Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
St. Paul mentions some wonderful revelations which he had received from the Lord, Co2 12:1-5. He speaks of his suffering in connection with these extraordinary revelations, that his character might be duly estimated, Co2 12:6. That he might not be too much exalted, a messenger of Satan is sent to buffet him; his prayer for deliverance, and the Divine answer, Co2 12:7-9. He exults in sufferings and reproaches, and vindicates his apostleship, Co2 12:10-13. Promises to come and visit them, Co2 12:14, Co2 12:15. Answers some objections, Co2 12:16-18. And expresses his apprehensions that when he visits them he shall find many evils and disorders among them, Co2 12:19-21.
2 Corinthians 12:1
It is not expedient for me - There are several various readings on this verse which are too minute to be noticed here; they seem in effect to represent the verse thus: "If it be expedient to glory, (which does not become me), I will proceed to visions," etc. The plain meaning of the apostle, in this and the preceding chapter, in reference to glorying is, that though to boast in any attainments, or in what God did by him, was in all possible cases to be avoided, as being contrary to the humility and simplicity of the Gospel; yet the circumstances in which he was found, in reference to the Corinthian Church, and his detractors there, rendered it absolutely necessary; not for his personal vindication, but for the honor of the Gospel, the credit of which was certainly at stake.
I will come to visions - Οπτασιας· Symbolical representations of spiritual and celestial things, in which matters of the deepest importance are exhibited to the eye of the mind by a variety of emblems, the nature and properties of which serve to illustrate those spiritual things.
Revelations - Αποκαλυψεις· A manifestation of things not before known, and such as God alone can make known, because they are a part of his own inscrutable counsels.
2 Corinthians 12:2
I knew a man in Christ - I knew a Christian, or a Christian man; for to such alone God now revealed himself, for vision and prophecy had been shut up from the Jews.
Fourteen years ago - On what occasion or in what place this transaction took place we cannot tell; there are many conjectures among learned men concerning it, but of what utility can they be when every thing is so palpably uncertain? Allowing this epistle to have been written some time in the year 57, fourteen years counted backward will lead this transaction to the year 42 or 43, which was about the time that Barnabas brought Paul from Tarsus to Antioch, Act 11:25, Act 11:26, and when he and Paul were sent by the Church of Antioch with alms to the poor Christians at Jerusalem. It is very possible that, on this journey, or while in Jerusalem, he had this vision, which was intended to be the means of establishing him in the faith, and supporting him in the many trials and difficulties through which he was to pass. This vision the apostle had kept secret for fourteen years.
Whether in the body I cannot tell - That the apostle was in an ecstasy or trance, something like that of Peter, Act 10:9, etc., there is reason to believe; but we know that being carried literally into heaven was possible to the Almighty. But as he could not decide himself, it would be ridiculous in us to attempt it.
Caught up to the third heaven - He appeared to have been carried up to this place; but whether bodily he could not tell, or whether the spirit were not separated for the time, and taken up to the third heaven, he could not tell.
The third heaven - The Jews talk of seven heavens, and Mohammed has received the same from them; but these are not only fabulous but absurd. I shall enumerate those of the Jews.
1. The Velum, or curtain, וילון - "Which in the morning is folded up, and in the evening stretched out." Isa 40:22 : He stretcheth out the heavens as a Curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.
2. The firmament, or Expanse, רקיע - "In which the sun, moon, stars, and constellations are fixed." Gen 1:17 : And God placed them in the Firmament of heaven.
3. The Clouds, or Ether, שקים - "Where the mill-stones are which grind the manna for the righteous." Psa 78:23, etc.: Though he had commended the Clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, and had rained down manna, etc.
4. The Habitation, זבול - "Where Jerusalem, and the temple, and the altar, were constructed and where Michael the great prince stands and offers sacrifices." Kg1 8:13 : I have surely built thee a House To Dwell In, a settled place for thee to abide in for ever. "But where is heaven so called?" Answer: In Isa 63:15 : Look down from Heaven, and behold from the Habitation, מזבול, of thy holiness.
5. The Dwelling-Place, מעון - "Where the troops of angels sing throughout the night, but are silent in the day time, because of the glory of the Israelites." Psa 42:8 : The Lord will command his loving-kindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me. "But how is it proved that this means heaven? "Answer: From Deu 26:15. Look down from thy holy habitation, ממעון, the Dwelling-Place of thy holiness; and from heaven, השמים, and bless thy people Israel.
6. The Fixed Residence, מבון - "Where are the treasures of snow and hail, the repository of noxious dews, of drops, and whirlwinds; the grotto of exhalations," etc. "But where are the heavens thus denominated?" Answer: In Kg1 8:39, Kg1 8:49, etc.: Then hear thou in Heaven thy Dwelling - Place, מכון שבת, thy Fixed Residence.
7. The Araboth, ערבות - "Where are justice, judgment, mercy, the treasures of life; peace and blessedness; the souls of the righteous, the souls and spirits which are reserved for the bodies yet to be formed, and the dew by which God is to vivify the dead." Psa 89:14, Isa 59:17; Psa 36:9, Jdg 6:24; Psa 24:4; Sa1 25:29; Isa 57:20 : All of which are termed Araboth, Psa 68:4. Extol him who rideth on the heavens, בערבות ba Araboth, by his name Jah.
All this is sufficiently unphilosophical, and in several cases ridiculous.
In the sacred writings three heavens only are mentioned. The first is the atmosphere, what appears to be intended by רקיע rekia, the firmament or expansion, Gen 1:6. The second, the starry heaven; where are the sun, moon, planets, and stars; but these two are often expressed under the one term שמים shamayim, the two heavens, or expansions, and in Gen 1:17, they appear to be both expressed by רקיע השמים rekia hashshamayim, the firmament of heaven. And, thirdly, the place of the blessed, or the throne of the Divine glory, probably expressed by the words שמי השמים shemei hashshamayim, the heavens of heavens. But on these subjects the Scripture affords us but little light; and on this distinction the reader is not desired to rely.
Much more may be seen in Schoettgen, who has exhausted the subject; and who has shown that ascending to heaven, or being caught up to heaven, is a form of speech among the Jewish writers to express the highest degrees of inspiration. They often say of Moses that he ascended on high, ascended on the firmament, ascended to heaven; where it is evident they mean only by it that he was favored with the nearest intimacy with God, and the highest revelations relative to his will, etc. If we may understand St. Paul thus, it will remove much of the difficulty from this place; and perhaps the unspeakable words, Co2 12:4, are thus to be understood. He had the most sublime communications from God, such as would be improper to mention, though it is very likely that we have the substance of these in his epistles. Indeed, the two epistles before us seem, in many places, to be the effect of most extraordinary revelations.
2 Corinthians 12:4
Caught up into paradise - The Jewish writers have no less than four paradises, as they have seven heavens; but it is needless to wade through their fables. On the word paradise see the note on Gen 2:8. The Mohammedans call it jennet alferdoos, the garden of paradise, and say that God created it out of light, and that it is the habitation of the prophets and wise men.
Among Christian writers it generally means the place of the blessed, or the state of separate spirits. Whether the third heaven and paradise be the same place we cannot absolutely say; they probably are not; and it is likely that St. Paul, at the time referred to, had at least two of these raptures.
Which it is not lawful for a man to utter - The Jews thought that the Divine name, the Tetragrammaton יהוה Yehovah, should not be uttered, and that it is absolutely unlawful to pronounce it; indeed they say that the true pronunciation is utterly lost, and cannot be recovered without an express revelation. Not one of them, to the present day, ever attempts to utter it; and, when they meet with it in their reading, always supply its place with אדני Adonai, Lord. It is probable that the apostle refers to some communication concerning the Divine nature and the Divine economy, of which he was only to make a general use in his preaching and writing. No doubt that what he learned at this time formed the basis of all his doctrines.
Cicero terms God illud inexprimible, that inexpressible Being. And Hermes calls him ανεκλαλητος, αρῥητος, σιωπῃ φωνουμενος· The ineffable, the unspeakable, and that which is to be pronounced in silence. We cannot have views too exalted of the majesty of God; and the less frequently we pronounce his name, the more reverence shall we feel for his nature. It is said of Mr. Boyle that he never pronounced the name of God without either taking off his hat or making a bow. Leaving out profane swearers, blasphemers, and such like open-faced servants of Satan, it is distressing to hear many well intentioned people making unscripturally free with this sacred name.
2 Corinthians 12:5
Of such a one will I glory - Through modesty he does not mention himself, though the account can be understood of no other person; for, did he mean any other, the whole account would be completely irrelevant.
2 Corinthians 12:6
I shall not be a fool - Who that had got such honor from God would have been fourteen years silent on the subject?
I will say the truth - I speak nothing but truth; and the apostle seems to have intended to proceed with something else of the same kind, but, finding some reason probably occurring suddenly, says, I forbear - I will say no more on this subject.
Lest any man should think of me above - The apostle spoke of these revelations for two purposes: first, lest his enemies might suppose they had cause to think meanly of him; and, secondly, having said thus much, he forbears to speak any farther of them, lest his friends should think too highly of him. It is a rare gift to discern when to speak, and when to be silent; and to know when enough is said on a subject, neither too little nor too much.
2 Corinthians 12:7
And lest I should be exalted - There were three evils to be guarded against:
1. The contempt of his gifts and call by his enemies.
2. The overweening fondness of his friends. And, Self-exultation.
A thorn in the flesh - The word σκολοψ signifies a stake, and ανασκολοπιζεσθαι, to be tied to a stake by way of punishment; and it is used, says Schoettgen, to signify the most oppressive afflictions. Whatever it was, it was τῃ σαρκι, in the flesh, i.e. of an outward kind. It was neither sin nor sinfulness, for this could not be given him to prevent his being exalted above measure; for sin never had and never can have this tendency. What this thorn in the flesh might be has given birth to a multitude of conjectures: Tertullian thought it dolor auriculae, the ear ache; Chrysostom, κεφαλαλγια, the head ache; Cyprian, carnis et corporis multa ac gravia tormenta, many and grievous bodily torments. I believe the apostle to refer simply to the distresses he had endured through the opposition he met with at Corinth; which were as painful and grievous to him as a thorn in his flesh, or his being bound to a stake; for, if he could have devoted himself to destruction, Rom 9:3, for his rebellious and unbelieving countrymen, what must he have suffered on account of an eminent Church being perverted and torn to pieces by a false teacher! God permitted this to keep the apostle humble, and at last completely delivered the Church out of the hands and influence of this deceiver; none, not even the incestuous person, having been turned finally out of the way by the false doctrines there preached.
The messenger of Satan - Another mode of expressing what he calls the thorn in the flesh; and he seems most plainly to refer to the false apostle at Corinth. The apostle himself was, as he styles himself to this Church, αποστολος Ιησου Χριστου, Co2 1:1, the apostle of Jesus Christ. The person in question is styled here αγγελος Σαταν, the apostle or angel of Satan. It is almost impossible to mistake the apostle's meaning and reference. Jesus Christ sent Paul to proclaim his truth, and found a Church at Corinth. Satan, the adversary of God's truth, sent a man to preach lies at the same place, and turn the Church of God into his own synagogue; and by his teaching lies and calumnies the apostle was severely buffeted. We need seek no other sense for these expressions. Many, however, think that the apostle had really some bodily infirmity that rendered him contemptible, and was the means of obstructing the success of his ministry; and that the false apostle availed himself of this to set St. Paul at nought, and to hold him out to ridicule. I have shown this, elsewhere, to be very unlikely.
The best arguments in favor of this opinion may be found in Whitby; but I forbear to transcribe them because I think the meaning given above is more correct. No infirmity of body nor corporeal sufferings can affect and distress a minister of the Gospel, equally to the perversion or scattering of a flock, which were the fruit of innumerable labors, watchings, fastings, prayers, and tears.
2 Corinthians 12:8
I besought the Lord - That is, Christ, as the next verse absolutely proves, and the Socinians themselves confess. And if Christ be an object of prayer in such a case as this, or indeed in any case, it is a sure proof of his divinity; for only an omniscient Being can be made an object of prayer.
Thrice - Several suppose this to be a certain number for an uncertain; as if he had said, I often besought Christ to deliver me from this tormentor: or, which is perhaps more likely, the apostle may refer to three solemn, fixed, and fervent applications made to Christ at different times; at the last of which he received the answer which he immediately subjoins. It is worthy of remark, that our Lord in his agony acted in the same way: at three different times he applied to God that the cup might depart from him; and in each application he spoke the same words, Mat 26:39-44. There is, therefore, a manifest allusion to our Lord's conduct in these words of the apostle.
2 Corinthians 12:9
My grace is sufficient for thee - Thou shalt not be permitted to sink under these afflictions. Thy enemies shall not be able to prevail against thee.
My strength is made perfect in weakness - The more, and the more violently, thou art afflicted and tried, being upheld by my power, and prospered in all thy labors, the more eminently will my power be seen and acknowledged. For the weaker the instrument I use, the more the power of my grace shall be manifested. See at the end of this chapter, (Co2 12:21 (note)).
Will I rather glory in my infirmities - Therefore, his infirmities do not mean his corruptions, or sins, or sinfulness of any kind; for it would be blasphemous for any man to say, I will rather glory that God leaves my corruptions in me, than that he should take them away.
That the power of Christ may rest upon me - Επισκηνωσῃ επ' εμε· That it may overshadow me as a tent, or tabernacle; affording me shelter, protection, safety, and rest. This expression is like that, Joh 1:14 : And the word was made flesh, και εσκηνωσεν εν ἡμιν and made his tabernacle among us - full of grace and truth. The same eternal Word promised to make his tabernacle with the apostle, and gives him a proof that he was still the same - full of grace and truth, by assuring him that his grace should be sufficient for him. Paul, knowing that the promise of grace could not fail, because of the Divine truth, says: Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my afflictions, that such a power of Christ may overshadow and defend me.
The words are also similar to those of the Prophet Isaiah, Isa 4:5 : On all the glory shall be a defense. God gives the glory, and God gives the defense of that glory. The apostle had much glory or honor; both Satan and his apostles were very envious; in himself the apostle, as well as all human beings, was weak, and therefore needed the power of God to defend such glory. Grace alone can preserve grace. When we get a particular blessing we need another to preserve it; and without this we shall soon be shorn of our strength, and become as other men. Hence the necessity of continual watchfulness and prayer, and depending on the all-sufficient grace of Christ. See on Co2 11:30 (note)
2 Corinthians 12:10
Therefore I take pleasure - I not only endure them patiently, but am pleased when they occur; for I do it for Christ's sake - on his account; for on his account I suffer. For when I am weak - most oppressed with trials and afflictions, then am I strong; God supporting my mind with his most powerful influences, causing me to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
2 Corinthians 12:11
I am become a fool in glorying - It is not the part of a wise or gracious man to boast; but ye have compelled me - I have been obliged to do it, in order to vindicate the cause of God.
I ought to have been commended of you - You should have vindicated both myself and my ministry against the detractors that are among you.
The very chiefest apostles - See Co2 11:1.
Though I be nothing - Though I have been thus set at nought by your false apostle; and though, in consequence of what he has said, some of you have been ready to consider me as nothing - what we call good for nothing. This must be the meaning of the apostle, as the following verses prove.
A kind of technical meaning has been imposed on these words, of which many good people seem very fond. I am nothing - I am all sin, defilement, and unworthiness in myself; but Jesus Christ is all in all. This latter clause is an eternal truth; the former may be very true also; the person who uses it may be all sin, defilement, etc., but let him not say that the apostle of the Gentiles was so too, because this is not true; it is false, and it is injurious to the character of the apostle and to the grace of Christ; besides, it is not the meaning of the text, and the use commonly made of it is abominable, if not wicked.
2 Corinthians 12:12
The signs of an apostle were wrought among you - Though I have been reputed as nothing, I have given the fullest proof of my Divine mission by various signs, wonders, and miracles, and by that patience which I have manifested towards you: though I had power from God to inflict punishment on the transgressors, I have in every case forborne to do it. Is the man nothing who wrought such miracles among you?
2 Corinthians 12:13
For what is it wherein you were inferior - This is a fine, forcible, yet delicate stroke. It was your duty and your interest to have supported your apostle; other Churches have done so: I did not require this from you; in this respect all other Churches are superior to you. I am the cause of your inferiority, by not giving you an opportunity of ministering to my necessities: forgive me the wrong I have done you. It is the privilege of the Churches of Christ to support the ministry of his Gospel among them. Those who do not contribute their part to the support of the Gospel ministry either care nothing for it, or derive no good from it.
2 Corinthians 12:14
The third time I am ready - That is, this is the third time that I am ready - have formed the resolution, to visit you. He had formed this resolution twice before, but was disappointed. See Co1 16:5, and Co2 1:15, Co2 1:16. He now formed it a third time, having more probability of seeing them now than he had before. See Co2 13:2.
I seek not yours, but you - I seek your salvation, I desire not your property; others have sought your property, but not your salvation. See Co2 11:20.
For the children ought not to lay up for the parents - You may have many teachers, but you have but one Father; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel; see Co1 4:15. Ye are my children, and I am your father. You have not contributed to my support, but I have been labouring for your life. I will act towards you as the loving father who works hard, and lays up what is necessary to enable his children to get their bread.
2 Corinthians 12:15
And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you - I will continue to act as a loving father, who spends all he has upon his children, and expends his own strength and life in providing for them the things necessary for their preservation and comfort.
Though the more abundantly I love you - I will even act towards you with the most affectionate tenderness, though it happen to me, as it often does to loving fathers, that their disobedient children love them less, in proportion as their love to them is increased. Does it not frequently happen that the most disobedient child in the family is that one on which the parents' tenderness is more especially placed? See the parable of the prodigal son. It is in the order of God that it should be so, else the case of every prodigal would be utterly deplorable. The shepherd feels more for the lost sheep than for the ninety-nine that have not gone astray.
If I be asked, "Should Christian parents lay up money for their children?" I answer: It is the duty of every parent who can, to lay up what is necessary to put every child in a condition to earn its bread. If he neglect this, he undoubtedly sins against God and nature. "But should not a man lay up, besides this, a fortune for his children, if he can honestly?" I answer: Yes, if there be no poor within his reach; no good work which he can assist; no heathen region on the earth to which he can contribute to send the Gospel of Jesus; but not otherwise. God shows, in the course of his providence, that this laying up of fortunes for children is not right; for there is scarcely ever a case where money has been saved up to make the children independent and gentlemen, in which God has not cursed the blessing. It was saved from the poor, from the ignorant, from the cause of God; and the canker of his displeasure consumed this ill-saved property.
2 Corinthians 12:16
But be it so, I did not burden you - That is: You grant that I did not burden you, that I took nothing from you, but preached to you the Gospel freely; but you say that, Being Crafty, I caught you with guile; i.e. getting from you, by means of others, what I pretended to be unwilling to receive immediately from yourselves.
Many persons suppose that the words, being crafty, I caught you with guile, are the words of the apostle and not of his slanderers; and therefore have concluded that it is lawful to use guile, deceit, etc., in order to serve a good and a religious purpose. This doctrine is abominable; and the words are most evidently those of the apostle's detractors, against which he defends his conduct in the two following verses.
2 Corinthians 12:17
Did I make a gain of you - Did any person I ever sent to preach the Gospel to you, or help you in your Christian course, ever get any thing from you for me? Produce the proof if you can.
2 Corinthians 12:18
I desired Titus - I never sent any to you but Titus and another brother; Co2 8:6, Co2 8:18. And did Titus make a gain of you? Did he get any thing from you, either for himself or for me? You know he did not. He was actuated by the same spirit, and he walked in the same steps.
2 Corinthians 12:19
Think ye that we excuse ourselves - Απολογουμεθα; That we make an apology for our conduct; or, that I have sent Titus and that brother to you because I was ashamed or afraid to come myself?
We speak before God in Christ - I have not done so; I speak the truth before God; he is judge whether I was actuated in this way by any sinister or unworthy motive.
For your edifying - Whatever I have done in this or any other way, I have done for your edifying; not for any emolument to myself or friends.
2 Corinthians 12:20
I fear, lest, when I come - I think the present time is used here for the past; the apostle seems most evidently to be giving them the reason why he had not come to them according to his former purposes, and why he sent Titus and his companion. He was afraid to come at that time lest he should have found them perverted from the right way, and he be obliged to make use of his apostolical rod, and punish the offenders; but, feeling towards them the heart of a tender father, he was unwilling to use the rod; and sent the first epistle to them, and the messengers above mentioned, being reluctant to go himself till he had satisfactory evidence that their divisions were ended, and that they had repented for and put away the evils that they had committed; and that he should not be obliged to bewail them who had sinned so abominably, and had not repented for their crimes. If this verse be understood in this way, all difficulty will vanish; otherwise, what is here said does seem to contradict what is said, Co2 7:6, Co2 7:16, etc.; as well as many things both in the eighth and ninth chapters.
Debates, envyings - From these different expressions, which are too plain to need interpretation, we see what a distracted and divided state the Church at Corinth must have been in. Brotherly love and charity seem to have been driven out of this once heavenly assembly. These debates, etc., are precisely the opposites to that love which the apostle recommends and explains by its different properties in the 13th chapter of his first epistle.
Mr. Wakefield translates the original thus: strifes, rivalries, passions, provocations, slanders, whisperings, swellings, quarrels.
2 Corinthians 12:21
Lest, when I come again - And even after all that has been done for you, I fear that when I do come - when I pay you my second visit, my God will humble me - will permit me to be affected with deep sorrow through what I may see among you; as I have been by the buffetings of the apostle of Satan, who has perverted you. Humiliation is repeatedly used for affliction, and here ταπεινωσῃ has certainly that meaning.
Have sinned already - Προημαρτηκοτων· Who have sinned before; who were some of the first offenders, and have not yet repented.
Of the uncleanness, etc. - There must have been a total relaxation of discipline, else such abominations could not have been tolerated in the Christian Church. And although what is here spoken could only be the ease of a few; yet the many were ill disciplined, else these must have been cast out. On the whole, this Church seems to have been a composition of excellences and defects, of vices and virtues; and should not be quoted as a model for a Christian Church.
1. From St. Paul we receive two remarkable sayings of our Lord, which are of infinite value to the welfare and salvation of man; which are properly parts of the Gospel, but are not mentioned by any evangelist. The first is in Act 20:35 : I have showed you, the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It Is More Blessed to Give than to Receive. Every liberal heart feels this in bestowing its bounty; and every poor man, who is obliged to receive help, and whose independency of spirit is still whole in him, feels this too. To the genuine poor, it is more burdensome to receive a kindness, than it is to the generous man who gives it. The second is recorded in the ninth verse of this chapter: He said unto me, My Grace Is Sufficient for Thee; for My Strength Is Made Perfect in Weakness. Of these two most blessed sayings, St. Paul is the only evangelist. This last is of general application. In all states and conditions of life God's grace is sufficient for us. If in any case we miscarry, it is because we have not sought God earnestly. Let no man say that he is overcome by sin through want of grace; God's grace was sufficient for him, but he did not apply for it as did St. Paul, and therefore he did not receive it. Men often lay the issue of their own infidelity to the charge of God, they excuse their commission of sin through their scantiness of grace; whereas the whole is owing to their carelessness, and refusal to be saved in God's own way; and in this way alone will God save any man, because it is the only effectual way.
2. The apostle must have been brought into a blessed state of subjection to God, when he could say, I take pleasure in infirmities; that is, in afflictions and sufferings of different kinds. Though this language was spoken on earth, we may justly allow, with one, that he learned it in Heaven.
3. St. Paul preached the Gospel without being burdensome. In every case the laborer is worthy of his hire. He who labors for the cause of God should be supported by the cause of God; but wo to that man who aggrandizes himself and grows rich by the spoils of the faithful! And to him especially who has made a fortune out of the pence of the poor! In such a man's heart the love of money must have its throne. As to his professed spirituality, it is nothing; he is a whited sepulchre, and an abomination in the sight of the Lord. If a man will love the world, (and he does love it who makes a fortune by the offerings of the poor), the love of the Father is not in him.