2 Corinthians 12 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

2 Corinthians 12
Pulpit Commentary
It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
Verse 1. - It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. This rendering follows the best-attested reading; but it is at least doubtful whether, instead of δεῖ or δὲ, the ironic δὴ of Κ, Μ, and the Greek Fathers is not the true reading. In mere vowel variations, especially in passages where the meaning does not lie on the surface, the diplomatic (external) evidence is less important. If St. Paul wrote δὴ, it means, "of course it is not expedient for me to boast." I will come; for I will come; if the reading of D is correct. In that case it is hardly possible to define the counter currents of feeling which caused the use of the conjunction. Visions and revelations. The word used for "visions" means presentations perceived in a state which is neither sleeping nor waking, but which are regarded as objective; "revelations" are the truths apprehended as a result of the visions. Optasia, for "visions," only occurs elsewhere in Luke 1:22; Luke 24:23; Acts 26:19 (comp. Galatians 2:2).
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
Verse 2. - I knew; rather, I know. A man. St. Paul speaks in this indirect way of himself (see vers. 5, 7). In Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). To St. Paul every true Christian was a man whose personal life was lost in the life of Christ. Above fourteen years ago. The note of time is very vague. If we are at all able to identify the vision alluded to, it must have been the vision in the temple, referred to in Acts 22:17, which was, roughly speaking, "about fourteen years" before this time. The vision on the road to Damascus had occurred about twenty years earlier than the date of this Epistle. Whether in the body, etc. A powerful description of the absorption of all conscious bodily modes of apprehension. In their comments on. these verses, many commentators enter into speculations which seem to me to be so entirely arbitrary and futile that I shall not even allude to them. St. Paul's bodily and mental state during this vision is familiar to all who know the history of Oriental and mediaeval mysticism. Caught up (Ezekiel 11:24; Acts 8:39; Revelation 4:1, 2). Into the third heaven. It is most unlikely that St. Paul is here in any way referring to the Jewish hagadoth about seven heavens. The expression is purely general, and even the rabbis did not expect to be taken au pied de la lettre. Hence all speculations about first, second, and third heavens are idle and useless. Even as late as the Clementine writings in the middle of the second century, an attempt is made, in reference to this passage, to disparage St. Paul by sneering at visions as a medium of revelation, on the ground that they may spring from self-deception; and this rapture of the "bald hook-nosed Galilean" to the third heaven is also sneered at in the 'Philopatris' of the pseudo-Lucian. Yet how modest and simple is St. Paul's awestruck reference to this event, when compared, not only with the lying details of Mohammed's visit to heaven, but even with the visions of St. Theresa or Swedenborg!
And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Verse 4. - Into Paradise. Here, again, we encounter long speculations as to whether Paradise is the same as the third heaven; whether St.,Paul is referring to two visions or two parts of one vision. Such questions are clearly insoluble, and I leave them where I find them. We shall never understand this passage otherwise than in the dim and vague outline in which St. Paul has purposely left it. All that we can know from the New Testament about Paradise must be learnt from this verse and Luke 23:43 and Revelation 2:7, and it is extremely little. Unspeakable words. A figure of speech called an oxymoron. Utterances (or "things") incapable of utterance. Not lawful for a man to utter. How futile, then, must be the attempt to guess what they were, or on what subject!
Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.
Verse 5. - Of such a one. These are legitimate subjects of "boast," because they are heavenly privileges, not earthly grounds of superiority. Except in my infirmities (2 Corinthians 11:30).
For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.
Verse 6. - I forbear; literally, I spare; i.e. I refrain from boasting. Should think of me; literally, that no man should estimate concerning me beyond what he sees me (to be), or hears at all from my own lips. If he were to tell them more of his revelations, he might encourage them to think more of him than he deserves or wishes.
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
Verses 7-10. - The thorn in the flesh. Verse 7. - Lest I should be exalted above measure; literally, that I may not be over exalted. It was necessary to show St. Paul that he only held the treasure in an earthen vessel. There was given me. Even God's afflictions are meant for gifts. A thorn (skolops). The more usual meaning is, as Hesychius says, "a sharp stake" ('Sudes,' Tert.). Hence the word skolopizo, I impale or crucify. St. Paul's agony was an impalement or crucifixion of all sensual impulses and earthly ambitions. In the flesh. There have been endless conjectures as to the exact nature of this painful and most humbling physical affliction. It is only by placing side by side a great many separate passages that we are almost irresistibly led to the conclusion which is now most generally adopted, namely, that it was acute and disfiguring ophthalmia, originating in the blinding glare of the light which flashed round him at Damascus, and accompanied, as that most humiliating disease usually is, by occasional cerebral excitement. It would be impossible here to enter into the whole inquiry, for which! refer to my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:214-226. The messenger of Satan; rather, an angel of Satan. By way of comment, see Matthew 25:41; Luke 13:16; Job 2:7; Revelation 12:7, 9. To buffet me. The verb is derived from kolaphos, a slap on the face, and would be suitable to such a disfigurement as ophthalmia (2 Corinthians 10:10).
For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
Verse 8. - For this thing. In reference to this or "to him," the angel of Satan. The Lord. That is, Christ (1 Corinthians 1:3). Thrice (comp. Matthew 26:44).
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Verse 9. - And he said unto me. The original is much more forcible: "And he has said to me." Is sufficient for thee. A similar phrase, though in a very different context, occurs in Deuteronomy 3:26. My strength is made perfect in weakness (comp. 2 Corinthians 4:7; Philippians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 2:3-5). The verse contains a paradox, which yet describes the best history of the world. The paradox becomes more suggestive if, with א, A, B, D, F, G, we omit "my." May rest upon me; literally, may tabernacle over me. The compound verb occurs here alone, but the simple verb and the substantive occur in similar meanings in John 1:14; Revelation 7:15; Revelation 21:3 (comp. 2 Corinthians 5:1).
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
Verse 10. - I take pleasure in; I am content to bear them cheerfully (2 Corinthians 7:4; Romans 5:3). Strong; rather, powerful, mighty. The resemblance to Philo ('Vit. Mos.,' Opp., 1:613, "Your weakness is might") is probably accidental (see 1 Corinthians 15:54; Colossians 3:4).
I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.
Verse 11. - A fool (see 2 Corinthians 11:16). For I ought. The "I" is emphatic. You compelled me to become senseless in boasting of myself to you, whereas I ought to have been commended by you. To have been commended. The verb gives one more side allusion, not without bitterness, to the commendatory epistles of which his adversaries boasted (2 Corinthians 3:1; 2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 10:12-18). The very chiefest apostles. The same strange compound, "out and out apostles," is used as in 2 Corinthians 11:5; comp. Galatians 2:6.
Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.
Verse 12. - The signs of an apostle. St. Paul always claimed to have attested his mission by spiritual and miraculous gifts (Romans 15:19; Acts 15:12).
For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.
Verse 13. - I was not burdensome. The same word as in 2 Corinthians 11:9. Forgive me this wrong. There is an exquisite dignity and pathos mixed with the irony of this remark.
Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.
Verse 14. - The third time I am ready to come to you. He had been ready twice before, though the second time his actual visit had been prevented by the scandals in their Church. That the visit which he now contemplates is a third visit, and that there was an unrecorded second visit, is a needless and improbable inference from this passage. Be burdensome (see ver. 13). Not yours, but you (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
Verse 15. - Spend and be spent; rather, spend and be outspent, or spent to the uttermost (Philippians 2:17).
But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile.
Verse 16. - But be it so, I did not burden you. The "I" is emphatic. It is shocking to think that, even after Paul has so triumphantly cleared himself from the disgraceful charge of trying to make gain out of the Corinthians, he should still be obliged to meet the slanderous innuendo that, even if he had not personally tried to get anything out of them, still he had done so indirectly through the agency of Titus. Being crafty, I caught you with guile. He is here quoting the sneer of his enemies (see what he has already said in 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 7:2). The word used for "being" means "being by my very nature."
Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you?
Verse 17. - Did I make a gain of you, etc.? The same verb as in 2 Corinthians 2:11. It means" to overreach," "to take unfair advantages."
I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps?
Verse 18. - Titus. This refers to the first visit of Titus. He was now on the eve of a second visit with two others (2 Corinthians 8:6, 18, 22). A brother; rather, the brother. Who it was is entirely unknown. Perhaps Tychicus (Titus 3:12). In the same Spirit; namely, in the Spirit of God.
Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying.
Verse 19. - Again, think you that we excuse ourselves unto you? The best reading is not palin, again, but palai, long ago. This word with the present is an elegant classical idiom, and means, "You have, perhaps, been imagining all this time that I am pleading with you by way of self-defence. Do not think it! You are no judges of mine. My only object is to speak before God in Christ, not to defend myself since I need no defence so far as you are concerned - but to help in building you up, by removing the falsehoods that alienate you from me."
For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults:
Verse 20. - Such as ye would not (see 1 Corinthians 4:21). Debates. "Discords," "quarrels." Strifes. "Party intrigues," "factious and emulous rivalries" (Romans 2:8). Backbiting. Detractions, talkings against one another. Swellings. Inflated conceit pompous egotism (1 Corinthians 4:6, 18, 19; Colossians 2:18). Tumults. Disorderly excitement (2 Corinthians 6:5; 1 Corinthians 14:33; comp. 1 Corinthians 13:2, 10).
And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.
Verse 21. - Humble me among you; rather, in my relation to you. Many which have sinned already, and have not repented; rather, who have sinned before and did not repent. Many had sinned (1 Corinthians 6:12-20); some only had repented.

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