2Co 12:1-21. Revelations in
Which He Might Glory: But He Rather
Glories in Infirmities, as Calling Forth Christ's Power: Signs of His Apostleship: His Disinterestedness: Not
That He Is Excusing Himself to Them; but He Does All for Their Good,
lest He Should Find Them Not Such as He
Desired, and So Should Have to Be Severe at His Coming.
1. He proceeds to illustrate the "glorying in
infirmities" (2Co 11:30).
He gave one instance which might expose him to ridicule (2Co 11:33); he now gives another, but this one
connected with a glorious revelation of which it was the sequel: but he
dwells not on the glory done to himself, but on the infirmity
which followed it, as displaying Christ's power. The oldest manuscripts
read, "I MUST NEEDS boast (or glory)
though it be not expedient; for I will come." The "for" gives a
proof that it is "not expedient to boast": I will take the case of
revelations, in which if anywhere boasting might be thought harmless.
"Visions" refers to things seen: "revelations," to things heard
(compare 1Sa 9:15) or
revealed in any way. In "visions" their signification was not
always vouchsafed; in "revelations" there was always an unveiling of
truths before hidden (Da 2:19, 31). All parts of Scripture alike are
matter of inspiration; but not all of revelation. There
are degrees of revelation; but not of inspiration.
of—that is, from the Lord;
2. Translate, "I know," not "I knew."
a man—meaning himself. But he
purposely thus distinguishes between the rapt and glorified
person of 2Co 12:2, 4, and himself the infirmity-laden
victim of the "thorn in the flesh" (2Co 12:7). Such glory belonged not to him,
but the weakness did. Nay, he did not even know whether he was
in or out of the body when the glory was put upon him, so far was the
glory from being his [Alford].
His spiritual self was his highest and truest self: the flesh with its
infirmity merely his temporary self (Ro 7:25). Here, however, the latter is the
in Christ—a Christian (Ro 16:7).
above—rather, simply "fourteen years
ago." This Epistle was written A.D.
55-57. Fourteen years before will bring the vision to A.D. 41-43, the time of his second visit to
Jerusalem (Ac 22:17).
He had long been intimate with the Corinthians, yet had never mentioned
this revelation before: it was not a matter lightly to be spoken
I cannot tell—rather as Greek,
"I know not." If in the body, he must have been caught up
bodily; if out of the body, as seems to be Paul's
opinion, his spirit must have been caught up out of the body. At
all events he recognizes the possibility of conscious receptivity in
caught up—(Ac 8:39).
to the third heaven—even to,
&c. These raptures (note the plural, "visions,"
"revelations," 2Co 12:1) had
two degrees: first he was caught up "to the third heaven," and
from thence to "Paradise" (2Co 12:4)
[Clement of Alexandria,
Miscellanies, 5.427], which seems to denote an inner recess of
the third heaven [Bengel] (Lu 23:43; Re
2:7). Paul was permitted not
only to "hear" the things of Paradise, but to see also in some degree
the things of the third heaven (compare "visions," 2Co 12:1). The occurrence TWICE of "whether in the body … I know not,
God knoweth," and of "lest I should be exalted above measure," marks
two stages in the revelation. "Ignorance of the mode does not
set aside the certain knowledge of the fact. The apostles were
ignorant of many things" [Bengel]. The
first heaven is that of the clouds, the air; the second, that of
the stars, the sky; the third is spiritual (Eph 4:10).
3. Translate, "I know."
out of—Most of the oldest manuscripts
read "apart from."
4. unspeakable—not in themselves,
otherwise Paul could not have heard them; but as the explanation
states, "which it is not lawful … to utter" [Alford]. They were designed for Paul's own
consolation, and not for communication to others. Some heavenly words
are communicable (Ex 34:6; Isa 6:3). These were not so. Paul had not the
power adequately to utter; nor if he had, would he have been permitted;
nor would earthly men comprehend them (Joh 3:12; 1Co 2:9). A man may hear and know more than he
5. of myself—concerning myself. Self is
put in the background, except in respect to his infirmities. His
glorying in his other self, to which the revelations were vouchsafed,
was not in order to give glory to his fleshly self, but to bring out in
contrast the "infirmities" of the latter, that Christ might have all
6. For—Not but that I might glory as to
"myself" (2Co 12:5);
"FOR if I should desire to glory, I
shall not be a fool"; for I have things to glory, or boast of which are
good matter for glorying of (not mere external fleshly advantages which
when he gloried in [2Co 11:1-33] he termed such glorying "folly," 2Co 11:1,
think of me—Greek, "form his
estimate respecting me."
heareth of me—Greek, "heareth
aught from me." Whatever haply he heareth from me in person. If on
account of healing a cripple (Ac 14:12, 13), and shaking off a viper (Ac 28:5), the people thought him a god, what
would they have not done, if he had disclosed those revelations? [Estius]. I wish each of you to estimate me by
"what he sees" my present acts and "hears" my teaching to be;
not by my boasting of past revelations. They who allow
themselves to be thought of more highly than is lawful, defraud
themselves of the honor which is at God's disposal [Bengel] (Joh 5:44; 12:43).
7. exalted above measure—Greek,
"overmuch uplifted." How dangerous must self-exaltation be, when even
the apostle required so much restraint! [Bengel].
abundance—Greek, "the excess";
given … me—namely, by God (Job 5:6;
thorn in the flesh—(Nu 33:55; Eze
28:24). Alford thinks it to be the same bodily affliction as
4:13, 14. It certainly was
something personal, affecting him individually, and not as an apostle:
causing at once acute pain (as "thorn" implies) and shame
("buffet": as slaves are buffeted, 1Pe 2:20).
messenger of Satan—who is permitted by
God to afflict His saints, as Job (Job 2:7; Lu 13:16).
to buffet me—In Greek, present:
to buffet me even now continuously. After experiencing the state of the
blissful angels, he is now exposed to the influence of an evil angel.
The chastisement from hell follows soon upon the revelation from
heaven. As his sight and hearing had been ravished with
heavenly "revelations," so his touch is pained with the "thorn
in the flesh."
8. For—"concerning this thing."
thrice—To his first and second prayer
no answer came. To his third the answer came, which satisfied his faith
and led him to bow his will to God's will. So Paul's master, Jesus,
thrice prayed on the Mount of Olives, in resignation to the
Father's will. The thorn seems (from 2Co 12:9, and Greek, 2Co 12:7, "that he may buffet me") to have
continued with Paul when he wrote, lest still he should be "overmuch
the Lord—Christ. Escape from the cross
is not to be sought even indirectly from Satan (Lu 4:7). "Satan is not to be asked to spare us"
9. said—literally, "He hath said,"
implying that His answer is enough [Alford].
is sufficient—The trial must endure,
but the grace shall also endure and never fail thee [Alford], (De 33:25).
The Lord puts the words into Paul's mouth, that following them up he
might say, "O Lord, Thy grace is sufficient for me" [Bengel].
my strength—Greek, "power."
is made perfect—has its most perfect
in weakness—Do not ask for sensible
strength, FOR My power is perfected in
man's "strengthlessness" (so the Greek). The "for" implies, thy
"strengthlessness" (the same Greek as is translated "weakness";
and in 2Co
12:10, "infirmities") is the
very element in which My "power" (which moves coincident with "My
grace") exhibits itself more perfectly. So that Paul instead of
desiring the infirmity to "depart," "rather" henceforth "glories
in infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest (Greek,
'tabernacle upon,' cover my infirmity all over as with a tabernacle;
compare Greek, Joh 1:12)
upon" him. This effect of Christ's assurance on him appears, 2Co 4:7;
1Co 2:3, 4; compare 1Pe 4:14. The "My" is omitted in some of
the oldest manuscripts; the sense is the same, "power" (referring to
God's power) standing absolutely, in contrast to "weakness" (put
absolutely, for man's weakness). Paul often repeats the word "weakness"
or "infirmity" (the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth chapters) as
being Christ's own word. The Lord has more need of our weakness than of
our strength: our strength is often His rival; our weakness, His
servant, drawing on His resources, and showing forth His glory. Man's
extremity is God's opportunity; man's security is Satan's opportunity.
God's way is not to take His children out of trial, but to give them
strength to bear up against it (Ps 88:7; Joh 17:15).
10. take pleasure in—too strongly.
Rather as the Greek, "I am well contented in."
infirmities—the genus. Two
pairs of species follow, partly coming from "Satan's messenger,"
partly from men.
when—in all the cases just
strong—"powerful" in "the
power of Christ" (2Co 12:9; 2Co 13:4; Heb 11:34).
11. in glorying—omitted in the oldest
manuscripts. "I am become a fool." He sounds a retreat [Bengel].
ye—emphatic. "It is YE who have
compelled me; for I ought to have been commended by you," instead of
having to commend myself.
am I behind—rather as Greek,
"was I behind" when I was with you?
the very chiefest—rather, as in 2Co 11:5, "those overmuch apostles."
though I be nothing—in myself (1Co 15:9,
12. Truly, &c.—There is understood
some such clause as this, "And yet I have not been commended by
in all patience, in signs, &c.—The
oldest manuscripts omit "in." "Patience" is not one of the "signs," but
the element IN which they were wrought: endurance of opposition which
did not cause me to leave off working [Alford]. Translate, "In … patience, BY signs," &c. His mode of expression is modest,
putting himself, the worker, in the background, "were wrought," not
"I wrought." As the signs have not been transmitted to
us, neither has the apostleship. The apostles have no literal
successors (compare Ac 1:21, 22).
mighty deeds—palpable works of divine
omnipotence. The silence of the apostles in fourteen Epistles, as to
miracles, arises from the design of those Epistles being hortatory, not
controversial. The passing allusions to miracles in seven Epistles
prove that the writers were not enthusiasts to whom miracles
seem the most important thing. Doctrines were with them the
important matter, save when convincing adversaries. In the seven
Epistles the mention of miracles is not obtrusive, but marked by
a calm air of assurance, as of facts acknowledged on all hands,
and therefore unnecessary to dwell on. This is a much stronger proof of
their reality than if they were formally and obtrusively asserted.
Signs and wonders is the regular formula of the Old Testament, which
New Testament readers would necessarily understand of supernatural
works. Again, in the Gospels the miracles are so inseparably and
congruously tied up with the history, that you cannot deny the former
without denying the latter also. And then you have a greater difficulty
than ever, namely, to account for the rise of Christianity; so
that the infidel has something infinitely more difficult to believe
than that which he rejects, and which the Christian more rationally
13. wherein you were inferior—that is,
were treated with less consideration by me than were other
I myself—I made a gain of you
neither myself, nor by those others whom I sent,
Titus and others (2Co 12:17, 18).
wrong—His declining support from the
Corinthians might be regarded as the denial to them of a privilege, and
a mark of their spiritual inferiority, and of his looking on them with
less confidence and love (compare 2Co 11:9, 11).
14. the third time—See Introduction to the first Epistle. His
second visit was probably a short one (1Co 16:7), and attended with humiliation through
the scandalous conduct of some of his converts (compare 2Co 12:21; 2Co
2:1). It was probably paid
during his three years' sojourn at Ephesus, from which he could pass so
readily by sea to Corinth (compare 2Co 1:15, 16; 13:1, 2). The context here implies nothing
of a third preparation to come; but, "I am coming, and the third
time, and will not burden you this time any more than I did at my
two previous visits" [Alford].
not yours, but you—(Php 4:17).
children … parents—Paul was
their spiritual father (1Co 4:14, 15). He does not, therefore, seek earthly
treasure from them, but lays up the best treasure
(namely, spiritual) "for their souls" (2Co 12:15).
15. I will … spend—all I have.
be spent—all that I am. This is more
than even natural parents do. They "lay up treasures for their
children." But I spend not merely my treasures, but myself.
for you—Greek, "for your
souls"; not for your mere bodies.
the less I be loved—Love rather
descends than ascends [Bengel]. Love him
as a true friend who seeks your good more than your good will.
16. I did not burden you—The "I" in the
Greek is emphatic. A possible insinuation of the Corinthians is
hereby anticipated and refuted: "But, you may say, granted that
I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, being crafty,
I caught you (in my net) with guile"; namely, made a gain of you by
means of others (1Th 2:3).
17. Paul's reply: You know well I did not. My
associates were as distinterested as myself. An important rule to all
who would influence others for good.
18. I desired Titus—namely, to go unto
you. Not the mission mentioned 2Co 8:6, 17, 22; but a mission previous to this Epistle,
probably that from which he had just returned announcing to Paul their
penitence (2Co 7:6-16).
a brother—rather "OUR (literally, 'the') brother"; one well known to
the Corinthians, and perhaps a Corinthian; probably one of the two
mentioned in 2Co 8:18, 22.
19. Again—The oldest manuscripts read,
"This long time ye think that we are excusing ourselves unto
you? (Nay). It is before God (as opposed to 'unto you') that we
speak in Christ" (2Co 2:17).
English Version Greek text was a correction from 2Co 3:1; 5:12.
20. For—Assigning cause why they needed
to be thus spoken to "for their edification"; namely, his fear that at
his coming he should find them "not such as he would," and so he should
be found by them "such as they would not" like, namely, severe in
envyings—The oldest manuscripts read
"factious schemes" [Wahl]. Ambitious
self-seeking; from a Greek root, "to work for
"slanderings," and "whispering backbitings" (Ga 5:20).
swellings—arrogant elation; puffing up
of yourselves. Jude 16,
"great swelling words" (2Pe 2:18).
21. my God—his God, however
trying the humiliation that was in store for him.
will humble me—The indicative implies
that the supposition will actually be so. The faithful pastor is
"humbled" at, and "bewails" the falls of his people, as though they
were his own.
sinned already—before my last coming
[Bengel], that is, before the second
visit which he paid, and in which he had much at Corinth to rebuke.
have not repented—shall not have
uncleanness—for example, of married
fornication—among the unmarried.