The apostle's revelations. (1-6) Which were improved to his spiritual advantage. (7-10) The signs of an apostle were in him, His purpose of making them a visit; but he expresses his fear lest he should have to be severe with some. (11-21)
Verses 1-6 There can be no doubt the apostle speaks of himself. Whether heavenly things were brought down to him, while his body was in a trance, as in the case of ancient prophets; or whether his soul was dislodged from the body for a time, and taken up into heaven, or whether he was taken up, body and soul together, he knew not. We are not capable, nor is it fit we should yet know, the particulars of that glorious place and state. He did not attempt to publish to the world what he had heard there, but he set forth the doctrine of Christ. On that foundation the church is built, and on that we must build our faith and hope. And while this teaches us to enlarge our expectations of the glory that shall be revealed, it should render us contented with the usual methods of learning the truth and will of God.
Verses 7-10 The apostle gives an account of the method God took to keep him humble, and to prevent his being lifted up above measure, on account of the visions and revelations he had. We are not told what this thorn in the flesh was, whether some great trouble, or some great temptation. But God often brings this good out of evil, that the reproaches of our enemies help to hide pride from us. If God loves us, he will keep us from being exalted above measure; and spiritual burdens are ordered to cure spiritual pride. This thorn in the flesh is said to be a messenger of Satan which he sent for evil; but God designed it, and overruled it for good. Prayer is a salve for every sore, a remedy for every malady; and when we are afflicted with thorns in the flesh, we should give ourselves to prayer. If an answer be not given to the first prayer, nor to the second, we are to continue praying. Troubles are sent to teach us to pray; and are continued, to teach us to continue instant in prayer. Though God accepts the prayer of faith, yet he does not always give what is asked for: as he sometimes grants in wrath, so he sometimes denies in love. When God does not take away our troubles and temptations, yet, if he gives grace enough for us, we have no reason to complain. Grace signifies the good-will of God towards us, and that is enough to enlighten and enliven us, sufficient to strengthen and comfort in all afflictions and distresses. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Thus his grace is manifested and magnified. When we are weak in ourselves, then we are strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; when we feel that we are weak in ourselves, then we go to Christ, receive strength from him, and enjoy most the supplies of Divine strength and grace.
Verses 11-21 We owe it to good men, to stand up in the defence of their reputation; and we are under special obligations to those from whom we have received benefit, especially spiritual benefit, to own them as instruments in God's hand of good to us. Here is an account of the apostle's behaviour and kind intentions; in which see the character of a faithful minister of the gospel. This was his great aim and design, to do good. Here are noticed several sins commonly found among professors of religion. Falls and misdeeds are humbling to a minister; and God sometimes takes this way to humble those who might be tempted to be lifted up. These vast verses show to what excesses the false teachers had drawn aside their deluded followers. How grievous it is that such evils should be found among professors of the gospel! Yet thus it is, and has been too often, and it was so even in the days of the apostles.
2 Corinthians 12:1-21 . REVELATIONS IN WHICH HE MIGHT GLORY: BUT HE RATHER GLORIES IN INFIRMITIES, AS CALLING FORTH CHRIST'S POWER: SIGNS OF HIS APOSTLESHIP: HIS DISINTERESTEDNESS: NOT THAT HE IS EXCUSING HIMSELF TO THEM; BUT HE DOES ALL FOR THEIR GOOD, LEST HE SHOULD FIND THEM NOT SUCH AS HE DESIRED, AND SO SHOULD HAVE TO BE SEVERE AT HIS COMING.
1. He proceeds to illustrate the "glorying in infirmities" ( 2 Corinthians 11:30 ). He gave one instance which might expose him to ridicule ( 2 Corinthians 11:33 ); he now gives another, but this one connected with a glorious revelation of which it was the sequel: but he dwells not on the glory done to himself, but on the infirmity which followed it, as displaying Christ's power. The oldest manuscripts read, "I MUST NEEDS boast (or glory) though it be not expedient; for I will come." The "for" gives a proof that it is "not expedient to boast": I will take the case of revelations, in which if anywhere boasting might be thought harmless. "Visions" refers to things seen: "revelations," to things heard (compare 1 Samuel 9:15 ) or revealed in any way. In "visions" their signification was not always vouchsafed; in "revelations" there was always an unveiling of truths before hidden ( Daniel 2:19 Daniel 2:31 ). All parts of Scripture alike are matter of inspiration; but not all of revelation. There are degrees of revelation; but not of inspiration.
of--that is, from the Lord; Christ, 2 Corinthians 12:2 .
2. Translate, "I know," not "I knew."
a man--meaning himself. But he purposely thus distinguishes between the rapt and glorified person of 2 Corinthians 12:2 2 Corinthians 12:4 , and himself the infirmity-laden victim of the "thorn in the flesh" ( 2 Corinthians 12:7 ). Such glory belonged not to him, but the weakness did. Nay, he did not even know whether he was in or out of the body when the glory was put upon him, so far was the glory from being his [ALFORD]. His spiritual self was his highest and truest self: the flesh with its infirmity merely his temporary self ( Romans 7:25 ). Here, however, the latter is the prominent thought.
in Christ--a Christian ( Romans 16:7 ).
above--rather, simply "fourteen years ago." This Epistle was written A.D. 55-57. Fourteen years before will bring the vision to A.D. 41-43, the time of his second visit to Jerusalem ( Acts 22:17 ). He had long been intimate with the Corinthians, yet had never mentioned this revelation before: it was not a matter lightly to be spoken of.
I cannot tell--rather as Greek, "I know not." If in the body, he must have been caught up bodily; if out of the body, as seems to be Paul's opinion, his spirit must have been caught up out of the body. At all events he recognizes the possibility of conscious receptivity in disembodied spirits.
caught up--( Acts 8:39 ).
to the third heaven--even to, &c. These raptures (note the plural, "visions," "revelations," 2 Corinthians 12:1 ) had two degrees: first he was caught up "to the third heaven," and from thence to "Paradise" ( 2 Corinthians 12:4 ) [CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, Miscellanies, 5.427], which seems to denote an inner recess of the third heaven [BENGEL] ( Luke 23:43 , Revelation 2:7 ). Paul was permitted not only to "hear" the things of Paradise, but to see also in some degree the things of the third heaven (compare "visions," 2 Corinthians 12:1 ). The occurrence TWICE of "whether in the body . . . I know not, God knoweth," and of "lest I should be exalted above measure," marks two stages in the revelation. "Ignorance of the mode does not set aside the certain knowledge of the fact. The apostles were ignorant of many things" [BENGEL]. The first heaven is that of the clouds, the air; the second, that of the stars, the sky; the third is spiritual ( Ephesians 4:10 ).
3. Translate, "I know."
out of--Most of the oldest manuscripts read "apart from."
4. unspeakable--not in themselves, otherwise Paul could not have heard them; but as the explanation states, "which it is not lawful . . . to utter" [ALFORD]. They were designed for Paul's own consolation, and not for communication to others. Some heavenly words are communicable ( Exodus 34:6 , Isaiah 6:3 ). These were not so. Paul had not the power adequately to utter; nor if he had, would he have been permitted; nor would earthly men comprehend them ( John 3:12 , 1 Corinthians 2:9 ). A man may hear and know more than he can speak.
5. of myself--concerning myself. Self is put in the background, except in respect to his infirmities. His glorying in his other self, to which the revelations were vouchsafed, was not in order to give glory to his fleshly self, but to bring out in contrast the "infirmities" of the latter, that Christ might have all the glory.
6. For--Not but that I might glory as to "myself" ( 2 Corinthians 12:5 ); "FOR if I should desire to glory, I shall not be a fool"; for I have things to glory, or boast of which are good matter for glorying of (not mere external fleshly advantages which when he gloried in [ 2 Corinthians 11:1-33 ] he termed such glorying "folly," 2 Corinthians 11:1 2 Corinthians 11:16 2 Corinthians 11:17 ).
think of me--Greek, "form his estimate respecting me."
heareth of me--Greek, "heareth aught from me." Whatever haply he heareth from me in person. If on account of healing a cripple ( Acts 14:12 Acts 14:13 ), and shaking off a viper ( Acts 28:5 ), the people thought him a god, what would they have not done, if he had disclosed those revelations? [ESTIUS]. I wish each of you to estimate me by "what he sees" my present acts and "hears" my teaching to be; not by my boasting of past revelations. They who allow themselves to be thought of more highly than is lawful, defraud themselves of the honor which is at God's disposal [BENGEL] ( John 5:44 , 12:43 ).
7. exalted above measure--Greek, "overmuch uplifted." How dangerous must self-exaltation be, when even the apostle required so much restraint! [BENGEL].
abundance--Greek, "the excess"; exceeding greatness.
given . . . me--namely, by God ( Job 5:6 , Philippians 1:29 ).
thorn in the flesh--( Numbers 33:55 , Ezekiel 28:24 ). ALFORD thinks it to be the same bodily affliction as in Galatians 4:13 Galatians 4:14 . It certainly was something personal, affecting him individually, and not as an apostle: causing at once acute pain (as "thorn" implies) and shame ("buffet": as slaves are buffeted, 1 Peter 2:20 ).
messenger of Satan--who is permitted by God to afflict His saints, as Job ( Job 2:7 , Luke 13:16 ).
to buffet me--In Greek, present: to buffet me even now continuously. After experiencing the state of the blissful angels, he is now exposed to the influence of an evil angel. The chastisement from hell follows soon upon the revelation from heaven. As his sight and hearing had been ravished with heavenly "revelations," so his touch is pained with the "thorn in the flesh."
8. For--"concerning this thing."
thrice--To his first and second prayer no answer came. To his third the answer came, which satisfied his faith and led him to bow his will to God's will. So Paul's master, Jesus, thrice prayed on the Mount of Olives, in resignation to the Father's will. The thorn seems (from 2 Corinthians 12:9 , and Greek, 2 Corinthians 12:7 , "that he may buffet me") to have continued with Paul when he wrote, lest still he should be "overmuch lifted up."
the Lord--Christ. Escape from the cross is not to be sought even indirectly from Satan ( Luke 4:7 ). "Satan is not to be asked to spare us" [BENGEL].
9. said--literally, "He hath said," implying that His answer is enough [ALFORD].
is sufficient--The trial must endure, but the grace shall also endure and never fail thee [ALFORD], ( Deuteronomy 33:25 ). The Lord puts the words into Paul's mouth, that following them up he might say, "O Lord, Thy grace is sufficient for me" [BENGEL].
my strength--Greek, "power."
is made perfect--has its most perfect manifestation.
in weakness--Do not ask for sensible strength, FOR My power is perfected in man's "strengthlessness" (so the Greek). The "for" implies, thy "strengthlessness" (the same Greek as is translated "weakness"; and in 2 Corinthians 12:10 , "infirmities") is the very element in which My "power" (which moves coincident with "My grace") exhibits itself more perfectly. So that Paul instead of desiring the infirmity to "depart," "rather" henceforth "glories in infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest (Greek, 'tabernacle upon,' cover my infirmity all over as with a tabernacle; compare Greek, John 1:12 ) upon" him. This effect of Christ's assurance on him appears, 2 Corinthians 4:7 , 1 Corinthians 2:3 1 Corinthians 2:4 ; compare 1 Peter 4:14 . The "My" is omitted in some of the oldest manuscripts; the sense is the same, "power" (referring to God's power) standing absolutely, in contrast to "weakness" (put absolutely, for man's weakness). Paul often repeats the word "weakness" or "infirmity" (the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth chapters) as being Christ's own word. The Lord has more need of our weakness than of our strength: our strength is often His rival; our weakness, His servant, drawing on His resources, and showing forth His glory. Man's extremity is God's opportunity; man's security is Satan's opportunity. God's way is not to take His children out of trial, but to give them strength to bear up against it ( Psalms 88:7 , John 17:15 ).
10. take pleasure in--too strongly. Rather as the Greek, "I am well contented in."
infirmities--the genus. Two pairs of species follow, partly coming from "Satan's messenger," partly from men.
when--in all the cases just specified.
strong--"powerful" in "the power of Christ" ( 2 Corinthians 12:9 , 2 Corinthians 13:4 , Hebrews 11:34 ).
11. in glorying--omitted in the oldest manuscripts. "I am become a fool." He sounds a retreat [BENGEL].
ye--emphatic. "It is YE who have compelled me; for I ought to have been commended by you," instead of having to commend myself.
am I behind--rather as Greek, "was I behind" when I was with you?
the very chiefest--rather, as in 2 Corinthians 11:5 , "those overmuch apostles."
though I be nothing--in myself ( 1 Corinthians 15:9 1 Corinthians 15:10 ).
12. Truly, &c.--There is understood some such clause as this, "And yet I have not been commended by you."
in all patience, in signs, &c.--The oldest manuscripts omit "in." "Patience" is not one of the "signs," but the element IN which they were wrought: endurance of opposition which did not cause me to leave off working [ALFORD]. Translate, "IN . . . patience, BY signs," &c. His mode of expression is modest, putting himself, the worker, in the background, "were wrought," not "I wrought." As the signs have not been transmitted to us, neither has the apostleship. The apostles have no literal successors (compare Acts 1:21 Acts 1:22 ).
mighty deeds--palpable works of divine omnipotence. The silence of the apostles in fourteen Epistles, as to miracles, arises from the design of those Epistles being hortatory, not controversial. The passing allusions to miracles in seven Epistles prove that the writers were not enthusiasts to whom miracles seem the most important thing. Doctrines were with them the important matter, save when convincing adversaries. In the seven Epistles the mention of miracles is not obtrusive, but marked by a calm air of assurance, as of facts acknowledged on all hands, and therefore unnecessary to dwell on. This is a much stronger proof of their reality than if they were formally and obtrusively asserted. Signs and wonders is the regular formula of the Old Testament, which New Testament readers would necessarily understand of supernatural works. Again, in the Gospels the miracles are so inseparably and congruously tied up with the history, that you cannot deny the former without denying the latter also. And then you have a greater difficulty than ever, namely, to account for the rise of Christianity; so that the infidel has something infinitely more difficult to believe than that which he rejects, and which the Christian more rationally accepts.
13. wherein you were inferior--that is, were treated with less consideration by me than were other churches.
I myself--I made a gain of you neither myself, nor by those others whom I sent, Titus and others ( 2 Corinthians 12:17 2 Corinthians 12:18 ).
wrong--His declining support from the Corinthians might be regarded as the denial to them of a privilege, and a mark of their spiritual inferiority, and of his looking on them with less confidence and love (compare 2 Corinthians 11:9 2 Corinthians 11:11 ).
14. the third to the first Epistle. His second visit was probably a short one ( 1 Corinthians 16:7 ), and attended with humiliation through the scandalous conduct of some of his converts (compare 2 Corinthians 12:21 , 2 Corinthians 2:1 ). It was probably paid during his three years' sojourn at Ephesus, from which he could pass so readily by sea to Corinth (compare 2 Corinthians 1:15 2 Corinthians 1:16 , 2 Corinthians 13:1 2 Corinthians 13:2 ). The context here implies nothing of a third preparation to come; but, "I am coming, and the third time, and will not burden you this time any more than I did at my two previous visits" [ALFORD].
not yours, but you--( Philippians 4:17 ).
children . . . parents--Paul was their spiritual father ( 1 Corinthians 4:14 1 Corinthians 4:15 ). He does not, therefore, seek earthly treasure from them, but lays up the best treasure (namely, spiritual) "for their souls" ( 2 Corinthians 12:15 ).
15. I will . . . spend--all I have.
be spent--all that I am. This is more than even natural parents do. They "lay up treasures for their children." But I spend not merely my treasures, but myself.
for you--Greek, "for your souls"; not for your mere bodies.
the less I be loved--Love rather descends than ascends [BENGEL]. Love him as a true friend who seeks your good more than your good will.
16. I did not burden you--The "I" in the Greek is emphatic. A possible insinuation of the Corinthians is hereby anticipated and refuted: "But, you may say, granted that I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you (in my net) with guile"; namely, made a gain of you by means of others ( 1 Thessalonians 2:3 ).
17. Paul's reply: You know well I did not. My associates were as distinterested as myself. An important rule to all who would influence others for good.
18. I desired Titus--namely, to go unto you. Not the mission mentioned 2 Corinthians 8:6 2 Corinthians 8:17 2 Corinthians 8:22 ; but a mission previous to this Epistle, probably that from which he had just returned announcing to Paul their penitence ( 2 Corinthians 7:6-16 ).
a brother--rather "OUR (literally, 'the') brother"; one well known to the Corinthians, and perhaps a Corinthian; probably one of the two mentioned in 2 Corinthians 8:18 2 Corinthians 8:22 .
19. Again--The oldest manuscripts read, "This long time ye think that we are excusing ourselves unto you? (Nay). It is before God (as opposed to 'unto you') that we speak in Christ" ( 2 Corinthians 2:17 ). English Version Greek text was a correction from 2 Corinthians 3:1 , 5:12 .
20. For--Assigning cause why they needed to be thus spoken to "for their edification"; namely, his fear that at his coming he should find them "not such as he would," and so he should be found by them "such as they would not" like, namely, severe in punishing misconduct.
debates--Greek, "strifes," "contentions."
envyings--The oldest manuscripts read "envying," singular.
strifes--"factions," "intrigues," "factious schemes" [WAHL]. Ambitious self-seeking; from a Greek root, "to work for hire."
backbitings, whisperings--open "slanderings," and "whispering backbitings" ( Galatians 5:20 ).
swellings--arrogant elation; puffing up of yourselves. Jude 1:16 , "great swelling words" ( 2 Peter 2:18 ).
21. my God--his God, however trying the humiliation that was in store for him.
will humble me--The indicative implies that the supposition will actually be so. The faithful pastor is "humbled" at, and "bewails" the falls of his people, as though they were his own.
sinned already--before my last coming [BENGEL], that is, before the second visit which he paid, and in which he had much at Corinth to rebuke.
have not repented--shall not have repented [ALFORD].
uncleanness--for example, of married persons ( 1 Thessalonians 4:7 ).
fornication--among the unmarried.