Vincent's Word Studies
The Second Epistle to the Corinthians
Paul's stay at Ephesus was cut short by the riot. He departed to Troas, and thence to Macedonia (Acts 20), where he met Titus, for whose arrival he had anxiously waited in order to learn the effect of his letter (2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:5). Titus' report was both gratifying and disheartening. He had been cordially received, and the epistle had caused penitence and amendment; but the influence of the anti-Pauline parties had increased, and they were openly assailing Paul's character and insisting on their own superior apostolic claims. Accordingly Titus was again sent to Corinth with a second epistle, written from some point in Macedonia. The statement of the subscription that it was written from Philippi, lacks evidence, besides being in itself improbable. The date is the autumn of a.d. 57.
The epistle is among the least systematic of Paul's writings, for the reason that it was written in a conflict of feeling, in which joy, grief, and indignation struggled for the mastery. Its main motives are three in number.
1. Thankfulness for the effect of his first letter.
2. Indignation at the work and increasing influence of the false teachers.
3. Anxiety for the completion of the collection, and that the Corinthians should imitate the good example of the Macedonian churches.
"The three objects of the epistle are, in point of arrangement, kept distinct; but so vehement were the feelings under which he wrote, that the thankful expression of the first part is darkened by the indignation of the third; and the directions about the business of the contribution are colored by the reflections both of his joy and of his grief" (Stanley).
The style accords with this turbulence of feeling. It is surcharged with passionate emotion. No one of Paul's epistles is so intensely personal. Here only he reveals two of those great spiritual experiences which belong to a Christian's inmost heart-life - personal crises which are secrets between a man and his God. One of these - the thorn in the flesh - is a crisis of agony; the other - the rapture into the third heaven - a crisis of ecstasy. Bengel's remark is familiar, that the epistle is an itinerary. "The very stages of his journey are impressed upon it; the troubles at Ephesus, the repose at Troas, the anxieties and consolations of Macedonia, the prospect of removing to Corinth" (Stanley). His self-vindication is not only a remarkable piece of personal history, but a revelation of his high sense of honor and his keen sensitiveness. His "boasting," into which he is driven by persistent slander, throws into relief his aversion to self-praise. He formally announces his intention to boast, as though he can bring himself to the task only by committing himself to it. Thrice he repeats the announcement, and each time seems to catch, with a sense of relief, at an opportunity for digressing to a different subject. Ecstatic thanksgiving and cutting irony, self-assertion and self-abnegation, commendation, warning and authority, paradox, apology, all meet and cross and seethe; yet out of the swirling eddies rise, like rocks, grand Christian principles and inspiring hopes. Such are the double power of the Gospel for life or death; the freedom and energy of the dispensation of the Spirit; suffering the path to glory; the divine purpose in the decay of the fleshly tabernacle; the new and heavenly investment of the mortal life; the universal judgment; the nature of repentance as distinguished from sorrow, and the principles of christian liberality. Full and swift as is the torrent, there is ever a hand on the floodgate. In the most indignant outburst the sense of suppression asserts itself. Indignation and irony never run into malediction. We cease to be surprised at the apostle's capability of indignation when we catch glimpses, as we do throughout the epistle, into the depths of his tenderness.
It is not strange that such a tempest should set its mark upon the style and diction, especially if we assume that the epistle was dictated to an amanuensis. In some particulars the epistle is the most difficult in the New Testament. The style is broken, involved, at times obscure. The impetuosity of the thought carries it from point to point with a rapidity which makes it often hard to grasp the sequence and connection. It is preeminently picturesque, abounding in metaphors which sometimes lie undeveloped in the heart of single words, and sometimes are strangely mixed or suddenly shifted. Building and clothing blend in describing the heavenly investiture of the believer; now the Corinthians are a commendatory letter written in the apostles' hearts, now the letter is written by Christ on the Corinthians' hearts; the rush of thought does not stop at the incongruity of an epistle on stone and of ink on stone tables; now the knowledge of Christ, now the apostles themselves are a sweet odor. Paul does not huckster the word of God. He does not benumb his converts like a torpedo. Here a word calls up Gideon's lamps and pitchers, there the rocky strongholds of the Cilician pirates. A rapid series of participles carries us through the successive stages of a battle - the hemming in, the cutting the way out, the pursuit, the blow of the enemy's sword. The high citadel is stormed, the lofty towers are overthrown, the captives are led away. Paul bears about a daily death: affliction is a light weight, glory an overwhelming burden: the fleshly body is a tent, the glorified body an eternal building, or a garment dropped from above.
Certain words appear to have a peculiar fascination for the writer, as if they gathered up into themselves the significance of whole masses of thought. Without arresting its main current, the stream eddies round these. Sometimes he dwells on them caressingly, as "the God of all comfort, who comforteth us, that we may be able to comfort with the comfort wherewith we are comforted." Sometimes he rings them out like a challenge, as commend, commendation, boast. Sometimes he touches and retouches them with a sarcastic emphasis, as bear with me, bear with them. "So full of turns is he everywhere," says Erasmus, "so great is the skill, you would not believe that the same man was speaking. Now, as some limpid fountain, he gently bubbles forth; anon, like a mighty torrent, he rolls crashing on, whirling many things along in his course: again he flows calmly and smoothly, or spreads out into a lake."
The authenticity of the epistle is conceded. Unsuccessful attempts have been made against its integrity, as the effort to show that it consists of three separate epistles, or of two.
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:
Timothy our brother
Lit., the brother. Compare 1 Corinthians 1:1. Well known in the Christian brotherhood. When Paul writes to Timothy himself he calls him son" (Bengel). Timothy appears, not as amanuensis, nor as joint-author, but as joint-sender of the epistle.
See on 1 Corinthians 16:15.
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
The Father of mercies (ὁ πατὴρ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν)
Equivalent to the compassionate Father. Compare the phrases Father of glory, Ephesians 1:17; spirits, Hebrews 12:9; lights, James 1:17. Οἰκτιρμός mercy, from οἶκτος pity or mercy, the feeling which expresses itself in the exclamation οἴ oh! on seeing another's misery. The distinction between this and ἔλεος, according to which οἰκτιρμός signifies the feeling, and ἔλεος the manifestation, cannot be strictly held, since the manifestation is often expressed by οἰκτιρμός. See Sept., Psalm 24:6; Psalm 102:4; Psalm 118:77.
All comfort (πάσης παρακλήσεως)
The earliest passage in the New Testament where this word comfort or its kindred verb is applied to God. Compare παράκλητος comforter, advocate, of the Holy Spirit, in John 14:16, John 14:26, etc. All is better rendered every: the God of every consolation.
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.
In all our tribulation - in any trouble (ἐπὶ πάση τῇ θλίψει ἡμῶν - ἐν πάσῃ θλίψει)
Note the nice use of the article: all our tribulation, collectively; any or every trouble, specifically. In is literally upon; the trouble forming the ground of the comfort. So in hope, Romans 4:18; Romans 5:2.
We ourselves are comforted
An illustration of the personal character which pervades this epistle. Paul had been oppressed with anxiety concerning the reception of his first epistle by the Corinthian Church, by the delay of tidings, and by his disappointment in meeting Titus. The tidings, when at last they did arrive, aroused his gratitude for the wholesome effect of his rebuke upon the Church, and his indignation at the aggressions of the Judaizing teachers. With these feelings mingled his anxiety to hasten, in the Corinthian Church, the contribution for the poor saints in Judaea. This second letter therefore bears the marks of the high tension of feeling which finds expression in frequent personal allusions, especially to his afflictions.
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.
Sufferings of Christ
Not things suffered for Christ's sake, but Christ's own sufferings as they are shared by His disciples. See Matthew 20:22; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 4:13. Note the peculiar phrase abound (περισσεύει) in us, by which Christ's sufferings are represented as overflowing upon His followers. See on Colossians 1:24.
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.
And whether we be, etc.
The MSS. differ in their arrangement of this verse. The main points of difference may be seen by comparing the A.V. and Rev. The sense is not affected by the variation.
Is effectual (ἐνεργουμένης)
And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.
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:
We would not have you ignorant
See on Romans 1:13.
Came to us in Asia
Rev., better, befell. The nature of the trouble is uncertain. The following words seem to indicate inward distress rather than trouble from without, such as he experienced at Ephesus.
Were pressed out of measure (καθ' ὑπερβολὴν ἐβαρήθημεν)
Rev., better, were weighed down, thus giving the etymological force of the verb, from βάρος burden. For out of measure, Rev, exceedingly; see on 1 Corinthians 2:1.
We despaired (ἐξαπορηθῆναι)
But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
Sentence of death (ἀπόκριμα τοῦ θανάτου)
Ἁπόκριμα, occurs only here in the New Testament, and not in classical Greek nor in the Septuagint. In the latter the kindred words have, almost uniformly, the meaning of answer. Josephus used it of a response of the Roman senate. Sentence, which occurs in some inscriptions, if a legitimate rendering at all, is a roundabout one, derived from a classical use of the verb ἀποκρίνω to reject on inquiry, decide. Rev., therefore, correctly, answer of death. The sense is well given by Stanley: "When I have asked myself what would be the issue of this struggle, the answer has been, 'death."'
Doth deliver (ῥύεται)
The correct reading is ῥύσεται will deliver, Rev.
Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
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.
Face is the usual rendering of the word in the New Testament. Even when rendered person the usage is Hebraistic for face. See on James 2:1 There is no reason for abandoning that sense here. The expression is pictorial; that thanksgiving may be given from many faces; the cheerful countenances being an offering of thanks to God.
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.
Godly sincerity (εἰλικρινείᾳ τοῦ Θεοῦ)
Lit., sincerity of God, as Rev. See on 2 Peter 3:1.
We have had our conversation (ἀνεστράφημεν)
Rev., behaved ourselves. See on 1 Peter 1:15.
For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end;
Read - acknowledge (ἀναγινώσκετε - ἐπιγινώσκετε)
The word-play cannot be reproduced in English.
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.
In part (ἀπὸ μέρους)
Referring to the partial understanding of his character and motives by the Corinthians.
And in this confidence I was minded to come unto you before, that ye might have a second benefit;
Rather, first of all. Instead of going first to the Macedonians, as he afterward decided. See 1 Corinthians 16:5.
Second benefit (δευτέραν χάριν)
Benefit is, literally, grace. Not a mere pleasurable experience through Paul's visit, but a divine bestowal of grace. Compare Romans 1:11. Second refers to his original plan to visit Corinth twice, on his way to Macedonia and on his return.
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.
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?
Did I use lightness (τῇ ἐλαφρίᾳ ἐχρησαμην)
The yea, yea, and the nay, nay
That I should say "yes" at one time and "no" at another; promising to come and breaking my promise.
But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay.
As God is true (πιστὸς ὁ Θεὸς)
Not to be taken as a formula of swearing. He means that God will answer for him against the charge of fickleness by the power and blessing (benefit) which will attend his presence. Hence the meaning is: faithful is God (in this) that our speech, etc.
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.
Was not (οὐκ ἐγένετο)
Rather, did not prove to be, in the result.
In Him was yea (ναὶ ἐν αὐτῷ γέγονεν)
For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.
Wrong. As many as.
Are yea, etc.
Making this the predicate of promises, which is wrong. The meaning is that how many soever are God's promises, in Christ is the incarnate answer, "yea!" to the question, "Will they be fulfilled?" Hence Rev., correctly: How many soever be the promises of God, in Him is the yea.
And in Him Amen (καὶ ἐν αὐτῷ τὸ ἀμὴν)
The correct reading is: διὸ καὶ δἰ αὐτοῦ τὸ ἀμὴν Wherefore also through Him is the Amen. In giving this answer in His person and life, Christ puts the emphatic confirmation upon God's promises, even as in the congregation the people say Amen, verily. In Him is in His person: through Him, by His agency.
By us (δἰ ἡμῶν)
Through our ministration. Christ, in and through whom are the yea and the amen, is so proclaimed by us as to beget assurance of God's promises, and so to glorify Him.
Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God;
Stablisheth - in Christ (βεβαιῶν - εἰς)
The present participle with εἰς into indicates the work as it is in progress toward a final identification of the believers with Christ.
Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
Of the Spirit
Not the foretaste or pledge of the Spirit, but the Spirit Himself in pledge of the fulfillment of the promises. By a common Greek usage the words are in 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.
I call God for a record (τὸν Θεὸν ἐπικαλοῦμαι)
Rev., better, witness. A common classical idiom. Compare Plato: "Next will follow the choir of young men under the age of thirty, who will call upon the god Paean to testify to the truth of these words" ("Laws," 664). Homer: "For the gods will be the best witnesses" ("Iliad," xxii., 254). Compare Romans 1:9; Galatians 1:20; Philippians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 2:10; Genesis 31:50, Sept. This particular form of expression occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The verb is often translated appeal, as Acts 25:11, Acts 25:12. Also to call upon, in the sense of supplication, Romans 10:12, Romans 10:13, Romans 10:14; 1 Corinthians 1:2.
Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.