2 Corinthians

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Invitation to 2 Corinthians

The Main Aims of 2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians is one of the most personal letters of the apostle Paul. In this letter we can see how he dealt with difficult situations, conflicts, and even attacks on his apostleship from false teachers who wanted to influence the Corinthian congregation.1 He had a deep love for the Corinthian Christians, and he wrote this letter out of his strong hope that they would keep the gospel he preached to them when he founded the congregation (see 1Cor 2:1–5; 3:1–6; 4:15; for some details from his stay in Corinth when he founded the Christian congregation, see Acts 18:1–18). By remaining faithful to the gospel, Paul trusts they all would return to a restored, healthy relationship with him. Paul solves many “down-to-earth” problems by leading the Corinthian Christians back to the heart of their faith: Christ has died for their sins and has saved them for eternal life. From this letter we can learn how our faith in Christ will help us solve problems in our everyday life.

The background of the writing of this letter may have been a previous visit of the apostle to the Corinthians, when he rebuked a sinning member of the congregation. That person did not repent at that time, and it is likely that he even turned against the apostle. In that situation the congregation did not support the apostle and did not rebuke the sinner, so Paul left Corinth with sadness. The majority of the congregation members later changed their minds. They even punished the person who turned against the apostle, and this sinning person (whose name we do not know) repented. Paul received the good news about these developments and wrote this letter, in which he asks the congregation to surround the repenting sinner with love (see esp. ch. 2).

On the basis of the restored, healthy relationship between the congregation and the apostle, Paul returns to a theme he had mentioned to them earlier: he asks them again to help financially the poor Christian congregation in Jerusalem (chs. 8–9). Then he returns once again to the matter of the false apostles who had attacked and questioned the apostolic ministry of Paul; he defends his apostleship, and in this way, he wholly restores the love-relationship between himself and the congregation (chs. 10–13).

The City of Corinth and Paul’s Relationship with the Christian Congregation in Corinth

In this commentary we refer to the letters of Paul to the Corinthians with the numbers as we find them in our Bible (we use the text of the ESV translation, unless otherwise stated). However, it is possible that the apostle wrote more than two letters to this congregation. If so, we do not “miss” the letters that might have been lost. It is likely that the most important materials of the “lost” letters are referred to—thus, in a sense “repeated”—in our two extant canonical letters: 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians.

It is enough here to mention briefly the most important data from the history of the city of Corinth (readers may find good summaries of the ancient history of Corinth in most commentaries, e.g., Kruse, Martin, Guthrie). The city was ruined by the Roman army in 146 BC but founded anew by Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Caesar established there a colony for army veterans, which is reflected in the new name of the city: Colonia Laus Julia Corinthiensis—“Colony of Corinth in Honour of Julius.” In 27 BC the city became the capital of the Roman province Achaia and was led by a proconsul (Gallio was one of them; see Acts 18:12). Corinth had a mixed population originating in various parts of the Roman Empire. It also had a Jewish population with a synagogue (see Acts 18:4; remains have been found there of a synagogue from the 2nd–3rd centuries AD; the excavated ruins of ancient Corinth are described in detail by Schnabel [2004, vol. 2], 1181–86).

Due to its geographical location, Corinth was an economically significant city. It lay at the junction of mainland Greek territories and the Peloponnese in the south. Ancient Corinth had two ports nearby: Lechaion (Lechaeum) to the west, on the Gulf of Corinth; and Cenchreae to the east, on the Saronic Gulf (Cenchreae is mentioned in Rom 16:1). The two harbours were connected by an isthmus only a few miles long. Representatives of many kinds of craftsmanship lived in the city, e.g., leatherworkers, rope makers, blacksmiths, jewellers, architects, bankers, and merchants (Guthrie, 14). The theatre could seat 15,000 people (ibid.). It is difficult to estimate how many people might have lived in Corinth at the time of Paul; according to one estimate, the population of the city may have been about 80,000 (ibid., 13). Every two years the city organized the Isthmian Games (second in significance only to the Olympic Games in ancient times), which attracted thousands of visitors (ibid.).

Corinth was a religious centre, too: it had temples and statues in honour of many gods, e.g., Apollo, Aphrodite, and Athena, and there was also a Temple of the Imperial Cult (ibid., 14). As Guthrie has summarized the significance of ancient Corinth, “The city was a large, international, pluralistic, wealthy centre of commerce, and a political hub for the Roman Empire” (ibid.).

Paul visited Corinth and stayed there for a longer period of time during his second missionary journey. This stay partly fell in the period when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia. Gallio’s one-year term in this office fell probably between the summer (July) of 51 and of 52 AD. His office is mentioned in an inscription found in Delphoi (Schnabel [2006], 26). Paul met him in Corinth (see Acts 18:12–18), and Paul might have left the city not long after this meeting. Thus, the one year and six months Paul spent in Corinth (Acts 18:11) may have fallen between the spring of 50 and the autumn of 51 AD (Guthrie, 19).

Both canonical letters of Paul to the Corinthians most likely were written during his third missionary journey. 1 Corinthians may have been written in the summer or early autumn of 53 AD (so Guthrie, 20), or in the spring of 54 AD (so Schnabel [2006], 38). 2 Corinthians may have been written in the autumn or winter of 54 AD (so Guthrie, 22), or in the summer of 55 AD (so Schnabel [2006], 39). Schnabel holds the view that the apostle may have written 2 Corinthians from Philippi (ibid.).

Some scholars hold that 2 Corinthians was not written in the sequence of the chapters we have in our modern Bible (see, e.g., Zeilinger, 1992, 1997). From the numerous proposals that divide the letter into smaller pieces, may it suffice to mention here only one: some scholars think that the change in tone from chapter 10 on may indicate that 2 Corinthians 10–13 was written earlier than chapters 1–9; some think that chapters 10–13 may not even have been part of this original letter, but were rather of a letter referred to in 2 Corinthians 2:4, the letter written “with many tears.” In this commentary, we accept and follow the view of numerous commentators (many of them our contemporaries) that 2 Corinthians was written as one letter, with its content in the order we have in our New Testament (e.g., Lambrecht, 9; Harris, 29). Writing such a long letter may have taken several weeks (Guthrie calls it “a multiweek process,” 22). It is possible that during this long writing process Paul simply returned to the theme of the attack against him by the “false apostles” (2Cor 11:13) after he had dealt with the theme of the collection for the saints in Jerusalem; or, he may have even received news of these false teachers while he was writing the letter, which would explain why he changes his tone after chapter 9. We shall comment on the letter as being an integral unit, based on our view that the whole letter was written by Paul in the order as we have it today (for arguments in favour of regarding 2 Corinthians as a rhetorically unified work, see, e.g., the works of Hafemann, Long, and Witherington; for an excellent defence of the integrity of 2 Corinthians, see Harris, 8–51). We agree with the summarizing affirmation of Harris: “the work was regarded by its author as a single composition and was dispatched to its addressees as a single missive” (50). Harris adds, “What remains perfectly feasible is that, though sent as a single letter, 2 Corinthians was composed in stages, not at a single sitting” (51).

Finally, let us mention briefly some points of contact between Paul and the Corinthian congregation that we read about in the two canonical letters. We know that news about the congregation reached Paul through some people who visited him. For example, we read in 1 Corinthians 1:11, “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarrelling among you, my brothers.” Toward the end of 1 Corinthians, we read, “I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence” (16:17). And Paul received at least one letter from the Corinthians: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote . . .” (1Cor 7:1). We shall see in the commentary that some verses in 2 Corinthians show that the apostle not only founded the Christian congregation in Corinth but also visited it later as well (e.g., 1:18;  2:1; 10:2; 13:1), and he also received news about them from his own co-workers (7:6–8).


In this letter, the apostle Paul leads the Corinthian congregation back to a right relationship with Christ, and he also strengthens their relationship with himself as their founding apostle. He demonstrates how God heals all the wounds of his people and shows his saving power in their weaknesses.

Key Verse

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

— 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV


I. Paul’s Defence of His Ministry as an Apostle (1:1–7:16)

A. Greeting and Prologue on God’s Comfort (1:1–11)

B. Paul’s Change of Plans and the Christians’ Triumph in Christ (1:12–2:17)

C. Ministers of the New Covenant and the Light of the Gospel (3:1–4:6)

D. Treasure in Jars of Clay and the Christians’ Heavenly Dwelling (4:7–5:10)

E. The Ministry of Reconciliation, the Temple of the Living God, and Paul’s Joy (5:11–7:16)

II. Paul’s Appeal to the Repentant Church Regarding the Collection (8:1–9:15)

A. Encouragement to Give Generously (8:1–15)

B. Commendation of Titus (8:16–24)

C. The Collection for Christians in Jerusalem (9:1–15)

III. Paul’s Appeal to the Rebellious Minority in Corinth (10:1–13:10)

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

B. Paul and the False Apostles (11:1–15)

C. Paul’s Suffering as an Apostle (11:16–32)

D. Paul’s Visions and His Thorn (12:1–10)

E. Concern for the Corinthian Church and Final Warnings (12:11–13:10)

IV. Closing Greetings (13:11–14)

A. Final Greetings (13:11–13)

B. Trinitarian Benediction (13:14)2

Paul’s Defence of His Ministry as an Apostle (1:1–7:16)

Greeting and Prologue on God’s Comfort (1:1–11)

Around the time when the apostle Paul was writing, letters usually began with a salutation: the name of the sender and the recipients, followed by a greeting. Paul adhered to this pattern of letter openings, but he also changed or expanded the usual elements. This is true for all thirteen letters we have from him in the New Testament, including 2 Corinthians. The expansions are usually in close relationship with the content of the letters.

1:1 2 Corinthians begins with the name of the sender: “Paul” (his name also occurs in the letter at 10:1). In the Acts of the Apostles, mainly in the first half, he is known also as Saul; in Acts 13:9 we find these two names together. Harris affirms, “Jews who adopted Greek names generally assumed names similar in sound to their original Hebrew or Aramaic names” (128). The Greek name Paulos is related to Paullus in Latin, and both sound similar to “Saul.” King Saul belonged to the same tribe, Benjamin, as Paul (Phil 3:5), thus Saul must have been his original name, and Paul his assumed name. Paul was a Roman citizen (by birth; see Acts 22:25–28), and Roman citizens often had even three names.

Paul also emphasizes that he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,” most likely because his apostleship was under attack by some people in the Corinthian congregation (cf. 10:1–2, 10–11; 11:4–6, 12–15; 12:11–13). The Greek word apostolos means “someone sent”; Paul’s apostolic ministry is the obedient fulfilling of the task he received from Jesus, based on the will of God.

At the beginning of some of his letters, Paul also mentions one or two co-senders; this is the case in 2 Corinthians as well. Here the co-sender of the letter is his close companion and co-worker in preaching the gospel to the Corinthians: Timothy. They preached the gospel of Jesus, the Son of God, when they were in Corinth (together also with Silvanus, 2Cor 1:19; see also Acts 18:1–5). Timothy is most likely with the apostle when Paul writes 2 Corinthians, and the congregation in Corinth must have had a high respect for Timothy (cf. 1Cor 4:17; 16:10–11). As a trustworthy co-worker of Paul and his spiritual “brother” (2Cor 1:1), Timothy is probably mentioned here as a witness to the truth of all the content of the letter (testimonies were highly esteemed among Jewish people; cf. 13:1, a reference to Deut 17:6 and 19:15; for the background of Timothy as being the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father, see Acts 16:1–3).

The love of the apostle for the Corinthian Christians can be felt already at the beginning of the letter: he refers to them as “the church of God.” He will have to deal with a number of problems in the letter, but it will be done on this basis: he regards them as belonging to God (see also 6:11–13; 12:15; 1Cor 1:2; 3:1–6).

The addressees of this letter are not only the congregation members in Corinth but also the Christians of the wider surrounding area in the province of Achaia (of which Corinth was the capital and the largest city). The “saints” are those whom God has elected, who are his property, and who are called to serve him. All who are in Christ, who have accepted him as their Saviour (i.e., all Christians), are “saints” in the biblical sense (see also 1Cor 1:2).

1:2 One of the typical greetings in the first century was the Greek word chairein, “to rejoice/to be happy.” This might have been the abbreviation of a longer wish, for example: “may you have many reasons to be happy.” Both non-Christians (e.g., Acts 23:26) and Christians (e.g., Acts 15:23, Jas 1:1) made use of this greeting. Paul changed this word slightly and used the similar sounding but theologically very rich word charis (“grace”) instead. In our Christian life, everything comes from the grace of God: our salvation, our provisions for our everyday life, our homes, our place of work, our family, indeed, everything (cf. 8:9). Paul uses this most rich word as a wish and a blessing for the recipients both at the beginning and at the end of this letter (cf. 13:14; Paul follows this pattern at the beginning and the end of most of his letters).

Paul adds another wish/blessing: “peace” (“grace” and “peace” appear together at the beginning of all his letters). For Paul, the reason for using the Greek word for “peace,” eirēnē, is most likely his knowledge of the biblical Hebrew term, shalom (“peace”), which means much more than the absence of war; it means a restored, healthy relationship with God, his world, and one’s fellow human beings (see also at 13:11). Paul summarized God’s greatest gifts in these two words: “grace” and “peace.” If we have received and accepted the grace of God and share in his peace, then we can call him our “father” (see in the Lord’s prayer, Matt 6:9). Christ Jesus is for us the supreme “Lord” of our lives: we obey him in everything (see also at 13:14). All these gifts are already present in the lives of the Corinthian Christians. With this letter, Paul wants to strengthen them in their Christian beliefs and lives and to help them withstand the teaching of some “false apostles” who have infiltrated their community (cf. 11:1–6).

1:3–7 After the greeting, the apostle Paul usually continues his opening by writing about the relationship between himself and the recipients, often mentioning that he prays for them and gives thanks to God for them (Galatians is an exception). This section at the beginning of 2 Corinthians (1:3–11) is relatively long. Guthrie calls this section of the letter a “prologue” (62). Its main theme is Paul’s gratitude to God for his mercies and for his comfort, in his own life and in the lives of the Christians in Corinth (and in the wider province, Achaia). It is significant that the apostle begins this section by giving thanks to God through a “blessing” upon God. Paul has in view the manifold sufferings the Corinthian Christians had to endure and gives thanks for their comfort in the midst of various hardships.

In verse 2, Paul calls God “our Father,” and in verse 3, he explains why we can address God in this way: because he is “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus is the “Son of God” (cf. 1:19) in a unique way: Jesus is God himself, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Jesus is without sin (5:21; see also Heb 5:8–9; 7:26-28), so only he can be the Saviour for we who are sinners; and by saving us, he has put us in a restored relationship with God. By the work of the only Son, we can call God “our Father.” God turned to the Corinthians, and turns to all Christians, with “mercies.” The plural here may indicate that we can rely on his mercy in many different circumstances. The Corinthian Christians very likely suffered various forms of persecutions in their non-Christian environment, so the gospel Paul preached to them had also this important element for them: it gave them “comfort” and strength to endure their persecutions.

When Paul writes in first-person plural, he is speaking about himself as well as those to whom he is writing. In this way he is writing about that which is true concerning all Christians. In these verses (1:3–7), he probably includes his own sufferings, and he refers to his comfort as a basis for comforting others. Paul was comforted by God, so he is able to comfort others, including the Corinthian Christians (v. 4). God uses the experiences of one Christian to encourage and strengthen other Christians (v. 6), and though we are able to comfort one another, the real origin of the comfort is the God of comfort (v. 4b).

Only Christ suffered with a saving power: he saved us by suffering death. If we follow our Saviour, then we have to be prepared to suffer persecutions as well (v. 5; see also Matt 10:24). Paul suffered persecutions because he preached Jesus Christ as Lord. The Corinthian Christians had to be prepared to suffer for their faith in Christ, but they could be certain that Christ would hold them in the midst of all their sufferings (2Cor 1:5, 7). The main task of Christians is to remain in close relationship with Christ, their Saviour. Paul writes this letter to achieve this aim in the Corinthian congregation (see 1:20–22; 4:12; 5:20; 7:1, 10; 11:2; 13:5, 9, 11, 13).

1:8–11 So far, the apostle has written about sufferings in general; in verses 8–11 he refers to a concrete event that happened to him in Asia Minor. We do not know exactly what happened to him. It may have been a severe illness, but it is more likely that his life was endangered because of some kind of persecution (vv. 8–9). It may have been in relation to the riots in Ephesus narrated in Acts 19:23–40 (so Kruse, 95–96). It is clear that not all of Paul’s sufferings and persecutions have been mentioned in Acts, as the apostle will list more of these events later in this letter (11:23–28).

Paul writes here about his sufferings probably to point to many blessings that have been related to or have come out of his experience that brought him near death. One of the blessings is that he learned to entrust his life wholly to the hands of God. He was even prepared to die for him. He had a strong faith in the resurrection (1:9b), and he can testify to the saving power of God. As he experienced God saving him from death, he was confident that God could save him also in the future (v. 10). A further blessing appears in the lives of other Christians: they can praise God for what they have seen in the lives of their fellow Christians. If we tell others what great things God has done for us, just as Paul did, it may become our experience too that “many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us” (v. 11).

Paul’s Change of Plans and the Christians’ Triumph in Christ (1:12–2:17)

After the introductory greeting (1:1–2) and the “prologue” (1:3–11), verse 12 begins the main body of the letter. It consists of three larger parts: from 1:12 to the end of chapter 7, the main theme is the apostolic ministry (of Paul, and in general); chapters 8 and 9 deal with the matter of a collection for the saints in Jerusalem; and from chapter 10 on, the apostle deals with some attacks that were brought against him by certain “false apostles” (see the Introduction; for a detailed outline of 2 Corinthians, see Guthrie, 50–51).

The main theme of the present section (1:12–24) will be continued also in the next chapter (through 2:13). Paul gives reasons here why he did not come directly to Corinth, and he will come back to this matter in 7:5–16, where he writes about the good news he received from Titus concerning the Corinthian congregation. Between these two passages, in 2:14–7:4, he writes about his apostolic ministry and about the service of the “new covenant” in general (see esp. ch. 3).

1:12–14 The term “boasting” is repeatedly used in this letter (and also in some other letters) by Paul. By this term he does not want to point to himself but to the great events and results God has brought about in his life and through his ministry. We might rather understand this term as “praising God for his mighty deeds.” “Boasting” for Paul is to point to the “grace of God” (v. 12) that enabled him to live a life that is a good example for many. God is holy, and he can enable his servants to live in a “godly sincerity.” Some people in the Corinthian congregation may have put too large an emphasis on their own wisdom; by contrast, Paul did not claim to achieve his Christian aims “by earthly wisdom” (v. 12; see also 1Cor 2:1–5). Paul writes with full openness throughout the letter; he does not have anything to hide. He hopes the Corinthian Christians will fully understand him (1:13) and will withstand the false teachers who wanted to influence them against Paul. He hopes that, at least by the very end, “on the day of our Lord Jesus,” they shall stand firm in their belief in Christ, as Paul had taught them at their conversion. In doing so, they will magnify God mutually for each other: the congregation for Paul, and Paul for them (v. 14).

1:15–22 Paul uses the rich term “grace” (charis) in different ways in this letter. This term includes the highest gift of God: that he forgives our sins (see 1:2). Here in verse 15, it refers to a concrete event: when Paul visits the Corinthians and proclaims to them the salvific death and resurrection of Jesus, along with other apostolic teachings, he conveys God’s grace to them. Thus, even his visit to them can be called an “experience of grace” (v. 15). Paul had already written of his plans to visit them in his first canonical letter to them (1Cor 16:1–9). However, he was repeatedly hindered in visiting them (2Cor 1:16), and some people in the congregation may have used this fact against him and accused him of not being trustworthy (v. 17). Paul saw that if people had doubts about his reliability, then perhaps even his message about Jesus Christ would not be trusted. Thus, he defends at the same time the reliability of the gospel and of his own person (vv. 18–19). The centre of his preaching was Jesus Christ as the Son of God (v. 19). God has given many promises about the salvation of human beings, whom he created, and who have fallen into sin. The Old Testament contains many examples of his promises (e.g., Gen 3:15; Num 24:17; Isa 11:1–5; 53:1–12; Jer 31:31). All of God’s promises have found their fulfilment in Jesus Christ (2Cor 1:20; see also Jesus’s testimony of his relationship to the Old Testament, Luke 24:27, 44). For all these gifts we can only praise his “glory” (2Cor 1:20).

God is “one,” but he relates to us in three persons: as God the Father, as God the Son, and as God the Spirit. Although the expression “Holy Trinity” does not occur in the Bible, there are many instances where God is spoken of in terms of these three persons within a few lines or sentences. One such passage is 2 Corinthians 1:21–22 (also in close relationship with vv. 19–20). “God” in verse 21 is who we usually refer to as the Creator, or the Father. He “establishes us” in Christ Jesus, his Son, and he has given us his Spirit (v. 22). The Spirit lives in our hearts, he guides us, and he leads us in following Jesus; yet, in our present earthly life, we still do not achieve perfection. The Spirit, however, is a “guarantee” that nothing can separate us from the love of God and from the salvific death of our Lord Jesus Christ (see also 3:6; 5:5; 11:4). Some translations use the term “down payment” (v. 22; see the footnote to this verse in the ESV; for a discussion of the term, see Harris, 207) to explain the same idea: just as a down payment assures that the buyer will return with the full price of his purchase, so God surely will continue to lead us in following Christ through his Spirit. (For another reference to the three persons of the one God in one sentence, see 13:14, the final verse of the letter).

1:23–24 These verses are in close connection with 2:1–4 (thus there is no separate heading at the beginning of ch. 2 in the ESV). In addition to the visit when he founded the Christian congregation in Corinth, Paul visited them later as well. On this other occasion, it is likely that Paul rebuked a sinning congregation member. This sinner did not repent then but turned against Paul instead. The congregation did not help Paul, so he had to leave Corinth without having solved this matter and with sadness in his heart. We can infer these details from what Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 2:1–10 and from 7:12. In 1:23 Paul tells them that he did not return to them sooner because he would not have had a reason to praise them then. Thus he “spared them” by not returning sooner. The apostle has written a letter instead of visiting them (2:4), and this letter has achieved the result that the congregation finally agreed with Paul. They rebuked the sinner, and the sinner repented. In all this Paul could clearly show to them that he did not want to rule over them but to help them solve their problems in a loving way (1:24). His main aim is to strengthen their faith (see also 10:8 and 13:10).

2:1–4 In these verses Paul continues the content of the preceding passage (accordingly, there is no separate heading in the ESV for this section). Had the apostle returned to the Corinthians soon after he left them, when they did not punish the sinning congregation member, this visit could only have been another “painful visit” (v. 1). In verse 2, Paul may refer to two possible situations in one sentence. On the one hand, his joy will be restored if the sinner whom he rebuked repents. On the other hand, the whole congregation may make him glad if they agree with Paul and condemn the sin of their fellow member. Paul’s main aim is to restore the relationships: the relationship between the sinner and God, and the relationship between the whole congregation and God (v. 3). Whatever he did—when he rebuked the sinner, and when he wrote a letter after his painful visit—he did out of his love for the sinner and for the whole congregation (v. 4). This letter—written “with many tears”—is probably not included in any of the two canonical letters of Paul to the Corinthians, but from 2 Corinthians we learn that it did achieve its aim: both the sinning congregation member and the other congregation members returned to their right relationship with God; and thus Paul and the congregation had a reason for joy again (v. 3b; Paul returns to the theme of this no longer extant letter in 7:8–12). Throughout 2 Corinthians, Paul shows his love for this congregation. They should know that even when he causes them “pain” temporarily, he does so in order to lead them back to a right relationship with Christ, their Saviour (see also 4:5, 12, 15; 5:14–15; 6:6, 11–13; 7:3–4, 8–10; 10:1; 11:9–11; 12:14–15; 13:10–14).

2:5–11 The name of the sinning congregation member Paul had to rebuke is not mentioned in this letter. The apostle did not want to shame him, but he wanted to correct him. Paul’s main aim was his restoration. The sinning person caused damage to the congregation (v. 5) by, for example, causing discord between the congregation and their founding apostle. Paul is ready to forgive, and he can even put the offences behind him, as if he himself had not even been wronged. Paul is a great example for us of offering forgiveness and seeking the full restoration of sinners. Paul is also willing to accept whatever punishment the congregation decided on concerning the sinning member, for he tells them he does not want to increase the punishment (v. 6); rather, he is concerned about the spiritual and mental well-being of the repenting sinner, lest the sinner “be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (v. 7). Paul is a great spiritual counsellor. He emphasizes that the repenting sinner must be surrounded by love (v. 8).

In verse 9 we learn about another aim of the letter written “with many tears.” The apostle wanted to see whether the Corinthian congregation members were willing to continue to be obedient to him. If they accept him as their apostle also for the future, then they will continue to obey that which he taught them in his preaching about Jesus Christ. These two matters were related: the apostle wanted to lead them back to a right relationship with Christ, and it was for this reason that it was important for him to restore the relationship between himself and the congregation as well.

We do not know exactly what the sin of the person was whom Paul rebuked in the congregation. Some commentators raise the possibility that it may have been the same sinful act referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:1–5. The sinner not only did not repent at that time but also may have even questioned the apostolic authority of Paul (Kruse, 55–60). After Paul’s letter written “with many tears” (2Cor 2:4), the sinner repented and accepted the punishment from the congregation.

The apostle affirms that he has forgiven the sinner. He expresses this idea in a general way, in the present tense: anyone the Corinthians forgive, he also forgives (v. 10a). He has forgiven in such a serious way that he can even exaggerate now as if there had not been anything to forgive, as if no harm had been done to him (v. 10b). The offence was real, but his forgiveness was real, too. In this way Paul confirms that he turns with love to the repenting sinner. What matters for Paul is only that the repenting sinner and the whole congregation should stand firmly in the saving presence of Christ (v. 10c). The salvation of the congregation is the most important matter for him.

Had the sinner not repented, then Satan would have won this battle (v. 11). Had Paul or the congregation not forgiven him, even then Satan would have triumphed. Satan’s main aim is to lead people into sin and away from God and his salvation (see also Eph 6:11). Paul’s aim is to help people out of the bondage of Satan. He writes this letter in order to lead the whole congregation back to their Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

2:12–13 Paul’s journeys served his missionary aims, and on occasion this meant he had to make unexpected decisions. This did not mean he was unreliable (a charge against which he defended himself in 1:15–18) but that he was always open to being led by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God led him also in such a way that his own “spirit” was worried about those whom he loved, for example, the Corinthian Christians (2:13). It is likely that the apostle sent the letter written “with many tears” (2:4) to the Corinthians by the hands of Titus. He then waited for his next meeting with Titus to learn from him whether the Corinthian congregation members had changed their minds to agree with Paul at last. In verse 13 we are told that at that time he had not yet met with Titus, which is why he went on to Macedonia. Later in the letter, we learn that Titus brought back good news about the Corinthian Christians (7:5–7). Although Paul would have had good opportunities to preach the gospel in Troas (2:12), his love for the Corinthians caused him to move on until good news could reach him about them. The Spirit made him choose between two good matters: either to stay in Troas and preach there, or to continue to serve the Corinthian congregation which he had founded and which underwent difficult times spiritually. Paul chose the latter because he was not only the founder of the Corinthian Christian congregation, but he also remained their spiritual father, a true counsellor.

2:14–17 With verse 14 begins a long section on the missionary work of the apostle, and on the ministry of the “new covenant” (3:6) in general, lasting until 7:4 (see the Outline). Verse 14 not only begins a new section, but it has a thematic connection with verses 12 and 13 as well: although Paul did not remain in Troas to preach the gospel but went on to Macedonia because of the deep love he felt for the Corinthians, his journeys ahead did form a part of his missionary work. Wherever Paul goes, God uses him to spread the gospel in a victorious way (2:14a). The knowledge of Christ as Saviour is a good “fragrance” (v. 14b), and Paul was to spread it always and everywhere. People in Corinth probably met a number of army veterans who had settled in the city (see the Introduction), so the expression must have been familiar to them: Christ leads his people in “triumphal procession” (v. 14a). Army leaders who approached Rome returning triumphantly from a battle usually led in a procession those they had conquered (for a detailed discussion of triumphal processions in Roman antiquity, see Witherington, 366–70; Witherington also emphasizes the thematic connection between this verse and 1Cor 9 and refers to Paul as to an “enslaved leader,” 369). Christ is the supreme Lord to whom Paul and all Christians belong.

Paul and his co-workers play an important role in the victorious ministry of Christ, but everything they achieve is a gift from God. Paul gives thanks to God (v. 14a) even before he would write in detail about his ministry of the new covenant. He preaches the gospel, and the Spirit of God works in the hearts of the listeners. Only God can convert people to himself. Paul and his co-workers preach Christ, which is why he can say about them, “we are the aroma of Christ” (v. 15). The gospel is the saving power of Christ: only those are saved who know and accept him as their Saviour. But people can say “no” to the gospel; for such people the preached gospel becomes “a fragrance from death to death” (v. 16). Preaching the gospel is a matter of life and death. Paul knows he would not be “sufficient for these things” (v. 16b) in himself. He answers his own question (v. 16b) a few sentences later by clearly pointing to God, from whom all our “sufficiency” comes (3:5–6). Here he simply emphasizes that he does not act as the false teachers in Corinth probably did (2:17a), but he does everything as standing before God (v. 17b). The centre of his preaching has always been and remains forever Christ only (v. 17c).

Ministers of the New Covenant and the Light of the Gospel (3:1–4:6)

3:1–3 In Paul’s day it was a widespread custom that people visiting more distant territories carried letters of recommendations with them. Even in the New Testament we can find an example of this custom in Acts 18:27. Romans 16:1–2 fulfils this aim as part of a long letter, when Paul recommends Phoebe to the Roman Christian congregation. Here in 2 Corinthians, Paul uses this term in two ways. On the one hand, he formulates a question to which there is only one right answer (3:1): Paul does not need a letter of recommendation. On the other hand, he uses it in a figurative way: the Corinthian congregation is a letter of recommendation for the apostle (v. 2) because he led them to Christ. Paul’s missionary service did not need any human confirmation (cf. 10:12–13; 12:11–12).

Although some manuscripts have “your hearts” instead of “our hearts” in verse 2, we follow with the ESV (and also the NIV) reading here, “our hearts.” We agree with Kruse, who affirms: “The sense then is of a letter written on the heart of Paul, presumably consisting of the knowledge of what God had done in the lives of the Corinthians through his preaching of the gospel” (124; italics original). This is an expression also of the love of Paul for the congregation he had founded (v. 2b; see also 6:11–12; 7:3). The expression of a letter of recommendation may have reminded the Corinthian Christians of their responsibility as well: their life is visible to many in the outside world (3:2c), so they should live worthy of their Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Both are true: the Corinthian Christians have received Christ as their Saviour through the ministry of Paul; thus, they are “his” letter (v. 2a). At the same time, they are “a letter from Christ” (v. 3a) because Christ has done everything for their salvation. Christ works through his Spirit (see also v. 17), and the reference in verse 3 to the work of the Spirit prepares the theme of the next sections in chapter 3.

3:4–6 The apostle Paul does everything in the presence of his Lord, and he knows that it is only through the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that Christians can have “confidence . . . toward God” (v. 4). In 2:16b Paul prepared the way with a question on sufficiency, and here he answers the question (3:5): “our sufficiency is from God.” Paul writes a longer section here about his ministry in general (in first-person plural), but throughout the whole chapter the Corinthians can understand that what Paul writes is also true of his ministry among them. Paul’s aim is to lead them back to Christ, and if they are in a right relationship with Christ, then they will also acknowledge that Paul preached the only true gospel to them.

Paul will write here repeatedly in positive terms about the old covenant, the “glorious” ministry of Moses (vv. 7–11), and this will serve to highlight the even greater glory of the new covenant. The expression “new covenant” occurs only once in the Old Testament: in Jeremiah 31:31. Paul probably had this verse in his mind when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:6 that they are made “sufficient” by God to serve the “new covenant.” The smallest unit of any writing, the “letter” here refers to the written Old Testament (and especially to the Mosaic Law), which can only pronounce condemnation of the sinner, and thus it “kills” (v. 6b). However, if we find Christ in the Old Testament (see also vv. 14–16), then his Spirit “gives life.” Human beings are not able to fulfil the law of God (cf. Rom 3:9–20, 23; Gal 3:10–15, 19–22), but the Spirit leads people to Christ, the Saviour. Thus, the Spirit leads Christians to eternal “life.”

3:7–11 Paul describes the ministry of the Spirit in three pairs in which he compares the old covenant with the new covenant. He emphasizes that the ministry of Moses, the old covenant, was glorious. God gave his people the old covenant, and it had its positive role in the history of salvation (see also Rom 10:4; Gal 3:24). At the centre of that history, “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal 4:4), God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from condemnation (2Cor 3:9a). He has achieved “righteousness” for us in the sight of God (v. 9b). From verse 7 onwards, Paul repeatedly refers to an event in the life of Moses when he had to put on a veil after he came out of the presence of God (Exod 34:29–35). However, Paul also changes the Old Testament text in order to apply it to his own main message in this whole section. For example, in the Old Testament we do not read that the Israelites could not look at the face of Moses because its glory “was being brought to an end” (v. 7b). But from the point of view of the new covenant, the glory of the old covenant has been surpassed (v. 10). Only the new covenant “is permanent” (v. 11): it achieves eternal life for those who believe in Christ as their Saviour. In verse 10, Paul draws the line of the consequences to its very end: because only Christ can save us for eternal life, looking back from this perspective we can say that “what once had glory has come to have no glory at all.” He expresses this truth in another way a few sentences later, when he writes that “only through Christ” is the veil taken away that covers the Old Testament (v. 14). Without Christ, we read the Old Testament with “hardened” minds.

3:12–18 The saving death and resurrection of Christ gives us hope (v. 12). Paul continues to apply the Exodus event with the veil to his own main message. We need Christ: only he can save us. Thus, we are lost without him, even if we read the Old Testament. Paul here gives us a key to understand the whole Scripture: Jesus Christ is the centre of Scripture, so we have to read the whole of it in the light of Christ. We cannot read the Old Testament as if God had not given us a new covenant in Christ. The minds of all those who read the Old Testament without Christ are hardened “to this day” (v. 14). The image of the veil is used in this passage in different ways. In verse 13 it is the veil on the face of Moses in the Old Testament, but in verse 15 it is a veil that is on the hearts of those who read the Old Testament without Christ. From this we can see that Paul did not refer to Exodus 34 for the sake of telling the story itself but to support his own message about the new covenant. The centre of the new covenant is Jesus Christ. The veil is taken away “only through Christ” (2Cor 3:14; for a detailed interpretation of the veil motif in Exod and in 2Cor, see Harris, 297–98). Paul preached that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, whom his fellow countrymen waited for throughout centuries. Paul also witnessed to Jesus being the Christ when he preached in the synagogues (see Acts 13:14–27; 14:1–2; 17:1–3).

In 2 Corinthians 3:16 Paul refers to Exodus 34:34 in such a way that he changes it to apply it to his own message about Christ. In Exodus 34:34 Moses “went in” before the Lord, but Paul changes the verb (and uses it with a general subject): “when one turns to the Lord” (2Cor 3:16). In the Exodus narrative, the Lord to whom Moses went in was God, Yahweh. Paul most likely refers to Christ when he uses “Lord” in verse 16, and so also in the following verses. The central statement in the preceding verses was that only in Christ is the veil removed, and the previous passage dealt with the superiority of the new covenant. Thus, on the basis of this context, it is most likely that in verse 16 Paul is continuing to emphasize that people have to turn to Christ. As verse 17 continues the line of argument directly, it is also likely that here Paul affirms about the Lord Jesus Christ that he is the Spirit of God. Christ continues to work in the lives of Christians through the Spirit. The significance of the Exodus 34 reference lies in the fact that in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, the name of God, Yahweh, is translated as kyrios, “Lord.” Paul uses the same Greek word here. By referring to Jesus Christ as “Lord,” Paul also emphasizes that Jesus is God (for a Christological reading of vv. 16–18, see Schmeller [2010], 221; for the alternative view, that Paul is referring here to God, Yahweh, see Guthrie, 225).

When in verse 17b Paul emphasizes the “freedom” Christians attain by the Spirit of the Lord (Jesus Christ), he may refer to more than one of the benefits that are expressed by this word. Through the Spirit of Christ, Christians are free from the bondage of sin; that is, Christians are free to live a life of following Jesus (see also Gal 2:4; 5:1, 13). At the same time, due to the immediate context in the preceding verses, our freedom may include the freedom to turn to God, to repent, and to understand the whole of Scripture “through Christ.”

2 Corinthians 3:18 may be regarded as a summary of the whole of chapter 3. Paul refers to all Christians when he writes, “we all.” In Christ, “we all” have the freedom to see the glory of God appearing in Jesus—a glory he obtained by offering his life for our salvation and by his resurrection. Nothing can hinder Christians from having a direct relationship with him: “we all” behold his glory “with unveiled face.” If Christians are in Christ, then they undergo a constant transformation “into the same image.” In 4:4 we shall clearly see that that image is Christ himself, the image of God. “Our” transformation is “from one degree of glory to another” (ESV) or, as in the original Greek, “from glory to glory” (my translation). The short Greek expression can refer to the “degree” of glory (as in the ESV), but it may have a summarizing effect also regarding the earlier parts of the chapter: when people turn to Christ, they arrive from the glory of the old covenant to the even greater glory of the new covenant. At the end of verse 18, Paul reaffirms that every blessing—and so also “our” transformed lives—comes from Christ, the Lord. He uses a genitive expression, “from the Lord’s Spirit” (my translation), but the ESV rightly captures the meaning, as a genitive can express apposition: “the Lord who is the Spirit.” Paul stands in the ministry of the new covenant, led by the Spirit of Christ. The Corinthian Christians also should look at his ministry in this way and listen to Paul rather than to the false teachers in Corinth.

4:1–6 Paul connects what he is about to say to the preceding chapter with the expression “having this ministry” (v. 1). In this section there are some ideas related to themes mentioned earlier in the letter, and Paul also adds new thoughts to them. As the ministry of the new covenant is glorious, Paul does not lose heart in the face of difficulties (see, e.g., 1:8–10 and 2:12–13). Paul continues to write in first-person plural and includes his fellow workers in this as well. When Paul defends himself (v. 2), he may answer to false accusations from the false teachers present in the Corinthian congregation, but it may also be that some of the false teachers acted in a manner from which Paul distances himself. In the time of Paul, orators, teachers, and philosophers accepted money for their speeches, but Paul did not (see also  2:17). He did not want to win the favour of his listeners through deceptive talks (4:2a). Satan wants to deceive (see 2:11), but Paul says and writes everything with good conscience in the presence of God (4:2b; see also 7:2). Paul’s openness and transparency is a recurring theme in the letter (see also 6:11; 10:2, 11; 12:19).

The gospel is an invitation: God offers salvation to all who accept his grace. But Satan (the god of this world, 4:4) wants to “veil” this offer from the sight of human beings, lest they find their salvation in Christ (v. 3; see also 2:15–16). The message of the gospel is that people can find the grace of God in Christ; indeed, one can only know God through Christ, who is God’s image (4:4; see also 3:18).

As the message of the gospel is about Christ and his saving act, Paul does not preach himself, but Christ only (4:5). Jesus Christ is God; thus, he is called “Lord” again here (cf. 3:16–18). Paul serves Christ as his “slave,” and he can even call himself the servant of the Corinthian Christians, as he wants to serve their salvation in Christ (see also the footnote in the ESV; cf. 1:24).

The apostle Paul preached the gospel to the Corinthians at the time of their conversion to Christ, thus serving the Corinthian Christians; but the conversion, the turning to Christ, cannot be achieved by human persons. Conversion to Christ is a miracle in the same way creation itself was a miracle. In 4:6, Paul refers to the story of creation in his own words. It is not a word-for-word quotation from Genesis 1:3 when he refers to what God “said”: “Let light shine out of darkness.” Paul affirms that it is the same creating act of God that enables Christians to see his glory (4:6). God’s glory can be seen “in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6b) because Jesus is God, and people can know God only through Jesus Christ (see also 3:18 and 4:4).

Treasure in Jars of Clay and the Christians’ Heavenly Dwelling (4:7–5:10)

4:7–12 Although a new section begins here in the letter, the main theme continues as Paul discusses aspects of the new covenant. Paul connects this section with the preceding one by calling the gospel and the ministry of the new covenant “this treasure” (v. 7). The preachers of the gospel are themselves frail human beings, like “jars of clay.” Paul returns to the same double aspect of his ministry in 12:9–10 when he speaks of how Christ’s strength is at work in and through the weakness of the apostle. The “surpassing power” of God achieves the miracle that people turn to Christ as their Saviour (4:4–6). His servant, Paul, experiences this double aspect (his own weakness and the victorious strength of Christ) in many ways. He summarizes it in antithetical pairs in verses 8–11. All of these at the same time a description of the life of the servant of Christ, of the preacher of the gospel (see also 11:23–31). Some expressions probably refer to the persecution Paul and his co-workers suffered from their non-Christian environment for preaching Christ. Outward difficulties and attacks may cause inward anxieties, but even these will be overcome (4:8b).

Amidst all the sufferings, Paul was strengthened by Christ: he knew that Christ suffered for him, and he looked at his own suffering as carrying in his body “the death of Jesus” (v. 10a). Jesus rose from the dead, and the resurrection of Jesus grants power to Paul to endure all the difficulties he faces for his faithfulness to Jesus (v. 10b). The ministry of Paul and his co-workers serves the eternal life of others; thus, his suffering is not in vain: it serves the new life of the Corinthian Christians (vv. 11–12). The life of Jesus (both his earthly life and his resurrected, eternal life) grants strength for his followers to live a life of faithfulness to him here on earth, and it grants the hope of eternal life for Christians as well. “Life” is the new identity of the Christian: a life here on earth following Jesus, and eternal life which will continue also after their resurrection. All this is founded securely on the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4:13–15 Paul gives a concrete example of what it means to read the Old Testament with the veil “taken away” in Christ (cf. 3:14–16). The apostle quotes a sentence from Psalm 116:10 (from its Greek translation, the Septuagint, the reference is Ps 115:10). In this Pauline application of the Old Testament text, “faith” is not a general faith in God but faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Saviour. Paul connects his own life with that of the Psalmist: they have “the same spirit of faith” (4:13). Here we can see how Paul looked at the Old Testament and at his own apostolic letters: they all were inspired by the same Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, the centre of this faith is the resurrection of Jesus, through which Paul and the believing Corinthians will be raised, too (v. 14). All Christians must hold on to this great, central message of the gospel: Jesus rose from the dead. Through faith in him, all Christians can have the secure hope of their own resurrection.

The resurrection brings with it the hope that Christians can be in the presence of God (v. 14c). This reality calls us to a responsible life, as we must remember throughout our earthly lives that one day everyone will stand before God: “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (5:10). The hope of the resurrection helps the Corinthian Christians restore their relationship with Christ here on earth, in all circumstances, including the restoration of the repenting sinner in the loving fellowship of the congregation (see 2:1–10). The whole letter serves this purpose: to lead the Corinthian Christians back to a right relationship with their Saviour (4:15a). Their life of following Christ will be a cause for thanksgiving for many (v. 15b). All this comes from grace and results in the glory of God.

4:16–18 Paul here summarizes in first-person plural his own experience, which is the same experience of all Christians: we have a weak, corruptible outer self (“outer man,” v. 16; see the footnote in the ESV) that is continuously “wasting away” throughout our earthly lives; yet, on the other hand, the “inner self” of the Christian “is being renewed day by day” (v. 16). The strength of Christ works in and through the weakness of the Christians (see 12:8–10). Because we have the hope of eternal life, we know our earthly life is but a short suffering (4:17). It is the “exaggeration” of the believing apostle that he can call all his sufferings here a “light momentary affliction.” It gives strength to the Christian if he looks not only to what can be seen by his earthly eyes but also to what can be seen by faith (v. 18; see also 5:7). Paul receives strength from the conviction that is shared by all Christians: true values are visible only to the eyes of the believer, for believers in Christ can see what is eternal (5:18b). Because of all these gifts of Christ, Paul can confidently claim that “we do not lose heart” (v. 16a).

5:1–5 Paul continues the theme of the contrast between “our” (the Christians’) bodies that are “wasting away” (4:16) and our eternal hopes that give us strength here on earth (4:17–18) by referring to our bodies as “tents” that will be destroyed (5:1a), and at the same time as “buildings” that are eternal (v. 2b) and can be called a “heavenly dwelling” (v. 3b). These latter images address the themes of death and of the heavenly, resurrected bodies, the eternal life. There are several words in the Greek referring to buildings in these verses, and the context or even the adjectives or additions to these words show whether Paul speaks about our earthly bodies or about our heavenly bodies after resurrection (see, e.g., Kruse, 154–57).

The whole section is characterized by the hope of Paul concerning the resurrection. This confidence is expressed already in the opening words: “For we know that . . .” (v. 1a). Death awaits us all, but the Christian can live in the present with this certainty: “we have a building from God” (v. 1b). God created us, and only he can resurrect us and create us anew. Only that which is “not made with hands” (v. 1c) is eternal.

In “our” (the Christians’) earthly bodies we “groan” (v. 2), because we know that our life will be without weakness, illness, and grief only after the resurrection (see also Rom 8:18–25). The apostle uses the image of putting clothes on and putting them off for expressing the relationship between our earthly and heavenly bodies. First, with this image he emphasizes that when we Christians receive the resurrected body for the sake of Christ, our “selves,” our spiritual lives, do not remain naked (2Cor 5:3; see Seifrid, 227). Nakedness can express the vulnerability and weakness of our earthly life, even the shame over our sins (cf. also Heb 4:13; Rev 3:17; 16:15; 17:16; and also in the story about the first human beings falling into sin, Gen 3:7, 10–11). The image of nakedness also reminds us of the necessity of being transformed during our earthly life into the image of Christ (3:18; see also 1Cor 3:10).

If living here on earth as disciples of Christ and following him here is good, how much more beautiful it will be to “be further clothed” when our mortal life will be “swallowed up” by our eternal life (2Cor 5:4b). Christ has risen from the dead, so all who believe in him as their Saviour will also be resurrected. God has prepared us for this faith through the work of his Spirit in us (v. 5). The Spirit is a “guarantee” in the sense that he gives full assurance in our hearts that the whole gospel is true, including the message concerning the resurrection (the Greek term for “guarantee” here is the same as for “down payment” in 1:22; for the work of the Spirit in “us,” the Christians, see also at 3:3, 6, 8, 17–18). The exact meaning of each word is not easy to ascertain here, but the main message is clear: Paul affirms the certainty of the resurrection for all believers in Christ.

5:6–10 Paul affirms that during our (the Christians’) ministry of the gospel, “we are always of good courage” (v. 6a), even among afflictions of various kinds. The image of the “building” receives a clear explanation here: it refers to our (the Christians’) bodies. As long as we are in our earthly bodies, we are not experiencing all the powers and benefits of the Kingdom of God. In this sense we are “away from the Lord” (v. 6b); that is, we are not in his heavenly presence, without any sin and weakness of our earthly bodies. The expression “Lord” here may refer to God, but it may refer to Christ as well (as we have argued also concerning 3:16 –18). When we shall be with him in heaven after the resurrection, then we shall not be “away from” him any longer. The eyes of faith can see this future life, but it is beyond that which is visible for our earthly eyes (v. 7; see also 4:18).

Paul here does not address the question as to what there is between our (the Christians’) death and the resurrection at the end of the world. He strengthens our faith with the “good courage” (5:8a) that after the resurrection we shall be “at home with the Lord” (v. 8b). Until then we should aim at one thing only: to do the will of Christ in order “to please him” (v. 9; for the theme of the relationship between our present life and our eternal life, see also Luke 23:43; Rom 8:23; Phil 1:21–23; 3:20–21). Paul has included the Corinthian Christians in the first-person plural so far, but here he makes clear that the faith in the resurrection is essential for all Christians (2Cor 5:10). When the Corinthians heard the term “judgment seat,” they may have remembered that there was a place in Corinth referred to by the same Greek word (bēma). There the Roman officials made judicial decisions in the name of the ruling empire (Acts 18:12, 17). Paul tells them that they will have to appear after their resurrection before a much higher court: “the judgment seat of Christ” (2Cor 5:10; cf. Rom 14:10–12; 1Cor 4:5).

Christians will be saved only by the salvific death of Jesus Christ, but it is nevertheless important how they live on earth. Paul emphasizes for the Corinthian congregation that Christians who are saved by Christ’s mercy alone should try to live a life that is pleasing the Saviour (2Cor 5:9; see also 1Cor 3:10–15). Thus, the truth of salvation by grace alone is not in contradiction with what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:10 (see Guthrie, 289). There is also the possibility that we (Christians) shall not receive a “reward” for things we did in our earthly lives that were not “pleasing” to Christ (see Seifrid, 238). In this verse, Paul reminds all Christians of their responsibility: we can never say that “it does not matter” what we do (or what we fail to do) in our earthly lives. It does matter, and we will have to give an account for our deeds (or for what we have failed to do) when we appear in the presence of our Lord (see Kruse, 160–61). Verse 10 is true for all Christians (this aspect is emphasized by Schmeller [2010], 304), but this warning is true for all humanity as well: every human being will have to appear before God at the time of the final judgment (see Seifrid, 236).

The Ministry of Reconciliation, the Temple of the Living God, and Paul’s Joy (5:11–7:16)

5:11–15 After the important theme of the resurrection, Paul returns to aspects of his own ministry that are also in close connection to his relationship with the Corinthians. Paul and his co-workers carry out their whole ministry “in the fear of the Lord” (v. 11a), which means that above all they respect the will of Christ, they want to please him (5:9), and “the love of Christ controls” everything they do (v. 14; the term “Lord” in v. 11 can refer to God, and also to Christ, as in 3:16–18). Paul wants to “persuade others” with the gospel (5:11b). The main aim of his ministry is the salvation of others. His conscience before God is clear (v. 11c), and he hopes that the Corinthian congregation will also acknowledge that he preaches God’s good news to them (v. 11d). When Paul speaks of their “boasting” here, he means to give all glory to God for his magnificent deeds (v. 12). The Corinthians have many reasons to thank God for the ministry of Paul and his co-workers (Paul continues using the first-person plural).

“Those who boast about outward appearance” may have been the false teachers in Corinth (v. 12). The congregation had “to answer” them by affirming that they know that Paul always tells them the truth that is “in the heart.” His message about Christ is honest and transparent. His special spiritual experiences are only a matter for his personal relationship with God (v. 13a; for special experiences, see 12:1–10 and 1Cor 14:18–19). To the Corinthians he says everything with understandable words (2Cor 5:13b). The main theme of his message is the saving death of Christ (v. 14). If “we” (Christians) accept the mercy of God through the death of Christ, then it is as if we have died: our own will, our “old self,” dies (v. 14b; see also Rom 6:6; Col 3:9; Eph 4:22, with footnotes in the ESV to all these verses), and we live under the lordship of Christ, for his glory (2Cor 5:15). The whole ministry of Paul is for the Corinthians’ salvation (v. 13d). The expression “the love of Christ” (v. 14a) in the Greek can mean two things: it can refer to our love toward Christ and also to the love with which Christ loves us. Both are relevant meanings here, but perhaps Paul is emphasizing the love with which Christ loves us, as in the immediate context he speaks about the death and resurrection of Christ for our sake (vv. 14b–15). Paul’s message about the saving act of Christ also serves to bring the Corinthians back to a right relationship with himself.

5:16–21 The saving death of Christ has achieved the salvation of those who believe in him. People cannot make their relationship with God right; only God can reconcile the world to himself (vv. 18–19). To regard Jesus Christ “according to the flesh” (v. 16) probably means to know the news about his earthly life, for example, where he went and what he taught. Many people knew him or at least had heard about him in this way, but those who only regarded him “according to the flesh” did not believe in him as the Son of God. Paul may have heard news about the teaching of Jesus Christ prior to his conversion, but initially he persecuted Christ’s followers (cf. Acts 9:1–2; Gal 1:13). Since now Paul has accepted Christ as his Saviour, he re-evaluates all his human relationships as well: he does not want to know about other people only things that can be known “according to the flesh.” For him it is more important to know whether other people are Christians, whether they have accepted Christ as their Saviour. This probably means that for Paul, even concerning the Corinthians, the most important question was about their relationship with Christ. Though Paul previously thought wrongly about Jesus, what matters now is that he knows Jesus as the Son of God, as the Christ, the Messiah, whom his people have waited for throughout centuries (see also Acts 9:3–6; 22:5–10; 26:4–20).

Anyone who accepts Christ as his or her Saviour is “in Christ” (2Cor 5:17). Such a person is a new creation (see also 4:4–6). A new life begins at one’s conversion to Christ, when the old self dies (see v. 14). God forgives our sins because of the salvific death of his Son, Jesus Christ, and then he reconciles us to himself (vv. 18a, 19a). God calls those whom he has reconciled to himself to tell others about the good news as well: that is, he entrusts us with “the message of reconciliation” (v. 19b). Human beings are not able to reconcile themselves God; only God can reconcile people to himself. One can receive salvation only by God’s grace. This grace is given at a great price: instead of punishing the sinners, God punished his own Son with death in order to redeem the sinners. God made Jesus “to be sin” (v. 21), that is, he punished him (who did not deserve this, because he did not “know,” or did not commit, any sin) instead of punishing the sinners. Paul invites the Corinthians to accept the mercy of God (v. 20), and he reminds us that all Christians are called by God to spread the gospel as his “ambassadors.” The Corinthians had turned to Christ earlier, but Paul calls them now to renew their commitment to Christ as Saviour. If they are renewed in this way, then they will continue to accept the teaching of Paul, and they will stop following the false teachers among them (see also 6:11–13; 11:2–6; 13:3–4).

6:1–10 Paul continues this theme by applying it more specifically to the Corinthians (the ESV does not have a new section heading at this point). This section is also an integral part of the longer unit about the missionary ministry of Paul (2:14–7:4). The expression “working together with him” (6:1a) is in relation to Paul and his co-workers’ message to the Corinthians on being reconciled to God (5:19b–20). The gospel message of the saving death of Christ can be summarized in this one word: “grace” (6:1). The grace of God is not “in vain” if people respond to it with repentance and turn in obedience to the service of Christ in every aspect of their lives.

The apostle Paul now applies a passage from Isaiah 49:8 to his own ministry. The Old Testament text Paul refers to is in the immediate context of the word of the Lord to his Servant: “I will make you as a light for the nations” (Isa 49:6). These words were primarily fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Paul and his co-workers stand in this ministry of Jesus. This calling from God comes “now” as Paul preaches the gospel message about the Son of God (2Cor 6:2). The Corinthian congregation members turned to Christ when they first heard the gospel from Paul and his fellow missionaries, but they have to be renewed in their relationship with Christ. Thus, Paul continues the “ministry of reconciliation” (5:18).

Paul emphasizes that his ministry is honest and transparent in every respect: even the Corinthians cannot find any fault in him (6:3). He describes the apostolic ministry with a long list, including manifold hardships and sufferings (vv. 4b–5). It is likely that the false teachers in Corinth pointed to their own successes; by contrast Paul lists that which he has suffered (see also 4:8–12; 11:23–30; 12:12). Although he does not need any letter of recommendation (3:1–2), if he and his co-workers “commend” themselves, they do this as “servants of God” (6:4), even amidst various hardships.

The suffering of Paul and his fellow missionaries not only included physical afflictions (like “beating,” v. 5) but also spiritual burdens (like being “treated as impostors,” v. 8). However, in his weak body (4:7), the strength of the Lord was at work (12:10). Thus, as a gift from the Spirit who lived in him, he could rejoice in spiritual richness (e.g., “purity” and “kindness,” 6:6).

When Paul preached, he told his listeners the truth (that which is true about Christ and God; v. 7a). The main message of his preaching was that God gives “righteousness” to those who believe in the saving death and resurrection of Christ (v. 7b). This is the Christians’ best defence from every side (see also Eph 6:14b). Paul then describes his ministry in pairs of antithetical statements. God helps him to overcome a variety of hardships (6:8–10). This is true for all Christians as well: God will grant honour to his servants amidst all kinds of dishonour (v. 8; see also 2:4; 7:2, 8–9; 10:10; 11:7, 16; 13:1–3). What matters is that the Lord knows his servants (6:9). From all outward appearances, they may be poor, but they have all the richness of the gospel (v. 10c), and thus they can enrich others (v. 10b).

6:11–13 This short passage may be regarded as a summary of the main aim of the letter. By leading the Corinthian Christians back into a right relationship with Christ, their Saviour, Paul also re-establishes the relationship between the congregation and himself. The false teachers probably brought a number of false accusations against the apostle, and the result may have been that there was no more space for him in the hearts of some of the congregation members (v. 12b). Paul is full of love for them; his heart is “wide open” for them (v. 11b). Now it is time that they return this love and openness toward him as well (v. 13). Paul founded the congregation, so he is like a spiritual father to them (see 1Cor 4:14–16; 2Cor 12:14–15). He addresses them again with the love of a father toward his children. He also implies that it is time the Corinthian Christians obey his teaching as obedient “children” (6:13a; cf. Eph 6:1–3).

2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 is a self-contained unit. Some commentators think it might be an interpolation—a later insertion in the letter—possibly not written by Paul. We have mentioned in the Introduction that we agree with those interpreters who see the whole of 2 Corinthians as written by Paul and written in the sequence of the chapters we have in our Bible. It is true that some of the Greek words occur only in this passage and not elsewhere in Paul’s letters, but this may be due to the fact that there are some quotations in these verses, and even apart from the quotations, Paul might have used traditional material he took from elsewhere (for a detailed discussion on the integrity of this section, with convincing arguments for regarding it as coming from Paul’s pen, see Harris, 14–25).

6:14–18 Verse 14 is related to the preceding passage (vv. 11–13), because here, too, Paul addresses the Corinthian Christians in second-person plural. The present passage aims at strengthening the relationship between the congregation and God. Paul encourages them back to a right relationship with God by the means of rhetorical questions and antithetical pairs of expressions. He strengthens their beliefs and their right actions, their way of life corresponding to their beliefs. He wants them to turn away from their pagan past, from “lawlessness.” Following Christ means living in the “light” (v. 14b; see also John 1:4–5; 8:12).

Belial (or Beliar, v. 15; see footnote in the ESV) was a name for Satan that was used in Jewish writing after the time of the Old Testament. There can be only one good answer to the rhetorical question, “What accord has Christ with Belial?” (v. 15): Christians cannot serve under the rule of Satan (see also 2:10–11). Paul wants to encourage the congregation that their right relationship with Christ should be visible in their lives. The expression “believer” refers here to the Christian who believes in Christ as the Son of God, the Saviour (6:15). The apostle continues in first-person plural, but even here the Corinthian Christians had to have understood that he includes them in this fellowship. All Christians belong to God as his “temple” (v. 16), where his Spirit lives (see also 1Cor 6:19). This message is supported by a long chain of quotations coming from various parts of the Old Testament, mainly from its Greek translation, the Septuagint (2Cor 6:16b–18). The quotations as a chain are marked by an introductory formula (“as God said,” v. 16). Portions of Leviticus 26:11–12 and Ezekiel 37:37 testify that God is present among his people (2Cor 6:16). Quotations (with minor alterations) from Isaiah 52:11 and Jeremiah 51:45 are used to encourage the Christians to leave their pagan past behind (2Cor 6:17). The line “then I will welcome you” comes from the Septuagint Greek version of Ezekiel 20:34. At the end of the chain of quotations, God’s promise that was originally addressed to David (2Sam 7:14) is changed to the plural in Greek so Paul can apply it to the Corinthians (and to all Christians): “I will be a father to you” (2Cor 6:18). Paul adds “daughters” to the “sons” in the promise. The expression “the Lord Almighty” also comes from the Greek version, the Septuagint (2Sam 7:8; in the Hebrew the reference here is to “the Lord of hosts”). By using these quotations, Paul strengthens the faith and life of the Corinthian congregation. Paul draws the consequences and applies them to the Corinthian Christians even more directly in 7:1 (which belongs to this section; the next section begins at 7:2, as noted in the ESV).

7:1 God’s presence among his people (see the preceding passage, esp. 6:16–18) is a call for all Christians to abandon their non-Christian lifestyle (v. 1a) and to live in holiness (v. 1b). The preceding quotations from the Old Testament are summed up as “these promises” (v. 1a). Paul shows his love for the Corinthians by the addressing them as “beloved.” He writes in first-person plural, because whatever he asks the Corinthians to do to live a life in holiness, he wants to do as well: “let us cleanse ourselves.”  To live “in the fear of God” means Christians accept that God’s Spirit rules their lives. They honour God in whatever they do (see also 5:11).

7:2–4 Having discussed matters of the faith and life of the Corinthian Christians, Paul turns back to the theme of the relationship between the congregation and himself. If they are in a right relationship with Christ, then they will accept Paul; they will have “room for” him (v. 2; the word “heart” is not in the Greek text; see the footnote to this verse in the ESV). It is possible that the false teachers in the congregation also attacked Paul and his co-workers by claiming that they took money from the congregation, in which case the apostle had to defend himself (v. 2b; see also 4:2; 5:11; 8:20–21; 11:7–9, 20–21; 12:14–18). In spite of the unjust accusations, Paul always thinks of them with love. He has mentioned this in 6:11–13, and in 7:3 he confirms it again. Already in 7:1 he called them “beloved,” and in verse 3 he affirms that they are together in all their hardships (as “to die” is mentioned first, it may refer to persecutions and all kinds of afflictions) and they follow Christ together (they “live” together, v. 3b).

Paul had written a letter to the Corinthians earlier “with many tears” (2:4, 9), and as they have changed because of that letter, Paul writes 2 Corinthians with full confidence toward them (7:4a; see also 1:7; 7:16). The great “pride” Paul has in the Corinthian Christians (7:4) is expressed in the Greek with the same word that is often translated elsewhere as “boasting.” Paul praises God for the great things God has done in their lives (see also 1:14; 5:12; 7:15; 8:24; 9:2).

7:5–9 After a long section on his ministry (2:14–7:4, called a “digression” by some commentators, e.g., Kruse, 118), Paul returns to his concern for the spiritual well-being of the congregation, narrated in the context of the travels of and the news brought by Titus (thus 7:5 continues the events mentioned in 2:13). Paul went to Macedonia to receive news about the Corinthians from Titus, and during his time there he not only had “fear within” that this news might be bad news (7:5), but he also suffered “fights,” most likely some kind of persecution. However, Titus brought good news about the developments in the Corinthian congregation (v. 6; cf. 2:1–10). God comforted Paul through the news about the change in the attitude of the Corinthians. Paul repeatedly expresses how God achieves great things through Paul in spite of the frailty and weakness of his body (expressed here by the term “downcast,” 7:6; see also 2:14–17; 3:4–6; 4:7; 12:6–10). The change in the Corinthian Christians’ hearts is expressed by the term “mourning” (7:7). The letter written “with many tears” (2:4; probably brought to Corinth by Titus in person) has achieved positive results (7:7b–9).

7:10–13 In these verses, Paul refers again to the events that caused him to write his earlier letter (2:4; 7:8). There was probably someone in the congregation who had committed a major sin, and when Paul rebuked him, the congregation did not join Paul in rebuking the sinner. Thus, Paul had to write a letter, and this letter led the congregation to a “godly grief” (7:10). Paul summarizes what was involved in their repentance with a list of words that express emotional change and also affirm that they punished the sinner (v. 11). Repentance “leads to salvation” (v. 10); thus, the letter was not doing them any harm but led them back into a good relationship with God (v. 12b). Paul affirms that there are two kinds of grief: if someone has a sorrow (even over his or her own sin) but does not turn to God for his mercy, then he or she remains in spiritual death (v. 10b); if, however, we turn to God and ask for his mercy for the sake of Christ, then this is “godly grief” leading to real repentance and to salvation by the grace of God (v. 10a). Not only did the congregation change, but the sinner also repented. Thus, Paul asked the congregation to surround the repenting sinner with love (2:6–8). Paul is comforted if the congregation and the repenting sinner have found their way back to a right relationship with Christ, their Saviour (7:13a). Paul rejoices in the similar comfort and joy of Titus over the good developments in the lives of the Corinthian Christians (v. 13b, which is included in the next section in the ESV).

7:14–16 Paul had a high view of the Christians in Corinth, and he had probably praised them even when speaking to Titus (v. 14). This “boasting” likely also included references to the willingness of the congregation to support the Christians in Jerusalem with a collection (Paul will turn to this theme in chs. 8–9). Paul did not care about himself throughout the course of the events in Corinth; rather, the spiritual well-being of the Corinthians and the comfort of his own co-worker, Titus, lay on his heart (cf. 7:13). Titus loves the Corinthian congregation, and at last they have turned to Titus with love as well (7:15). Paul rejoices when other Christians have restored their relationships with God and with one another (v. 16).

Paul’s Appeal to the Repentant Church Regarding the Collection (8:1–9:15)

Encouragement to Give Generously (8:1–15)

In the history of commentary on 2 Corinthians, there emerged the view that chapters 8–9 may not have been written together with chapters 1–7. We have mentioned in the Introduction that we hold the view that these chapters are an integral part of the letter, and they were written by Paul in the sequence as we have 2 Corinthians today. Hans Dieter Betz has suggested that chapters 8 and 9 were originally two separate letters, but we maintain they can be interpreted as a unity (and as a part of the whole thirteen-chapter letter; see Hafemann, 329–31).

8:1–7 The content of chapters 8 and 9 provide a logical continuation of chapters 1–7: the apostle can raise the theme of the collection because the relationship between the congregation and himself has been restored. He has just affirmed in 7:16 that he has “complete confidence” in them, and on this basis, he can ask them to continue in the matter of the collection they had started one year previously but had not completed yet (8:6, 10–11; 9:2). It is likely that the congregation in Jerusalem has become very poor due to a famine (see Acts 11:27–30; even persecutions may have led to their impoverishment, see Hafemann, 330). It was important for Paul that there should be a visible unity among Christians of Jewish origin and of Gentile origin. The unity in faith could also be shown if the Corinthian Christians financially helped the congregation in Jerusalem.

The plan for a collection for the “saints” (8:4, referring to all the Christians) in Jerusalem had emerged earlier (see, e.g., 1Cor 16:1–3; Rom 15:25–26; cf. Gal 2:10). In the present passage (8:1–7), Paul encourages the Corinthians to continue the cause of the collection by pointing to the example of the Christians in Macedonia. This is not in contradiction with what Paul writes in 9:2, because there he rightly mentions that previously he had an opportunity to encourage the Macedonians with the example of the Corinthians (and the Christians in wider Achaia around Corinth). The Corinthians enthusiastically agreed to the plan of the collection, and this could be an example for others to follow. However, for reasons we do not know, they have come to a standstill in the process, and thus the gift has not been fully collected. The Macedonian Christians not only were stimulated by the initial good example of the Corinthians, but they followed through on the collection as well.

Even the openness of one’s heart to help others (by offering financial help to others, for example) is a work of God in one’s heart. The willingness to give is a result of the “grace of God” (8:1). Christians who have experienced the grace of God may respond to that grace by turning to others with grace. The word “grace” (charis) is thus used by Paul in different contexts with different meanings, but all of them are related. The Christian’s response to God’s grace may be shown through a gracious attitude to others. Paul refers even to the collection itself with the same Greek word (see 8:6–7). And the thanksgiving of Christians to God as a response to God’s various gifts (including salvation in Christ) can also be called charis, as we see in the way this word is used in 8:16 and in the concluding verse of the whole longer section on the theme of collection: “Thanks be to God . . .” (9:15).

The willingness to help is a matter of the heart: it can result in joyful acts even among difficulties, and even when the persons giving are poor themselves, as was the case among the Macedonian Christians (8:2). We can learn from them the secret of the joyful giving: “they gave themselves first to the Lord” (v. 5; the term can refer to God, or it can refer to Christ, as in 3:16–18; see Matera, 184). If our life belongs to Christ, then an openness to others will naturally follow. It is right and enough to give according to “one’s means,” but the Macedonians were ready to give “beyond their means” (v. 3). God can provide for his people in such a way that if one gives to others, then one will not have “less.” The giving Christian is being enriched in joy, even in outwardly poor circumstances (v. 2). Paul asked Titus to bring the news about the Macedonians to the Corinthians and encourage them through the example of the Macedonians to complete the collection.

8:8–15 The readiness of the Corinthians to support their fellow Christians in Jerusalem is a way of showing their gratitude to Christ for his manifold gifts. They are rich “in everything” (8:7), and this richness is based on the saving act of Christ: he “became poor” (v. 9) by becoming “flesh” (John 1:14) and by offering himself for our salvation on the cross (Phil 2:6–11). By “his poverty” we become “rich”: we have salvation and eternal life (2Cor 8:9).

Giving to others out of gratitude can only be done of one’s “own accord,” as in the case of the Macedonians (8:3). Thus, Paul does not say this to the Corinthians “as a command” (8:8a), but he asks them to show their love by offering the collection (v. 8b). He does not ask them to give in an extraordinarily excessive way, but only in accordance with what they have (v. 12). Great results can be achieved by small consecutive and consistent steps. Paul gives concrete advice here so the Corinthian Christians will continue and complete the collection (vv. 10–12). He also encourages them by an example from the Old Testament. God provided for his people equally: he provided enough for all through the means of the manna (Exod 16:16–18). No one had an abundance, and no one suffered shortage either (2Cor 8:15, referring to Exod 16:18, with minor changes). “Fairness” (2Cor 8:13–14) here means that everyone has enough. In this sense they are “equal” (the original meaning of the Greek word isotēs is “equality”). Now the Corinthians can help the Christians in Jerusalem, and times may come when the Corinthians might be helped by others (v. 14). The significance of this Old Testament reference not only lies in having confidence in God’s provision but also in the fact that the Old Testament text is about how God provided for his people. The Corinthian Christians (the majority of whom were from a Gentile background) now belong to the people of God for the sake of Christ, God’s Son.

Commendation of Titus (8:16–24)

8:16–24 Paul returns to the person of Titus, who played an important role in the completion of the collection in the Corinthian congregation. It is God who puts in one’s heart a willingness to help; he has put “earnest care” for the Corinthians into the heart of Titus as well (v. 16). Paul gives thanks to God for this love in the heart of Titus (“thanks” is expressed here with the word charis, “grace,” as in 9:15). Titus has returned recently with good news from Corinth (7:6–15), thus Paul most likely uses an epistolary convention here which can technically mean past tense (“he went”; see the footnote in the ESV); but it can refer to the (“present”) time when the letter is being written as well (so in the translation in the ESV: “he is going to you,” 8:17). Paul did encourage Titus to offer his help in the cause of the collection (8:6), but it is at the same time Titus’s own willingness (v. 17), initiated by God’s Spirit in his heart (v. 1).

Paul sends other brothers together with Titus to Corinth (vv. 18 and 22, “we are sending”; see the footnotes to these verses in the ESV; see also above at v. 17). These other brothers serve as witnesses to Paul’s love for the Corinthians, and they also may serve in securing the journey in an age when people on private journeys were often attacked by robbers. We do not know the names of these “brothers,” but they must have had a high reputation in the church (vv. 18, 22–23). Paul is stressing that the material, financial aspects in the life of the church must remain transparent. Regarding this collection, it was important for Paul that he was surrounded by people who were honoured by the church for their preaching ministry (v. 18) and for being “earnest in many matters” (v. 22). Paul does not leave room for the false teachers to accuse him in his dealings with the financial matters regarding the collection. His conscience is clear before God, but it is also important for him to be honourable “in the sight of man” (v. 21). Paul summarizes the spiritual value of the small group he is about to send to Corinth by calling them “the glory of Christ” (v. 23). Many people—including the Corinthian Christians (v. 24)—will have a reason to give glory to God for their ministry, and Christ himself may approve of their service by letting them share in his own glory. Both ideas may be expressed in Paul’s reference to “the glory of Christ” (v. 23; see Harris, 612).

The Collection for Christians in Jerusalem (9:1–15)

9:1–5 Chapters 8 and 9 are connected in their content. In both chapters Paul wants to achieve one main aim: the Corinthian Christians should complete their plan for a collection they had begun one year previously but had not yet completed. In chapter 8 Paul encouraged the Corinthians by the example of the Macedonians, who had already completed a collection. In chapter 9 the apostle returns to the time when the Corinthians first made their plans to help the Christians in Jerusalem. Paul uses a rhetorical convention when he affirms that “it is superfluous” for him to write about the theme of the collection. In reality, it was needed because the Corinthians have not carried out their initial plans. Paul repeatedly calls the Christians “saints” (v. 1; see also 8:4). Saints in the biblical sense are all those who belong to God; in the New Testament, all Christians are “saints,” as they belong to God through Christ on the basis of his salvific death. Corinth was the capital of the Roman province Achaia (see the Introduction), so when Paul writes that “Achaia” has been ready for the collection “since last year” (9:2), Paul includes the Corinthian congregation members in this region as well. Paul has praised the readiness of the Corinthians among the Macedonians; now he does not want to be ashamed by the Corinthians failing to complete the collection they had planned (v. 3).

Paul sends “brothers” to Corinth to help them continue and complete the collection (vv. 3, 5). They are probably Titus and the two other brothers mentioned in 8:16–24. It is likely he is sending them when he writes and finishes this letter (see the footnote to this verse in the ESV; see also 8:17, 18, 22). After he has sent the “brothers,” he plans to visit the congregation as well. As some Macedonian Christians will join him, he is eager to see that the Corinthians will have completed the collection by that time (9:4a). Paul had already praised the willingness of the Corinthians to the Macedonians; if they do not complete their collection, it would be a shame for Paul, or, rather, for the Corinthian Christians themselves (v. 4b). Although Paul writes two chapters on this matter, in the end it must be a “willing gift,” not connected with any form of selfishness (v. 5; the Greek term translated as “exaction” may mean “greed”; see footnote “c” in the ESV). For the idea of “gift,” Paul uses a very rich Greek word meaning “blessing” (twice in v. 5; see footnote “b” in the ESV). Paul is telling us that when we give to others, we do this as our thanksgiving to God, as if saying a prayer to him, a blessing on his name, while giving. The same term is used in verse 6, translated there as “bountifully” (see footnote “d” in the ESV; this expression thus connects these two consecutive passages).

9:6–15 The apostle Paul uses an example from the life of farmers to highlight the importance of good-hearted, willing collection (v. 6). Farmers know that if they sow only a few seeds of grain, then they cannot hope for a rich harvest. By this example Paul encourages the Corinthians to give “bountifully” (in the Greek it means “with blessings,” that is, giving thanks to God while giving their donation to the Christians in Jerusalem; the same word is used twice in 9:5, there with the meaning “willing gift”). The message of this example from the world of agriculture is twofold: if the Corinthians give bountifully, then the Christians in Jerusalem will experience a real relief in their poverty; at the same time, the Corinthians will be enriched spiritually when they are free in their hearts to give the donation out of their gratitude to God (cf. Prov 11:25).

Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians to give from their hearts and not “under compulsion” (2Cor 9:7). The Macedonians gave their gifts “of their own accord” (8:3), and Titus helped in this whole matter out of his own love toward the Corinthians (8:16–17). Now the Corinthians should become “cheerful” givers themselves (9:7). Paul strengthens his admonition with a reference to the Old Testament; however, he does not refer to the text we have in the Hebrew Old Testament, but to a text that is an addition to Proverbs 22:8 and that exists only in the Septuagint, and he even changes the Greek text a little. This reference to the Old Testament is not indicated in the English text of the ESV. We may translate the addition in the Septuagint Greek text like this: “God blesses the cheerful and giving man” (see Balla, 777). Paul writes “loves” instead of “blesses,” and he omits the word “man,” so the adjective “cheerful” modifies the noun “giver.” We may translate Paul’s text in this way: “It is the cheerful giver whom God loves” (Balla, 778). We cannot know whether the Corinthian Christians recognized this reference to the Old Testament, but they must have seen that Paul here gives a theological foundation to Christian giving by referring to God. The Corinthians can give because God first gave to them (2Cor 9:8). They can be confident that God will provide for them also in the future (v. 8a; some form of the Greek word root pan expressing the idea of “every/all” appears five times in v. 8).

Paul supports his message concerning willing and bountiful giving with a quotation from the Old Testament, introduced by a formula: “As it is written” (v. 9a). He quotes the exact text in Greek from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament (in the chapter and verse numbering of the Septuagint the quotation is taken from Psalm 111:9; in the Hebrew Bible and the English translations it is numbered as Psalm 112:9). On the basis of the wider context of this verse in the Old Testament, is likely that originally the Old Testament text concerns the God-fearing, righteous man. It is possible that Paul uses this text with this very meaning. In this case he encourages the Corinthians to offer their collection with the spirit and attitude of such a righteous man (so Schmeller [2015], 95; Seifrid, 359–60). However, in 2 Corinthians the subject of the preceding verse is God (2Cor 9:8), and Paul does not signal a change in the subject, so it is possible that Paul applies the quotation to God: it is God who “has distributed freely” (v. 9b). We find this exposition more likely, based on the context of the quotation in 2 Corinthians (so also Barnett [1997], 440; Sampley, 130).

The next verse (v. 10) clearly has God as the subject of the verbs, referring without an introductory formula to parts of Isaiah 55:10 and Hosea 10:12: it is God who “supplies seed to the sower.” We cannot know whether the Corinthian Christians recognised these as Old Testament quotations, but they must have understood from this verse that God provides for them in every respect, which is why they can help with a willing heart their fellow Christians in Jerusalem (v. 11a). The Corinthians’ “righteousness” (v. 10b) may refer to two truths simultaneously: on the one hand, it may refer to their life as it follows from their right relationship with God—a life that produces fruits by helping others; and on the other hand, it may refer to their eternal life which they receive by the mercy of God through the saving death and resurrection of Christ. It is as a thanksgiving for their eternal salvation that they help financially the saints in Jerusalem (see Barnett [1997], 441–42).

The person who can give joyfully is strengthened spiritually. Paul says the Corinthian Christians will be “enriched in every way” (v. 11a). And it is not only they who benefit spiritually from their willingness to help others, but even Paul and his co-workers give thanks to God for the Corinthians (v. 11b). Many others will praise God, too (v. 12b). Only an offering from a pure heart can achieve such blessings. Paul refers to this help from the Corinthian congregation as “the ministry of this service” (v. 12a). Here he uses two related Greek words: for “ministry” he uses diakonia, and for “service” he uses leitourgia. The latter is a term usually referring to worship; thus, Paul affirms that the material help of the congregation toward the Christians in Jerusalem was part of their service to God. In the lives of the Corinthian Christians—and of all Christians—the willingness to helping others is an act of obedience to the gospel they have received and accepted in their hearts (v. 13).

Paul concludes the long section on the collection (chs. 8–9) by using the Greek word charis twice. In verse 14, he uses it to refer to God’s “grace” upon them. This is a “surpassing grace” because it includes all kinds of benefits from God to them: God’s mercy that achieves their salvation for the sake of Christ, and also their open heart to help joyfully their fellow Christians in Jerusalem. In verse 15, Paul uses the same Greek word with another meaning: he closes the section on the theme of the collection by giving “thanks” to God for his manifold gifts in the lives of the Corinthians. The very general thanksgiving may, of course, include Paul’s gratitude to God for his gifts in Paul’s life, and in his relationship with the congregation in Corinth as well.

Paul’s Appeal to the Rebellious Minority in Corinth (10:1–13:10)

Paul Defends His Ministry (10:1–18)

In chapters 10–13, Paul returns to the theme of defending his apostolic ministry. His relationship with the congregation has been restored (chs. 1–7), and on this basis he could even encourage them to complete the collection they had begun one year previously (chs. 8–9). It is possible that during the long process of writing this letter (see the Introduction), news had reached him about renewed attacks against him by a few false teachers in the congregation. However, it is also possible that he regarded this matter as so important that he decided to write about it toward the end of his letter (Guthrie, 464, suggests Paul left this theme to the end of the letter in order to give it a rhetorical emphasis; see also his arguments in favour of the view that the whole letter was written by Paul in the present sequence of chapters, Guthrie, 30–32). It is true that there is a change in the tone of the letter from chapter 10 on. It will be clear as Paul continues to write that his love for the congregation in Corinth has not changed, in spite of the attacks against him. He writes everything in order to strengthen them in their relationship with God, with Christ, with the gospel, and also with himself.

10:1–6 Paul introduces the new section by emphasizing that whatever he is going to write to them, he will write in the loving, merciful presence of Christ (v. 1a). When he asks them not to listen to the “false apostles” (11:13), he will do so with love for them in his heart. Perhaps it was the false teachers in the congregation who tried to diminish the value of Paul’s ministry in the eyes of the congregation by saying that Paul is only strong and bold when he is far away (10:1b), and that he is “humble” (v. 1b) and even “weak” when he is present among them (v. 10).

Paul does not refer to the false teachers by name in his letter, only to their activities. It is likely that they are the “some” who bring various accusations against the apostle and his co-workers (v. 2b). Paul acknowledges that he lives “in the flesh” (v. 3), but he denies that he would “walk” (that is, “live”) “according to the flesh” (vv. 3b–4a). By this he means that he is not determined by human thoughts only, but he is under the rule of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. With the help of the Spirit, he engages in a spiritual war against those who are enemies of Christ (v. 4b). His aim is to win others to Christ (v. 5b) and so to lead people to the right knowledge of God (v. 5a), for God can be known only in and through Christ (see 4:4–6). “Disobedience” means not following the will of God; in other words, it means that people are not walking “by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16). Such spiritual strongholds have to be destroyed (2Cor 10:4–5), and every disobedience is to be punished (v. 6a). Paul is confident that the Corinthian Christians will obey only Christ in the future (v. 6b; see also 11:2).

10:7–12 We can only infer from Paul’s responses (and also from his defence) what the accusations brought against him by the false teachers in the Corinthian congregation might have been. Perhaps the false teachers claimed that they belonged to Christ and Paul did not. The apostle does not deny here that his opponents are Christians (or, at least they claim that they are), but he asks the Corinthian congregation to look to him also as their fellow Christian, as to one who is “Christ’s” (v. 7). Later he will show that the false teachers teach a different gospel (11:1–6), but he does not deny they are Christians. He holds, however, that they are in error and, therefore, the rest of the congregation should not follow them. The congregation should look at the facts before their “eyes” (10:7a), for example, that Paul preached the true gospel to them, which is how they have turned to Christ. When Paul “boasts” (v. 8), he means that he points to the great deeds of God who led the Corinthians to Christ as their Saviour. Paul was God’s servant in this task as an apostle, but he does not use the authority of his apostleship for any destructive purposes, but only for their benefit and for building them up (v. 8b). The “Lord” here is the Lord Jesus Christ, from whom he received his apostleship on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–6; see Schmeller [2015], 142).

Paul wants to build up the Corinthians with his letters. This was his aim also with his letter written “with many tears” (2:4). His intention is not to “frighten” them (10:9), but to lead them back to Christ. It is likely that the false teachers are those who “say” these things against Paul concerning his “bodily presence” and “speech” (v. 10). Paul insists that he is consistent in what he represents in his letters and his speeches as well (v. 11; see also 13:2). We do not know what kind of bodily “weakness” the accusers may have referred to; perhaps to some illness (cf. 12:7). It is enough for Paul to know that his sending is from the Lord (10:8), and that is why he does not enter any contest in comparing himself to others, including the false teachers (v. 12; cf. also 3:1).

10:13–18 Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians about his ministry among them when he founded the congregation (vv. 13b, 14b; see also 1Cor 2:1–5; 3:6; 4:14–15; 2Cor 1:18–20). He does everything in accordance with the will of God. He went on missionary journeys only in territories God led him to. The “area of influence” may refer also to a geographical region in which he preached the gospel (10:13, 15; see Witherington, 440). Paul will go to ever-new areas to preach as God leads him (v. 16). In his missionary work, he tried to go to areas where other Christian missionaries had not yet worked (vv. 15a, 16b; cf. Rom 15:20; see Gräßer [2005], 106). It is worth noting that for the idea of the “area of influence,” Paul uses the Greek word kanōn three times (2Cor 10:13, 15, 16), from which our word “canon” in English originates. Here it most likely refers to the “boundaries” of his missionary work, assigned to him by God (see Schmeller [2015], 181 and Kruse, 236–37; Barnett [1997], 484–90, affirms that by this term Paul may have also referred to his mission field among people of Gentile origin). In Galatians 6:16, the same Greek word is used with the meaning “rule.” The Greek word kanōn occurs only at these places in the New Testament, and these occurrences are most likely the basis for the later meaning of the term “canon” as the collection of writings which rule our faith and life, the boundaries of which were set by God.

In verse 17, Paul clearly defines what he means by “boasting.” He means to praise the great deeds of God, a boasting “in the Lord.” Here he refers to the Old Testament, although he does not use an introductory formula. In his earlier letter to the Corinthians, he has already quoted this same sentence, and there he did use the formula “as it is written” (1Cor 1:31). The quotation there and here in 2 Corinthians 10:17 comes from Jeremiah 9:22–23. Paul changes and shortens the Old Testament text, and thus his contracted version reads, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” The Corinthians may have remembered from the earlier letter that this message of Paul comes from the Old Testament Scriptures (the ESV places it in quotation marks at both places). In Jeremiah, this text refers to God as the “Lord,” but, given the immediate context of this shortened quotation in both 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, it is likely that Paul refers here to Christ by this term. Paul wants to emphasize that Christians should not point with praise to their own deeds but should gratefully acknowledge that Christ uses them in his ministry. They achieve their results by the grace of Christ and by the help of his strength. The Corinthian Christians should not follow the self-recommending false teachers (2Cor 10:18a), but only those teachers—Paul included—“whom the Lord commends” (v. 18b).

Paul and the False Apostles (11:1–15)

11:1–6 Paul did not want to list the evidence for proving that he is a true apostle of Christ, but it is likely that some people in the congregation—whom we refer to as “false teachers” in this commentary—questioned his apostleship. He had to defend himself, although he thought that such a self-defence is not necessary; it is as though he would speak as a “fool” (v. 1; several commentators call the longer section the “Fool’s Speech,” e.g., Guthrie, 502; in the opinion of Guthrie, the very speech is the section 11:22–12:10, with a long introduction in 11:1–21 and an epilogue in 12:11–13). The terms “fool” or “foolishness” appear repeatedly in chapters 11–12 (see 11:16–17, 21, 23; 12:11). It will become clear later that he praises only God for whatever he has achieved, but as it may seem at first that he praises himself, he refers to himself as a “fool.” It is with some irony that Paul asks the Corinthian congregation to “bear with” him “a little foolishness (11:1b). He has led them to Christ, so he asks them to think of him as their founding apostle again (v. 2). In the Old Testament, God is said to love his own people with loving care, with “jealousy” (e.g., Exod 20:5; Deut 4:24). Paul loves the Corinthians as if with “a divine jealousy” (so ESV; in the original Greek, it reads “the jealousy of God,” where the genitive can have an adjectival meaning; 2Cor 11:2). When Paul writes that he presents the Corinthian Christians as a “pure virgin to Christ,” he may refer to his spiritual role as a father to them (see also 1Cor 4:14–15; 2Cor 12:14). In antiquity, it was the task of the fathers to guard the purity of their daughters until they were married and moved into the home of their husbands. Thus, the congregation is like a bride waiting for Christ, the bridegroom (see also Rev 22:17).

Paul does not describe in detail the content of the false teachers’ message in Corinth. Their message deviated from the gospel preached by Paul to such an extent that he compares it to how Eve was deceived by the serpent in the Garden of Eden (2Cor 11:2). They probably caused disruption, disagreement, and quarrelling in the congregation (see 12:20), and Paul wanted to re-establish peace among them (see at 13:11). The false teachers have led the congregation away from Christ (11:3b).

From verse 4 we may infer that the false teachers have come to the congregation in Corinth from “outside,” because Paul says here, “if someone comes . . .” The false teachers did refer to Jesus, but they taught about him differently to such an extent that Paul claims they proclaim “another Jesus” (v. 4a). The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (the “Lord”; see 3:17). Some of the Corinthians were willing to receive a “different spirit” from the one true Holy Spirit they received when they turned to Christ as their Saviour (v. 4b). Those who proclaim another Jesus preach a “different gospel” from the one and only gospel Paul preached to them (v. 4c; cf. 10:14; for Paul’s conviction that there is no other gospel, see Gal 1:6–7).

The false teachers very likely regarded themselves as the “real” apostles, perhaps superior to other apostles, and they may have even questioned the apostleship of Paul. It is with some irony that Paul refers to them as “super-apostles” (2Cor 11:5; see Schmeller [2015], 208, and Seifrid, 455, who note that this word may have been coined by the apostle Paul himself). From what Paul writes a little later, we can see that he did not accept them as true apostles, for in v. 13 he calls them “false apostles.”

Paul did not want to excel in rhetorical skills (v. 6a), but he taught the Corinthians the true knowledge of God, which we can only have in Jesus Christ. He taught the true gospel about the Saviour, and he wrote to them about him in his letters, so the congregation should remember that Paul taught them the gospel consistently (v. 6b).

11:7–11 Paul asks with some irony whether he committed a “sin” when he did not receive money from the Corinthians for himself (v. 7). It is possible that the false teachers accepted money from the congregation (see v. 20), but Paul apparently did not want to depend on them in any way. In antiquity, teachers, philosophers, and orators usually accepted money for their teaching and their speeches. Paul accepted support from other congregations (e.g., from the Thessalonians, and in later years from the Philippians), and with a rhetorical exaggeration he refers to this as “robbing” other churches (v. 8). Paul worked as a tentmaker to earn money to support himself in Corinth (Acts 18:3; see also 1Cor 4:12; note that leaders in the congregations were entitled to receive support, see 1Tim 5:17–18). When Paul was in need in Corinth, he accepted support from Macedonian Christians (2Cor 11:9a). However, he will not “burden” the Corinthian congregation in the future either (v. 9b; see also 12:14). All this Paul does out of his love for them (11:11). God gives him strength in all his work, so he praises God when he can preach the gospel to the Corinthians even when he does not receive any financial support from them—this is his “boasting” (v. 10b).

11:12–15 The “false apostles” very likely accused Paul of being greedy. He will not accept money from the Corinthians in the future so that all false charges will be muted (v. 12a). The false teachers tried to be accepted as apostles (v. 12b), but Paul warns the Corinthian Christians about them: they are deceiving them (v. 13), and they are not true apostles of Christ. Paul affirms that it is Satan who wants to deceive all people—including Christians—by false promises, by showing himself as “an angel of light” (v. 14). The false apostles in Corinth are Satan’s servants (v. 15). The Corinthians should not believe them when they preach. Their message is not the true gospel about the saving act of Christ and about the Christian life that follows from receiving “righteousness” from God through Christ (v. 15; see also 11:3–6). God will announce a just judgement over all servants of Satan (11:15b). The Corinthians should not wait until the final judgement to see all this come true; they should turn away from the false teachers among them right now.

Paul’s Suffering as an Apostle (11:16–32)

11:16–21a Paul continues to defend himself against false accusations. He does so reluctantly, because he holds that Christians should praise only God, and any “boasting” about one’s own achievements would be foolishness (v. 16). He does not need to point to the great results of his ministry; this boasting would not be “according to the Lord” (v. 17; see the footnote to this verse in the ESV). Paul “boasts” in a different way, using this term as an irony, because in the following passage he lists a variety of sufferings as evidence of his true apostleship (vv. 23–29). In all his weaknesses, only Christ gives him strength (12:10). But he feels he has to answer the false accusations, so he refers to his experiences “according to the flesh,” that is, whatever he achieved and suffered in his bodily life in the service of Christ (11:18).

Paul writes with irony, praising the Corinthians as “wise” (v. 19) when they “bear with fools.” Paul calls himself a fool (v. 16) because he is engaged in boasting, but in verse 19 he is most likely referring to the false teachers as “fools,” because in the next verse he adds a list of the “devouring” activities of those whom the Corinthians bear with (v. 20). He even deepens the irony when he writes that he and his co-workers were “too weak” to act in the ways the false teachers acted (v. 21). He did not want to rule over the Corinthian Christians (1:24), yet the false apostles made them their slaves spiritually (11:20). Paul refers to his “shame” in not behaving like the false apostles, and he expects the Corinthians to turn away from the false apostles among them (v. 21a). The ESV begins a new paragraph here, signalling that the second half of verse 21 could well belong to the next subsection.

11:21b–29 By the expression “anyone else” who boasts, Paul most likely refers to the false teachers in Corinth (v. 21b). They praised their own values in the congregation, and they also very likely spoke negatively about Paul. The apostle would not want to engage in any kind of comparison with the false teachers, but, very reluctantly (as a “fool,” v. 21b), he is going to write about his own apostleship. This is a very strange “boasting,” as it is a list of the sufferings he endured in his ministry for Christ.

The false teachers probably referred to themselves with the terms mentioned in verse 22, and all these Paul can also use about himself. The three expressions are closely related, but perhaps with some special emphasis to each (see Kruse, 252–53). The term “Hebrews” may refer to them being born as Jews; the term “Israelites” may refer to the fact that they wanted to honour Jewish religious practices; and the expression “offspring of Abraham” may refer to their place in God’s history of salvation with his people. The “false apostles” (v. 13) claimed to be “servants of Christ” (v. 23), but here Paul does not simply answer that he is Christ’s servant as well; he adds that he is a “better one” (in the original Greek, “above”, i.e., above the false teachers). To prove this, Paul offers a long list of the manifold sufferings he experienced and willingly accepted as an ambassador, a true apostle of Christ. Surely, the false teachers in the Corinthian congregation could not provide such a list as a proof of their own apostleship! The long list can be divided into four groups (Kruse, 254): sufferings related to beatings and imprisonments (vv. 23b–25a), afflictions related to journeys and voyages (vv. 25b–26), hardships caused by outward circumstances (v. 27), and the spiritual burden of Paul’s “anxiety for all the churches” (v. 28). This beautiful expression at the end of the list shows how much the apostle loved the congregation and that he thought of them and prayed for them every day (v. 28a). Some of these sufferings are referred to by Paul in his letters and by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, but there are some hardships and even extraordinary pains we learn about only in this list. For example, before the time when 2 Corinthians was written, Acts mentions only the imprisonment of Paul in Philippi (Acts 16:22–40), but here he writes about “far more imprisonments” (2Cor 11:23; by “far more” he probably means far more than the false apostles themselves have suffered, if they suffered at all). The shipwreck mentioned in Acts 27:14–44 occurred after the writing of 2 Corinthians, and Paul mentions three shipwrecks he had suffered already before the time of this letter (2Cor 11:25). Paul reluctantly writes about all his sufferings, but we may be thankful to him for doing so, because here we can see how much he was ready to suffer in the service of Christ, as his true apostle.

11:30–33 After the long list of his sufferings, Paul describes a concrete event in his life when he had to flee because of persecutions. When he accepted Jesus Christ as his Saviour on the road to Damascus, some people in the city looked at him as an enemy and plotted to kill him (Acts 9:23–25). In order to save him, some Christian disciples let Paul down in a basket alongside the wall of the city (2Cor 11:33). In Acts we read that some Jews were watching the gates (Acts 9:23–24), but from 2 Corinthians we learn that the governor wanted to seize Paul (2Cor 11:32). Aretas IV was a Nabataean king, ruling between 9–40 AD. It is likely that Caligula gave some power to local rulers who accepted the supremacy of the Roman Empire. Thus, Aretas could appoint a governor in Damascus, although this city was part of the Roman province Syria when the events narrated by Paul occurred (Kruse, 258). Paul’s fleeing may have happened around 37–39 AD. By including this event, Paul wants to give an example of how Christ can help him when he is “weak” (11:30). This passage concludes the list of Paul’s sufferings, and it also leads over to the next section in the letter (12:1–10).

Paul’s Visions and His Thorn (12:1–10)

12:1–10 Paul continues his “boasting,” which he does only reluctantly because there is no “gain” in it (v. 10; in the preceding section he referred to it as “foolishness”). It is likely that the false teachers claimed to have had extraordinary experiences. Perhaps as an answer to that, Paul felt it necessary to tell the Corinthians that he too had had “visions and revelations of the Lord” (v. 1). The expression “Lord” here may refer to both God and Christ, as he was “caught up into paradise” (v. 3) in the presence of God, and when he prayed for the thorn to be taken away from his flesh, Christ answered him (vv. 8–10).

Paul signals his reluctance to discuss his extraordinary spiritual experiences by writing about them in the third-person singular. However, in verses 5 and 7 it will become clear to the readers that he is most likely writing about himself in the opening verses of the chapter as well. There were various views about the structure of heaven in the time of Paul. When he refers to “the third heaven” (v. 2), he very likely means the highest level, that is, the presence of God (called “paradise” in v. 3; see Lambrecht, 201; for certain kinds of the motif of being “caught up,” see 1Thes 4:17 and Rev 12:5; and of being “carried away” by the Spirit, see Acts 8:39).

Paul kept this experience so much to himself that it is likely he did not mention it to anyone for fourteen years (2Cor 12:2). Here he writes about it as a kind of defence because his apostleship was under attack. The spiritual experience of being caught up may have occurred around 40–42 AD, during his missionary ministry in Syria and Cilicia (Gal 1:21; see Guthrie, 581). On this special occasion, he heard things “that cannot be told” (2Cor 12:4). Thus, he does not divulge the content of what he heard. These were such special experiences that he could boast about them as a real answer to any of the false apostles’ charges (v. 5).

In verse 7, the order of the Greek words allows for two ways to divide the sentences (note that there were no punctuation marks to indicate the end of sentences in the ancient manuscripts). The ESV contains both (one in the main text, followed by Guthrie, 588; and one in a footnote, followed by Gräßer [2005], 195–96).

The apostle does not say what the “thorn” in his flesh was (v. 7), but he accepted it as coming from God (this is likely expressed in the passive phrase “was given”). Even Satan is under the control of God: Satan’s “messengers” can only do what God allows them to do (see also Job 1–2; Kruse, 265). The expression “to harass me” most likely refers to some kind of pain. Many commentators think here of an illness (see Schmeller [2015], 307); some think of various hardships, including persecution (see Seifrid, 448, and Guthrie, 590–592). Kruse (266) emphasizes that we do not know what it was, yet he adds that some commentators think it may have been some kind of an eye illness (cf. Gal 4:15; 6:16). It is possible that the “thorn” caused such a pain that the apostle may have thought it hindered him in his missionary activity. Paul received enough “power” to endure this pain, however, and Christ’s power “rested” on him so that others could see Paul did everything by the help of Christ (2Cor 12:9b; see Thrall [2000], 827–29). It reminded him that he was enabled to carry out all his work in the mission only by the power of Christ (v. 10). The thorn kept him humble even when reaching great results in his ministry of the gospel (v. 7). Thus, Christ answered Paul’s prayers not by taking away the “thorn” (v. 8), but by giving him “sufficient” grace: enough strength to continue serving Christ among many hardships (v. 10). Paul accepted this weakness because Christ worked mightily through this weakness. “Sufficient” helped Paul persevere through the “many.” Paul was content with this answer (v. 10).

Concern for the Corinthian Church and Final Warnings (12:11–13:10)

12:11–13 These verses are regarded by many commentators as the end of the “fool’s speech,” or as an epilogue to it (see 11:1–6). Paul did not want to boast in his apostolic ministry, so he calls himself a “fool” when he engages in defending his apostleship (v. 11). The Corinthian congregation is Paul’s letter of recommendation (3:1–3): they should “recommend” him (12:11), and they should not listen to the “super-apostles” who are, in reality, false apostles (11:5, 13; see Seifrid, 455). Paul knows that what he has achieved was only by the power of Christ (12:9–10), so in himself he is “nothing” (12:11; see also 3:4–6; 4:7). However, as a true apostle of Christ, he could carry out “wonders and mighty works” by Christ’s power (12:12). Paul most likely considered his manifold sufferings also as the “signs” of his true apostleship (see 11:23–29). Among the “mighty works” were not only miracles, but also the conversion of the Corinthians to Christ (see also 1Cor 2:1–5). Paul’s apostolic ministry to them did not cause any burden for them, as he did not even accept any financial help from them for himself (2Cor 12:13; see also 11:7–12; 1Cor 9:15–18). With some irony, Paul asks the congregation to forgive him “this wrong” (2Cor 12:13).

12:14–18 In the remaining part of the letter (12:14–13:14), Paul writes again with the purpose of strengthening the relationship between himself and the congregation. This aim is inseparably related to his main goal: to lead the Corinthian Christians back to a right relationship with Christ. When he mentions his plan for a third visit to them (12:14; see also 13:1), the Corinthians must have remembered his first visit, when he founded the Christian congregation in Corinth (1Cor 3:1–6). Paul was like a spiritual father to them (2Cor 12:14; cf. 1Cor 4:14–15); he loved them and helped them in many ways as parents do for their children. Now he hopes they will love him as children owe love to their parents (2Cor 12:15).

In verses 16–18, Paul very likely answers an accusation brought against him by the false teachers in the congregation. They appear to have claimed that while Paul did not accept money from them for himself, he nevertheless sent Titus to receive money Paul and his co-workers intended to keep. However, Paul and his co-workers did not accept any money for themselves; they were only helping in the matter of the collection for the congregation in Jerusalem (see chs. 8–9).

12:19–21 Had the Corinthian Christians not listened to the false apostles, Paul would not have had to defend himself among them (v. 19). Paul’s conscience is clear, as he does everything in the presence of God and for the upbuilding of the congregation. When he preaches and writes to them, he does so “in Christ,” in order to strengthen their relationship with Christ. Paul not only led them to Christ, but he also wants to help them live in accordance with their faith in Christ. Any “disorder” in the congregation harms that relationship (v. 20). Paul writes with the hope that every congregation member will repent of their sins. From this caring “fear,” the Corinthians must have felt his love for them (v. 19b). His “wish” was their right relationship with Christ (v. 20), based on repentance (v. 21). Paul writes with the strong hope that all this will come true in the life of the congregation. He shows his confidence in them again at the end of this letter (13:11–14).

13:1–4 Paul indicated already in 12:14 that he plans a third visit to the Corinthians. Here he confirms this plan with an allusion to the Old Testament: “two or three witnesses” were a reliable support to a testimony in the Old Testament (Deut 17:6; 19:15). His first visit was when he founded the congregation (1Cor 3:1–6). The second visit was most likely when he rebuked a sinner, but the congregation did not support the apostle, so he left with sadness, and instead of returning soon, he wrote a letter to them “with many tears” (2Cor 2:4; 7:8). He hopes that all who committed sins—including those who falsely accused him—will repent before he arrives the third time (13:2).

The “witnesses” in the Old Testament passages Paul refers to (without any introductory formula, and also by shortening them a little) are persons who give a testimony when someone is charged with having committed a sin. Thus, Paul may have referred here to some people who will give a testimony in his defence in Corinth (e.g., Timothy and Titus). It is also possible that Paul uses this Old Testament allusion in a figurative sense: he may refer to his visits as “witnesses” to what he represented among the Corinthian Christians when he taught them and warned them about their sins (see Thrall [2000], 876; Balla, 782).

It is possible that the false teachers among the Corinthians have aroused some uncertainty within the congregation concerning Paul’s claim that his teaching came from Christ (2Cor 13:3a). They knew that he led them to Christ during his first visit, but perhaps they wanted to see some “proof” he is Christ’s apostle also in the present. Perhaps they wanted to see some signs in the form of miracles. Paul answers this expectation by showing that Christ saved them through the “weakness” of the cross, and that God confirmed the saving power of Christ’s death by raising him from the dead (v. 4a). So, Paul’s “weaknesses” are used by God even in the apostle’s ministry to the Corinthians (v. 4b; see also 12:9–10).

13:5–10 As Paul approaches the end of his letter, he calls upon the congregation to consider the most important question: whether they are still “in the faith” they have put in Christ (13:5). The “test” question is this: can it be seen in their lives that Jesus Christ lives in them? Paul is confident they will acknowledge that he and his co-workers did everything in Christ (v. 6). He humbly writes that if the Corinthians meet the “test,” that is, they live and act again in accordance with their faith in Christ, then he will endure even if some congregation members conclude that Paul and his partners “have failed” in their ministry. For him the spiritual well-being of the congregation is important, and not his own reputation. His only aim is their “restoration” (v. 9). By referring to his “weakness,” Paul also likely expresses his hope that the Corinthians will repent and their relationship with Christ will be restored. If that happens, then when Paul comes to them, he will not have to be “strong” in the sense that he will not have to condemn them (see Witherington, 472). He would gladly be “weak” in this sense (v. 9a). The aim of Paul’s whole letter, and also of his visits to them, is to “build up” the right faith and life of the congregation, and thus to restore their right relationship with Christ (v. 10; cf. 10:8; 12:19). He is the true apostle of Christ, the founding apostle of the Corinthian congregation, and he uses his authority as an apostle not for “tearing down,” but only for “building up” the Christian life of the Corinthians (v. 10b). Paul’s mission to the congregation is characterized by his love for them. He wants to convey God’s blessing upon them in whatever he does. This he reaffirms in the next sentences, the final section of his letter (13:11–14).

Closing Greetings (13:11–14)

Final Greetings (13:11–13)

13:11–13 In most of the Greek editions of the New Testament, and in many English translations as well, the last verse of 2 Corinthians is numbered as verse 13. Some English translations (including the ESV) number the closing benediction as a separate verse (v. 14; here we follow the text division of the ESV). In this final section of his letter, Paul summarizes his main aims for writing them, and he also uses some elements that usually appear at the end of his letters (in slightly different forms). He addresses the Corinthian congregation members as “brothers” (v. 11). Thus, he emphasizes again that whatever he has written in this letter, even when he has dealt with matters raised by “false apostles,” he has written out of love for them. He knows they belong to Christ (see also at the beginning of the letter, 1:1b) and remain his brothers in Christ. Paul is confident that when they read this letter, they will be strengthened in their relationship with Christ. Only God can restore their peace by reconciling them to himself (see 5:19–20), and thus re-establishing agreement within the congregation (13:11). The “holy kiss” was most likely a symbolic expression of peace and fellowship among Christians (v. 12; cf. Rom 16:16; 1Cor 16:20; 1Thes 5:26).

The call to “rejoice” at the end of a letter was often used in the time of Paul as a good wish, as if it would have been an abbreviation of, “I wish you to have many reasons to have joy.” Thus, it could serve as a greeting (Kruse, 284; the Greek infinitive for “to rejoice” serves also as a greeting at the beginning of letters, e.g., Acts 15:23; 23:26; Jas 1:1). Even if the Corinthians read this as a greeting, they probably heard the original meaning of the word as well (as Paul emphasized the importance of “joy” already at the beginning of the letter; 1:24). Christians have a reason to rejoice in Christ’s saving act amidst all possible circumstances (see also 1Thes 5:16; Phil 3:1; 4:4).

If the Corinthians live “in peace” (2Cor 13:11), then it will not only restore unity in the congregation, but it will also reaffirm their fellowship with other Christians. “All the saints” will greet them as well, that is, all the Christians in other congregations (Paul also called the Corinthian Christians “saints”; cf. 1Cor 1:2; 2Cor 1:2). If this peace is restored, then it naturally follows that they will no longer listen to the false teachers who wanted to influence them, but they will listen to Paul as their true apostle. They can always be assured of his love for them (see also 12:14–15). The whole letter was written to achieve “restoration” in all their relationships (13:11) and to keep them in the peace of God in the future (v. 12b; see also Rom 5:10–11; 15:33; 16:20; Eph 2:14–18; Phil 4:9; 1Thes 5:23; 2Thes 3:16).

Trinitarian Benediction (13:14)

13:14 Paul closes his letter with a benediction (as he does in all his letters in some form). The restoration of the relationships of the Corinthian Christians can only come through grace (see also at 1:2). In this verse, we can find a reference to the three “persons” of God. The expression “Holy Trinity” does not occur in the New Testament (or in the rest of the Bible), but there are several passages where, in the immediate context, his three “persons” are referenced (see also 1:21–22; “God” can be used also to refer to the person of the “Father”). Here in 13:14, Jesus Christ is mentioned first in a three-part expression, because only through his grace are Christians saved, and only through him can they know God (see also 4:4–6; see Matera, 314). Jesus Christ is God himself: he is “Lord” in the lives of the Corinthians (see also 1:2; 8:9b). The grace of Christ leads Christians to the assurance of being loved by God, the Father (see also Rom 5:5–8; John 3:16; 1Jn 4:8, 16). God gives his Spirit (the Spirit of the “Lord” Jesus Christ; 2Cor 3:17) into the hearts of Christians (cf. 1:22). The “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” means fellowship with the Spirit of God (cf. 3:3, 6, 8; 4:13; 5:5), but the Spirit also leads Christians into fellowship among themselves (Matera, 314; cf. 6:4–6). This is true for the Corinthian congregation, and for all Christians as well.

There is no verb in the Greek text of the closing benediction. Most Bible translations supply the verb “be” (so the ESV), thus understanding the sentence of Paul as a wish, as a “blessing.” The Corinthians may have understood it in this way, and we may rightly do so today as well. However, it is also possible that the Corinthians received an assurance from this blessing: all this blessing “is” already present in their lives. We do not need to decide on one of these two meanings; both are true, and both may have been understood by the readers of the letter. The apostle affirms the truth of the blessings of God for the present and future lives of the Christians. The whole Corinthian congregation as a unity is addressed by Paul at the end of the letter. The expression “with you all” shows Paul’s confidence that the congregation has reached again a peaceful fellowship among themselves. They are united in the grace they received from Christ. They all can be certain that they are loved by God. They live in fellowship with the Spirit and with one another. And if they stand firm in the gospel, then their relationship with Paul is restored as well. This is right, for it was from him that they heard and received the message of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour (cf. 1:19; 5:16–21; 11:2–4; 13:4–10).


Balla, Péter. “2 Corinthians,” Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, edited by G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, 753–83. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007.

Barnett, Paul. The Message of 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness. BST. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2003.

–––. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.

Betz, Hans Dieter. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9: A Commentary on Two Administrative Letters of the Apostle Paul. Hermeneia. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1985.

Bieringer, R. and J. Lambrecht. Studies on 2 Corinthians. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 112. Leuven: University Press, 1994.

Bieringer, R. The Corinthian Correspondence. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 125. Leuven: University Press, 1996.

Bieringer, Reimund, Emmanuel Nathan, and Dominika Kurek-Chomycz. 2 Corinthians: A Bibliography. BiTS 5. Dudley, MA: Peeters, 2008.

Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Garland, David E. 2 Corinthians. NAC 29. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1999.

Gräßer, Erich. Der zweite Brief an die Korinther: Kapitel 1,1-7,16. ÖTK 8/1. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2002.

–––. Der zweite Brief an die Korinther: Kapitel 8,1-13,13. ÖTK 8/2. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2005.

Guthrie, George H. 2 Corinthians. BECNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015.

Hafemann, Scott J. 2 Corinthians. NIVAC. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.

Harris, Murray J. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005.

Kruse, Colin G. 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 8. Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2015.

Lambrecht, Jan. Second Corinthians. Sacra Pagina Series 8. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1999.

Long, Fredrick J. Ancient Rhetoric and Paul’s Apology: The Compositional Unity of 2 Corinthians. SNTSMS 131. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Martin, Ralph P. 2 Corinthians. WBC 40. Second edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.

Matera, Frank J. II Corinthians: A Commentary. The New Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.

Sampley, J. Paul. “The Second Letter to the Corinthians: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible in Twelve Volumes: Volume XI, edited by Leander E. Keck, 1–180. NIB 11. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000.

Schmeller, Thomas. Der zweite Brief an die Korinther. Teilband 1: 2Kor 1,1–7,4. EKKNT VIII/1, Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlagsgesellschaft–Ostfildern: Patmos Verlag, 2010.

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Schnabel, Eckhard J. Urchristliche Mission. Wuppertal: R. Brockhaus Verlag, 2002. Eng. trans. by the author, with revision and expansion: Early Christian Mission. 2 vols. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

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Thrall, Margaret E. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Vol. 1:  Introduction and Commentary on II Corinthians I-VII. New York: T & T Clark International, 2004.

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Zeilinger, Franz. Krieg und Friede in Korinth: Kommentar zum 2. Korintherbrief des Apostels Paulus. Teil 1: Der Kampfbrief; Der Versöhnungsbrief; Der Bettelbrief. Wien–Köln–Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 1992.

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Endnotes & Permissions

1. The expression “false teachers” does not occur in the letter; we use it to refer to those who attacked the apostolic authority of Paul in the congregation, and very likely even questioned his apostleship. Paul uses for them the expression “false apostles” (11:13). In this commentary, we use both expressions for the same group of people.

2. The outline follows the headings of the English Standard Version, with minor changes. The four main chapters of the outline are adopted from the outline of 2 Corinthians, as presented in the ESV Global Study Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2012, p. 1627.

The text of 2 Corinthians, excluding all Bible quotations, is © 2023 by The Gospel Coalition.  The Gospel Coalition (TGC) gives you permission to reproduce this work in its entirety, without any changes, in English for noncommercial distribution throughout the world. Crossway, the holder of the copyright to the ESV Bible text, grants permission to include the ESV quotations within this work, in English.In addition, TGC gives you permission to faithfully translate the work into any other language, but you may not translate the English ESV Bible into another language.  If you wish to include Bible quotations with the translated work, you will need to obtain permission from a publisher of a Bible translation in the same language.  All scripture quotations are taken from the ESV® Bible (the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV Text Edition: 2016.   All rights reserved.  The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated into any other language.  The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A

2 Corinthians 1



1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

God of All Comfort

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.1 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers,2 of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

Paul’s Change of Plans

12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity3 and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand—14 just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.4

23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.


[1] 1:5 Or For as the sufferings of Christ abound for us, so also our comfort abounds through Christ

[2] 1:8 Or brothers and sisters. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, the plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) may refer either to brothers or to brothers and sisters

[3] 1:12 Some manuscripts holiness

[4] 1:22 Or down payment