2 Corinthians 4 Study Notes


4:1-6 By extension, the first-person plural pronouns in this section may be applied to all true ministers of the gospel (not just professional clergy but all believers).

4:1 Because true ministry proceeds only from God’s undeserved mercy, Paul included with it the strength to persevere despite opposition.

4:2 The false apostles may have pandered to the Corinthians by pretending to have “inside information,” like the Jezebel who corrupted the believers of Thyatira with “the so-called secrets of Satan” (Rv 2:24). False teachers are recognized both by wrong motives (acting deceitfully) and the wrong message (distorting the word). True teachers are recognized by true motives and by “the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all” (Jd 3). There is no secret tier of truth reserved only for those who have been initiated into its secrets.

4:3 On gospel is veiled, see note at 3:15-16. Paul’s reference here is to every person (Gentile as well as Jew) who has not responded to the proclamation of the gospel.

4:4 Satan has a role in keeping persons from Christ and the gospel, even though they are accountable for their own souls and cannot blame the devil. Moreover, Satan cannot prevent the gospel light from penetrating. Without God’s enablement, a sinner can no more “see” the gospel than a blind person can see the sun. The foundation and the goal of the gospel is that Christ’s splendor or glory will be displayed. Sinners are converted so they may admire and love him.

4:5 The words Lord and servants demonstrate a reciprocal relationship, but here Paul focused on his service to Christ by means of serving other believers.


Greek pronunciation [ay KOHN]
CSB translation image
Uses in 2 Corinthians 2
Uses in the NT 23
Focus passage 2 Corinthians 4:4

The Greek noun eikon means image, form, or statue. In the NT, eikon is used in seven ways. (1) A coin bears the image of Caesar (Mt 22:20; Mk 12:16; Lk 20:24). (2) Unbelievers worship images of man and animals (Rm 1:23). (3) All humans bear the image of Adam (1Co 15:49). (4) Believers bear the image of Christ (Rm 8:29; 1Co 15:49). (5) Christ is the image of God (2Co 4:4; Col 1:15). (6) The law was a shadowy image of what Christ’s sacrifice provides (Heb 10:1). (7) Revelation refers to the beast who demands that everyone on earth worship his image, and God judges those who do (13:14-15; 14:9,11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4).

Two main ideas emerge from these uses: representation and manifestation. Caesar is represented by his image on a coin, and pagan gods are represented by images of them. Human beings were created to represent God and to manifest his presence in the world. However, Christ does not merely represent God; he is the full manifestation of God. Believers are being conformed to Christ’s image and thus manifest God’s presence as well.

4:6 The original creation of light out of darkness (Gn 1:3) provided the paradigm for God’s re-creation of spiritual light in a sinner (2Co 5:17). The initiative lies with God to give the light. On the knowledge of God’s glory, compare with note at v. 4. “Light” given by God results in the human response to “gospel/knowledge” which in turn results in “glory of Christ/God’s glory” being admired. Coupled with the statement in v. 4 that he is “the image of God,” the words in the face of Jesus Christ are a strong testimony to Paul’s belief in the deity of Christ, in whose face God’s glory is fully displayed (Jn 1:14,18; Heb 1:3).

4:7 Treasure is the unfading glory that accompanies the new covenant (3:8). The power to bring this about lies only with God. Clay jars is a metaphor for fragile and mortal human bodies. Sometimes the more humble the container, the more glorious its precious contents appear.

4:8-9 These verses contain four pairs of opposites. The first element of each pair characterizes frail humanity, especially humans in service to God. The second element gives evidence of God’s power.

4:10-11 In his humanity Jesus was subject to death; by God’s power he was raised to resurrection life. Paul (and indeed all the saints) would follow Jesus’s example, although for Paul the resurrection life had already been displayed in our mortal flesh. See Eph 2:4-6, where believers are already made alive, raised, and seated with Christ.

4:12 Paul’s trials as a minister led ultimately to his experiencing a martyr’s bodily death; however, his trials were instrumental in bringing spiritual life to the Corinthians.

4:13 The Hebrew text of Ps 116:10 is, “I believed, even when I said ‘I am severely oppressed.’” Paul quoted the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the OT). The main point is that trust in the Lord motivates a person to action.

4:14 At Christ’s coming, God will raise believers. This must be distinguished from the new spiritual life that Paul enjoyed while still in bodily life (vv. 10-11). The words us with you show that the resurrection of the saints is not individualistic. See 11:2 for the other instance of the verb present in 2 Corinthians, which also emphasizes the corporate nature of the church (as a bride).

4:15 On the glory of God, see notes at vv. 4,6.

4:16 The words we do not give up are repeated from v. 1. Between these two statements Paul explains why he was not defeated even in extremely negative circumstances. The apostle is the ideal for all believers.

4:17-18 These verses contrast the experiences of frail humanity with the evidences of God’s power (see note at vv. 8-9). They also remind all believers that our focus must remain on the eternal.