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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 5

 

 

Verse 1

1. For—In accordance with the glorious truths stated 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.

Know—The spirit of faith, 2 Corinthians 4:13, is again (as in 2 Corinthians 4:14) a know. We say know of very different degrees of certainty. Most men think that seeing—for instance, a material object, a marble pillar, or an iron statue—is the strongest possible knowing. But the unseen laws of nature, as every philosopher understands, are objects of as certain knowing as any lump of matter whatever.

Earthly house—What in 2 Corinthians 4:7 was earthly vessel, is now earthly house. It is an ancient and beautiful conception that our body is a house, and the soul is its resident. This conception is so universal, and so consonant with the feeling of our consciousness, that materialism is rejected by the best impulses of our nature.

House of… tabernacle—The this supplied by the translators may be omitted, and the phrase then would be equivalent to a house of tabernacle, a tabernacle residence. Paul’s expectation was, that the new body would be, in glory, very much what the temple was to the old tabernacle.

Dissolved—Gone to pieces.

We have—Not (as Meyer, Alford, Stanley, and others) we will have at death, but we now have in reversion, to be received at the resurrection. So, in 2 Timothy 4:8, St. Paul says, “There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.” The new house, like the crown, he has now in heaven; not that he believes that his resurrection body now literally exists in heaven, any more than he believed that there was a physical crown for him in heaven. Both crown and house are merely conceptional images. The house in heaven is the over-vestment of immortality, the glorifying formative power, or mould, which is to model the resurrection body to the image of Christ, who is the image of God, just as the “crown” is the glory of the glorified.

A house—A more dignified Greek word than that for house in 2 Corinthians 5:1an edifice.

Not… with hands—It is, indeed, true, that our first bodies are also formed without hands, but Paul speaks not in comparison with former bodies, but with other edifices, which are hand-built.

Eternal—Note 2 Corinthians 4:18.

In the heavens—Opposed to earthly in 2 Corinthians 5:1. It may mean that the conceptual edifice is now in heaven, or will be after resurrection. We prefer the latter meaning from the position of the clause after eternal.


Verse 2

2. In this—Tabernacle; that is, hut or cottage.

Desiring to be clothed— Wishing to be rid of the corruption of our bodies, and to be clothed, to be overclad, with immortality. The Greek verb for clothed has a double preposition, super-investured. The soul in the resurrection is clothed with a body, which body is over-clothed with the investiture of immortality from above. The transition of figure from building to clothing is very easy, for our clothes are but a tighter house: one is a habit, and the other a habitation. There is no reference here to an intermediate disembodied state; not because Paul did not believe in one, but because, viewing the resurrection to be the true ultimate of hope, he overleaps in thought and wish all that lies between him and it.

Our house… from heaven—Not, as above remarked, that St. Paul really supposed his resurrection body would come from heaven, but that the gift or over-vestment of immortality would. So in Matthew 21:25 it is asked, “The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” So John 3:27, “Except it be given him from heaven,” that is, from God. Bloomfield quotes Theophylact as saying, “Not that the body descends from heaven, but that we have thence την της αφθαρσιας χαριν, the gift of immortality.”


Verse 3

3. If so be—By the best reading, since it will be, the apostle expresses no doubt.

Clothed… not… naked—Commentators who, like Meyer, Alford, and Stanley, are haunted with the phantasm of Paul’s expectation of an immediate advent, make sad work here. St. Paul, say they, here expresses the hope that he may not die, and so be found naked, disembodied spirit; but may live until the resurrection change of 1 Corinthians 15. He did, no doubt, prefer the resurrection state to the disembodied, for he held it to be that consummation of glory which the intermediate state delays. That delay, though a higher glory than belongs to earth, is inferior to the final glory. It is imparadised, but not heavenly, bliss. It is a state of disorganization, produced by sin, and under the shadow of death waiting for that day to which St. Paul’s wish darts at once, when mortality shall be swallowed up of life, 2 Corinthians 5:4. The disembodied spirit is as unprepared to enter the heavenly mansions beyond the resurrection as an undressed person to enter a parlour.


Verse 4

4. Do groan—Not only from the pressure of our mortal burden, but also for the future consummation. Not qualifies would.

For that—Because that.

Be unclothed—Rather, to unclothe ourselves, to put off our raiment.

But clothed—But to super-invest ourselves. The middle voice of the Greek verb makes the act of clothing and unclothing our own. We groan because we do not wish to divest ourselves, but to super-invest ourselves. He did not wish to be divested of even a frail body, but to be overclad with immortality and renewal upon it. Death and naked spiritual being are not in themselves desirable, especially in comparison with the final life; yet the bliss that makes the condition they bring more desirable than this corrupt state, he will soon show. 2 Corinthians 5:6-9.

Mortality—The mortal element or quality of our body.

Swallowed up—Forever lost in life; the comprehensive term for all that is blessed in man’s highest destiny. See on 1 Corinthians 15:33.


Verse 5

5. Wrought us—By constituting our nature, and by all the provisions of grace, preparing us.

For the selfsame thing—The glorious resurrection.

Is God—Repeatedly does our apostle, in dealing with his Gentile Corinthians, who but lately were worshipping “dumb idols,” trace Christianity up to the one sole Supreme.

Earnest—Note on 2 Corinthians 1:22.

Spirit—Proof that God alone is author of this grace, since he has given his Spirit within us to attest it.


Verse 6

3. Resulting apostolic clearness and confidence before Christ and before men, 2 Corinthians 5:6-13.

6. Therefore—Inasmuch as from God’s pledge in our hearts that we are by him destined for the resurrection glory.

We are always confident— That is, cheerful and courageous, although a disembodied state will intervene.

Knowing—That this intermediate state, being with Christ, is superior to our present bodily state, and is, in the broader sense of the word, heaven.

At home—The image of the house still retained.

Absent— Abroad. So that he has a double home, a bodily and a spiritual, the latter being the preferable, because being in the presence of the Lord.

Yet for our disembodied spirit this presence of the Lord is less complete than in our resurrection state. While we live on earth, vailed by the body, although Christ is “with” us perpetually, (Matthew 28:20,) beholding us with perfect sight, yet we are scarce “with” him, as we see him not, except figuratively, with the eye of faith, and with conception rather than with perception. When this vail of flesh is by death removed, our spirits are “with Christ,” (Philippians 1:23;) we literally behold him with true perception; yet we behold him pneumatically or spiritually; that is, as spirit sees spirit, rather than corporeally; and to the spirit’s eye distance in space may be no obstacle. For the glorified body of Christ is now in the highest heavens, (Hebrews 7:26,) at the right hand of God, (Ephesians 1:20,) rather than in the paradise of the blessed spirits. It is not until after our resurrection, when we shall be like him (1 John 3:2) in the glorified body, that we shall “see him as he is;” shall “see as we are seen,” and “know as we are known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12.


Verse 7

7. For—Reason why we realize the superiority of our Christ-home; our eye of faith sees what our eye of body does not.

We walk—The Christian’s progress through the world. By—Rather, through, the preposition of instrumentality, faith; being the candle through whose light we are thus able to walk aright.

By sight—Rather, according to appearance; that is, to the bodily eye. Faith enables us to walk in disregard of material and worldly interests.


Verse 8

8. Are confident—Free from disheartening misgivings.

Rather—The whole passage is an important exhibit of Paul’s view: 1. Of the soul, as being an independent entity, the central personality; 2. Of the need of the body to the wholeness and unity of the human person; 3. Of the real existence of an intermediate conscious state of the soul between death and resurrection; 4. Of the superior happiness of that disembodied state to our present state in the body, yet of its inferior happiness to the resurrection glory; and, 5. That a main element of the happiness of that intermediate state is the attainment of some association with Christ.


Verse 9

9. Wherefore—In the view of our cheering hope of a future blessedness with and from Christ.

We labour—Rather, we are emulous, ambitious.

Present—As we hope soon to be.

Absent—As we know not how long we shall be.

Be accepted—Accepted absent in order that we may be accepted present; that is, accepted now in the body in order that our soul may be accepted when it leaves the body for the land of spirits.


Verse 10

10. We strive thus to be accepted, for we must stand before his throne.

Appear—Rather, must be manifested. We must, at Christ’s judgment, be entirely exposed to view in all our moral history and character. Same Greek word as made manifest in 2 Corinthians 5:11.

The judgment seat—The bema of Christ. The bema was the seat of the Roman judge, visible at the end of the court room, high above the level of the audience. It was before such a bema that Jesus himself was arraigned. Matthew 27:19. And curiously enough, St. Paul himself was arraigned before the bema of the Roman Gallio at Corinth. Acts 18:12. And St. Paul is the only New Testament writer who appropriates the word to a Christian use, as he does in Romans 14:10 and this passage. Instead of the judicial bema, the regal throne is the word more ordinarily used. Matthew 25:31; Revelation 20:11; Daniel 7:9. See Stanley on the passage.

All… every one—The presence is of all, the analysis and reward is of each individual. There is no overlooking the one in the vast whole.

Receive—Receive compensatively.

The things done in his body—The great body of modern commentators approve the sense given to these words by our translators. The best ancient ones, Tertullian, Chrysostom, and others, would render: Each may receive through (the instrumentality of) his body the things according to that he hath done. The meaning, then, would be, that the body is present at the resurrection to receive recompense for what the body has done. Grammatically, this rendering avoids a very awkward pleonasm, done, done. The objection that the apostle has all along hitherto spoken of our present body, and would not mention the resurrection body, without some distinctive term, seems trifling. The resurrection state is the scene of the whole verse, and the body there must, of course, be the resurrection body. In either interpretation the preposition of instrumentality through the body is a striking intimation that Paul holds the soul to be the person, and the body—whether brain, hands, or feet—to be its organ in wickedness or righteousness.

Whether… good or bad—Does this imply that the all includes the righteous and wicked? Meyer says there may be a judgment of lower grading in, as well as of exclusion from, the heavenly kingdom. True, but not as here, where a positive reception of compensation for bad is stated. The all evidently includes here those who receive penal evil for wickedness, the wicked, and implies a universal judgment.


Verse 11

11. Terror of the Lord—Rather, not terror of the Lord, but our fear of him.

Therefore—In view of the scenes of the judgment.

We persuade men—Of what? the question is asked. We should suppose there could be but one reply. If it was from fear of the Lord he persuaded men, he certainly persuaded them to act as the fear of the Lord would impel; namely, to act just as Paul did under that motive, 2 Corinthians 5:9, namely, to labour, whether present or absent, to be accepted of him. To what would the fear of a future judgment persuade men other than to secure the favour of the Judge? And what motive more likely to persuade men to such course than fear of the judgment? This is essentially the view of Beza, Grotius, and others. But Chrysostom, Meyer, Alford, and others, interpret it, We persuade men of our own integrity.

Manifest—The antithesis is, Under conscious fear of Christ’s judgment, we persuade men to be acceptable to him, and are ourselves unconcealed and manifest before God. He has said, 2 Corinthians 5:10, that we must be manifest before the bar of Christ; in view of that he ever holds himself now manifest to God, and he hopes he is no less made manifest to the judgment of his brethren, the Corinthians. The meaning, then, is, that from fear of our final Judge we persuade men, and have kept ourselves transparent to the eye of God.

Manifest in your consciences—Paul’s trust is, that he has maintained the same unconcealed purity patent to the consciences of the Corinthians that he has maintained to God. And it is to that transparent character, both of himself and the gospel he preaches, that he looks for his vindication from the imputations of his Judaic-Christian assailants.


Verse 12

12. For—Rather, but; as if the self-commending were the opposite of the visible transparency.

Again2 Corinthians 3:1.

Give you—By our manifest purity.

In appearance—In personal impressiveness.

In heart— In genuine piety.


Verse 13

13. Beside ourselves—The Greek word is the one from which our term ecstasy is derived. See note on Acts 10:10. The apostle here, apparently, ironically alludes to the sneers of his assailant. His extraordinary conversion, his visions of Christ, his trances, as well as his sublimated heroism of character, were the pretext for imputations of mania. So King Agrippa subsequently charged him with madness. And so at the present day an insensible, dying world esteems all intense feeling in regard to eternity as fanaticism. Revivals of religion they will condemn as periods of madness. Yet over some great commercial crisis these very men—nay, whole communities, peoples, and nations—are excited in every nerve and fibre to an all but frenzy. If we could have once in four years a revival in religion as great as we have a revival in politics at every presidential election, we should think the millennium was dawning.

To God—It is the mania of a perfect consecration to the Divine.

For your cause—In order to bring the gospel of salvation to you.


Verse 14

14. Love of Christ—Christ’s love to us, not ours to him; his love sublimely displayed in his death for us. Ephesians 3:19; Romans 8:35; Romans 8:37.

Constraineth us—Compels me by compression, as if it were the powerful pressure of a physical force. The madness which these Jew-Christians charge upon me is the powerful pressure of the love of Christ impelling me, by the power of his death, to a complete devotion to your salvation. And this charge of madness is the keynote to the entire passage, (2 Corinthians 5:13 to 2 Corinthians 6:11,) showing the intense power of the theme that made Paul’s life one long impulse of grand excitement.

Thus judge—The judgment comprehends 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. If—Omitted by the best authorities. Read, we thus judge that one died for all, therefore all died. How it is here that all died commentators differ. We think the correct reference is to that death which all died in Adam, (Romans 5:15,) for which Christ’s death is a divine substitute. St. Paul assumes Christ’s death as proof that all died, by sin, from the life of God; a death beginning in spiritual death, and reaching to bodily death and second death. That, literally and historically, this complete death has not yet been completed of our whole race, nor, in fact, of any of our race, and will not be completed till the second death is inflicted, is true. But then conceptually St. Paul views that great death, being in process of accomplishment through ages, as one great accomplished fact. Yet is it not so accomplished but that the death of Christ may take its place, and so forestall and supersede its literal accomplishment. Paul’s reasoning is, that nothing less than our death could require Christ’s death. If he died, it was because we all died. The rendering, were all dead, is justified by Colossians 3:3, where the same tense is used.

Another interpretation, adopted by Alford, is, Christ died for all, therefore all died, too, to sin; and thence is deduced that all must live the new life. But died and live are here used so repeatedly of literal death and life that it appears arbitrary not so to interpret this clause. That the all here for whom Christ died means the entire race is plain, unless we deny that the whole human race died in Adam.


Verses 14-19

4. Apostolic scheme of Christ’s death, and of our renewal and reconciliation, 14-19.

Paul now, in the following section, explains the ground of his fervent which they styled craziness. The impulse of Christ’s love compels him to make the expiation, renovation, and reconciliation his overwhelming theme.


Verse 15

15. That—Omit, as unnecessarily supplied by the translators. And he died for all for this purpose, that those living through his death should consecrate life to him.

Live… live unto themselves—Both lives signify one literal conscious life. As Christ bought our life by his death, so the life we live is rightfully his. And it was this St. Paul’s living a life that belonged to Christ, that subjected him to the charge of being beside himself, 2 Corinthians 5:13.

For them—The preposition for does not necessarily in itself signify instead of; but it acquires that meaning, as it often does, from the context.

Christ’s death as the substitute for ours is the very reason why our life is rightfully his.

Rose again—This does not, as Meyer argues, show that if Christ died as our substitute he rose as our substitute. Paul’s clear meaning is, Christ died in our stead, and rose again.


Verse 16

16. Henceforth—After the full, constraining effect of Christ’s death upon us.

After the flesh—In contrast with after the spirit. Romans 8:1. After the unregenerate nature. Under the power of the Spirit resultant from Christ’s death, the renovated man (see next verse) sees things in a new aspect. In his renewal all things else appear renewed. As consecrated to Christ he is a devoted being; in the full assurance of faith things eternal are the sole realities, and things of time become transient and subordinate; and in the full assurance of hope he sees that the priceless benefits, the eternal results of Christ’s death and resurrection, are his. He, therefore, henceforth knows no thing and no man after the flesh. And St. Paul means to say, that his own living in the full realization of this renewed state is the cause why he is held by fleshly men as beside himself, 2 Corinthians 5:13.

Christ after the flesh—Supremely does the eye of the renewed man behold Christ in a new light. Rationalism may pronounce him only “a great religious genius;”

Judeo-Christianism may hold him a mere prophet-reformer; but the man who has truly felt the power of his death beholds Christ as the divine though human, the dying yet ever-living, source of our transcendent life. The phrase known Christ after the flesh, does not in itself necessarily signify to have seen Christ while he lived on earth. There is no valid reason for supposing that Paul ever so saw the living Jesus. And yet it is difficult to avoid supposing that he here does allude to some boast of his opposers, that they had seen and heard the personal Jesus.


Verse 17

17. Therefore—Rather, so that, in accordance with these new aspects.

The newness which the man sees in all things else is truly in himself. For as, according to 2 Corinthians 5:14, all are dead from the primitive Edenic life, and, 2 Corinthians 5:15, are made alive by Christ’s death, so this seeing all things as new is the effect of that new consciousness of a renovated life.

All things are become new—Visibly to us, because we are new. And this our consciousness of renewal is a gleam of the grand regeneration initiated by the cross of Christ and consummated at Revelation 21:1. To say, with Meyer and others, that this is rabbinical language, is pitiable. It comes, as phrase, from Isaiah 65:17; as thought, it comes from the great fact that Christ’s cross, conditionally, regenerates the man and brings forth a new world. To compare with this the language of the rabbins, that a proselyte was a new creature, belittles the great truth.


Verse 18

18. Of God—See note, 2 Corinthians 5:5. Know, O ye late polytheistic Corinthians, that this whole system of Christian regeneration is firmly fastened to the throne of God.

Hath reconciled us—Conditionally. For in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that reconciling is a process still in progress, and in 2 Corinthians 5:20, it depends upon the will of the transgressor whether he will be reconciled or not. It is the divine side, therefore, which St. Paul here designates; none the less implying the human side as condition to completion. And this reconciliation, when completed, is same with the renovation of 2 Corinthians 5:16-17, and fruit of the substitutional death of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.

Ministry—Same Greek word as applied to deaconship, Acts 6:1, note. We are the ministers, and in 2 Corinthians 5:20 the ambassadors, of the reconciliation. The us, twice used in this verse, designates St. Paul himself, yet is inclusive of the apostles by implication. Yet no permanent limitation is implied, for the world is included as being reconciled. 2 Corinthians 5:19.


Verse 19

19. In Christ—By indwelling and identification; so that what Christ does, as reconciler, God does through him. The reconciliation implies previous opposition on both sides. By it men who “were enemies” (Romans 5:10) have their enmity removed; and by it God, whose “wrath is revealed from heaven,” (Romans 1:18,) is enabled to cease imputing “their trespasses unto them.” Man’s enmity is the hostility of the criminal to righteousness; God’s enmity is the severity of righteousness against the unrighteous. Note on Romans 1:18. The enmity of wrong towards right is terrible; but the enmity of right towards wrong is infinitely more terrible, for it has Omnipotence as its supporter and executioner. The death of Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, the symbol and substitute for its executive infliction, is the token of God’s readiness to pardon; our consent to be reconciled to God, 2 Corinthians 5:20, and to receive not the grace of God in vain, are the condition of the appropriation of the power of that death in our individual behalf.

Imputing… unto them—Charging to men’s account and holding them liable for trespasses.

Word—The divine proposal from God to man of reconciliation.


Verse 20

5. Consequent style of apostolic appeal to men to be reconciled, 2 Corinthians 5:20 to 2 Corinthians 6:2.

These appeals, in the second person plural, must not be mistaken for exhortations by Paul to the Corinthian Church to be reconciled to God. They are a statement to the Corinthians what is the hortatory result, that is, what the resultant mode, of exhorting men, derived from the scheme of reconciliation exhibited in 2 Corinthians 5:14-19. Their appeal to the world (2 Corinthians 5:19) is, Christ has died to reconcile you, therefore be ye reconciled. And this ye is addressed, not to the Corinthians, but to the world.


Verse 20

20. We are ambassadors—They have an embassy from the government of God to the rebellious anarchy of men.

For—May, intrinsically, mean either in behalf of or in the stead of. The context here indicates the latter meaning. An ambassador is the representative and substitute of his sovereign. And so it is God who beseeches by us. As Christ died in our stead, (2 Corinthians 5:14,) so we are ambassadors in his stead.

We pray—A striking thought that God’s ambassador prays, in his stead, to man for reconciliation. A powerful proof that God has, in a true sense, done all he can, and man must do the rest.

Be ye reconciled to God—A passive active. Take that course by which God will reconcile you to himself. Take one path and he will; take the other path and he never will, the blame being your own.


Verse 21

21. For—Giving a reason for the beseech of the previous verse, one of the tersest statements of the atonement ever uttered. A different side of the same subject is given 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. But there it is part of the apostolic statement, here it comes in to the consequent appeal. He—Referring to God.

Sin—This word some commentators have interpreted to mean a sin-offering, by a Hebraism, as in Exodus 29:14 the Hebrew word for “sin-offering” is literally sin. But here, as the antithetic word righteousness signifies righteous persons, it is clear that sin signifies a sinner. It is very possible that the above Hebraism may have suggested the antithesis. It is a very concentrated expression to make Christ conceptually the very embodiment of sin. It can only mean that Christ, in our stead, endured a suffering (not a punishment to him) so morally equivalent to our punishment, that it may take its place and we be exempted.

Who knew no sin—A beautiful description of perfect innocence. The Greek negative for no implies a no under the estimation or opinion of some one; and the question is, in whose opinion does the word imply that Jesus was sinless. Alford says in Jesus’ own; but we rather agree with Meyer, that God’s opinion is meant. It was the divine view that the innocent one should suffer, and that Christ was that sinless one. It was a sinless one who was to suffer, in order that his sufferings go not to expiate his own sin, but accrue for the sins of others.

Righteousness—The embodiment of God’s righteousness. This means not, that Christ’s righteousness of character is imputed to us as if it were ours. Such a transfer could not take place. One man cannot be literally guilty of another’s sin, nor innocent by another’s goodness. One man indeed may be pardoned because another has suffered. Damon may be released because Pythias suffers for his crime; but it would be only as emotional, and not literal, language that we would then say that Pythias became a criminal, or became treason, and that his innocence was imputed to Damon. So it is not literal but emotional or conceptual language when we say, that Christ became sin for us, or that his righteousness is imputed to us. The language used by some religionists in describing Christ as a sinner is repulsive to any reflective mind. Thus Luther uses words which seem not blasphemous purely because the blasphemous intention was wanting. “The prophets did foresee in spirit that Christ should become the greatest transgressor, murderer, thief, rebel, and blasphemer that ever was or could be!” “Whatsoever sins I, thou, and we, all have done, or shall do hereafter, they are Christ’s own sins, as verily as if he himself had done them.” Surely it is absurd to say this. It was because of Christ’s very innocence that, his sufferings being accepted in lieu of our punishment, God is pleased to pardon us. And when it is then said that we are righteousness, it is not meant that we are literally innocent, never having committed sin, for that cannot be: it is meant that we are held constructively righted, and judicially treated as never having sinned; as every pardoned person is.

In him—Antithesis to for us.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/2-corinthians-5.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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