2 Corinthians 2:16
To the one we are the smell of death to death; and to the other the smell of life to life. And who is sufficient for these things?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(16) To the one we are the savour of death unto death.—As with other instances of St. Paul’s figurative language, we note the workings of a deeply, though unconsciously, poetic imagination. Keeping the image of the triumph in his mind, he thinks of the widely different impression and effect which the odour of the incense would work in the two classes of the prisoners. To some it would seem to be as a breath from Paradise, giving life and health; to others its sweetness would seem sickly and pestilential, coming as from a charnel house, having in it the “savour of death,” and leading to death as its issue.

And who is sufficient for these things?—The question forced itself on St. Paul’s mind as it forces itself on the mind of every true teacher, Who can feel qualified for a work which involves such tremendous issues? If we ask how it was that he did not draw back from it altogether, the answer is found in other words of his: “God has made us able (sufficient) ministers of the New Testament” (2Corinthians 3:6); “our sufficiency is of God” (2Corinthians 3:5). It is obvious that even here he assumes his sufficiency, and gives in the next verse the ground of the assumption.

2:12-17 A believer's triumphs are all in Christ. To him be the praise and glory of all, while the success of the gospel is a good reason for a Christian's joy and rejoicing. In ancient triumphs, abundance of perfumes and sweet odours were used; so the name and salvation of Jesus, as ointment poured out, was a sweet savour diffused in every place. Unto some, the gospel is a savour of death unto death. They reject it to their ruin. Unto others, the gospel is a savour of life unto life: as it quickened them at first when they were dead in trespasses and sins, so it makes them more lively, and will end in eternal life. Observe the awful impressions this matter made upon the apostle, and should also make upon us. The work is great, and of ourselves we have no strength at all; all our sufficiency is of God. But what we do in religion, unless it is done in sincerity, as in the sight of God, is not of God, does not come from him, and will not reach to him. May we carefully watch ourselves in this matter; and seek the testimony of our consciences, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, that as of sincerity, so speak we in Christ and of Christ.To the one - To those who perish.

We are the savour of death unto death - We are the occasion of deepening their condemnation, and of sinking them lower into ruin. The expression used here means literally, "to the one class we bear a death-conveying odor leading to their death" - a savor, a smell which, under the circumstances, is destructive to life, and which leads to death. Mr. Locke renders this: "To the one my preaching is of ill savor, unacceptable and offensive, by their rejecting whereof they draw death on themselves." Grateful as their labors were to God, and acceptable as would be their efforts, whatever might be the results, yet Paul could not be ignorant that the gospel would in fact be the means of greater condemnation to many; see the notes on 2 Corinthians 2:15. It was indeed by their own fault; yet wherever the gospel was preached, it would to many have this result. It is probable that the language here used is borrowed from similar expressions which were common among the Jews. Thus, in Debarim Rabba, sec. 1, fol. 248, it is said, "As the bee brings home honey to the owner, but stings others, so it is with the words of the Law." "They (the words of the Law) are a savor of life to Israel, but a savor of death to the people of this world."

Thus, in Taarieth, fol. 7, 1, "Whoever gives attention to the Law on account of the Law itself, to him it becomes an aromatic of life (סם חיים cam chayiym), but to him who does not attend to the Law on account of the Law itself, to him it becomes an aromatic of death (סם מות cam mowt) " - the idea of which is, that as medicines skillfully applied will heal, but if unskillfully applied will aggravate a disease, so it is with the words of the Law. Again, "The word of the Law which proceeds out of the mouth of God is an odor of life to the Israelites, but an odor of death to the Gentiles;" see Rosenmuller, and Bloomfield. The sense of the passage is plain, that the gospel, by the willful rejection of it, becomes the means of the increased guilt and condemnation of many of those who hear it.

And to the other - To those who embrace it, and are saved.

The savor of life - An odor, or fragrance producing life, or tending to life. It is a living, or life-giving savor. it is in itself grateful and pleasant.

Unto life - Tending to life; or adapted to produce life. The word "life" here, as often elsewhere, is used to denote salvation. It is:

(1) Life in opposition to the death in sin in which all are by nature;

(2) In opposition to death in the grave - as it leads to a glorious resurrection;

(3) In opposition to eternal death; to the second dying, as it leads to life and peace and joy in heaven; see the words "life" and "death" explained in the notes on Romans 6:23. The gospel is "the savor of life unto life," because:

(a) It is its nature and tendency to produce life and salvation. It is adapted to that; and is designed to that end.

(b) Because it actually results in the life and salvation of those who embrace it. It is the immediate and direct cause of their salvation; of their recovery from sin; of their glorious resurrection; of their eternal life in heaven.

And who is sufficient for these things? - For the arduous and responsible work of the ministry; for a work whose influence must be felt either in the eternal salvation, or the eternal ruin of the soul. Who is worthy of so important a charge? Who can undertake it without trembling? Who can engage in it without feeling that he is in himself unfit for it, and that he needs constant divine grace? This is an exclamation which anyone may well make in view of the responsibilites of the work of the ministry. And we may remark:

(1) If Paul felt this, assuredly others should feel it also. If, With all the divine assistance which he had; all the proofs of the unique presence of God, and all the mighty miraculous powers conferred on him, Paul had such a sense of unfitness for this great work, then a consciousness of unfitness, and a deep sense of responsibility, may well rest on all others.

(2) it was this sense of the responsibility of the ministry which contributed much to Paul's success. It was a conviction that the results of his work must be seen in the joys of heaven, or the woes of hell, that led him to look to God for aid, and to devote himself so entirely to his great work. People will not feel much concern unless they have a deep sense of the magnitude and responsibility of their work. People who feel as they should about the ministry will look to God for aid, and will feel that he alone can sustain them in their arduous duties.

16. savour of death unto death … of life unto life—an odor arising out of death (a mere announcement of a dead Christ, and a virtually lifeless Gospel, in which light unbelievers regard the Gospel message), ending (as the just and natural consequence) in death (to the unbeliever); (but to the believer) an odor arising out of life (that is, the announcement of a risen and living Saviour), ending in life (to the believer) (Mt 21:44; Lu 2:34; Joh 9:39).

who is sufficient for these things?—namely, for diffusing aright everywhere the savor of Christ, so diverse in its effects on believers and unbelievers. He here prepares the way for one purpose of his Epistle, namely, to vindicate his apostolic mission from its detractors at Corinth, who denied his sufficiency. The Greek order puts prominently foremost the momentous and difficult task assigned to him, "For these things, who is sufficient?" He answers his own question (2Co 3:5, 6), "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God, who hath made us able (Greek, 'sufficient') ministers," &c.

As sweet smells, which are to some pleasant and comfortable, are to others pernicious and deadly; so it is with the sweet savour of the gospel. The report which we in all places make of Christ, to some, through their unbelief and hardness of heart, and fondness of their lusts, proveth but

the savour of death unto death, hardening their hearts to their eternal ruin and destruction; but to such who, being ordained to eternal life, believe our reports, and embrace the gospel, and live up to the precepts and rule of it, our preaching proves a cause of spiritual and of eternal life, to which that leadeth.

And who is sufficient for these things? And oh how great a work is this! What man, what angel, is sufficient for it? It is a mighty work to preach the gospel as we ought to preach it. To the one we are the savour of death unto death,.... Who are for death, or appointed to it; see Jeremiah 43:11. What the apostle says of the Gospel, and Gospel ministers, the Jews his countrymen used frequently to say of the law, and to which he seems to refer;

"saith Rabba (f), to them that go on the right hand of it, (the law,) it is , "the savour of life"; but to them that go on the left hand of it, it is , "the savour of death".''

Again (g),

"everyone that studies in the law for the sake of it, to him it becomes , "the savour of life", according to Proverbs 3:18, but everyone that studies in the law, not for the sake of it, to him it becomes , "the savour of death";''

once more (h),

"if a man is worthy or righteous, to him the law becomes , "the savour of life"; but if he is not righteous, it becomes to him , "the savour of death":''

and this they not only say of the written law, but also of their oral law (i), and are not contented with those general descriptions of persons to whom the law is so, but particularly mention the Gentiles;

"the words of the law (say they (k)) are , "the savour of life", to the Israelites; and , "the savour of death", to the nations of the world:''

that the law should be the savour of death, since it is the ministration of it, and cannot give life, see Galatians 3:21, is no wonder; but that the Gospel and the ministers of that, should be the savour of death unto death, may seem strange, but so it is. These preach up salvation by the death of Christ, and so are the sweet savour of the death of Christ; but this being despised and rejected by the sons of men, is "unto the death", and issues in the eternal death of the despisers and rejecters of it; likewise this doctrine preached by them, strikes with death all a man's wisdom, righteousness, and holiness, and declares that life and salvation are only by Christ and his righteousness; and besides, is attended with persecution and death, and therefore is foolishness to them that perish; and so becomes "the savour of death unto death"; a savour, but not a sweet savour, nor the sweet savour of Christ; a sweet savour indeed to God, whose justice, holiness, power, and wisdom, are displayed in the death and righteous destruction of sinners, but not to them:

to the other, the savour of life unto life; those who are ordained to eternal life. The Gospel preached by Christ's faithful ministers is the means of quickening souls, and giving them "spiritual life"; and of supporting and maintaining that life, and of nourishing them up unto "eternal life"; and so becomes "the savour of life" spiritual, "unto life" eternal. The Alexandrian copy, and some others, and so the Ethiopic version, read both clauses, "from death to death, and from life to life"; with which compare Romans 1:17, and then the meaning may be, either as Grotius observes, that the ill report of the Gospel from men dead in sin, brings death to those who give credit to it; and the good report of it from God, the author of life, to which may be added from ministers, who are alive in a spiritual sense, is the means of life to others: or they are the means of adding death to death, death eternal, to death spiritual, or moral; death for sin, to death in sin, the Gospel being despised; and of increasing spiritual life, the comforts of it; and of adding eternal life to spiritual life: upon the whole of which, the apostle makes this exclamation,

and who is sufficient for these things; the meaning of which is either, who is able to search and find out the reason of this different influence of the Gospel ministry upon the souls of men? no man can do it; it must be ascribed to the sovereign will and pleasure of God, who hides the Gospel from some, and reveals it to others; or who is sufficient for the preaching of the Gospel? no man is sufficient of himself, very insufficient in the best sense, and none so but by the grace of God, and gifts of his Spirit; or who is sufficient to give success to the Gospel when preached? none can do this; Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but it is God alone that gives the increase.

(f) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 88. 2.((g) Taanith, fol. 7. 1.((h) Yoma, fol 72. 2.((i) Zohar in Gen. fol. 19. 3.((k) Vajikra Rabba, fol. 147. 1. Debarim Rabba, fol. 233. 3. Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 9. 4.

To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. {4} And who is sufficient for these things?

(4) Again, he dismisses all suspicion of arrogance, attributing all things that he did to the power of God, whom he serves sincerely, and with honest affection. And he makes them witnesses of this, even to the sixth verse of the next chapter 2Co 2:17 - 3:6.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2 Corinthians 2:16. οἷς μὲν ὀσμὴ κ.τ.λ.: to the one a savour from death unto death; to the other a savour from life unto life; and yet it is the same ὀσμή in both cases; cf. Luke 2:34. ἐκ θανάτου εἰς θάνατον may be illustrated by Romans 1:17, ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν (see also chap. 2 Corinthians 3:18); emphasis is gained, according to the Hebrew idiom, by repeating the important word. The Rabbinical parallels given by Wetstein and others show that the metaphor of this verse was common among Jewish writers they called the Law an aroma vitae to the good, but an aroma mortis to the evil.—καὶ πρὸς ταῦτα τίς ἱκανός: who then is sufficient for these things? sc., to fill such a part as has been just described (for καὶτίς see on 2 Corinthians 2:2 above). St. Paul’s answer is not fully expressed, but the sequence of thought is this: “it might be thought that no one is sufficient for such a task; and yet we are, for we are not as the many,” etc.; an answer which he is careful to explain and qualify in 2 Corinthians 2:5 of the next chapter, lest he should be accused of undue confidence.16. To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life] The reading accepted by most recent editors is ‘a savour arising from death and resulting in death,’ and ‘a savour arising from life and resulting in life,’ according to a construction common to St Paul, of which the most remarkable instance, perhaps, is Romans 1:17. The Gospel is a savour arising from death, because it proclaims the Death of Christ as the foundation of all reconciliation. Cf. John 9:39; 1 Corinthians 1:23-24; 1 Corinthians 15:14-18; 1 Peter 2:7-8. To those only who believe in a risen, ascended, living Christ, is the Gospel a savour arising from, and tending to life. Dr Plumptre remarks on the way in which the figure of the triumphal procession is kept before the reader. To some of those who were being led in procession the odour of the incense “would seem as a breath from Paradise, giving life and health; to others its sweetness would seem sickly and pestilential, coming as from a charnel house.”

And who is sufficient for these things?] The thought occurs to the Apostle that the wondrous effects consequent on the first proclamation of Christ’s Gospel are far above unassisted human powers. Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:12-16. But he defers the consideration of this topic to ch. 2 Corinthians 3:5, confining himself at present (see next verse) to assigning the reason for his exclamation, namely, that he can fearlessly appeal to what was above man’s natural ability, the transparent honesty, and thorough faithfulness to God, of his preaching. Perhaps also the Apostle intends to convey the idea that what may be an easy task for those who proclaim a spurious Gospel, is one that demands the utmost watchfulness on the part of the genuine minister of Christ.2 Corinthians 2:16. Ὀσμὴ θανάτου, the savour of death) They reckon us [and our Gospel message] as a thing dead; hence they meet with death as the natural and just consequence.—οἷς δὲ, whilst to the former) who are being saved. This verse, if we compare the antecedents and consequents, has a chiasmus.[13]—καὶ πρὸς ταῦτα τίς ἱκανός; and who is sufficient for these things?) Who? i.e. but few, viz., we. This sentiment [idea] is modestly hinted at, and is left to be perceived and acknowledged by the Corinthians; comp. the next verse. Paul asserts at considerable length both his own sufficiency (ἱκανότητα) and that of the few in the following chapter, and repeats this very word, 2 Corinthians 2:5-6, of that ch., so that his adversaries seem either expressly or in sense [virtually] to have denied, that Paul was sufficient.

[13] See App.Verse 16. - The savour of death unto death; rather, a savour from death to death. To those who are perishing, the incense of the Name of Christ which our work enables them to breathe, seems to rise from death, and to lead to death. They (for here again the outlines of the metaphor shift) are like the doomed captives, who, as they breathed the incense on the day of triumph, knew where that triumph would lead them before the victors can climb the Capitol. To them it would seem to bring with it not "airs from heaven," but wafts from the abyss. So Christ was alike for the fall and for the rising again of many (Luke 2:34). To some he was a Stone of stumbling (Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8), which grinds to powder those on whom it falls (Matthew 21:44). This contrast between the intended effect of the gospel as the power and wisdom of God, and its accidental effect, through man's sin and blindness which converts it into a source of judgment, is often alluded to in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23, 24; John 3:19; John 9:39; John 15:22, etc.). St. Paul is fond of intensified expressions, like "from death unto death," as in Romans 1:17; "from faith to faith," etc. (2 Corinthians 4:17). Savour of life unto life; rather, a savour from life, as before. It came from the Source of life; it is issued in the sole reality of life. Similarly the rabbis spoke of the Law as "an aroma" alike of death and of life. "Why are the words of the Law likened to princes (Proverbs 8:6)? Because, like princes, they have the power to kill and to give life. Rays said to those that walk on its right, the Law is a medicine of life; to those that walk on the left side, a medicine of death" ('Shabbath,' f. 88, 2; 'Yoma,' f. 72, 2) Everything is as a two-edged sword. All Christian privileges are, as they are used, either blessings or banes (Wordsworth). And who is sufficient for these things? St. Paul always implies that nothing but the grace of God could enable him to discharge the great duty laid upon him (2 Corinthians 3:5, 6; 1 Corinthians 15:10). To the one a savor, etc. (ὀσμὴ)

Returning to the word used in 2 Corinthians 2:14, which is more general than εὐωδία sweet savor, denoting an odor of any kind, salutary or deadly, and therefore more appropriate here, where it is used in both senses. The two words are combined, Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 4:18.

Of death (ἐκ θανάτου)

Rev., better, giving the force of the preposition, proceeding from, wafted from death. The figure is carried out with reference to the different effects of the Gospel, as preached by the apostles, upon different persons. The divine fragrance itself may have, to Christ's enemies, the effect of a deadly odor. The figure was common in rabbinical writings. Thus: "Whoever bestows labor on the law for the sake of the law itself, it becomes to him a savor of life; and whoever does not bestow labor on the law for the law's sake, it becomes a savor of death." "Even as the bee brings sweetness to its own master, but stings others, so also are the words of the law; a saving odor to the Israelites, but a deadly odor to the Gentiles." These are specimens of a great many.

Some find here an allusion to a revolting feature of the Roman triumph. Just as the procession was ascending the Capitoline Hill, some of the captive chiefs were taken into the adjoining prison and put to death. "Thus the sweet odors which to the victor - a Marius or a Julius Caesar - and to the spectators were a symbol of glory and success and happiness, were to the wretched victims - a Jugurtha or a Vercingetorix - an odor of death" (Farrar).

Sufficient (ἱκανός)

See on Romans 15:23.

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