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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 2

Everett's Study Notes on the Holy ScripturesEverett's Study Notes

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Verses 1-4

Explanation: Establishing the Corinthians in the Faith In 2 Corinthians 1:21 to 2 Corinthians 2:4 Paul explains to the Corinthians that God had anointed him and established them and sealed them with the Holy Spirit. They stand by faith in God’s Word. He explains why stayed away from Corinth in order to avoid damaging their faith in Christ.

Paul’s Painful Visit and Sorrowful Letter - 2 Corinthians 2:1 makes a reference to a second visit that Paul the apostle made to the church at Corinth. We have other references to this visit in 2Co 12:14 ; 2 Corinthians 13:1.

2 Corinthians 12:14, “Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.”

2 Corinthians 13:1, “This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”

This would have been his second visit to them, because he tells them he is planning on making a third trip. Although we have no reference to this visit in the book of Acts, he tells them that he came in heaviness at that time.

We have another reference to the tone of this second visit in 2 Corinthians 12:21.

2 Corinthians 12:21, “And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.”

It would be unlikely that he is referring to his first visit as painful. Thus, scholars describe this second one as the “painful” visit. These problems could have been caused by sectarian groups fighting for preeminence, or from a refusal to carry out Paul’s instructions regarding the problem of incest within the church.

As to the time of this visit, most scholars believe that it took place after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. This is simply because he makes no reference to this painful visit in this earlier epistle. We can suggest that this visit took place before his “sorrowful letter”, which he refers to in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4. We can suggest from 2 Corinthians 2:6; 2 Corinthians 2:9 that the sorrowful letter was intended to instruct the church to discipline the wrongdoer, whom he confronted on his painful visit. He also wrote it in order to avoid another painful visit (2 Corinthians 2:4), to show his sincere love for their wellbeing (2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:12), to test their obedience (2 Corinthians 2:9) and

Evidently, after the delivery of 1 Corinthians Paul’s relationship with this church deteriorated. So he made a hurried visit to Corinth only to be confronted with adversaries. Now, Paul was a man who had seen much adversity and persecution come against him. When it comes from your own children it hurts much more. This seems to be the tone that Paul used when he returned to Ephesus and sadly wrote the sorrowful letter and sent it by the hand of Titus.

We read in 2 Corinthians 7:6-16 the Corinthian response to Paul’s severe letter. Paul recall’s the message that he received from Titus of how they had repented with godly sorrow and of their fervent desire towards Paul. He justifies his harshness in the letter after seeing its results.

As to the identity of this “severe letter” mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:2-4, most scholars agree that it is no longer extant. However, there are some scholars who make observations that must be considered. Scholars do not believe this to be a reference to 1 Corinthians, because its tone is much more severe that we find in that lengthy epistle. However, the events of 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 seem to correspond to those of 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 2 Corinthians 7:12. The contents of 1 Corinthians was not written in the place of another painful visit, but rather in response to some new disturbing reports and a list of questions brought by a delegate from the Church. Thus, whether these two passages refer to the same event or not, we cannot view 1 Corinthians as the “sorrowful letter.”

One interesting proposal suggests that 2 Corinthians 10-13 contains portions of the sorrowful letter. We must acknowledge that these last four chapters of 2 Corinthians turn from a tone of reconciliation into something harsher. However, most scholars feel that the contents of these chapters do not fit the description of the harsh letter. Thus, most scholars believe that this sorrowful letter is indeed a lost letter.

2 Corinthians 1:23 Comments - Evidently, during Paul’s initial visit which he promised in 1 Corinthians 16:5-6 he was confronted by this group of Jewish emissaries who had embedded themselves within the believers in Corinth and had persuaded many to abandon Paul’s leadership and follow them. There must have been a public confrontation, and many sincere believers were left confused by such a harsh exchange of words within their congregation. Thus, Paul altered his plans by headed into Macedonia and back to Ephesus, without returning through Corinth, as he had promised. He felt it better to avoid further strife amongst a young congregation and settled back in Ephesus after this “painful visit.” Another visit may have done more harm than good at this time. He then wrote what is described as the “sorrowful letter” and sent it by the hand of Titus. It was a difficult letter to write, and accompanied with much tears. It is always difficult to punish your own children, but its rewards outweigh the pain.

2 Corinthians 1:24 Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.

2 Corinthians 1:24 Comments - Since Paul has just said that he spared then by not visiting (because he loved them) (2 Corinthians 1:23), he explains that he is not trying to “dominate” them by telling them what they must believe ( NLT), or force them to do certain things, but to help them have a joyful life of faith, because by faith is how a person stands firm.

NLT, “But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm.”

2 Corinthians 2:3 “I wrote this same unto you” Comments - Paul wrote to them the letter of 1 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 2:4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.

Verses 1-17

Paul’s Seal of the Holy Spirit (His Anointing) In 1 Corinthians 1:21 to 1 Corinthians 4:16 Paul explains the role of the Holy Spirit in his spiritual journey of serving the Lord. This passage will open with the statement that he has been sealed with the Holy Spirit, the guarantee of his inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:22) and his discussion on his glorification will close with the same statement (2 Corinthians 5:5). Paul will explain how his has been called to indoctrinate them in the faith (2 Corinthians 1:21 to 2 Corinthians 2:17), and how the calling of the Gospel excels over that of Moses (2 Corinthians 3:1-18), and how he is determined to persevere (2 Corinthians 4:1-16) in order to reach his eternal home in Glory.

Outline - Note the proposed outline:

1. Indoctrination 2 Corinthians 1:21 to 2 Corinthians 2:17

a. Explanation 2 Corinthians 1:21 to 2 Corinthians 2:4

b. Illustration 2 Corinthians 2:5-17

2. Calling 2 Corinthians 3:1-18

a. Explanation 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

b. Illustration 2 Corinthians 3:7-18

3. Perseverance 2 Corinthians 4:1-16

a. Explanation 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

b. Illustration 2 Corinthians 4:7-16

Verses 5-17

Illustration: Reconciling the Offender and the Aroma of Christ In 2 Corinthians 2:5-17 Paul illustrates his testimony of working to establish the Corinthians in the faith and doctrines of Christ. He gives an example of his divine calling in this area by showing his love for them and his concern that they be established in the faith by charging them to forgive the offender and receiving him back into fellowship (2 Corinthians 2:5-11). Paul then compares the ministry of teaching the doctrines of Christ with the analogy of a sweet-smelling fragrance being dispersed abroad. It brings life to those who received it and death to those who reject it (2 Corinthians 2:12-17).

Outline Here is a proposed outline:

1. Restoration of the Offender 2 Corinthians 2:5-11

2. The Fragrance of Christ 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

2 Corinthians 2:5-11 Restoration for the Offender In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 Paul refers to an unnamed individual that needed to be restored back into fellowship with the congregation at Corinth. As to the identity of this person there are two commonly held views. Many scholars feel that this passage of Scripture corresponds to the fornicator that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. In this passage Paul commanded the Corinthian church “to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:5). The contents of this passage in 2 Corinthians fit well into a story of judgment, followed by restoration, with references to Satan in both places. However, other scholars take the view that this offender is one of the Jewish emissaries who led in the revolt against Paul’s oversight of this church in an attempt to bring it under a different jurisdiction. Then, we would have to assume that the instructions of judgment referred to in this passage in 2 Corinthians would have been written previously in Paul’s “sorrowful letter,” which preceded this epistle by a few weeks. Paul may have commanded the church to judge this offender who was leading an attack against him. The church’s apparent reconciliation and obedience to Paul moves him to now protect this offender lest they overwhelm him with discipline.

2 Corinthians 2:6 Comments - Those who hear the Gospel are accountable to choose which life to live (John 15:22).

John 15:22, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.”

2 Corinthians 2:9 “To this end also did I write” Comments - Paul had two reasons for writing this epistle of 2 Corinthians: (1) So as not to have sorrow when he comes, but joy (2 Corinthians 2:3), and (2) to see and know the testimony of their obedience (2 Corinthians 2:9).

2 Corinthians 2:11 Comments - Satan’s devices are “his designs, plots, thoughts, purposes.” Ephesians 6:11 uses the word “wiles,” or “trickery, strategies, craftiness, schemes” in order to describe this word.

Romans 1:13, “Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.”

1 Thessalonians 2:18, “Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.”

2 Corinthians 4:4, “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”

Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

Have you ever been angry with someone and allowed thoughts to turnover in your mind about how to take vengeance upon that person? This clearly illustrates this Greek word νόημα , translated here as “devices.” The devil, knowing much about human nature, plots about how to keep people from becoming Christian and living an abundant life. Paul mentions being hindered by Satan in his work for the Lord (Romans 1:13, 1 Thessalonians 2:18). In 2 Corinthians 4:4, the god of this world, i.e., Satan, has blinded people’s minds.

God shows us Satan’s devices so we can avoid destruction, but the simple pass on and get caught in those devices (Proverbs 22:3).

Proverbs 22:3, “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.” (Same as Proverbs 27:12)

Illustration In 2 Kings 6:8-23 Elisha was not ignorant of Satan’s devices, because the Lord kept revealing Satan’s coming assaults beforehand to Elisha.

Illustration - The Lord woke me up one morning and told me to bind Satan from stealing the goods out of my mother's house. I came to her and told her about this dream. With her in agreement, we prayed this pray together in faith. Four months later, we found out that thieves had been all through her neighborhood, yet no thief had approached her house.

Illustration - We can know Satan’s plans and devices a number of ways, both by God’s Word and by the Holy Spirit. Another way to say this is that we can know Satan’s plans by general revelation or by specific revelation. I remember in June 2002, the Lord gave Menchu a dream during the night about a dangerous situation at the school where our two young girls were attending. The dream was simple. She saw a police vehicle pulling up to the small school building where our children attend school with guns drawn ready to confront robbers. The next morning, when Menchu brought our children to school, she prayerfully took authority over the devil from this school building, and then drove home. While she was driving home, a security guard at the television studio where I worked, which was located about 100 yards from the school, accidentally shot himself in the arm. It was a tragic accident, but no one was killed. What was obvious was the fact that Satan had planned to attack our lives in some way, but God warned us through the work of the Holy Spirit so that we would pray. If we walk by God’s Word and be led by the Holy Spirit, we will not be ignorant of Satan’s devices (Proverbs 22:3).

Proverbs 22:3, “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.”

2 Corinthians 2:12-17 The Fragrance of Christ In 2 Corinthians 2:12-17 Paul compares the ministry of teaching the doctrines of Christ with the analogy of a sweet-smelling fragrance being dispersed abroad. It brings life to those who received it and death to those who reject it.

2 Corinthians 2:12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord,

2 Corinthians 2:12 Comments - We do have evidence in Acts 20:6-12 of a church being in Troas on Paul’s return from Macedonia on this third missionary journey. This is the story of Paul preaching until daybreak and raising a boy from the dead who had fallen from a window. Thus, it is possible that Paul planted a church in Troas at this time recorded in 2 Corinthians 2:12.

2 Corinthians 2:13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.

2 Corinthians 2:12-13 Comments Paul’s Explains His Itinerary - Paul made this statement because Paul is explaining here how he passed into Macedonia, instead of passing through Corinth first (2 Corinthians 1:16), as he had said he would do.

2 Corinthians 1:16, “And to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you, and of you to be brought on my way toward Judaea.”

2 Corinthians 2:14 Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.

2 Corinthians 2:14 “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ” Word Study on “thanks be unto God” The Greek construction ( χάριν ἔχω τῷ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ) or ( χάρις τῷ θεῷ ) [52] or some variation of this phrase is found no less than thirteen times in the Greek New Testament (Luke 17:9, Romans 6:17; Romans 7:25, 1 Corinthians 10:30; 1Co 15:57 , 2 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 8:16; 2 Corinthians 9:15, Colossians 3:16, 1 Timothy 1:12, 2 Timothy 1:3, Philemon 1:7 [t.r.], Hebrews 12:28). It is properly translated in a variety of ways; “I am grateful to God,” or “I thank God,” “Let’s give thanks,” or “with thanks to the Lord.”

[52] Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger, M. Robinson, and Allen Wikgren, The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993, 2006), in Libronix Digital Library System, v. 2.1c [CD-ROM] (Bellingham, WA: Libronix Corp., 2000-2004), 2 Corinthians 2:14.

Comments - Notice that this great promise of always triumphing is conditional, made possible only “in Christ.” Many Christians do not walk in victory in certain areas of their lives. This is because they have not turned these areas of their lives over to the Lord and learned to trust Him. God’s promises to us are always conditional to our walk of faith.

Frances J. Roberts writes, “My promises are of no avail to thee except as ye apply and appropriate them by faith. In thy daily walk, ye shall be victorious only to the degree that ye trust Me. I can help thee only as ye ask. I shall meet you at every point where ye put action alongside they prayers. Only as ye walk shall the waters of adversity be parted before thee.” [53]

[53] Frances J. Roberts, Come Away My Beloved (Ojai, California: King’s Farspan, Inc., 1973), 14.

Scripture References - Note similar verses:

Romans 8:37, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Corinthians 2:14 “and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place” Comments - How does God manifest the savour of the knowledge of the Lord: through those who go out and preach the Gospel (Romans 10:15)?

Romans 10:15, “And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:

2 Corinthians 2:15 Comments - In the phrase “unto God,” we understand that God sees Paul and his companions as a sweet savor of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 2:16 To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?

2 Corinthians 2:16 “To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of live unto life” Comments - BDAG interprets the phrase “the savor of death unto death” to mean, “a fragrance that comes from death and leads to death.” BDAG interprets the phrase “from life unto life” to mean, “as it seems, ever more deeply into the divine life.” (see ζωή 2b α ) Those who reject the Gospel hear a message that brings death. They receive condemnation and eternal damnation. Those who receive the Gospel and are saved hear a message of life. They will receive eternal life and continue to grow in an abundant life unto an ever more deeply, divine lifestyle.


Acts 13:44-46, “And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.”

Scripture References - Note other similar verses:

Isaiah 8:14-15, “And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.”

Matthew 11:6, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

Matthew 21:42-44, “Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”

Luke 2:34, “And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;”

1 Corinthians 1:23-24, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”

1 Peter 2:6-8, “Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”

2 Corinthians 2:16 “who is sufficient for these things” Comments - That is, “Who is qualified?” This question is answered in 2 Corinthians 3:5, “our sufficiency is of God.”

2 Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;”

Moses asked same question.

Exodus 3:11, “And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

Illustration - One night, while working in my Bible notes, I began to think about my past sins and failures. As I was feeling so unworthy to serve as a missionary in Africa, the Lord says, “But you were available.” I realized that I had made myself available to become a minister of the Gospel, and despite my shortcomings, the Lord is using me. I have to see by faith that it is God who qualifies me, and certainly not because of my works (19 August 2000).

2 Corinthians 2:16 Comments - In 2 Corinthians 2:16 Paul tells us that the Gospel is “the savour of death unto death” unto those who are perishing. Paul will then describe who these people are that are perishing. From the passages that follow we understand that Paul is referring to the Jews who have been blinded (2 Corinthians 3:14-16) and to the Gentiles who believe not (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.

2 Corinthians 2:17 “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God” Word Study on “corrupt” Strong says the Greek word “corrupt” “kapeleuo” ( καπηλεύω ) (G2585) means, “to retail, to adulterate,” and it comes from an unused word κάπηλος , which means, “huckster,” or “a peddler being named from his stooping under the load on his back.” BDAG tells us that this word means, “adulterate.” This Greek word is used only once in the New Testament, being found in this verse. It is used in a negative sense in 2 Corinthians 2:17 in order to compare false ministers to carrying out the same small tricks that these peddlers performed.

Comments - Matthew Henry says, “Some of the ancients tell us that the city (of Corinth) abounded with rhetoricians and philosophers. These were men naturally vain, full of self-conceit, and apt to despise the plain doctrine of the gospel, because it did not feed the curiosity of an inquisitive and disputing temper, nor please the ear with artful speeches and a flow of fine words.” [54]

[54] Matthew Henry, 1 Corinthians, in Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Modern Edition, Electronic Database (Seattle, WA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1991), in P.C. Study Bible, v. 3.1 [CD-ROM] (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft Inc., 1993-2000), “Introduction.”

In addition, there were those Judaizers who proclaimed to know God’s Word, but instead they corrupted it by the teachings of Jewish traditions.

2 Corinthians 2:17 “but as of sincerely” - Comments - Paul and his companions come with pure motives. Paul uses the word “sincerely” in stark contrast to the deceitful motives of others, particularly those who are opposing him and causing trouble in the church at Corinth.

2 Corinthians 2:17 “but as of God” Comments We could translate this phrase, “from God”, i.e., they are sent by God.

2 Corinthians 2:14-17 Comments - Paul’s Thanksgiving to God - Some scholars see Paul making a parenthetical digression in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 in order to give thanks unto God for working through his servants to reconcile the world back to Himself. In this passage Paul also takes a minute to elaborate upon the phrase “the savour of His knowledge by us”. This is made clear in the Greek text, which begins 2 Corinthians 2:15 with “a sweet savour of Christ …”, thus, placing emphasis upon the topic of comparing his ministry to a sweet smelling odor.

2 Corinthians 2:14-17, “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. ( For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? ) For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”

I can see Paul using such an illustration because he may have received a divine vision in which he saw an heavenly odor being poured out upon the earth. For some people it brought life to them, but for others it brought death. Such a vision may have been the motive for Paul writing 2 Corinthians 2:14-17.

Bibliographical Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 2". Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghe/2-corinthians-2.html. 2013.
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