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Paul’s Visions and Revelations
It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. 3And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— 4was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. 5On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, 7even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul’s Concern for the Corinthian Church
11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it. Indeed you should have been the ones commending me, for I am not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, signs and wonders and mighty works. 13How have you been worse off than the other churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!
14 Here I am, ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, because I do not want what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15I will most gladly spend and be spent for you. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16Let it be assumed that I did not burden you. Nevertheless (you say) since I was crafty, I took you in by deceit. 17Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Titus did not take advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves with the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?
19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up. 20For I fear that when I come, I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; I fear that there may perhaps be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21I fear that when I come again, my God may humble me before you, and that I may have to mourn over many who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practiced.
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; Christ, 2Co 12:2.
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 prominent thought.
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 of.
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 disembodied spirits.
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 can speak.
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 the glory.
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, 16, 17).
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"; exceeding greatness.
thorn in the flesh—(Nu 33:55; Eze 28:24). Alford thinks it to be the same bodily affliction as in Ga 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).
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 lifted up."
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" [Bengel].
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 manifestation.
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 specified.
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."
12. Truly, &c.—There is understood some such clause as this, "And yet I have not been commended by you."
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 accepts.
13. wherein you were inferior—that is, were treated with less consideration by me than were other churches.
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).
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 punishing misconduct.
debates—Greek, "strifes," "contentions."
envyings—The oldest manuscripts read "envying," singular.
strifes—"factions," "intrigues," "factious schemes" [Wahl]. Ambitious self-seeking; from a Greek root, "to work for hire."
backbitings, whisperings—open "slanderings," and "whispering backbitings" (Ga 5:20).
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 repented [Alford].
uncleanness—for example, of married persons (1Th 4:7).
fornication—among the unmarried.