2 Corinthians 10:10
For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.
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(10) For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful.—Allusive references to what had been said of him at Corinth have already appeared frequently. Here, for the first time, we have the very words quoted. The scorn conveyed in them had wounded the Apostle’s sensitive nature like a poisoned arrow; and we have here the nearest approach which the New Testament presents to the passionate complaints poured forth by some of the Psalmists of the Old (Psalms 69, 109). We note the common element of a burning indignation under the sense of wrong. We note also the absence from the Apostle’s feelings of the maledictory element which is so prominent in theirs. The “meekness and gentleness of Christ” had not been without their effect in tempering even the most vehement emotions.

The great majority of MSS. give the verb in the singular: “For his letters, saith he . . .” This may be taken, like the French on dit, as used impersonally, and possibly this is the meaning which the English version was intended to convey. The context, however, the definite “such a man as that” of the next verse, is obviously decisive. St. Paul has in his thoughts here, and through the rest of the chapter, one conspicuous antagonist,—the head of a clique and cabal of opponents.

His bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.—As with other antithetical epigrams, the sting was found in the tail. It would seem all but incredible that any doubt could ever have been expressed as to the fact that the words point to physical infirmities. They can, indeed, refer to nothing else. For the tradition as to the Apostle’s personal appearance, see Excursus at the end of the Acts of the Apostles. The “contemptible speech” (literally, speech of no value; counted as nought) may refer either to a weak or unmusical voice, or to the absence of the rhetorical artifices, the exordium, divisions, perorations, in which Greek audiences delighted. It may be noted that these words give a fresh significance to a remarkable passage in an Epistle written, in the judgment of many critics, within a few weeks of this. “You,” he says to the Galatians (Galatians 4:13-14), “though I came to you with that infirmity of the flesh which others sneer at, the chronic trial of my life, you did not contemn” (the self-same verb as that used here) “nor loathe me.” There is manifestly a contrast present to his thoughts between the mean insults of his rivals at Corinth and the affection which the Galatians had once manifested, and which made their subsequent alienation all the more painful to him.

10:7-11 In outward appearance, Paul was mean and despised in the eyes of some, but this was a false rule to judge by. We must not think that none outward appearance, as if the want of such things proved a man not to be a real Christian, or an able, faithful minister of the lowly Saviour.For his letters - The letters which he has sent to the church when absent. Reference is had here probably to the First Epistle to the Corinthians. They might also have seen some of Paul's other epistles, and been so well acquainted with them as to he able to make the general remark that he had the power of writing in an authoritative and impressive manner.

Say they - Margin, "Said he." Greek (φησὶν phēsin) in the singular. This seems to have referred to some one person who had uttered the words - perhaps some one who was the principal leader of the faction opposed to Paul.

Are weighty and powerful - Tyndale renders this: "Sore and strong." The Greek is, "heavy and strong" (βαρεῖαι καὶ ἰσχυραί bareiai kai ischurai. The sense is, that his letters were energetic and powerful. They abounded with strong argument, manly appeals, and impressive reproof. This even his enemies were compelled to admit, and this no one can deny who ever read them. Paul's letters comprise a considerable portion of the New Testament; and some of the most important doctrines of the New Testament are those which are advocated and enforced by him; and his letters have done more to give shape to the theological doctrines of the Christian world than any other cause whatever. He wrote 14 epistles to churches and individuals on various occasions and on a great variety of topics; and his letters soon rose into very high repute among even the inspired ministers of the New Testament (see 2 Peter 3:15, 2 Peter 3:16), and were regarded as inculcating the most important doctrines of religion. The general characteristics of Paul's letters are:

(1) They are strongly argumentative. See especially the Epistles to the Romans and the Hebrews.

(2) they are distinguished for boldness and vigor of style.

(3) they are written under great energy of feeling and of thought - a rapid and impetuous torrent that bears him forcibly along.

(4) they abound more than most other writings in parentheses, and the sentences are often involved and obscure.

(5) they often evince rapid transitions and departures from the regular current of thought. A thought strikes him suddenly, and he pauses to illustrate it, and dwells upon it long, before he returns to the main subject. The consequence is, that it is often difficult to follow him.

(6) they are powerful in reproof - abounding with strokes of great boldness of denunciation, and also with specimens of most withering sarcasm and most delicate irony.

(7) they abound in expressions of great tenderness and pathos. Nowhere can be found expressions of a heart more tender and affectionate than in the writings of Paul.

(8) they dwell much on great and profound doctrines, and on the application of the principles of Christianity to the various duties of life.

(9) they abound with references to the Saviour. He illustrates everything by his life, his example, his death, his resurrection. It is not wonderful that letters composed on such subjects and in such a manner by an inspired man produced a deep impression on the Christian world; nor that they should be regarded now as among the most important and valuable portions of the Bible. Take away Paul's letters, and what a chasm would be made in the New Testament! What a chasm in the religious opinions and in the consolations of the Christian world!

But his bodily presence - His personal appearance.

Is weak - Imbecile, feeble (ἀσθενὴς asthenēs) - a word often used to denote infirmity of body, sickness, disease; Matthew 25:39, Matthew 25:43-44; Luke 10:9; Acts 4:9; Acts 5:15-16; 1 Corinthians 11:30. Here it is to be observed that this is a mere charge which was brought against him, and it is not of necessity to be supposed that it was true, though the presumption is, that there was some foundation for it. It is supposed to refer to some bodily imperfections, and possibly to his diminutive stature. Chrysostom says that his stature was low, his body crooked, and his head bald. Lucian, in his Philopatris, says of him, "Corpore erat parvo, contracto, incurvo, tricubitali" - probably an exaggerated description, perhaps a caricature - to denote one very diminutive and having no advantages of personal appearance. According to Nicephorus, Paul "was a little man, crooked, and almost bent like a bow; with a pale countenance, long and wrinkled; a bald head; his eyes full of fire and benevolence; his beard long, thick, and interspersed with gray hairs, as was his head," etc. But there is no certain evidence of the truth of these representations. Nothing in the Bible would lead us to suppose that Paul was remarkably diminutive or deformed; and though there may be some foundation for the charge here alleged that his bodily presence was weak, yet we are to remember that this was the accusation of his enemies, and that it was doubtless greatly exaggerated. Nicephorus was a writer of the sixteenth century, and his statements are worthy of no regard. That Paul was eminently an eloquent man may be inferred from a great many considerations; some of which are:


10. letters—implying that there had been already more letters of Paul received by the Corinthians than the one we have, namely, First Corinthians; and that they contained strong reproofs.

say they—Greek, "says one," "such a one" (2Co 10:11) seems to point to some definite individual. Compare Ga 5:10; a similar slanderer was in the Galatian Church.

weak—(2Co 12:7; 1Co 2:3). There was nothing of majesty or authority in his manner; he bore himself tremblingly among them, whereas the false teachers spoke with authoritative bearing and language.

There are some amongst you that tell you, that indeed (when absent) I write severely, and with authority; but when I am there with you, neither my behaviour, nor my speech, speaks any such authority.

For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful,.... These words contain the reason why he did not choose to say any more of his authority as an apostle to punish offenders, that he might give no occasion for such a calumny, some among them, or the false apostles, had cast upon him; that his epistles, referring particularly to his former epistle, and that part of it which respected the incestuous person, and his delivery to Satan, were blustering and thundering; were laden with sharp reproofs and severe menaces; were heavy with charges, were filled with great swelling words, with boasts of power and authority, and with threatenings what he would do, when he came among them; whereas when present, as at his first coming to them, he was mild and gentle, even to a degree of meanness and baseness, as they suggested; and so they concluded he would be, should he come again; and therefore his letters were not to be regarded:

but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible: he made a mean figure, being of a low stature, and having an infirm body: the account the historian (m) gives of him is this, that

"he had a small and contracted body, somewhat crooked and bowed, a pale face, looked old, and had a little head; he had a sharp eye; his eyebrows hung downwards; his nose was beautifully bent, somewhat long; his beard thick and pretty long; and that, as the hair of his head, had a sprinkling of gray hairs:''

hence one in Lucian (n) scoffingly says of him,

"when the bald headed Galilean met me, with his hook nose, who went through the air to the third heaven:''

though the words of this text rather regard his mind and mien than the make of his body; and suggest that he was not a man of that greatness of soul, and largeness of mind, not possessed of those abilities and gifts, and of that freedom of speech, and flow of words, his letters promised; but instead of that, was a man of a mean spirit, very abject and servile, and to be despised; his conduct weak, and carrying no majesty and authority with his presence, his words without weight, his language vulgar, and style neglected; and, upon all accounts, a person worthy of no notice, and not at all to be either feared or regarded.

(m) Nicephorus, l. 2. c. 37. (n) In Philopatr.

For his letters, say {g} they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.

(g) He notes out those who were the cause of these words.

2 Corinthians 10:10. For his letters, it is said, are weighty and strong; his bodily presence, however, is powerless (when present in body, he acts without power and energy), and his speech despised, his oral teaching, exhortation, etc., find no respect, are held of little account. Comp. 2 Corinthians 10:1. For the apostle’s own commentary on the second part of this assertion of his opponents, see 1 Corinthians 2:3-4. Quite at variance with the context, some have found here also bodily weakness (Witsius in Wolf; recently, in particular, Holsten, zum Ev. d. Paul. u. Petr. p. 85), and a weak utterance (Er. Schmid). Besides, the tradition is very uncertain and late, which pronounces Paul to have been μικρὸν καὶ συνεσταλμένον τὸ τοῦ σώματος μέγεθος (Niceph. Call. ii. 37). Comp. on Acts 14:12.

The opposite of ἰσχυραί, powerful, is ἀσθενής.

On βαρεῖαι, comp. Wetstein. The gravitas is imposing and instils respect; hence the opposite ἐξουθενημ.

φησι] it is said, impersonal, as often with the Greeks. See Bernhardy, p. 419. The reading φασίν (Lachmann, following B, Vulg.) is a rash correction. Comp. Fritzsche, ad Thesmoph. p. 189; Buttmann, neut. Gram. p. 119 [E. T. 136].

2 Corinthians 10:10. ὅτι αἱ ἐπιστολαὶ μὲν, φασίν κ.τ.λ.: for “his letters” they say “are weighty and powerful but,” etc. The reading is doubtful (see crit. note); if we follow the rec. text φησίν = “one says” or “he says” (cf. Wis 15:12), the reference will be to an individual opponent (the f1τοιοῦτος of 2 Corinthians 10:11) who would be readily recognised by the Corinthians; but we must then suppose τις to have dropped out. It is simpler therefore to read φασίν with the A.V. and R.V., and to take the words as reproducing the charge against the Apostle commonly made by those who were disaffected at Corinth. They are “remarkable as giving a contemporary judgment on his Epistles, and a personal description of himself” (Stanley).—ἡ δὲ παρουσία τοῦ σώματος κ.τ.λ.: “but his bodily presence is weak (see chap. 2 Corinthians 12:7, Galatians 4:14, and Acts 14:12, where the Lystrans called Barnabas “Zeus,” and evidently therefore counted him as of more dignified presence than his companion) and his speech contemptible”; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17. Persuasive speaker as St. Paul must have been (the Lystrans called him Hermes as “the chief speaker”), he probably had not the arts of a trained rhetorician (1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 2:4, chap. 2 Corinthians 11:6), and this would appear a grave defect to these clever and shallow Greeks. According to the second century Acts of Paul and Thecla (§ 3) the Apostle was a low-sized man, bow-legged, of a healthy complexion, with eyebrows knit together (the Armenian version adds that his eyes were blue), and an aquiline nose. The description of him in the piece called Philopatris (§ 13), ascribed to Lucian, is very similar.

10. his bodily presence is weak] The bodily weakness of the Apostle seems clearly indicated by many passages in Scripture. We may perhaps gather from Acts 14:12 (though this is doubtful) that he was of less dignified presence than St Barnabas. He refers to his infirmity in 1 Corinthians 2:3. It was probably the thorn in the flesh of which he speaks in ch. 2 Corinthians 12:7 (see Introduction), and the ‘temptation’ which was ‘in his flesh’ in Galatians 4:13-14. There is an admirable note on St Paul’s personal appearance at the end of Dr Plumptre’s Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles in the Bishop of Gloucester’s New Testament for English Readers.

and his speech contemptible] Literally, despised. Rude, Tyndale. Wiclif, worthi to be dispisid. This is the proper meaning of the word contemptible. Whatever St Paul’s fervour and mental and spiritual power may have been, it is evident that he lacked the conventional gifts of the orator, the powerful voice, the fluent and facile delivery, the arts whereby to enchain attention. It was not the manner of his speech, but its matter, which attracted his hearers to him.

2 Corinthians 10:10. Φησὶ) saith he [one], viz. he, who thus speaks: viz. he, who is mentioned at 2 Corinthians 10:11. The concealed slanderer is intended, whom the Lord, or even Paul, by the Lord’s pointing him out, saw. There was such a slanderer also among the Galatians; Galatians 5:10.—βαρεῖαι, weighty) the antithesis is contemptible.—ἰσχυραὶ, powerful) the antithesis is weak.—παρουσία, his presence) This was an instance of the same truth embodied in the saying of the present day: One’s presence diminishes one’s fame. The Anthologium of the Greek Church for the 29th day of June has a commemoration of Peter and Paul, with a representation of the form of both the apostles, and, so far as Paul is concerned, it agrees well enough with this passage.—ἀσθενὴς, weak) occasioning no fear to the spectators.

Verse 10. - Say they; literally, says he. The phrase may, indeed, imply "it is said" (on dit); but it may refer to one main critic and opponent (comp. vers. 7, 11). Perhaps it would have been wiser and kinder if no one had reported to St. Paul all these subterranean calumnies and innuendoes. Weighty and strong. This could not be denied, considering the immense effect which had been produced by his first letter (2 Corinthians 7:7). His bodily presence is weak. This is usually taken to mean that St. Paul's personal appearance was unprepossessing (Galatians 4:1). This, indeed, we should infer from many other passages (1 Corinthians 2:34; Galatians 4:13, 14), and as a natural result of his "stake in the flesh." It is, too, the consistent though late tradition respecting him (see my 'Life of St. Paul,' 2:628). Here, however, the words may mean no more than that "he adds nothing to his cause by being present in person, since he shows vacillation and want of energy." Contemptible; rather, despised (see 1 Corinthians 2:3, 4). 2 Corinthians 10:10They say (φασίν)

The correct reading is φησί says he. The Revisers retain they say, but read φησί he says in their text. The reference is to some well-known opponent. Compare one, any one in 2 Corinthians 10:7; 2 Corinthians 11:20. The only instance of the very words used by Paul's adversaries.

Weighty (βαρεῖαι)

In classical Greek, besides the physical sense of heavy, the word very generally implies something painful or oppressive. As applied to persons, severe, stern. In later Greek it has sometimes the meaning of grave or dignified, and by the later Greek rhetoricians it was applied to oratory, in the sense of impressive, as here.


"No one can even cursorily read St. Paul's epistles without observing that he was aware of something in his aspect or his personality which distressed him with an agony of humiliation - something which seems to force him, against every natural instinct of his disposition, into language which sounds to himself like a boastfulness which was abhorrent to him, but which he finds to be more necessary to himself than to other men. It is as though he felt that his appearance was against him.... His language leaves on us the impression of one who was acutely sensitive, and whose sensitiveness of temperament has been aggravated by a meanness of presence which is indeed forgotten by the friends who know him, but which raises in strangers a prejudice not always overcome" (Farrar).

Bodily presence

All the traditions as to Paul's personal appearance are late. A bronze medal discovered in the cemetery of St. Domitilla at Rome, and ascribed to the first or second century, represents the apostle with a bald, round, well-developed head; rather long, curling beard; high forehead; prominent nose; and open, staring eye. The intellectual character of the face is emphasized by the contrast with the portrait of Peter, which faces Paul's. Peter's forehead is flat, the head not so finely developed, the face commonplace, the cheek bones high, the eye small, and the hair and beard short, thick, and curling. An ivory diptych of the fourth century, reproduced in Mr. Lewin's "Life of Paul," contains two portraits. In the one he is sitting in an official chair, with uplifted hand and two fingers raised, apparently in the act of ordination. The face is oval, the beard long and pointed, the moustache full, the forehead high, the head bald, and the eyes small and weak. The other portrait represents him in the act of throwing off the viper. A forgery of the fourth century, under the name of Lucian, alludes to him as "the bald-headed, hooknosed Galilean." In the "Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles" mention is made of one Dioscorus, the bald shipmaster, who followed Paul to Rome, and was mistaken for him and beheaded in his stead. In the "Acts of Paul and Thekla," a third-century romance, he is described as "short, bald, bowlegged, with meeting eyebrows, hook-nosed, full of grace." John of Antioch, in the sixth century, says that he was round-shouldered, with aquiline nose, greyish eyes, meeting eyebrows, and ample beard.

Contemptible (ἐξουθενημένος)

Lit., made nothing of. Rev., of no account.

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