shame. Compare Ephesians 5:12.

Craftiness ( πανουργίᾳ )

See on Luke 20:23.

Handling deceitfully ( δολοῦντες )

Only here in the New Testament. Primarily, to ensnare; then to corrupt. Used of adulterating gold, wine, etc. See on which corrupt, 2 Corinthians 2:17. This verb has a narrower meaning than the one used there ( καπηλεύειν ); for, while that means also to corrupt, it adds the sense for gain's sake. The Vulgate renders both by the same word, adulterantes. Compare Dante:

“Thus did Sabellius, Arius, and those fools

Who have been even as swords unto the Scriptures

In rendering distorted their straight faces.”

Paradiso,” xiii., 128-130.

Verse 3

Hid ( κεκαλυμμένον )

Rev., veiled, in accordance with the imagery of ch. 3.

Verse 4

The god of this world ( ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου )

The phrase occurs only here. Compare Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:12; John 12:31; John 14:30. Satan is called god in the rabbinical writings. “The first God is the true God; but the second god is Samael.” “The matron said, 'Our god is greater than thy God; for when thy God appeared to Moses in the bush, he hid his face; when, however, he saw the serpent, which is my god, he fled.”'

The light ( τὸν φωτισμὸν )

Only here and 2 Corinthians 4:6. Lit., the illumination, act of enlightening.

Image of God

Compare Colossians 1:15; John 17:5; Philemon 2:6; Philemon 3:21. Christ's light is also God's. Compare Hebrews 1:3, Rev., effulgence ( ἀπαύγασμα , compare αὐγάσαι shinein this passage). Theodoret says: “The effulgence is both from the fire and with the fire, and has the fire as its cause, yet is not divided from the fire; for whence comes the fire, thence also comes the effulgence.”

Shine ( αὐγάσαι )

Only here in the New Testament. From αὐγή brightnesswhich also occurs but once, Acts 20:11, daybreak. In classical Greek of the sun especially. Rev., dawn is legitimate as a translation, but hardly here, since Paul is going back to the figure of 2 Corinthians 3:18.

Verse 6

Who commanded the light to shine ( ὁ εἰπὼν φῶς λάμψαι )

The correct reading is λάμψει shallshine; so that we should render, it is God that said light shall shine. So Rev.

To give the light of the knowledge ( πρὸς φωτισμὸν τῆς γνώσεως ).

Lit., for the illumination, as 2 Corinthians 4:4. In order that the knowledge may lighten. Knowledge, if not diffused, is not of the nature of light.

In the face of Jesus Christ

Containing the thought of 2 Corinthians 3:18. The knowledge of the divine glory becomes clear revelation to men in the face of Christ as it appears in the Gospel: “So that in this seen countenance that clear-shining knowledge has the source of its light, as it were, its focus” (Meyer).

Verse 7

This treasure

The divine light which is the guide and inspiration of the apostolic ministry.

In earthen vessels ( ἐν ὀστρακίνοις σκεύεσιν )

The adjective occurs only here and 2 Timothy 2:10. Herodotus says of the king of Persia: “The great king stores away the tribute which he receives after this fashion: he melts it down, and, while it is in a liquid state, runs it into earthen vessels, which are afterward removed, leaving the metal in a solid mass” (iii., 96). Stanley cites the story of a Rabbi who was taunted with his mean appearance by the emperor's daughter, and who replied by referring to the earthen vessels in which her father kept his wines. At her request the wine was shifted to silver vessels, whereupon it turned sour. Then the Rabbi observed that the humblest vessels contained the highest wisdom. The idea of light in earthen vessels is, however, best illustrated in the story of the lamps and pitchers of Gideon, Judges 7:16. In the very breaking of the vessel the light is revealed.

Excellency ( ὑπερβολὴ )

Lit., a throwing beyond. Hence preeminence, excellence. See on exceeding, Romans 7:13. Rev. renders exceeding greatness. The reference is to the fullness of power apparent in the apostolic ministry.

Of God - of us ( τοῦ Θεοῦ - ἐξ ἡμῶν )

The A.V. misses the difference between the two expressions. Of God is belonging to God; God's property: from ( ἐξ ) is proceeding from ourselves. Rev., of God - from ourselves.

Verse 8

Troubled ( θλιβόμενοι )

See on tribulation, Matthew 13:21. The verb also has the meaning of to straiten, contract, as Matthew 7:14, where τεθλιμμένη , A.V. narrow, is properly rendered by Rev. straitened.

Distressed ( στενοχωρούμενοι )

Only here and 2 Corinthians 6:12. From στενός narrowand χῶρος aspace. Hence cramped. The A.V. gives no suggestion of the figurative paradox. We are pressed closely, yet not cramped. Rev., pressed on every side, yet not straitened.

Perplexed ( ἀπορούμενοι )

From ἀ notand πόρος apassage. Lit., to be unable to find a way out.

In despair ( ἐξαπορούμενοι )

Rev., very neatly, rendered unto despair. The word expresses an advance of thought on perplexed, yet on the same line. We are perplexed, but not utterly perplexed. The play between the Greek words cannot be rendered.

Verse 9

Persecuted - forsaken ( διωκόμενοι - ἐγκαταλειπόμενοι )

Rev., for persecuted, pursued, the primary meaning of the verb, thus giving vividness to the figure. Forsaken, lit., left behind in (some evil plight). The figure is, pursued by enemies, but not left to their power: left in the lurch.

Cast down - destroyed ( καταβαλλόμενοι - ἀπολλύμενοι )

This carries on the previous figure. Though the pursuers overtake and smite down, yet are we not killed. Rev., smitten down. In all these paradoxes the A.V. fails to bring out the metaphors.

Verse 10

Bearing about

Ignatius, addressing the Ephesians, says: “Ye are God-bearers, shrine-bearers, Christ-bearers” (“Epistle to Ephesians,” 9). In the Antiochene Acts, Trajan alludes to Ignatius as “the one who declares that he bears about the crucified.” Ignatius was known as Θεοφόρος Godbearer, and so styles himself in the introductions of his epistles.

Dying ( νέκρωσιν )

Only here and Romans 4:19. Primarily a putting to death, and thence the state of deadness, as Romans 4:19. Here in the former sense. Paul says, in effect, “our body is constantly exposed to the same putting to death which Jesus suffered. The daily liability to a violent death is something, which we carry about with us.” Compare 1 Corinthians 15:31; Romans 8:36. This parallel with Christ's death is offset by the parallel with Christ's triumph - life through resurrection.

That the life also ( ἵνα )

In order that. The purport, according to God's purpose, of this daily dying is to set forth the resurrection-life through Christ in us. Compare Romans 5:10.

Verse 13

The same spirit of faith

The same, namely, which is set forth in the following passage. Spirit of faith: not distinctly the Holy Spirit, nor, on the other hand, a human faculty or disposition, but blending both; faith as a gift of the Spirit of God. See on Spirit, Romans 8:4, sec. 5.

I believed, etc.

Cited from Sept., Psalm 115:10. The Septuagint mistranslates the Hebrew, which is, “I believed though I said,” etc.

Verse 15

The abundant grace ( ἡ χάρις πλεονάσασα )

Lit., the grace having abounded. Rev., the grace being multiplied. Grace is the divine gift of spiritual energy which is shown in the labor, suffering, and triumph of the apostles.

Might through the thanksgiving of many redound ( διὰ τῶν πλειόνων τὴν εὐχαριστίαν περισσεύση )

Numerous arrangements of these words are proposed. Through ( διά ) should govern the many, not thanksgiving; and redound should be transitive, cause to abound, and governing thanksgiving. So Rev., the grace, being multiplied through the many, may cause the thanksgiving to abound. The thought is on the line of 2 Corinthians 4:12, that the sufferings and risks of the apostles promote spiritual life in the Church. The grace of God, thus manifest in the apostles, shall be multiplied through the increasing number of those who share it, and shall thus make thanksgiving more abundant for the fruits of this grace as exhibited in the apostles and in the Church.

Redound (A.V.) is from the Latin redundare to surge back. Therefore, primarily, of a fullness or overflow from the setting back of a tide. So Milton:

“The evil, soon

Driven back, redounded as a flood on those

From whom it sprang.”

Generally, to abound. From this arises the secondary sense, to conduce, contribute to; that is, to make the causes mount up, or abound, so as to produce the effect. So Addison: “The care of our national commerce redounds more to the riches and prosperity of the public,” etc.

Verse 16

Outward man - inward man

The material and spiritual natures.

Perish ( διαφθείρεται )

Rev., much better, is decaying. Perish implies destruction: the idea is that of progressive decay.

Is renewed ( ἀνακαινοῦται )

Better, is being renewed, the process of renewal going on along with the process of decay. Stanley cites a line attributed to Michael Angelo: “The more the marble wastes the more the statue grows.” Compare Euripides: “Time does not depress your spirit, but it grows young again: your body, however, is weak” (“Heraclidae,” 702,703)

Day by day ( ἡμέρᾳ καὶ ἡμέρᾳ )

Lit., by day and day. A Hebrew form of expression.

Verse 17

Our light affliction which is but for a moment ( τὸ παραυτίκα ἐλαφρὸν τῆς θλίψεως ἡμῶν )

Lit., the present light (burden) of our affliction.

Worketh ( κατεργάζεται )

Works out: achieves.

A far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory ( καθ ' ὑπερεβολὴν εἰς ὑπερβολὴν αἰώνιον βάρος δόξης )

Rev., more and more exceedingly an eternal weight, etc. An expression after the form of Hebrew superlatives, in which the emphatic word is twice repeated. Lit., exceedingly unto excess. The use of such cumulative expressions is common with Paul. See, for example, Philemon 1:23, lit., much more better; Romans 8:37, abundantly the conquerors; Ephesians 3:20, exceeding abundantly, etc. Note how the words are offset: for a moment, eternal; light, weight; affliction, glory.

Verse 18

Seen - not seen

Compare the beautiful passage in Plato's “Phaedo,” 79.


Copyright Statement
The text of this work is public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 27th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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