Second Epistle Of Paul To The Corinthians
From Bible Encyclopedia
Shortly after writing his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul left Ephesus, where intense excitement had been aroused against him, the evidence of his great success, and proceeded to Macedonia. Pursuing the usual route, he reached Troas, the port of departure for Europe. Here he expected to meet with Titus, whom he had sent from Ephesus to Corinth, with news of the effects produced on the church there by the first epistle; but was disappointed (1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2:12, 13). He then left Troas and proceeded to Macedonia; and at Philippi, where he delayed, he was soon joined by Titus (2 Corinthians 7:6, 7), who brought him good news from Corinth, and also by Timothy. Under the influence of the feelings awakened in his mind by the favourable report which Titus brought back from Corinth, this second epistle was written. It was probably written at Philippi, or, as some think, Thessalonica, early in the year AD 58, and was sent to Corinth by Titus. This letter he addresses not only to the church in Corinth, but also "to the saints which are in all Achaia", i.e., the Roman province of Achaea( i.e., in Athens, Cenchrea, and other cities in Greece).
There is some discussion over whether the letter was originally one letter or a combination of 2 letters. That other letters were written is known as Paul refers to the "letter of tears" in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4 and 7:8. The abrupt change of tone from being previously harmonious to bitterly reproachful in 2 Corinthians 10-13 has led many to speculate that these chapters form part of the tearful letter which were in some way tagged on to Paul's main letter.
This epistle, it has been well said, shows the individuality of the apostle more than any other. "Human weakness, spiritual strength, the deepest tenderness of affection, wounded feeling, sternness, irony, rebuke, impassioned self-vindication, humility, a just self-respect, zeal for the welfare of the weak and suffering, as well as for the progress of the church of Christ and for the spiritual advancement of its members, are all displayed in turn in the course of his appeal."--Lias, Second Corinthians.
Of the effects produced on the Corinthian church by this epistle we have no definite information. We know that Paul visited Greece(Acts 20:2, 3), where he then stayed for three months. In his letter to Rome, written at this time, he sent salutations from some of the principal members of the church to the Romans.
- Chapters 1-7: Paul speaks of his spiritual labours and course of life, and expresses his warm affection toward the Corinthians.
- Chapters 8 and 9: Paul gives specific directions regarding the collection that was to be made for their poor brethren in Judea.
- Chapters 10-13: Paul defends his own apostolic claim , and justifies himself from the charges and insinuations of the false teacher and his adherents.
I. Text, Authenticity and Date
1. Internal Evidence
Compare what has already been said in the preceding article. In the two important 5th-century uncials, Codex Alexandrinus (A) and Codex Ephraemi (C), portions of the text are lacking. As to the genuineness internal evidence very vividly attests it. The distinctive elements of Pauline theology and eschatology, expressed in familiar Pauline terms, are manifest throughout. Yet the epistle is not doctrinal or didactic, but an intensely personal document. Its absorbing interest is in events which were profoundly agitating Paul and the Corinthians at the time, straining their relations to the point of rupture, and demanding strong action on Paul's part. Our imperfect knowledge of the circumstances necessarily hinders a complete comprehension, but the references to these events and to others in the personal history of the apostle are so natural, and so manifestly made in good faith, that no doubt rises in the reader's mind but that he is in the sphere of reality, and that the voice he hears is the voice of the man whose heart and nerves were being torn by the experiences through which he was passing. However scholars may differ as to the continuity and integrity of the text, there is no serious divergence among them in the opinion that all parts of the epistle are genuine writings of the apostle.
2. External Evidence
Externally, the testimony of the sub-apostolic age, though not so frequent or precise as in the case of 1 Corinthians, is still sufficiently clear to establish the existence and use of the epistle in the 2nd century Clement of Rome is silent when he might rather have been expected to use the epistle (compare Kennedy, Second and Third Corinthians, 142ff); but it is quoted by Polycarp (Ad Phil., ii.4 and vi.1), and in the Epistle to Diognetus 5 12, while it is amply attested to by Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria.
It was written from Macedonia (probably from Philippi) either in the autumn of the same year as that in which 1 Corinthians was written, 54 or 55 ad, or in the autumn of the succeeding year.
II. Resume of Events
Great difficulty exists as to the circumstances in which the epistle was written, and as to the whole situation between 1 and 2 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians Paul had intimated his intention of visiting the Corinthians and wintering with them, coming to them through Macedonia (1 Corinthians 16:5-7; compare also Acts 19:21). In 2 Corinthians 1:15, 2 Corinthians 1:16 he refers to a somewhat different plan, Corinth - Macedonia - Corinth - Judaea; and describes this return from Macedonia to Corinth as a second or double benefit. But if this plan, on which he and his friends had counted, had not been entirely carried out, it had been for good reason (2 Corinthians 1:17), and not due to mere fickleness or light-hearted change to suit his own convenience. It was because he would “spare” them (2 Corinthians 1:23), and not come to them “again with sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:1). That is, he had been with them, but there had been such a profound disturbance in their relations that he dared not risk a return meantime; instead, he had written a letter to probe and test them, “out of much affliction and anguish of heart ... with many tears” (2 Corinthians 2:4). Thank God, this severe letter had accomplished its mission. It had produced sorrow among them (2 Corinthians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 7:8, 2 Corinthians 7:9), but it had brought their hearts back to him with the old allegiance, with great clearing of themselves, and fear and longing and zeal (2 Corinthians 7:11). There was a period, however, of waiting for knowledge of this issue, which was to him a period of intense anxiety; he had even nervously regretted that he had written as he did (2 Corinthians 7:5-8). Titus, who had gone as his representative to Corinth, was to return with a report of how this severe letter had been received, and when Titus failed to meet him at Troas 2 Corinthians 2:13, he had “no relief for his spirit,” but pushed on eagerly to Macedonia to encounter him the sooner. Then came the answer, and the lifting of the intolerable burden from his mind. “He that comforteth the lowly, even God, comforted” him (2 Corinthians 7:6). The Corinthians had been swayed by a godly sorrow and repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8), and the sky had cleared again with almost unhoped-for brightness. One who had offended (2 Corinthians 2:5 and 2 Corinthians 7:12) - but whose offense is not distinctly specified - had been disciplined by the church; indeed, in the revulsion of feeling against him, and in sympathy for the apostle, he had been punished so heavily that there was a danger of passing to an extreme, and plunging him into despair (2 Corinthians 2:7). Paul accordingly pleads for leniency and forgiveness, lest further resentment should lead only to a further and sadder wrong (2 Corinthians 2:6-11). But in addition to this offender there were others, probably following in his train, who had carried on a relentless attack against the apostle both in his person and in his doctrine. He earnestly defends himself against their contemptuous charges of fleshliness and cowardice (chapter 10), and crafty venality (2 Corinthians 12:16, 2 Corinthians 12:17). Another Jesus is preached, a different spirit, a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). They “commend themselves” (2 Corinthians 10:12), but are false apostles, deceitful workers, ministers of Satan, fashioning themselves into ministers of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13, 2 Corinthians 11:14). Their attacks are vehemently repelled in an eloquent apologia (chapters 11 and 12), and he declares that when he comes the third time they will not be spared (2 Corinthians 13:2). Titus, accompanied by other well-known brethren, is again to be the representative of the apostle 2 Corinthians 8:6, 2 Corinthians 8:17. At no great interval Paul himself followed, Thus making his third visit (2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1), and so far fulfilled his original purpose that he spent the winter peacefully in Corinth (compare Acts 20:2, Acts 20:3; Romans 15:25-27 and Romans 16:23).
III. The New Situation
It is manifest that we are in the presence of a new and unexpected situation, whose development is not clearly defined, and concerning which we have elsewhere no source of information. To elucidate it, the chief points requiring attention are:
- (1) The references to the offender in 2 Corinthians 2 and 7, and to the false teachers, particularly in the later chapters of the ep.;
- (2) The painful visit implicitly referred to in 2 Corinthians 2:1; and
- (3) The letter described as written in tears and for a time regretted (2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:8).
1. The Offender
The offender in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 had been guilty of incest, and Paul was grieved that the church of Corinth did not regard with horror a crime which even the pagan world would not have tolerated. His judgment on the case was uncompromising and the severest possible - that, in solemn assembly, in the name and with the power of the Lord Jesus, the church should deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. On the other hand, the offender in 2 Corinthians 2:5 is one who obviously has transgressed less heinously, and in a way more personal to the apostle. The church, roused by the apostle to show whether they indeed cared for him and stood by him (2 Corinthians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 13:7), had, by a majority, brought censure to bear on this man, and Paul now urged that matters should go no farther, lest an excess of discipline should really end in a triumph of Satan. It is not possible to regard such references as applying to the crime dealt with in 1 Corinthians. Purposely veiled as the statements are, it would yet appear that a personal attack had been made on the apostle; and the “many” in Corinth (2 Corinthians 2:6), having at length espoused his cause, Paul then deals with the matter in the generous spirit he might have been expected to display. Even if the offender were the same person, which is most improbable, for he can scarcely have been retained in the membership, the language is not language that could have been applied to the earlier case. There has been a new offense in new circumstances. The apostle had been grievously wronged in the presence of the church, and the Corinthians had not spontaneously resented the wrong. That is what wounded the apostle most deeply, and it is to secure their change in this respect that is his gravest concern.
2. The False Teachers
Esp. in the later chapters of 2 Corinthians there are, as we have seen, descriptions of an opposition by false teachers that is far beyond anything met with in 1 Corinthians. There indeed we have a spirit of faction, associated with unworthy partiality toward individual preachers, but nothing to lead us to suspect the presence of deep and radical differences undermining the gospel. The general consensus of opinion is that this opposition was of a Judaizing type, organized and fostered by implacable anti-Pauline emissaries from Palestine, who now followed the track of the apostle in Achaia as they did in Galatia. As they arrogated to themselves a peculiar relation to Christ Himself (“Christ's men” and “ministers of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 10:7; 2 Corinthians 11:13), it is possible that the Christus-party of 1 Corinthians (and possibly the Cephas-party) may have persisted and formed the nucleus round which these newcomers built up their formidable opposition. One man seems to have been conspicuous as their ring-leader (2 Corinthians 10:7, 2 Corinthians 10:11), and to have made himself specially obnoxious to the apostle. In all probability we may take it that he was the offender of 2 Corinthians 2 and 7. Under his influence the opposition audaciously endeavored to destroy the gospel of grace by personal attacks upon its most distinguished exponent. Paul was denounced as an upstart and self-seeker, destitute of any apostolic authority, and derided for the contemptible appearance he made in person, in contrast with the swelling words and presumptuous claims of his epistles It is clear, therefore, that a profound religious crisis had arisen among the Corinthians, and that there was a danger of their attachment to Paul and his doctrine being destroyed.
3. The Painful Visit
2 Corinthians 12:14 and 2 Corinthians 13:1, 2 Corinthians 13:2 speak of a third visit in immediate prospect, and the latter passage also refers to a second visit that had been already accomplished; while 2 Corinthians 2:1 distinctly implies that a visit had taken place of a character so painful that the apostle would never venture to endure a similar one. As this cannot possibly refer to the first visit when the church was founded, and cannot easily be regarded as indicating anything previous to 1 Corinthians which never alludes to such an experience, we must conclude that the reference points to the interval between 1 and 2 Corinthians. It was then beyond doubt that the visit “with sorrow,” which humbled him (2 Corinthians 12:21) and left such deep wounds, had actually taken place. “Any exegesis,” says Weizsäcker justly, “that would avoid the conclusion that Paul had already been twice in Corinth is capricious and artificial” (Apostolic Age, I, 343). Sabatier (Apostle Paul, 172 note) records his revised opinion: “The reference here (2 Corinthians 2:1) is to a second and quite recent visit, of which he retained a very sorrowful recollection, including it among the most bitter trials of his apostolical career.”
4. The Severe Letter
Paul not only speaks of a visit which had ended grievously, but also of a letter which he had written to deal with the painful circumstances, and as a kind of ultimatum to bring the whole matter to an issue (2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:8). This letter was written because he could not trust himself meantime to another visit. He was so distressed and agitated that he wrote it “with many tears”; after it was written he repented of it; and until he knew its effect he endured torture so keen that he hastened to Macedonia to meet his messenger, Titus, halfway. It is impossible by any stretch of interpretation to refer this language to 1 Corinthians, which on the whole is dominated by a spirit of didactic calm, and by a consciousness of friendly rapport with its recipients. Even though there be in it occasional indications of strong feeling, there is certainly nothing that we can conceive the apostle might have wished to recall. The alternative has generally been to regard this as another case of a lost epistle Just as the writer of Acts appears to have been willing that the deplorable visit itself should drop into oblivion, so doubtless neither Paul nor the Corinthians would be very anxious to preserve an epistle which echoed with the gusts and storms of such a visit. On the other hand a strong tendency has set in to regard this intermediate epistle as at least in part preserved in 2 Cor 10 through 13, whose tone, it is universally admitted, differs from that of the preceding chapters in a remarkable way, not easily accounted for. The majority of recent writers seem inclined to favor this view, which will naturally fall to be considered under the head of “Integrity.”
IV. Historical Reconstruction
In view of such an interpretation, we may with considerable probability trace the course of events in the interval between 1 and 2 Corinthians as follows: After the dispatch of 1 Corinthians, news reached the apostle of a disquieting character; probably both Titus and Timothy, on returning from Corinth, reported the growing menace of the opposition fostered by the Judaizing party. Paul felt impelled to pay an immediate visit, and found only too sadly that matters had not been overstated. The opposition was strong and full of effrontery, and the whole trend of things was against him. In face of the congregation he was baffled and flouted. He returned to Ephesus, and poured out his indignation in a severe epistle, which he sent on by the hands of Titus. Before Titus could return, events took a disastrous form in Ephesus, and Paul was forced to leave that city in peril of his life. He went to Troas, but, unable to wait patiently there for tidings of the issue in Corinth, he crossed to Macedonia, and met Titus, possibly in Philippi. The report was happily reassuring; the majority of the congregation returned to their old attachment, and the heavy cloud of doubt and anxiety was dispelled from the apostle's mind. He then wrote again - the present epistle - and forwarded it by Titus and other brethren, he himself following a little later, and finally wintering in Corinth as he had originally planned. If it be felt that the interval between spring and autumn of the same year is too brief for these events, the two epistles must be separated by a period of nearly 18 months, 1 Corinthians being referred to the spring of 54 or 55, and 2 Corinthians to the autumn of 55 or 56 AD. (Reference on the reconstruction should especially be made to Weizsäcker's Apostolic Age, English translation, I; to Sabatier's Note to the English edition (1893) of his Apostle Paul; and to Robertson's article in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes).)
V. Integrity of the Epistle
Although the genuineness of the various parts of the epistle is scarcely disputed, the homogeneity is much debated. Semler and some later writers, including Clemen (Einheitlichkeit), have thought that 2 Corinthians 9:1-15 should be eliminated as logically inconsistent with chapter 8, and as evidently forming part of a letter to the converts of Achaia. But the connection with chapter 8 is too close to permit of severance, and the logical objection, founded on the phraseology of 2 Corinthians 9:1, is generally regarded as hypercritical. There are two sections, however, whose right to remain integral parts of 2 Corinthians has been more forcibly challenged.
1. 2 Corinthians 6:14 Through 7:1
The passage 2 Corinthians 6:14 to 2 Corinthians 7:1 deals with the inconsistency and peril of intimate relations with the heathen, and is felt to be incongruous with the context. No doubt it comes strangely after an appeal to the Corinthians to show the apostle the same frankness and kindness that he is showing them; whereas 2 Corinthians 7:2 follows naturally and links itself closely to such an appeal. When we remember that the particular theme of the lost letter referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:9 was the relation of the converts to the immoral, it is by no means unlikely that we have here preserved a stray fragment of that epistle
2. 2 Corinthians 10:1 Through 13:10
It is universally acknowledged that there is a remarkable change in the tone of the section 2 Corinthians 10:1 through 2 Corinthians 13:10, as compared with that of the previous chapters. In the earlier chapters there is relief at the change which Titus has reported as having taken place in Corinth, and the spirit is one of gladness and content; but from chapter 10 onward the hostility to the apostle is unexpectedly represented as still raging, and as demanding the most strenuous treatment. The opening phrase, “Now I Paul” (2 Corinthians 10:1), is regarded as indicating a distinctive break from the previous section with which Timothy is associated (2 Corinthians 1:1), while the concluding verse, 2 Corinthians 13:11 to end, seem fittingly to close that section, but to be abruptly out of harmony with the polemic that ends at 2 Corinthians 13:10. Accordingly it is suggested that 2 Corinthians 13:11 should immediately follow 2 Corinthians 9:15, and that 10:1 through 13:10 be regarded as a lengthy insertion from some other epistle. Those who, while acknowledging the change of tone, yet maintain the integrity of the epistle, do so on the ground that the apostle was a man of many moods, and that it is characteristic of him to make unexpected and even violent transitions; that new reports of a merely scotched antagonism may come in to ruffle and disturb his comparative contentment; and that in any case he might well deem it advisable finally to deliver his whole soul on a matter over which he had brooded and suffered deeply, so that there might be no mistake about the ground being cleared when he arrived in person. The question is still a subject of keen discussion, and is not one on which it is easy to pronounce dogmatically. On the whole, however, it must be acknowledged that the preponderance of recent opinion is in favor of theory of interpolation. Hausrath (Der Vier-Capitel-Brief des Paulus an die Korinther, 1870) gave an immense impetus to the view that this later section really represents the painful letter referred to in 2 Cor 2 and 7. As that earlier letter, however, must have contained references to the personal offender, the present section, which omits all such references, can be regarded as at most only a part of it. This theory is ably and minutely expounded by Schmiedel (Hand-Kommentar); and Pfleiderer, Lipsius, Clemen, Krenkel, von Soden, McGiffert, Cone, Plummer, Rendall, Moffatt, Adeney, Peake, and Massie are prominent among its adherents. J. H. Kennedy (Second and Third Cor) presents perhaps the ablest and fullest argument for it that has yet appeared in English. On the other hand Sanday (Encyclopaedia Biblica) declares against it, and Robertson (Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes)) regards it as decidedly not proven; while critics of such weight as Holtzmann, Beyschlag, Klöpper, Weizsäcker, Sabatier, Godet, Bernard, Denney, Weiss, and Zahn are all to be reckoned as advocates of the integrity of the epistle.
VI. Contents of the Epistle
The order of matter in 2 Corintians is quite clearly defined. There are three main divisions:
- (1) chapters 1 through 7;
- (2) chapters 8 through 9; and
- (3) chapters 10 through 13.
1. 2 Corinthians 1 Through 7
The first seven chapters in 2 Corinthians as a whole are taken up with a retrospect of the events that have recently transpired, joyful references to the fact that the clouds of grief in connection with them have been dispelled, and that the evangelical ministry as a Divine trust and power is clearly manifested. After a cordial salutation, in which Timothy is associated, Paul starts at once to express his profound gratitude to God for the great comfort that had come to him by the good news from Corinth, rejoicing in it as a spiritual enrichment that will make his ministry still more fruitful to the church (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). He professes his sincerity in all his relations with the Corinthians, and particularly vindicates it in connection with a change in the plan which had originally promised a return (“a second benefit”) to Corinth; his sole reason for refraining, and for writing a painful letter instead, being his desire to spare them and to prove them (2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 2:4, 2 Corinthians 2:9). Far from harboring any resentment against the man who had caused so much trouble, he sincerely pleads that his punishment by the majority should go no farther, but that forgiveness should now reign, lest the Adversary should gain an advantage over them (2 Corinthians 2:5-11). It was indeed an agonizing experience until the moment he met Titus, but the relief was all the sweeter and more triumphant when God at length gave it, as he might have been sure He would give it to a faithful and soul-winning servant of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:12-17). He does not indeed wish to enter upon any further apologies or self-commendation. Some believe greatly in letters of commendation, but his living testimonial is in his converts. This he has, not of himself, but entirely through God, who alone has made him an efficient minister of the new and abiding covenant of the Spirit, whose glory naturally excels that of the old dispensation which fadeth because it really cannot bring life. Regarding this glorious ministry he must be bold and frank. It needs no veil as if to conceal its evanescence. Christ presents it unveiled to all who turn to Him, and they themselves, reflecting His glory, are spiritually transformed (3:1-18). As for those who by God's mercy have received such a gospel ministry, it is impossible for them to be faint-hearted in its exercise, although the eyes of some may be blinded to it, because the god of this world enslaves them (2 Corinthians 4:4). It is indeed wonderful that ministers of this grace should be creatures so frail, so subject to pressure and affliction, but it is not inexplicable. So much the more obvious is it that all the power and glory of salvation are from God alone (2 Corinthians 4:7, 2 Corinthians 4:15). Yea, even if one be called to die in this ministry, that is but another light and momentary affliction. It is but passing from a frail earthly tent to abide forever in a heavenly home (2 Corinthians 5:1). Who would not long for it, that this mortal may be swallowed up in immortality? Courage, therefore, is ours to the end, for that end only means the cessation of our separation from Christ, whom it is a joy to serve absent or present. And present we shall all ultimately be before Him on the judgment throne (2 Corinthians 5:10). That itself unspeakably deepens the earnestness with which preachers of the gospel seek to persuade men. It is the love of Christ constraining them (2 Corinthians 5:14) in the ministry of reconciliation, that they should entreat men as ambassadors on Christ's behalf (2 Corinthians 5:20). So sacred and responsible a trust has subdued the apostle's own life, and is indeed the key to its manifold endurance, and to the earnestness with which he has striven to cultivate every grace, and to submit himself to every discipline (2 Corinthians 6:1-10). Would God the Corinthians might open their hearts to him as he does to them! (Let them have no fellowship with iniquity, but perfect holiness in the fear of God, 6:14 through 7:1.) He has never wronged them; they are enshrined in his heart, living or dying; he glories in them, and is filled with comfort in all his affliction (2 Corinthians 6:11-13; 2 Corinthians 7:2-4). For what blessed comfort that was that Titus brought him in Macedonia to dispel his fears, and to show that the things he regretted and grieved to have written had done no harm after all, but had rather wrought in them the joyful change for which he longed! Now both they and he knew how dear he was to them. Titus, too, was overjoyed by the magnanimity of their reception of him. The apostle's cup is full, and “in everything he is of good courage concerning them” (2 Corinthians 7:16).
2. 2 Corinthians 8 Through 9
In the second section, 2 Cor 8 through 9, the apostle, now abundantly confident of their good-will, exhorts the Corinthians on the subject of the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem. He tells them of the extraordinary liberality of the Macedonian churches, and invites them to emulate it, and by the display of this additional grace to make full proof of their love (2 Corinthians 8:1-8). Nay, they have a higher incentive than the liberality of Macedonia, even the self-sacrifice of Christ Himself (2 Corinthians 8:9). Wherefore let them go on with the good work they were so ready to initiate a year ago, giving out of a willing mind, as God hath enabled them (2 Corinthians 8:10-15). Further to encourage them he sends on Titus and other well-known and accredited brethren, whose interest in them is as great as his own, and he is hopeful that by their aid the matter will be completed, and all will rejoice when he comes, bringing with him probably some of those of Macedonia, to whom he has already been boasting of their zeal (8:16-9:5). Above all, let them remember that important issues are bound up with this grace of Christian liberality. It is impossible to reap bountifully, if we sow sparingly. Grudging and compulsory benevolence is a contradiction, but God loveth and rewardeth a cheerful giver. This grace blesseth him that gives and him that takes. Many great ends are served by it. The wants of the needy are supplied, men's hearts are drawn affectionately to one another, thanksgivings abound, and God himself is glorified (2 Corinthians 9:6-15).
3. 2 Corinthians 10 Through 13
The third section, 2 Cor 10 through 13, as has been pointed out, is a spirited and even passionate polemic, in the course of which the Judaizing party in Corinth is vigorously assailed. The enemies of the apostle have charged him with being very bold and courageous when he is absent, but humble enough when he is present. He hopes the Corinthians will not compel him to show his courage (2 Corinthians 10:2). It is true, being human, he walks in the flesh, but not in the selfish and cowardly way his opponents suggest. The weapons of his warfare are not carnal, yet are they mighty before God to cast down such strongholds as theirs, such vain imaginations and disobedience. Some boast of being “Christ's,” but that is no monopoly; he also is Christ's. They think his letters are mere “sound and fury, signifying nothing”; by and by they will discover their mistake. If he should glory in his authority, he is justified, for Corinth was verily part of his God-appointed province, and he at least did not there enter on other men's labors. But it would be well if men who gloried confined themselves to glorying “in the Lord.” For after all it is His commendation alone that is of any permanent value (10:3-18). Will the Corinthians bear with him in a little of this foolish boasting? Truly he ventures on it out of concern for them (2 Corinthians 11:2). And as they are manifest adepts in toleration, abounding in patience toward those who have come with a different gospel, they may perhaps extend some of their indulgence to him, for though he cannot lay claim to a polished oratory comparable to that of these “super-eminent” apostles, yet at least he is not behind them in knowledge (2 Corinthians 11:4-6). Can it be that he really sinned in preaching the gospel to them without fee or reward? Was it a mark of fleshly cunning when he resolved not to be burdensome to them, while he accepted supplies from Macedonia? Ah! it was not because he did not love them, but because he decided to give no occasion to those who were too ready to blame him - those false apostles, who, like Satan himself, masqueraded as angels of light and ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:7-15). Come, then, let him to this glorying, this poor folly, which they in their superlative wisdom bear with so gladly in the case of those insolent creatures who now bully and degrade them (2 Corinthians 11:16-21). Hebrews! Israelites! So is he. Ministers of Christ! There he excels them - in labors, in perils, in persecutions; in burdens, anxieties, sympathies; in visions and revelations of the Lord; in infirmities and weaknesses that have made more manifest in him the strength of Christ 2 Corinthians 11:22-12:10. Certainly all this is folly, but they are most to blame for it who, through lack of loyalty, have forced him to it. Did he injure them by declining to be burdensome? Is it so sore a point? Let it be forgiven! Yet when he comes again he will take no other course (2 Corinthians 12:11-18). They must not imagine that in all this he is excusing himself to them. He is sincerely and affectionately concerning himself for their edifying. He trembles lest when they meet again they should be disappointed in each other; lest they should be found in unworthy strife and tumults, and lest he should be humbled of God before them, having cause to mourn over some who are hardened and impenitent in their sins (2 Corinthians 12:19-21). For they must meet again - he is coming for the third time - and this time he will not spare. Let them prove themselves whether they be in the faith; for surely they must know whether Christ be in them. He earnestly prays for their goodness and honor; not to the end that no display of his power may be called for, but simply that he will be glad to appear weak if they should appear strong. Could they but believe it, their perfecting is the aim of all his labors (2 Corinthians 13:1-10). And so, with words of grace and tenderness, exhorting them to unity and peace, and pronouncing over them the threefold benediction, he bids them farewell (2 Corinthians 13:11-14).
VII. Value of the Epistle
The chief element of value in this epistle is the revelation it gives of the apostle himself. Through all its changing moods, Paul, in perfect abandon, shows us his very soul, suffering, rejoicing, enduring, overcoming. It has been truly said that “it enables us, as it were, to lay our hands upon his breast, and feel the very throbbings of his heart.”
- (1) In relation to his converts, it shows us how sensitive he was, how easy it was to touch him on the quick, and to wound his feelings. The apostle was very human, and nowhere are his kindred limitations more obvious than in these present incidents. He would probably be the first to acquiesce, if it were said that even with him the creed was greater than the life. In the hastily written and nervously repented passages of that severe epistle; in the restless wandering, like a perturbed spirit, from Troas to Macedonia, to meet the news and know the issue of his acts, we see a man most lovable indeed, most like ourselves when issues hang in the balance, but a man not already perfect, not yet risen to the measure of the stature of Christ. Yet we see also the intensity with which Paul labored in his ministry - the tenacity with which he held to his mission, and the invincible courage with which he returned to the fight for his imperiled church. He loved those converts as only a great soul in Christ could love them. His keenest sorrow came in the disaster that threatened them, and he flew to their defense. He had not only won them for Christ, he was willing to die that he might keep them for Christ.
- (2) The epistle is charged with a magnificent consciousness on the apostle's part of his high calling in Christ Jesus. He has been called with a Divine calling to the most glorious work in which a man can engage, to be to this estranged earth an ambassador of heaven. Received as Divine, this vocation is accepted with supreme devotion. It has been a ministry of sorrow, of strain and suffering, of hairbreadth escapes with the bare life; with its thorn in the flesh, its buffering of Satan. Yet through it all there rings the note of abounding consolation in Christ Jesus, and never was the “power of Christ,” resting on frail humanity, more signally manifested.
See the references to both epistles, and to 2 Corinthians alone, under this heading in the preceding article. To the list there given should be added Moffatt's Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, 1911; valuable for its critical presentation of recent views, and for its references to the literature.