For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)For we can do nothing against the truth.—Better, perhaps, we are powerless. Here, again, the meaning lies below the surface. The first impression which the words convey is that he is asserting his own thoroughness as a champion of the truth, so that it was a moral impossibility for him to do anything against it. The true sequence of thought, however, though it does not exclude that meaning, compels us to read much more between the lines. “Yes,” he says, “we are content to seem to fail, as regards the exercise of our apostolic power to chastise offenders; for the condition of that power is that it is never exercised against the truth, and therefore if you walk in the truth, there will be no opening for its exercise.” The feeling is analogous to that of Romans 9:3 : “I could wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren’s sake;” perhaps also to that of the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30); perhaps, yet again, to that of the patriot dying with the prayer, “May my name be without honour if only my country may be saved.”
Can do nothing against the truth ... - That is, we who are under the influence of the Spirit of God; who have been commissioned by him as apostles, can do nothing that shall be against the great system of truth which we are appointed to promulgate and defend. You need, therefore, apprehend no partial or severe discipline from us; no unjust construction of your conduct. Our aim is to promote the truth, and to do what is right; and we cannot, therefore, by any regard to our own reputation, or to any personal advantage, do what is wrong, or countenance, or desire what is wrong in others. We must wish that which is right to be done by others, whatever may be the effect on us - whether we are regarded as apostles or deceivers. I suppose, therefore, that this verse is designed to qualify and confirm the sentiment in the previous verse, that Paul meant to do only right; that he wished all others to do right; and that whatever might be the effect on his own reputation, or however he might be regarded, he could not go against the great system of gospel truth which he preached, or even desire that others should ever do wrong, though it might in any way be for his advantage. It was a fixed principle with him to act only in accordance with truth; to do what was right.Truth in this place notes integrity of life and conversation; truth in action, opposed to hypocrisy, or scandalous living. He had before prayed, that they might do no evil; which if they did not, they need not fear his coming with a rod; for though he had a power from Christ to punish, yet he had no power to punish such as did well; his power was to be used for them, not against them. As the law was not made for the righteous, and the civil magistrate is not ordained of God for the terror of those that do well, but only of those that do evil; so neither did Christ ever ordain ecclesiastical censures for the punishment of good and holy men. And indeed here is the just boundary of all civil and ecclesiastical power; no magistrate or minister, acting as Christ’s servants, can (lawfully, or as by any commission from him) do any thing
against the truth, or those that own, defend, and practise it; the power with which they are trusted is for edification, not destruction.
but for the truth: for the sake of defending the truth against those that dropped, denied, and opposed it; and for the honour of it, by chastising, correcting, reproving, censuring, and punishing such, who either contradicted it, or caused it to be blasphemed and spoken evil of.For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)2 Corinthians 13:8. Reason assigned for the relation just expressed as aimed at by ἵνα ὑμεῖς τὸ καλὸν ποιῆτε, ἡμεῖς δὲ ὡς ἀδόκιμοι ὦμεν. That we really have this design, is based on the fact that we are not in a position to do anything against the truth, but for the truth. The ἀλήθεια is to be taken in the habitual sense of the N. T.: the truth κατʼ ἐξοχήν, the divine truth, i.e. the gospel; comp. 2 Corinthians 4:2, 2 Corinthians 6:7. If Paul, forsooth, had not had the design that the readers should do what is good, and he himself appear without punitive power and consequently as unattested, he would have counteracted the gospel, in so far as it aims at establishing Christian morality, requires penitence, announces forgiveness to the penitent, etc.; but he is not in a position to do so. To take ἀλήθεια, with Flatt and older expositors, as moral truth (see on 1 Corinthians 5:8), uprightness, is a limitation of it, which the context all the less suggests, seeing that ἀλήθεια in the above sense embraces in it the moral element. The taking it in the judicial sense would be accordant with the context (ἵνα ἀληθῆ φέρωμεν τὴν ψῆφον, Theophylact, so Chrysostom, Theodoret, Grotius: “quod rectum justumque est;” Cornelius a Lapide, Bengel, de Wette: “the true state in which the matter finds itself;” so, too, Räbiger); yet, in that case, there would result an inappropriate contrast, since ὑπὲρ. τ. ἀλ. can only mean “for the benefit of the truth,” which presupposes a more comprehensive idea of ἀλήθ. (de Wette: “to further the truth”).
ἀλλʼ ὑπὲρ τ. ἀλ.] sc. δυνάμεθά τι, we are able to do something.
 So Photius in Oecumenius, p. 709 D: ἀλήσθειαν τὴν εὐσέβειαν καλεῖ ὡς νόθου ὄντος τοῦ δυσσεβοῦς βίου, and previously Pelagius: “Innocentiae enim nostra sententia obesse non poterit;” as also Erasmus, Mosheim, and others.2 Corinthians 13:8. οὐ γὰρ δυνάμ. κ.τ.λ.: for we can do nothing, exhibit no Apostolic power, against the truth, i.e., against the facts of the case, but for the truth (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:1 for the elliptical constr.). The principle here laid down is of far widen application than an accurate exegesis can assign to it in its context. It is a general principle, which Christian theology has not always sufficiently remembered, that to fight against truth, whether ethical or historical or scientific, is to fight against Him who is the Truth, and so is to court defeat. We can do nothing, even if we would, against the truth (cf. 1Es 4:38).For we can do nothing against the truth] The original carries on the idea of power of which St Paul has been speaking above. If we are endued with any power from on high, it is not that we may exercise it on our own behalf, and against the truth of God. We can but use it for the purpose for which it was given us, namely for the glory of God and the increase of His kingdom.
but for the truth] More literally, on behalf of the truth.2 Corinthians 13:8. Δυνάμεθα, we are able) comp. the power which he claims, 2 Corinthians 13:10.—ἀληθείας, truth) Truth here denotes the exact authority to be exercised over the Corinthians.Verse 8. - We can do nothing against the truth. I am powerless against anything which is true, real, sincere; I can exercise no power except in the cause of the truth. Be true to the gospel, and you will be mighty and I shall be powerless, and (as he proceeds to say) I shall rejoice at the result.
Your well doing is what we truly aim at. For, if we had any other aim, with a view to approving ourselves, we should fail, because we should be going in the face of the truth - the Gospel; and against that we are powerless. In that case we should be unapproved before God.
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