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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 10

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-2

Paul may have identified himself by name here so his readers would have no doubt that what he proceeded to say indeed came from him. Whenever he described himself as "I Paul" (and here "myself"), he made his point with strong emphasis (cf. Galatians 5:2; Ephesians 3:1; Colossians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17; Philemon 1:19). He began by gently asking his readers to respond to his appeal to submit to his apostolic authority. This was important so that when he came he would not have to deal severely with those who opposed him (cf. Acts 5:1-10). The description of himself in 2 Corinthians 10:1 b is his critics’. Those individuals were saying that Paul was behaving as a carnal Christian (2 Corinthians 10:2; cf. 2 Corinthians 1:12-24). He sent forceful letters to them, especially his "severe letter," but when he was with them in person he was less aggressive. However his meekness (mercifulness) and gentleness were characteristics of Christ rather than signs of personal timidity (2 Corinthians 10:1; cf. Matthew 23; John 2:14-22). Paul did not want to have to be critical when he arrived in Corinth, yet he was ready to be if necessary.

"In 2 Corinthians 10:2 Paul gives the probable clue to his critics’ basis of opposition to him. Judging his attempted discipline of moral offenders in Corinth to have been ineffectual, they ’reckon’ that Paul must be a man who ’walks according to the flesh.’" [Note: Barnett, p. 461.]

Verses 1-6

1. Reply to the charge of cowardice 10:1-6

Verses 1-10


In this third and last major division of his epistle the apostle Paul defended his apostolic authority. He did this to silence his critics in Corinth and perhaps elsewhere permanently and to confirm the united support of the Christians there. One of Paul’s major purposes in writing this letter was to prepare the way for his next visit. He had just referred to that "anticipated visit" (2 Corinthians 9:3-4). Consequently he felt compelled to establish his apostolic authority firmly.

". . . the reason for the new subject (as in 1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 15:1) lies primarily in the situation [Paul faced in Corinth] rather than in Paul’s logic." [Note: Keener, p. 216.]

Broomall’s observation on the tone of 2 Corinthians generally is especially true of chapters 10-13.

"The progress of thought in this epistle is like the movement of a mighty army advancing over rugged terrain still inhabited by pockets of stubborn resistance." [Note: Broomall, p. 1261.]

". . . 2 Corinthians 10-13 presents us with what might almost be called a new kind of Judaizing: a Hellenistic Jewish movement that opposed Paul but was less concerned (so far as we know) with circumcision and with detailed observance of the Mosaic law than with prestige and power in accord with the contemporary values of Corinthian society. Paul’s response (2 Corinthians 10-13) is the most intense, revealing, and emotional of all his writings." [Note: Carson and Moo, p. 447.]

Verses 1-18

A. Replies to charges made against Paul 10:1-18

Paul responded to charges of cowardice, weakness, and intrusion that one or more critics in Corinth had evidently leveled against him. Failure to submit to apostolic authority could have dangerous consequences, such as disregarding his inspired writings. It was to spare his beloved readers from these ill effects that Paul wrote as he did, not out of a carnal sense of wounded pride.

Verses 3-4

Paul admitted that he walked in the flesh (was only human) but denied that he worked according to the flesh (as carnal Christians and unbelievers do). He was contrasting living in the world and living as a worldling. Carnal weapons like intimidation, manipulation, trickery, double-talk, rumor, and hypocritical behavior are ineffective in spiritual warfare. Reliance on the working of God, however, results in supernatural victories. The spiritual Christian’s weapons are those that Paul later enumerated in Ephesians 6:11-17. The "fortresses" or "strongholds" (Gr. ochuroma, used only here in the New Testament) probably refer to the false arguments of Paul’s opponents (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:5).

Verse 5

As in Ephesians 6:12, Paul described the enemy as impersonal. We wage war against invisible, intangible spiritual forces, though obviously Satan is behind these forces. Satan’s strategy is not only to use demons (Ephesians 6:12) but also speculations (theories) and incorrect information that contradicts God’s revealed truth. The propaganda of our enemy consists of ideas that run counter to the truth of God. "Speculations" or "arguments" (2 Corinthians 10:4 in NIV) contrast with revelations that God has given, and they contradict those revelations. "Lofty things" or "pretensions" include any human act or attitude that asserts itself as being superior to God’s will or truth. Paul claimed to make it his aim to bring all such thoughts and actions into submission to what God has revealed in His Word. He regarded this as obedience to Christ. He was a bondservant to the truth of God in his thinking. His desire was that everyone would voluntarily submit to such servant status.

"It is not a case of the Christian’s effort to force all his thoughts to be pleasing to Christ. Rather the picture seems to be that of a military operation in enemy territory that seeks to thwart every single hostile plan of battle, so that there will be universal allegiance to Christ." [Note: Harris, p. 380.]

Verse 6

Paul was ready to come to Corinth and punish all disobedience to God’s will and his own apostolic authority. However, he wanted to do that only after the whole church had made a clean break with the rebels in its midst. If the church would not stand with him in disciplining his unrepentant opponents, his discipline would not be effective. Unless any church as a whole is willing to support the discipline of its member or members, the discipline that its leaders seek to impose will be ineffective.

Verse 7

The Corinthian Christians tended to evaluate the claims of Paul’s critics superficially. The apostle urged them to look below the surface. At least one critic seems to have been claiming that he had received apostolic authority from Christ that was every bit as binding as Paul’s, if not more binding. Paul did not dispute this claim here but simply argued that his own authority was from Christ. The critic and Paul both claimed to belong to Christ as His apostles. It was unfair for the Corinthians to accept the claim of the critic and to deny Paul’s claim.

Verses 7-11

2. Reply to the charge of weakness 10:7-11

As Paul defended himself against the charge of cowardice leveled by his critics, so he also claimed ability to deal forcefully with them in person as well as by letter. He referred to this to explain his conduct further and to urge obedience to his commands.

Verse 8

Paul said he could have said more about his apostolic authority without feeling shame about exaggerating. The facts spoke for themselves. However he did not want to put that kind of pressure on his opponents in a letter. They had charged that it was only in his letters that he could express himself forcefully. His reference to his authority for building up here seems intended to contrast his edifying ministry in Corinth with the destructive work of his critics (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:17).

Paul had stressed the divine origin of his call and gospel when he defended himself to the Galatians (Galatians 1:1; Galatians 1:11-12; Galatians 1:15-16). Here he stressed the divine origin of his authority (2 Corinthians 3:5-6; 2 Corinthians 13:10) and how he had used it for his readers’ good.

Verses 9-10

Paul’s reference to terrifying his readers (2 Corinthians 10:9) is ironical, as is clear from 2 Corinthians 10:10. It is probably better to take the critics’ charge that Paul was unimpressive as a reference to his conduct among them, not to his physical appearance, in view of the context (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:13). Paul evidently was not a showy speaker compared to many silver-tongued orators of his day, or even Apollos. The power of his influence came through the Holy Spirit’s working through his words (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 11:6).

". . . unlike his opponents (2 Corinthians 11:20), Paul avoided self-assertiveness and admitted the inferiority of his rhetorical skills (1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 11:6). What he firmly resists, however, is the inference drawn from the claim about his personal bearing and his manner of speaking-namely, that he was ’"timid" when face to face’ (2 Corinthians 10:1)." [Note: Ibid., p. 382.]

"Like so many who judge things according to the outward display of this world, Paul’s opponents interpreted meekness as weakness, forbearance as cowardice, and gentleness as indecision (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:1; . . . 2 Corinthians 11:21 . . .)-or at least they had sought to induce the Corinthians to place this interpretation on Paul’s character." [Note: Hughes, p. 362.]

Verse 11

Paul had restrained his words of exhortation to the Corinthians while he was with them for their welfare. He continued to do that in this letter lest he give substance to the charge that he was bold and impressive when absent. However, he was perfectly capable of being as forceful in person as he was in his letters (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:2; 2 Corinthians 13:10).

Verse 12

In irony Paul claimed to be a coward, as his critics accused, when it came to comparing himself with his critics. They cited their own conduct as normative and then prided themselves on measuring up to the standard. The Corinthians would be just as foolish if they measured Paul’s apostolic credentials by using the same subjective standard that his critics applied to themselves.

J. B. Phillips’ paraphrase of the first part of this verse captures Paul’s irony well.

"Of course, we shouldn’t dare include ourselves in the same class as those who write their own testimonials, or even to compare ourselves with them!" [Note: J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English.]

Verses 12-18

3. Reply to the charge of intrusion 10:12-18

Paul defended his right to preach the gospel in Corinth and denied his critics’ claim that they had been responsible for what God had done through Paul there. He did this to vindicate his former actions and to prepare for future ministry in the regions beyond Corinth.

". . . Paul, responding to his opponents’ characterization of him as inconsistent, and hence as a flatterer, and of the invidious comparisons of his opponents, attacks the whole convention of self-advertisement by means of a remarkably subtle and forceful parody of its methods." [Note: Christopher Forbes, "Comparison, Self-Praise and Irony: Paul’s Boasting and the Conventions of Hellenistic Rhetoric," New Testament Studies 32:1 (January 1986):2.]

What Paul wrote in this section and the following ones helps us see that some opposition against Paul in Corinth came from Jewish Christians. These critics contested Paul’s special calling and his legitimate right to minister to Gentiles. Moreover in their unrestrained self-commendation they were claiming the credit for what God had done through Paul in Corinth.

Verses 13-14

Evidently Paul’s critics were claiming that the apostle had exceeded the proper limits of his ministry by evangelizing in Corinth. They proudly refused to admit that Paul’s commission as the apostle to the Gentiles gave him the right to minister as far from Palestine as Corinth. He responded that he had not exceeded the territorial limits of his commission by planting the church in Gentile Corinth.

Paul’s ministry had definite divinely prescribed limits. He was to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Romans 1:5; cf. Galatians 2:9) and he was to do pioneer missionary work (Romans 15:20). His ministry at Corinth had been within those bounds. He had not overextended his authority by coming to Corinth. It was his critics who were overextending themselves by claiming that Corinth was their special domain.

"We may conjecture that had they come to Corinth and confined their ministry to the synagogue (as Cephas had?), there would have been no problem. The difficulty appears to be that these newcomers are not content with that; they wish to move into Paul’s God-assigned ’field’ of ministry, the Gentiles." [Note: Barnett, p. 488.]

Verses 15-16

Paul was anxious that all the Corinthians acknowledge that he was not doing what his critics were doing. They were taking credit for what God had done through Paul in Corinth. They were apparently claiming that the spiritual vitality of the Corinthian church was due to their ministry in spite of Paul’s influence. This is sometimes a temptation for those who follow others in ministry. Sometimes they confuse unconsciously, or as in the case of Paul’s critics consciously, the results of their work and the results of their predecessors’ work.

Paul wanted the Corinthians to continue to support him as he reached out to yet unevangelized fields such as Rome and Spain in the future (Acts 19:21; Romans 1:11; Romans 15:24; Romans 15:28). He hoped that his ministry would take him even farther still.

Pioneer evangelism precluded the possibility of Paul falling into the error of his critics. He could not claim the credit for what his predecessors had done since he had no predecessors when he planted a new church. Paul did not want to build on, much less take credit for, the foundational work that his predecessors had done but to preach the gospel in previously unevangelized areas (Romans 15:18-21). He did not, however, object to others building on the foundation that he had laid or watering what he had planted (1 Corinthians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 3:10). He did object to their failing to give credit where credit was due.

Paul spoke as though his future was in the Corinthians’ hands. It was because for Paul to proceed into unreached areas he needed to have his former churches, including Corinth, in good spiritual condition. Paul did not just want to plant as many churches as he could. He wanted to plant a church and then make sure it continued to follow the Lord faithfully before he moved on to plant other churches. If it did not, he felt responsible to get it spiritually healthy before he moved on. The faith of the Corinthians would continue to grow as they responded positively to Paul’s instructions. Then they would be able to provide the support (prayer and perhaps financial) that was essential for him to expand his ministry (2 Corinthians 10:15 b).

Verses 17-18

In summary, Paul purposed not to take credit for (boast in) what others had accomplished in their service for Christ. He could not even boast about what he had accomplished since it was God who was at work through him. His only boast therefore would be the Lord. That is, he would be proud only of his Lord. He quoted Jeremiah who expressed this thought well (Jeremiah 9:24; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:31). The only commendation worth anything is the work that God has done through His servants, not their words. This is His commendation of them (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:9).

"In the Christian church, indeed, self-commendation should be viewed with suspicion as a mark of disqualification. God’s commendation of a person is shown, not by verbal boasts, but by the testimony of the consciences of those who have experienced the blessing attendant upon that person’s labours and by the continuing and increasing fruits of his labours (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:2, 2 Corinthians 5:11)." [Note: Hughes, p. 371.]

In this chapter the contrast between Paul’s view of ministry and his critics’ view stands out clearly. They had different motives, different authority, different loyalties, different objectives, and different procedures. In all these contrasts Paul emerges as the truly Spirit-led apostle.

"If there is currently a temptation to import models of ministry from management, the social sciences, or academia, the New Testament sources indicate the inadequacy of all nonbiblical models." [Note: James W. Thompson, "Ministry in the New Testament," Restoration Quarterly 27:3 (Third Quarter 1984):156.]

"The import of this passage is threefold. First, Paul establishes that the spreading of the gospel is the priority of Christian ministry. In Paul’s case this meant the mission to the Gentiles to which he was called by God on the road to Damascus, as recognized by the missionary concordat of Jerusalem c. A.D. 47. Second, because the existence of another mission-that to the Jews-brought its own complications and tensions, accepted principles of cooperation were needed, as they continue to be in comparable situations. Third, self-commendation in Christian ministry is excluded. The Lord commends his servants for ministry by the fruits of their ministry." [Note: Barnett, pp. 493-94.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-corinthians-10.html. 2012.
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