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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 4

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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Verse 1

2 Corinthians 4:1 . διὰ τοῦτο ἔχοντες κ . τ . λ .: wherefore, having this Ministration, sc. , of the New Covenant, even as we received mercy ( i.e. , “even as we were mercifully granted it,” a favourite thought with St. Paul; cf. 1 Corinthians 7:25 , 1 Timothy 1:13 ; 1 Timothy 1:16 ), we faint not; cf. 2 Timothy 1:7 , οὐ γὰρ ἔδωκεν ἡμῖν ὁ Θεὸς πνεῦμα δειλίας . He is still answering the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16 ); but he, again, in the verses which follow, diverges from this main thought to answer the charge of insincerity which his opponents had brought against him. The tone of 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 is very like that of 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 , which offers several verbal parallels.

Verses 1-6


Verse 2

2 Corinthians 4:2 . ἀλλʼ ἀπειπάμεθα τὰ κρυπτὰ κ . τ . λ .: but we have renounced (the “ingressive aorist”; cf. ἐσίγησεν , Acts 15:12 ) the hidden things of shame; cf. Romans 13:12 , Ephesians 4:22 . The stress is on τὰ κρυπτά ; it is the openness and candour of his ministry on which he insists ( cf. John 3:20 ). μὴ περιπατ . κ . τ . λ .: not walking in craftiness (see 2 Corinthians 10:3 and reff. above; περιπατεῖν = versari ), nor handling deceitfully ( οὐδὲ ἐν δόλῳ , 1 Thessalonians 2:3 , cf. chap. 2 Corinthians 2:17 ) the Word of God, sc. , the Divine message with which we have been entrusted ( cf. the charge brought against him and referred to in 2 Corinthians 12:16 , viz. , that being πανοῦργος he had taught the Corinthians δόλῳ ); but by the manifestation of the truth ( cf. 2 Corinthians 6:7 , 2 Corinthians 7:14 ), sc. , by plain statement of the truths of the Gospel in public preaching, commending ourselves (here is our Letter of Commendation, 2 Corinthians 3:1 , and cf. note there) to every man’s conscience (lit. “to every conscience of men,” i.e. , to every possible variety of the human conscience; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:22 ) in the sight of God . The appeal to conscience can never be omitted with safety, and any presentation of Christianity which is neglectful of the verdict of conscience on the doctrines taught is at once un-Apostolic and un-Christlike. These verses (2 Corinthians 4:1-6 ) have been chosen as the Epistle for St. Matthew’s Day, probably on account of the apparent applicability of 2 Corinthians 4:2 to the circumstances of St. Matthew’s call and his abandonment of a profession which was counted shameful. But of course ἀπειπάμεθα does not imply that St. Paul had ever been guilty of using crafty artifices such as he here repudiates once and for all.

Verse 3

2 Corinthians 4:3 . εἰ δὲ καὶ κ . τ . λ .: but even if our gospel ( sc. , the good news we preach; see reff.) is veiled (returning again to the metaphor of 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 ), it is veiled in them, that are perishing; i.e. , the fault lies with the hearers, not with the preacher ( cf. 2 Corinthians 6:12 , and see Romans 1:28 ). Blass ( Gram. of N.T. Greek , § 41, 2) points out that ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις is almost equivalent to “ for them that are perishing” ( cf. chap. 2 Corinthians 8:1 and 1 Corinthians 14:11 for a like use of ἐν ).

Verse 4

2 Corinthians 4:4 . ἐν οἷς ὁ Θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος : among whom the god of this world, sc. , Satan. αἰών is an “age,” a certain limit of time, and so ὁ αἰὼν οὑτός (1 Corinthians 1:20 ; 1 Corinthians 2:6 ) is “this present age,” over which the devil is regarded as having power ( cf. Ephesians 2:2 ; Ephesians 6:12 ). We have the expression αἱ βασιλεῖαι τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου in Ignatius ( Romans , 6 ). Wetstein quotes a Rabbinical saying, “The true God is the first God , but Sammael ( i.e. , the evil angel who was counted Israel’s special foe) is the second God ”. Many early writers, beginning with Origen and Irenæus, through dread of Gnostic speculations, dissociate ὁ Θεός from τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου , which they join with τῶν ἀπίστων . But this is a mere perversity of exegesis, suggested by controversial prejudice. Beliar is twice called “the ruler of this world” in the Ascension of Isaiah (ed. Charles, pp. 11, 24). ἐτύφλωσε τὰ νοήματα τῶν ἀπίστων : hath blinded (the “ingressive aorist” again; cf. 2 Corinthians 4:2 ) the minds ( cf. 2 Corinthians 3:14 ) of the unbelieving . Out of sixteen occurrences of the word ἀπιστος in the Pauline Epistles, fourteen are found in the Epp. to the Corinthians; it consistently means “unbelieving,” and is always applied to the heathen , not to the Jews (except, perhaps, Titus 1:15 ). εἰς τὸ μὴ αὐγάσαι κ . τ . λ .: to the end that the light (lit. “the illumination”) of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the Image of God, should not dawn upon them . This is the force of αὐγάσαι , even if, as we seemingly must do, we omit αὐτοῖς from our text; αὐγή is the “dawn,” and αὐγάσαι is to be taken intransitively. The R.V. marginal rendering “that they should not see the light,” etc., does not suit the context so well. The A.V. “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ” is inadequate, as it does not bring out the force of the phrase τοῦ εὐαγγελίου τῆς δόξης . δόξης is the genitive of contents ( cf. the similar phrase, 1 Timothy 1:11 ); the substance of the good tidings preached is the δόξα , the glorious revelation of Christ ( cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6 below). That Christ is the Image or εἰκών of God is the statement of St. Paul which approaches most nearly in form to the λόγος doctrine of St. John (see reff. and, for the general sense, 1 Corinthians 11:3 , Philippians 2:6 ; cf. Hebrews 1:3 ). P. Ewald, who maintains that St. Paul was acquainted with a Johannine tradition of our Lord’s words, finds in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 reminiscences of conversations reported in the Fourth Gospel. Thus we have in consecutive verses (John 8:44-45 ) ὑμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστὲ … οὐ πιστεύετέ μοι , and the expression ὁ Θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου is comparable with ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου (John 12:31 ; John 14:30 ; John 16:11 ). The parallels are certainly interesting; cf. also the phrase εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ with John 8:19 ; John 8:42 .

Verse 5

2 Corinthians 4:5 . οὐ γὰρ ἑαυτοὺς κ . τ . λ .: for we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord ( cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3 , “No man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit”), and ourselves your slaves for Jesus’ sake ( cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19 and chap. 2 Corinthians 1:24 above; see also 2 Corinthians 11:20 καταδουλοῖ ).

Verse 6

2 Corinthians 4:6 . ὅτι ὁ Θεὸς κ . τ . λ .: seeing it is God who said “Light shall shine out of darkness” (a paraphrase of Genesis 1:3 ; cf. Psalms 112:4 ), who shined in our hearts to illuminate (others) with the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ . That is to say, there is nothing secret or crafty in the Ministration of the New Covenant; it is the proclamation of a second Fiat Lux (St. John 1:4 ; John 8:12 ) in the hearts of men (2 Peter 1:19 ). The image of 2 Corinthians 3:18 is thus preserved in this verse; we reflect the light which shines upon us from the Divine Glory, as manifested in Christ.

Verse 7

2 Corinthians 4:7 . ἔχομεν δὲ τὸν θησαυρὸν κ . τ . λ .: but, sc. , in contrast to the glowing and exultant phrases of 2 Corinthians 4:6 , we have this treasure, sc. , of “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God,” in earthen vessels . The comparison of man, in respect of his powerlessness and littleness in God’s eyes, to an earthen jar made by a potter for his own purposes and of any shape that he wills is common in the O.T. (Job 10:9 , Isaiah 30:14 , Jeremiah 19:11 ; see 2EEsther 4:11 ), and St. Paul works out the idea in Romans 9:20 ff. He also distinguishes here and at 2 Timothy 2:20 between different kinds of σκεύη , illustrating thereby the difference between men; while he himself is elsewhere called σκεῦος ἐκλογῆς , and St. Peter calls woman ἀσθενέστερον σκεῦος (see reff.). In the present passage σκεῦος seems to be used specially for the human body ( cf. 2 Esdras 7 [88], vas corruptibile ), as the thought in the Apostle’s mind is (mainly) of his own physical infirmities; the figure being derived from the ancient custom of storing gold and silver in earthenware pots. The treasure of the Gospel light is contained in an “earthen vessel,” a frail body which may (seemingly) at any moment succumb ( cf. Job 4:19 and see 2 Corinthians 5:1 below). This may appear surprising, that so great a treasure should seem to be exposed to the mishaps which may befall the perishable jar in which it is contained; but yet (though St. Paul does not pursue this line of thought here) it is the very principle of the Incarnation that the heavenly is revealed and received through the earthly, for “the Word became flesh” (St. John 1:14 ). ἵνα ἡ ὑπερβολὴ τῆς δυνάμεως κ . τ . λ .: that the exceeding greatness of the power, sc. , which triumphs over all obstacles, may be God’s and not from ourselves . The weakness of the instrument is to demonstrate the Divinity of the power which directs it ( cf. chap. 2 Corinthians 12:9 and 1 Corinthians 2:5 ).

Verses 7-15


Verses 8-9

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 . ἐν παντὶ θλιβόμενοι κ . τ . λ .: with a sudden change of metaphor, the Apostle now thinks of himself as a soldier engaged with an apparently stronger foe, and at every moment on the point of defeat; and in four pairs of antithetical participles he describes his condition: in every direction pressed hard, but not hemmed in; bewildered, but not utterly despairing; pursued, but not forsaken ( i.e. , abandoned to the pursuing foe); struck down (as by an arrow; cf. Xen., Cyr. , i., 3, 14 for this use of καταβάλλειν ), but not destroyed . The general sense is much like that of Proverbs 24:16 , Micah 7:8 ; cf. also chap. 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 . στενοχωρία is nearly always (in N.T.) coupled with θλῖψις ( cf. Romans 2:9 ; Romans 8:35 , chap. 2 Corinthians 6:4 , and Isaiah 8:22 ; Isaiah 30:6 ). With the play on words ἀπορούμενοι … ἐξαπορούμενοι , which it is difficult to reproduce in English, see on 2 Corinthians 1:13 above. The phrase ἐν παντί occurs no less than nine times again in this Epistle (see chap. 2 Corinthians 6:4 , 2Co 7:5 ; 2 Corinthians 7:11 ; 2 Corinthians 7:16 , 2Co 8:7 , 2 Corinthians 9:8 ; 2 Corinthians 9:11 , 2 Corinthians 11:6 ; 2 Corinthians 11:9 ), though only once elsewhere (1 Corinthians 1:5 ) in St. Paul’s writings.

Verses 10-11

2 Corinthians 4:10-11 . The climax of the preceding antithesis is now reached: “Dying, yet living” ( cf. 2 Corinthians 6:9 ). πάντοτε τὴν νέκρωσιν κ . τ . λ .: always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the Life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body; for we which live are ever being delivered over to death ( cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23 below) for Jesus’ sake, that the Life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh . The key to the interpretation of 2 Corinthians 4:10 is to observe that 2 Corinthians 4:11 is the explanation of it ( ἀεὶ γὰρ κ . τ . λ .); the two verses are strictly parallel: “our mortal flesh” of 2 Corinthians 4:11 is only a more emphatic and literal way of describing “our body” of 2 Corinthians 4:10 . Hence the bearing about of the νέκρωσις of Jesus must be identical with the continual deliverance to death for His sake. Now the form νέκρωσις (see reff.) is descriptive of the process of “mortification”; and the νέκρωσις τοῦ Ἰησοῦ must mean the νέκρωσις to which He was subject while on earth ( gen. subjecti ). The phrase περιφέρειν τὴν νέκρωσιν τοῦ Ἰησοῦ conveys, then, an idea comparable to that involved in other Pauline phrases, e.g. , “to die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31 ), “to be killed all the day long” (Romans 8:36 , a quotation from Ps. 43:22), “to know the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming conformed unto His death” (Philippians 3:10 ), “to fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh” (Colossians 1:24 ), the conception of the intimate union in suffering between Christ and the Christian having been already touched on in 2 Corinthians 1:5 . And such union in suffering involves a present manifestation in us of the Life of Christ, as well as ultimate union with Him in glory (Romans 8:17 , cf. John 14:19 ). The phrases “if we have become united with Him by the likeness of His death, we shall be also by the likeness of His resurrection,” and “if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Romans 6:5 ; Romans 6:8 ), though verbally similar, are not really parallel to the verse before us, for they speak of a death to sin in baptism, while this has reference to actual bodily suffering in the flesh. And the inspiring thought of 2 Corinthians 4:10-11 of the present chapter is that Union with Christ, unto death, in life, has as its joyful consequence Union with Christ, unto life, in death. It is the paradox of the Gospel over again, ὁ ἀπολέσας τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ εὑρήσει αὐτήν (Matthew 10:39 ). It will be observed that the best MSS. give in 2 Corinthians 4:10 τοῦ Ἰησοῦ . It is worth noticing that while in the Gospels the proper name’ Ιησοῦς generally takes the article, in the Epistles it is generally anarthrous. In addition to the example before us, the only other passage where St. Paul writes ὁ Ἰησοῦς is Ephesians 4:21 ( cf. Blass, Gram. of N.T. Greek , § 46. 10).

Verse 12

2 Corinthians 4:12 . The manifestation of Christ’s Life in the Apostle’s daily νέκρωσις is thus visible to the world and especially to his converts. ὥστε ὁ μὲν θάνατος κ . τ . λ .: so then Death worketh in us (see on 2 Corinthians 1:6 ), but Life in you, i.e. , the Risen Life of Christ, the source of present grace as of future glory. It is this latter aspect of ζωή , viz. , as the life after death, to which his thoughts now turn.

Verse 13

2 Corinthians 4:13 . ἔχοντες δὲ τὸ αὐτὸ πν . κ . τ . λ .: but, sc. , despite our bodily weakness and the “working of death in us” of 2 Corinthians 4:12 , having the same spirit of faith, sc. , as the Psalmist, according to that which is written, “I believed, and therefore I spoke,” we also believe, and therefore also we speak, sc. , as the Psalmist did. The exact meaning of Psalms 115:1 in the original is hard to fix; but the context would not naturally suggest the beautiful thought here read into it. That faith must find expression, that it cannot be silent, is the Apostle’s adaptation of the words. With τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πίστεως cf. Romans 8:15 , 1 Corinthians 4:21 , Galatians 6:1 , Ephesians 1:17 , 2 Timothy 1:7 , etc. Deissmann ( Neue Bibelstudien , p. 78) illustrates the introductory formula of citation here employed by the legal formula κατὰ τὰ προγεγραμμένα which occurs in a Fayyûm papyrus of 52 A.D.

Verse 14

2 Corinthians 4:14 . Despite the contrast between death in us and life in you (2 Corinthians 4:12 ), we trust that we too shall share in that Risen Life of Christ. εἰδότες ὅτι κ . τ . λ .: knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus (see reff.) shall raise up us also with Jesus, sc. , on the Day of the general Resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:14 ), and shall present us with you (see reff.). Observe that the A.V. “shall raise up us also by Jesus” depends on a wrong reading, and perverts the sense. It would appear from this passage that the Apostle did not hope to be alive at the Second Advent of Christ ( cf. 2 Corinthians 1:8 , 1 Corinthians 15:52 ), although at an earlier period he seems to have cherished such an expectation (1 Thessalonians 4:15 ).

Verse 15

2 Corinthians 4:15 . τὰ γὰρ πάντα διʼ ὑμᾶς κ . τ . λ .: (With you, I say) for all things ( cf. 1 Corinthians 3:22 ) are for your sakes ( cf. 2 Corinthians 1:6 ), that the grace, being multiplied, sc. , to me, through the (prayers of the) greater number of you, may cause the thanksgiving to abound unto the glory of God. Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:11 , a closely parallel passage, and Philippians 1:19 . Except that we have deemed it necessary to translate τῶν πλειόνων literally (see on 2 Corinthians 2:6 ), the above is the rendering of the R.V. The A.V. “that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God” can hardly be possible, and the position of πλεονάσασα in the sentence seems to require that the words be connected as in R.V. For the transitive significance of περισσεύω see reff.

Verse 16

2 Corinthians 4:16 . διὸ οὐκ ἐγκακοῦμεν κ . τ . λ .: wherefore, sc. , because of the thought in 2 Corinthians 4:14 , we faint not (repeated from 2 Corinthians 4:1 ); but even though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is being renewed day by day . That is, even though (note εἰ καί with the indicative as introducing not a mere contingency, but a matter of fact; see reff. 2 Corinthians 4:3 ) the “earthen vessel” (2 Corinthians 4:7 ) of my body is subject to a continual νέκρωσις (2 Corinthians 4:10 ) and decay, yet my true self is daily renewed by Divine grace; it is in hope of the consummation of this “renewal” that I faint not ( cf. Isaiah 40:30 ). The contrast between ὁ ἔξω ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος and ὁ ἔσω ἡμῶν ἅνθρωπος has verbal parallels in Romans 7:22 , Ephesians 4:22-23 , Colossians 3:9 ( cf. also 1 Peter 3:4 ), but they are not quite apposite, as in those passages the thought is of the difference between the lower and higher nature, the “flesh” and the “spirit,” whereas here the decay of the bodily organism is set over against the growth in grace of the man himself; cf. the expression of Plato, ὁ ἐντὸς ἄνθρωπος ( Republ. , ix., p. 589). The phrase ἡμέρᾳ καὶ ἡμέρᾳ is a Hebraism; it is not found in this exact form in the LXX, but it might well be a rendering of יוֹם ריוֹם ( cf. Genesis 39:10 , Psalms 68:19 , Esther 3:4 ).

Verses 16-18

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 . HE IS SUSTAINED BY A GLORIOUS HOPE.

Verse 17

2 Corinthians 4:17 . τὸ γὰρ παραυτίκα κ . τ . λ .: for our present light burden of affliction worketh out for us more and more exceedingly an eternal heavy burden of glory; cf. , for the thought (ever full of consolation to the troubled heart), Psalms 30:5 , Isaiah 54:7 , Matthew 5:11 , Heb 12:11 , 1 Peter 1:6 ; 1 Peter 5:10 , and especially Romans 8:18 . παραυτίκα does not refer (as the A.V. and R.V. would suggest) to the brief duration of temporal affliction, but only to its being present with us now , as set over against the future glory (see reff.). τὸ ἐλαφρόν τῆς θλίψεως offers a good instance of “the most classical idiom in the language of the N.T.” (Blass) especially frequent in St. Paul according to which a neuter singular adjective is used as if it were an abstract noun; cf. chap. 2 Corinthians 8:8 , Romans 8:3 , 1 Corinthians 1:25 , Philippians 3:8 , etc., for a like construction. καθʼ ὑπερβολὴν εἰς ὑπερβολήν is another Hebraism (see last verse), מאר מאר = “exceedingly”; it cannot qualify βάρος (as the A.V. takes it) or αἰώνιον , but must go with κατεργάζεται , as above ( cf. Galatians 1:13 ). Stanley points out that the collocation βάρος δόξης may be suggested by the fact that the Hebrew כָּבַד means both “to be heavy” (Genesis 18:20 , Job 6:3 ) and “to be glorious” (Job 14:21 ); cf. the ambiguity in the Latin gravitas .

Verse 18

2 Corinthians 4:18 . μὴ σκοπούντων ἡμῶν τὰ βλεπόμενα f1κ . τ . λ .: while we look not at the things which are seen ( cf. chap. 2 Corinthians 5:7 ), but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, sc. , for the moment, but the things which are not seen are eternal, sc. , for the ages; cf. Romans 8:24 , Hebrews 11:1 . Wetstein quotes a good parallel to this splendid sentence from Seneca (Ep. 59); “Ista imaginaria sunt, et ad tempus aliquam faciem ferunt. Nihil horum stabile nec solidum est … mittamus animum ad ea, quae aeterna sunt.”

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/2-corinthians-4.html. 1897-1910.
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