Handbook of 2 Corinthians
Paul's Vindication of his Apostleship
The Glory of his Ministry
And the Long Martyrdom of his Life
Date and Occasion of Writing
Paul had spent a year and a half, about A.D. 52-53, in the latter part of his Second Missionary Journey, in Corinth, and made a multitude of disciples (Acts 18:10, 11), Then, on his Third Missionary Journey, he had spent three years at Ephesus, A.D. 54-57. In the Spring of A.D. 57, while still at Ephesus, Paul wrote I Corinthians ( I Corinthians 16:8). Soon afterward the great Riot occurred, in which Paul nearly lost his life (Acts 19).
Leaving Ephesus, he went into Macedonia, on his way to Corinth. While in Macedonia, in the Summer and Fall of A.D. 57, visiting churches in the region of Philippi and Thessalonica, in the midst of many anxieties and sufferings, after long waiting to hear from Corinth, he met Titus, returning from Corinth with the word that Paul's Letter had accomplished much good (II Corinthians 7:6); but that there were still some of the Leaders in the Corinthian Church who were denying that Paul was a Genuine Apostle of Christ.
Then it was that Paul wrote this Letter, and sent it on ahead by Titus (8:6, 17), expecting soon himself to reach Corinth.
Its purpose seems mainly to have been Paul's Vindication of himself as an Apostle of Christ, and to remind them that, inasmuch as he himself had founded the Church in Corinth, he did have a right to have a say in its management.
A little later Paul reached Corinth, and spent the winter there (Acts 20:2, 3), as he had planned (I Corinthians 16:5, 6). While in Corinth he wrote his great Epistle to the Romans.
The Comfort (3, 4), to which Paul refers in starring the Letter, was occasioned by his meeting Titus (7:6, 7), who, returning from Corinth, brought him the glad news of the Corinthians' Loyalty. This with his Thankfulness for escape from Death in Ephesus (8, 9; Acts 19:21-41), accounts for Paul's note of joy in the midst of his Sufferings.
Ephesus and Corinth were only about 200 miles apart, with ships plying between constantly. And, it seems, from 2:1; 12:14; 13:1-2, that Paul had paid a visit from Ephesus to Corinth, with Sorrow (2:1), occasioned by a very grave crisis that had arisen in Paul's relation to the Corinthian Church, probably shortly after he had written
the First Epistle. This may, in part, account for Paul's anxiety to meet Titus.
This seems to be the Incestuous Person, whom, in his First Epistle (I Corinthians 5:3-5), Paul had ordered to be Delivered to Satan; on account of which a revolt of considerable proportions against Paul had spread in the Church.
So serious was it, that Paul personally went from Ephesus to Corinth (1), but was rebuffed to such an extent that he here speaks of it as a Sorrowful Visit.
Then, it is thought, from 2:3, 9; 7:8, 12; 10:10, which passages imply things not found in I Corinthians, that Paul wrote another Letter, now lost, between the two which we have. It must have been quite stern, for it changed the tide in Corinth, to such an extent that those who had been upholding the disciplined person turned furiously against him (7:11). But Paul did not know it till he met Titus (7:6, 7).
The Affliction, Anguish and Many Tears (4), were caused, not only by the terrible experience he had just passed through in Ephesus (1:8, 9), but by his bitter Anxiety over the Corinth Situation. So distressed was he in not meeting Titus in Troas, according to plan (2:12, 13), that he passed up a grand opportunity for the Gospel in
Troas, to hurry on to Macedonia, in hope of finding Titus whom he knew was on his way with the news from Corinth.
Savour unto Life and Death (14-16), is a figure of speech based on the incense-scented triumphal processions with which conquering emperors returned to Rome with long lines of captives, of whom some were to be put to death and others permitted to live. So, Paul bore along the Fragrance of God, which, according to one's reaction,
meant Death or Life. Paul, so to speak, regarded his ministry as a march of triumph.
Epistles of Commendation (1). This expression was probably suggested by the fact that the Judaizing teachers carried Letters of Introduction from Jerusalem. They were always edging in on Paul's work, and were among his chief trouble-makers, and availed themselves of every possible excuse or opportunity to fight him. They were now asking, Who is Paul? Can he show Letters-from anybody of standing in Jerusalem? Which, on the face of it, was absurd, Letters commending Paul to a Church which Paul himself had founded? The Church Itself was Paul's Letter.
This led to a Contrast of His ministry with Theirs: the Gospel with the Law. One written on Stone, the other on Hearts. One of the Letter, the other of the Spirit. One unto Death, the other unto Life. One Veiled, the other Unveiled. One unto Condemnation, the other unto Righteousness. One Passes, the other Remains. Beholding Christ, we are Changed, from Glory to Glory, into His Own Image.
In this Epistle Paul speaks much of his Sufferings, especially in chapters 4, 6, 11. At his conversion the Lord had slid, I'wilt show him how many things he must Suffer for My Name's sake (Acts 9:16). The Sufferings began immediately, and continued in unbroken succession for over thirty years.
They plotted to Kill him in Damascus (Acts 9:24). And in Jerusalem (Acts 9:29). Drove him out of Antioch (Acts 13:50). Attempted to Stone him in Iconium (Acts 14:5). Did Stone him, and leave him for Dead, in Lystra (Acts 14:19). In Philippi they Beat him with Rods, and put him in Stocks (Acts 16:23, 24).'In Thessalonica the Jews and rabble tried to Mob him (Acts 17:5). They drove him out of Berea (Acts 17:13, 14). Plotted against him in Corinth (Acts 18:12). In Ephesus they almost Killed him (Acts 19;29; II Corinthians 1:8, 9). In Corinth again, shortly after he had written this Epistle,
they plotted his Death (Acts 20:3). In Jerusalem again they would have made a quick end of him, except for the Roman soldiers (Acts 22). Then he was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years, and two more in Rome.
And besides all this, there were unrecorded Beatings, Imprisonments, Shipwrecks, and unceasing Privations of every kind (II Corinthians 11:23-27). Then finally hi was taken to Rome to be executed as a Criminal (II Timothy 2:9).
He must have had Amazing Endurance, for he Sang as he Suffered (Acts 16:25). None but an iron constitution could have lived through it. Even that would not have been sufficient, except for the Marvelous Grace of God. By the Lord's help, Paul must have felt himself Immortal until his work was done.
This chapter is a continuation of his reason for Joy in his Sufferings. He had just said that the greater the Suffering in this present world the greater will be the Glory in Eternity. Paul's mind was on the Future World.
What is the teaching here? Is the New Body put on at the moment of Death? Death is spoken of as, not an Unclothing, but as Being Clothed Upon (4), To be Absent from the Body is to be At Home with the Lord (8). In Philippians 1:23 Death is regarded as a Departure to be With Christ, which is Very Far Better.
But in I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4 the Resurrection Body is connected with the Coming of Christ. Evidently, the teaching is that those who Die before the Lord's Coming enter immediately a state of Conscious Blessedness with the Lord, which is very far Better than Life in the Flesh, but which is still short of the Glorious
Existence following the Resurrection.
Paul continues with his vindication of his own ministry. The disaffection in the Corinthian Church against him must have been considerable (12). Else he surely would not have devoted so much of this Epistle to a Defense of Himself. In 14-18 he seems to blame the trouble, partly at least, on the Heathen atmosphere in which they lived. Corinthians were very lax in morals.
Timothy had been sent earlier (I Corinthians 4:17; 16:10). Timothy was timid by nature, and nor exactly suited for stern disciplinary measures required by the Corinthian situation.
Then Paul sent Titus (II Corinthians 2:13; 7:6, 13; 12:18), who, for such situations, was probably the most capable helper Paul had. He probably went after Paul's second visit, and carried the Letter referred to in 2:3. His mission was successful.
The person over whom the trouble had arisen (l Corinthians 5:1-5), was probably very influential. It seems that he persisted in his sin, and led an open revolt against Paul, carrying some of the leaders with him. But under the influence of Paul's second Letter, and the presence of Titus, the Church as a whole was brought back into line,
resulting in the Humiliation of the Offender. This was the Good News that Titus reported (7-16).
These two chapters contain instructions about the Offering for the Poor Saints in Jerusalem, which Paul took at the close of his Third Missionary Journey. It was probably gathered in all the Churches of Asia Minor and Greece, although only those of Macedonia, Achaia and Galatia are named. It had been started a year before (8:10). The Macedonian Churches had entered into it Whole-Heartedly. Even the very poor were giving generously. Paul was there at the time he wrote this.
Philippi, the leading Macedonian Church, was the only Church from which Paul had accepted Pay for his work, and that after he had gone away.
In these two chapters we have the most complete instructions about Church Giving which the New Testament contains. Though it is an offering for Charity, we presume the Principles here stated should be the Guide for Churches in the taking of all their Offerings, both those for Self-Support and those for Missionary and Benevolent enterprises. Voluntary. Proportionate. Systematic. Above Reproach in its Business Administration (8: 19-21 ). That God will abundantly Reward those who Give Liberally is specially emphasized. The spirit of Brotherly Kindness thus manifested is called the Unspeakable Gift (9: 15).
Some things in this chapter seem to have been suggested by the charge of his enemies that Paul was Weak in Personal Appearance (1, 10). There is no hint in the New Testament as to what Paul looked like. A legend, dating from the 2nd century, says he was a man of Moderate Stature, Curly Hair, Scanty Crooked Less, Blue Eyes, Large Knit Brows, Long Nose, and was full of the Grace and Pity of the Lord, sometimes having the Appearance of a Man, sometimes looking like an Angel.
Another tradition has it that he was Small in Stature, Baldheaded, Bow-legged, Stout, Close-browed, with a slightly prominent Nose, and full of Grace.
There are New Testament hims that he had Eye Trouble which, at times, made him repulsive in appearance. But the charge of his enemies that he was a Weak Personality (10), certainly was without basis. It is just not possible to think that of a man who
turned city after city upside down, as Paul did. Unquestionably Paul was as Powerful and Dominating a Personality, and, all in all, as Great a Man as has ever lived on this earth, except only Jesus.
In reply to the charge that he was Weak, he tells them, that, at least, he Founded His Own Churches, and did not go around Troubling Churches founded by others, as they were doing.
In parts of the Epistle Paul is addressing the Loyal Majority, in other parts the Disloyal Minority. The letter seem to be in his mind in the last four chapters. He realizes the unseemliness of Boasting about himself, but they forced him to it.
They had been making capital out of the fact that he had Refused Pay for his work in Corinth (7-9). He explains that, while as an Apostle of Christ, he had the right (I Corinthians 9), yet he had purposely Refused Pay, lest his example be abused by False Teachers who were seeking to Make Merchandise of the Church. From the beginning of his work in Corinth Paul must have noticed tendencies to Covetous Leadership in some of his converts, and so governed himself accordingly.
One of the things of which Paul could boast was that they could not accuse him of Covetousness.
Then, in a passage of dramatic power (22-33), he challenges his critics to compare themselves with him by every standard: as a Loyal Hebrew: and as en Effective Worker for Christ-he had done more than all of them put together: and as a Sufferer for Christ-his whole career as a Christian Apostle had been an unbroken story of Living Martyrdom.
His Vision of Paradise (1-7). He was caught up "into" Paradise (4), "even to" the Third Heaven (2); es if Paradise and the Third Heaven are two separate parts of the Future World.
Jesus went into Paradise immediately at Death (Luke 23:43). As to the Third Heaven, there is no other passage in which the term is used, which might throw light on its meaning.
Some think Paradise and Third Heaven are synonymous terms for the Abode of God. But Into one, Even To the other, make it appear that they are two distinct places.
Inasmuch as Jesus passed Immediately into Paradise, Paradise is thought to be the abode of disembodied spirits Between Death and Resurrection. The Third Heaven is thought to be the Final Abode of the redeemed in their Resurrection Bodies: an existence more glorious than Paradise, as Paradise is more glorious than earthly
existence. That there is an Intermediate state between Death and the Resurrection seems to be plainly implied in New Testament teaching (see note under chapter 5).
What Paul saw and heard in his Vision of Paradise, it was not Lawful for him to utter (4). This may mean that, to strengthen Paul for his special mission and the exceptional suffering he was to endure, God gave him a special vision of Future Glory, part of which he was forbidden to reveal to others. But probably'"possible" would be a better translation than "lawful," the meaning being that there is no human language adequate to describe the Glory of Heaven: as the idea of Color could not be conveyed to a person who had been born blind.
Paul's Thorn in the Flesh (7). There are various opinions es to what this was. The view quite generally held, and which, to us, seems most likely to be correct, is that it was Chronic Ophthalmia, a disease of the Eyes, which was not extremely Painful, but, at times, made him Repulsive in Appearance.
This seems to be borne out by the language of the Epistles. It come upon Paul 14 years before he wrote this Epistle (2, 7), which was about the time of his entrance into Galatia, on his First Missionary Journey.
His entrance into Galatia was occasioned by some sort of Physical Infirmity, Galatians 4:13, so offensive in appearance that it constituted a sore trial to anyone in his presence, Galatians 4:14.
They would have given their own Eyes, Galatians 4:15. Why Eyes, unless that was his particular need?
Paul's customary "large" handwriting, Galatians 6:11, may have been due to poor eye-sight. This may have been the reason Paul Dictated his Epistles to some of his helpers.
Paul wrote this Epistle in the Summer of A.D. 57. He got to Corinth in the Fall. Spent the Winter there. And, in the following Spring departed for Jerusalem.