2 Corinthians 1 Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
2 Corinthians 1
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS.

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians

BY

THE VERY REV. E. H. PLUMPTRE, D.D.

INTRODUCTION

TO

THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS.

IT is not without some reluctance that I have undertaken to treat of an Epistle which stands in such close connection with that which precedes it that it can scarcely be dealt with by a different hand without some risk of want of unity of treatment.

I have, however, kept on the same main lines of thought and method of interpretation which have been followed in the Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, and have been glad to find myself on all important points of one mind with the commentator.

Of the genuineness of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians there has never been a moment’s doubt, even among critics who allow themselves the widest range in their attacks on the canon of New Testament writings. External evidence is in itself adequate. The Epistle is quoted by Irenæus (Hær. iii. 7, § 1), by Athenagoras (De resurr. Mort), by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. iii. 94, iv. 101), and by Tertullian (De Pudicitiâ, c. 13). Testimony of this kind is, however, hardly needed. The Epistle speaks for itself. In its intense personality, its peculiarities of style, its manifold coincidences with the Acts and with other Epistles (especially with 1 Corinthians,. Romans, and Galatians), its vehement emotions, it may fairly be said to present phenomena beyond the attainment of any later writer wishing to claim for what he wrote the authority of a great name. Pseudonymous authorship is, in this case, simply out of the question.

In order to understand the Epistle we must throw ourselves, as by a mental effort, into the mind and heart of the writer at the moment when he wrote or, more probably, dictated it. Much that is necessary for that purpose has been already said in the Notes to the First Epistle, and it is not necessary to repeat it. Of the sins and disorders of the Corinthians as reported to him by successive informants—the household of Chloe (1Corinthians 1:11), and by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (1Corinthians 16:17); of his treatment of the topics then brought before him; of the probable effect of what he wrote upon the several parties in the Corinthian Church, we need not now speak. It will be sufficient to note that he had sent Timotheus before he wrote the First Epistle; that he had then sent the First Epistle by Stephanas, his companion; that when they were gone (or possibly with them[58]) he despatched Titus to complete the work, perhaps as trusting more to his energy than that of the other messengers. Timotheus had returned to him. It is not certain that he reached Corinth. If he did, he came and left before the Epistle had arrived, and was unable to report what had been its result. His timid and shrinking character probably unfitted him for coping with the many difficulties which presented themselves. (See Note on 1Corinthians 4:17.) His coming, therefore, however welcome it might be, brought no relief to the Apostle’s anxiety. He started from Ephesus, whether before or after the arrival of Timotheus we do not know, and, in pursuance of his plan, went to Troas. But there, too, great as the opportunities for mission-work were (2Corinthians 2:12), he had no strength or heart to use them. A restless, feverish anxiety devoured him night and day, and he sailed for Macedonia, probably for Philippi. And there, at last, after a time of expectation and anxiety, Titus came to him (2Corinthians 7:6). His report was evidently more full and satisfactory than that which had been brought by Timotheus. He was able to report, what the latter had not reported—the effect of the First Epistle; and this was, in part, at least, full of comfort. The majority at a meeting of the Church had acted as he had told them to act, in the punishment of the incestuous offender (2Corinthians 2:6), they had shown generally a desire to clear themselves from the reproach of sensual impurity (2Corinthians 7:11), and had manifested warm feelings of attachment to the Apostle personally (2Corinthians 7:7). They had obeyed Titus as the Apostle’s delegate, and had made the work which he had undertaken in much anxiety, a labour of love and joy (2Corinthians 7:13-16). They had taken up the collection for the saints with an eager interest, and had not only accepted the idea, but had begun to act on the suggestion of 1Corinthians 16:1-2, as to the weekly payments, and to the alms-box of the house (2Corinthians 9:13). So far all was well, and had this been all, the Second Epistle to the Corinthians would probably have been as full of thankfulness, and joy, and comfort, as that to the Philippians. But it was not all Wisely or unwisely, Titus thought it right to tell him of the words and acts of the two parties in the Church of Corinth, who, at opposite extremes, were agreed in resisting his authority. There were some, the party of license, who needed sharp words of censure, and had given no proof of repentance for the foul evils of their former life (chap 2Corinthians 12:21). There was the Judaising party, claiming to belong to Christ in a sense in which St. Paul did not belong to Him, boasting of their Hebrew descent (2Corinthians 10:7; 2Corinthians 11:4; 2Corinthians 11:22), arrogating to themselves a special apostolic authority (2Corinthians 11:5), insolently lording it over their abject followers (2Corinthians 11:20). And from one or other of these rival parties, probably in some cases from both, there had come—so Titus reported—taunts, sneers, and insinuations against the Apostle’s character. He had shown feebleness in his change of plan (2Corinthians 1:17); his personal appearance, feeble and infirm, did not match the authoritative tone of his letters; his speech had nothing in it to command admiration (2Corinthians 10:10); he threatened supernatural punishments, but he did not dare to put his threats to the proof (2Corinthians 13:3). What right had he to claim the authority of an Apostle, when he had never seen the Christ in the flesh? Was it certain that he was a Hebrew, a Jew of the pure blood of Palestine, or even that he was of the seed of Abraham? (2Corinthians 11:22.) They turned into a reproach the fact that he had worked for his maintenance at Corinth, and yet had received gifts from the Macedonian churches, as though he had been too proud to put himself under obligations to any but his favourites (2Corinthians 11:2-10). They insinuated that what he would not do directly he meant to do indirectly, through the collection for the poor of Jerusalem (2Corinthians 12:16). How could they tell that the fund so secured would find its way to those who were ostensibly its objects? Who was this Paul who came without credentials (2Corinthians 3:1), and expected to be received on the strength of his everlasting self-assertions? (2Corinthians 3:1; 2Corinthians 5:12; 2Corinthians 10:8; 2Corinthians 10:12; 2Corinthians 12:11.) Was there not a touch of madness in his visions and revelations? Could he claim more than the tolerance which men were ready to extend to the insane? (2Corinthians 5:13; 2Corinthians 11:16-19.)

[58] See Introduction to the First Epistle to the Corinthians.

Conceive all these barbed arrows of sarcasm falling on the ears, and through them piercing the very soul, of a man of singularly sensitive nature, passionately craving for affection, and proportionately feeling the bitterness of loving with no adequate return (2Corinthians 12:15), and we may form some estimate of the whirl and storm of emotion in which St. Paul began to dictate the Epistle on which we are about to enter. Joy, affection, tenderness, fiery indignation, self-vindication, profound thoughts as to the mysteries of the kingdom of God which flashed upon his soul as he spoke—all these elements were there, craving to find expression. They hindered any formal plan and method in the structure of the Epistle. They led to episodes, and side-glances, and allusive references without number.

It follows from this that an analysis of such an Epistle is not a very easy matter, and that which follows must be received only as an approximately complete one, helping the student to follow the manifold oscillations of thought and feeling.

1.—St. Paul wishes the Corinthians to know his troubles and sufferings before the return of Titus (2Corinthians 1:1-14).

2.—He tells them of his first plan of coming to them, and defends himself against the charge of fickleness in changing it (2Corinthians 1:15 to 2Corinthians 2:1).

3.—He is glad that he did change his plans, for thus there was time for the repentance on the part of the incestuous offender of 1Corinthians 5:1. Such a one now needed sympathy and pardon (2Corinthians 2:2-11).

4.—He is about to tell them of his meeting with Titus, but the remembrance of the triumphant joy of that moment overpowers him, and fills him with a profound sense of the issues of life and death which hang upon his words (2Corinthians 2:12-17).

5.—Will this be called the self-assertion of one who has no credentials? His thoughts pass rapidly to the true credentials of effective preaching, and so to the new covenant of which he is the preacher, and so to the contrast between that covenant and the old (2Corinthians 3:1-18).

6.—The sense of the tremendous responsibility of the work thus committed to him, leads him to dwell on his own fitness and unfitness for it. On the one side there is nothing but infirmity and disease, on the other there is the life of Jesus working in his life (2Corinthians 4:1-18), and the hope of a life after death, in which all that is spiritual in us now shall find itself emancipated from the flesh and clothed with a new spiritual organism (2Corinthians 5:1-9).

7.—That hope does not, however, exclude the fear of the judgment through which all must pass. At the risk of seeming mad he must dwell on that fear. Only so can he lead men to estimate rightly the preciousness of the message of reconciliation (2Corinthians 5:10-21).

8.—Will those to whom he writes receive that message in vain? He pleads with them by all he has done and suffered for them to give him a place in their affections, above all to give Christ the supreme place in them. Only so can they be indeed God’s children (2Corinthians 6:1-18). They cannot serve Him and the lust-demon, Belial.

9.—His thoughts turn from the party of license, whom he had in view in the previous section, to those who had shown themselves zealous against impurity. Now he can tell these, and such as these, why meeting Titus had given him matter for such warm rejoicing; why he feels that he can trust them (2Corinthians 7:1-16).

10.—A new topic begins, apparently after a pause. He is about to show that he trusts them, by asking them to let their performance in the matter of the collection for the saints be equal to their readiness of will. He tells them of the arrangements he has made for it, and stirs them up by the example of the Macedonians, by appeals to their own self; by the hope of God’s favour (2Corinthians 8:1 to 2Corinthians 9:15).

11.—As if by the association of contrast, he turns from what he viewed with satisfaction and hope to the sarcasm and insinuations which had caused such acute pain (2Corinthians 10:1-18). He charges his opponents, the Judaising teachers, with intruding into his province, defends himself against some of their special accusations, and challenges them to a comparison of their labours and sufferings with his own (2Corinthians 11:1-29). Even the infirmities with which they taunted him are for those who understand them rightly, a ground of confidence and strength (2Corinthians 11:30 to 2Corinthians 12:18).

12.—Having thus defended himself, his thoughts travel on to the time of his projected visit. He looks forward, not without anxiety, to the possibility of having to exercise his apostolic authority in punishing the offenders both of the party of license and that of the Judaisers. But he hopes that that necessity will not arise. His wish and prayer is that they may be restored to completeness without it. The agitation of his own spirit is calmed, and he ends with words of peace and blessing for them (2Corinthians 12:19 to 2Corinthians 13:14).

Of the immediate results of the Epistle, and of the after-history of the Church of Corinth, we know but little. Within a few months he paid his promised visit, and was received with hospitality by one of the chief members of the Church (Romans 16:23). Titus and the unnamed brethren of 2Corinthians 8:18; 2Corinthians 8:22, probably Luke and Tychicus, had done their work effectually, and he could tell the Romans to whom he wrote of the collection for the saints which had been made in Achaia as well as in Macedonia (Romans 15:26). They apparently had so far gained the confidence of the Corinthians that they did not think it necessary to choose any delegates of their own to watch over the appropriation of the funds collected (Acts 20:4). The malignant enmity of the Jews, however, had not abated. His life was endangered by a plot to attack him as he was embarking at Cenchreæ, and he had to change his plans and return through Macedonia (Acts 20:3). After this we lose sight of the Corinthian Church altogether, and the one glimpse which we get, accepting the Pastoral Epistles as genuine, and as coming after St. Paul’s first imprisonment at Rome, is that on his return to his former labours, Erastus, who seems to have travelled with him, stopped at the city in which he held a municipal position of authority (Romans 16:23; 2Timothy 4:20). The Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, written, probably, about A.D. 95—some thirty-five years, therefore, after the date of this Epistle—shows, however, that the character of the Church had not altered, and that the old evils had re-appeared. A few rash and self-confident persons, putting themselves at the head of a factious party, had brought discredit on the Church’s name. It was necessary to exhort them once more to submit to their rulers and to follow after peace (Clem. Rom. i. 1), to remind them of the self-denying labours of the two Apostles, Peter and Paul, whose names they professed to honour (i. 2), of the examples of faith and humility presented by Christ Himself and by the saints of the Old Testament (i. 16-18). The old doubts as to the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15) had re-appeared, and Clement, over and above the teaching of Scripture and of the Apostles on this subject, presses on them the analogy of the stories then current as to the death and revival of the Phœnix[59] (1:24, 25). The authority of the legitimate pastors of the Church (he names bishops or deacons only, as St. Paul had done in Philippians 1:1) was disputed, and he urges submission, and quotes the Epistle—the first of the two which St. Paul had addressed to them (Clem. Rom. i. 47)—paraphrasing the section in which he had set forth the excellence of charity (i. :49) The letter was sent by messengers, among whom we find one, Fortunatus, who may have been among the survivors who knew the Apostle’s work, and had been the bearer of the Epistle of which Clement has just reminded them. The name, however, like its synonyms, Felix, Eutychus, and the like, was not an uncommon one, and the identification cannot, therefore, be regarded as more than probable.

[59] The elaborate note in Dr. Lightfoot’s edition of St. Clement shows that a fresh prominence had recently been given to the phœnix-legend, which may account for the stress thus laid on it. It was said to have re-appeared in Egypt in the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 34-36) (Tacit. Ann. vi. 28). In A.D. 47 a live phœnix was actually exhibited in the comitium of Rome (Plin. Nat. Hist. x. 2). Historians and savans, though they might think the particular instance an imposture, accepted the tradition with hardly a question.

Somewhat later on, about A.D. 135, the Church of Corinth was visited by Hegesippus, the historian of the Jewish Church, to whom we owe the narrative of the death of James, the Bishop of Jerusalem. He touched at that city on his voyage to Rome, and remained there for several days. He found the Church faithful to the truth under its bishop Primus (Euseb. Hist. iv. 22). Dionysius, who succeeded Primus in his episcopate, brought out all that was good in the Church over which he ruled, and extended his activity to the Macedonians, the Athenians, the people of Nicomedia, of Crete, and of the coast of Pontus. He bears his testimony to the liberality of the Church of Corinth in relieving the poverty of other churches, to the traditional liberality which it had, in its turn, experienced at the hand of the Roman churches. The teaching of 2 Corinthians 8, 9, had, it would seem, done its work effectually. He records the fact that the Epistle of Clement was read, from time to time, on the Lord’s Day. A female disciple named Chrysophora, apparently of the same type of character as Dorcas and Priscilla, was conspicuous both for her good works and her spiritual discernment (Euseb. Hist. iv. 23). With this glimpse into the latest traceable influence of St. Paul’s teaching, our survey of the history of the Church of Corinth may well close.

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:
I.

(1) Timothy our brother.—Literally, Timothy the brother. The word is used obviously in its wider sense as meaning a fellow-Christian. The opening words of the Epistle are nearly identical with those of 1Corinthians 1:1. Timotheus, however, takes the place of Sosthenes, having apparently left Corinth before the arrival of the First Epistle, or, possibly, not having reached it. (See Introduction.) It is natural to think of him as acting in this instance, as in others where the Apostle joins his name with his own (Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1), as St. Paul’s amanuensis.

With all the saints.—On the term “saints,” see Note on Acts 9:13. The term Achaia, which does not occur in the opening of 1 Cor., includes the whole of the Roman province, and was probably used to take in the disciples of Cenchreæ (Romans 16:1) as well as those of Corinth, and possibly also those of Athens.

Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
(2) Grace be to you.—See Romans 1:7; 1Corinthians 1:3.

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
(3) Blessed be God . . . the Father of mercies.—The opening words are spoken out of the fulness of the Apostle’s heart. He has had a comfort which he recognises as having come from God. The nature of that comfort, as of the previous sorrow, is hardly stated definitely till we come to 2Corinthians 2:13; 2Corinthians 7:6-7. At present the memory of it leads him to something like a doxology, as being the utterance of a more exulting joy than a simple thanksgiving, such as we find in 1Corinthians 1:4; Philippians 1:3; Colossians 1:3. The same formula meets us in Ephesians 1:3, where also it expresses a jubilant adoration. Two special names of God are added under the influence of the same feeling. He is “the Father of mercies,” the genitive being possibly a Hebraism, used in place of the cognate adjective; in which case it is identical with “God, the merciful Father,” in Jewish prayers, or with the ever-recurring formula of the Koran, “Allah, the compassionate, the merciful.” It seems better, however, to take the words more literally, as stating that God is the originator of all mercies, the source from which they flow. So we have the “Father of lights” in James 1:17. The precise phrase does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament; but we have the same noun in “the mercies of God” in Romans 12:1.

The God of all comfort.—The latter word, of which, taking the books of the New Testament in their chronological order, this is the earliest occurrence, includes the idea of counsel as well as consolation. (See Note on Acts 4:36.) It is used only by St. Paul, St. Luke, and the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and is pre-eminently characteristic of this Epistle, in which it occurs twelve, or, with the cognate verb, twenty-eight, times.

In the balanced structure of the sentence—the order of “God” and “Father” in the first clause being inverted in the second—we may trace something like an unconscious adoption of the familiar parallelism of Hebrew poetry.

Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
(4) Who comforteth us.—For the writer, the name “God of all comfort” was the outcome of a living personal experience. He had felt that ever-continuing comfort flowing into his soul, and he knew that it had not been given to him for his own profit only, but that it might flow forth to others. Heathen poets had asserted one side of the truth. Sophocles had said—

“They comfort others who themselves have mourned;”

—Fragm.

and Virgil—

“Not ignorant of ill, I, too, have learnt

To succour those that suffer.”—Æn. i. 630.

There was a yet deeper truth in the thought that the power to comfort varies with the measure in which we have been comforted ourselves. Sorrow alone may lead to sympathy, but it falls short of that power to speak a word in season to them that are weary (Isaiah 1:4), which is of the very essence of the work of comforting. The words imply that he had passed through a time of tribulation himself. They imply also that he knew of their troubles. (Comp. 2Corinthians 7:7-11.)

For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.
(5) Abound in us.—Better, overflow to us. The sufferings of Christ, as in 1Peter 4:13; 1Peter 5:1 (the Greek in 1Peter 1:11 expresses a different thought), are those which He endured on earth; those which, in His mysterious union with His Church, are thought as passing from Him to every member of His body, that they too may drink of the cup that He drank of. For the thought that in our sufferings, of whatever nature, we share Christ’s sufferings, comp. 2Corinthians 4:10; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24; 1Peter 4:13. The use of the plural, “our tribulations,” “overflow to us,” is dependent partly on the fact that St. Paul has joined Timotheus with himself in his salutation, and partly on the fact that it is his usual way of speaking of himself unless he has distinctly to assert his own individuality.

So our consolation also aboundeth.—Better, as before, overflows. The consolation which has come to him through Christ, as the channel through whom it flows down from the Father, has, like the suffering, an expansive power, and pours itself out on others.

And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
(6) And whether we be afflicted . . .—The better MSS. present some variations in the order of the clauses, some of them giving the words “and our hope of you is steadfast” after “which we also suffer” in this verse. The variation hardly affects the sense in any appreciable degree. That sense is that each stage of the Apostle’s experience, that of affliction no less than that of consolation, tended to make others sharers in the latter and not in the former.

For your consolation and salvation.—The latter word is added as presenting, in modern phrase, the objective side of the result of which St. Paul speaks, while the former gives prominence to the subjective. There was not only the sense of being comforted: there was also the actual deliverance from all real evil, expressed by the word “salvation.” But this deliverance is seen, not in a mere escape from, or avoidance of, sufferings, but in a patient, steadfast endurance of them.

Which is effectual.—Better, which worketh. The word is the same as in “faith working by love” in Galatians 5:6.

Which we also suffer.—What these are has not yet been specifically stated. It is assumed that the sufferings of all Christians have much in common. All have to suffer persecution from without (Acts 14:22). All have anxieties, sorrows, disappointments, which bring a keener pain than the ills that threaten the spoiling of goods or even life itself.

And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.
(7) And our hope of you is stedfast.—Better, our hope on behalf of you. The sentence is brought in as a kind of parenthesis connected with the word “enduring.” He had not used that word lightly, still less as a tacit reproach, as though they were wanting in endurance. His hope for them, for their salvation in the fullest sense of the word, had never been stronger than it was at that moment.

So shall ye be also of the consolation.—Better, so are ye also. The verb is not expressed in the Greek, but it is more natural to supply it in the tense which had been used before. The English version practically dilutes the hope by throwing it into a future, which may be near or distant, instead of connecting it with the actual present. The Apostle could not doubt for a moment that they were at that very time sharers in the comfort as well as in the sufferings.

For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
(8) We would not, brethren, have you ignorant.—From the generalised language of the previous verses he passes to something more specific. The phrase by which he calls attention to the importance of what he is about to write is characteristic of the Epistles of this period (Romans 1:13; 1Corinthians 10:1; 1Corinthians 12:1; 1Thessalonians 4:13).

Our trouble which came to us in Asia.—The allusion may possibly be to the Demetrius tumult of Acts 19:24-41, or to some like time of danger, such as that referred to in 1Corinthians 15:32. On the other hand, however, he would probably, in that case, have spoken of a definitely localised danger, as he does in the last reference as being “in Ephesus.” The words “in Asia” suggest a wider range of suffering, such as we find referred to in the speech to the elders at Miletus (Acts 20:19), and the context leads us to think of bodily illness as well as of perils and anxieties.

We were pressed out of measure.—The adverbial phrase is specially characteristic of the Epistles of this period. We find it in the “exceedingly sinful” of Romans 7:13; the “more excellent (or, transcending) way” of 1Corinthians 12:31; and again in 2Corinthians 4:17; Galatians 1:13.

Insomuch that we despaired even of life.—The language is obviously more vividly descriptive of the collapse of illness than of any peril such as those referred to in the previous Note. St. Paul could hardly have despaired of life during the tumult of Acts 19.

But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
(9) We had the sentence of death in ourselves.—The word translated “sentence” (apokrima) does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, nor indeed in the LXX. Literally, it means answer, and was probably a half-technical term, used in medical practice, which St. Paul may have adopted from St. Luke, expressing the “opinion” which a physician formed on his diagnosis of a case submitted to him. The Apostle had found himself in a state in which, so far as he could judge for himself, that opinion would have been against the prospect of recovery. He ceased to trust in himself, i.e., in any remedial measures that he could take for himself. He could only fold his hands and trust in God. Recovery in such a case was a veritable resurrection. It may be noted, however, that a cognate word (apokrisis) is frequently used by Hippocrates in the sense of a morbid or virulent secretion, and possibly the word here used may also have had that meaning. In this case, what he says would be equivalent to “We had the symptoms of a fatal disease in us.”

Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
(10) Who delivered us from so great a death.—Death in itself seems hardly to admit of such a qualifying adjective, but the words appear to have been used to represent the incidents of the death which seemed so near, the bodily anguish, the sense of prostration, almost, one might venture to say, the very presence of the king of terrors. As the word translated “so great” is strictly speaking, used of quality rather than quantity, we might almost translate it, so terrible a death.

And doth deliver.—The words are wanting in some of the better MSS., and others give them in the future. They may possibly have been inserted to carry the thought of the deliverance into the present as well as through the past and the future.

In whom we trust.—Better, in whom we have hoped. The verb is not the same as the “trust” of the preceding verse. The words imply that he was not yet altogether free, as man would judge, from the danger of a relapse. Life was for him, in relation both to bodily infirmities and perils of other kinds, a perpetual series of deliverances.

Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.
(11) Ye also helping together by prayer . . .—They too to whom he writes can help him as he helps them. Indirectly he asks their prayers for him, but he does so with a refined delicacy of feeling, by assuming that they are already praying, and that their prayers are helpful.

That for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons.—The Greek word for “person” (prosôpon) is elsewhere throughout the New Testament translated “face” or “countenance,” or “person” in the sense of “outward appearance.” It has been suggested that that may be its meaning even here: that thanksgiving may be offered from many upturned faces. The use of the word prosopopœia, however, for “personifying,” and of prosôpon for the characters in a drama, indicates that the noun was beginning to be used in a different sense, and this must clearly have been well established when it came to be used in theological language for the three “persons” of the Godhead. It is interesting to note, however, as a fact in the history of language, that, if this be its meaning here, it is probably one of the earliest extant instances of its being so used.

The “gift,” in this instance, is the deliverance from danger and suffering spoken of in the previous verse. Safety and health deserved the name not less truly than prophecy and the gift of tongues. He assumes, with the same subtle refinement as before, that they will be as ready to give thanks for his recovery or deliverance as they were to pray for it.

For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.
(12) For our rejoicing is this. . . .—Better, our boast, as in Romans 3:17; Romans 15:17; 1Corinthians 15:31. With the feeling of jubilant thankfulness which has hitherto characterised his language there mingles another of a different character. It had, perhaps, been in the background of his thoughts all along. He had seemed, in 1Corinthians 4:21, to imply that he was coming to take strong measures against evil-doers (“Shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love?”). In 1Corinthians 16:2-8 he had spoken yet more definitely, “I will come unto you, when I shall have passed through Macedonia.” And yet he had not come. Titus would seem to have told him what was said of this: “He was fickle, and changeable; said Yes one day, and No another. Perhaps he was afraid to come.” He is eager to refute the charge without a formal pleading as in answer to it, and seems to cast about for an opening. He finds it in the words which he had just dictated. He has a right to assume that the Corinthians will pray and give thanks for him, for he can boast that he has never failed, conscience bearing him witness, in transparent sincerity to them.

The testimony of our conscience.—The words present an obviously undesigned coincidence with St. Paul’s language in Acts 23:1; Acts 24:16, and again with that of Romans 9:1. To have nothing on his conscience, to “know nothing by (i.e., against) himself” (1Corinthians 4:4), was the great law of his life. And this was true, as of his whole life in relation to the Corinthians, so especially of the supposed change of purpose with which he had been taunted.

In simplicity.—The better MSS. give “holiness” instead of “simplicity.” The Greek word for the latter is very characteristic of this Epistle (2Corinthians 8:2; 2Corinthians 9:11; 2Corinthians 9:13; 2Corinthians 11:3), but then it is used in these passages in quite another sense, as of a single-minded generosity. The word for “holiness” is not a common one, but it appears in Hebrews 12:10. It was, however, the natural correlative of the term “saints” applied to all believers. St. Paul’s conscience told him that he had not been false to the consecrated character which that term involved.

Godly sincerity.—Better, sincerity which is of God. It is seldom satisfactory to tone down the bold vigour of the Greek, or perhaps Hebrew, idiom into the tameness of an English adjective. The sincerity which St. Paul claims had come to him as God’s gift: he could submit it to God’s judgment. The word for “sincerity” (literally, transparency of character, or, perhaps, that which bore the test of the strongest light) had been used in 1Corinthians 5:8.

Not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God.—Better, in or with in both clauses. The words indicate the same line of thought as those of 1Corinthians 2:1-6. Men made invidious comparisons between his plainness of speech and the eloquent wisdom of some other teachers. That kind of “fleshly,” i.e., worldly, wisdom he disclaims. It was not that, but the favour or the “grace” of God which was the motive-force of his action, the sphere in which he lived and moved.

We have had our conversation.—Better, we conducted ourselves. The tense of the Greek verb implies a special reference in thought to the time when he had been at Corinth. It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to note that “conversation” means “conduct,” but as the first occurrence of the word in the New Testament, it may be well to trace the several stages through which it has passed. On its appearance in English, as in Chaucer, it has its full etymological force as indicating, as it does here, habitual conduct. “Enquire of his conversation and of his life before” (Tale of Melibœus). So in Wiclif’s version of the Bible it is used, as in that of 1611, in Galatians 1:13. In somewhat later writers, e.g., in Sidney and Strype, the sense becomes that of “conduct with others,” “converse, intercourse,” a sense still prominent in the familiar legal term for adultery. In Swift and Cowper it has come to be all but absolutely identified with the intercourse which is carried on by talking. In its fullest sense, the Apostle can say that he had striven to live everywhere so as to avoid giving grounds for suspicion. Nowhere had he been more careful so to live than at Corinth, where men were suspicious in proportion to their own viciousness. (Comp. Notes on 2Corinthians 7:1-2.)

For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end;
(13) For we write none other things . . .—The Greek presents a play on the two words “read” (ana-ginoskein) and “acknowledge,” or “know fully” (epiginoskein), which it is impossible to reproduce in English. It is as though he said: “I have no hidden meaning in what I write and you read. What you read you read aright in its plain and simple sense. I hope” (the very hope implies that it had been otherwise) “that the more you know me the more will you so read me and judge me even to the end, the great day when the Lord shall come and all things shall be made plain.” (Comp. 1Corinthians 4:3-5.) Possibly, however, the words “even to the end” may be merely equivalent to “completely.” (See Note on John 13:1.)

As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.
(14) As also ye have acknowledged.—The parenthetical clause (better, ye did acknowledge) comes in to qualify the fear which had been partly veiled by the hope. They had done him some, though not adequate, justice. The phrase “in part” may be noted as specially characteristic of the Epistles of this period (Romans 11:25; Romans 15:15; Romans 15:24; 1Corinthians 11:18; 1Corinthians 12:27; 1Corinthians 13:9).

That we are your rejoicing . . .—Better, a ground of exultation to you, as you are to us. The words must be connected with the future rather than the past. “I trust that you will one day recognise that you have as much reason to be proud of me as I have to be proud of you.” The word for “rejoicing,” “boasting,” “glorying,” &c., is specially characteristic of this period of St. Paul’s life, occurring forty-six times in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, and only six times in his other Epistles. The “day of the Lord Jesus,” of His great advent to judge the world (comp. Romans 2:16), defines the “end” to which the previous verse had pointed.

And in this confidence I was minded to come unto you before, that ye might have a second benefit;
(15) And in this confidence.—What has been said hitherto paves the way for the explanation of his apparent change of purpose which he is anxious to give, though he will not formally plead at the bar of the tribunal of those who accused or suspected him. It was because he trusted that they would judge him rightly that he had done that which had led some to judge him wrongly. His plan had been at first to go straight by sea from Ephesus to Corinth, then to pass on to Macedonia, thence to return to Corinth, and thence set sail for Jerusalem. When he wrote 1Corinthians 16:5-6, he had already modified his plan by deciding to go to Macedonia first. His original scheme had shown his wish to see as much of the Corinthians as possible. They were to have two visits (“a second favour”), and not one only. Had he shown less regard, he asks, in the change with which he had been taunted?

And to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you, and of you to be brought on my way toward Judaea.
(16) To be brought on my way.—The change of word is significant. He did not intend merely to go from Corinth to Judaea. He expected the Corinthians to further his intentions, to help him on, to escort him solemnly to the ship in which he was to sail, perhaps to accompany him to Asia. (Comp. the use of the word in Acts 15:3; Acts 20:38, “accompanied”; 21:5; Romans 15:24; 1Corinthians 16:6-11.) The wish had been stated in 1Corinthians 16:6, but without more than a hint (1Corinthians 16:4), that his destination might be Jerusalem,

When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay?
(17) Did I use lightness?—This, then, was the charge which he is anxious to refute. The question meets us, however, When had the Corinthians heard of the plan thus detailed? It had been already abandoned, as we have seen, before the first Epistle was despatched. Had it been communicated in a lost letter (see Note on 1Corinthians 5:9)? or was this what Timotheus, who started before the first letter was written (1Corinthians 4:17), had been authorised to announce? Either alternative is possible, and there is no evidence to enable us to decide which is most probable.

Do I purpose according to the flesh . . .?—The construction is somewhat involved. He may mean: (1) “Do I form my purposes after the flesh” (i.e., from worldly motives), “so as to catch the praise of consistency from those who harp on the rule that ‘Yes should be yes, and No, no’?” or (2) “Am I weak and worldly in my purpose, changing my plans, and saying Yes’ and ‘No’ in almost the same breath?” On the whole, (2) seems to give the better sense. It is obvious that the words on which he dwells had been used of him by others. Some teacher of the party of the circumcision had, apparently, quoted the rule of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:37) and of St. James (James 5:12), and had asked, with a sneer, when the First Epistle came and showed that the original plan had been abandoned, whether this was the way in which St. Paul acted on it? The passage has accordingly the interest of being indirectly a reference to our Lord’s teaching, showing, like Acts 20:35, that “the words of the Lord Jesus” were habitually cited as rules of life.

But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay.
(18) As God is true.—Literally, as God is faithful. The words were one of St. Paul’s usual formulæ of assertion. (Comp. 1Corinthians 1:9; 1Corinthians 10:13; 2Thessalonians 3:3.) In other instances it is followed commonly by a statement as to some act or attribute of God. Here it is more of the nature of an oath: “As God is faithful in all His words, so my speech” (the vague term is used to include preaching, writing, personal intercourse) “is true and faithful also.” There had been no “Yes” and “No” in the same breath; no saying one thing when he meant another.

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea.
(19) By me and Silvanus and Timotheus.—We note an undesigned coincidence with Acts 18:5, where Silas (whose identity with Silvanus is thus proved) is related to have come with Timotheus to join St. Paul at Corinth. The three names are joined together in the same order in 1Thessalonians 1:1, and 2Thessalonians 1:1.

Was not yea and nay, but in him was yea.—From the forensic point of view, this was, of course, hardly an adequate defence against the charge of inconsistency. The argument was, so to speak, one of ethical congruity. It was infinitely unlikely that one who preached Christ, the absolutely True Christ, who enforced every precept with the emphatic “Amen, Amen” (the word occurs thirty-one times in St. Matthew, fourteen times in St. Mark, seven times in St. Luke, and in its reduplicated form twenty-five times in St. John), “Verily, verily,” should afterwards be shamelessly untruthful, and use words that paltered with a double sense.

But in him was yea.—Better, but in him Yea has been and still is so, as His great characterising word.

For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.
(20) All the promises of God . . .—Literally, as many as are the promises of God. Many of the better MSS. give a different reading: “In him is the Yea, wherefore also by him is the Amen to God for glory by our means.” The thought in either case is the same. The promises of God have been fulfilled and ratified in Christ. He was, as it were, a living incarnate “Amen” to those promises. Comp. St. John’s use of the word Amen as a name of Christ, the “faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14). The words “by us” are determined by the context as referring to the preacher rather than to the hearers of the Word.

Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God;
(21) He which stablisheth us with you . . .—For a moment the thought of an apology for his own conduct is merged in the higher thought of the greatness of his mission. The word “stablisheth,” or “confirmed,” as in 1Corinthians 1:8, is connected with the previous “Amen” as the emphatic formula of ratification. In the insertion of “with you” we note St. Paul’s characteristic anxiety to avoid the appearance of claiming for himself what others might not claim with equal right. He repeats the confident hope which he had expressed in 1Corinthians 1:8.

In Christ.—Literally, into Christ, as though the result of the “establishing” was an actual incorporation with Him. This seems a truer interpretation than that which paraphrases, “confirms us in believing on Christ.”

And hath anointed us.—Literally, and anointed, as referring to a definite moment in the life of the disciples. The verb follows naturally on the mention of Christ the Anointed One. The time referred to is that when, on baptism or the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17), they had received the first-fruits of the gift of the Spirit, as in Acts 2:38; Acts 8:17; Acts 10:44; Acts 19:6; the “unction from the Holy One” (1John 2:20; 1John 2:27).

Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
(22) Who hath also sealed us.—Better, who also sealed us. The thought thus expressed is that the gift of the Spirit, following on baptism or the laying on of hands, is as the seal of the covenant which God makes with His people, attesting its validity. (Comp. Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30; and, for the Jewish use of seals, Jeremiah 32:10.)

And given the earnest of the Spirit.—Better, for the same reason as before, gave. The Greek word for “earnest” (arrhabôn), which occurs here for the first time, and is used only by St. Paul in the New Testament (2Corinthians 5:5; Ephesians 1:14), has a somewhat interesting history. Originally a Hebrew word, from a verb meaning “to mix,” “to change,” “to pledge,” and so used, as a cognate noun, with the last of the three senses, it appears simply transliterated in the LXX. of Genesis 38:17-18. It would seem to have been in common use among the Canaanite or Phoenician traders, and was carried by them to Greece, to Carthage, to Alexandria, and to Rome. It was used by the Greek orator Isæus, and by Plautus and Terence among the earlier Latin writers. The full form came to be considered somehow as pedantic or vulgar, and was superseded in Roman law by the shortened “arrha,” the payment of a small sum given on the completion of a bargain as a pledge that the payer would fulfil the contract; and it has passed into Italian as “arra;” into modern French, as “les arrhes;” into popular Scotch even, as “arles.” As applied by St. Paul, it had the force of a condensed parable, such as the people of commercial cities like Corinth and Ephesus would readily understand. They were not to think that their past spiritual experience had any character of finality. It was rather but the pledge of yet greater gifts to come: even of that knowledge of God which is eternal life (John 17:3). The same thought is expressed, under a more Hebrew image, in the “firstfruits of the Spirit” in Romans 8:23. Grammatically, the “earnest of the Spirit” may be taken as an example of the genitive of apposition, “the earnest which is the Spirit.”

Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth.
(23) I call God for a record.—Better, I call upon God as a witness against my soul. The thought seems to come across St. Paul’s mind that the Corinthians will require a more specific explanation of his change of plan, and he finds this in what had been in part suggested in 1Corinthians 4:21. Had he carried out his first purpose, he would have come to punish or chastise. He had been, on this account, reluctant to come. His not coming was an act of leniency.

I came not as yet.—Better, I came no morei.e., not a second time after his first visit. The Greek adverb cannot possibly mean “not yet.”

Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.
(24) Not for that we have dominion over your faith.—Better, are lording it over. He has scarcely written, or uttered, the words which imply authority, when the thought comes to him that he may seem to claim too much. He shrinks from “lording it over God’s heritage” (1Peter 5:3), and half apologises for so strong a word as “sparing.” He puts forward, therefore, the other side of his work. He was really seeking, not to domineer, or cause pain, but to be a fellow-worker with their “joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13). He knows that they have a standing-ground, independently of him, in their faith in Christ, and he seeks to confirm that faith.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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1 Corinthians 16
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