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2 Corinthians 2


The Postponement of Paul's Visit Sparing the Church Recent Relations with the Church The Change in Paul's Plans Why Paul Changed His Plans
(1:12-2:4)   (1:12-2:13) (1:12-2:4) (1:12-2:11)
1:23-2:4 Forgiving the Offender 1:23-2:4 1:23-2:4  
Forgiveness for the Offender 2:3-11   Forgiveness for the Offender  
2:5-11   2:5-11 2:5-11 2:5-11
Paul's Anxiety and Relief Triumph in Christ   Paul's Anxiety in Troas From Troas to Macedonia-the Apostolate:
Its Importance
2:12-13 2:12-13 2:12-13 2:12-13 (2:12-4:6)
    Our Ministry    
    (2:14-3:6) Victory Through Christ  
2:14-17 2:14-17 2:14-17 2:14-17 2:12-3:3

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. There is much discussion among the commentators as to how many visits and letters Paul made to this church. This chapter is the crux of this discussion because it seems to refer to a previous letter and a painful visit. There is much ambiguity in both the text and our knowledge of Paul's life. Dogmatism is inappropriate.


B. Another area of contention involving this chapter is whether the offender mentioned in vv. 5 and 6 is

1. synonymous with the incestuous man of I Corinthians 5

2. a leader of one of the factions or house churches spoken of in I Corinthians (1-4)

3. a ringleader of the false teachers from Jerusalem who confronted Paul personally on this painful visit (2 Corinthians10-13).


C. The chapter division is obviously inappropriate. Chapter 2 is integrally linked with the discussion of Paul's travel plans mentioned in II Cor. 1:15ff.


D. There is a major digression or parenthesis beginning in II Cor. 2:14. Paul does not return to his discussions concerning the meeting with Titus in Macedonia until II Cor. 7:5. I thank God for this digression because it shows us the heart of Paul and his intense love for Jesus Christ!



1But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. 2For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful? 3This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.



There is a Greek manuscript variant between "for" (i.e., gar, cf. P46 and B) and "but" (i.e., de, cf. א, A, C, D, F, G). The UBS4 gives ""for" a "C" rating, meaning they can not decide. Often conjunctions are crucial in interpretation, but in this case the sense of the sentence defines the issue.

NASB"I determined this for my own sake"
NKJV"I determined this within myself"
NJB"I made up my mind"

This seems to imply that Paul did not have special insight from the Spirit about this matter. He mentions several times how the Spirit had led his travel plans (cf. Acts 16:9-10; 18:21; Rom. 1:10; 15:32; I Cor. 4:19), but this time he has no specific guidance and decides not to come.

▣ "that I would not come to you in sorrow again" Paul mentions a third visit to Corinth in 12:14; 13:1. The book of Acts does not record this second painful visit. His initial stay in Corinth is recorded in Acts 18:1-11. See chart in Introduction, Date, E. "visit" C. It probably occurred between the writing of I and 2 Corinthians.

2:2 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence, which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Paul's second visit had made the church sad. I like the NJB translation of this verse, "for if I cause you distress I am causing distress to my only possible source of joy." Paul did not enjoy the confrontational aspect of his apostolic responsibility.

2:3 "This is the very thing I wrote you" There are several theories that try to explain these verses.

1. some call this an epistolary aorist, which means it would refer to 2 Corinthians (cf. NJB)

2. some believe this refers to I Corinthians

3. others believe that this refers to the previous lost letter mentioned in I Cor. 5:9

4. others think this refers to a severe lost letter, possibly partially preserved in 2 Corinthians 10-13

2:4 This verse so clearly reveals Paul's heart and the emotional pain he felt about what happened during his painful visit. Yet, he spoke the truth, as painful as it was. Like a good medical doctor, Paul knew sometimes pain is necessary for long term healing.

Paul uses two subjunctive verbs in this sentence because sometimes people do not respond well to correction. God had created all humans with free will, which is both a precious and a dangerous thing. It holds the potential of joy and restoration or embitterment and continuing rebellion.

NKJV, NRSV"abundantly"
NJB"how very much"

This verse also includes one of Paul's characteristic terms which he uses so often in his Corinthian letters (i.e., perissoterōs). See full note at 1:5 or the Special Topic at 2:7.

  5But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree-in order not to say too much -to all of you. 6Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, 7so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 9For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.

2:5 This verse is very difficult to translate! I believe the sense of the RSV and Phillips translation are probably best: "but if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure (not to put it too severely) to you all." There is no object mentioned in this sentence, therefore, some relate it to (1) the entire church (cf. NKJV, NJB, RSV, Phillips, NIV, NEB) or (2) the offending person (cf. KNOX translation).

Who is this "he" who caused trouble? There have been several suggestions.

1. it refers to I Cor. 5:9 and the man who married his father's wife

2. it refers to a ringleader of one of the factions or house churches

3. it refers to the spokesperson for the group of supposed "leaders" from Palestine who confronted Paul on his return to Corinth and apparently the church did not defend Paul as it should have.


▣ "if" This is a first class conditional sentence. Someone had caused sorrow, both to Paul and to the entire church (perfect active indicative) and the consequences remained.

2:6 "this punishment which was inflicted by the majority" The decision was not unanimous. Paul, when attacked, even cared for the attacker (cf. v. 7) and the spiritual consequences which controversy and confrontation can cause (cf. v. 11).

The mention of "the majority" shows how Paul viewed church polity. He felt himself called as an Apostle to the Gentiles, but this did not remove the congregational aspect of responsibility to lead. Paul has a great balance in his letters between authoritative commands (i.e., Galatians and I Corinthians 5), and the need for local leadership. The NT has all three forms of polity: apostolic (i.e., Episcopal); local leaders (i.e., Presbyterian); and congregational (i.e., every believer). Acts 15 has all three levels involved in the ecclesiastical process. It is not an issue of which one is biblical; they all are. It is an issue of godly believers leading within biblical guidelines, not personal agendas!

2:7 "rather forgive and comfort him" These are both aorist infinitives. Church discipline is never vindictive, but always redemptive (cf. Gal. 6:1). Sin must be exposed, but also to be covered (i.e., forgiven by God, forgiven by church) after it is exposed.

For "comfort" see full note at 1:4-11.

NASB"might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow"
NKJV"be swallowed up with too much sorrow"
NRSV"may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow"
TEV"from becoming so sad as to give up completely"
NJB"may be overwhelmed by the extent of his distress"

The first phrase is literally "lest by more abundant grief such a one should be swallowed up." See Special Topic below.

The second term, katapinō, is also an intense metaphor. It is literally "to gulp down." It is used in a positive sense in II Cor. 5:4 (i.e., swallowed-up life). Negatively it could mean to destroy (cf. I Cor. 15:54; II Cor. 2:7; Heb. 11:29; I Pet. 5:8).

Paul's personal experience and theological training made him acutely aware of the depths of sin and the heights of the grace and mercy of God. His choice of words reveal the depth of his feelings.


2:8 "I urge you to reaffirm your love for him" This refers to reinstatement or legal act by an official vote (cf. use of term in Gal. 3:15) of the church through the motive of love. It is possible it is metaphorical of the reality of something (cf. Louw and Nida, p. 668).

2:9 "I wrote" See note at 2:3.

▣ "the test" This refers to a test of metal coins to make sure of their genuineness. It seems to have the connotation in the NT of "to test with a view toward approval." See Special Topic on "Testing" at I Cor. 3:13.

▣ "whether you are obedient in all things" This was a test of their loyalty to Paul's authority. This was THE issue (cf. 7:15; 10:6).

There is a Greek manuscript variant related to "whether." Some MSS have

1. ei - א, C, D, F, G

2. η - A, B

3. omit - P46

It seems that P46, though very old, was done in haste and often omits words or phrases. As for the other options, They were pronounced alike. Many of the early Greek manuscripts were copied by one person reading a text and several others writing it down. Thus, variants such as this related to sound, are common. The UBS4 gives option #1 an "A" rating (certain).

2:10 "forgive" This term, charizomai (cf. vv. 7,10; 12:13) is from the root chairō, which means to rejoice, be glad. In this context it means to graciously forgive or remit (cf. 2:7,10 [thrice]).

Paul asks the majority to forgive in v. 7 (aorist middle infinitive); in v. 10 he repeated the ongoing request (present middle indicative); in v. 10 he assures them of his (i.e., personal pronoun, egō) gracious and ongoing forgiveness of the offender (two perfect middle indicatives).

▣ "if" This is a first class conditional sentence. Paul reiterates his own personal forgiveness of the offender.

▣ "for your sakes in the presence of Christ" This is Paul's way of asserting that the restoration of the offender will strengthen the church. He himself is able to do it because of his love for Christ.


NASB"so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan"
NKJV"lest Satan should take advantage of us"
NRSV"so that we may not be outwitted by Satan"
TEV"in order to keep Satan from getting the upper hand"
NJB"to avoid being outwitted by Satan"

This verse affirms the personal force of evil in our world out to thwart God's plan. Paul calls him by several titles in 2 Corinthians .

1. Satan in 2:11; 11:14; 12:7

2. "the god of this age (world)" in 4:4

3. "Belial" in 6:15

4. "the serpent" in 11:3

The "us" could refer to Paul himself, or to Paul and the Corinthian church. It is interesting to know that Satan tempts both by inclination to evil and by the perversion of the good. An inappropriate, unforgiving, angry, or prideful attitude on the part of the church could open the door for Satan to disrupt the fellowship. See SPECIAL TOPIC: PERSONAL EVIL at I Cor. 7:5.

▣ "for we are not ignorant of his schemes" The evil one tries to affect our lives (cf. Eph. 4:14; 6:10-18). Often believers are ignorant (i.e., agnoeō) of his schemes.


  12Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia.

2:12 "when I came to Troas" This follows the itinerary of I Cor. 16:5 (cf. Acts 16:8-11). Paul was apparently attacked by some at Corinth because his travel plans did not materialize. Paul tries to explain why.

▣ "and when a door was opened for me in the Lord" This is a perfect passive participle implying that God opened this opportunity for the gospel and that it remains open! "Open door" is a very popular metaphor of Paul (cf. I Cor. 16:9; Col. 4:3; and also Acts 14:27 and Rev. 3:8). This phrase emphasizes the effective power of God through the redemptive accomplished ministry of the Messiah and the wooing of His Spirit for evangelism and Christian discipleship (cf. Matt. 28:19-20 and Acts 15:3-4,12; 21:19). See Special Topic at I Cor. 16:9.

2:13 "I had no rest for my spirit" This is the use of "spirit" as synonymous with a person or human self (cf. 7:13; I Cor. 16:18). Paul was continually worried (perfect active indicative) about Corinth (cf. 7:5). Paul's imagination ran wild; watch out for yours. He left an open door in Troas because of his concern and fearfulness about the church at Corinth. Paul loved this factional, prideful church!

▣ "not finding Titus" Paul had earlier sent Timothy to Corinth, but he was apparently not received well by the church so Paul had sent Titus with a severe letter (cf. 2:3-4). Paul had not heard from him at the expected time and became very concerned.

Titus is mentioned several times in 2 Corinthians (cf. 2:13; 7:6,13,14; 8:6,16,23; 12:18).


▣ "I went on to Macedonia" There is a parenthesis in Paul's thought until II Cor. 7:5. It is a digression of praise to God for Christ! The digression is so beautiful and so helpful that we thank God for it. Many of Paul's most memorable quotes come from this digression.

  14But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.

2:14 "thanks be to God" See Special Topic following.


▣ "always" God always leads us (1) through Christ; (2) in Christ's victory; and (3) for the purpose of witness (i.e., "manifests through us," present active participle, cf. vv. 15-16).

NASB, NKJV"who always leads us in triumph in Christ"
NRSV"who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession"
TEV"led by God as prisoners in Christ's victory procession"
NJB"who always gives us in Christ a part in his triumphal procession"

This phrase refers to the Roman military practice of the triumphal march for victorious legion commanders through the streets of Rome, which would emphasize Christ as victor (the participle is singular). He has destroyed all hostile powers (cf. Col. 2:15, the verb appears only in these two verses in the NT). Believers follow Him, not as prisoners (TEV, NEB, and REB translate this explicitly as "prisoners," but this goes against the obvious victory of the context, unless Paul is referring to his sufferings and humiliations as an evangelist compared to the prisoners in a Roman parade), but as fellow soldiers! We are overcomers because of and through Him! Our victory is won, but we must choose to claim it and walk in it daily.

▣ "us" The plural pronouns in vv. 14-17 refer to (1) the Apostles; (2) Paul and his mission team; or (3) all believers who spread the gospel. To me option #2 is the focus, but option #3 is the implication.

Evangelists are victorious, but there is a price to be paid (cf. 4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:23-30).

"manifests" Paul uses this word so often in 2 Corinthians (cf. 2:14; 3:3; 4:10,11; 5:10,11[twice]; 7:12; 11:6). The term means to clearly display or make known. Paul's great desire was to fully, publicly, and clearly reveal God by revealing Christ's person and work (i.e., the gospel).

"of the knowledge of Him in every place" The Corinthian church was proud of their intellectual heritage. Paul was proud of his knowledge of God through Christ. Knowledge is not for personal glory, but for evangelism. As we are "always" (i.e., pantote) led in triumph in Christ, we also are expected to clearly reveal (i.e., manifest) the message of Christ "in every place" (i.e., panti). The universal gospel of Christ is to be shared by His victorious followers in every place (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).

Paul uses this little phrase "in every place" often (cf. I Cor. 1:2; I Thess. 1:8; I Tim. 2:8). I wonder if it is not an allusion to Mal. 1:11, which prophesies a worldwide worship of God's Messiah?

2:15 "For we are a fragrance of Christ to God" This phrase has two possible backgrounds.

1. in the OT the smoke from a sacrifice and incense rose to God and was accepted as a sweet aroma (cf. Gen. 8:21; Exod. 29:18,25; in LXX in Lev. 1:9,13,17; 2:2; also used metaphorically by Paul in Phil. 4:18)

2. in the first century incense was burned along the route of Roman military parades into Rome

The spreading of the gospel is YHWH's accepted sacrifice of praise. Believers are accepted in Christ for the purpose of becoming like Christ and sharing His gospel.

▣ "who are being saved and among those who are perishing" The distinction seems to be that those who are perishing are perishing by a continuing act of their own will (present active participle), and those who are saved are being saved by the will of God through Christ (present passive participle). For the theological significance of "who are being saved." See SPECIAL TOPIC: SALVATION (GREEK VERB TENSES) at I Cor. 3:15.

For the concept of "perishing" see the full theological discussion at I Cor. 1:18, which is a parallel to this text.

2:16 "And who is adequate for these things" The preaching of the gospel divides humanity eternally. From II Cor. 3:5-6 we understand that God equips His children for this awesome witnessing responsibility. Each believer's life is an aroma to God that others react to, either in trust toward Christ or rejection of Christ. It is important how we live; others are watching (cf. 2:16; 3:2,3).

As I read this verse I think of how many times and places I have had the privilege of sharing the gospel. One never knows who is present or what they are going through! Some of my sermons are done well and some are real flops! How can a proclaimer stand the pressure that one's hearers have an eternal choice to make based on what they hear from the human speaker? They cannot! The task is the Spirit's, not the proclaimer's! We must be faithful to speak the gospel but our spiritual responsibility has limits! It is God's gospel! It is His world! No one can be saved without the Spirit's touch (cf. John 6:44,65). Human logic or eloquence is not the crucial factor!

2:17 "we are not like many" Paul is referring to (1) itinerant teachers in the Greco-Roman world who traveled from place to place teaching and (2) philosophers where were compared with the false teachers who came from Palestine (like those in Gal. 1:6-9) and attacked Paul, his gospel, and his apostleship (cf. 4:2).

There is a variant connected to "many" (MSS א, A, B, C, K, P). Other early MSS (P46, D, F, G, L) have "the rest" (NKJV, NRSV footnote). Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament, p. 577, says the second option is an "offensive" term which Paul would not have used in this context. The UBS4 gives option one a "B" rating (almost certain).

▣ "peddling the word of God" This is a term from the wine industry. It was used in two ways:

1. to water down wine so as to make more money (i.e., adulterate)

2. to hawk one's product for profit (i.e., a huckster)

Paul did not change his message (the gospel) for different audiences (i.e., Greeks, Jews), but he did customize his approach (see Paul's sermons in Acts and his statement in I Cor. 9:19-23).

▣ "but as from sincerity" This term is from a root "to be unmixed" (cf. 1:12). This would be the opposite of "peddling." This rare word for sincerity is possibly a compound term from "sunshine" and "judge." It conveys the concept of unhidden, pure motives (cf. I Cor. 5:8; II Cor. 1:12; 2:17; Phil. 1:10; II Pet. 3:1). Notice the parallel between "but as from sincerity" and "but as from God."

▣ "the word of God. . .from God. . .in the sight of God" Paul affirms his gospel message is God's message and that the message is Christ! Paul thanks God (cf. v. 14) for:

1. our triumph in Christ (cf. v. 14)

2. our manifesting a knowledge of Him in every place (cf. v 14)

3. our message about Him produces life or death (cf. vv. 15-16)

4. our unmixed message is from God, before God, about Christ, and in Christ (cf. v. 17)


"we speak in Christ in the sight of God" This exact phrase is repeated in 12:19. It seems to be an idiomatic way of asserting the trustworthiness and truthfulness of the gospel.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why does Paul discuss his travel plans so extensively?

2. How many letters did Paul write to the Corinthian church?

3. Explain the background of triumph in v. 14.

4. How does one stand the spiritual pressure involved in vv. 15-16 when we know that sharing the Gospel can mean the difference between heaven and hell?


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