David Woodall


Author. Stylistic and theological considerations support the claim of Pauline authorship, and this claim is embraced by scholars of various theological persuasions.

There are several scholars who question the unity of the book—the idea that 2 Corinthians is a literary whole from beginning to end. (1) 2 Corinthians 2:14–7:4 is sometimes understood as a separate insertion (the account flows smoothly between 2:13 and 7:5), but 2:14 is best viewed as Paul’s praise in the midst of hardship and a digression concerning the nature of new covenant ministry. (2) 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 is sometimes understood as a non-Pauline insertion, but it is best viewed as showing how the Corinthians could demonstrate their love for him. (3) Some think that chaps. 10–13 were written separately because the harsh tone of these chapters does not match the more irenic nature of chaps. 1–9. It is not impossible to postulate that Paul wrote chaps. 1–9 after the initial report from Titus and chaps. 10–13 a short time later after hearing about more difficulties, but there is no textual evidence that these sections were ever separated. This commentary will assume and argue for the essential unity of 2 Corinthians.

Background. The Corinthian correspondence must be understood in light of a historical background that includes three visits to Corinth, four letters to the church, and three travel plans (designated by letters below). Paul’s initial visit to Corinth (visit A) during his second missionary journey lasted 18 months (Ac 18:1–18, fall of AD 50 to spring of AD 52). On his third missionary journey, Paul ministered in Ephesus for two years (Ac 19:8–10). During this time, Paul received both written and oral reports concerning problems in the Corinthian church. He responded by writing two letters, Corinthians A (mentioned in 1Co 5:9–11) and B (what we now know as 1 Corinthians), to address the issues. In Corinthians B, Paul announced his future travel plans (travel plan A): he would travel through Macedonia and then spend some time with them (see 1Co 16:5–9). This plan never materialized. Timothy informed Paul that opponents had infiltrated the church, and the problems were multiplying. This motivated Paul to change his plans and visit them immediately (visit B) with the hope of going on to Macedonia and returning to Corinth so that they might have the benefit of two visits (2Co 1:15–16, travel plan B). But visit B was a disaster—a painful visit (2Co 2:1) where Paul experienced personal attacks (2Co 2:5–10; 7:12) from the opponents while the church provided little support. Changing his plan again, Paul returned to Ephesus (travel plan C) defeated and discouraged.

From Ephesus, Paul wrote a severe letter to the Corinthians (Corinthians C, which is no longer available) and sent it via Titus. The purpose of this letter was to communicate his love for the Corinthians, to urge the people to repent, and to demand the punishment of the ringleader who had opposed Paul (2Co 2:3–4, 9; 7:8–12).

Desiring to know the Corinthian response to the letter, Paul traveled to Troas and eventually to Macedonia in search of Titus (2:12–13). When he finally found him, there was rejoicing (2:14). The ringleader had repented and most of the Corinthians were now favorable toward Paul (7:5–7, 11). Paul then wrote his fourth letter to the Corinthians—Corinthians D, our 2 Corinthians—around AD 55 in response to the news from Titus in anticipation of his third visit (12:14; 13:1, visit C). This visit was successful. Paul stayed in Corinth for three months (Ac 20:1–3) and wrote the book of Romans. This historical background illustrates that Paul never gave up on the people to whom he ministered.

Purpose. 2 Corinthians is a defense of Paul’s apostolic ministry in light of the newly formed opposition against him. Paul wrote to the majority (2:6) to encourage them to show the genuineness of their faith by forgiving those who had repented, to separate from those who refused to repent, and to collect an offering for the poor Jewish believers in Jerusalem.

Paul also wrote to the minority who were still siding with the opponents to defend his apostleship and to urge them to repent. Three characteristics of the opponents are apparent in the letter. (1) Paul’s response in 11:21b–22 indicates that they were Jews. (2) The church was giving them a hearing because they claimed to be Christians (10:7; 11:23), but Paul’s response indicates that he questions that claim. They were preaching a different gospel (11:4) and were in fact servants of Satan (11:13–15). (3) They were Judaizers in the sense that they stressed keeping the Mosaic law as a condition of salvation or as a necessity for Christian fellowship (Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, NIGTC [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005] 77–87).

Throughout his ministry, Paul was con-cerned for the poverty-stricken Jewish Christians who lived in Jerusalem. While ministering in Antioch, Paul delivered a financial gift to them during a famine (Ac 11:27–30). He also promised the Jerusalem leaders that he would continue to remember the poor (a technical term for the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, Gl 2:9–10). As Paul established Gentile churches, he felt compelled to collect a massive offering for the poor Jewish believers in Jerusalem. He encouraged the Corinthians to be involved in this collection (1Co 16:1–4), but it was Titus who initiated it (2Co 8:6). Unfortunately, the collection stopped with the infiltration of the opponents. After delivering the severe letter (Corinthians C, not extant), Titus sensed that the time was right to revive the collection, and 2Co 8–9 is Paul’s exhortation for the Corinthians to complete a generous collection before his arrival. Although Paul was genuinely concerned for the economic status of the Jewish believers and had a deep love for them, his main motivation for the collection was to establish fellowship between his Gentile converts and the Jewish followers of Jesus in Jerusalem (Rm 15:27). The collection was completed, delivered to Jerusalem, and accepted (Ac 21:17–20a).


I. Past Ministry in Corinth (1:1–7:16)

A. Greeting to the Corinthians (1:1–11)

1. Introduction (1:1–2)

2. Praise to God (1:3–7)

3. Tribulation in Asia (1:8–11)

B. New Travel Plans (1:12–2:13)

1. Integrity (1:12–22)

2. Travel and Correspondence (1:23–2:4)

3. Forgiveness (2:5–11)

4. Travel to Troas (2:12–13)

C. Paul Defends His Ministry (2:14–7:4)

1. The Sufficiency of Paul’s Ministry (2:14–3:6)

2. The Glory of New Covenant Ministry (3:7–4:6)

3. Living and Dying with Jesus (4:7–5:10)

4. The Ministry of Reconciliation (5:11–6:2)

5. Paul’s Integrity and Appeal (6:3–10)

6. Separation from Unbelievers (6:14–7:1)

7. Paul’s Renewed Appeal (7:2–4)

D. Paul’s Joy over Corinthian Repentance (7:5–16)

II. Present Ministry in Corinth (8:1–9:15)

A. Complete the Collection (8:1–15)

B. Administer the Funds (8:16–9:5)

C. Reap the Benefits (9:6–15)

III. Future Visit to Corinth (10:1–13:14)

A. Paul Defends His Authority (10:1–18)

B. Paul Is Forced to Boast (11:1–12:13)

C. Paul Expresses Concern for the Corinthians (12:14–21)

D. Paul Gives a Final Warning (13:1–10)

E. Conclusion (13:11–14)


I. Past Ministry in Corinth (1:1–7:16)

A. Greeting to the Corinthians (1:1–11)

1. Introduction (1:1–2)

In the typical format of an ancient letter, Paul identified both the author and recipients. Paul’s apostolic ministry was based on the will of God, and this gave him unique authority. To reject the authority of Paul (as his opponents were doing), therefore, was to reject the authority of God. Along with Timothy (a co-sender of the letter), he sent this letter to the believers gathered throughout Corinth and Achaia.

2. Praise to God (1:3–7)

Instead of a typical thanksgiving, Paul praised God for comfort received during ongoing suffering. Paul’s opponents questioned his apostleship because he suffered, but Paul argued that comfort in the midst of suffering—not the absence of suffering—is the mark of a true apostle. The key verb parakaleo (comfort, comforts, are comforted, four times in 1:3–7) and the action noun paraklesis (comfort, six times) refer to the action of consoling a person. Here the consoling comes from a relationship with God and those who have experienced His consoling ministry.

1:3–4. The reason Paul could praise God (the sense of blessed) during affliction is grounded in the character of God. He is (1) both God and Father to Jesus, (2) a compassionate Father during hardship, (3) the source of all genuine comfort, and (4) the actual comforter in time of need. There is also a purpose in suffering. After experiencing God’s comfort, Christians are able to minister to those who are in affliction. To retreat into isolation during hardship is to reject God’s purpose in the suffering.

1:5. Suffering is now defined as the sufferings of Christ. This does not refer to the hardships common to all humanity; this refers to the distress that results from serving Christ in a hostile environment. Paul was not implying that suffering atones for sin in any way. Why can Christians pass on to others the comfort they receive from God? As the suffering increases, it is matched by an increase in comfort.

1:6–7. Paul endured suffering for the spiritual salvation of the Corinthians. Paul’s firm hope was that the Corinthians would reject his opponents and follow him in enduring hardship.

3. Tribulation in Asia (1:8–11)

1:8–9. Paul illustrated comfort in the midst of suffering by revealing the intense affliction he experienced in Asia. It was a unique burden so extreme that he could not continue in ministry. As a result of the affliction, he despaired even of life. The exact identity of the affliction is not stated. After an extended discussion, Harris concludes that the affliction was an intense flare-up of a chronic sickness (Second Corinthians, 164–182). Regardless of the exact nature of the affliction, the purpose was clear: trials come to keep Christians dependent on God.

1:10–11. Paul acknowledged God as the agent of this specific deliverance. Based on past experience, he boldly proclaimed that God would again deliver him from near-death experiences. This was quickly rephrased as a hope for deliverance conditioned on the prayers of the Corinthians. Christian prayers should not tell God what to do, but God does respond to prayer. As the Corinthians joined Paul in prayer, they could also join Paul in thanksgiving for deliverance.

B. New Travel Plans (1:12–2:13)

1. Integrity (1:12–22)

Some Corinthians believed that Paul’s change in travel plans proved that he lacked integrity. But just as they trusted his word about Jesus Christ, they could trust his word about travel plans.

1:12. Paul’s conscience bore witness to a consistent lifestyle that should be the motto of every minister. It was characterized by an openness (a better textual reading than holiness) and sincerity that finds its source in the grace of God rather than a worldly system.

1:13–14. Concerning Paul’s previous letters, what they read and understood on the surface reflected Paul’s intent. There was no hidden agenda reflecting an ulterior motive. Paul hoped that their current partial acknowledgment of his integrity would be a complete acknowledgment when they stood before Jesus. Paul hoped to acknowledge them fully as well.

1:15–16. Paul’s initial plan was to travel from Ephesus to Macedonia and then to Corinth (1Co 16:2–8). This did not happen. Confident that the Corinthians would acknowledge his integrity, Paul then intended to travel from Ephesus to Corinth first on his way to Macedonia and then to retrace his steps back to Corinth where he would receive financial support for his journey to Judea. By two visits they would twice receive the blessing of his presence. This plan never materialized either, and Paul reverted to his original intention to travel to Macedonia first. This fluctuation, which said, "Yes," "No," "Yes" ("Yes, I’m coming to you from Ephesus through Macedonia," then, after circumstances required him to adjust the initial plan, "No, I’m not coming to you from Ephesus through Macedonia," then, when circumstances changed yet again, "Yes, I’m coming to you from Ephesus through Macedonia") generated criticism from the Corinthian opponents.

1:17. Paul identified and answered two questions framed by his opponents. (1) Was he fickle when devising these plans? No. (2) Did Paul change his plans on a whim with the result that he appeared to be saying "Yes" while meaning "No"? No.

1:18–20. In contrast to human deceitfulness, God is faithful. His messianic promises find fulfillment—their yes—in Christ, and Paul consistently proclaimed that people should say "Yes" to Christ. Paul was never duplicitous, saying one thing about the gospel while meaning another. Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy were witnesses of Paul’s integrity. Our Amen is the Christian affirmation of Paul and the Corinthians that Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promises. Since the Corinthians affirm this, they should certainly affirm the integrity of Paul’s words concerning his relatively trivial travel plans. God is glorified by consistency, but duplicity is a denial of the gospel.

1:21–22. Paul’s defense of his integrity concluded with the rehearsal of four things God has done for him. (1) God constantly confirms his relationship to Christ (establishes us with you means that the Corinthians share in this confirmation). (2) At his conversion, God metaphorically anointed him in the sense of assigning him to service, and (3) sealed him as His own by (4) giving him the Holy Spirit as a pledge of future blessings. Because all of this was true of Paul, it would have been inconsistent for him to be two-faced in the ministry. This fourfold work of God is continuously reproduced in the lives of all Christians, and it demands extreme integrity.

2. Travel and Correspondence (1:23–2:4)

1:23–24. After defending his integrity, Paul revealed his purpose for not returning to Corinth as planned: it was to spare them. He called on God to bear witness to this intent, and he staked his own soul on its truthfulness. From what did he intend to spare them? Perhaps Paul wanted to avoid an overly harsh rejoinder to their personal attack. Contrary to what some proclaimed, Paul was not a dictator in the realm of faith who delighted in harm (the Corinthians were standing firm in their trust in Christ anyway) but a coworker who delighted in joy. No minister enjoys inflicting pain on believers.

2:1–2. Verses 1–5 highlight the concept of pain in ministry: the pain of congregational rebellion and pastoral rebuke. Paul made up his mind not to make another visit that would be painful to the Corinthians. He did not want to inflict more pain on the very people (the one whom I made sorrowful is generic and does not refer to one specific individual) who should bring him joy. This does not mean, however, that we should make ministry decisions based on the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of happiness.

2:3–4. Instead of avoiding contact altogether, Paul decided to write a painful letter. The purpose of the change was: (1) to avoid the unnecessary pain of a sharp reprisal against them (Paul was confident that they would respond positively, making Paul’s joy their joy) and (2) to communicate Paul’s love. The faithful minister must never give up on people. Sin is addressed with anguish and tears out of love. This type of ministry changes lives.

3. Forgiveness (2:5–11)

Paul’s tearful letter called for the discipline of an unnamed individual (the offender of 2Co 7:12) who had rejected his authority. This individual was probably not the incestuous man of 1Co 5:1. (1) The offense in 1Co 5 was sexual in nature; the offense here is a rejection of Paul’s authority. (2) The offended group in 1Co 5 is the church as a whole; the offended person here is Paul himself (2Co 2:5).

2:5. Although the attack by this person against Paul was personal, the church had also experienced a certain degree of sorrow. There is no such thing as a private sin.

2:6–8. The majority of the church had enacted the discipline Paul desired, and the offender had repented (cf. 2Co 7:8–12). As a result, the punishment must stop and the overwhelming grief of the offender should be replaced with forgiveness, comfort, and love by the Corinthians. The goal of church discipline is always restoration.

2:9. Paul intended the request for discipline to be a test of the Corinthian’s submission to his authority. By enacting the discipline, the majority became obedient and passed the test.

2:10–11. Now Paul was calling on them to forgive the repentant offender as Paul himself had already done. Paul was motivated to forgive (1) for the benefit of the Corinthian community, (2) for the approval of Christ whose presence is always near in discipline situations, and (3) a desire to stop the attack of Satan on the congregation. The enemy can use lack of forgiveness to destroy the church.

4. Travel to Troas (2:12–13)

After the painful visit and tearful letter, Paul left his ministry in Ephesus as a "depressed" minister (cf. 2Co 7:5–6) and traveled to Troas. Although he came to Troas with the expressed purpose of preaching the gospel concerning Christ and although the Lord provided an opportunity—a door—for success, Paul rejected the opportunity and left for Macedonia. The reason for this remarkable reversal was his distress over the situation in Corinth. No news from Titus was interpreted as bad news.

C. Paul Defends His Ministry (2:14–7:4)

The mention of Titus caused Paul to intentionally reflect on the comfort he received from God during this hardship. In what is often called a "great digression," Paul defended the genuineness of his ministry by reflecting extensively on the nature of new covenant ministry—a ministry that often involves suffering. When the travel narrative resumes in 7:5, the reader learns that God comforted Paul "by the coming of Titus" (7:6) and the Corinthian response to his ministry (7:7).

1. The Sufficiency of Paul’s Ministry (2:14–3:6)

2:14. In the midst of suffering, Paul thanked God. The triumph recalls the triumphal victory parade sponsored by a Roman emperor for a general whose military accomplishments were truly extraordinary. The general’s captured enemies were put on public display in front of the Roman populace. God had captured Paul on the road to Damascus and now was leading him in his ministry for Christ. In contrast to Corinthian triumphalism, Paul understood his suffering as the means that God uses to spread the aroma of the gospel.

2:15–16a. Because Paul’s fragrance of suffering—reminiscent of OT sacrifices—reflects Christ’s suffering, it separates humanity into two camps: those who embrace Paul’s suffering and his message are genuine believers, but those who reject it are perishing. To reject Paul is to reject his gospel message and the triumph that comes only in Christ.

2:16b–17. Who is sufficient for the gospel ministry? In contrast to the newly arrived opponents who preached for the money, Paul is adequately equipped for this ministry because he preached (1) free of charge with pure (sincere) motives, (2) was commissioned from God, (3) was accountable in the sight of God, and (4) was in union with Christ.

3:1–3a. The opponents came with letters of commendation, but Paul seemed to commend himself (cf. 2Co 1:12; 2:17). Paul responded that (1) his previous statements were not from arrogance, and (2) he did not need official letters because the conversion of the Corinthians was his letter of commendation—a letter engraved on his heart, indicating the genuineness of his ministry (v. 2). This metaphorical letter is from Christ and serviced by Paul (v. 3a). It is superior because (1) it is internal rather than external, (2) seen by all rather than a few, and (3) authored by Christ rather than humans.

3:3b. The old covenant inaugurated by Moses was external—engraved on tablets of stone (Ex 31:18). In contrast, the OT prophets predicted a future new covenant inaugurated by Christ that would be internal—written by the Spirit on responsive human hearts (Jr 31:31–33; Ezk 11:19; 36:26–27). This prophetic promise found fulfillment when Jesus died (Lk 22:20) and the Spirit was poured out (Ac 2:1–21). The new covenant replaced the old. Corinthian conversions, therefore, were evidence of the Spirit’s ministry through Paul.

3:4–6a. Such confidence before God (i.e., the adequacy of his ministry from God [2:16–17] and the evidence of adequacy in Corinthian conversions [3:1–3]) comes by means of Christ. Lest they misunderstand this confidence, Paul explained that his sufficiency for new covenant ministry came from God, not from himself.

3:6b. The current new covenant is now contrasted with the old covenant of the past. The letter refers to the law as chiseled in stone. This external code stated commandments but did not empower the hearer to obey. The result of disobedience was death for the rebellious (Ex 32:27–28). There was nothing wrong with the content of the OT law. It reflects the holy character of God, and most of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the NT. Here Paul stresses the inability of an external code to enable a person to keep it. The new covenant, however, is characterized by the inner work of the Spirit, which enables a person to do the will of God. The result of obedience is life. This letter/Spirit contrast should not be understood as pointing to a spiritual interpretation of the Bible over against a literal interpretation.

2. The Glory of New Covenant Ministry (3:7–4:6)

Based on a running explanation of Ex 34:29–35, Paul argued from lesser to greater for the permanence of the new covenant ministry.

3:7–8. Even though the old covenant resulted in death for the rebellious in Ex 32:27–28, it nevertheless possessed the glory of God—a glory that was evident in the glowing face of Moses (Ex 34:29). Israel in their rebellion could not gaze intently on this glory lest they be consumed. As an act of mercy, Moses veiled his face before Israel lest they die (the OT never mentions that the glory was fading; it was "a glory which was made ineffective" [NET] by the veil, cf. Scott Hafemann, 2 Corinthians [NIVAC], Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000, 144–163, and see the comments below on v. 13). Both covenants reflect the glory of God in equal degree, but their results are different: rebellious Israel died, but the believing Corinthians lived.

3:9–10. Rebellious Israel died because the law pronounced condemnation on sin (see the comments on Gl 3:10–14), and Israel was not able to keep all the law so as to avoid this condemnation (see Dt 29–31, Israel under the old covenant established a right relationship with God only by faith in God’s promises that ultimately found fulfillment in the person of Christ). But the Corinthians lived because the Spirit brings and promotes righteousness. The glory of God, therefore, abounds in the new covenant because of its results. When compared in this way, it is clear that the old covenant ministry has come to an end. It has, by comparison to the new covenant, no glory at this time.

3:11. The very nature of the old covenant, which veiled the glory of God, revealed that it was temporary. The new covenant inaugurated by Christ replaced the old covenant and remains as a permanent covenant that manifests the unveiled glory of God.

3:12–13. The remainder of the chapter highlights the significance of Ex 34:29–35 for the Corinthians. Because Paul had this confident hope that the new covenant remains, he preached the gospel with a courageous boldness. This is in contrast to Moses who spoke through a veil to Israel. The purpose of the veil was to keep rebellious Israel from experiencing the end (telos, here refers to the consequence of destruction) that the unveiled glory of God would bring on "stiff-necked" people in a time of rebellion (Ex 34:33–35). The fact of a new covenant means that only those who embrace Paul’s gospel can be saved. There is no separate way of salvation for the Jewish people.

3:14–16. Why then were so many Israelites rejecting Christ? Their minds continued to be hardened (see the comments on Rm 11:7–27). This is evident because the veil (which now was representing Israel’s hardness) remained over their heart when Moses (i.e., the old covenant) was read (v. 15). The hardness is only removed when they embrace Christ as Savior. Just as Moses used to remove the veil to behold the glory of God (Ex 34:34), so Jewish people now have the veil of hardness removed when they repent and see the glory of God in the person of Jesus (v. 16). Moses was a paradigm for a person who turns in repentance to the Lord (a reference to God the Father in this quotation from Ex 34:34). Just as Moses removed the veil in the presence of God, so people throw off their hardness of heart when they turn to God.

3:17. By saying the Lord is the Spirit, Paul was not equating the Father and the Spirit as one person. He was explaining the significance of Ex 34:34 to NT believers. Moses uniquely turned to the Lord (Yahweh) in the tent of meeting; but now NT believers turn to the Spirit in their conversion. The liberty that results is not an independence to do whatever one pleases, but rather is liberation from hardheartedness.

3:18. In contrast to Jewish unbelievers (3:14), all followers of Christ, Jewish or Gentile, now have an unveiled face—Paul’s image for freedom from hardheartedness. Unlike rebellious Israel in the Exodus account, Christians can see God’s glory and live. Those who intensely ponder this glory are continuously transformed (from the initial glory of their conversion to the final glory of the future) into the image of Christ who reveals the glory of God. This transformation comes from God who now works through the Spirit. Paul expected every true follower of Christ to experience an ever-increasing growth in godliness.

4:1–2. Because Paul had received this glorious new covenant ministry and because of the mercy God granted him during ministry, he refused to give up (cf. 4:16). Those who have a clear vision of the mercy of God in their lives and the glory of God manifested in Christ can persist in the gospel ministry during times of hardship. In response to his opponents, Paul defended his bold ministry by renouncing anything hidden because it is shameful. He did this negatively by rejecting deceit and misrepresentation of the OT and positively by a clear presentation of truth concerning Jesus.

4:3–4. If this truth is both glorious and clear, should not everyone respond to it? Unbelievers, however, are blinded by Satan lest they perceive the light that comes from the gospel. Although defeated on the cross (Co 2:15), Satan is referred to as the god of this world because he has limited dominion over unbelievers during this current age. Believers in this dispensation see the glory of God in Christ, who, as God’s visible image, reflects His glory. Unbelievers can understand the clear presentation of the gospel, but in their blindness they evaluate it as foolishness (1Co 1:18; 2:14).

4:5–6. This explains why Paul preached the Jesus of history as the exalted Lord and why he served the Corinthians. Those who have been touched by the gospel realize that the gospel is not about them. God, who created light from darkness (Gn 1:3), confronted Paul with light on the road to Damascus (Ac 22:6–11) so that Paul clearly saw God’s glory in Christ. Only through a work of God are people able to perceive the glory of God in the person of Christ.

3. Living and Dying with Jesus (4:7–5:10)

4:7. If the gospel ministry is so glorious, why did Paul suffer so much? The gospel about Christ is a valuable treasure, but it is communicated by human beings who are like fragile clay vessels. The divine intent of this contrast is that God’s power might be manifested in human frailty. The true minister is one who is broken to the point where it is apparent that the transforming power of the gospel is from God.

4:8–9. The four sets of contrasts—all maximized by the phrase in every way—illustrate the connection between suffering in ministry and divine strength to overcome: (1) although afflicted (the verb is used of a crowd pressing against Jesus in Mk 3:9 and pictures being hard-pressed by opponents), never crushed in the sense of being backed into a corner with no escape; (2) although perplexed in the sense of being at a loss to know how to respond to a difficult situation (cf. Mk 6:20), "never a loser" (BDAG, 345); (3) although pursued by others, never forsaken by God; and (4) although struck down by physical abuse, never destroyed by physical death (cf. Paul’s experience at Lystra in Ac 14:1–10).

4:10–12. These contrasts are paralleled to the life of Christ. The dying of Jesus refers to the constant hardships Jesus experienced, which were reproduced in the hardships of Paul. The purpose of the suffering is that the resurrection life imparted by Jesus might become a present reality in Paul’s physical body. Paul was motivated to persevere in ministry—even though it meant suffering—because of Jesus (v. 11) and because it brought salvation to the Corinthians (life in you, v. 12).

4:13. Paul shared the same inclination to trust God during hard times as the author of Ps 116. Even when suffering brought the psalmist to the point of death (Ps 116:5, 8), he still believed in God even when he said, "I am greatly afflicted" (Ps 116:10). Faith leads to proclamation regardless of circumstances.

4:14–15. Paul also continued in ministry because he knew about the reality of a future glory. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees that Paul will be raised from the dead when Jesus returns (1Co 15:20, 23). When this happens, Paul will stand with the Corinthians in the presence of God. As a compassionate minister, Paul endured hardships for the sake of his people and for a higher purpose: the ever-increasing thanksgiving directed toward God that magnifies His glory after more people respond to the gospel.

4:16. Paul wasn’t giving up on ministry. Instead he experienced that even though his outer man (that aspect of his current humanity that others saw) was being destroyed by suffering, his inner man (that aspect of his humanity that was planted at conversion and unseen by others) was constantly growing through the nourishment of the Holy Spirit.

4:17–18. This process of growth is further explained by contrasting the current suffering with the unimaginable production of glory that the suffering produces. The glory refers to the future blessings that culminate in the resurrection body but are experienced in part during this age. When a Christian understands this eternal and abundant glory, the present suffering is viewed as momentary and minimal in comparison. Paul can say this because he has a spiritual perspective on life: his focus is not on the temporal suffering and decay of the physical body (the things clearly seen with the physical senses); his focus is on the eternal glory (the things not seen with the physical senses).

5:1. The physical difficulties Paul faced in ministry and the ever-increasing possibility of his death did not lead to despair. He knew that in physical death—when the house is torn down—believers would have the certainty of a resurrection body (the future building) that comes from God and lasts forever. Paul reflected on three human states throughout this section: (1) the physical state of present existence illustrated as an earthly tent, (2) the intermediate state between death and the second coming when a believer is present with the Lord without a resurrection body (a state referred to as nakedness), and (3) the resurrection state that begins at the rapture of the Church when believers receive their resurrection body.

5:2–4. State 1 is characterized by the groaning that accompanies suffering. Paul was longing to be alive for the rapture, which ushers in state 3 without the experience of death (1Co 15:50–55). Believers at that time will be transformed from their mortal bodies to their resurrection bodies without the experience of death and state 2.

5:5. God gives the Spirit to believers at conversion. This Spirit is a guarantee that God works through suffering to prepare Christians for their resurrection body.

5:6–8. To be at home in the body (an idiom for being alive) is to be absent from the Lord. Paul was courageous in this state although at the time his relationship with the Lord was characterized by faith rather than sight (v. 7). But because he knew that to be absent from the body (an idiom for physical death) ushers one into the presence of the Lord in the intermediate state, he preferred to be with the Lord (v. 8). Paul was not suicidal or disparaging concerning the physical body; Paul remained hopeful in the face of death because it would inaugurate a new phase in his relationship with the Lord.

5:9–10. In anticipation of his future relationship with the Lord, Paul desired to please Christ in his present state. For Paul, this meant a continuation in ministry even through suffering. Paul was also motivated by the expectation that he and all Christians will appear before and be evaluated by Christ. This happens at the judgment seat (Gk. bema)—a word that referred to a raised platform where a judicial authority pronounced a verdict on the one standing before him (Jesus "stood before" Pilate while Pilate was "sitting on the judgment seat" [Mt 27:11–19], and Paul stood "before the judgment seat" of Gallio in Corinth [Ac 18:12–17]). The purpose of the evaluation is not to determine eternal destiny; the purpose is to identify the actions of the physical body and to evaluate them as good or bad. The reward for good works is praise (1Co 4:5); the reward for evil works is lack of praise (1Co 3:15).

4. The Ministry of Reconciliation (5:11–6:2)

5:11. Paul’s motivation for his evangelistic ministry of persuading men, therefore, was his reverence for Christ and desire to have his works evaluated positively. This motivation was clear to God, and Paul hoped that the Corinthians would also share God’s perspective.

5:12. Rather than having an inflated view of himself, Paul wrote concerning his motives so that the Corinthians might defend him against his opponents who prided themselves on outward appearance (thus rejecting Paul because of his suffering) rather than inward reality. The internal motivations of the heart are more significant than outward appearances.

5:13. The Corinthians responded to Paul differently: some incorrectly thought he was beside [himself]—out of his mind to put up with such suffering; others thought that his mind was sound. Regardless, Paul ministered for the sake of God and the Corinthians, not for himself.

5:14–15. Paul found a second motivation for ministry in the love of Christ, i.e., Christ’s love for him. This love was manifested when Christ died as a substitute for the sins of those who believe in Him, and it leads to two conclusions: (1) the death of Christ to sin was the death of all Christians to sin (see the comments on Rm 6:1–7) and (2) this should motivate Christians to live for Christ (see the comments on Rm 6:11–14). The death of Christ is more than a fact to be believed; it demands a lifestyle that needs to be lived.

5:16–17. Paul described two consequences concerning the death of Christ. (1) His conversion experience gave him a new perspective on Christians and Christ. Gone were the days when Paul appraised them according to the flesh, from a human perspective. The death of Christ means that Christians are regarded as spiritual brothers and sisters rather than as just members of certain ethnic, social, or economic groups; Jesus is regarded as the Messiah rather than a messianic pretender. (2) The old era of the law ended with the death of Christ, and a new era in salvation history has arrived. When people become Christians, they are in Christ and view everything from a new perspective.

5:18–19. In this new period of salvation history, God was active in the life of Christ to reconcile humanity to Himself. "Reconciliation" is a key Pauline term. It is the activity of God that exchanges a broken relationship with humanity with a restored relationship through the work of Christ on the cross. Adam’s sin broke humanity’s perfect relationship with God and made humanity enemies with God (Rm 5:10). For Paul, humanity was so sinful that human beings could not reconcile themselves to God. But God himself took the initiative in history to reconcile humanity through the death of Christ on the cross. This does not mean, however, that every human is automatically reconciled. The message must be proclaimed and received (Rm 5:11) by faith in Christ (Rm 5:1–2). Believers are free from the penalty of sin and their trespasses do not count against them. God gives reconciled believers the task of proclaiming the message of reconciliation.

5:20. As he was Christ’s ambassador, Paul’s appeal represented God’s appeal. Paul’s evangelistic plea was that unbelievers might be reconciled to God by embracing the gospel message (2Co 5:11). This plea was not directed toward the Corinthians, as the NASB we beg you implies (the pronoun you is not in the Gk. text); the audience is the unbelieving world.

5:21. The content of the appeal is clarified. Christ never committed sin, but He voluntarily became a sin offering (the likely sense of to be sin on our behalf) by bearing the penalty for sin as a substitute. He was punished for the sins of others. The purpose for his death was that those who believe might have a righteous standing before God. The sinless One died so that sinners might live.

6:1–2. The doctrinal section (5:11–6:2) concludes with a practical exhortation. Paul worked together with God to proclaim the message of reconciliation; the Corinthians embraced this message and benefited from a right relationship with God. As reconciled people, they must now reconcile with others—including Paul. Grace—specifically the new work that God has accomplished in Christ to bring about reconciliation and forgiveness of sins (5:18–19)—is received in vain, in a practical sense, when Christians do not live in harmony with their position in Christ. The reason for this action is grounded in the scriptural context of Is 49:8. Because God often breaks into history to help His people, the recipients should respond. Just as God had His day when He delivered Israel from their bondage in Babylon, so there was a day when the Corinthians were delivered from their bondage to sin. The stress on now refers to the new period of salvation history inaugurated by the death of Christ.

5. Paul’s Integrity and Appeal (6:3–10)

6:3–4a. Paul made this exhortation as a man of integrity. His driving purpose in life was that no one would find fault with his gospel ministry because of an offense he committed. His life reflected his message. As a servant of God, Paul proved his integrity by endurance during suffering. This virtue applies to all the trials in the following list and is a crucial quality for every minister. Those committed to the gospel will stand firm during persecution.

6:4b–5. Paul listed his difficulties in three groups of three items: (1) general terms for hardships (afflictions, hardships, and distresses), (2) circumstances forced on Paul by others (beatings, imprisonments, and tumults or riots), and (3) hardships chosen by Paul for the sake of ministry (labors, sleeplessness, and hunger).

6:6–7. Paul commended himself through character qualities that manifest divine enablement: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, and sincere love (which are fruit of the Holy Spirit), as well as truthful speech (which is an evidence of the power of God). Paul also received spiritual weapons from a righteous God both for offense (the right hand) and defense (the left hand). Christian ministry is viewed as a battle that requires offense against opponents and defense against the attacks of the enemy.

6:8a. Paul’s character was consistent regardless of his circumstances, whether receiving glory in the sense of recognition or good report from followers or dishonor in the sense of disregard or evil report from opponents.

6:8b–10. Paul’s opponents had their own assessment of Paul. Seven statements contrast their worldly assessment with a godly assessment. (1) Though regarded as a deceiver, Paul was truthful; (2) though regarded as a counterfeit apostle by the opponents, he was regarded as genuine by God and true Christians; (3) though often at the point of death, he was still alive; (4) though disciplined by hardships, he was not put to death (cf. Ps 118:17–18 for an echo of the last two points); (5) though sorrowful, yet Paul was always rejoicing; (6) though materially poor by choice, he made many rich through the gospel; (7) though having nothing comparatively in this world, he possessed all things eternal.

6:11–13. After commending his ministry to the Corinthians, Paul concluded with a frank statement. The contrast between a heart that is opened wide versus one that is restrained or restricted is related to the intensity of affection in the life of Paul and the Corinthians, respectively. Paul’s immense affection for them should now have been evident, but their affections for Paul were lacking. In return for what Paul had done for them, he exhorted them as his dear children to return affection to him.

6. Separation from Unbelievers (6:14–7:1)

6:14a. This classic discussion on separation shows how the Corinthians can open their hearts to Paul: by not being bound together with unbelievers. The unbelievers in the Corinthian correspondence are always non-Christians outside the church (1Co 6:6; 7:12–15; 10:27; 14:22–24; 2Co 4:4). Paul was not advocating separation from all unbelievers (1Co 5:9–11; 7:12–15), nor was he referring to his opponents in Corinth. The vocabulary of this paragraph argues that his concern was specific: the Corinthians should not join with unbelievers to eat a meal in a pagan temple (1Co 8–10; see the comments by Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians [NICNT], Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997, 341–43). The primary application of this passage is not that of believers marrying only believers or Christians going into business partnerships with unbelievers. Avoiding idolatry and its crippling effects upon the Corinthians’ affection for Paul are the main points.

6:14b–16a. Five parallel statements communicate the first reason for Paul’s command. Believers should separate from pagans in this situation because there is a drastic division between their value systems. There are (1) no shared values (partnership, lit., an affiliation involving common goals and actions) between those who practice righteousness and those who practice wickedness, (2) no intimate fellowship (warm, affectionate relations) between those who belong to the realm of light and those who belong to the realm of darkness, (3) no harmony of working together between the members of Christ and the members of Satan (Belial), (4) no shared commitment between those who believe in Christ and those who do not, and (5) no common ground between worship in the church (believers are now collectively the temple of the living God) and worship in pagan temples.

6:16b–18. The second reason for Paul’s command was scriptural. (1) God had a special relationship with Israel when they fled idolatry (Lv 26:1–2, 11–12). (2) Those who carried the Lord’s vessels from Babylon were to separate from idolatry and not touch the unclean idols (Is 52:11). (3) When Israel rejected idols, they enjoyed a special family relationship with God (2Sm 7:14; cf. Dt 32:15–21). If the Corinthians avoided idolatry, their relationship with Paul would be much warmer.

7:1. These OT promises are the basis for Paul’s exhortation concerning cleansing from the external and internal (flesh and spirit) defilement of idol worship. This act of perfecting holiness reflects a deep reverence for God.

7. Paul’s Renewed Appeal (7:2–4)

7:2–3. By cleansing themselves, the Corinthians would expand their love for Paul (cf. 6:11–13). They should do this because Paul had not wronged them spiritually or financially. Paul said this not to condemn the Corinthians by implying that they all had wronged him (the comments were likely directed toward his opponents). They knew this because Paul had told them before that they have a place in his heart both now in life and later in death.

7:4. As the climactic conclusion of the "great digression" that discussed the superior nature of his new covenant ministry and provided a defense of Paul’s ministry (2:14–7:4), Paul rehearsed four ministry themes: (1) frank communication with the Corinthians, (2) boasting about the Corinthians to others, (3) comfort from God in suffering, and (4) joy in suffering.

D. Paul’s Joy over Corinthian Repentance (7:5–16)

7:5. Here Paul continued his travel narrative that ended abruptly in 2:13. Even when he traveled from Troas to Macedonia, he still did not have rest. His physical illness combined with external struggles with unbelievers and internal fears concerning the Corinthian situation robbed him of all respite. The pressures of ministry deeply affect a compassionate minister.

7:6–7. But Paul’s depression turned to joy by means of (1) the arrival of Titus from Corinth, (2) the comfort Titus had received from the Corinthians, and (3) Titus’s report that the Corinthians were yearning for him, grieving over the way they had treated him, and had a zeal to make things right. God works in people’s lives to orchestrate comfort in the midst of suffering.

7:8–10. As Paul listened to Titus’s report, he realized that the Corinthians had been grieved by his severe letter (Corinthians C, no longer extant; see the Introduction: Background). It hurt Paul to hear this, but he did not regret sending the letter because the godly sorrow it produced led to their repentance. They did not suffer loss (v. 9) means that they were not harmed by the letter in any way. The benefit of suffering comes from the reaction to it (v. 10): godly sorrow leads to change and the spiritual benefit of salvation, but worldly sorrow produces spiritual harm. Ministers should point out sin with the hope that the resulting grief will lead to change; those receiving rebuke from godly leaders should repent.

7:11. Seven character qualities flowed out of their godly sorrow: (1) earnestness to follow Paul’s commands, (2) desire to clear themselves of charges brought against them by Paul, (3) indignation toward the person who had wronged Paul, (4) renewed respect for apostolic authority, (5) longing for Paul’s return, (6) zeal to fulfill Paul’s wishes, and (7) desire to punish the wrongdoer. Genuine repentance results in action.

7:12–13a. Paul had a threefold purpose when he wrote the severe letter. Initially, his aim was (1) to demand punishment of the offender who had personally attacked him, and (2) to seek restoration toward the offended—toward Paul himself. In retrospect, however, his main goal was (3) to have them demonstrate their devotion to him. The accomplishment of this purpose was a great comfort to Paul.

7:13b–14. The attention now shifts from the response of Paul to the response of Titus toward the Corinthian repentance. The Corinthians had refreshed him after his ministry to them. This gave Paul even more reason for rejoicing. Paul had assured Titus that the Corinthians would respond favorably, and they did. Paul was not put to shame because the truth of the gospel that Paul proclaimed to them matched the truth of his comments concerning Titus.

7:15–16. The affection of Titus toward the Corinthians was even greater when he remembered their obedience and reported it to Paul. Their obedience was manifested in the God-fearing way they treated Titus during his visit. Paul concluded this section by returning to the recurring theme of rejoicing over his renewed confidence in the Corinthians after their positive response to Titus and his severe letter.

II. Present Ministry in Corinth (8:1–9:15)

A. Complete the Collection (8:1–15)

8:1–2. Paul’s concern to defend his apostleship in light of past events shifted to his concern for a monetary collection to benefit the poor Jewish believers in Jerusalem (cf. comments at Rm 15:26–27). He urged the Corinthians to complete the collection by informing them of the grace that God gave to the Macedonian churches. This grace is the spiritual work of God that enabled the Macedonians to give (for the connection between "saving grace" and "serving grace," see 1Co 15:10). The Greek word charis (grace) is used 10 times in 2Co 8–9 and has several different nuances (Harris, Second Corinthians, 559–560): (1) the enablement to give (8:1; 9:8, 14), (2) the favor or opportunity to give (8:4), (3) the gracious work of the collection itself (8:6, 7, 19), (4) the gracious character of the Lord (8:9), and (5) an expression of thanks to God (8:16; 9:15). Their motivation for giving was not external pressure but internal grace. The Macedonians (including at least the churches of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, Ac 20:1–6) had great joy even though they were suffering, and they gave beyond their financial ability even though they were in deep poverty.

8:3–5. Three circumstances accompanied Macedonian giving. Paul testified that (1) they gave sacrificially on their own; (2) they intently pleaded with Paul for the opportunity to participate in the relief work (participation refers to an active fellowship with the Jewish believers, v. 4); and (3) their giving was the result of a prior rededication to the Lord and a commitment to Paul’s spiritual leadership (v. 5). It was the will of God for them to submit to Paul’s authority. If the poverty-stricken Macedonians could give like this, surely the comparatively wealthy Corinthians could give as well. The attitudes of the Macedonians should also challenge believers to give today regardless of economic status.

8:6. Based on the unexpected generosity of the Macedonians, Paul exhorted Titus to return to Corinth to finish the collection that he began before the arrival of the opponents. Titus eagerly accepted Paul’s appeal (8:16–17).

8:7. The Corinthians were gifted in many areas (1Co 1:5), including an earnestness (or zeal) and love, which Paul cultivated. Now the Corinthians should exercise these virtues by giving to the collection. Those who have experienced an abundance of grace from God should abound in giving as well.

8:8–9. Paul did not force them to give. His intent was that the collection would prove the genuineness of their love for him as he compared their zeal with the zeal of the Macedonians. But the ultimate reason for giving is the example of Christ. Though he enjoyed all the riches of heaven, he voluntarily became poor in the incarnation. Through this giving, Christians enjoy spiritual riches. Giving to the collection is a response to the grace of Christ.

8:10–12. The Corinthians had a unique history with the collection. They responded to Paul’s instructions and the presence of Titus a year earlier to become the first not only to desire to give but also to actually give. Because of this, it was fitting for Paul to speak his mind on the issue. Their desire never ceased, but the collection did. Now they should act on their desire once again and resume the collection (v. 11). They should do this according to their ability (what a person has, even though the Macedonians went beyond their ability, 8:3). This is what Craig Blomberg (1 Corinthians, NIVAC [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995], 85) calls a "graduated giving." The percent of giving should increase in proportion to resources. Paul does not restrict giving to 10 percent of one’s income.

8:13–14. Paul’s desire is not for the Corinthians to become poor like the Macedonians while the Jerusalem Jewish believers become rich. Nor should they spread their wealth to generate an economic equality where everyone has the same amount of money. Instead, they should give by way of equality—on the basis of the spiritual equality that already exists between Jews and Gentiles in the church. In the present Church Age, the Corinthians had material abundance, and the Jerusalem Jewish believers were poor. Yet they shared their spiritual (Rm 15:27) blessings with Gentiles. When everyone shares, the goal of equality is achieved. Christians should give materially to those who support them spiritually.

8:15. A quotation from the manna passage in Ex 16 supports Paul’s exhortation to give. The experience in the wilderness taught Israel that God supplies for those who trust Him and that selfish hoarding should be rejected (Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989], 88–91). In the wilderness, equality was miraculously enforced (all had one omer regardless of how much they gathered); in the church, equality is realized through the action of the believers. Giving does not devastate because God supplies.

B. Administer the Funds (8:16–9:5)

8:16–17. After urging the Corinthians to resume their giving to the collection, Paul turned his attention to administrative issues. He offered a letter of recommendation for Titus and two other brothers who would help with the gathering and transportation of the funds. Paul praised God because He worked in the life of Titus to give him the same desire for the collection that Paul had. As evidence of Titus’s desire, Paul pointed out that (1) he embraced Paul’s exhortation to return, and (2) he did so not under compulsion but because he was very earnest.

8:18–19. Titus would return with an unnamed brother whose identity remains a mystery. Titus would introduce him. This fellow believer was commended because (1) he was highly respected among the Macedonian churches for his service in the gospel ministry and (2) he was appointed by the Macedonian churches to travel with Paul from Corinth to deliver the collection to Jerusalem. The collection itself was administered with a dual purpose: (1) primarily to promote praise to God and (2) secondarily to confirm Paul’s readiness or eagerness to support Jewish Christians.

8:20–21. Paul anticipated the collection of a large sum of money, and he desired to be financially accountable. The brothers were traveling with Paul as a precaution against the accusation that Paul intended to embezzle some funds for himself. They would ensure that Paul was above reproach. The way we handle church funds should be an open book before the Lord and especially before church members.

8:22. A second unidentified messenger would assist Titus with the collection in Corinth. Paul commended him to the church as a fellow believer (a spiritual brother) whose zeal for the ministry had been tested by Paul on numerous occasions in numerous ways. His zeal had increased after hearing about the Corinthian situation.

8:23. Paul anticipated questions about the delegation. If they ask about Titus: he shares Paul’s commitment to the Corinthians and works with him for the collection. If they ask about the other brothers: they are messengers (or "apostles" in a nontechnical sense) from the Macedonian churches to ensure the integrity of the collection, and they honor Christ in their lives.

8:24. Paul concluded this letter of recommendation by exhorting the Corinthians to demonstrate to the delegates and their sending churches (1) their love and (2) the genuineness of Paul’s claim concerning them. They would do this by receiving the delegates and contributing to the collection.

9:1–2. This paragraph continues that thought of 8:16–24 by explaining why Paul was sending the brothers to complete the collection before his arrival in Corinth. Because Paul knew about the Corinthian intention to give, this portion of the letter may seem unnecessary. Paul kept boasting to the Macedonians that Achaia (the province that included Corinth) had been ready to give since Titus initiated the endeavor a year earlier. And this Corinthian zeal had motivated the Macedonians to give.

9:3–4. But good intentions do not always produce the desired results, and the Corinthians needed encouragement to translate their zeal into action. Therefore, Titus and the two brothers were being sent to Corinth with a threefold purpose: (1) to insure that Paul’s boasting about the Corinthians’ intention would not be made empty by a failure to complete the action, (2) to confirm that the collection was complete (as Paul kept telling the delegation that it would be), and (3) to avoid the shame that would come to everyone when the Macedonians arrived in Corinth with Paul to find the collection incomplete.

9:5. The intent of the three-man delegation, therefore, was to motivate the Corinthians to fulfill their promise by completing the collection before Paul’s arrival. This would demonstrate that their generous and voluntary gift reflected their desire to bless the Jewish believers—rather than being seen as a stingy, last-minute gift coerced by Paul.

C. Reap the Benefits (9:6–15)

9:6. Paul’s final reflection on giving builds on his previous distinction between generous and stingy gifts by identifying the benefits of generous giving. Using an agricultural principle that connects the amount of harvest in direct proportion to the amount of sowing, Paul began a new theme: generous giving produces a generous harvest. This is the first benefit of giving.

9:7. Every person should reflect personally on an amount for the collection. Attitudes of inward reluctance and outward compulsion must be replaced by a cheerfulness that seeks God’s love. God loves a cheerful giver because a cheerful giver gives just as God gives—cheerfully—and thus manifests to the world His graciousness in a way that cannot be duplicated by one who gives grudgingly.

9:8–9. The principle of 9:6 is now explained. Christians who give generously should know that God is able to provide generously for them in return. Because giving Christians constantly receive divine resources, they are delivered from hoarding and able to give even more. The giver (He scattered … he gave in v. 9 refers to the human giver rather than God) becomes like the righteous person who gives to the poor in Ps 112:9. This righteous act will be remembered forever. This passage, however, does not support the claim that God is required to make Christians wealthy when they give. The rewards for giving in the NT are future-oriented (e.g., "store up for yourselves treasures in heaven," Mt 6:20) and focus on having an abundance for every good deed (9:8) and righteousness (9:9, 10) rather than hoarded material prosperity.

9:10–11a. God supplies the funds necessary for giving and the bread for food that results. As the giver’s righteousness produces a harvest of giving, God increases the benefits to those in need. The principle is clear: God provides material benefits to believers who give to those in need. He enriches those who give in everything (materially and spiritually) so that they can give more generously (not so that they can become wealthy).

9:11b–12. Two additional benefits result from generous giving: the financial needs of the recipients are met and thanksgiving is directed toward God.

9:13. Paul was anticipating a time when the Jewish believers of Jerusalem would glorify God because the contribution was proof of Gentile conversion. Specifically, Jewish followers of Jesus would glorify God for (1) Gentile obedience that flowed out of a confession of the gospel and (2) for Gentile generosity both to them (Jewish believers) and to all those in need (cf. Gl 6:10). This anticipation became a reality when Paul arrived in Jerusalem (Ac 21:17, 20a).

9:14–15. In addition to thanking God, the Jerusalem recipients would pray for the Corinthians and yearn to meet them because God’s grace had moved them to give generously. All of these benefits are possible because of the person and work of Christ—God’s indescribable gift. And for this everyone should thank God.

III. Future Visit to Corinth (10:1–13:14)

A. Paul Defends His Authority (10:1–18)

10:1. In anticipation of his next visit and with an increased awareness of problems with opponents at Corinth, Paul finished this epistle with a passionate defense of his apostolic authority. The unity of the letter (see comments in the introduction) is established by the continuing themes of Paul’s defense of his ministry and his exhortation to the Corinthians (cf. the continuing reflection on commendation in 3:1; 4:2; 5:12; 6:4; 10:12, 18; and 12:11). He appealed to the church as one who followed the pattern of Christ in meekness and forbearance, but he rejected the accusations of the opponents that he was twofaced: servile while with them (failing to deal with the wrongdoer) but demanding (in the severe letter) when absent (cf. 10:10).

10:2a. Paul was willing to exercise discipline in person with the confidence that he has the authority to do so, but appealed that he would not need to act this way. There was still time to repent and obey.

10:2b–4. Paul’s opponents, and those who were siding with them, argued that Paul was walking according to the flesh, i.e., that his actions were devoid of supernatural power. Paul conceded that he lived a physical existence (in the flesh, v. 3), but the war he was about to wage against his opponents would be an evidence of divine power (not … according to the flesh). He would use weapons (not identified, but cf. Eph 6:13–17) that would destroy the fortress, the opposing arguments, of his opponents.

10:5–6. His battle plan was threefold: (1) demolish the fortresses, defined as false reasoning and arrogant argumentation that keep people from a true knowledge of God; (2) take captive wrong thinking with the goal of conforming that thinking to the gospel; and, after some obey Paul’s appeal, (3) punish those who remain disobedient when Paul visits.

10:7. Paul commanded the Corinthians to look at (see the NASB footnote) the facts concerning his ministry. The leader of the opposition (anyone … himself … he … him) claimed to have a special relationship with Christ (it was his own claim in himself—a claim that Paul later rejected, cf. 2Co 11:13–15), but Paul too could claim this.

10:8. Although Paul boasted even more concerning the authority Jesus gave to him at his conversion, he will have no shame in the final judgment because his boast was in the Lord. The primary purpose of his ministry was to build up the church, not to tear it down.

10:9–11. The opponents accused Paul of tearing down the church through his forceful letters (in contrast to a ministry in Corinth that was unimpressive in appearance and oratory, v. 10). But Paul’s mission to build up should be applied to his severe writing as well—it too was for their benefit, not to terrify them for the purpose of destruction. His opponents should have realized that his mission of building up would be accomplished both through his deeds when present as well as his letters while absent (v. 11). The strong words in letters would match his strong deeds in presence. Firm rebuke is sometimes needed to build up the church.

10:12. Verses 12–18 compare the negative boasting of the opponents to the positive boasting of Paul. They foolishly commend themselves by comparing themselves with others in their cultural subgroup apart from a biblical standard; Paul, with irony, claimed that he was not bold enough to do that!

10:13–15a. The biblical standard for Paul’s boast was God’s assignment (measure) to go into Gentile territory (the sphere of Corinth) to plant churches—an assignment recognized by the Jerusalem leaders (Gl 2:7–9). As proof that Corinth was part of his assignment, Paul reminded the Corinthians that he was the first to come to them with the gospel about Christ (v. 14). In contrast to the opponents who came later and tried to reap what Paul had planted, Paul as a church planter did not build on the labors of others.

10:15b–16a. Paul was confident that he would plant churches westward to the regions beyond Corinth (to Rome and Spain; see the comments on Rm 15:22–29). This enlargement would happen (1) as the Corinthians grew in their faith in God, (2) within the sphere of his divine assignment to the Gentiles, (3) even more than it had already, and (4) by the financial support of the Corinthians.

10:16b–18. Paul refused to boast in the work started by others (as his opponents were doing in Corinth). His boast was in the Lord Jesus, who gave him the assignment and granted success in Gentile territory (Jr 9:24). The mark of an approved minister is the Lord’s commendation, not self-commendation (as the opponents were doing).

B. Paul Is Forced to Boast (11:1–12:13)

11:1. After denouncing all self-commendation, Paul reluctantly engaged in the very thing he condemned. The situation demanded it. If he did boast, he was a fool like the opponents; but if he did not boast, the opponents appeared to have the victory. He engaged in foolish boasting both to win back the straying Corinthians and to show the foolishness of the endeavor. Verses 1–21a prepare the Corinthians for Paul’s foolish boast in 11:21b–23a. Paul both wished and commanded (v. 11:1b is best translated as an imperative: "bear with me," not you are bearing with me) the Corinthians to put up with this little display of foolish boasting.

11:2–6. Verses 2–6 give three reasons for Paul’s foolish boasting. (1) The Corinthians are a virgin pledged to Christ, and Paul as their spiritual father had a godly jealousy (which characterizes God and every faithful minister, cf. Ex 34:14) to keep them pure—exclusively devoted—to their one husband until the consummation of their relationship at the rapture. Paul had to boast to alleviate his fear that the crafty opponents might influence the Corinthians’ thinking, drive them from this pure devotion, and, in so doing, repeat the satanic attack on Eve. (2) Paul was compelled to boast because the Corinthians were already receiving the opponents’ message about a different Jesus, a different spirit (a reference to an erroneous depiction of the Holy Spirit), and a different gospel from what Paul proclaimed at their conversion. The content of this different gospel probably reflected a legalism that elevated works as necessary for salvation. If they embraced the foolishness of the intruders, they could surely embrace the foolish boasting of the founder of the church. (3) The most eminent apostles could refer to the twelve Jerusalem apostles to whom the opponents claimed allegiance and Paul claimed no inferiority, but the context of the foolish boasting argues that Paul was referring sarcastically to his opponents who claimed to be "super apostles" (NIV). Whichever view one adopts, the point is the same whether the most eminent apostles are the legitimate Jerusalem apostles or Paul’s insurgent opponents: Paul was, at the very least, their equal. The Corinthians should listen to Paul because the true apostle is certainly not inferior to those who exalt themselves. Paul conceded that he was unskilled in the showy oratory that the opponents demanded. His focus, however, was on the content of the gospel, a fact that the Corinthians had observed in many different circumstances (see the comments on 1Co 2:1–5). Content was more important than rhetorical embellishments.

11:7–12. Before giving his foolish boast, Paul revealed his fourfold intent for refusing financial support from the Corinthians (11:7–12). During his ministry in Corinth, Paul humbled himself by doing manual labor (1) so that the Corinthians might be exalted as they embraced the gospel. This followed the pattern of Christ (2Co 8:9) and true ministers who deny themselves for the benefit of others. Ironically, however, the Corinthians, influenced by the opponents who demanded payment, saw this as a sin! (2) Paul’s goal was to serve the Corinthians without compensation during his ministry with them (vv. 8–9). To accomplish this goal, he initially robbed other churches—a figurative and ironic way to refer to receiving financial support from them. When his tentmaking resources dried up, he continued to receive support from churches when the brothers (perhaps Silas and Timothy, cf. Ac 18:5) arrived from Macedonia. His goal was (3) not to burden any of the Corinthians financially during his ministry to them (v. 9). In vv. 10–11, Paul pointed out that truth from Christ had so permeated his life that he refused to abandon his boasting, namely, his appropriate sense of Christian satisfaction in offering the gospel free of charge throughout Achaia (the larger region that included Corinth). Paul had a consistent missionary strategy: rejecting funds from churches while ministering to them, but accepting funds from churches when moving to other fields (Harris, Second Corinthians, 765–66). To counter his opponents who argued that Paul’s refusal to receive support was an indication that he did not love them, Paul revealed the final reason for his refusal: (4) he loved them (v. 11), as God well knows. The opponents wanted Paul to lower himself to their level by accepting financial support from the Corinthians (v. 12). This would give them an opportunity to boast that they were equal with Paul. Paul refused to play this foolish game.

11:13–15. Paul explained why his opponents could boast of equality with him. Although they claimed to be Christians (2Co 10:7; 11:23), their mission in Corinth was both false and deceptive. Like Satan, they appeared righteous and true, but it was only a masquerade (v. 14). They were not Christians at all; they were servants of Satan (v. 15). In the final judgment, their masks will be removed and their works will be identified as evil. An authentic minister wears no mask.

11:16. The opponents had prevailed over some Corinthians through foolish boasting, and Paul was about to engage in the same activity to win back the straying Corinthians. Before the actual boast, however, Paul again emphasized the foolishness of it (11:16–21a; cf. 11:1). They should not view him as foolish, but, if they did, they should give him the same hearing that they gave his foolish braggart opponents.

11:17–19. Paul’s upcoming excursus into boasting, which begins in v. 21b, was indeed foolishness and did not come from the prompting of the Lord. The Corinthians forced him to boast, but the impulse did not come from the Lord. The opponents (the many who are foolish, v. 18) defended their ministry according to the flesh—according to outward criterion only, and the Corinthians in their "wisdom" ironically embraced them gladly (v. 19). Both actions were foolishness, but Paul followed the lead of the opponents because the Corinthians would listen to it.

11:20–21a. Paul concluded this section by contrasting the "strong" behavior of his opponents with his "weakness." In their strength they had enslaved the Corinthians by devouring them financially, taking their money, exalting themselves, and figuratively striking them in the face. Ironically, they put up with this display of strong domination while rejecting the weak servanthood of Paul.

11:21b–23a. Still recognizing it as foolishness and insanity to focus on externals, Paul finally presented his foolish boasting by focusing on his ancestry. Both Paul and the opponents were (1) Hebrews, connected with the language and culture of pure-blooded Jews; (2) Israelites, belonging to the chosen people of God; and (3) descendants of Abraham, heirs to the Abrahamic promises. This boast in Jewish ancestry led the Corinthians to identify the opponents as servants of Christ—a title that Paul refused to apply to them (cf. 11:13).

11:23b–27. After a brief, foolish speech, Paul revealed an extensive list of his sufferings—the very things that, in contrast to the opponents, identified him as a true apostle. True ministers boast not about their accomplishments but about the Lord’s comfort in suffering. This was genuine boasting for Paul: abundant labors in the ministry; several imprisonments; countless beatings; several encounters with death (v. 23b) as illustrated by the maximum halachic (Jewish law) punishment of thirty-nine lashes (reduced from forty lest the amount prescribed in Dt 25:2–3 be exceeded, v. 24); being beaten with rods by Roman authorities (Ac 16:22); stoned (Ac 14:19–20); shipwrecked, including one time when he was drifting on the open sea for 24 hours (v. 25); dangers experienced during travel: from river currents and bandits, from Jews (Ac 9:23) and Gentiles (Ac 16:16–24; 19:21–20:1) in every place on the surface of the earth: city, desert, and sea; and false brothers (like those who had infiltrated Corinth, v. 26). The labor and toil that Paul experienced as a missionary and tentmaker resulted in many sleepless nights, as well as hunger, thirst, going without food, cold, and exposure (v. 27).

11:28–29. Paul’s external sufferings were climactically matched by his internal concern for all the churches, especially the ones he founded. The opponents made the Corinthians spiritually weak, and this affected Paul as well. When the Corinthians were led into sin, Paul burned with anger toward the opponents. Paul’s external suffering and internal concern should challenge ministers who suffer little for the gospel and have minimal concern for their people.

11:30–31. Since the opponents believed it was necessary to boast, Paul too would continue to boast in order to win back the Corinthians. But instead of boasting in strengths, Paul would boast only in weaknesses. The God whom Paul blesses knows that his subsequent boast about extraordinary events in Damascus and the third heaven was not a lie.

11:32–33. Because of Paul’s evangelistic ministry to Gentiles in Arabia (Gl 1:16–17), King Aretas instructed his ethnarch in Damascus to seize Paul, but Paul escaped through a window in a basket (Ac 9:23–25). This should be perceived not as an example of strength but as an example of weakness. The flamboyant persecutor of the church became persecuted and humbly retreated in a basket.

12:1. Because the opponents claimed that boasting concerning ongoing revelation is necessary to confirm apostleship, Paul moved on from the Damascus account to disclose that he too had received a major revelation from the Lord. In so doing, he showed that there is nothing gained by boasting. With the surpassing revelation came a humbling weakness.

12:2–4. To downplay his revelation, Paul recorded his experience in the third person (though he reverted to the first person in vv. 7–8): God suddenly caught up a follower of Christ to the third heaven or Paradise—the place where believers are at home with the Lord (2Co 5:8). Only God knows whether Paul ascended with his physical body or in a visionary state without the body (2Co 5:1–3). Mere words were not sufficient to articulate the content of the revelation (inexpressible words probably refers either to words "that humankind is incapable of expressing" or to words "that should not be expressed because they are so holy"; cf. BDAG, 134). Paul probably saw such amazing things in this vision that he was incapable of conveying them adequately to others. The date of this vision 14 years before the writing of 2 Corinthians makes it impossible to connect this experience with any vision recorded previously in Acts or Paul’s epistles (see Harris, Second Corinthians, 835–36).

12:5–6. Paul’s exceptional revelation was genuine (in contrast to the lies of the opponents) and the type of thing that people could boast about. But Paul refused to boast, choosing rather to boast in the weaknesses that resulted from the revelation. The reason for this reversal is the proper evaluation of a minister: genuineness in ministry is not found in exceptional experiences but in what one sees in the behavior of the minister and hears in his teaching.

12:7. Paul elaborated on four aspects of the revelation. (1) After the experience, God gave Paul a thorn in his flesh (best understood as a chronic physical ailment; see the comments on 1:8) as a consequence of the revelation. (2) The reason for the thorn was the extraordinary revelations Paul received in the experience. (3) God’s purpose in the thorn was to benefit Paul by keeping him from being euphoric over the experience. (4) At the same time, Satan sent his demon to torment Paul through the thorn. A spiritual battle had been raging for 14 years.

12:8–9a. During three periods of an intense flare-up of the thorn, Paul prayed to Jesus for its removal (Harris, Second Corinthians, 164–182). Paul’s request was denied, but God made an even greater provision. The thorn drove Paul to acknowledge his weakness, and in weakness he found Christ’s grace (divine enablement) and strength to continue ministry with the thorn. It is the very confession of weakness that generates strength to endure.

12:9b–10. The experience gave Paul a new perspective: he gladly acknowledged and delighted in his weaknesses (plural, including multiple cases of verbal insults, calamities, persecutions, and great difficulties that come from serving Christ) in order that the power of Christ might surround him.

12:11–13. Being enamored by the "super apostles" (cf. the comment on 11:5) who had infiltrated the church, certain Corinthians had turned their backs on Paul. This compelled Paul to show that as an apostle he was not inferior to his opponents even though he was nothing apart from Christ (1Co 15:8–10). His apostleship was indeed authenticated by miraculous signs that were a mark of divine power (12:12), but this happened while he persevered through suffering. Apostles in the early church received the unique ability to perform miracles, which both authenticated them as true apostles and testified to the veracity of their message. Miraculous abilities were not the privilege of every believer then or now. The only area where he treated the Corinthians differently was his continued refusal to receive financial support from them (12:13; cf. 11:7–11). Ironically, Paul asked for forgiveness of this "wrong."

C. Paul Expresses Concern for the Corinthians (12:14–21)

12:14–15. As Paul prepared for his third visit to Corinth, he gave two reasons for continuing to refuse funds and not be a financial burden to them. (1) He was concerned with their spiritual condition, not their money, and (2) young children should not save up money for their parents. This does not mean that ministers should never exercise their right to be supported by their congregation (1Co 9:3–14; 2Co 11:8–9) or that children should not care for their aging parents (1Tm 5:8). As their spiritual father, Paul expressed his unconditional commitment to the spiritual lives of his infant congregation, even if his love was not reciprocated. The commitment of a true minister gladly increases even when the response of the congregation decreases.

12:16–18. Although Paul had not been a financial burden to them in the past, some thought that Paul had a devious plan to collect money for himself through his associates. The collection money would go to him. But this deception is flatly denied in v. 17. The Corinthians could not find any evidence for it. Indeed (v. 18), Paul sent Titus and the brother to promote the collection, but they shared the same mindset and behaved in the same manner as Paul—and the Corinthians knew it.

12:19. If the Corinthians thought that Paul’s main concern was the defense of his fragile self-image, they were wrong. His concern was their edification, which Paul hoped to achieve through his defense.

12:20–21. Paul expressed his concern in three fears about his upcoming visit. The Corinthians would have: (1) the ongoing issues listed in vv. 20b–21 (not what I wish) and Paul would need to come with harshness (13:1–2, not what you wish), (2) continuing issues related to discord with the opponents (v. 20b), and (3) issues related to those continuing in their immoral lifestyle (v. 21). A genuine minister is humbled and mourns over the sinfulness of spiritual children.

D. Paul Gives a Final Warning (13:1–10)

13:1–3a. During his imminent third visit to Corinth, Paul would follow the concern for justice expressed in Dt 19:15. There were plenty of witnesses to the Corinthians’ sin (Timothy, Titus, other repentant believers). Paul had warned Corinthian sinners during his second visit, and he warned them (12:20–21) and the rest of the church again in this letter (v. 2). But the time of warning was ending; the time for punishment was near (if in this context should not imply doubt about his coming). The display of stern punishment would be the dramatic proof of apostolic authority that the opponents had been demanding (but in a way that they least expected, v. 3a).

13:3b–4. Paul’s experience of weakness (suffering and warning the Corinthians by letter) followed by strength (anticipated apostolic discipline, v. 3b) paralleled the model of Christ who was crucified under the condition of weakness but was resurrected as a demonstration of the power of God. Ministry is always a tension between weakness in suffering and strength in resurrection power.

13:5–6. Instead of examining Paul, the Corinthians were to examine themselves to see if their conduct was in harmony with the content of their faith. Paul expected this test would reveal that Jesus Christ is in them—that they were genuine believers—although he entertained the possibility that the actions of some might indicate that they were not true Christians. Paul insisted that Christian profession must be evidenced by Christian conduct. When they passed the test, they would realize that Paul, their Christian father, passed the test as well. Their true conversion testified to the truth of Paul’s apostleship.

13:7–8. Lest the Corinthians think that Paul’s only concern was his own vindication, his prayer was only that they might reject the wrong and do the right (i.e., that they might repent and reject the false teachers)—even if they continued to reject him as an apostle. Ministry is about other people, not our own status. Paul’s concern was with the truth of the gospel message (v. 8). His actions—whether stern discipline or rejoicing over repentance—would be in harmony with this truth.

13:9–10. Paul would rejoice during his arrival in Corinth even if he was viewed as weak by not exercising discipline. He would rejoice because the Corinthians were strong in the Christian life by means of repentance. This would be an answer to his prayer and their complete restoration to Paul. The reason for writing this section was to challenge the Corinthians to repent. If this happened, Paul would not need to exercise his apostolic authority in severe discipline. Instead, he would exercise his primary function to build them up.

E. Conclusion (13:11–14)

13:11. Five terse commands summarize the message of the book: (1) rejoice in spite of difficulties, (2) make full restoration with everyone, (3) be comforted in suffering, (4) live with the same attitude toward the truth, and (5) promote peace. To accomplish this, they would have the help of God who is characterized by love and peace.

13:12–13. The final greeting focuses on community. The Corinthians should be able to greet one another with the cultural form of a kiss that is holy because it reflected the reconciliation that comes from Christ. The churches in Macedonia likewise showed their Christian fellowship by sending a greeting. There should be no barriers that hinder the uniqueness of Christian fellowship.

13:14. The benediction is Trinitarian. Paul’s prayer was that all true believers might continue to experience the grace that comes from Christ, the love that flows from God, and their fellowship with one another that is produced by the Holy Spirit.


Barnett, Paul. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.

Barrett, C. K. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

Blomberg, Craig. 1 Corinthians. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.

Bruce, F. F. 1 and 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971.

Carson, D. A. From Triumphalism to Maturity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1984.

Furnish, Victor Paul. II Corinthians. Anchor Bible Commentaries. New York: Doubleday, 1984.

Garland, David E. 2 Corinthians. New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999.

Hafemann, Scott J. 2 Corinthians. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.

Harris, Murray J. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005.

Hays, Richard. Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.

Hughes, R. Kent. 2 Corinthians. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006.

Martin, Ralph. 2 Corinthians. Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986.

Scott, James M. 2 Corinthians. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.


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