2 Corinthians 2:14-6:10
New American Bible (Revised Edition)
B. Paul’s Ministry[a]
Ministers of a New Covenant. 14 [b]But thanks be to God,[c] who always leads us in triumph in Christ[d] and manifests through us the odor of the knowledge of him[e] in every place. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,(A) 16 to the latter an odor of death that leads to death, to the former an odor of life that leads to life. Who is qualified[f] for this? 17 For we are not like the many who trade on the word of God; but as out of sincerity, indeed as from God and in the presence of God, we speak in Christ.(B)
1 [g](C)Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You are our letter,[h] written on our hearts, known and read by all, 3 [i](D)shown to be a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.
4 [j]Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God,(E) 6 who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit;(F) for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life.[k]
Contrast with the Old Covenant. 7 [l]Now if the ministry of death,[m] carved in letters on stone, was so glorious that the Israelites could not look intently at the face of Moses because of its glory that was going to fade,(G) 8 how much more[n] will the ministry of the Spirit be glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation was glorious, the ministry of righteousness will abound much more in glory. 10 Indeed, what was endowed with glory has come to have no glory in this respect because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was going to fade was glorious, how much more will what endures be glorious.
12 Therefore, since we have such hope,[o] we act very boldly 13 and not like Moses,[p] who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites could not look intently at the cessation of what was fading. 14 Rather, their thoughts were rendered dull, for to this present day[q] the same veil remains unlifted when they read the old covenant, because through Christ it is taken away. 15 To this day, in fact, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts,(H) 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed.(I) 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit,[r] and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 [s]All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.(J)
Integrity in the Ministry. 1 [t]Therefore, since we have this ministry through the mercy shown us, we are not discouraged. 2 Rather, we have renounced shameful, hidden things; not acting deceitfully or falsifying the word of God, but by the open declaration of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.(K) 3 And even though our gospel is veiled,[u] it is veiled for those who are perishing,(L) 4 in whose case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.(M) 5 For we do not preach ourselves[v] but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus. 6 [w]For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of [Jesus] Christ.(N)
The Paradox of the Ministry. 7 [x]But we hold this treasure[y] in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. 8 [z]We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair;(O) 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 [aa](P)always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.(Q)
12 [ab]So death is at work in us, but life in you. 13 [ac]Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we too believe and therefore speak,(R) 14 knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence.(S) 15 Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.(T)
16 [ad]Therefore, we are not discouraged;[ae] rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.(U) 17 For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,(V) 18 as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.(W)
Our Future Destiny. 1 (X)For we know that if our earthly dwelling,[af] a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven. 2 [ag]For in this tent we groan, longing to be further clothed with our heavenly habitation(Y) 3 if indeed, when we have taken it off,[ah] we shall not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent we groan and are weighed down, because we do not wish to be unclothed[ai] but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.(Z) 5 Now the one who has prepared us for this very thing is God,(AA) who has given us the Spirit as a first installment.[aj]
6 [ak]So we are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.(AB) 9 Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away. 10 For we must all appear[al] before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.(AC)
The Ministry of Reconciliation. 11 [am]Therefore, since we know the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we are clearly apparent to God, and I hope we are also apparent to your consciousness.(AD) 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you an opportunity to boast of us, so that you may have something to say to those who boast of external appearance rather than of the heart.(AE) 13 For if we are out of our minds,[an] it is for God; if we are rational, it is for you. 14 [ao]For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died.(AF) 15 He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.(AG)
16 Consequently,[ap] from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. 17 (AH)So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 [aq]And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.(AI) 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.(AJ) 21 [ar]For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin,(AK) so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 3 (AN)We cause no one to stumble[av] in anything, in order that no fault may be found with our ministry; 4 [aw]on the contrary, in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance,[ax] in afflictions, hardships, constraints,(AO) 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts;(AP) 6 [ay]by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, in a holy spirit, in unfeigned love,(AQ) 7 in truthful speech, in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left;(AR) 8 through glory and dishonor, insult and praise. We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful;[az] 9 as unrecognized and yet acknowledged; as dying and behold we live; as chastised and yet not put to death;(AS) 10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing and yet possessing all things.(AT)
- 2:14–7:4 This section constitutes a digression within the narrative of the crisis and its resolution (2 Cor 1:12–2:13 and 2 Cor 7:5–16). The main component (2 Cor 2:14–6:10) treats the nature of Paul’s ministry and his qualifications for it; this material bears some similarity to the defense of his ministry in chaps. 10–13, but it may well come from a period close to the crisis. This is followed by a supplementary block of material quite different in character and tone (2 Cor 6:14–7:1). These materials may have been brought together into their present position during final editing of the letter; appeals to the Corinthians link them to one another (2 Cor 6:11–13) and lead back to the interrupted narrative (2 Cor 7:2–4).
- 2:14–6:10 The question of Paul’s adequacy (2 Cor 2:16; cf. 2 Cor 3:5) and his credentials (2 Cor 3:1–2) has been raised. Paul responds by an extended treatment of the nature of his ministry. It is a ministry of glory (2 Cor 3:7–4:6), of life (2 Cor 4:7–5:10), of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:11–6:10).
- 2:14–16a The initial statement plunges us abruptly into another train of thought. Paul describes his personal existence and his function as a preacher in two powerful images (2 Cor 2:14) that constitute a prelude to the development to follow.
- 2:14a Leads us in triumph in Christ: this metaphor of a festive parade in honor of a conquering military hero can suggest either a positive sharing in Christ’s triumph or an experience of defeat, being led in captivity and submission (cf. 2 Cor 4:8–11; 1 Cor 4:9). Paul is probably aware of the ambiguity, as he is in the case of the next metaphor.
- 2:14b–16a The odor of the knowledge of him: incense was commonly used in triumphal processions. The metaphor suggests the gradual diffusion of the knowledge of God through the apostolic preaching. The aroma of Christ: the image shifts from the fragrance Paul diffuses to the aroma that he is. Paul is probably thinking of the “sweet odor” of the sacrifices in the Old Testament (e.g., Gn 8:21; Ex 29:18) and perhaps of the metaphor of wisdom as a sweet odor (Sir 24:15). Death…life: the aroma of Christ that comes to them through Paul is perceived differently by various classes of people. To some his preaching and his life (cf. 1 Cor 1:17–2:6) are perceived as death, and the effect is death for them; others perceive him, despite appearances, as life, and the effect is life for them. This fragrance thus produces a separation and a judgment (cf. the function of the “light” in John’s gospel).
- 2:16b–17 Qualified: Paul may be echoing either the self-satisfied claims of other preachers or their charges about Paul’s deficiencies. No one is really qualified, but the apostle contrasts himself with those who dilute or falsify the preaching for personal advantage and insists on his totally good conscience: his ministry is from God, and he has exercised it with fidelity and integrity (cf. 2 Cor 3:5–6).
- 3:1 Paul seems to allude to certain preachers who pride themselves on their written credentials. Presumably they reproach him for not possessing similar credentials and compel him to spell out his own qualifications (2 Cor 4:2; 5:12; 6:4). The Corinthians themselves should have performed this function for Paul (2 Cor 5:12; cf. 2 Cor 12:11). Since he is forced to find something that can recommend him, he points to them: their very existence constitutes his letter of recommendation (2 Cor 3:1–2). Others who engage in self-commendation will also be mentioned in 2 Cor 10:12–18.
- 3:2–3 Mention of “letters of recommendation” generates a series of metaphors in which Paul plays on the word “letter”: (1) the community is Paul’s letter of recommendation (2 Cor 3:2a); (2) they are a letter engraved on his affections for all to see and read (2 Cor 3:2b); (3) they are a letter from Christ that Paul merely delivers (2 Cor 3:3a); (4) they are a letter written by the Spirit on the tablets of human hearts (2 Cor 3:3b). One image dissolves into another.
- 3:3 This verse contrasts Paul’s letter with those written…in ink (like the credentials of other preachers) and those written…on tablets of stone (like the law of Moses). These contrasts suggest that the other preachers may have claimed special relationship with Moses. If they were Judaizers zealous for the Mosaic law, that would explain the detailed contrast between the old and the new covenants (2 Cor 3:6; 4:7–6:10). If they were charismatics who claimed Moses as their model, that would explain the extended treatment of Moses himself and his glory (2 Cor 3:7–4:6). Hearts of flesh: cf. Ezekiel’s contrast between the heart of flesh that the Spirit gives and the heart of stone that it replaces (Ez 36:26); the context is covenant renewal and purification that makes observance of the law possible.
- 3:4–6 These verses resume 2 Cor 2:1–3:3. Paul’s confidence (2 Cor 3:4) is grounded in his sense of God-given mission (2 Cor 2:17), the specifics of which are described in 2 Cor 3:1–3. 2 Cor 3:5–6 return to the question of his qualifications (2 Cor 2:16), attributing them entirely to God. 2 Cor 3:6 further spells out the situation described in 2 Cor 3:3b and “names” it: Paul is living within a new covenant, characterized by the Spirit, which gives life. The usage of a new covenant is derived from Jer 31:31–33 a passage that also speaks of writing on the heart; cf. 2 Cor 3:2.
- 3:6 This verse serves as a topic sentence for 2 Cor 3:7–6:10. For the contrast between letter and spirit, cf. Rom 2:29; 7:5–6.
- 3:7–4:6 Paul now develops the contrast enunciated in 2 Cor 3:6b in terms of the relative glory of the two covenants, insisting on the greater glory of the new. His polemic seems directed against individuals who appeal to the glorious Moses and fail to perceive any comparable glory either in Paul’s life as an apostle or in the gospel he preaches. He asserts in response that Christians have a glory of their own that far surpasses that of Moses.
- 3:7 The ministry of death: from his very first words, Paul describes the Mosaic covenant and ministry from the viewpoint of their limitations. They lead to death rather than life (2 Cor 3:6–7; cf. 2 Cor 4:7–5:10), to condemnation rather than reconciliation (2 Cor 3:9; cf. 2 Cor 5:11–6:10). Was so glorious: the basic text to which Paul alludes is Ex 34:29–35 to which his opponents have undoubtedly laid claim. Going to fade: Paul concedes the glory of Moses’ covenant and ministry, but grants them only temporary significance.
- 3:8–11 How much more: the argument “from the less to the greater” is repeated three times (2 Cor 3:8, 9, 11). 2 Cor 3:10 expresses another point of view: the difference in glory is so great that only the new covenant and ministry can properly be called “glorious” at all.
- 3:12 Such hope: the glory is not yet an object of experience, but that does not lessen Paul’s confidence. Boldly: the term parrēsia expresses outspoken declaration of Christian conviction (cf. 2 Cor 4:1–2). Paul has nothing to hide and no reason for timidity.
- 3:13–14a Not like Moses: in Exodus Moses veiled his face to protect the Israelites from God’s reflected glory. Without impugning Moses’ sincerity, Paul attributes another effect to the veil. Since it lies between God’s glory and the Israelites, it explains how they could fail to notice the glory disappearing. Their thoughts were rendered dull: the problem lay with their understanding. This will be expressed in 2 Cor 3:14b–16 by a shift in the place of the veil: it is no longer over Moses’ face but over their perception.
- 3:14b–16 The parallelism in these verses makes it necessary to interpret corresponding parts in relation to one another. To this present day: this signals the shift of Paul’s attention to his contemporaries; his argument is typological, as in 1 Cor 10. The Israelites of Moses’ time typify the Jews of Paul’s time, and perhaps also Christians of Jewish origin or mentality who may not recognize the temporary character of Moses’ glory. When they read the old covenant: the lasting dullness prevents proper appraisal of Moses’ person and covenant. When his writings are read in the synagogue, a veil still impedes their understanding. Through Christ: i.e., in the new covenant. Whenever a person turns to the Lord: Moses in Exodus appeared before God without the veil and gazed on his face unprotected. Paul applies that passage to converts to Christianity: when they turn to the Lord fully and authentically, the impediment to their understanding is removed.
- 3:17 The Lord is the Spirit: the “Lord” to whom the Christian turns (2 Cor 3:16) is the Spirit of whom Paul has been speaking, the life-giving Spirit of the living God (2 Cor 3:6, 8), the inaugurator of the new covenant and ministry, who is also the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of the Lord: the Lord here is the living God (2 Cor 3:3), but there may also be an allusion to Christ as Lord (2 Cor 3:14, 16). Freedom: i.e., from the ministry of death (2 Cor 3:7) and the covenant that condemned (2 Cor 3:9).
- 3:18 Another application of the veil image. All of us…with unveiled face: Christians (Israelites from whom the veil has been removed) are like Moses, standing in God’s presence, beholding and reflecting his glory. Gazing: the verb may also be translated “contemplating as in a mirror”; 2 Cor 4:6 would suggest that the mirror is Christ himself. Are being transformed: elsewhere Paul speaks of transformation, conformity to Jesus, God’s image, as a reality of the end time, and even 2 Cor 3:12 speaks of the glory as an object of hope. But the life-giving Spirit, the distinctive gift of the new covenant, is already present in the community (cf. 2 Cor 1:22, the “first installment”), and the process of transformation has already begun. Into the same image: into the image of God, which is Christ (2 Cor 4:4).
- 4:1–2 A ministry of this sort generates confidence and forthrightness; cf. 2 Cor 1:12–14; 2:17.
- 4:3–4 Though our gospel is veiled: the final application of the image. Paul has been reproached either for obscurity in his preaching or for his manner of presenting the gospel. But he confidently asserts that there is no veil over his gospel. If some fail to perceive its light, that is because of unbelief. The veil lies over their eyes (2 Cor 3:14), a blindness induced by Satan, and a sign that they are headed for destruction (cf. 2 Cor 2:15).
- 4:5 We do not preach ourselves: the light seen in his gospel is the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4). Far from preaching himself, the preacher should be a transparent medium through whom Jesus is perceived (cf. 2 Cor 4:10–11). Your slaves: Paul draws attention away from individuals as such and toward their role in relation to God, Christ, and the community; cf. 1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 4:1.
- 4:6 Autobiographical allusion to the episode at Damascus clarifies the origin and nature of Paul’s service; cf. Acts 9:1–19; 22:3–16; 26:2–18. “Let light shine out of darkness”: Paul seems to be thinking of Gn 1:3 and presenting his apostolic ministry as a new creation. There may also be an allusion to Is 9:1 suggesting his prophetic calling as servant of the Lord and light to the nations; cf. Is 42:6, 16; 49:6; 60:1–2, and the use of light imagery in Acts 26:13–23. To bring to light the knowledge: Paul’s role in the process of revelation, expressed at the beginning under the image of the odor and aroma (2 Cor 2:14–15), is restated now, at the end of this first moment of the development, in the imagery of light and glory (2 Cor 4:3–6).
- 4:7–5:10 Paul now confronts the difficulty that his present existence does not appear glorious at all; it is marked instead by suffering and death. He deals with this by developing the topic already announced in 2 Cor 3:3, 6, asserting his faith in the presence and ultimate triumph of life, in his own and every Christian existence, despite the experience of death.
- 4:7 This treasure: the glory that he preaches and into which they are being transformed. In earthen vessels: the instruments God uses are human and fragile; some imagine small terracotta lamps in which light is carried.
- 4:8–9 A catalogue of his apostolic trials and afflictions. Yet in these the negative never completely prevails; there is always some experience of rescue, of salvation.
- 4:10–11 Both the negative and the positive sides of the experience are grounded christologically. The logic is similar to that of 2 Cor 1:3–11. His sufferings are connected with Christ’s, and his deliverance is a sign that he is to share in Jesus’ resurrection.
- 4:12–15 His experience does not terminate in himself, but in others (12, 15; cf. 2 Cor 1:4–5). Ultimately, everything is ordered even beyond the community, toward God (2 Cor 4:15; cf. 2 Cor 1:11).
- 4:13–14 Like the psalmist, Paul clearly proclaims his faith, affirming life within himself despite death (2 Cor 4:10–11) and the life-giving effect of his experience upon the church (2 Cor 4:12, 14–15). And place us with you in his presence: Paul imagines God presenting him and them to Jesus at the parousia and the judgment; cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Rom 14:10.
- 4:16–18 In a series of contrasts Paul explains the extent of his faith in life. Life is not only already present and revealing itself (2 Cor 4:8–11, 16) but will outlast his experience of affliction and dying: it is eternal (2 Cor 4:17–18).
- 4:16 Not discouraged: i.e., despite the experience of death. Paul is still speaking of himself personally, but he assumes his faith and attitude will be shared by all Christians. Our outer self: the individual subject of ordinary perception and observation, in contrast to the interior and hidden self, which undergoes renewal. Is being renewed day by day: this suggests a process that has already begun; cf. 2 Cor 3:18. The renewal already taking place even in Paul’s dying is a share in the life of Jesus, but this is recognized only by faith (2 Cor 4:13, 18; 2 Cor 5:7).
- 5:1 Our earthly dwelling: the same contrast is restated in the imagery of a dwelling. The language recalls Jesus’ saying about the destruction of the temple and the construction of another building not made with hands (Mk 14:58), a prediction later applied to Jesus’ own body (Jn 2:20).
- 5:2–5 2 Cor 5:2–3 and 4 are largely parallel in structure. We groan, longing: see note on 2 Cor 5:5. Clothed with our heavenly habitation: Paul mixes his metaphors, adding the image of the garment to that of the building. Further clothed: the verb means strictly “to put one garment on over another.” Paul may desire to put the resurrection body on over his mortal body, without dying; 2 Cor 5:2, 4 permit this meaning but do not impose it. Or perhaps he imagines the resurrection body as a garment put on over the Christ-garment first received in baptism (Gal 3:27) and preserved by moral behavior (Rom 13:12–14; Col 3:12; cf. Mt 22:11–13). Some support for this interpretation may be found in the context; cf. the references to baptism (2 Cor 5:5), to judgment according to works (2 Cor 5:10), and to present renewal (2 Cor 4:16), an idea elsewhere combined with the image of “putting on” a new nature (Eph 4:22–24; Col 3:1–5, 9–10).
- 5:3 When we have taken it off: the majority of witnesses read “when we have put it on,” i.e., when we have been clothed (in the resurrection body), then we shall not be without a body (naked). This seems mere tautology, though some understand it to mean: whether we are “found” (by God at the judgment) clothed or naked depends upon whether we have preserved or lost our original investiture in Christ (cf. the previous note). In this case to “put it on” does not refer to the resurrection body, but to keeping intact the Christ-garment of baptism. The translation follows the western reading (Codex Bezae, Tertullian), the sense of which is clear: to “take it off” is to shed our mortal body in death, after which we shall be clothed in the resurrection body and hence not “naked” (cf. 1 Cor 15:51–53).
- 5:4 We do not wish to be unclothed: a clear allusion to physical death (2 Cor 4:16; 5:1). Unlike the Greeks, who found dissolution of the body desirable (cf. Socrates), Paul has a Jewish horror of it. He seems to be thinking of the “intermediate period,” an interval between death and resurrection. Swallowed up by life: cf. 1 Cor 15:54.
- 5:5 God has created us for resurrected bodily life and already prepares us for it by the gift of the Spirit in baptism. The Spirit as a first installment: the striking parallel to 2 Cor 5:1–5 in Rom 8:17–30 describes Christians who have received the “firstfruits” (cf. “first installment” here) of the Spirit as “groaning” (cf. 2 Cor 5:2, 4 here) for the resurrection, the complete redemption of their bodies. In place of clothing and building, Rom 8 uses other images for the resurrection: adoption and conformity to the image of the Son.
- 5:6–9 Tension between present and future is expressed by another spatial image, the metaphor of the country and its citizens. At present we are like citizens in exile or far away from home. The Lord is the distant homeland, believed in but unseen (2 Cor 5:7).
- 5:10 We must all appear: the verb is ambiguous: we are scheduled to “appear” for judgment, at which we will be “revealed” as we are (cf. 2 Cor 11; 2:14; 4:10–11).
- 5:11–15 This paragraph is transitional. Paul sums up much that has gone before. Still playing on the term “appearance,” he reasserts his transparency before God and the Corinthians, in contrast to the self-commendation, boasting, and preoccupation with externals that characterize some others (cf. 2 Cor 1:12–14; 2:14; 3:1; 3:7–4:6). 2 Cor 5:14 recalls 2 Cor 3:7–4:6, and sums up 2 Cor 4:7–5:10.
- 5:13 Out of our minds: this verse confirms that a concern for ecstasy and charismatic experience may lie behind the discussion about “glory” in 2 Cor 3:7–4:6. Paul also enjoys such experiences but, unlike others, does not make a public display of them or consider them ends in themselves. Rational: the Greek virtue sōphrosynē, to which Paul alludes, implies reasonableness, moderation, good judgment, self-control.
- 5:14–15 These verses echo 2 Cor 4:14 and resume the treatment of “life despite death” from 2 Cor 4:7–5:10.
- 5:16–17 Consequently: the death of Christ described in 2 Cor 5:14–15 produces a whole new order (2 Cor 5:17) and a new mode of perception (2 Cor 5:16). According to the flesh: the natural mode of perception, characterized as “fleshly,” is replaced by a mode of perception proper to the Spirit. Elsewhere Paul contrasts what Christ looks like according to the old criteria (weakness, powerlessness, folly, death) and according to the new (wisdom, power, life); cf. 2 Cor 5:15, 21; 1 Cor 1:17–3:3. Similarly, he describes the paradoxical nature of Christian existence, e.g., in 2 Cor 4:10–11, 14. A new creation: rabbis used this expression to describe the effect of the entrance of a proselyte or convert into Judaism or of the remission of sins on the Day of Atonement. The new order created in Christ is the new covenant (2 Cor 3:6).
- 5:18–21 Paul attempts to explain the meaning of God’s action by a variety of different categories; his attention keeps moving rapidly back and forth from God’s act to his own ministry as well. Who has reconciled us to himself: i.e., he has brought all into oneness. Not counting their trespasses: the reconciliation is described as an act of justification (cf. “righteousness,” 2 Cor 5:21); this contrasts with the covenant that condemned (2 Cor 3:8). The ministry of reconciliation: Paul’s role in the wider picture is described: entrusted with the message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19), he is Christ’s ambassador, through whom God appeals (2 Cor 5:20a). In v 20b Paul acts in the capacity just described.
- 5:21 This is a statement of God’s purpose, expressed paradoxically in terms of sharing and exchange of attributes. As Christ became our righteousness (1 Cor 1:30), we become God’s righteousness (cf. 2 Cor 5:14–15).
- 6:1–10 This paragraph is a single long sentence in the Greek, interrupted by the parenthesis of 2 Cor 5:2. The one main verb is “we appeal.” In this paragraph Paul both exercises his ministry of reconciliation (cf. 2 Cor 5:20) and describes how his ministry is exercised: the “message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19) is lived existentially in his apostolic experience.
- 6:1 Not to receive…in vain: i.e., conform to the gift of justification and new creation. The context indicates how this can be done concretely: become God’s righteousness (2 Cor 5:21), not live for oneself (2 Cor 5:15) be reconciled with Paul (2 Cor 6:11–13; 7:2–3).
- 6:2 In an acceptable time: Paul cites the Septuagint text of Is 49:8; the Hebrew reads “in a time of favor”; it is parallel to “on the day of salvation.” Now: God is bestowing favor and salvation at this very moment, as Paul is addressing his letter to them.
- 6:3 Cause no one to stumble: the language echoes that of 1 Cor 8–10 as does the expression “no longer live for themselves” in 2 Cor 5:15. That no fault may be found: i.e., at the eschatological judgment (cf. 1 Cor 4:2–5).
- 6:4a This is the central assertion, the topic statement for the catalogue that follows. We commend ourselves: Paul’s self-commendation is ironical (with an eye on the charges mentioned in 2 Cor 3:1–3) and paradoxical (pointing mostly to experiences that would not normally be considered points of pride but are perceived as such by faith). Cf. also the self-commendation in 2 Cor 11:23–29. As ministers of God: the same Greek word, diakonos, means “minister” and “servant”; cf. 2 Cor 11:23, the central assertion in a similar context, and 1 Cor 3:5.
- 6:4b–5 Through much endurance: this phrase functions as a subtitle; it is followed by an enumeration of nine specific types of trials endured.
- 6:6–7a A list of virtuous qualities in two groups of four, the second fuller than the first.
- 6:8b–10 A series of seven rhetorically effective antitheses, contrasting negative external impressions with positive inner reality. Paul perceives his existence as a reflection of Jesus’ own and affirms an inner reversal that escapes outward observation. The final two members illustrate two distinct kinds of paradox or apparent contradiction that are characteristic of apostolic experience.