Vincent's Word Studies

Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.

Baldwin Professor of Sacred Literature in Union Theological Seminary New York.

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians


Paul's stay at Ephesus was cut short by the riot. He departed to Troas, and thence to Macedonia (Acts 20), where he met Titus, for whose arrival he had anxiously waited in order to learn the effect of his letter (2Co 1:8; 2Co 2:13; 2Co 7:5). Titus' report was both gratifying and disheartening. He had been cordially received, and the epistle had caused penitence and amendment; but the influence of the anti-Pauline parties had increased, and they were openly assailing Paul's character and insisting on their own superior apostolic claims. Accordingly Titus was again sent to Corinth with a second epistle, written from some point in Macedonia. The statement of the subscription that it was written from Philippi, lacks evidence, besides being in itself improbable. The date is the autumn of a.d. 57.

The epistle is among the least systematic of Paul's writings, for the reason that it was written in a conflict of feeling, in which joy, grief, and indignation struggled for the mastery. Its main motives are three in number.

1. Thankfulness for the effect of his first letter.

2. Indignation at the work and increasing influence of the false teachers.

3. Anxiety for the completion of the collection, and that the Corinthians should imitate the good example of the Macedonian churches.

“The three objects of the epistle are, in point of arrangement, kept distinct; but so vehement were the feelings under which he wrote, that the thankful expression of the first part is darkened by the indignation of the third; and the directions about the business of the contribution are colored by the reflections both of his joy and of his grief” (Stanley).

The style accords with this turbulence of feeling. It is surcharged with passionate emotion. No one of Paul's epistles is so intensely personal. Here only he reveals two of those great spiritual experiences which belong to a Christian's inmost heart-life - personal crises which are secrets between a man and his God. One of these - the thorn in the flesh - is a crisis of agony; the other - the rapture into the third heaven - a crisis of ecstasy. Bengel's remark is familiar, that the epistle is an itinerary. “The very stages of his journey are impressed upon it; the troubles at Ephesus, the repose at Troas, the anxieties and consolations of Macedonia, the prospect of removing to Corinth” (Stanley). His self-vindication is not only a remarkable piece of personal history, but a revelation of his high sense of honor and his keen sensitiveness. His “boasting,” into which he is driven by persistent slander, throws into relief his aversion to self-praise. He formally announces his intention to boast, as though he can bring himself to the task only by committing himself to it. Thrice he repeats the announcement, and each time seems to catch, with a sense of relief, at an opportunity for digressing to a different subject. Ecstatic thanksgiving and cutting irony, self-assertion and self-abnegation, commendation, warning and authority, paradox, apology, all meet and cross and seethe; yet out of the swirling eddies rise, like rocks, grand Christian principles and inspiring hopes. Such are the double power of the Gospel for life or death; the freedom and energy of the dispensation of the Spirit; suffering the path to glory; the divine purpose in the decay of the fleshly tabernacle; the new and heavenly investment of the mortal life; the universal judgment; the nature of repentance as distinguished from sorrow, and the principles of christian liberality. Full and swift as is the torrent, there is ever a hand on the floodgate. In the most indignant outburst the sense of suppression asserts itself. Indignation and irony never run into malediction. We cease to be surprised at the apostle's capability of indignation when we catch glimpses, as we do throughout the epistle, into the depths of his tenderness.

It is not strange that such a tempest should set its mark upon the style and diction, especially if we assume that the epistle was dictated to an amanuensis. In some particulars the epistle is the most difficult in the New Testament. The style is broken, involved, at times obscure. The impetuosity of the thought carries it from point to point with a rapidity which makes it often hard to grasp the sequence and connection. It is preeminently picturesque, abounding in metaphors which sometimes lie undeveloped in the heart of single words, and sometimes are strangely mixed or suddenly shifted. Building and clothing blend in describing the heavenly investiture of the believer; now the Corinthians are a commendatory letter written in the apostles' hearts, now the letter is written by Christ on the Corinthians' hearts; the rush of thought does not stop at the incongruity of an epistle on stone and of ink on stone tables; now the knowledge of Christ, now the apostles themselves are a sweet odor. Paul does not huckster the word of God. He does not benumb his converts like a torpedo. Here a word calls up Gideon's lamps and pitchers, there the rocky strongholds of the Cilician pirates. A rapid series of participles carries us through the successive stages of a battle - the hemming in, the cutting the way out, the pursuit, the blow of the enemy's sword. The high citadel is stormed, the lofty towers are overthrown, the captives are led away. Paul bears about a daily death: affliction is a light weight, glory an overwhelming burden: the fleshly body is a tent, the glorified body an eternal building, or a garment dropped from above.

Certain words appear to have a peculiar fascination for the writer, as if they gathered up into themselves the significance of whole masses of thought. Without arresting its main current, the stream eddies round these. Sometimes he dwells on them caressingly, as “the God of all comfort, who comforteth us, that we may be able to comfort with the comfort wherewith we are comforted.” Sometimes he rings them out like a challenge, as commend, commendation, boast. Sometimes he touches and retouches them with a sarcastic emphasis, as bear with me, bear with them. “So full of turns is he everywhere,” says Erasmus, “so great is the skill, you would not believe that the same man was speaking. Now, as some limpid fountain, he gently bubbles forth; anon, like a mighty torrent, he rolls crashing on, whirling many things along in his course: again he flows calmly and smoothly, or spreads out into a lake.”

The authenticity of the epistle is conceded. Unsuccessful attempts have been made against its integrity, as the effort to show that it consists of three separate epistles, or of two. 

Taken from: "Vincent's Word Studies" By Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.

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