2 Corinthians
New American Bible Revised Edition

* [1:1–11] The opening follows the usual Pauline form, except that the thanksgiving takes the form of a doxology or glorification of God (2 Cor 1:3). This introduces a meditation on the experience of suffering and encouragement shared by Paul and the Corinthians (2 Cor 1:4–7), drawn, at least in part, from Paul’s reflections on a recent affliction (2 Cor 1:8–10). The section ends with a modified and delayed allusion to thanksgiving (2 Cor 1:11).

* [1:3] God of all encouragement: Paul expands a standard Jewish blessing so as to state the theme of the paragraph. The theme of “encouragement” or “consolation” (paraklēsis) occurs ten times in this opening, against a background formed by multiple references to “affliction” and “suffering.”

* [1:5] Through Christ: the Father of compassion is the Father of our Lord Jesus (2 Cor 1:3); Paul’s sufferings and encouragement (or “consolation”) are experienced in union with Christ. Cf. Lk 2:25: the “consolation of Israel” is Jesus himself.

* [1:7] You also share in the encouragement: the eschatological reversal of affliction and encouragement that Christians expect (cf. Mt 5:4; Lk 6:24) permits some present experience of reversal in the Corinthians’ case, as in Paul’s.

* [1:8] Asia: a Roman province in western Asia Minor, the capital of which was Ephesus.

* [1:9–10] The sentence of death: it is unclear whether Paul is alluding to a physical illness or to an external threat to life. The result of the situation was to produce an attitude of faith in God alone. God who raises the dead: rescue is the constant pattern of God’s activity; his final act of encouragement is the resurrection.

* [1:12–2:13] The autobiographical remarks about the crisis in Asia Minor lead into consideration of a crisis that has arisen between Paul and the Corinthians. Paul will return to this question, after a long digression, in 2 Cor 7:5–16. Both of these sections deal with travel plans Paul had made, changes in the plans, alternative measures adopted, a breach that opened between him and the community, and finally a reconciliation between them.

* [1:12–14] Since Paul’s own conduct will be under discussion here, he prefaces the section with a statement about his habitual behavior and attitude toward the community. He protests his openness, single-mindedness, and conformity to God’s grace; he hopes that his relationship with them will be marked by mutual understanding and pride, which will constantly increase until it reaches its climax at the judgment. Two references to boasting frame this paragraph (2 Cor 1:12, 14), the first appearances of a theme that will be important in the letter, especially in 2 Cor 10–13; the term is used in a positive sense here (cf. note on 1 Cor 1:29–31).

* [1:15] I formerly intended to come: this plan reads like a revision of the one mentioned in 1 Cor 16:5. Not until 2 Cor 1:23–2:1 will Paul tell us something his original readers already knew, that he has canceled one or the other of these projected visits.

* [1:17] Did I act lightly?: the subsequent change of plans casts suspicion on the original intention, creating the impression that Paul is vacillating and inconsistent or that human considerations keep dictating shifts in his goals and projects (cf. the counterclaim of 2 Cor 1:12). “Yes, yes” and “no, no”: stating something and denying it in the same or the next breath; being of two minds at once, or from one moment to the next.

* [1:18–22] As God is faithful: unable to deny the change in plans, Paul nonetheless asserts the firmness of the original plan and claims a profound constancy in his life and work. He grounds his defense in God himself, who is firm and reliable; this quality can also be predicated in various ways of those who are associated with him. Christ, Paul, and the Corinthians all participate in analogous ways in the constancy of God. A number of the terms here, which appear related only conceptually in Greek or English, would be variations of the same root, ’mn, in a Semitic language, and thus naturally associated in a Semitic mind, such as Paul’s. These include the words yes (2 Cor 1:17–20), faithful (2 Cor 1:18), Amen (2 Cor 1:20), gives us security (2 Cor 1:21), faith, stand firm (2 Cor 1:24).

* [1:21–22] The commercial terms gives us security, seal, first installment are here used analogously to refer to the process of initiation into the Christian life, perhaps specifically to baptism. The passage is clearly trinitarian. The Spirit is the first installment or “down payment” of the full messianic benefits that God guarantees to Christians. Cf. Eph 1:13–14.

* [1:23–24] I have not yet gone to Corinth: some suppose that Paul received word of some affair in Corinth, which he decided to regulate by letter even before the first of his projected visits (cf. 2 Cor 1:16). Others conjecture that he did pay the first visit, was offended there (cf. 2 Cor 2:5), returned to Ephesus, and sent a letter (2 Cor 2:3–9) in place of the second visit. The expressions to spare you (2 Cor 1:23) and work together for your joy (2 Cor 1:24) introduce the major themes of the next two paragraphs, which are remarkable for insistent repetition of key words and ideas. These form two clusters of terms in the English translation: (1) cheer, rejoice, encourage, joy; (2) pain, affliction, anguish. These clusters reappear when Paul resumes treatment of this subject in 2 Cor 7:5–16.

* [2:3–4] I wrote as I did: we learn for the first time about the sending of a letter in place of the proposed visit. Paul mentions the letter in passing, but emphasizes his motivation in sending it: to avoid being saddened by them (cf. 1 Cor 2:1), and to help them realize the depth of his love. Another motive will be added in 2 Cor 7:12—to bring to light their own concern for him. With many tears: it has been suggested that we may have all or part of this “tearful letter” somewhere in the Corinthian correspondence, either in 1 Cor 5 (the case of the incestuous man), or in 1 Corinthians as a whole, or in 2 Cor 2:10–13. None of these hypotheses is entirely convincing. See note on 2 Cor 13:1.

* [2:5–11] The nature of the pain (2 Cor 2:5) is unclear, though some believe an individual at Corinth rejected Paul’s authority, thereby scandalizing many in the community. In any case, action has been taken, and Paul judges the measures adequate to right the situation (2 Cor 2:6). The follow-up directives he now gives are entirely positive: forgive, encourage, love. Overwhelmed (2 Cor 2:7): a vivid metaphor (literally “swallowed”) that Paul employs positively at 2 Cor 5:4 and in 1 Cor 15:54 (2 Cor 2:7). It is often used to describe satanic activity (cf. 1 Pt 5:8); note the reference to Satan here in 2 Cor 2:11.

* [2:12–13] I had no relief: Paul does not explain the reason for his anxiety until he resumes the thread of his narrative at 2 Cor 7:5: he was waiting to hear how the Corinthians would respond to his letter. Since 2 Cor 7:5–16 describes their response in entirely positive terms, we never learn in detail why he found it necessary to defend and justify his change of plans, as in 2 Cor 1:15–24. Was this portion of the letter written before the arrival of Titus with his good news (2 Cor 7:6–7)?

* [2:13] Macedonia: a Roman province in northern Greece.

* [2:14–7:4] This section constitutes a digression within the narrative of the crisis and its resolution (2 Cor 1:12–2:13 and 2 Cor 7:5–16). The main component (2 Cor 2:14–6:10) treats the nature of Paul’s ministry and his qualifications for it; this material bears some similarity to the defense of his ministry in chaps. 10–13, but it may well come from a period close to the crisis. This is followed by a supplementary block of material quite different in character and tone (2 Cor 6:14–7:1). These materials may have been brought together into their present position during final editing of the letter; appeals to the Corinthians link them to one another (2 Cor 6:11–13) and lead back to the interrupted narrative (2 Cor 7:2–4).

* [2:14–6:10] The question of Paul’s adequacy (2 Cor 2:16; cf. 2 Cor 3:5) and his credentials (2 Cor 3:1–2) has been raised. Paul responds by an extended treatment of the nature of his ministry. It is a ministry of glory (2 Cor 3:7–4:6), of life (2 Cor 4:7–5:10), of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:11–6:10).

* [2:14–16a] The initial statement plunges us abruptly into another train of thought. Paul describes his personal existence and his function as a preacher in two powerful images (2 Cor 2:14) that constitute a prelude to the development to follow.

* [2:14a] Leads us in triumph in Christ: this metaphor of a festive parade in honor of a conquering military hero can suggest either a positive sharing in Christ’s triumph or an experience of defeat, being led in captivity and submission (cf. 2 Cor 4:8–11; 1 Cor 4:9). Paul is probably aware of the ambiguity, as he is in the case of the next metaphor.

* [2:14b–16a] The odor of the knowledge of him: incense was commonly used in triumphal processions. The metaphor suggests the gradual diffusion of the knowledge of God through the apostolic preaching. The aroma of Christ: the image shifts from the fragrance Paul diffuses to the aroma that he is. Paul is probably thinking of the “sweet odor” of the sacrifices in the Old Testament (e.g., Gn 8:21; Ex 29:18) and perhaps of the metaphor of wisdom as a sweet odor (Sir 24:15). Death…life: the aroma of Christ that comes to them through Paul is perceived differently by various classes of people. To some his preaching and his life (cf. 1 Cor 1:17–2:6) are perceived as death, and the effect is death for them; others perceive him, despite appearances, as life, and the effect is life for them. This fragrance thus produces a separation and a judgment (cf. the function of the “light” in John’s gospel).

* [2:16b–17] Qualified: Paul may be echoing either the self-satisfied claims of other preachers or their charges about Paul’s deficiencies. No one is really qualified, but the apostle contrasts himself with those who dilute or falsify the preaching for personal advantage and insists on his totally good conscience: his ministry is from God, and he has exercised it with fidelity and integrity (cf. 2 Cor 3:5–6).

* [3:1] Paul seems to allude to certain preachers who pride themselves on their written credentials. Presumably they reproach him for not possessing similar credentials and compel him to spell out his own qualifications (2 Cor 4:2; 5:12; 6:4). The Corinthians themselves should have performed this function for Paul (2 Cor 5:12; cf. 2 Cor 12:11). Since he is forced to find something that can recommend him, he points to them: their very existence constitutes his letter of recommendation (2 Cor 3:1–2). Others who engage in self-commendation will also be mentioned in 2 Cor 10:12–18.

* [3:2–3] Mention of “letters of recommendation” generates a series of metaphors in which Paul plays on the word “letter”: (1) the community is Paul’s letter of recommendation (2 Cor 3:2a); (2) they are a letter engraved on his affections for all to see and read (2 Cor 3:2b); (3) they are a letter from Christ that Paul merely delivers (2 Cor 3:3a); (4) they are a letter written by the Spirit on the tablets of human hearts (2 Cor 3:3b). One image dissolves into another.

* [3:3] This verse contrasts Paul’s letter with those written…in ink (like the credentials of other preachers) and those written…on tablets of stone (like the law of Moses). These contrasts suggest that the other preachers may have claimed special relationship with Moses. If they were Judaizers zealous for the Mosaic law, that would explain the detailed contrast between the old and the new covenants (2 Cor 3:6; 4:7–6:10). If they were charismatics who claimed Moses as their model, that would explain the extended treatment of Moses himself and his glory (2 Cor 3:7–4:6). Hearts of flesh: cf. Ezekiel’s contrast between the heart of flesh that the Spirit gives and the heart of stone that it replaces (Ez 36:26); the context is covenant renewal and purification that makes observance of the law possible.

* [3:4–6] These verses resume 2 Cor 2:1–3:3. Paul’s confidence (2 Cor 3:4) is grounded in his sense of God-given mission (2 Cor 2:17), the specifics of which are described in 2 Cor 3:1–3. 2 Cor 3:5–6 return to the question of his qualifications (2 Cor 2:16), attributing them entirely to God. 2 Cor 3:6 further spells out the situation described in 2 Cor 3:3b and “names” it: Paul is living within a new covenant, characterized by the Spirit, which gives life. The usage of a new covenant is derived from Jer 31:31–33 a passage that also speaks of writing on the heart; cf. 2 Cor 3:2.

* [3:6] This verse serves as a topic sentence for 2 Cor 3:7–6:10. For the contrast between letter and spirit, cf. Rom 2:29; 7:5–6.

* [3:7–4:6] Paul now develops the contrast enunciated in 2 Cor 3:6b in terms of the relative glory of the two covenants, insisting on the greater glory of the new. His polemic seems directed against individuals who appeal to the glorious Moses and fail to perceive any comparable glory either in Paul’s life as an apostle or in the gospel he preaches. He asserts in response that Christians have a glory of their own that far surpasses that of Moses.

* [3:7] The ministry of death: from his very first words, Paul describes the Mosaic covenant and ministry from the viewpoint of their limitations. They lead to death rather than life (2 Cor 3:6–7; cf. 2 Cor 4:7–5:10), to condemnation rather than reconciliation (2 Cor 3:9; cf. 2 Cor 5:11–6:10). Was so glorious: the basic text to which Paul alludes is Ex 34:29–35 to which his opponents have undoubtedly laid claim. Going to fade: Paul concedes the glory of Moses’ covenant and ministry, but grants them only temporary significance.

* [3:8–11] How much more: the argument “from the less to the greater” is repeated three times (2 Cor 3:8, 9, 11). 2 Cor 3:10 expresses another point of view: the difference in glory is so great that only the new covenant and ministry can properly be called “glorious” at all.

* [3:12] Such hope: the glory is not yet an object of experience, but that does not lessen Paul’s confidence. Boldly: the term parrēsia expresses outspoken declaration of Christian conviction (cf. 2 Cor 4:1–2). Paul has nothing to hide and no reason for timidity.

* [3:13–14a] Not like Moses: in Exodus Moses veiled his face to protect the Israelites from God’s reflected glory. Without impugning Moses’ sincerity, Paul attributes another effect to the veil. Since it lies between God’s glory and the Israelites, it explains how they could fail to notice the glory disappearing. Their thoughts were rendered dull: the problem lay with their understanding. This will be expressed in 2 Cor 3:14b–16 by a shift in the place of the veil: it is no longer over Moses’ face but over their perception.

* [3:14b–16] The parallelism in these verses makes it necessary to interpret corresponding parts in relation to one another. To this present day: this signals the shift of Paul’s attention to his contemporaries; his argument is typological, as in 1 Cor 10. The Israelites of Moses’ time typify the Jews of Paul’s time, and perhaps also Christians of Jewish origin or mentality who may not recognize the temporary character of Moses’ glory. When they read the old covenant: the lasting dullness prevents proper appraisal of Moses’ person and covenant. When his writings are read in the synagogue, a veil still impedes their understanding. Through Christ: i.e., in the new covenant. Whenever a person turns to the Lord: Moses in Exodus appeared before God without the veil and gazed on his face unprotected. Paul applies that passage to converts to Christianity: when they turn to the Lord fully and authentically, the impediment to their understanding is removed.

* [3:17] The Lord is the Spirit: the “Lord” to whom the Christian turns (2 Cor 3:16) is the Spirit of whom Paul has been speaking, the life-giving Spirit of the living God (2 Cor 3:6, 8), the inaugurator of the new covenant and ministry, who is also the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of the Lord: the Lord here is the living God (2 Cor 3:3), but there may also be an allusion to Christ as Lord (2 Cor 3:14, 16). Freedom: i.e., from the ministry of death (2 Cor 3:7) and the covenant that condemned (2 Cor 3:9).

* [3:18] Another application of the veil image. All of us…with unveiled face: Christians (Israelites from whom the veil has been removed) are like Moses, standing in God’s presence, beholding and reflecting his glory. Gazing: the verb may also be translated “contemplating as in a mirror”; 2 Cor 4:6 would suggest that the mirror is Christ himself. Are being transformed: elsewhere Paul speaks of transformation, conformity to Jesus, God’s image, as a reality of the end time, and even 2 Cor 3:12 speaks of the glory as an object of hope. But the life-giving Spirit, the distinctive gift of the new covenant, is already present in the community (cf. 2 Cor 1:22, the “first installment”), and the process of transformation has already begun. Into the same image: into the image of God, which is Christ (2 Cor 4:4).

* [4:1–2] A ministry of this sort generates confidence and forthrightness; cf. 2 Cor 1:12–14; 2:17.

* [4:3–4] Though our gospel is veiled: the final application of the image. Paul has been reproached either for obscurity in his preaching or for his manner of presenting the gospel. But he confidently asserts that there is no veil over his gospel. If some fail to perceive its light, that is because of unbelief. The veil lies over their eyes (2 Cor 3:14), a blindness induced by Satan, and a sign that they are headed for destruction (cf. 2 Cor 2:15).

* [4:5] We do not preach ourselves: the light seen in his gospel is the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4). Far from preaching himself, the preacher should be a transparent medium through whom Jesus is perceived (cf. 2 Cor 4:10–11). Your slaves: Paul draws attention away from individuals as such and toward their role in relation to God, Christ, and the community; cf. 1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 4:1.

* [4:6] Autobiographical allusion to the episode at Damascus clarifies the origin and nature of Paul’s service; cf. Acts 9:1–19; 22:3–16; 26:2–18. “Let light shine out of darkness”: Paul seems to be thinking of Gn 1:3 and presenting his apostolic ministry as a new creation. There may also be an allusion to Is 9:1 suggesting his prophetic calling as servant of the Lord and light to the nations; cf. Is 42:6, 16; 49:6; 60:1–2, and the use of light imagery in Acts 26:13–23. To bring to light the knowledge: Paul’s role in the process of revelation, expressed at the beginning under the image of the odor and aroma (2 Cor 2:14–15), is restated now, at the end of this first moment of the development, in the imagery of light and glory (2 Cor 4:3–6).

* [4:7–5:10] Paul now confronts the difficulty that his present existence does not appear glorious at all; it is marked instead by suffering and death. He deals with this by developing the topic already announced in 2 Cor 3:3, 6, asserting his faith in the presence and ultimate triumph of life, in his own and every Christian existence, despite the experience of death.

* [4:7] This treasure: the glory that he preaches and into which they are being transformed. In earthen vessels: the instruments God uses are human and fragile; some imagine small terracotta lamps in which light is carried.

* [4:8–9] A catalogue of his apostolic trials and afflictions. Yet in these the negative never completely prevails; there is always some experience of rescue, of salvation.

* [4:10–11] Both the negative and the positive sides of the experience are grounded christologically. The logic is similar to that of 2 Cor 1:3–11. His sufferings are connected with Christ’s, and his deliverance is a sign that he is to share in Jesus’ resurrection.

* [4:12–15] His experience does not terminate in himself, but in others (12, 15; cf. 2 Cor 1:4–5). Ultimately, everything is ordered even beyond the community, toward God (2 Cor 4:15; cf. 2 Cor 1:11).

* [4:13–14] Like the psalmist, Paul clearly proclaims his faith, affirming life within himself despite death (2 Cor 4:10–11) and the life-giving effect of his experience upon the church (2 Cor 4:12, 14–15). And place us with you in his presence: Paul imagines God presenting him and them to Jesus at the parousia and the judgment; cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Rom 14:10.

* [4:16–18] In a series of contrasts Paul explains the extent of his faith in life. Life is not only already present and revealing itself (2 Cor 4:8–11, 16) but will outlast his experience of affliction and dying: it is eternal (2 Cor 4:17–18).

* [4:16] Not discouraged: i.e., despite the experience of death. Paul is still speaking of himself personally, but he assumes his faith and attitude will be shared by all Christians. Our outer self: the individual subject of ordinary perception and observation, in contrast to the interior and hidden self, which undergoes renewal. Is being renewed day by day: this suggests a process that has already begun; cf. 2 Cor 3:18. The renewal already taking place even in Paul’s dying is a share in the life of Jesus, but this is recognized only by faith (2 Cor 4:13, 18; 2 Cor 5:7).

* [5:1] Our earthly dwelling: the same contrast is restated in the imagery of a dwelling. The language recalls Jesus’ saying about the destruction of the temple and the construction of another building not made with hands (Mk 14:58), a prediction later applied to Jesus’ own body (Jn 2:20).

* [5:2–5] 2 Cor 5:2–3 and 4 are largely parallel in structure. We groan, longing: see note on 2 Cor 5:5. Clothed with our heavenly habitation: Paul mixes his metaphors, adding the image of the garment to that of the building. Further clothed: the verb means strictly “to put one garment on over another.” Paul may desire to put the resurrection body on over his mortal body, without dying; 2 Cor 5:2, 4 permit this meaning but do not impose it. Or perhaps he imagines the resurrection body as a garment put on over the Christ-garment first received in baptism (Gal 3:27) and preserved by moral behavior (Rom 13:12–14; Col 3:12; cf. Mt 22:11–13). Some support for this interpretation may be found in the context; cf. the references to baptism (2 Cor 5:5), to judgment according to works (2 Cor 5:10), and to present renewal (2 Cor 4:16), an idea elsewhere combined with the image of “putting on” a new nature (Eph 4:22–24; Col 3:1–5, 9–10).

* [5:3] When we have taken it off: the majority of witnesses read “when we have put it on,” i.e., when we have been clothed (in the resurrection body), then we shall not be without a body (naked). This seems mere tautology, though some understand it to mean: whether we are “found” (by God at the judgment) clothed or naked depends upon whether we have preserved or lost our original investiture in Christ (cf. the previous note). In this case to “put it on” does not refer to the resurrection body, but to keeping intact the Christ-garment of baptism. The translation follows the western reading (Codex Bezae, Tertullian), the sense of which is clear: to “take it off” is to shed our mortal body in death, after which we shall be clothed in the resurrection body and hence not “naked” (cf. 1 Cor 15:51–53).

* [5:4] We do not wish to be unclothed: a clear allusion to physical death (2 Cor 4:16; 5:1). Unlike the Greeks, who found dissolution of the body desirable (cf. Socrates), Paul has a Jewish horror of it. He seems to be thinking of the “intermediate period,” an interval between death and resurrection. Swallowed up by life: cf. 1 Cor 15:54.

* [5:5] God has created us for resurrected bodily life and already prepares us for it by the gift of the Spirit in baptism. The Spirit as a first installment: the striking parallel to 2 Cor 5:1–5 in Rom 8:17–30 describes Christians who have received the “firstfruits” (cf. “first installment” here) of the Spirit as “groaning” (cf. 2 Cor 5:2, 4 here) for the resurrection, the complete redemption of their bodies. In place of clothing and building, Rom 8 uses other images for the resurrection: adoption and conformity to the image of the Son.

* [5:6–9] Tension between present and future is expressed by another spatial image, the metaphor of the country and its citizens. At present we are like citizens in exile or far away from home. The Lord is the distant homeland, believed in but unseen (2 Cor 5:7).

* [5:10] We must all appear: the verb is ambiguous: we are scheduled to “appear” for judgment, at which we will be “revealed” as we are (cf. 2 Cor 11; 2:14; 4:10–11).

* [5:11–15] This paragraph is transitional. Paul sums up much that has gone before. Still playing on the term “appearance,” he reasserts his transparency before God and the Corinthians, in contrast to the self-commendation, boasting, and preoccupation with externals that characterize some others (cf. 2 Cor 1:12–14; 2:14; 3:1; 3:7–4:6). 2 Cor 5:14 recalls 2 Cor 3:7–4:6, and sums up 2 Cor 4:7–5:10.

* [5:13] Out of our minds: this verse confirms that a concern for ecstasy and charismatic experience may lie behind the discussion about “glory” in 2 Cor 3:7–4:6. Paul also enjoys such experiences but, unlike others, does not make a public display of them or consider them ends in themselves. Rational: the Greek virtue sōphrosynē, to which Paul alludes, implies reasonableness, moderation, good judgment, self-control.

* [5:14–15] These verses echo 2 Cor 4:14 and resume the treatment of “life despite death” from 2 Cor 4:7–5:10.

* [5:16–17] Consequently: the death of Christ described in 2 Cor 5:14–15 produces a whole new order (2 Cor 5:17) and a new mode of perception (2 Cor 5:16). According to the flesh: the natural mode of perception, characterized as “fleshly,” is replaced by a mode of perception proper to the Spirit. Elsewhere Paul contrasts what Christ looks like according to the old criteria (weakness, powerlessness, folly, death) and according to the new (wisdom, power, life); cf. 2 Cor 5:15, 21; 1 Cor 1:17–3:3. Similarly, he describes the paradoxical nature of Christian existence, e.g., in 2 Cor 4:10–11, 14. A new creation: rabbis used this expression to describe the effect of the entrance of a proselyte or convert into Judaism or of the remission of sins on the Day of Atonement. The new order created in Christ is the new covenant (2 Cor 3:6).

* [5:18–21] Paul attempts to explain the meaning of God’s action by a variety of different categories; his attention keeps moving rapidly back and forth from God’s act to his own ministry as well. Who has reconciled us to himself: i.e., he has brought all into oneness. Not counting their trespasses: the reconciliation is described as an act of justification (cf. “righteousness,” 2 Cor 5:21); this contrasts with the covenant that condemned (2 Cor 3:8). The ministry of reconciliation: Paul’s role in the wider picture is described: entrusted with the message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19), he is Christ’s ambassador, through whom God appeals (2 Cor 5:20a). In v. 20b Paul acts in the capacity just described.

* [5:21] This is a statement of God’s purpose, expressed paradoxically in terms of sharing and exchange of attributes. As Christ became our righteousness (1 Cor 1:30), we become God’s righteousness (cf. 2 Cor 5:14–15).

* [6:1–10] This paragraph is a single long sentence in the Greek, interrupted by the parenthesis of 2 Cor 5:2. The one main verb is “we appeal.” In this paragraph Paul both exercises his ministry of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor 5:20) and describes how his ministry is exercised: the “message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19) is lived existentially in his apostolic experience.

* [6:1] Not to receive…in vain: i.e., conform to the gift of justification and new creation. The context indicates how this can be done concretely: become God’s righteousness (2 Cor 5:21), not live for oneself (2 Cor 5:15) be reconciled with Paul (2 Cor 6:11–13; 7:2–3).

* [6:2] In an acceptable time: Paul cites the Septuagint text of Is 49:8; the Hebrew reads “in a time of favor”; it is parallel to “on the day of salvation.” Now: God is bestowing favor and salvation at this very moment, as Paul is addressing his letter to them.

* [6:3] Cause no one to stumble: the language echoes that of 1 Cor 8–10 as does the expression “no longer live for themselves” in 2 Cor 5:15. That no fault may be found: i.e., at the eschatological judgment (cf. 1 Cor 4:2–5).

* [6:4a] This is the central assertion, the topic statement for the catalogue that follows. We commend ourselves: Paul’s self-commendation is ironical (with an eye on the charges mentioned in 2 Cor 3:1–3) and paradoxical (pointing mostly to experiences that would not normally be considered points of pride but are perceived as such by faith). Cf. also the self-commendation in 2 Cor 11:23–29. As ministers of God: the same Greek word, diakonos, means “minister” and “servant”; cf. 2 Cor 11:23, the central assertion in a similar context, and 1 Cor 3:5.

* [6:4b–5] Through much endurance: this phrase functions as a subtitle; it is followed by an enumeration of nine specific types of trials endured.

* [6:6–7a] A list of virtuous qualities in two groups of four, the second fuller than the first.

* [6:8b–10] A series of seven rhetorically effective antitheses, contrasting negative external impressions with positive inner reality. Paul perceives his existence as a reflection of Jesus’ own and affirms an inner reversal that escapes outward observation. The final two members illustrate two distinct kinds of paradox or apparent contradiction that are characteristic of apostolic experience.

* [6:11–13] Paul’s tone becomes quieter, but his appeal for acceptance and affection is emotionally charged. References to the heart and their mutual relations bring the development begun in 2 Cor 2:14–3:3 to an effective conclusion.

* [6:14–7:1] Language and thought shift noticeably here. Suddenly we are in a different atmosphere, dealing with a quite different problem. Both the vocabulary and the thought, with their contrast between good and evil, are more characteristic of Qumran documents or the Book of Revelation than they are of Paul. Hence, critics suspect that this section was inserted by another hand.

* [6:14–16a] The opening injunction to separate from unbelievers is reinforced by five rhetorical questions to make the point that Christianity is not compatible with paganism. Their opposition is emphasized also by the accumulation of five distinct designations for each group. These verses are a powerful statement of God’s holiness and the exclusiveness of his claims.

* [6:16c–18] This is a chain of scriptural citations carefully woven together. God’s covenant relation to his people and his presence among them (2 Cor 6:16) is seen as conditioned on cultic separation from the profane and cultically impure (2 Cor 6:17); that relation is translated into the personal language of the parent-child relationship, an extension to the community of the language of 2 Sm 7:14 (2 Cor 6:18). Some remarkable parallels to this chain are found in the final chapters of Revelation. God’s presence among his people (Rev 21:22) is expressed there, too, by applying 2 Sm 7:14 to the community (Rev 21:7). There is a call to separation (Rev 18:4) and exclusion of the unclean from the community and its liturgy (Rev 21:27). The title “Lord Almighty” (Pantokratōr) occurs in the New Testament only here in 2 Cor 6:18 and nine times in Revelation.

* [7:2–4] These verses continue the thought of 2 Cor 6:11–13, before the interruption of 2 Cor 6:14–7:1. 2 Cor 7:4 serves as a transition to the next section: the four themes it introduces (confidence; pride or “boasting”; encouragement; joy in affliction) are developed in 2 Cor 7:5–16. All have appeared previously in the letter.

* [7:5–16] This section functions as a peroration or formal summing up of the whole first part of the letter, 2 Cor 1–7. It deals with the restoration of right relations between Paul and the Corinthians, and it is marked by fullness and intensity of emotion.

* [7:5–7] Paul picks up the thread of the narrative interrupted at 2 Cor 2:13 (2 Cor 7:5) and describes the resolution of the tense situation there depicted (2 Cor 7:6–7). Finally Titus arrives and his coming puts an end to Paul’s restlessness (2 Cor 2:13; 2 Cor 7:5), casts out his fears, and reverses his mood. The theme of encouragement and affliction is reintroduced (cf. 2 Cor 1:3–11); here, too, encouragement is traced back to God and is described as contagious (2 Cor 7:6). The language of joy and sorrow also reappears in 2 Cor 7:7 (cf. 2 Cor 1:23–2:1 and the note on 2 Cor 1:23–24).

* [7:5] Macedonia: see note on 2 Cor 2:13.

* [7:8–12] Paul looks back on the episode from the viewpoint of its ending. The goal of their common activity, promotion of their joy (2 Cor 1:24), has been achieved, despite and because of the sorrow they felt. That sorrow was God-given. Its salutary effects are enumerated fully and impressively in 2 Cor 7:10–11; not the least important of these is that it has revealed to them the attachment they have to Paul.

* [7:13–16] Paul summarizes the effect of the experience on Titus: encouragement, joy, love, relief. Finally, he describes its effects on himself: encouragement, joy, confidence, pride or “boasting” (i.e., the satisfaction resulting from a boast that proves well-founded; cf. 2 Cor 7:4; 1:12, 14).

* [8:1–9:15] Paul turns to a new topic, the collection for the church in Jerusalem. There is an early precedent for this project in the agreement mentioned in Gal 2:6–10. According to Acts, the church at Antioch had sent Saul and Barnabas to Jerusalem with relief (Acts 11:27–30). Subsequently Paul organized a project of relief for Jerusalem among his own churches. Our earliest evidence for it comes in 1 Cor 16:1–4—after it had already begun (see notes there); by the time Paul wrote Rom 15:25–28 the collection was completed and ready for delivery. 2 Cor 8–9 contain what appear to be two letters on the subject. In them Paul gives us his fullest exposition of the meaning he sees in the enterprise, presenting it as an act of Christian charity and as an expression of the unity of the church, both present and eschatological. These chapters are especially rich in the recurrence of key words, on which Paul plays; it is usually impossible to do justice to these wordplays in the translation.

* [8:1–24] This is a letter of recommendation for Titus and two unnamed companions, written from Macedonia probably at least a year later than 1 Cor 16. The recommendation proper is prefaced by remarks about the ideals of sharing and equality within the Christian community (2 Cor 8:1–15). Phil 4:10–20 shows that Paul has reflected on his personal experience of need and relief in his relations with the community at Philippi; he now develops his reflections on the larger scale of relations between his Gentile churches and the mother church in Jerusalem.

* [8:1–5] The example of the Macedonians, a model of what ought to be happening at Corinth, provides Paul with the occasion for expounding his theology of “giving.”

* [8:1] The grace of God: the fundamental theme is expressed by the Greek noun charis, which will be variously translated throughout these chapters as “grace” (2 Cor 8:1; 9:8, 14), “favor” (2 Cor 8:4), “gracious act” (2 Cor 8:6, 7, 9) or “gracious work” (2 Cor 8:19), to be compared to “gracious gift” (1 Cor 16:3). The related term, eucharistia, “thanksgiving,” also occurs at 2 Cor 9:11, 12. The wordplay is not superficial; various mutations of the same root signal inner connection between aspects of a single reality, and Paul consciously exploits the similarities in vocabulary to highlight that connection.

* [8:2] Three more terms are now introduced. Test (dokimē): the same root is translated as “to test” (2 Cor 8:8) and “evidence” (2 Cor 9:13); it means to be tried and found genuine. Abundance: variations on the same root lie behind “overflow” (2 Cor 8:2; 9:12), “excel” (2 Cor 8:7), “surplus” (2 Cor 8:14), “superfluous” (2 Cor 9:1) “make abundant” and “have an abundance” (2 Cor 9:8). These expressions of fullness contrast with references to need (2 Cor 8:14; 9:12). Generosity: the word haplotēs has nuances of both simplicity and sincerity; here and in 2 Cor 9:11, 13 it designates the singleness of purpose that manifests itself in generous giving.

* [8:3–4] Paul emphasizes the spontaneity of the Macedonians and the nature of their action. They begged us insistently: the same root is translated as “urge,” “appeal,” “encourage” (2 Cor 8:6, 17; 9:5). Taking part: the same word is translated “contribution” in 2 Cor 9:13 and a related term as “partner” in 2 Cor 8:23. Service (diakonia): this word occurs also in 2 Cor 9:1, 13 as “service”; in 2 Cor 9:12 it is translated “administration,” and in 2 Cor 8:19, 20 the corresponding verb is rendered “administer.”

* [8:5] They gave themselves…to the Lord and to us: on its deepest level their attitude is one of self-giving.

* [8:6] Titus: 1 Cor 16 seemed to leave the organization up to the Corinthians, but apparently Paul has sent Titus to initiate the collection as well; 2 Cor 8:16–17 will describe Titus’ attitude as one of shared concern and cooperation.

* [8:7] The charitable service Paul is promoting is seen briefly and in passing within the perspective of Paul’s theology of the charisms. Earnestness (spoudē): this or related terms occur also in 2 Cor 8:22 (“earnest”) and 2 Cor 8:8, 16, 17 (“concern”).

* [8:9] The dialectic of Jesus’ experience, expressed earlier in terms of life and death (2 Cor 5:15), sin and righteousness (2 Cor 5:21), is now rephrased in terms of poverty and wealth. Many scholars think this is a reference to Jesus’ preexistence with God (his “wealth”) and to his incarnation and death (his “poverty”), and they point to the similarity between this verse and Phil 2:6–8. Others interpret the wealth and poverty as succeeding phases of Jesus’ earthly existence, e.g., his sense of intimacy with God and then the desolation and the feeling of abandonment by God in his death (cf. Mk 15:34).

* [8:11] Eager: the word prothymia also occurs in 2 Cor 8:12, 19; 9:2.

* [8:12–15] Paul introduces the principle of equality into the discussion. The goal is not impoverishment but sharing of resources; balance is achieved at least over the course of time. In 2 Cor 8:15 Paul grounds his argument unexpectedly in the experience of Israel gathering manna in the desert: equality was achieved, independently of personal exertion, by God, who gave with an even hand according to need. Paul touches briefly here on the theme of “living from God.”

* [8:16–24] In recommending Titus and his companions, Paul stresses their personal and apostolic qualities, their good dispositions toward the Corinthians, and their authority as messengers of the churches and representatives of Christ.

* [8:18] The brother: we do not know the identity of this co-worker of Paul, nor of the third companion mentioned below in 2 Cor 8:22.

* [8:20–22] That anyone blame us: 2 Cor 12:16–18 suggests that misunderstandings may indeed have arisen concerning Paul’s management of the collection through the messengers mentioned here, but those same verses seem to imply that the Corinthians by and large would recognize the honesty of Paul’s conduct in this area as in others (cf. 2 Cor 6:3).

* [8:24] As Paul began by holding up the Macedonians as examples to be imitated, he closes by exhorting the Corinthians to show their love (by accepting the envoys and by cooperating as the Macedonians do), thus justifying the pride Paul demonstrates because of them before other churches.

* [9:1–15] Quite possibly this was originally an independent letter, though it deals with the same subject and continues many of the same themes. In that case, it may have been written a few weeks later than 2 Cor 8, while the delegation there mentioned was still on its way.

* [9:2] Achaia: see note on Rom 15:26.

* [9:3] I sent the brothers: the Greek aorist tense here could be epistolary, referring to the present; in that case Paul would be sending them now, and 2 Cor 9 would merely conclude the letter of recommendation begun in 2 Cor 8. But the aorist may also refer to a sending that is past as Paul writes; then 2 Cor 9, with its apparently fresh beginning, is a follow-up message entrusted to another carrier.

* [9:8–10] The behavior to which he exhorts them is grounded in God’s own pattern of behavior. God is capable of overwhelming generosity, as scripture itself attests (2 Cor 9:9), so that they need not fear being short. He will provide in abundance, both supplying their natural needs and increasing their righteousness. Paul challenges them to godlike generosity and reminds them of the fundamental motive for encouragement: God himself cannot be outdone.

* [9:11–15] Paul’s vision broadens to take in all the interested parties in one dynamic picture. His language becomes liturgically colored and conveys a sense of fullness. With a final play on the words charis and eucharistia (see note on 2 Cor 8:1), he describes a circle that closes on itself: the movement of grace overflowing from God to them and handed on from them through Paul to others is completed by the prayer of praise and thanksgiving raised on their behalf to God.

* [10:1–13:10] These final chapters have their own unity of structure and theme and could well have formed the body of a separate letter. They constitute an apologia on Paul’s part, i.e., a legal defense of his behavior and his ministry; the writing is emotionally charged and highly rhetorical. In the central section (2 Cor 11:16–12:10), the apologia takes the form of a boast. This section is prepared for by a prologue (2 Cor 11:1–15) and followed by an epilogue (2 Cor 12:11–18), which are similar in content and structure. These sections, in turn, are framed by an introduction (2 Cor 10:1–18) and a conclusion (2 Cor 12:19–13:10), both of which assert Paul’s apostolic authority and confidence and define the purpose of the letter. The structure that results from this disposition of the material is chiastic, i.e., the first element corresponds to the last, the second to the second last, etc., following the pattern a b c b′ a′.

* [10:1–18] Paul asserts his apostolic authority and expresses the confidence this generates in him. He writes in response to certain opinions that have arisen in the community and certain charges raised against him and in preparation for a forthcoming visit in which he intends to set things in order. This section gives us an initial glimpse of the situation in Corinth that Paul must address; much of its thematic material will be taken up again in the finale (2 Cor 12:19–13:10).

* [10:1–2] A strong opening plunges us straight into the conflict. Contrasts dominate here: presence versus absence, gentleness-clemency-humility versus boldness-confidence-bravery. Through the gentleness and clemency of Christ: the figure of the gentle Christ, presented in a significant position before any specifics of the situation are suggested, forms a striking contrast to the picture of the bold and militant Paul (2 Cor 10:2–6); this tension is finally resolved in 2 Cor 13:3–4. Absent…present: this same contrast, with a restatement of the purpose of the letter, recurs in 2 Cor 13:10, which forms an inclusion with 2 Cor 10:1–2.

* [10:2b–4a] Flesh: the Greek word sarx can express both the physical life of the body without any pejorative overtones (as in “we are in the flesh,” 3) and our natural life insofar as it is marked by limitation and weakness (as in the other expressions) in contrast to the higher life and power conferred by the Spirit; cf. note on 1 Cor 3:1. The wordplay is intended to express the paradoxical situation of a life already taken over by the Spirit but not yet seen as such except by faith. Lack of empirical evidence of the Spirit permits misunderstanding and misjudgment, but Paul resolutely denies that his behavior and effectiveness are as limited as some suppose.

* [10:3b–6] Paul is involved in combat. The strong military language and imagery are both an assertion of his confidence in the divine power at his disposal and a declaration of war against those who underestimate his resources. The threat is echoed in 2 Cor 13:2–3.

* [10:7–8] Belonging to Christ…so do we: these phrases already announce the pattern of Paul’s boast in 2 Cor 11:21b–29, especially 2 Cor 11:22–23. For building you up and not for tearing you down: Paul draws on the language by which Jeremiah described the purpose of the prophetic power the Lord gave to him (Jer 1:9–10; 12:16–17; 24:6). Though Paul’s power may have destructive effects on others (2 Cor 10:2–6), its intended effect on the community is entirely constructive (cf. 2 Cor 13:10). I shall not be put to shame: his assertions will not be refuted; they will be revealed as true at the judgment.

* [10:9–10] Paul cites the complaints of some who find him lacking in personal forcefulness and holds out the threat of a personal parousia (both “return” and “presence”) that will be forceful, indeed will be a demonstration of Christ’s own power (cf. 2 Cor 13:2–4).

* [10:12–18] Paul now qualifies his claim to boldness, indicating its limits. He distinguishes his own behavior from that of others, revealing those “others” as they appear to him: as self-recommending, immoderately boastful, encroaching on territory not assigned to them, and claiming credit not due to them.

* [10:13] Will keep to the limits: the notion of proper limits is expressed here by two terms with overlapping meanings, metron and kanōn, which are played off against several expressions denoting overreaching or expansion beyond a legitimate sphere.

* [10:17] Boast in the Lord: there is a legitimate boasting, in contrast to the immoderate boasting to which 2 Cor 10:13, 15 allude. God’s work through Paul in the community is the object of his boast (2 Cor 10:13–16; 2 Cor 1:12–14) and constitutes his recommendation (2 Cor 3:1–3). Cf. notes on 2 Cor 1:12–14 and 1 Cor 1:29–31.

* [10:18] Approved: to be approved is to come successfully through the process of testing for authenticity (cf. 2 Cor 13:3–7 and the note on 2 Cor 8:2). Whom the Lord recommends: self-commendation is a premature and unwarranted anticipation of the final judgment, which the Lord alone will pass (cf. 1 Cor 4:3–5). Paul alludes to this judgment throughout 2 Cor 10–13, frequently in final or transitional positions; cf. 2 Cor 11:15; 12:19a; 13:3–7.

* [11:1–15] Although these verses continue to reveal information about Paul’s opponents and the differences he perceives between them and himself, 2 Cor 11:1 signals a turn in Paul’s thought. This section constitutes a prologue to the boasting that he will undertake in 2 Cor 11:16–12:10, and it bears remarkable similarities to the section that follows the central boast, 2 Cor 12:11–18.

* [11:1] Put up with a little foolishness from me: this verse indicates more clearly than the general statement of intent in 2 Cor 10:13 the nature of the project Paul is about to undertake. He alludes ironically to the Corinthians’ toleration for others. Foolishness: Paul qualifies his project as folly from beginning to end; see note on 2 Cor 11:16–12:10.

* [11:2] Paul gives us a sudden glimpse of the theological values that are at stake. The jealousy of God: the perspective is that of the covenant, described in imagery of love and marriage, as in the prophets; cf. 1 Cor 10:22. I betrothed you: Paul, like a father (cf. 2 Cor 12:14), betroths the community to Christ as his bride (cf. Eph 5:21–33) and will present her to him at his second coming. Cf. Mt 25:1–13 and the nuptial imagery in Rev 21.

* [11:3] As the serpent deceived Eve: before Christ can return for the community Paul fears a repetition of the primal drama of seduction. Corruption of minds is satanic activity (see 2 Cor 2:11; 4:4). Satanic imagery recurs in 2 Cor 11:13–15, 20; 12:7b, 16–17; see notes on these passages.

* [11:4] Preaches another Jesus: the danger is specified, and Paul’s opponents are identified with the cunning serpent. The battle for minds has to do with the understanding of Jesus, the Spirit, the gospel; the Corinthians have flirted with another understanding than the one that Paul handed on to them as traditional and normative.

* [11:5] These “superapostles”: this term, employed again in 2 Cor 12:11b, designates the opponents of whom Paul has spoken in 2 Cor 10 and again in 2 Cor 11:4. They appear to be intruders at Corinth. Their preaching is marked at least by a different emphasis and style, and they do not hesitate to accept support from the community. Perhaps these itinerants appeal to the authority of church leaders in Jerusalem and even carry letters of recommendation from them. But it is not those distant leaders whom Paul is attacking here. The intruders are “superapostles” not in the sense of the “pillars” at Jerusalem (Gal 2), but in their own estimation. They consider themselves superior to Paul as apostles and ministers of Christ, and they are obviously enjoying some success among the Corinthians. Paul rejects their claim to be apostles in any superlative sense (hyperlian), judging them bluntly as “false apostles,” ministers of Satan masquerading as apostles of Christ (2 Cor 11:13–15). On the contrary, he himself will claim to be a superminister of Christ (hyper egō, 2 Cor 11:23).

* [11:6] Apparently found deficient in both rhetorical ability (cf. 2 Cor 10:10) and knowledge (cf. 2 Cor 10:5), Paul concedes the former charge but not the latter. In every way: in all their contacts with him revelation has been taking place. Paul, through whom God reveals the knowledge of himself (2 Cor 2:14), and in whom the death and life of Jesus are revealed (2 Cor 4:10–11; cf. 2 Cor 6:4), also demonstrates his own role as the bearer of true knowledge. Cf. 1 Cor 1:18–2:16.

* [11:7–10] Abruptly Paul passes to another reason for complaints: his practice of preaching without remuneration (cf. 1 Cor 9:3–18). He deftly defends his practice by situating it from the start within the pattern of Christ’s own self-humiliation (cf. 2 Cor 10:1) and reduces objections to absurdity by rhetorical questions (cf. 2 Cor 12:13).

* [11:11–12] Paul rejects lack of affection as his motive (possibly imputed to him by his opponents) and states his real motive, a desire to emphasize the disparity between himself and the others (cf. 2 Cor 11:19–21). The topic of his gratuitous service will be taken up once more in 2 Cor 12:13–18. 1 Cor 9:15–18 gives a different but complementary explanation of his motivation.

* [11:13–15] Paul picks up again the imagery of 2 Cor 11:3 and applies it to the opponents: they are false apostles of Christ, really serving another master. Deceitful…masquerade: deception and simulation, like cunning (2 Cor 11:3), are marks of the satanic. Angel of light: recalls the contrast between light and darkness, Christ and Beliar at 2 Cor 6:14–15. Ministers of righteousness: recalls the earlier contrast between the ministry of condemnation and that of righteousness (2 Cor 3:9). Their end: the section closes with another allusion to the judgment, when all participants in the final conflict will be revealed or unmasked and dealt with as they deserve.

* [11:16–12:10] Paul now accepts the challenge of his opponents and indulges in boasting similar to theirs, but with differences that he has already signaled in 2 Cor 10:12–18 and that become clearer as he proceeds. He defines the nature of his project and unmistakably labels it as folly at the beginning and the end (2 Cor 11:16–23; 12:11). Yet his boast does not spring from ignorance (2 Cor 11:21; 12:6) nor is it concerned merely with human distinctions (2 Cor 11:18). Paul boasts “in moderation” (2 Cor 10:13, 15) and “in the Lord” (2 Cor 10:17).

* [11:16–29] The first part of Paul’s boast focuses on labors and afflictions, in which authentic service of Christ consists.

* [11:16–21] These verses recapitulate remarks already made about the foolishness of boasting and the excessive toleration of the Corinthians. They form a prelude to the boast proper.

* [11:20] Paul describes the activities of the “others” in terms that fill out the picture drawn in vv. 3–4, 13–15. Much of the vocabulary suggests fleshly or even satanic activity. Enslaves: cf. Gal 2:4. Devours: cf. 1 Pt 5:8. Gets the better: the verb lambanō means “to take,” but is used in a variety of senses; here it may imply financial advantage, as in the English colloquialism “to take someone.” It is similarly used at 2 Cor 12:16 and is there connected with cunning and deceit. Puts on airs: the same verb is rendered “raise oneself” (2 Cor 10:5) and “be too elated” (2 Cor 12:7).

* [11:21] Paul ironically concedes the charge of personal weakness from 2 Cor 10:1–18 but will refute the other charge there mentioned, that of lack of boldness, accepting the challenge to demonstrate it by his boast.

* [11:22] The opponents apparently pride themselves on their “Jewishness.” Paul, too, can claim to be a Jew by race, religion, and promise. Descendants of Abraham: elsewhere Paul distinguishes authentic from inauthentic heirs of Abraham and the promise (Rom 4:13–18; 9:7–13; 11:1; Gal 3:9, 27–29; cf. Jn 8:33–47). Here he grants his opponents this title in order to concentrate on the principal claim that follows.

* [11:23a] Ministers of Christ…I am still more: the central point of the boast (cf. note on 2 Cor 11:5). Like an insane person: the climax of his folly.

* [11:23b–29] Service of the humiliated and crucified Christ is demonstrated by trials endured for him. This rhetorically impressive catalogue enumerates many of the labors and perils Paul encountered on his missionary journeys.

* [11:30–12:10] The second part of Paul’s boast, marked by a change of style and a shift in focus. After recalling the project in which he is engaged, he states a new topic: his weaknesses as matter for boasting. Everything in this section, even the discussion of privileges and distinctions, will be integrated into this perspective.

* [11:31–32] The episode at Damascus is symbolic. It aptly illustrates Paul’s weakness but ends in deliverance (cf. 2 Cor 4:7–11).

* [12:1–4] In the body or out of the body: he seemed no longer confined to bodily conditions, but he does not claim to understand the mechanics of the experience. Caught up: i.e., in ecstasy. The third heaven…Paradise: ancient cosmologies depicted a multitiered universe. Jewish intertestamental literature contains much speculation about the number of heavens. Seven is the number usually mentioned, but the Testament of Levi (2:7–10; 3:1–4) speaks of three; God himself dwelt in the third of these. Without giving us any clear picture of the cosmos, Paul indicates a mental journey to a nonearthly space, set apart by God, in which secrets were revealed to him. Ineffable things: i.e., privileged knowledge, which it was not possible or permitted to divulge.

* [12:5–7] This person: the indirect way of referring to himself has the effect of emphasizing the distance between that experience and his everyday life, just as the indirect someone in Christ (2 Cor 12:2) and all the passive verbs emphasize his passivity and receptivity in the experience. The revelations were not a personal achievement, nor were they meant to draw attention to any quality of his own.

* [12:7] That I might not become too elated: God assures that there is a negative component to his experience, so that he cannot lose proper perspective; cf. 2 Cor 1:9; 4:7–11. A thorn in the flesh: variously interpreted as a sickness or physical disability, a temptation, or a handicap connected with his apostolic activity. But since Hebrew “thorn in the flesh,” like English “thorn in my side,” refers to persons (cf. Nm 33:55; Ez 28:24), Paul may be referring to some especially persistent and obnoxious opponent. The language of 2 Cor 12:7–8 permits this interpretation. If this is correct, the frequent appearance of singular pronouns in depicting the opposition may not be merely a stylistic variation; the singular may be provoked and accompanied by the image of one individual in whom criticism of Paul’s preaching, way of life, and apostolic consciousness is concentrated, and who embodies all the qualities Paul attributes to the group. An angel of Satan: a personal messenger from Satan; cf. the satanic language already applied to the opponents in 2 Cor 11:3, 13–15, 20.

* [12:8] Three times: his prayer was insistent, like that of Jesus in Gethsemane, a sign of how intolerable he felt the thorn to be.

* [12:9] But he said to me: Paul’s petition is denied; release and healing are withheld for a higher purpose. The Greek perfect tense indicates that Jesus’ earlier response still holds at the time of writing. My grace is sufficient for you: this is not a statement about the sufficiency of grace in general. Jesus speaks directly to Paul’s situation. Is made perfect: i.e., is given most fully and manifests itself fully.

* [12:9b–10a] Paul draws the conclusion from the autobiographical anecdote and integrates it into the subject of this part of the boast. Weaknesses: the apostolic hardships he must endure, including active personal hostility, as specified in a final catalogue (2 Cor 12:10a). That the power of Christ may dwell with me: Paul pinpoints the ground for the paradoxical strategy he has adopted in his self-defense.

* [12:10] When I am weak, then I am strong: Paul recognizes a twofold pattern in the resolution of the weakness-power (and death-life) dialectic, each of which looks to Jesus as the model and is experienced in him. The first is personal, involving a reversal in oneself (Jesus, 2 Cor 13:4a; Paul, 2 Cor 1:9–10; 4:10–11; 6:9). The second is apostolic, involving an effect on others (Jesus, 2 Cor 5:14–15; Paul, 2 Cor 1:6; 4:12; 13:9). The specific kind of “effectiveness in ministry” that Paul promises to demonstrate on his arrival (2 Cor 13:4b; cf. 2 Cor 10:1–11) involves elements of both; this, too, will be modeled on Jesus’ experience and a participation in that experience (2 Cor 9; 13:3b).

* [12:11–18] This brief section forms an epilogue or concluding observation to Paul’s boast, corresponding to the prologue in 2 Cor 11:1–15. A four-step sequence of ideas is common to these two sections: Paul qualifies his boast as folly (2 Cor 11:1; 12:11a), asserts his noninferiority to the “superapostles” (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11b), exemplifies this by allusion to charismatic endowments (2 Cor 11:6; 12:12), and finally denies that he has been a financial burden to the community (2 Cor 11:7–12; 12:13–18).

* [12:12] Despite weakness and affliction (suggested by the mention of endurance), his ministry has been accompanied by demonstrations of power (cf. 1 Cor 2:3–4). Signs of an apostle: visible proof of belonging to Christ and of mediating Christ’s power, which the opponents require as touchstones of apostleship (2 Cor 12:11; cf. 2 Cor 13:3).

* [12:13–18] Paul insists on his intention to continue refusing support from the community (cf. 2 Cor 11:8–12). In defending his practice and his motivation, he once more protests his love (cf. 2 Cor 11:11) and rejects the suggestion of secret self-enrichment. He has recourse here again to language applied to his opponents earlier: “cunning” (2 Cor 11:3), “deceit” (2 Cor 11:13), “got the better of you” (see note on 2 Cor 11:20), “take advantage” (2 Cor 2:11).

* [12:19–13:10] This concludes the development begun in 2 Cor 10. In the chiastic arrangement of the material (see note on 2 Cor 10:1–13:10), this final part corresponds to the opening; there are important similarities of content between the two sections as well.

* [12:19] This verse looks back at the previous chapters and calls them by their proper name, a defense, an apologia (cf. 1 Cor 9:3). Yet Paul insists on an important distinction: he has indeed been speaking for their benefit, but the ultimate judgment to which he submits is God’s (cf. 1 Cor 4:3–5). This verse also leads into the final section, announcing two of its themes: judgment and building up.

* [12:20] I fear that…: earlier Paul expressed fear that the Corinthians were being victimized, exploited, seduced from right thinking by his opponents (2 Cor 11:3–4, 19–21). Here he alludes unexpectedly to moral disorders among the Corinthians themselves. The catalogue suggests the effects of factions that have grown up around rival apostles.

* [12:21] Again: one can also translate, “I fear that when I come my God may again humiliate me.” Paul’s allusion to the humiliation and mourning that may await him recall the mood he described in 2 Cor 2:1–4, but there is no reference here to any individual such as there is in 2 Cor 2:5–11. The crisis of 2 Cor 2 has happily been resolved by integration of the offender and repentance (2 Cor 7:4–16), whereas 2 Cor 12:21 is preoccupied with still unrepentant sinners. The sexual sins recall 1 Cor 5–7.

* [13:1] This third time I am coming: designation of the forthcoming visit as the “third” (cf. 2 Cor 12:14) may indicate that, in addition to his founding sojourn in Corinth, Paul had already made the first of two visits mentioned as planned in 2 Cor 1:15, and the next visit will be the long-postponed second of these. If so, the materials in 2 Cor 1:12–2:13 plus 2 Cor 7:4–16 and 2 Cor 10–13 may date from the same period of time, presumably of some duration, between Paul’s second and third visit, though it is not clear that they are addressing the same crisis. The chronology is too unsure and the relations between sections of 2 Corinthians too unclear to yield any certainty. The hypothesis that 2 Cor 10–13 are themselves the “tearful letter” mentioned at 2 Cor 2:3–4 creates more problems than it solves.

* [13:2] I warned those who sinned earlier: mention of unrepentant sinners (2 Cor 12:21 and here) and of an oral admonition given them on an earlier visit complicates the picture at the very end of Paul’s development. It provides, in fact, a second explanation for the show of power that has been threatened from the beginning (2 Cor 10:1–6), but a different reason for it, quite unsuspected until now. It is not clear whether Paul is merely alluding to a dimension of the situation that he has not previously had occasion to mention, or whether some other community crisis, not directly connected with that behind 2 Cor 10–13, has influenced the final editing. I will not be lenient: contrast Paul’s hesitation and reluctance to inflict pain in 2 Cor 1:23 and 2 Cor 2:1–4. The next visit will bring the showdown.

* [13:3–4] Paul now gives another motive for severity when he comes, the charge of weakness leveled against him as an apostle. The motive echoes more closely the opening section (2 Cor 10:1–18) and the intervening development (especially 2 Cor 11:30–12:10). Proof of Christ speaking in me: the threat of 2 Cor 10:1–2 is reworded to recall Paul’s conformity with the pattern of Christ, his insertion into the interplay of death and life, weakness and power (cf. note on 2 Cor 12:10b).

* [13:5–9] Paul turns the challenge mentioned in 2 Cor 13:3 on them: they are to put themselves to the test to demonstrate whether Christ is in them. These verses involve a complicated series of plays on the theme of dokimē (testing, proof, passing and failing a test). Behind this stands the familiar distinction between present human judgment and final divine judgment. This is the final appearance of the theme (cf. 2 Cor 10:18; 11:15; 12:19).

* [13:10] Authority…to build up and not to tear down: Paul restates the purpose of his letter in language that echoes 2 Cor 10:2, 8, emphasizing the positive purpose of his authority in their regard. This verse forms an inclusion with the topic sentence of the section (2 Cor 12:19), as well as with the opening of this entire portion of the letter (2 Cor 10:1–2).

* [13:11–13] These verses may have originally concluded 2 Cor 10–13, but they have nothing specifically to do with the material of that section. It is also possible to consider them a conclusion to the whole of 2 Corinthians in its present edited form. The exhortations are general, including a final appeal for peace in the community. The letter ends calmly, after its many storms, with the prospect of ecclesial unity and divine blessing. The final verse is one of the clearest trinitarian passages in the New Testament.

o. [1:23] 13:2.

b. [2:9] 7:15.

j. [4:15] 1:11.

k. [4:16] 4:1.

d. [5:5] 1:22.

j. [6:12] 7:3.

b. [7:5] 2:13.

e. [7:12] 2:3, 9; 7:8.

f. [7:15] 2:9.

c. [9:7] Prv 22:8 LXX.

c. [10:6] 2:9.

d. [12:9] 4:7.

i. [12:16] 11:3, 13.

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Scripture texts, prefaces, introductions, footnotes and cross references used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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