the First Week of Lent
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The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
- 2 Corinthians
by Editor - Joseph Exell
VERY little is needed by way of introduction to the Second Epistle; for it is, in fact, a sequel to the First.
The apostle's departure from Ephesus had been precipitated by the tumult, in which, as appears from various scattered references, he had incurred extreme danger of his life. He went straight to Trees, still eager to preach the gospel of Christ. He had told Titus to meet him there; and it was the first place where he could hope to receive any tidings as to the reception by the Corinthians of his first letter — a point respecting which he was painfully anxious. But either St. Paul arrived at Trees earlier than the time appointed, or the journey of Titus had been delayed. St. Paul was preaching with success — "a door was opened for him in the Lord;" but the anxiety to which he found himself a prey rendered it impossible for him to continue his mission. Seeking some relief for the intolerable oppression of his spirit, he hurried to Macedonia, and there, perhaps in Philippi, he first met Titus. The meeting at once relieved the tension of his feelings, and caused an outburst of joy. For the tidings which Titus had to tell were good. He had been cordially received. The First Epistle had caused among the Corinthians an outburst of salutary grief, of yearning affection, of holy zeal. They had listened to the apostle's message with fear and trembling. The offender had been promptly and even severely dealt with. The news appeared at first to be so encouraging that St. Paul, with deep thankfulness, determined to send Titus, with "the brother whose praise is in the gospel," to finish the good work which he had begun, and to arrange about the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem. And as, this time, Titus was not only ready but anxious to go, St. Paul began to dictate the letter of which .Titus was to be the bearer.
But little by little the apostle learnt — what perhaps Titus, out of kindness and sympathy, might not have deemed it necessary at once to tell him — that there was another side to the picture. His change of plan about the double visit had given rise to a charge of levity, and many remarks most injurious to his character had been industriously disseminated, especially, it would seem, by some Jewish emissary. His opponents hinted at his cowardice in not coming; his vacillation and insincerity in changing his mind; the conscious inferiority which made him abstain from any claim to maintenance; the meanness of his aspect; the baldness and simplicity of his speech; the fact that he had no commendatory letters from Jerusalem; his dubious position as regards the Law. They insinuated doubts about his perfect honesty. They charged him with underhand guile, and fraudulent or self-interested designs with reference to the collection. They even ventured to hint their doubt as to his perfect sanity. Such charges would have been hard to endure at any time. They were so especially at a time when the apostle was suffering overwhelming distress — a combination of fears without and fightings within, which produced a mental and physical prostration. It became a duty and a necessity, however distasteful, to defend himself. Personally he neither required nor cared for any self defence. But before God in Christ he felt bound to clear his character from these detestable innuendoes, because they were liable, if unnoticed, to hinder his work both in Corinth and in other Churches; and his work had on him a sacred claim. Hence, though nothing was more repellent to his sensitive humility than any semblance of egotism or boasting, he is driven by the unscrupulosity of his opponents to adopt such a tone of self defence that the word "boasting" occurs in this Epistle no less than twenty-nine times. He neither could nor would appeal to any letters of commendation or to any certificate from his brother apostles, because he had received his own apostolate direct from God; and hence he is forced to appeal, on the one hand to his visions and revelations, and on the other hand to the seal of approval which in every way God had set to his unparalleled activity and devotion.
These circumstances sufficiently mark out the characteristics of the letter.
1. It entirely differs from the First Epistle. That is a letter in which he dealt with practical and speculative difficulties, answering the inquiries and correcting the abuses of a most unsatisfactory Church. The Second Epistle is the impassioned self defence of a wounded spirit to erring and ungrateful children. It is the apostle's Apologia pro vita end.
2. Hence, as hope is the keynote of the Epistles to the Thessalonians, joy of that to the Philippians, faith of that to the Romans, heavenly things of that to the Ephesians, affliction is the one predominant word and thought in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians.
3. As Bengel says, "It reminds us of an itinerary, but interwoven with the noblest precepts." "The very stages of his journey," says Dean Stanley, "are impressed upon it — the troubles at Ephesus, the anxiety of Troas, the consolation of Macedonia, the prospect of moving to Corinth."
4. It is the least systematic, as the First Epistle is the most systematic, of all St. Paul's writings,
5. It is the most emotional, and therefore in some respects — in its style, expressions, and causal connections — the most difficult of St. Paul's Epistles. The labouring phraseology, the interchange of bitter irony with deep pathos, the manner in which he is haunted and possessed and mastered by word after word which seizes his imagination — now "tribulation," now "consolation,'' now "boasting," now "weakness," now "simplicity," now "manifestation" — only serve to throw into relief the frequent bursts of rushing and impassioned eloquence. The sorrow and tenderness displayed are a measure of the insolence and wrong which called out in the concluding chapters so stern an indignation.
6. At the end of the ninth chapter there is a sudden, startling, and complete break in the whole manner and tone of the Epistle. The remainder (2 Corinthians 10:1-10) seems to be written in a mood so wholly different from that of the former, that some have even (though needlessly) supposed that it really was a separate Epistle. Vehement though suppressed indignation, scathing irony, strong denunciation, commanding authority, take the place of the pathetic tenderness and effusive thankfulness which are predominant in the previous chapters. This phenomenon of a tone suddenly changed is found in other writings both sacred and secular, and may be accounted for by circumstances under which the apostle wrote.
7. The analysis of the Epistle in minor details will be found in the notes. The main divisions are: 2 Corinthians 1-7., hortatory and personal, with an undercurrent of calm apology; 2 Corinthians 8:9., directions and remarks about the collection; 2 Corinthians 10-13., impassioned defence of himself and his apostolic position against the calumnies of his enemies.