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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 10



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Verse 1

I. PRELIMINARIES TO THE MEASUREMENT, 2 Corinthians 10:1 to 2 Corinthians 11:21.

1. Insinuations of his foes; his weapons, and readiness to meet them, 1-11.

1. Now I Paul myself—A very bold and emphatic presentation of himself. As he is calling his assailants—perhaps his chief assailant—to the front, so he presents his own breast to the issue. Timothy, Titus, and Luke are no longer at his side, for this combat touches alone himself—the apostle.

Beseech you—Never did battle begin more gently.

Meekness and gentlenessMeekness is the inward temper; gentleness is its manifestation towards others. He could beg that he might be allowed to remain within the range of the gentle side of Christ’s being, and not be called to exercise its sterner judicial functions.

Who—I. These words following are an ironical quotation of his opponents’ language.

Base— Rather, humble, subdued: the opposite of bold, or confident.

Of these bitter assaults made upon St. Paul by his Ebionitic opponents we have some curious specimens in a work called “The Clementines,” a work composed some time in the last half of the second century, which is still extant. These Clementines, so-called from their claim, falsely made, to have been composed by Clement, bishop of Rome, consist mainly of professed conversations between apostles and apostolic men, as Peter, James, and the Elders. Stanley has selected therefrom a number of malignant passages, illustrative of their character. Paul is unnamed, but represented under the appellation, “Simon Magus.” Peter is alone both apostle of Gentiles and Jews, and his rival Magus, alias Paul, is a “deceiver.” “Although,” says Stanley, “Peter is spoken of as ‘the first of the apostles,’ and as appointing Clement to the See of Rome, yet James is described as superior in dignity both to him and Clement, and to all the apostles; as ‘the lord and bishop of the holy Church,’ ‘bishop of bishops, ruling the Churches everywhere,’ ‘the bishop,’ ‘the archbishop;’ ‘the chief bishop,’ as opposed to Caiaphas ‘the chief priest.’ So the Ebionites ‘adored Jerusalem as the house of God.’ (Irenaeus, Hoer., 1:26.) Compare 2 Corinthians 1:24; 2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 11:20, and contrast James 1:1; 1 Peter 5:2.

“St. Peter is represented as warning St. James against ‘the lawless and foolish teaching of the enemy,’ ( του εχθρου ανθρωπου,) who perverts ‘the Gentiles from the lawful preaching of Peter,’ and who misrepresents Peter ‘as though he thought with the Gentiles, but did not preach it openly.’ Compare Galatians 2:12; Galatians 2:14. The ‘enemy’ (homo inimicus) takes part in a conspiracy against the life of James, and receives letters from the high priest to persecute Christians at Damascus. Compare Acts 9:1.

“St. Peter warns his congregation to beware of ‘any apostle, prophet, or teacher, who does not first compare his preaching with that of James, and come with witnesses, lest the wickedness,’

which tempted Christ, ‘afterwards, having fallen like lightning from heaven,’ (comp. Acts 26:13-14,) ‘should send a herald against you, and suborn one who is to sow error ( πλανην) amongst you as it suborned this Simon against us, preaching in the name of our Lord, under pretence of the truth.’ Compare 2 Corinthians 3:1; 2 Corinthians 10:12-18; 2 Corinthians 5:12.” See further, note on Galatians 2:21.

Verse 2

2. But, here, may be omitted in thought; and I beseech you is a reiteration (though a different Greek word) of the same phrase in the previous verse. That, is essentially dependent upon beseech you, in 2 Corinthians 10:1. Paul begs that he may not need to be bold; especially may not be obliged to display a boldness destructive to his assailants.

Confidence—Official, apostolic firmness.

Some—This some is the arraigned, but unnamed, party of assailants.

According to the flesh—As a false apostle, deceiving the people for my own self-interest.

Verse 3

3. In the flesh—In the human body.

War—The gospel of peace is engaged in a holy war. Let not these assailants anticipate in its apostolic leader any cowardice.

After the flesh—I am engaged in a warfare; but not of self-interest, nor with material armour.


Verse 4

4. Carnal—Such as are used in secular and bodily wars. They are neither wood, nor iron, nor brass; neither shield, nor sword, nor spear.

But mighty—Let not the opposer triumph because these weapons are of no human armory. They are mighty; mighty enough to vanquish the mightiest material forces.

Through God—More exactly, to God. Material arms are mighty to man; these dim weapons are mighty to God. God knows how mighty they are, for they are God’s own weapons.

Pulling down—One implement of ancient war was called the crow, (see next page,) and its use was to pull down the walls of an assaulted city. But the weapons of divine truth are often mightier than the crow—pulling down false philosophies, false religions, great systems, and great empires.

Strongholds—Military positions with massive walls, and, perhaps, inaccessible, by nature, to the assailant. Cilicia, the hilly province of the apostle’s birth, had been the locality of powerful tribes of pirates, who, entrenching themselves in the mountain fastnesses, were able, for a while, to defy the power of Roman arms. Cicero, the Roman orator, led an army against them with some success, and was honoured on his return to Rome with a triumph. The pirates were finally destroyed by Pompey a generation before St. Paul was born, but he was, doubtless, familiar with not only the story of the war, but with its traditional localities and strongholds.

Verse 5

5. Casting—This participle, like having, in 2 Corinthians 10:6, refers, through our, in 2 Corinthians 10:4, to we in 2 Corinthians 10:3. 2 Corinthians 10:4 parenthetically describes the weapons, but 2 Corinthians 10:3; 2 Corinthians 10:5, describe the war and warriors.

Imaginations—The intellectual powers for which strongholds was the figure. The word, of course, is used to include the proud fancies and pretences of St. Paul’s assailants, but comprehends much mightier powers. Paul’s weapons were yet to conquer the Roman empire; much more destroy the figments of his present opponents.

Every high thing—Those proud systems of Paganism and Judaism which, like military towers, rejoiced in their height and strength.

Against the knowledge of God—Not only the atheism of Epicurus and Lucretius, which denied God, but even the purer philosophy of Aristotle and Plato, so far as they stood in the way of the genuine knowledge of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Verse 6

6. Having—Parallel with casting, in 2 Corinthians 10:5, both agreeing with we, in 2 Corinthians 10:3. Our apostle is describing the actual war which we are waging; and while depicting it in the grand imagery of 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, he is not for a moment forgetting the smaller enemies now in his front; for, as before remarked, they are included as the less in the greater.

Revenge—A judicial term, punish.

All disobedience—Such as is excited by the Christine party in Corinth.

Your obedience is fulfilled—When the solid Church is fully unified, and brought to a perfect accord with its founder apostle, then will due penalty be received by the schismatics.

Verse 7

7. Look on… outward appearance—St. Paul now reverts back to his starting point in 2 Corinthians 10:1, namely, the criticism of the Christines on his outward presence.

Appearance—Refers to the entire external display of the party, their rhetorical show, their Hebraism, their Jerusalemite commission, their claim of visible connexion with Christ. All these stand in contrast with the deep, pure, internal evangelism of St. Paul, which proved powerful and all conquering, in spite of his own want of showiness.

Christ’s—Whatever their relation to Christ, mine is, to say the least, just as close.

Verse 8

8. For—In support of his assertion that, to say the least, he is as much Christ’s as they are, he now says that he need not be ashamed to boast much more decidedly of the authority received direct from the Lord than he ever has done. If they could claim to belong to a set who had even seen Christ and heard him preach, he had seen Christ, and had received from him a personal commission as an apostle.

Not for… destruction—As the Christines are daring him to, 2 Corinthians 10:9-11. We here prefer the punctuation which places a period at close of 2 Corinthians 10:8, encloses 2 Corinthians 10:10 in a parenthesis, and makes a complete sentence of these three verses. The meaning is then clear: That I may not, according to their taunts, seem to try to frighten you by my letters, please assume that my presence will soon prove quite as powerful as my letters. What he lacks in personal presence will be supplied by apostolic authority.

Verse 10

10. Letters—How many letters of St. Paul’s had they seen? Perhaps but one, the first epistle to the Corinthians. But he may have written to Corinth a second. Nay, he may have written, and doubtless did write, many letters that form no part of the sacred canon, and have not been preserved. A divine guidance directed the Church in selecting the New Testament books. Not every casual note of an apostle was treasured for future ages. Two powerful epistles had been written to Thessalonica; and it is by no means improbable that copies of them were already read and revered in the Church of Corinth.

Say they—The Christines, whose names are mercifully spared.

Bodily presence—Literally, the presence of his body. The expression is too decided to admit a just doubt that Paul’s bodily person is meant, and is described as weak in its impression. Without referring to the uniform traditions on this subject, we gather from Scripture itself due proof of this fact. The Lystrans (Acts 14:12) styled Barnabas Jupiter, and Paul Mercurius. This clearly indicates that Barnabas had a majestic presence and Paul had not. (See note on the passage.) But more, as Mercurius was god of eloquence, so it is clear Paul was held by them to be eloquent, and was called chief speaker; and as Mercurius was, in mythology, held to be small and nimble, such was, doubtless, at this, his young manhood, Paul’s person. As years, toils, dangers, ecstasies, operated upon his original powerful bilious-nervous temperament, he became, for a period, over nervous and epileptic. This epileptic tendency overcame him at moments when all his powers of oratory were needed, overthrowing and discrediting him at the decisive moment. At other times it affected and weakened his utterance, so as to make his speech contemptible. This tendency disclosed itself soon after his great ecstasies described in 1 Corinthians 13:1-5, (where see note,) and became that thorn in the flesh which he prayed in vain to have withdrawn. It was this overwhelming nervousness which, under pressure of his anxiety for his dear Corinthians, made him darkly doubt whether his first inspired epistle was not a mistake—whether all his foundations were not broken up, and the abyss of death were not opening beneath him. 2 Corinthians 1:8-10.

Yet there was some periodicity in these fits. Some of his grandest efforts of oratory took place after this. In particular, his speech before Festus and Agrippa was the product of his whole nature rallied to the top of its powers. Such persistence as his, through long years of such unparalleled trials, infallibly presupposes a powerful bilious base. This, overlaid with an intense nervous tendency, made him an apparent semi-invalid, often unimpressive in his presence, seemingly incapable of endurance, and yet very hardy and hard to kill.

Contemptible—Alford refers this to Paul’s not bringing the power of words and rhetoric to bear on his speeches. But all that was true of his letters. Nay, it was in his abjuring rhetoric and philosophy, and flinging himself upon his pure, deep evangelism, that his power and impressiveness, when present, consisted. The defeat of Paul in his masterly effort at Athens, and his loneliness there and after he went to Corinth, did for awhile all but paralyze him. That was one of his weak periods. And probably all his first residence at Corinth was characterized by alternate feebleness and power. The thorn in the flesh rendered his utterance at times contemptible.

Verse 11

11. Think—Count upon, assume.

Letters… absent… deed… present— He does not promise that his elocution will be improved. It is his deed, not his speech, that will be as powerful as his letters.

Verse 12

12. Dare not—Ironical, yet with a moral truth in it.

Make ourselves of the number—Literally, place ourselves in line with.

Some that commend themselves—This some not only commended themselves, but, by a false process, commended themselves after a low standard, as he will now show.

Measuring themselves by themselves—That is, the set measured themselves by their own set; and as the standard of the whole was low, it took no great tallness to be equal or superior to the average. It requires only a little taller dwarf to overtop a set of dwarfs. Mr. Gulliver was a giant in Lilliput, but a pigmy in Brobdignag. So Dr. Johnson told Chesterfield that “he might be a wit among lords, but that he was only a lord among wits.” These Christines were moderates; held a compromise creed, and, too slow to pioneer the way into heathendom, were content to follow in the wake of others, and make themselves an eligible nest on preoccupied grounds. They prided themselves, nevertheless, in their superiority after their own standard. And, in confidence of that superiority, they disparaged—whom? ST. PAUL! He will soon show them a standard! Measuring refers to greatness, or tallness, as a whole; comparing refers to special comparative excellences.

Verses 12-18

2. Their self-deceiving mode of measuring contrasted with his mode, 12-18.

Their taunts and his replies thus far now suggest the idea of a fair and uncompromising measurement of himself with his competitors. And this idea of MEASUREMENT forms the keynote quite to the conclusion of the epistle. These cavillers claim to be very tall; let us see whether they are taller than your founder apostle.

Verse 13

13. Boast… without measure—Omitting the italic our, interpolated by the translators. The apostle disclaims boasting about τα αμετρα, the unmeasured, the indefinite, the aimless, which formed, in fact, the boast of the purposeless Christines. He had a well-defined mission from Christ himself, as he will next declare. Paul now has changed the figure of measure, from a measurement of the tallness of the man, to a measurement of the length and breadth of the territory covered by his divine commission. By personal measurement he is tall as the tallest apostle; by territorial measurement he stretches to Corinth and beyond, as said in 2 Corinthians 10:16.

Measure… ruleRule, κανον, canon, here signifies a rod, staff, measuring rod. Paul’s image is, that God has, as it were with a measuring rod, marked out the measure of his missionary ground. His master has drawn his map for him.

Distributed—Rather, apportioned. The thought, then, is: I, Paul, boast not, (like these Christines,) of an unmeasured vagrant field, but a mission apportioned according to the measure of God’s own measuring rod. Paul’s apostolic office was universal; but the space he could corporeally occupy was, of course, limited, and, as he affirms, divinely measured off. Yet how wide is now the controlling power of this man’s apostolate!

Reach… you—Here is a keen point. The divine measuring rod brought Corinth within his territory, and he was promptly on the spot in due season.

Verse 14

14. Stretch—Rather, overstretch. We do not overstretch in coming to Corinth, as though we, in our proper field, reached not unto you. It is no overstrain for us to claim Corinth as within the boundary line of our apostolic mission.

Are come—Literally, we have anticipated, been beforehand. The meaning: We were beforehand, (before the Christines,) even as far as to you.

Verse 15

15. Without… measure—Indefinite and unruled.

Other men’s labours— Trenching on other missionaries’ ground, and taking an easy time, when there is ample pioneer work to do on untried fields.

Having a hope—Kling subtly and truly says, that having a hope is more forcible than hoping. There dwells in the apostle’s heart this constant, permanent hope. A blessed inmate in the human heart is a hope.

Enlarged—Our magnitude is now pretty fair; but we hope to grow with your growing faith.

According to our rule—In accordance with the divine measuring rule.

Abundantly—As his magnifying is not to be merely for himself, but for the gospel, he trusts it may be done abundantly.

Verse 16

16. To preach the gospel—It is for this that he would like to be magnified to a giant’s stature.

Regions beyond you—A decidedly extended field!

Another man’s line—As the Christines were doing.

Made ready to our hand—A comfortable nest built by a preceding bird.

Verse 17

17. In the Lord—St. Paul holds that his own field is measured by a divine hand; his glory is, therefore, in the Lord. If his opponents are conscious of the same claim, well.

Verse 18

18. Commendeth himself—Their fair speeches and seducing self-laudations do not render them approved.

Lord commendeth—Is the divine seal on their mission? The true minister is not merely ordained of man—he is called of God; and the divine blessing testifies to his work.


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 26th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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