The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 7, 2017

THE COLLECTION AT CORINTH FOR THE POOR IN JERUSALEM

A Summary of 2 Corinthians 8:1-15~In the second main part of this Epistle (viii-ix), which begins here, St. Paul discusses a difficult question, but with great tact and dexterity of language. He was deeply concerned with the
collection for the poor of the Holy City to be made at Corinth, first, because the need was pressing. But there were also other considerations which weighed upon him in this matter. A generous collection at Corinth would not only be a special sign of unity between that Gentile Church and their Jewish brethren so far away, but it would also be an outstanding proof that the Apostle’s own authority had been thoroughly rehabilitated where but recently it had been questioned. Furthermore, how would his lingering adversaries at Corinth and his opponents at Jerusalem regard this collection?

These were some of the considerations which made St. Paul proceed cautiously with the subject in hand. He begins, therefore, by citing the example set by the Macedonian Churches. It was the great success of the collection there that moved him to send Titus to collect among the Corinthians; and he is sure that the faithful of Achaia are not less zealous than their poor neighbors, nor less mindful of the great truth that Christ became poor that they might be enriched. They who were among the first to begin the collection (2 Cor 8:10; 9:2) will not fail to complete it according to their means.

In 1 Cor. 16:1-3 the Apostle had already spoken of this collection, and later, in his Epistle to the Romans (Rom. 15:26, 27), he again returns to it. From St. Luke (Acts 24:17) we know that the proceeds of the collection were finally taken to Jerusalem by St. Paul himself.

2 Cor 8:1. Now we make known unto you, brethren, the grace of God, that hath been given in the churches of Macedonia.

Now (δὲ  = de) marks the transition to another topic, as does also brethren (ἀδελφοί, = adelphoi). The Apostle assumes a more serious tone.

The grace of God, i.e., the effect of the grace of God, which was manifested in the liberality of the Macedonian Christians. The churches of Macedonia which were at Philippi (Acts 16:12), Thessalonica (Acts 17:1), and Berea (Acts 17:10).

2 Cor 8:2. That in much experience of tribulation, they have had abundance of joy; and their very deep poverty hath abounded unto the riches of their simplicity.

The meaning here is that, though tried by many afflictions, the Macedonians experienced so much spiritual joy, and appreciated so keenly the needs of the poor from their own abject poverty (ἡ κατὰ βάθους πτωχεία = kata bathous he ptocheia) , that they made a generous contribution with a simplicity, i.e., a single-mindedness (ἁπλότητος = haplotetos) , which considers only the necessities of others and the glory of God. There are two reasons assigned for the single-minded generosity of the Macedonians, namely, their spiritual joy and their own experience of dire poverty.

2 Cor 8:3. For according to their power (I bear them witness), and beyond their power, they were willing.
2 Cor 8:4. With much entreaty begging of us the grace and communication of the ministry that is done toward the saints.
2 Cor 8:5. And not as we hoped, but they gave their own selves first to the Lord, then to us by the will of God:

These three verses make one sentence in Greek. The meaning is that the Macedonians were not only willing to contribute to the collection, but they gladly gave beyond their means; and more than this, they earnestly entreated the Apostles that they might be allowed to share in the almsgiving to the poor in Jerusalem. Their generosity and willingness exceeded all expectations. And not only did they give beyond their means, but they put their own lives and persons at the disposal, first of Christ, then of His Apostles, being moved by the will, i.e., by the grace of God.

The grace and communication, etc., i.e., the favor to share in helping the poor Christians of Jerusalem.

2 Cor 8:6. Insomuch, that we desired Titus, that as he had begun, so also he would finish among you this same grace.

Insomuch, that, etc. Better, “So much so that,” etc., i.e., the generosity of the Macedonians was so great that Paul and Timothy were encouraged to send Titus to Corinth to complete the collection which he had begun there earlier. On a previous occasion Titus had been sent to Corinth to start the collection. Perhaps it was the visit from which he had just returned, and which is again referred to in 2 Cor 12:18. It is, however, thought more probable by certain scholars that the present verse and 2Cor 12:18 refer to a visit by Titus to Corinth prior to the sending of the painful
letter and the consequent visit to observe its effects. They rightly observe that a mission to quiet a revolt could not well be associated with one to collect money.

This same grace, i.e., grace of contributing towards the poor.

2 cor 8:7. That as in all things you abound in faith, and word, and knowledge, and all carefulness; moreover also in your charity towards us, so in this grace also you may abound.

Beginning his exhortation to the Corinthians (verses 7-15) the Apostle reminds them of their faith, their knowledge, their charity, etc., and he says if they so excel in these virtues, they ought also to be conspicuous for their liberality towards the poor.

Faith means the theological virtue by which we believe God’s revelation.

Word . . . knowledge. See on 1 Cor. 1:5.

Carefulness, i.e., earnestness (σπουδῇ  = spoude) in the practice of their faith.

In your charity towards us. Better, “In the charity you have from us,” i.e., in the charity we have awakened in you.

So in this, etc. (ἵνα καὶ ἐν  = hina kai en). The ἵνα (hina) here is perhaps imperative in meaning, as in 1 Cor. 7:29; Eph. 5:33; Gal. 2:10, etc., and the sense is: Since you abound in those other virtues, see that you abound also in this grace of giving to the poor.

2 Cor 8:8. I speak not as commanding; but by the carefulness of others, approving also the good disposition of your charity.

The Apostle observes that he is not commanding the faithful, but only reminding them of the carefulness of others, i.e., of the earnestness of the Macedonians, and is thus approving, i.e., testing, the good disposition, etc., i.e., the sincerity of their love.

The ingenium of the Vulgate is likely a copyist’s error for ingenuum (Gr., γνήσιον = gnesion, sincerity) .

2 Cor 8:9. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich he became poor, for your sakes; that through his poverty you might be rich.

It was not necessary to command those to be generous who knew, as did the Corinthians, how our Lord Jesus Christ left the riches of heaven and the bosom of His Eternal Father (John 16:28; 17:5) and became poor (Matt. 8:20), in order that they might be made rich with the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). If Christ made such a great sacrifice for the Corinthians, surely they will make a sacrifice for their poor brethren.

This verse offers a very clear proof of the Divinity of Christ.

2 Cor 8:10. And herein I give my advice; for this is profitable for you, who have begun not only to do, but also to be willing, a year ago.

My advice, i.e., my counsel (verse 8).

For this is profitable, i.e., to complete the collection begun before will enrich them with many spiritual blessings. Only counsel is needed for those who are both willing and have already begun.

Have begun to do (ποιῆσαι = poiesai) refers to the readiness with which the Corinthians on a former occasion began the collection, but which was soon broken up by dissensions and party strifes.

To be willing (θέλειν = thelein) expresses the disposition still abiding in the present to carry on the work begun previously.

A year ago can hardly mean that twelve months had intervened since the writing of 1 Cor. 16:2, because that Epistle
was written in the spring, and 2 Cor. followed very probably in the succeeding autumn. Perhaps the collection had been decided on sometime before 1 Cor. xvi. 2 was written ; or St. Paul might have been reckoning according to the Macedonian year which, like the Jewish civil year may have begun in autumn. In this latter supposition a year ago would mean last year.

2 Cor 8:11. Now therefore perform ye it also in deed; that as your mind is forward to be willing, so it may be also to perform, out of that which you have.

Knowing their abiding dispositions to help, St. Paul now tells the Corinthians to carry their wishes into effect and complete the collection according to their means. He does not ask them to go beyond their means, as did the Macedonians (verse 3).

2 Cor 8:12. For if the will be forward, it is accepted according to that which a man hath, not according to that which he hath not.

If the will be forward, etc., i.e., if the readiness be there, a man’s alms are acceptable to God according to his means; God does not require one to give more than he can afford. It is the disposition with which one gives, more than what is given, that counts before the Lord (Mark 12:41 ff. ; Luke 21:2 ff.).

2 Cor 8:13. For I mean not that others should be eased, and you burthened, but by an equality.

The meaning here is that St. Paul does not wish the poor in Jerusalem to be relieved by impoverishing the Corinthians, but that there should be some sort of equality between the one and the other. The implication is that the faithful of Corinth were in good circumstances as compared with those of the Holy City.

2 Cor 8:14. In this present time let your abundance supply their want, that their abundance also may supply your want, that there may be an equality.

There are two interpretations of the second part of this verse; namely, that the Palestinian Christians were to give the
Corinthians present spiritual help in return for material assistance, and so establish equality among them (Cornely, MacR., Sales, Rick., and most Catholics) ; or that sometime in the future, when the Corinthians are in temporal need the faithful of Palestine will come to their aid with material means and thus compensate them for what they are now asked to give (Maier, Rambaud, Plummer and most non-Catholics). An argument for the latter opinion might be gathered from the following verse, which gives an instance of equality in material things.

2 Cor 8:15. As it is written: He that had much, had nothing over; and he that had little, had no want.

The Apostle now cites a passage from Exod. 16:18, according to the LXX, which in this instance agrees with the Hebrew, to illustrate how there should be equality in temporal goods among the Christians, just as of old God so distributed the manna in the desert that all had what was necessary, superfluities being made to supply needs. Those who gathered more manna than others had not in the end more than they needed, while the others had all that they required.

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