2 Corinthians 5
Pulpit Commentary
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Verses 1-10. - The hope of the future rife is the great support of our efforts. Verse 1. - For. A further explanation of the hope expressed in 2 Corinthians 4:17. We know. This accent of certainty is found only in the Christian writers. Our earthly house. Not the "house of clay" (Job 4:19), but the house which serves us as the home of our souls on earth; as in 1 Corinthians 15:40. Of this tabernacle; literally, the house of the tent; i.e. the tent of our mortality, the mortal body. In 2 Peter 1:13, 14 it is called skenoma, and the expression, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,"is literally, "he tabernacled among us" - he wore "a tent like ours and of the same material." The figure would be specially natural to one whose occupation was that of a tentmaker. Compare -

"Here in the body pent,
Afar from him I roam,
But nightly pitch my wandering tent
A day's march nearer home."
A very, similar expression occurs in Wisd. 9:15, "The earthly tabernacle (γεῶδες σκῆνος) weigheth down the mind." Be dissolved; rather, be taken to pieces. A building. Something more substantial than that moving tenement. Of God; literally, from God; namely, not one of the "many mansions" spoken of in John 14:2, but the resurrection body furnished to us by him. We have this building from God, for it exists now, and shall be ours at the same time that our tent home is done away with. Not made with hands. Not like those tent dwellings at which St. Paul was daily toiling with the hands which ministered to his own necessities. In the heavens. To be joined with "we have." Heaven is our general home and country (Hebrews 11:16), but the present allusion is to the glorified bodies in which our souls shall live in heaven (comp. 1 Corinthians 15:42-49).
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:
Verse 2. - In this we groan. Since we have the firstfruits of the Spirit, who assures us of that future building from God, we, in this earthly tent, "groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23). To be clothed upon; rather, to further clothe ourselves with. Here the metaphors of a tent and a garment - the "wandering tent" and the "mortal vesture of decay" - are interfused in a manner on which only the greatest writers can venture The corruptible yearns to clothe itself with the incorruptible, the mortal with immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53). The glorified body is compared to an over garment, House; rather, habitation (oiketerion).
If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.
Verse 3. - If so be that. The verse may be rendered, "If, that is, being clothed, we shall not be found naked." The word "naked" must then mean "bodiless," and the reference will be to those whom, at his coming, Christ shall find clothed in these mortal bodies, and not separated from them, i.e. quick and not dead (1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:51). This seems to be the simplest and most natural of the multitude of strange interpretations with which the pages of commentators are filled. It is true that the aorist endusamenoi, means literally, "having clothed ourselves," and that, in taking this meaning, we should have expected the perfect participle endedumenoi, having been clothed. If this be thought an insuperable difficulty, we must suppose the verse to mean "If, that is, in reality we shall be found [at Christ's coming] after having put on some intermediate body, and therefore not as mere disembodied spirits." But there is no allusion in Scripture to any intermediate body, nor is any gleam of light shed on the mode of life among the dead between death and resurrection, though the Church rejects the dream of Psychopannychia, or an interval of unconscious sleep. The uncertainty of the meaning is increased by two various readings, ei per instead of ei ge, which latter expresses greater doubt about the matter; and ekdusamenoi (D, F, G), which would mean "if in reality, after unclothing ourselves [i.e. after 'shuffling off this mortal coil'], we shall not be found naked." This seems to be the conjecture of some puzzled copyists, who did not see that a contrast, and not a coincidence, between the two expressions is intended. If this reading were correct, it would mean, as Chrysostom says, "Even if we would lay aside the body. we shall not there be presented without a body, but with the same body which has then become incorruptible." It is quite untenable to make "clothed" mean "clothed with righteousness," as Olshausen does. In the Talmud, 'Shabbath' (f. 152, 2), the righteous are compared to men who keep from stain the robes given them by a king (i.e. their bodies), which robes the king deposits in his treasury and sends the wearers away (bodiless) in peace; but foolish servants stain these robes, and the king sends the robes to the wash, and the wearers in prison.
For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
Verse 4. - For we that are, etc.; literally, for indeed we who are in the tent; i.e. in the transitory mortal body. Do groan. "Oh wretched man that I am I who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24). Being burdened. "The corruptible body presseth down the soul, and the earthy tabernacle weigheth down the mind that museth upon many things" (Wisd. 9:15). Not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon; more literally, since we do not wish to strip off (our bodily garment) but to put another garment over it. St. Paul here repudiates the Manichean notion that the body is a disgrace, or in itself the source of evil. He was not like Plotinus, who "blushed that he had a body;" or like St. Francis of Assist, who called his body "my brother the ass;" or like the Cure d'Ars, who (as we have said) spoke of his body as "ce cadavre." He does not, therefore, desire to get rid of his body, but to "clothe it over" with the garment of immortality. Incidentally this implies the wish that he may be alive and not dead when the Lord returns (1 Corinthians 15:35-54). Mortality; rather, the mortal; that which is mortal. Might be swallowed up of life. As in the case of Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), who entered into life otherwise than through "the grave and gate of death." St. Paul wishes to enter the "building from God" without having been first buried in the collapse of the "soul's dark cottage battered and decayed." He desires to put on the robe of immortality without stripping off the rent garb of the body.
Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.
Verse 5. - He who hath wrought us for the selfsame thing. God prepared and perfected us for this very result, namely, to put on the robe of immortality. The earnest (see 2 Corinthians 1:22) The quickening life imparted by the Spirit of life is a pledge and part payment of the incorruptible eternal life. The Spirit is "the Earnest of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30).
Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
Verse 6. - Therefore we are always confident; literally, being of good courage. The sentence in the Greek is unfinished (an anacoluthon), but is resumed after the parenthesis by the repetition, "we are of good courage." Always (2 Corinthians 4:8). We are at home in the body. The tent is pitched in the desert, and even the pillar of fire can only shine through its folds. Yet the tent may become brighter and brighter as life goes on.

"To me the thought of death is terrible,
Having such hold on life. To you it is not
More than a step into the open air
Out of a tent already luminous
With light which shines through its transparent folds."

(Longfellow.) Absent from the Lord (John 14:2, 3). Christ is indeed with us here and always; but the nearness of presence and the clearness of vision in that future life will be so much closer and brighter, that here, by comparison, we are absent from him altogether.
(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
Verse 7. - For we walk by faith (2 Corinthians 4:18; Hebrews 11:1; Romans 8:25). Not by sight; rather, not by appearance; not by anything actually seen. We do not yet see "face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12), but are guided by things which "eye hath not seen."
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Verse 8. - To be absent, etc.; literally, to be away from the home of the body, but to be at home with the Lord. To be present with the Lord. The hope expressed is exactly the same as in Philippians 1:23, except that here (as in ver. 4) he expresses a desire not "to depart," but to be quit of the body without the necessity for death.
Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
Verse 9. - We labour; literally, we are emulous. This, says Bengel, is "the sole legitimate ambition." The same word occurs in Romans 15:20. Whether present or absent; literally, whether at home or away from home; i.e. whether with Christ or separated from him (as in ver. 8); or, "whether in the body or out of the body" (as in ver. 6). The latter would resemble 1 Thessalonians 5:10, "That whether we wake or sleep we may live with him." We may be accepted of him; literally, to be well pleasing to him.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
Verse 10. - We must all appear; rather, for it is necessary that we must all be made manifest; that we must be shown in our real nature and character. The verb is not the same as in Romans 14:10, which occurs in 2 Corinthians 4:14. Before the judgment seat of Christ. The special final judgment is represented as taking place before the bema of Christ, although in Romans 14:10 the best reading is "of God" (Matthew 25:31, 32). St. Paul might naturally use this Roman and Greek idea of the bema, being too familiar with it in his own experience (comp. Acts 12:21; Acts 18:12; Acts 25:6; Romans 14:10). The things done in the body; literally, the things (done) by the instrumentality of the body. Another reading (which only differs by a single letter from this) is, "the proper things of the body" (τὰ ἴδια τοῦ σώματος); i.e. the things which belong to it, which it has made its own. St. Paul, always intent on one subject at a time, does not stop to coordinate this law of natural retribution and inexorable Nemesis with that of the "forgiveness of sins" (1 Corinthians 5:11; Romans 3:25), or with the apparently universal hopes which he seems sometimes to express (Romans 5:17, 18; Romans 11:32). Omnia exeunt in mysterium. According to that he hath done; rather, with reference to the things he did. The aorist shows that all life will be as it were concentrated to one point. The Pelagians raised questions on this verse about the sinlessness of infants, etc., all of which may be left on one side, as probably nothing was more absolutely distant from the thoughts of St. Paul. Observe that each is to receive the natural issues of what he has done. There is to be an analogy between the sin and the retribution. The latter is but the ripe fruit of the former. We shall be punished by the action of natural laws, not of arbitrary inflictions. We shall reap what we have sown, not harvests of other grain (Romans 2:5-11; Revelation 22:12; Galatians 6:7). Whether it be good or bad. St. Paul, who always confines himself to one topic at a time, does not here enter on the question of the cutting off of the entailed curse by repentance and forgiveness. He leaves unsolved the antinomy between normal inevitable consequence and free remission.
Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.
Verses 11-19. - Self-devotion of the ministry of reconciliation. Verse 11. - Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men. Multitudes of texts have been torn from their context and grossly abused and misinterpreted, but few more so than this. It is the text usually chosen by those who wish to excuse a setting forth of God under the attributes of Moloch. With any such views it has not the remotest connection. It simply means, "Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men," either "to keep in view the same fear of the Lord as ourselves," or (reverting to his last assertion of his own sincerity and integrity in ver. 9), "that our sole ambition is to please God." The rendering, "the terror of the Lord," for the every day expression, "the fear of the Lord," was wantonly intruded into modern versions by Beza, and has not a single word to be said in its favour. The phrase means (as always) not the dread which God inspires, but the holy fear which mingles with our love of him. To teach men to regard God with terror is to undo the best teaching of all Scripture, which indeed has too often been the main end of human systems of theology. We persuade men. Not in a bad sense (Galatians 1:10). The attacks and calumnies of enemies make it necessary to vindicate our integrity is men; but we have no need to do so to God, because he already knows us (comp. "persuading Blastus," Acts 12:20). We are made manifest unto God; rather, but to God we have been (and are) manifested. He needs no self defence from us. Are made manifest in your consciences; but I hope that I have been, and am now, made manifest in your consciences. In other words, I trust that this apology into which you have driven me has achieved its ends; and that, whatever may be your prejudices and innuendoes, before the bar of the individual conscience of each of you we now stand clear (comp. 2 Corinthians 4:2).
For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.
Verse 12. - For we commend not ourselves again unto you. Still reverting to the charge that he was guilty of self praise, he says that his object is not this, for it was needless (2 Corinthians 3:2, 3). But give you occasion to glory on our behalf. But we speak as we have done to give you a starling-point for something to boast of on our behalf. He has already said (2 Corinthians 1:4) that the teachers and the taught in their mutual affection ought to have some ground for "boasting" (i.e. for speaking with some praise and exultation) of each other. The Corinthians were being robbed of this by the interested lies of St. Paul's opponents, who thought only about outward appearances. This is why no has set forth to them the aim and glory of his ministry. Nothing could be more gentle and forbearing than such a mode of stating his object. Yet for those who were sufficiently finely strung to understand it, there was an almost pathetic irony involved in it. Which glory in appearance, and not in heart; literally, in face. The grounds of their boasting, whatever they were, were superficial and external (2 Corinthians 10:7), not deep and sincere. But those who would judge of Paul aright must look into his very heart, and not on his face.
For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause.
Verse 13. - For whether we be beside ourselves; rather, for whether we were mad. Evidently some person or some faction had said of St. Paul, "He is beside himself," just as Festus said afterwards, "Paul, thou art mad," and as the Jews said of Paul's Lord and Master (John 10:20). The fervour of the apostle, his absorption in his work, his visions and ecstasies, his "speaking with tongues more than they all," his indifference to externals, his bursts of emotion, might all have given colour to this charge, which he here ironically accepts. "Mad or self controlled -all was for your sakes." It is to God; rather for God. My "enthusiasm," "exaltation," or, if you will, my "madness," was but a phase of my work for him. We be sober. The word "sober" (sophron) is derived from two words which mean" to save the mind." It indicates wise self control, such as was represented also by the many-sided Latin word frugi. It is the exact antithesis to madness (Acts 26:25). What you call my "madness" belongs to the relation between my own soul and God; my practical sense and tact are for you. For your sakes; literally, for you.
For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead:
Verse 14. - The love of Christ. It matters little whether this be interpreted as a subjective genitive, "Christ's love to man," or as an objective genitive, our love to Christ;" for the two suppose and interfuse each other. St. Paul's usage, however, favours the former interpretation (2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 Corinthians 16:24). Constraineth. The word means that it compresses us, and therefore keeps us irresistibly to one object (Luke 12:50). That if one died for all, then were all dead. This is an unfortunate mistranslation and wrong reading for that one died for all, therefore all died. What compels Paul to sacrifice himself to the work of God for his converts is the conviction, which he formed once for all at his conversion, that One, even Christ, died on behalf of all men (Romans 5:15-19) a redeeming death (ver. 21); and that, consequently, in that death, all potentially died with him - died to their life of sin, and rose to the life of righteousness. The best comments on this bold and concentrated phrase are - "I died to the Law that I might live to Christ;" "I have been crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:19, 20); and, "Ye died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). When Christ died, all humanity, of which he was the federal Head, died potentially with him to sin and selfishness, as he further shows in the next verse.
And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
Verse 15. - Unto themselves. That they should live no longer the psychic, i.e. the animal, selfish, egotistic life, but to their risen Saviour (Romans 14:7-9; 1 Corinthians 6:19).
Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.
Verse 16. - Know no man after the flesh. It is a consequence of my death with Christ that I have done with carnal, superficial, earthly, external judgments according to the appearance, and not according to the heart. Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh. The word for "know" is different from the one just used (οῖδα, scio; ἔγνωκα, cognovi), and may be rendered, "though we have taken note of." The whole phrase, which has been interpreted in multitudes of different ways, and has led to many different hypotheses, must be understood in accordance with the context. St. Paul is saying that he has now renounced all mere earthly and human judgments; and he here implies that the day has been (whether - which is a very unlikely view - before his conversion, when he looked on Christ as a "deceiver," or just after his conversion, when possibly he may only have known him partially as the Jewish Messiah) when he knew Christ only in this fleshly way; but henceforth he will know him so no more. Probably this "knowing Christ after the flesh" is a rebuke to those members of the Christ party at Corinth who may have boasted that they were superior to all others because they had personally seen or known Christ - a spirit which Christ himself not only discouraged (John 16:7) but even rebuked (Matthew 12:50). To St. Paul Christ is now regarded as far above all local, national, personal, and Jewish limitations, and as the principle of spiritual life in the heart of every Christian. In the view which he took of his Lord St. Paul henceforth has banished all Jewish particularism for gospel catholicity. He regards Christ, not in the light of earthly relationships and conditions, but as the risen, glorified, eternal, universal Saviour.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Verse 17. - Therefore. If even a human, personal, external knowledge of Christ is henceforth of no significance, it follows that there must have been a total change in all relations towards him. The historic fact of such a changed relationship is indicated clearly in John 20:17. Mary Magdalene was there lovingly taught that a "recognition of Christ after the flesh," i.e. as merely a human friend, was to be a thing of the past. In Christ; i.e. a Christian. For perfect faith attains to mystic union with Christ. A new creature; rather, a new creation (Galatians 6:15). The phrase is borrowed from the rabbis who used it to express the condition of a proselyte. But the meaning is not mere Jewish arrogance and exclusiveness, but the deep truth of spiritual regeneration and the new birth (John 3:3; Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 4:23, 24; Colossians 3:3, etc.). Old things; literally, the ancient things, all that belongs to the old Adam. Behold. The word expresses the writer's vivid realization of the truth he is uttering. All things. The whole sphere of being, and therewith the whole aim and character of life. The clause illustrates the "new creation."
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
Verse 18. - And all things are of God; literally, but all things (in this "new creation") are from God. Who hath reconciled us; rather, who (by Christ's one offering of himself) reconciled us to himself. We were his enemies (Romans 5:10; Romans 11:28), but, because he was still our Friend and Father, he brought us back to himself by Christ. The ministry of reconciliation. The ministry which teaches the reconciliation which he has effected for us.
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
Verse 19. - God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. This and the many other passages of Scripture which always represent the atonement as the work of the blessed Trinity, and as being the result of the love, not of the wrath, of God, ought to have been a sufficient warning against the hideous extravagance of those forensic statements of the atonement which have disgraced almost a thousand years of theology (Romans 5:10; 1 John 4:10). That God's purpose of mercy embraced all mankind, and not an elect few, is again and again stated in Scripture (see Colossians 1:20). Not imputing their trespasses unto them. See this developed in Romans 15:5-8. Hath entrusted unto us; literally, who also deposited in us, as though it were some sacred treasure.
Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.
Verse 20. - Now then. It is, then, on Christ's behalf that we are ambassadors. This excludes all secondary aims. St. Paul uses the same expression in Ephesians 6:20, adding with fine contrast that he is "an ambassador in fetters." As though God did beseech you by us; rather, as if God were exhorting you by our means. In Christ's stead; rather, we, on Christ's behalf, beseech you. Be ye reconciled to God. This is the sense of the embassy. The aorist implies an immediate acceptance of the offer of reconciliation.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Verse 21. - He hath made him to be sin for us; rather, he made; he speaks with definite reference to the cross. The expression is closely analogous to that in Galatians 3:13, where it is said that Christ has been "made a curse for us." He was, as St. Augustine says, "delictorum susceptor, non commissor." He knew no sin; nay, he was the very righteousness, holiness itself (Jeremiah 23:6), and yet, for our benefit, God made him to be "sin" for us, in that he "sent him in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin" (Romans 8:3). Many have understood the word "sin" in the sense of sin offering (Leviticus 5:9, LXX.); but that is a precarious application of the word, which is not justified by any other passage in the New Testament. We cannot, as Dean Plumptre says, get beyond the simple statement, which St. Paul is content to leave in its unexplicable mystery, "Christ identified with man's sin; man identified with Christ's righteousness." And thus, in Christ, God becomes Jehovah-Tsidkenu, "the Lord our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6). That we might be made the righteousness of God in him; rather, that we might become. The best comment on the pregnant significance of this verse is Romans 1:16, 17, which is developed and explained in so large a section of that great Epistle (see 3:22-25; 4:5-8; 5:19, etc.). In him In his blood is a means of propitiation by which the righteousness of God becomes the righteousness of man (1 Corinthians 1:30), so that man is justified. The truth which St. Paul thus develops and expresses is stated by St. Peter and St. John in a simpler and less theological form (1 Peter 2:22-24; 1 John 3:5).

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