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Second Corinthians, chapter 2

Apr 20, 2018

2 Corinthians 2:1-3 says,

1 But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. 2 For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful? 3 And this is the very thing I wrote you, lest, when I came, I should 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.

Here Paul turns his attention to those that he found necessary to correct by his first epistle. Such corrections are difficult for anyone, for it seems that few are able and willing to be corrected. It seems that the church was still struggling with differing opinions, although apparently the church had firmly rendered a judicial decision against one who had been living in incest.

Yet the differences of opinion were more difficult to resolve. It seems that the church still struggled with the disunity caused by those differences. Paul was reluctant to visit the church under those conditions. He had the authority to make an apostolic ruling that in essence would force his own opinion upon them, but a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. Such rulings do not bring a state of joy, but a state of fear and sorrow.

Paul felt badly that his first letter had been only partially successful in reuniting the church. He had been very firm in his ruling against incest (1 Corinthians 5:5, 6, 7, 13). The hearing took place, and the majority ruling in the church ruled against the man in question. Yet controversy lingered. It appears that the incestuous man had enjoyed some prominence in the church and was not without support.

At first glance, it seems that this issue was a simple case of incest with one’s mother. But if so, how could he convince anyone else of the justness of his case? It seems that the only way to claim any moral position is if the “mother” were actually a step-mother. At least in such a case the man could claim that there was no direct blood relationship between them.

In those days, many of these wives were quite young and could even be younger than a man’s own children. It is plausible, then, that a man had died, leaving his young (second) wife alone in a house where her stepson was near her own age. They may have fallen in love, and this could well be the origin of the problem of incest. Without a doubt, the affection between the two young people was genuine, and they probably argued that when the man’s father died, she was free to marry whom she would, including the son, who was not directly related by blood to her.

But Paul’s Hebrew mindset would have none of it, for that was never a proper argument in interpreting Leviticus 18:8. I suspect, then, that the difference between Hebrew and Greek ways of viewing of the law were at the bottom of this controversy.

Since this was obviously a legal question, it should be pointed out that no one was claiming to put away the law in this situation. In other words, the incestuous couple could not argue that the law had been set aside in favor of “love.” In fact, we are not told how they defended their position, but if they claimed that “love” had superseded the law of Leviticus 18:8, neither Paul nor the majority in the church agreed with that assertion.

Excessive Punishment

2 Corinthians 2:4, 5 continues,

4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you. 5 But 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.

The sorrow of correction was preceded by the sorrow that was caused earlier by those who deviated from the truth or who strayed from the moral path of Scripture. But once again we are hampered by a lack of specific information, because Paul did not want to “say too much” about it. Paul knew that his letters would be read among the churches, so he was careful not to malign his opponent(s) in public.

2 Corinthians 2:6-8 concludes,

6 Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, 7 so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, lest somehow such a one be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.

The “majority” among the panel of judges had sided with Paul’s understanding of the law and had ruled against the incestuous man. Paul then advocates forgiveness, not desiring the man to “be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (or too much punishment). This suggests that the man had complied with the ruling of the church court.

Paul wanted them to be able to put the incident into the past, so that they could all move on into the things of God. Yet the continued disagreement and hard feelings seem to indicate that not everyone had agreed upon the interpretation and application of the law of incest.

The Authority to Forgive

2 Corinthians 2:9-11 says,

9 For to this end also I wrote that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10 But 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, 11 in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.

In any church discipline, forgiveness ought to be the goal of all judgment, for that is the spirit and purpose of the law. Paul implies that he wanted the church itself to handle this case by itself as a “test” of their obedience in all things. Recall that Paul had chided them for not rising to the occasion at first (1 Corinthians 6:5). But the church did rise up and appoint a panel of judges.

Now that the trial had been completed and the judgment rendered, Paul supported their decision. The next step was to restore the sinner and to find a way to bring forgiveness to him. Even the seeming harshness of Paul’s earlier instruction had reflected the law’s merciful purpose, for Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:5,

5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

In other words, the purpose of judgment was not to consign the person to eternal separation from God, but to destroy the flesh and save the man in the end. So after the judgment was rendered, Paul’s concern turned toward restoration and forgiveness “in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan.”

As an apostle, Paul acted as an Appeals Court justice, accepting the judicial decision of the church court, and also accepting their forgiveness of the sinner. In other words, the church had no need to fear that their forgiveness was unacceptable to Paul, in view of his judicial recommendations in his previous letter.

This ends the most pressing issue of the letter, tying up the loose ends from the controversy raised in the first letter.

Paul’s Trip from Troas to Macedonia

2 Corinthians 2:12, 13 says,

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

In Luke’s account of this journey in Acts 16:8-10, no mention is made of Titus. Instead, Paul says that he had a vision in the night (perhaps a dream), in which “a certain man of Macedonia” appealed to him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). This was probably not Titus himself, but a Macedonian. So Paul sailed to Philippi, a leading city of Macedonia.

Paul says nothing more about his journey, but merely compares the presence of the gospel to a “sweet aroma” being smelled everywhere he went. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 says,

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?

The metaphor of a “triumph” depicts Paul as a prisoner of Jesus Christ returning from a victorious military campaign, leading prisoners in a parade through the streets of the city. Those who are prisoners of Jesus Christ may be led to death, others to life. Paul understood that whether he lived or died, he was a bond-slave of Jesus Christ.

The two types of aroma, the stench of death vs. the aroma of life are attributed to the difference between “those who are perishing” (i.e., non-believers) and “those who are being saved.” Paul’s metaphor was well known in those days but somewhat obscure to us today. He concludes the section in 2 Corinthians 2:17,

17 For we are not like many, peddling [kapeleuo] the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.

In other words, Paul was not involved in corrupting the word of God. The Greek word kapeleuo is from kapelos, “a huckster.” Dr. Bullinger gives us a little history of this word:

Gr. kapeleuo. Only here. The word kapelos, which occ. once in the Sept., meant a huckster, tavern-keeper, and then the verb came to mean “adulterate”. See Isaiah 1:22, where the Sept. reads, “thy wine-sellers mix the wine with water.”

Hence, Paul was telling us that he was no huckster preaching things that he himself did not believe with sincerity. Neither was Paul adulterating the word by mixing it with untruth as men often mixed water with wine.

This simple statement serves as an introduction to the important teaching that Paul was about to give in the next chapter. The apostle intends for us to understand that his teaching on the Old and New Covenants in 2 Corinthians 3 does not originate from a huckster of the word.


This is part 4 of a series titled "Studies in Second Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in Second Corinthians


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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones