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The Epistles of Paul - 2 Corinthians Part 12: Christian Transcendentalism
Since the middle of 2 Corinthians chapter 10 Paul has been defending himself and his ministry against those in Corinth who were also attempting to undermine and corrupt the Christian assemblies there. Therefore he found it necessary to discuss some of the trials and challenges which he had faced in the conduct of his ministry. He considered his having to do that as boasting, even if he is simply found to be reiterating plain facts. This too should stand as an example to Christians as to what constitutes boasting.
As Paul began defending himself, he laid forth another sound principle: that the Word of God is the measure which Christians must use in order to estimate the value of those who are administering the Gospel of Christ. Therefore, if one comes to you preaching a Gospel other than the Gospel of Christ, or who claims to have some sort of esoteric knowledge which is not consistent with the Word of God, that person must be rejected as a false apostle, a treacherous worker, and is perhaps even a minister of Satan.
Presenting these things in our last segment, I had used an example current to my own experience, from correspondence I recently had with a man who purports himself to be a minister of God. This man claimed that he had “been to the heavens and back more than once” and therefore had some esoteric knowledge based upon his own supposed personal experience. Then he told me that he supposedly had a message for me from God, to “get rid of the hate…and balance your gifts of wisdom with love”.
What such fools do not realize, is that hate is a necessary component of love. The two cannot exist apart from each other, although each of them may be misused as well as properly used. God loves, and as we see in Scripture, God also hates. One place in Scripture where this is clear in Malachi chapter 1, from a passage which Paul himself quotes in Romans chapter 9 and where Yahweh God is portrayed as saying to the children of Israel: “2 I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, 3 And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” So we see that God hates, and in Malachi He is portrayed as hating Esau and his progeny. Paul of Tarsus must have shared that hate, as in Romans chapter 9 he identified the progeny of Esau as “vessels of destruction”.
We see that David the king had said in the Psalms (Psalm 139), in a prayer to God: “21 Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” In order to express love for God, man must also stand against all those who hate God, and also all of those who despise God's law. Therefore from 2 Chronicles chapter 19 we read “2 … Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD.” Ostensibly, if we accept people who despise the Law of God, then we bring wrath upon ourselves. Therefore it is good for us to hate, so long as our hatred is godly. Hatred enables us to defend the things which we love, and we should indeed love our God, His law and our kinsmen, in that order.
All of these things which we have just summarized are relevant to what we are about to hear from Paul of Tarsus in 2 Corinthians chapter 12. If a man claiming to have “been to the heavens and back more than once” and purporting to have messages from God was indeed speaking the truth, then those messages he which had from God would be consistent with the Scripture. If his messages are not consistent with Scripture, he has either deceived himself or he is purposely attempting to deceive others. If, as Paul said, the Word of God is the measure which Christians must use then there are no messages from God which are contrary to the Word of God. All who claim to bear such messages must be rejected as false apostles and ministers of Satan.
With this we shall commence with 2 Corinthians chapter 12:
1 A need to boast is truly not beneficial [H 015 and the MT interpolate “to me; the text follows P 46, א, B, and D with a minor variation], but I do come into visions and revelations of the Prince.
Once again Paul imagines his relating of his own experiences to be boasting, and says that a need to do so is not beneficial. As Paul had asserted in Romans chapter 14, “22 Do you have faith? Have it concerning yourself in the presence of Yahweh....” Whenever Paul had taught the Gospel, it was not from his own personal experiences but rather from the Scriptures that he sought to edify the assemblies. On those occasions where he had to give advice based upon his own opinions, he attested that it was only his opinion, and not a commandment, which we have for example in his admonitions concerning marriage in a time of persecution, in 1 Corinthians chapter 7. This is the example we should follow today, and therefore we esteem any man who claims to have an esoteric knowledge which he would in turn dictate to others as gospel to be a teacher of vanities and a false apostle.
2 Fourteen years ago I knew a man among the number of the Anointed,
The Greek phrase ἐν χριστῷ, which is always “in Christ” in the popular translations, may also be interpreted “among the number of the Anointed”. Liddell & Scott explain this usage of the preposition ἐν in their definition for the word.
Fourteen years before Paul had written this epistle would have been some time around early 43 AD, which was just before the events of Acts chapter 12 and the death of Herod Agrippa I in the Spring of 44 AD. During this time Paul was in both Antioch and Jerusalem. In the closing verses of Acts chapter 11 we read: “27 And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. 28 And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. 29 Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: 30 Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” While we shall not speculate exactly who it was that Paul was referring to here, his comments may certainly be understood in that very context. Paul continues:
(whether in the body I know not, or outside of the body I know not: Yahweh knows,) such a man being carried off to the third region of heaven.
Transcendentalism, a belief that there is more to existence than meets the eye, and that the consciousness, or spirit of man, can indeed transcend, or overcome, the material world, is an integral component of the Christian faith. As it says in the Wisdom of Solomon, in chapter 2, “23 For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity.”
In the first chapter of the Revelation of Jesus Christ the apostle John said that “10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet”. Then again in chapter 4 we read “1 After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. 2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.” Then once again in chapter 17 John wrote of one of the seven angels: “3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness....”
In the opening verse of the prophecy of Ezekiel we read “1 Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.” It is clear in Ezekiel as well as in other Scriptures that in ancient times the Hebrews were accustomed to gathering at the rivers for prayer. Likewise in Daniel chapter 9 we read “20 And whiles I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God for the holy mountain of my God; 21 Yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation. 22 And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding.”
So the prophets and the apostles of Yahweh God received visions and revelations through prayer to God, and of that there is no doubt. But the true transcendental path is in the law and prophets of the One True God. Any other path can lead men to deception. As Christ had told His disciples, no man gets to the Father except through Him. When those transcendental moments occurred the apostles and prophets of God described themselves as if their consciousness was in an environment other than that of their immediate physical surroundings. But a man who boasts of having done this, according to the example set by Paul of Tarsus, is being foolish. And a man who claims to have esoteric knowledge in this manner which is contrary to the plain word of Scripture is a false apostle and a minister of Satan, and of that there is no doubt. We can all have dreams and visions, but not all dreams and visions are truly from God.
Here Paul professes that while he was in such a state of prayer, he really did not understand whether his mind, or spirit, remained in his body. Therefore Paul could not detect in this state of consciousness whether he was only imagining a departure from his body or whether his spirit indeed did depart from his body. His admission is humble, and that is also an example which we as Christians should follow.
The “third region of heaven” reflects Paul's view of the Creation only in some part, and as this is not by itself a cosmological treatise, then any conclusions regarding the structure of the universe cannot be made based upon such a single and limited statement. In the writing known as 2 Enoch it is asserted that there are seven heavens, which represents a cosmology similar to that of the Babylonians and Hindus and other pagan religions. We would not promote any of those things, as we would not promote the rather late writing known as 2 Enoch, as being authoritative in any degree.
Furthermore, the Babylonian model of the heavens seems to have associated a region of heaven with each of the major visible heavenly bodies, or planets, which were in turn associated with various of their idols, or gods. The Hindu model differed significantly in that it esteemed the existence of seven heavens, or higher worlds, each of which were attainable through some rather human estimation of the path to piety, and it also imagined seven lower worlds, or hells. Both models are derived from the sophistry of men, and both models are contrary to the Word of the God of the Bible. There are other similar beliefs in ancient pagan religions which vary on this theme. For instance, it seems that the ancient Germanic pagans reflected a belief in nine realms, including Midgard, or Earth, Niflheim, or Hell, and seven other realms occupied either by gods or demons (or actually elves or giants or other fascinating creatures which we would call demons). Those nine realms were imagined to each be a part of a giant tree.
So the “seven heavens” view of the pagans is not necessarily the view of Christian Scripture, and we cannot deduce much more from Paul's description here as to what he meant by the “third region of heaven”. The form of the word most often translated as heavens in the Old Testament is in the Hebrew language a noun of dual form. Dual form nouns indicate that there are specifically two of the item mentioned, and it is a form which we do not have in English where nouns are only given a singular or plural form.
Therefore Paul's reference to the third heaven is not necessarily indicative of there actually being three or more heavens. For this reason and others, translating this passage we chose to render the Greek word οὐρανός (Strong's # 3772) as a “region of heaven”, as Liddell & Scott explain that the word was indeed used to describe “heaven, the sky” or “a region of heaven”.
3 And I know such a man, (whether in the body or apart from the body I know not: Yahweh knows,) 4 that he had been carried off into that paradise, and he had heard unutterable sayings, which to speak with a man is not permitted.
The Codices Sinaiticus (א), Coislinianus (H), and the Majority Text have verse 3 to read in part “whether in the body or outside of the body I know not”; the text follows the 3rd century papyrus P46 and the Codices Vaticanus (B) and Claromontanus (D).
The unutterable sayings are not necessarily forbidden by some law, but may well be forbidden by the mere facts of Creation, that man is simply unable to know them. There are the limits of the written law, but there are also the limits of nature, whereby man simply does not have the ability to do everything which he may be able to imagine. For instance, it is not permitted for man to jump so high as the moon, but there is no law against such a thing.
The Greek word παράδεισος (Strong's # 3857), which is here traditionally rendered as paradise, is simply a park in Greek, or in Hebrew. Liddell & Scott say that this is “a Persian word brought in by Xenophon”, meaning that Xenophon, a historian and soldier who wrote in the early 4th century BC and who had much interaction with Persians, is credited with introducing the Persian word into the Greek language. However the word is clearly cognate with the Hebrew word pardêç (Strong’s # 6508), which is “a park, forest, orchard”. The word pardêç appears in the Song of Solomon at 4:13, in Ecclesiastes 2:5, and in Nehemiah 2:8 where in the King James Version it is translated as either orchard or forest. So a παράδεισος is basically a park, and that is how Paul of Tarsus characterized that third heaven, or region of heaven. However that too is quite ambiguous. This is also the same word which Christ had used when He told the robber “... today you shall be with Me in paradise”, as it is recorded in Luke chapter 23.
Many modernists would scoff at these concepts and at this language, imagining themselves to be wise in their own so-called science. However even now they admit that the vast majority of the universe is filled with what they call “dark matter” which cannot be seen with the eye nor described nor explained although they profess to know that it exists. As David said in the Psalms (19:1, from the NASB): “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” If we ourselves had to conjecture as to why the Hebrew word for heavens in the Old Testament is a dual form noun, we would distinguish the two heavens of the Old Testament word into that which is perceived by man, and that which is not, which is perhaps detectable in that unknown “dark matter” which the scientists grope for but cannot find.
It is arrogant of man to think that he arose from nothing into an existence that he can be able to fully understand, even when there is obviously much more to existence, or we should say to Creation, than man understands. It is arrogant of man to think that consciousness arose from nothing when they cannot even adequately explain that phenomenon. The scientists in their journals even admit that they cannot explain conscience, and they cannot explain consciousness, while it is readily evident that not all creatures have proportionate degrees of either one or the other.
As Paul of Tarsus had explained in Romans chapter 1, which we shall paraphrase here, that which is to be known of God is visible among men, because God has made known to men the unseen things of His from the creation of the cosmos, things which are clearly observed, and understood in the things made both of His eternal power and divinity. Yet alleging to be wise they become fools. In Hebrews chapter 11 Paul admonished that “that which is seen has not come into being from things visible.” Nineteen hundred years after Paul wrote those words men can recognize them as truth through their own molecular and astronomical sciences, and yet they still deny God while they admit that science alone does not adequately explain Creation.
However Christians can honestly admit that there is more to existence, or Creation, than man can understand, and that order, conscience and consciousness do not arise from nothing. The Creator God transcends the Creation, and man is promised to transcend this current material world with Him. Christianity is a faith of humility rooted in a belief in transcendentalism, and once transcendentalism is properly understood it must be realized that the God of the Bible is true and that the Adamic man must comply with his Creator. The belief that creation, conscience and consciousness have evolved on their own from nothing leads one to the hopelessness of materialism, and that man in that manner believes can become his own master. That humanistic religion is also only mere faith, but it is a faith of arrogance and rebellion from the inevitable God. The children of Israel were called to come out of that rebellion in Christ.
5 I will boast on behalf of such a man, but I will not boast on behalf of myself, unless in respect of weaknesses [א and the MT have “my weaknesses”; the text follows P 46, B, and D]. 6 If perhaps I should desire to boast, I would not be foolish; indeed I speak truth, but I am sparing; unless anyone would reckon in regard to me more than what he sees of me, or whatever [א, B, and I want “whatever”; the text follows P 46, D, and the MT] he hears from me.
Paul's struggle here is to speak the truth in spite of the fact that the truth is necessarily seen as boasting. Yet to retain a humble disposition in spite of that boasting he would rather speak on behalf of this other man whom he had known in the past rather than on behalf of himself.
7 And in order that I would not be exalted in the excellence of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh has been given to me, an adverse messenger, that it would strike me in order that I would not be exalted.
The text of the Novum Testamentum Graece (NA27) punctuates verses 6 and 7 in part: “6... unless anyone would reckon in regard to me more than what he sees of me, or whatever he hears from me 7 and in the excellence of the revelations. On which account in order that I would not be exalted, a thorn in the flesh has been given to me ...”, and follows the Codices Sinaiticus (א), Alexandrinus (A), and Vaticanus (B) which all have a word rendered as “on which account”. The text follows the 3rd century papyrus P46, the Claromontanus (D) and the Majority Text, which do not have the word.
The Codices Sinaiticus (א), Alexandrinus (A), and Claromontanus (D) want the final clause here “in order that I would not be exalted”; the text follows the 3rd century papyrus P46, the Codices Vaticanus (B) and Freerianus (I 016) and the Majority Text.
Paul of Tarsus had great knowledge both of Yahweh God and of His people. He was gifted by the Holy Spirit with a knowledge of history, with a knowledge of Scripture, and in languages. All of these gifts from God facilitated the mission which he was given by God. Yet after he was converted on the road to Damascus he had very poor eyesight, which was evidently caused by a degenerative condition resulting from the manner whereby he was converted. In the aftermath of his experience on the road to Damascus we see it recorded in Acts chapter 9 that when Hananias first spoke to Paul that “18 … at once there fell from his eyes like scales, then his sight was restored and arising he was immersed”, yet that does not mean that Paul's eyesight was restored perfectly or that he would not later suffer some additional consequence.
In chapter 4 of his epistle to the Galatians, Paul wrote “13 Now you know that in sickness of the flesh I had announced the good message to you earlier, 14 and of my trial in my flesh you did not despise or loathe, but as a messenger of Yahweh you accepted me, like Yahshua Christ. 15 Then what is your blessing? I testify to you that, if possible, your eyes being extracted you would have given them to me.” As Christ had told his apostles, which is recorded at Matthew 10:40: “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” Paul refers to this, and then he also commends the Galatians for having pity on him for his poor eyesight. In Galatians 6:11 Paul had once again referred to his bad eyesight, describing the largeness of the letters which he wrote in his own hand.
Here the word σατανᾶ (Strong's Greek dictionary #'s 4566, 4567) is read as if it were an adjective and translated as adverse. The word is transliterated from the Hebrew, and in Strong’s Hebrew dictionary entries 7853 and 7854 it is explained that the Hebrew word appears in the Old Testament as a verb meaning to attack, or as a noun designating an opponent. It may have more properly been rendered as a noun here, reading “a messenger of adversity”. Since the word is not accompanied with the definite article, we do not read it as a Substantive, which would indicate that it refers to a particular adversary (or Satan). The Majority Text has σαταν, rather that σατανᾶ.
Here Paul simply explains that his poor eyesight was a messenger of adversity from God in order that he would stay humble, not thinking too highly of himself on account of all of the other excellent gifts which he had been granted.
8 Three times I have exhorted the Prince concerning this, that it may depart from me, 9 and He told me, ‘My favor is enough for you; since the power [the MT has “My power”; the text follows P 46, א, A, B, and D] is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly will I still more boast in my weakness, in order that the power of the Christ would dwell upon me.
Paul would not be relieved of his weakness through prayer, since it was the will of God for him to have such a weakness, that he be humbled in such a manner. The power of God is perfected in weakness: seeing that if Paul thought that his ministry and everything which he had endured were from of his own ability, then he could not give the credit to God. The power of God is manifest when men do things that they could not realistically accomplish on their own. When we suffer such trials, we are not always so fortunate in this life to learn the reasons for them.
10 On which account I am well pleased with weaknesses, with injuries, with torments, with persecutions and difficulties on behalf of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am powerful.
The Greek word ἀνάγκη (Strong's # 318) in the plural is torments here, but in the King James Version it is only necessities. Liddell & Scott define the word as “force, constraint, necessity … actual force, violence, torture ...” Likewise, at 1 Corinthians 7:26 where the King James Version has distress for the same word, we interpret it as violence. Among the challenges which Paul had faced in the execution of his ministry, which he refers to here and which he had already recounted in chapter 11 of this epistle, he clearly listed things which can be considered to have been torments, and far beyond simple necessity.
When men recognize their own weakness, and in humility submit themselves to their God, that is when they may find the true power which is within the provenance of God, and that He may indeed work within them.
11 I have become foolish [the MT has “I have become a boasting fool”; the text follows P46, א, A, B, and D]; you have compelled me. Indeed I ought to be joined by you. For in nothing am I inferior to those most eminent ambassadors, if also I am nothing.
Once again, as it was in verse 5 of chapter 11 of this epistle, the label “those most eminent ambassadors” is affixed by Paul to those pretentious men who have opposed him in Corinth. Paul accounts himself to be nothing because in his humility he acknowledges that whatever he has been able to do was by the power of God. Simply repeating those things which he had accomplished he admits that he is boasting because it was not him, but rather it was God who accomplished those things through him.
12 Indeed the signs of the ambassador were accomplished among you in all endurance, with signs and wonders and powers.
The reference to the signs of the apostle is evidently a reference to those things of the Spirit which the apostles were granted at the first Christian Pentecost, described in the early chapters of the Book of Acts. While we do not have many details from Paul's year-and-a-half in Corinth as it is recorded in Acts chapter 18, his preaching of the Gospel must have made an impression that had persuaded a substantial number of the Corinthians to Christ. Two of the Judaean assembly-hall leaders in Corinth were also converted to Christ by Paul, Crispus (Acts 18:8) and Sosthenes, who had at first opposed him openly (compare Acts 18:17 and 1 Corinthians 1:1). In 1 Corinthians chapter 9 he had written that “2 If to others I am not an ambassador, yet at any rate to you I am; indeed the assurance of my message is you in the Prince.” That word for assurance is σφραγίς (Strong's # 651), which is literally a seal, but also an assurance or a proof.
13 What is it in which you have been inferior in, more than the rest of the assemblies, except that I myself have not been burdensome to you? Forgive me this injustice.
Paul again makes an analogy, that since he has not required anything of the Corinthians he has short-changed them in that regard alone while other assemblies had provided for his needs.
14 Behold, readily this third time I engage to come to you, and I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek your things, but you.
The Greek word ἔχω (Strong's # 2192) is generally “to have” but here it is “to engage”, a usage which Liddell & Scott explain in their definition at ἔχω, B. I. 3. The King James Version took an adverb which is here rendered as readily, and a verb which is literally I have but here I engage, and wrote “I am ready”.
Exactly what Paul meant by “this third time I engage to come to you” is only discovered upon close inspection of the account of his travel plans as they are described in both of Paul's epistles to the Corinthians. Paul is referring to the number of times he had planned this visit to the Corinthians which he is once again planning as he writes this.
We see in 2 Corinthians chapter 1 and in 1 Corinthians chapter 16 that at first, Paul had planned on visiting Corinth after leaving Ephesus, then after traveling through Makedonia to visit Corinth again before departing for Jerusalem. But then with all of the strife and division within the assembly at Corinth he later postponed his visit and changed his plans so that he would travel though Makedonia and visit Corinth only once, where he would spend the winter before going to Judaea. However changing his mind once more, he then decided to winter in Nicopolis, and make a shorter visit to Corinth before departing for Judaea. It is therefore this third plan which he is referring to here.
The children are not obliged to store up for the parents, but the parents for the children.
Paul saw himself symbolically as a parent in relation to those whom he brought to Christ. He had written in that same respect in 1 Corinthians chapter 4 where he said “14 I do not write these things regarding you, but as I would advise my beloved children. 15 Although you may have a myriad of tutors among the Anointed, certainly not many fathers; indeed in Christ Yahshua through the good message I have begotten you.” However Paul never asked for the title father, nor did he evidently receive it, which is something that Christ Himself had discouraged.
15 Now I will most gladly spend, and be wholly expended, on behalf of your souls, even if loving you more abundantly, I am loved less.
The Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (NA27) marks the last clause of this verse as a question, in which the verse would read: “Now I will most gladly spend, and be wholly expended, on behalf of your souls. If loving you more abundantly, am I loved less?”
The phrase τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν is “of your souls” here, but may have been rendered “of your lives”. The word ψυχή (Strong's # 5590) is often used in Scripture to refer to the temporal life of man, as opposed to the transcendental spiritual life.
The word is life in the King James Version in 1 John chapter 3 where we read “ 16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Paul saw his mission in the Gospel as a fulfillment of that same thing to which John referred.
16 But it is that I have not imposed on you, otherwise being villainous I have taken you with guile.
The various manuscripts each have one of three different verbs in the first clause of this verse. The 3rd century papyrus P46 and the Codex Claromontanus (D) have the verb βαρέω (Strong's # 916). The Codex Sinaiticus (א) has the verb καταναρκάω (Strong's # 2655). The Codices Alexandrinus (A), Vaticanus (B) and the Majority Text have καταβαρέω (Strong's # 2599). We have written imposed, but either of the verbs may have been translated as burdened.
Paul asserts that if he had imposed on them, if he had demanded that they support him as he instructed them in the gospel, as he explained in 1 Corinthians chapter 9 that he had a right to do, only then could he be accused of having deceived them. But since he never burdened them, no one could ever accuse him of deceiving them, because he asked nothing of them and therefore he himself had nothing to gain. Here he also makes an allusion to his words at the beginning of 2 Corinthians chapter 11 which liken the seduction of Eve to the possible corruption of the Christian assembly.
17 Of those several whom I had sent to you, through them have I defrauded you? 18 I have summoned Titos, and have sent with him the brother. Has Titos defrauded you? Have we not walked in the same Spirit? Nor in the same steps?
Paul has not asked anything of the Corinthians, and therefore he challenges them to consider whether he, or even Titus who had just come to him from Corinth, had defrauded them in any way. Of course they would not be able to answer in the affirmative. Timothy was also in Corinth at an earlier time, having delivered Paul's first epistle to them, so he must also be among “those several” whom Paul describes.
19 But now, do you suppose that we are speaking in defense to you? We speak among the Anointed [P46 wants “among the Anointed”] before Yahweh, and all things, beloved, on behalf of your building.
The Novum Testamentum Graece (NA27) does not mark the first clause of this verse as a question, where we may write “But now you suppose that we are speaking in defense to you.” The 3rd century papyrus P46 has the negative particle οὐ at the front of this first clause, where it would be read as Thayer has it in his definition at οὐ (Strong's # 3756), 7., that “οὐ is used interrogatively - when an affirmative answer is expected”. Both the Codex Claromontanus (D) and the Majority Text have a word for again at the beginning of the clause, “Again do you suppose that we are speaking in defense to you?” The text follows the Codices Sinaiticus (א), Alexandrinus (A) and Vaticanus (B).
20 For I fear, having come, perhaps I should not find you such as I desire, and I would be found by you such as you do not desire; lest perhaps there be contention, jealousy, angers, intrigues, braggings, slanders, indignations, disturbances.
For this very reason Paul had already twice delayed his planned visit to Corinth. In his first letter to the Corinthians he had spoken at length in reference to the contentions and divisions among them. He evidently wanted the assembly to straighten out there own problems before he visited them, as he had also admonished them in 1 Corinthians chapter 6 that they should be able to hear and decide matters among themselves without such quarrels.
21 Again, upon my having come, should my God humble me before you? And should I mourn for those many having failed before and not repenting after the uncleanness and fornication and licentiousness which they have practiced?
The King James Version and the other popular translations do not read either of these two clauses in verse 21 as questions. The verse begins with the negative particle μή (Strong's # 3361), to which the King James Version adds “and”. Here I must read μή, which is generally not, as an interrogative particle and again cite Thayer who says in his definition at μή, III., that “As an Interrogative particle it is used when a negative answer is expected”. The second clause here, which does begin with the conjunction καί (Strong's # 2532), which is generally and, thereby it extends the interrogation. Here in verse 21 we have basically the same grammatical pattern which appears in verses which the King James Version and others do read as questions in 12:17 and 12:18. The questions in those verses are written in the same pattern as those which we read as questions in this verse, beginning with μή and using verbs in the Indicative mood.
Where Paul asks “Again, upon my having come, should my God humble me before you?” he seems to be making a rhetorical statement by which he means that if he comes in anger, it is really not himself, but they who would be humbled. Speaking earlier of this same impending visit to Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 4:21 Paul asks “21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?” Then in 2 Corinthians chapter 10 Paul spoke of being powerful in presence, in the face of those who thought that perhaps he was severe in word only, but not in action when he would be present.
Where Paul asks “And should I mourn for those many having failed before and not repenting after the uncleanness and fornication and licentiousness which they have practiced?” the answer is once again negative. Paul left no space for such empathy for unrepentant sinners, as he said in 1 Corinthians chapter 5, “5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Where Paul did tell the Corinthians in that same chapter that they should mourn, he told them they should mourn so that the unrepentant sinner would taken from among them. From 1 Corinthians 5:2, from the King James Version: “And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.”
Therefore our reading of the clauses in 2 Corinthians 12:21 as rhetorical questions, ostensibly expecting negative answers, is consistent with the context of Paul's other statements in these epistles. With this we shall commence with 2 Corinthians chapter 13:
1 This is the third time I am coming to you. “In the mouth of two witnesses, even three, shall every matter be established.”
The Codex Alexandrinus (A) has the first clause here as it is at 12:14, “Readily this third time I engage to come to you.”
It is evident from 1 Corinthians chapter 5 that Paul had written an earlier and now lost epistle to the assembly at Corinth before the one which we know as his first. He says there “ 9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators”, and therefore that earlier epistle also seems to have contained Paul's original travel plans, which as he explains in 2 Corinthians chapter 1, were for him to leave Ephesus and go to Corinth before heading to Makedonia. Then when he wrote the epistle which we know as 1 Corinthians, it is evident he delayed coming to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:18-19), and in chapter 16 of that epistle he says that he will come and winter after he passes through Makedonia, planning to spend the winter there. But then Paul's travel plans are delayed once more, and he is wintering in Nicopolis. Yet here he attests for a third time that he will indeed visit Corinth.
So Paul is making analogy of the three epistles promising his visit, that they serve as three witnesses that he will indeed make an appearance in Corinth once again. The law of two or three witnesses is cited, which is found in Scripture at Deuteronomy 19:15.
2 I have said beforehand and I forewarn, while being present the second time and being absent now, (to those who have failed before and to all the rest,) that if I come perhaps in that [P46 wants “in that”] I will not again be sparing.
The Majority Text interpolates a word meaning “I write” into the parenthetical remark which Paul makes here regarding those who had sinned earlier. The text follows the 3rd century papyrus P46 and the Codices Sinaiticus (א), Alexandrinus (A), Vaticanus (B), Claromontanus (D) and Freerianus (I 016).
The phrase “while being present the second time and being absent now” is not, as some translations read it, a statement that Paul had already been to Corinth a second time. Rather, Paul is presaging what may happen while he is there a second time, which does not occur until he finally visits them as he has been planning throughout these three epistles.
This statement here by Paul also provides support for our translation of his statements in verse 21, as rhetorical questions expecting negative answers. Paul certainly does not expect that God shall humble him before the Corinthians, since he does not plan on being sparing with those who may still remain in contention. Paul's attitude in this regard has not changed since he wrote in his first epistle to the Corinthians, as we have also already cited here, where in 1 Corinthians 4:21 Paul asks “21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?”
3 Since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, (who to you is not a weakness, but is power among you, 4 although He had been crucified by weakness, yet He lives by the power of Yahweh; and we are weak with Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of Yahweh in you, [B wants “in you”])
Paul had already attested that the signs of apostleship were evident when he had fulfilled his ministry in Corinth, but in the Book of Acts, in chapter 18, we have records of only a few details from his ministry there, which was conducted several years before he had written this epistle. Neither do we have the letters which the Corinthians had been writing to Paul, and ostensibly there were at least three of those during these exchanges which we see in the two surviving epistles written by Paul to the Corinthians. Yet here it is clear that Paul had heard of someone in Corinth, either in writing or through the reports of Titus, who demanded of Paul a sign proving that he was an apostle of Christ.
5 you yourselves must make trial, whether you are in the faith. You must examine yourselves. Truly, do you not yourselves observe that Yahshua Christ is among you, unless somehow you are spurious? 6 Now I expect that you will perceive that we are not spurious.
There is a one-letter word here, which is an eta (η), which I have read as ἦ here, meaning “truly”, which the Novum Testamentum Graece (NA27) and others have as ἤ, meaning “or”. See Liddell & Scott at ἦ, II. In the original Greek manuscripts the two would have been indistinguishable, except for context.
In the Novum Testamentum Graece (NA27) the punctuation does not extend the question to the last clause of this phrase, which may in that manner be read: “Truly, do you not yourselves observe that Yahshua Christ is among you? If not, somehow you are spurious.”
The word ἀδόκιμος (Strong's # 96) is an adjective, and it is rendered as spurious here, where the King James Version treats the word as a noun and translates it as reprobate. Its antonym is δόκιμος (Strong's # 1384), which appears in verse 7 of this chapter as approved in both our translation and in the King James Version.
Liddell & Scott define ἀδόκιμος in its primary use to mean “not standing the test, spurious, properly of coin” and in this same sense the word ἀδόκιμος appears twice in the Septuagint, at Proverbs 25:4 and at Isaiah 1:22, where in both places it is used to describe drossy or worthless silver, because of impurities it contained. Impure coins would be spurious because they contain materials which would not be found in authentic coins. Using the word here, Paul certainly makes reference to the law of God which states that a bastard shall not enter the congregation of God.
The only way that believers professing Christ could be rejected in such a manner is if they are indeed bastards, and not sons. As Christ Himself said in Matthew chapter 7: “ 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
Paul had written to this same assembly in this manner in 1 Corinthians chapter 11 where he had said: “27 Consequently, whoever would eat the wheat-bread or drink the cup of the Prince unworthily, will be liable of the body and blood of the Prince. 28 But a man must scrutinize himself, and thus from of the wheat-bread let him eat, and from of the cup let him drink. 29 For he that is eating and is drinking, eats and drinks condemnation for himself, not distinguishing the body. 30 For this reason there are among you many feeble and sickly, and plenty have fallen asleep. 31 If then we had made a distinction of ourselves, perhaps we would not be judged.”
7 And we pray to Yahweh that you will do nothing evil [literally “for you not to do nothing evil”]; not in order that we appear approved, but that you may do what is good, and we may be as if spurious.
The Majority Text has “And I pray to Yahweh”; the text here follows the 3rd century papyrus P46 and the Codices Sinaiticus (א), Alexandrinus (A), Vaticanus (B) and Claromontanus (D). Note the use of “we” in verses 6, 8, and 9.
Paul is professing a desire that the Corinthians repent and demonstrate a Christian conduct so exemplary as if to make even the apostles look like they are unworthy of the Kingdom of God. Not that Paul or the apostles could actually be spurious, but that compared to the excellent behavior that they pray the Corinthians would display, they would appear as if they were spurious. The prayer once again demonstrates Paul's rather sincere humility, but also reflects a worldview in which Paul suggests that only the true sons of God could ever fully conform themselves to the ideals set forth in the Word of God.
8 For we have not any power against the truth, but in defense of truth.
The truth is consistent and unchanging whether we want to believe it or not. Therefore we can contend for it, but not against it.
9 We are delighted whenever we would be weak, but you would be powerful. And this we also pray for: your restoration.
Paul would be pleased to see his brethren elevated even if it meant that he himself were debased. That reflects the attitude which all Christians should have, working towards the edification of their fellows even if it is at their own expense.
The Greek word κατάρτισις (Strong's # 2676), which only appears here in the New Testament (according to the Moulton-Geden Concordance to the Greek Testament), is defined by Liddell & Scott as “a restoration … a training, education, discipline...”, where the King James Version has perfection. Paul had already explained in this epistle that his gospel is a “gospel of reconciliation”. The purpose of the Gospel is to restore the children of Israel to the position of the sons of God, and therefore Paul seeks their restoration.
10 Therefore being absent I write these things, in order that being present I would not make use of severity, in accordance with the authority which the Prince has given to me for building, and not for destroying.
The humble nature of the records of the Book of Acts and Paul's epistles do not afford us any insight as to the methods by which Paul may be able to chastise the assembly at Corinth or those who continue to oppose him. While in Acts chapter 20 Luke had recorded Paul's three-month sojourn in Greece at this time, and while Paul must have indeed visited the Corinthians before moving on to the Troad, we have no details of that visit to inform us of what ultimately may have occurred.
11 Furthermore, brethren, be delighted, be restored, be encouraged, be like-minded, be at peace, and Yahweh shall be of love and of peace with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All of the saints greet you. 13 The favor of Prince Yahshua Christ [B wants “Christ”], and the love of Yahweh, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit [P46 wants “Holy”] is with all of you. [D and the MT append “Amen.”]
Once again, where the King James Version has perfected in verse 11, the Christogenea New Testament has restored. The Greek verb καταρτίζω (Strong's # 2675) is defined by Liddell & Scott to mean “to adjust or put in order again, restore... metaphorically to put to a right mind” and then “to furnish completely” as they say that the Perfect Passive Participle was used to mean well-furnished or complete.
However we prefer to believe that Paul, in agreement with his Gospel of Reconciliation, was urging the Corinthians, who he also explained were of the dispersions of ancient Israel, to be restored to Yahweh their God in Christ. With a proper Christian Identity worldview, we can properly translate the New Testament, as all of these seemingly minor statements throughout Paul's epistles have been glossed over and the primary meanings of these words have been ignored by all of the popular translations. There are several ways to say complete or perfect in Greek, and other words signifying those things appear often in Scripture, when it is those things which are meant. But καταρτίζω and κατάρτισις primarily mean restore and restoration, and Paul's gospel is indeed the Gospel of Reconciliation and Restoration.