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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 10

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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There is a break in thought with the beginning of this chapter, but it is nothing which can reasonably reflect on the unity of the epistle. Any man writing on a number of subjects in a single letter, and having something rather sensitive to communicate, would quite naturally reserve it until the concluding part of the letter. All of the scholarly guesses about a "severe" letter having been penned at a time between the two canonical letters, such letter having first been lost, then a part of it discovered, and then inserted by some unknown "editor" at this particular place in 2 Corinthians is too preposterous a surmise to have any weight at all. Why would any "editor" have placed such a recovered lost letter in a place like this? All such speculations perish in the total absence of any manuscript authority, and of any tradition whatever that any such thing ever happened. Even Filson admitted that it is only upon internal evidence that the "severe letter" hypothesis can be advocated.(F1)

The so-called internal evidence evaporates under scholarly analysis; and, as Philip E. Hughes declared:

Paul’s sternest remarks refer not to the Corinthians in general, but to the false teachers (designated "some" in 2 Corinthians 10:2). Besides, it is not difficult to show that passages in this concluding section are plainly very much of a piece with themes and matters introduced in earlier chapters.(F2)

The proposition that there is nothing severe in the first nine chapters is likewise false, and can be advocated only by misreading the hyperbole in 7:13ff (see notes above). Also, the notion of some "ring leader" is contrary to the picture of several factions as given in the first epistle. It is amazing that critical scholarship should be so insistent about something so valueless as their "severe letter" fantasy. Even if it existed, and even if 2 Corinthians 10—13 is part of it, it is admitted by all that Paul wrote it, that it is inspired, canonical and absolutely trustworthy. So what is to be gained by all this imaginative, intellectual tap-dancing about the "severe letter"? It is more than extraordinarily worthless.

Verse 1

Now I Paul myself entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I who in your presence am lowly among you, but being absent am of good courage toward you.

Paul was about to deal with "some" who were still incorrigible sinners at Corinth (2 Corinthians 10:2); but his attitude toward his beloved converts has not changed. He "entreats," as always, being filled with the meekness and gentleness of Christ.

In your presence … lowly … From the days of Chrysostom, this has been thought to echo some of the slanders of Paul’s enemies who had been saying that "when present he was mild and timid, but when absent full of boldness."(F3)

Verse 2

Yea, I beseech you that I may not when present show courage with the confidence wherewith I count to be bold against some, who count of us as if we walked after the flesh.

The thought in this is that Paul was purposely mild and timid when present with the whole congregation, and that he was beseeching the majority of them, even here, that they would not be offended by that confident courage he was prepared to demonstrate against the "some," not only in what he was about to write, but also when he would soon appear among them personally. There is no admission on Paul’s part here that there was anything "weak" about his personal appearance. The whole theory of these later chapters "blasting the whole congregation" is nullified by the distinction between the "you" which included the whole congregation and the "some" which referred to the false teachers.

Verse 3

For though we walk in the flesh; we do not war according to the flesh.

Flesh … is used in two senses here, a distinguishing Pauline trademark. Although still in the body (the flesh), his warfare is not according to the nature of unregenerated and sinful people, whose works are governed by material and secular considerations (according to the flesh).

Verse 4

(For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strongholds).

What were Paul’s weapons? "We learn from 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Ephesians 6:11-16, that they were the energies of spiritual powers given by the Eternal Spirit."(F4)

Casting down of strongholds … "This phrase is essentially military";(F5) and the imagery is that of a bitter and relentless warfare. The strongholds were those entrenched and fortified positions of institutionalized sin which dominated the Corinthian culture, and indeed the whole social fabric of the ancient Roman Empire. Satan had organized evil on a worldwide scale; and the teachings of Jesus Christ were leveled against every form of wickedness, no matter how securely it was embedded in the gross culture of that era.

Mighty before God … Paul’s meaning here is that he had the proper ammunition to blow up and destroy the entrenched positions of the devil. History demonstrated that Paul’s evaluation of the weapons at his disposal was correct.

Verse 5

Casting down imaginations, and every evil thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

Imaginations … appear here in company with other evils; and despite the fact of man’s imagination being a glorious distinction between himself and the lower creations, the misuse of it is superlatively sinful. It was true then, and it is true now. It is the "imagination" of scholars which seeks to challenge the unity of this epistle; and there is hardly any attack ever launched against Christianity that has not been grounded in the evil imagination of its enemies.

High things … and every thought … The imagery is still that of evil men, under the power of Satan, who have exalted themselves against the gospel truth, and who are entrenched, as in a castle with "battlements and high towers which Paul must attack,"(F6) in order to vanquish them. The word "thought" shows that the conflict is not physical, but it is in the realm of ideas and imaginations against the truth. People have always had trouble with their imagination, the deluge itself having been the God-imposed penalty for man’s imagination, which was "only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5).

Verse 6

And being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be made full.

Your obedience shall be made full … This does not mean, as Filson asserted, that "the church’s obedience is here yet to come";(F7) but that it was to be made COMPLETE when Paul had disposed of "some" who were enemies of the truth. There is in this passage an implied admission that their obedience, even at that time, was approaching fullness. The thing that would complete it was Paul’s determination, or "readiness," to destroy the influence of the "some" who were still holding out against the truth.

Verse 7

Ye look at the things which are before your face. If any man trusteth in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again with himself, that, even as he is Christ’s, so also are we.

Ye look at what is before your eyes … should be understood as imperative, as in RSV, "Look at what is before your eyes," giving the meaning of "Take a look at what is obvious."(F8)

If any man … "This probably refers to an outstanding example of the false apostles who had gone to Corinth to try to supplant Paul."(F9) Whoever he was, he was pretending to be Christ’s; but his pretensions were refuted by the certainty of Paul’s being actually "of Christ."

Verse 8

For though I should glory somewhat abundantly concerning our authority (which the Lord gave for building you up, and not for casting you down), I shall not be put to shame.

The parenthesis here is very significant, showing that the strong exercise of his authority, both in this part of the letter and in the impending visit, was not in any manner directed against the great faithful majority. It was solely for the purpose of checkmating the evil, false apostles who intended to put Paul to shame. Notice the distinction between Paul’s "casting down" envisioned of the false apostles, and his "not for casting you down" when addressing the whole congregation. Those who read these chapters as a tirade against the whole church have simply failed to read it.

Verse 9

That I may not seem as if I would terrify you by my letters.

This too is addressed directly to the great faithful majority, the thought being that "Paul could with justification elaborate upon the nature and extent of his apostolic authority, but refrained."(F10) He did not wish to terrify the young converts whom he dearly loved, and the vast majority of whom were faithful and obedient. He had no such restraint as regarded the false apostles; and he seems to be saying here that "it is not you but them whom I wish to terrify."

Verse 10

For, His letters, they say, are weighty and strong; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.

They say … proves that Paul had in mind a number of false teachers, not merely "the ring leader" postulated by the critics. And as for their slander, it is precarious indeed to put any confidence in it. No man who knows the biography can suppose for an instant that his bodily presence was "weak" in any sense, or that he lacked power as a public speaker. Their lies to the contrary should be rejected.

Verse 11

Let such a one reckon this, that, what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such are we also in deed when we are present.

By this sharp retort, Paul denied the slander; but despite this, one may still read all kinds of comments about the weakness of Paul’s personal presence. The achievements of his matchless life, as well as Paul’s blunt rejoinder here, prove his amazing power and strength.

"Paul here is rebutting with calmness and dignity the false charge that he was in any way different from what he was when present."(F11)

Verse 12

For we are not bold to number or compare ourselves with certain of them that commend themselves: but they themselves, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves with themselves, are without understanding.

The dramatically repeated plurals in this verse compel the understanding of several false apostles, rather than some special "ringleader." As Farrar pointed out, this verse ties in with what Paul had already written "in 2 Corinthians 3:1 and 2 Corinthians 4:12."(F12)

"The value of a comparison depends on the standard";(F13) and, as for the standard itself, in this case, and for them that used it, Paul had a single estimate. They were "without understanding"!

Verse 13

But we will not glory beyond our measure, but according to the measure of the province which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even unto you.

The measure of the province … One can only marvel at a translation like this. According to the Greek, as cited in the English Revised Version (1885) margin, the word is measuring-rod, which certainly makes a lot more sense than the word our translators substituted for it. Paul’s plain meaning is that in the "glorying" or "boasting" he is about to do, he shall stay within the limits which God authorized in order to authenticate the message he is addressing to the Corinthians, "to reach even unto you." The noble words of McGarvey on this place are:

Though the whole world was Paul’s bishopric (Galatians 2:7-9), yet he contents himself with saying that it included Corinth. In the eyes of his opponents, Corinth was the sum and center of all things, but in the larger life of Paul, it was a mere dot in a limitless field of operations(F14)

Verse 14

For we stretch not ourselves overmuch, as though we reached not unto you: for we came even as far as unto you in the gospel of Christ.

Paul here stated that his authority was fully ample to reach Corinth without, in any sense, "stretching" it! The perspective of the false teachers was local; Paul’s was universal. Paul had come to Corinth in the first place, not as a final destination, but as a stop en route on a preaching tour of vast dimensions.

Filson very properly applied this passage to the false teachers as follows:

The self-important intruders, when they came to Corinth, were going where they had not been sent by God. But not so with Paul. He went to Corinth under the guidance and direction of God. Corinth was included ("you also") in his assigned field of work.(F15)

Verse 15

But not glorying beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors; but having hope that, as your faith groweth, we shall be magnified in you according to our province unto further abundance.

In this verse, again, "province" is substituted for measuring-rod, because it is clear that he is speaking of a "field of labor" allotted to himself.

In other men’s labors … God had sent the apostle to Corinth; the field was therefore his; and the false apostles, not Paul, were the intruders and usurpers.

Having hope … as your faith groweth … we shall be magnified … In all of this, Paul’s love and appreciation for the Corinthians (in the great majority) shines conspicuously. He had the highest hopes of them. They had faith which Paul believed would grow; and his personal hopes of their magnifying him as their true and lawful leader were strong. Note that Paul used the present tense. His confidence in them was of the present, not something which belonged to the past.

Verse 16

So as to preach the gospel even unto the parts beyond you, and not to glory in another’s province in regard of things ready to our hand.

Macknight’s paraphrase of this makes the correct application to the false teachers as follows:

So as to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, where no person hath yet preached, and not in another man’s bounds, to take praise to myself on account of things already prepared, that is, of churches already planted, as the false teacher hath done.(F16)

This was Paul’s affirmation that even after correcting the disorders that still existed among them, he had no intention whatever of settling down there to exploit them, as the false apostles were doing. His mission was still pointed to all the world.

Verse 17

But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

The false teachers were glorying in many things, but in nothing that God had done through them. They were preening themselves like peacocks, boasting of their credentials, which were doubtless as phony as they were, bragging of their "liberty" to attend idol feasts, and flaunting the sophisticated rhetoric in vogue among the Greeks. There was nothing of the Lord in any of that; and Paul here nailed them down as wicked impostors. Whatever they had done, God had not authorized any of it.

Verse 18

For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.

Paul’s work among the Corinthians had been marked by the authority and blessing of God, they themselves having accepted the gospel through his preaching; and, in the light of those facts, the honor that some of them were willing to give the false prophets was as scandalous as it was unjust and wicked.

"The only true ground of approval is to do the work of Christ."(F17) Reluctant as Paul was to mention his own personal qualifications, he would nevertheless do so, in order to show by whatever standards chosen, that the false teachers were infinitely below him whom God had commissioned as the apostle to the Gentiles. Even in the boasting which he was reluctant to do, Paul selected his sufferings, hardships, and tribulations, as there could be no charge of human vanity in the recounting of them. He poured out his heart in the succeeding chapter.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-corinthians-10.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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