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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 10

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-6

A Warning to the Disobedient (10:1-6)

With chapter 10 we come to the final section of Second Co­rinthians, mostly about Paul himself. We have already noted the fact that most contemporary interpreters see this section as a separate letter—indeed, probably the "severe letter" which he was both sorry and glad (7:8) he had sent. A reader need not worry his head over this if he does not wish to or is not interested. But if he is interested, the problem is one every reader knows as much about as a commentator does. All the data, all the clues, are in plain sight. To repeat what was said earlier: Is the break be­tween these last four chapters and the preceding chapters sharp enough so that you cannot believe that a man in his senses would have been likely to follow chapters 1-9 with chapters 10-13? We have good evidence that not only in the Bible but also in other ancient literature some documents as we have them today are certainly not the documents in the order as written (Jeremiah is a case in point). Is Second Corinthians another case in point?

There can be no proof here one way or the other. The present commentator can only record his own impression: namely, that the more he looks at it, the less chapters 10-13 sound as if they could have been written after chapters 1-9 and sent off at the same time. In their present position the later chapters even con­tradict the earlier ones; whereas if you think of them as having been written before chapters 1-9, the contradiction vanishes. Chapters 10-13 are a desperate (no other word for it) attempt by Paul to make the Corinthians accept him and his authority. Well, they had already done so according to chapters 9 and 10, and he had thanked God for it. Chapters 10-13 threaten the Corin­thian church with severe action by way of discipline; in chapters 1-9 they have already taken action themselves, and there is nothing left for Paul but to be grateful for this, to commend them, and to concur in their judgment (2:5-11). The break be­tween chapters 9 and 10 is not only one of subject matter or style; it is a violent change of mood, a change in situation. The efforts of some commentators to harmonize these chapters with the words and spirit of chapters 1-9 are most unconvincing.

Well, the main question is not when Paul wrote this but what he said and what it can mean for us. So let us get on with it.

Verses 1-6 of chapter 10 introduce the whole section (chs. 10-13) on the same note we hear again at the close: a warning to the disobedient. Paul uses strong language: "warfare . . . power to destroy . . . punish." This is not the mood nor the attitude of chapter 9. At the time he writes chapter 10 he is aware that not all is well at Corinth, that his authority is slipping. Just what the punishment is that he threatens, he does not say. Presumably it is excommunication. The one really obscure phrase here is "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (10:5). What this probably means is that he is not content with mere outward as­sent, or formal submission. "It is your very lives I want," he might have said. All through Paul’s writings, or for that matter all through the Bible, the contrast is drawn between external and internal behavior. The severest condemnations of Jesus were for those Pharisees whose goodness was only in action that did not match the heart.

We should also take Paul at his best intention, not by what he sometimes sounds like. He is battling for his own authority, but he means it as a battle for the supremacy of Christ. It is not Paul the man but Paul as the representative of Christ who insists on obedience. This comes out in the next section also.

Verses 7-18

Boasting in the Lord (10:7-18)

Paul had enemies in Corinth at the time he wrote these lines, and we can guess what they must have said of him by his own replies. For one thing, apparently there were some who claimed a better right to be called "Christ’s" than Paul had. It was not the last time in the long history of Christianity that individuals or groups have set themselves up as the only real Christians and tried to write off all the rest. Of the more than two hundred Protestant sects in the United States today, a great majority are very small, and will have nothing to do with one another, on the ground that only we have the truth. At Corinth it was apparently some of the local leaders, rather than a rival sect, who were caus­ing Paul trouble.

Paul is about to indulge in some boasting, and he knows it; but he wants it understood that this was forced on him. A college professor with a Ph.D. or an Sc.D will ordinarily not write the letters after his name. But if someone has written to the dean accusing the professor of being a fake, and charging that his degrees were bought at a "diploma mill," then the mild-mannered professor may pay the dean an indignant visit, and insist on show­ing his genuine diplomas signed at distinguished universities. So when Paul has been attacked as an impostor, unless he is going to keep his mouth shut and apparently admit his guilt, he is bound to seem to boast.

One of the accusations against him was that his boldness in­creased with distance; that when faced with revolt he could roar like a lion if he were far enough away, but that when face to face with a church fight he only purred like a kitten. His enemies had even fallen to the level of making fun of his physical appear­ance. Tradition says that Paul was bowlegged, nearly bald, and short even by Mediterranean standards. Paul does not try to argue about his looks. What he says is that the Corinthians will find out, when he arrives, that his actions will be as bold as his letters. Paul will not compare himself with his critics; he wants to be taken on his own merits.

He reminds the Corinthians that he was the first to bring the gospel to them, which is more than his critics can claim. He hints that these critics have simply moved in after him and taken the credit for what Paul the pioneer had done. A bishop in India, speaking of the work of a certain sect, said that to his personal knowledge that sect had not won one single congregation from Hinduism. All its congregations had been started and built by telling the members of the older Christian churches that they were not really Christians till they joined the sect. It was this kind of thing that was distressful to Paul. (One entire letter of his, Galatians, was written largely about this matter.)

So Paul proceeds to "boast" in the Lord. What does this odd expression mean? It is part of a larger idea of Paul’s, to live in Christ; that is, to live in constant relation to Christ, in union with him, in harmony with him, to keep Christ in one’s thoughts at all times, to live as in his presence, to live as one does live, because of Christ. So to boast in the Lord means to boast when it is nec­essary—but only so far as is necessary; it means to boast in the light of Christ, to boast humbly, to boast only of one’s achieve­ments for Christ. Paul is well aware that while he has to speak of himself to keep the record straight and to refute the slanders being whispered against him, neither he nor any man can write his own recommendations. In more letters than one, but especially in Second Corinthians and Galatians, Paul highlights the fact, important to him and to us, that his authority came from God, not through men at all, and that the fact of this authority, the stamp of its genuineness, was the work he had so successfully done. The converts he had made (see ch. 3) were God’s letter of recommendation of him; his enemies could show no such testi­monials.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/2-corinthians-10.html.
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