This letter starts much like 1 Corinthians. The sender identifies himself as “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through God’s will.” It was Jesus Christ who chose him to be an apostle or “one sent forth,” commissioning him to proclaim the good news. His being chosen for this purpose accorded with God’s will, indicating that, ultimately, his authority as an apostle came from the Father and was an expression of his unearned favor. (1:1)
Paul associated Timothy with himself, for the Corinthians knew his young fellow worker well. In referring to him as “the brother” (1:1), the apostle may have expressed his high regard for him as “the brother” without equal. (Compare Philippians 2:19-22.) As Sothenes is likewise called “the brother” (in 1 Corinthians 1:1), the definite article “the” does not necessarily imply this significance.
Paul identified the community of believers in Corinth as the “congregation of God.” It belonged to God because of having been purchased with the blood of his unique Son. (Compare Acts 20:28.) The Corinthian believers were not the only ones to whom the letter was addressed, for the apostle included “all the holy ones” residing in Achaia. (1:1) Among these “holy ones” or God’s cleansed people by reason of their faith in Christ were believers in Athens and Cenchreae. (Acts 17:34; Romans 16:1)
“Favor,” unmerited or unearned kindness, or grace would include all the help and guidance the Father and his Son would provide. For believers to enjoy the peace of which God and Christ are the source would mean their being in possession of inner tranquility. Their sense of well-being and security would stem from knowing that as beloved children of God and brothers of Christ they would be sustained and strengthened in times of trial and affliction. (1:2)
No verb follows the adjective “blessed,” and so the meaning can be either “blessed is” or “blessed be.” When (as appears likely) Paul’s words are regarded as an expression of praise for what God had done for him, the preferred rendering would be, “blessed is.” (Compare 2 Corinthians 11:31.) The word kaí basically means “and,” which would signify that the one being blessed or praised is “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:3)
A number of translations do not have the apostle refer to the Father as the “God” of Jesus Christ, either rendering the words according to another possible meaning for kaí or leaving the conjunction untranslated. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (KJV) “Thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (J. B. Phillips) “Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (CEV) Ephesians 1:17, however, is very specific in referring to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and so there is sound reason for rendering kaí as “and” in 2 Corinthians 1:3. (See the Notes section.)
The first person plural “we” may refer to Paul in an editorial sense, apply to him and his fellow workers, or include the apostle and believers throughout Achaia. He spoke of God as the one “who comforts us in all our distress.” Whatever tribulation, oppression, or affliction believers might face, they could be certain that the heavenly Father would console them, either by strengthening them to endure or by delivering them from the difficult circumstances. It would then be possible for them to console others in whatever type of distress they might be experiencing or may yet face. All who have shared in the comfort God gives can impart this comfort to other afflicted ones, sharing with them what the heavenly Father has done for them and thus encouraging those in distress that they, too, will be sustained and strengthened. (1:4)
Paul, his close associates, and other believers suffered much. It was no exaggeration on his part to say that sufferings “abounded” or overflowed. “For just as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so also, through Christ, our comfort abounds.” (1:5)
Believers are members of Christ’s body and are at one with him as their head, and so their sufferings are his sufferings. He considers their distress as his own. (Compare Matthew 25:44, 45.) Although their sufferings may overflow, the comfort they receive through him would also be abundant. Nothing would be lacking in the aid they would receive through Christ. They would be sustained in their affliction and granted the needed strength to endure, and so his help and that of his Father would prove to be abundant consolation. (1:5)
The distress Paul and his close associates experienced was for the “comfort and salvation” of the believers to whom he sent his letter. Because of what he personally had been able to endure with divine aid, he was in a position to console fellow believers who faced difficult circumstances. When seeing how Paul had been sustained and strengthened, they would be encouraged to look with confidence to the aid that would come to them through Christ. This would contribute to their course of faithful endurance, with salvation as the ultimate result. The attainment of final salvation would mean that they would be completely freed from sin and united with Christ as sinless sons of God. (1:6)
Members of Christ’s body, like the parts of the physical body, share in the suffering and comfort of fellow believers. (Compare 1 Corinthians 12:26; Hebrews 10:32-34.) So, when Paul and his close associates were comforted, the Corinthians and other believers in Achaia would be comforted upon witnessing the evidence of what God and Christ had done in strengthening their brothers. Then, when those to whom Paul wrote experienced the sufferings he and others did and endured patiently with unwavering faith in God and Christ, they would come to be recipients of the same comfort. (1:6)
In his hope that believers in Achaia would faithfully endure distress, Paul was sure or unwavering. He knew or was certain that just as they were “sharers of the sufferings,” they would also be participants in “the comfort.” Paul did not doubt that God and Christ would come to the aid of believers in their time of distress, providing them with the consolation they needed to bear up patiently. (1:7)
The apostle wanted his “brothers” or fellow believers in Corinth and elsewhere in Achaia to know (literally, “not to be ignorant”) about the distress that had befallen him in the Roman province of Asia (in what is today the western part of Turkey). He spoke of the incident in the first person plural and so could have meant that Timothy and possibly others faced the same distress. On the other hand, his words may be understood as applying only to himself (as an editorial “we”). Excessively burdened beyond his strength by the distressing development, Paul felt that his life would end. (1:8)
Within himself he sensed that he had received a death sentence. Through this experience, he had impressed on him that he could not trust in himself or rely on his own strength to endure. His only option was to trust in God who “raises the dead.” (1:9)
So imminent did his own death appear to be that his deliverance from the threatening situation was comparable to a resurrection. According to numerous manuscripts, he said that God had rescued him from “so great a death” (so great a mortal peril) and would continue to do so. In expression of his unwavering confidence, Paul, with reference to God, added, “in whom we have hoped that he will yet rescue us [again].” (1:10; see the Notes section.)
With their supplications, believers in Achaia could “work with” or assist Paul (and also his close associates) in the hardships he (or he and they) faced. The apostle did not doubt that the intense prayer for him (or for him and his close associates) would receive a favorable response. As a consequence of the divine aid he (or he and his fellow workers) would graciously be granted, many would give thanks to God. (1:11; see the Notes section.)
For Paul, his “boasting,” or the basis for a proper pride, was the manner in which he had conducted himself in the world or the human sphere of life, but particularly toward the Corinthians and others in Achaia. His conscience testified to his having acted in “sincerity” (haplótes) and “godly purity” or “godly honesty” (literally, “purity [eilikríneia] of God”). He had shunned “fleshly wisdom,” the kind of wisdom that depended on eloquence and impressive bearing to persuade others, but relied fully on God’s favor, or on all that had been divinely granted to him in expression of unearned kindness. (1:12; see the Notes section.)
The manner in which Paul expressed himself indicates that his detractors called his sincerity and purity of motive into question, claiming that he said one thing but then did another. His next words counter this false claim. “For we are not writing to you things other than you can read or also understand, but which I hope you will understand fully [literally, until the end].” There were no hidden meanings in what the apostle had written. His letter was meant to be taken at face value and to be understood by everyone to whom it had been sent. (1:13)
On account of the problems that had arisen in the congregation at Corinth, it was only in “part” or to “an extent” that the Corinthians understood or recognized that Paul rightly was an object for their boasting. They could properly take pride in him on account of his devoted service for them. Likewise, “in the day of the Lord Jesus,” or at the time of his glorious return as king and judge, the Corinthians would be the object of Paul’s boasting. Confidently, he looked forward to the joy and satisfaction he would experience. His labor for the Corinthians would not have been in vain, for they would then be united with Christ as approved children of God. Paul’s loving assurance respecting them should have caused them to reevaluate their thinking about him and to take pride in him, not just in part, but to the full extent that he deserved. (1:14; see the Notes section.)
In view of his confidence about the future of the Corinthians in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ, he had previously wanted to come to them. Paul spoke of his planned visitation as being for their “second favor” or, according to other manuscripts, their “second joy.” Possibly he meant that the first favor or joy proved to be when they became believers at the time of his first visit, whereas the second favor or joy would be his future return. The next verse, however, suggests that the reference may be to two future visits. This would mean that the first joy refers to a prospective visit on his way to Macedonia, and the second joy would relate to the future visit upon his return from Macedonia. Paul’s desire had been for the Corinthians to “send” him on his way to Judea (probably meaning to send him equipped for the trip and with their blessing). The purpose of the journey to Judea would have been to take the collection from the various congregations to the poor believers in Jerusalem. (1:15, 16; see the Notes section regarding verse 15.)
Paul, though, did not visit the Corinthians twice as he had intended. His detractors appear to have used this against him, claiming that he could not be trusted. By means of questions, the apostle countered the personal attacks. “So planning this, did I then deal with lightness? Or [with reference to] whatever things I plan, do I plan according to the flesh, so that with me there might be, ‘Yes, yes,’ and ‘No, no’?” These rhetorical questions indicated that he had not been fickle, irresponsible, or vacillating. He had been serious when he determined to visit the Corinthians. The apostle did not plan “according to the flesh,” or with the undependability that is often associated with sinful human nature. When saying “Yes,” he did not at the same time mean “No.” (1:17)
By God’s will, Paul was an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, to impugn the apostle’s trustworthiness would also question God’s reliability as the one who had commissioned him through his Son. Seemingly, for this reason, Paul focused on God’s faithfulness, trustworthiness, or dependability, saying, “But God is faithful.” Therefore, the “word” of the one whom God had willed to be an apostle could not be “Yes” and, at the same time, “No.” So Paul’s “word” to the Corinthians deserved to be trusted. (1:18)
When he first proclaimed the glad tidings about Christ in Corinth, Silas and Timothy labored with him. (Acts 15:40; 16:1-3) The “Son of God, Jesus Christ,” the one who was the focus of their proclamation among the Corinthians, “did not become ‘Yes and No,’ but ‘Yes’ [is that which] has become in him. For as many as [there are of] God’s promises, [they are] ‘Yes’ in him. Therefore, also through him, the ‘Amen’ [is said] to God, to [his] glory through us.” (1:19, 20)
The Son of God had been revealed to the Corinthians as completely trustworthy. Nothing about Jesus gave even the slightest hint that a “Yes” might actually be a “No.” For Paul to have been fickle respecting his word would have been inconsistent with what he had taught the Corinthians about Christ. (1:19)
Through his sacrificial death in faithfulness, the Son of God assured that every one of his Father’s promises would be fulfilled, making him the means for a “Yes” to all of them. Rightly, then, prayers are directed to the Father in Jesus’ name or in recognition of his exalted position as the Lord who laid down his life and made possible the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. Through Christ, the concluding “Amen” (so be it) is expressed. This would be to God’s glory, for the “Amen” is said as an expression of loyal submission to his will that Jesus Christ be acknowledged as the highly exalted Lord over all. (Compare Philippians 2:9-11.) The Corinthians had been led to say the “Amen” to God’s glory or praise through the preaching of Paul, Silas and Timothy. It would have been completely inconsistent for Paul, who had been instrumental in helping others to give glory to God for his faithfulness, to be untrustworthy as a divinely chosen apostle. (1:20; see the Notes section.)
God is the one who “establishes” (bebaióo) believers “in Christ.” The Father made it possible for Paul, Silas and Timothy together with the community of believers in Corinth to be established or strengthened in their relationship of oneness with his Son and had anointed them with his spirit, thereby adopting them as his approved sons or children. In view of this joint relationship, Paul could not have been untrustworthy when formulating his plans to visit the Corinthians. (1:21; see the Notes section)
Continuing to comment on what God had done, Paul said, He “also has sealed us and given the deposit [arrabón] of the spirit in our hearts.” This sealing is with the spirit and identifies the sealed ones as belonging to the Father as his approved children in his service. The term arrabón denotes the “first installment,” “pledge,” or “down payment.” The expression “deposit of the spirit” identifies the spirit as that “first installment,” with the genitive noun (“of the spirit”) being used as an appositive. This initial installment assures that believers will enjoy all the future privileges and blessings they will receive upon coming to have the glorified sinless state of God’s children as their inheritance. In their hearts or their inmost selves, they have an awareness of the presence and operation of the spirit (the deposit), for their lives are being transformed to conform ever closer to the image of their heavenly Father and his Son. (1:22)
With a solemn oath, Paul set forth the reason for his change in plans, “But I call upon God as witness against my soul, [It was] to spare you that I did not yet come to Corinth.” The apostle thus invoked God as his witness against himself if he did not speak the truth. His not having come to Corinth gave the Corinthians time to repent and amend their ways so as to be spared the severe discipline he would have needed to administer if he had arrived earlier. So it was for their benefit that he had not come. (1:23)
Paul had apostolic authority to discipline as with a rod (1 Corinthians 4:21), but he did not claim to be a lord or master over their faith nor were his close associates, Silas and Timothy, such masters. The Corinthians were accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ. As far as their faith was concerned, they were “standing” or grounded in the faith that centered on the Son of God, but they needed to let this faith have greater influence in their lives. They also merited correction that would benefit them. As the divinely appointed apostle, Paul discharged his responsibility to assist them and did so out of deep love for them. Accordingly, he, Silas and Timothy proved to be “fellow workers” for their joy. It would be the joy resulting from conducting themselves as obedient children of God. The corrective admonition directed to the Corinthians was given to promote this joy. (1:24)
From verses 3 through 14, Paul used the pronoun “we” or the first person plural verbs. It is not possible to determine whom he may have meant to include or whether he was merely using the editorial “we” with reference to himself. In every case, however, the “we” either included Paul or applied exclusively to him.
The first word of the Greek text (in 1:9) is allá, which often denotes a strong contrast and can be rendered “but.” In this context, though, the term serves as an indicator of emphasis regarding what Paul had experienced and may be rendered “indeed” or “in fact.”
The expression “so great a” (in 1:10) is a rendering of the singular form of the Greek adjective pelíkos and precedes the noun meaning “death.” According to the oldest extant Greek manuscript (P46, c. 200 CE), both words are plural and have been understood to mean “such great mortal dangers.”
After the reference to “supplication” (in 1:11), the Greek text is not easy to follow. A literal rendering would be, “that from many faces the [gracious] gift to us, through many thanks might be given for us [you, according to other manuscripts].” The “gift” would be the help or consolation Paul (or Paul and his fellow workers) would receive as a result of the many faces raised to God in prayer. Once it became evident that the prayer of the many had been answered, many would be moved to thank God.
Instead of a form of haplótes (in verse 12), denoting “sincerity,” “simplicity,” or “singleness,” many manuscripts, including P46 (c. 200 CE), contain a form of hagiótes, meaning “holiness” or “purity.” The noun eilikríneia conveys the thought of being free from pretense and is descriptive of honesty and purity in motive.
In their renderings of verse 12, translations vary as to whether the boasting relates to the conscience or to the conduct. “There is one thing we are proud of: our conscience shows us that in our dealings with others, and above all in our dealings with you, our conduct has been governed by a devout and godly sincerity, by the grace of God and not by worldly wisdom.” (REB) “We can be proud of our clear conscience. We have always lived honestly and sincerely, especially when we were with you. And we were guided by God’s wonderful kindness instead of by the wisdom of this world.” (CEV) “Now it is a matter of pride to us—endorsed by our conscience—that our activities in this world, particularly our dealings with you, have been absolutely aboveboard and sincere before God. They have not been marked by any worldly wisdom, but by the grace of God.” (J. B. Phillips) “This is what we are proud of, and I can say it with a clear conscience: In everything we have done in the world, and especially with you, we have had an honest and sincere heart from God. We did this by God’s grace, not by the kind of wisdom the world has.” (NCV) It appears preferable to understand the phrase about the conscience as affirming (“the testimony of our conscience”) the laudable conduct and not as focusing on the good conscience as the object of the boasting.
In verse 14, manuscript readings vary, with many saying “the day of the Lord Jesus” and others including the word “our” (“in the day of our Lord Jesus”).
A number of translations (in verse 14) are explicit in drawing a distinction between what Paul hoped the Corinthians would come to feel about him and his future pride in them at the time of Christ’s return, and this appears to be the preferable significance. “It is my hope that, just as you have already understood us partially, so you will understand fully that you can be as proud of us as we shall be of you when the Day of our Lord Jesus comes.” (NJB) “And I hope that as you have understood some things about us, you may come to know everything about us. Then you can be proud of us, as we will be proud of you on the day our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.” (NCV) “You can be honestly proud of us as we shall be of you on the day when Christ reveals all secrets.” (J. B. Phillips)
Other translations represent the Corinthians as also taking pride in Paul on the day of the Lord. “As you have already understood us in part—that on the day of the Lord Jesus we are your boast even as you are our boast.” (NRSV) “You do understand us in some measure, and I hope you will come to understand fully that you have as much reason to be proud of us, as we of you, on the day of our Lord Jesus.” (REB) “Then when our Lord Jesus returns, you can be as proud of us as we are of you.” (CEV)
The Greek word that basically means “formerly” or “previously” is próteros. In verse 15, a number of translations have rendered this term as “first,” and the expressions “second joy” and “second favor” (depending on which manuscript evidence is chosen as the basis for the translation) also have been translated in a variety of ways. Numerous translations make the reference to two future visits explicit, but differences may be noted in the way the words of verse 15 are interpreted. “Since I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a double favor.” (NRSV) “It was because I felt so confident about all this that I had intended to come first of all to you and give you the benefit of a double visit.” (REB) “Trusting you, and believing that you trusted us, our original plan was to pay you a visit first, and give you a double ‘treat.’” (J. B. Phillips) “I was so sure of all this that I made plans to visit you first so you could be blessed twice.” (NCV) “I was so sure of your pride in us that I had planned to visit you first of all. In this way you would have the blessing of two visits from me.” (CEV)
Whereas we today cannot be certain about the exact meaning of Paul’s words, they were understood by the recipients of the letter. The words do not have the same relevance to us, making any uncertainty about their significance immaterial.
In verse 20, the phrase about the “Amen” literally reads, “through him the Amen to God toward glory through us.” The absence of a verb has led translators to interpret the reference to be to the expressions made either by believers or Christ. “For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen,’ to the glory of God.” (NRSV) “Through him can be said the final Amen, to the glory of God.” (J. B. Phillips) “That’s why we have Christ to say ‘Amen’ for us to the glory of God.” (CEV) If Paul had meant Christ as saying the “Amen,” he would surely have been more specific. So there is good reason to regard this interpretive rendering as questionable.
The Greek verb bebaióo can mean “establish,” “strengthen,” “confirm,” or “guarantee.” Based on the meaning they have chosen, translators vary in their renderings of verse 21. “But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us.” (NRSV) “We owe our position in Christ to this God of positive promise: it is he who has consecrated us to this special work.” (J. B. Phillips) “And if you and we belong to Christ, guaranteed as his and anointed, it is all God’s doing.” (REB) “And so God makes it possible for you and us to stand firmly together with Christ. God is also the one who chose us.” (CEV) “Remember, God is the One who makes you and us strong in Christ. God made us his chosen people.” (NCV)