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 Chapter 4

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 30, 2018

Text in red are my additions.

THE APOSTLE HAS EXERCISED HIS MINISTRY WITH SINCERITY AND
FRANKNESS BECAUSE OF ITS EXALTED CHARACTER
A Summary of 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

The subject of the preceding chapter is continued in this section, which might well have been made a part of that chapter. What the Apostle has already said about the sublimity of the Gospel ministry and the confidence with which its preachers speak is more than sufficient to refute the calumny that he spoke with arrogance. Consequently he terminates this subject by repeating that he has preached the Gospel clearly, openly, and without timidity; and if some think his preaching is obscure, it is because their minds are blinded by Satan. As for himself, he is the servant of Christ and is trying to spread the light which has been divinely bestowed on him. 

2 Cor 4:1. Therefore, seeing we have this ministration, according as we have obtained mercy, we faint not;

Since, as just said in the preceding chapter, the Christian ministration, i.e., the preaching of the Gospel, is of such an exalted character, we, i.e., St. Paul and his companions, in obedience to a gracious and gratuitous call from God, preach without fear or hesitation. 

As we have obtained mercy should be connected with what precedes. 

2 Cor 4:2. But we renounce the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor adulterating the word of God; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience, in the sight of God. 

Of dishonesty, i.e., of shame (αἰσχύνης = aischune) . The Apostle is referring to everything in conduct and preaching that shame would naturally hide, and also to the policy of concealing the Gospel truth through shame of the folly of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18, 21; Rom. 1:16). 

Craftiness means unscrupulous conduct and underhand practices, which were made use of by the false teachers in order to win over the Corinthians. 

Nor adulterating, etc., i.e., not corrupting the Gospel with erroneous teachings. From all things of this kind the Apostles kept aloof; manifesting, on the contrary, the truths of the Gospel in such a way that they commended themselves to every man of conscience, and this in the sight of God.

2 Cor 4:3. And if our gospel be also hid, it is hid to them that are lost,
2 Cor 4:4. In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine unto them.

A difficulty occurs here. If the Gospel is so openly preached, how does it continue veiled to so many? There are two reasons for this: (a) The perversity of the will of those who, of their own choice, shut their eyes to the light of the Gospel (2 Cor 3:13), preferring to go the way of perdition (1 Cor. 1:18); and (b) the devil, who blinds the minds and hardens the hearts of his votaries, turning their eyes to earthly things. 

The god of this world, i.e., of this age (αἰών = aion) , namely, Satan whom our Lord called “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and whom St. Paul elsewhere designates as “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Satan is called the god of this wicked age, in so far as it lives according to his maxims, obeys and serves him; and he, in turn, blinds the minds of his unbelieving followers, leading them away from the faith by his evil suggestions, so that the light of the Gospel, whose object is the glory of Christ, does not shine unto them.

Christ is the image of God, (a) on account of the identity of nature between Himself and the Father; (b) because He is generated by the Father; (c) because He is equal to the Father (St. Thomas). Cf. Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3. 

The glory of Christ is, then, the glory of God, which, being contemplated in the Gospel, has the power of transforming souls into its own likeness (2 Cor 3:18). God, therefore, is the supreme source of the Gospel; the Gospel is the revelation of the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Son in turn is the revelation of the Father (John 14:7 ff.).

In the Vulgate Deus should be written with a small d. 

2 Cor 4:5. For we preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ our Lord; and ourselves your servants through Jesus.

This verse is closely connected with the preceding one. The Apostles do not seek their own advantage in their preaching; they preach Jesus Christ as Lord, i.e., as the Saviour and Master of all men, regarding themselves only as servants of the faithful for Christ’s sake.

We may read Jesus Christ with א A C D, Old Lat., Goth.; or “Christ Jesus” with B H K L, Copt., Arm. 

Through Jesus. Better, “For Jesus’ sake” (with B D F G). 

Our (Vulg., nostrum) should be omitted. 

2 Cor 4:6. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus.

The best supported reading here is: “For God who said, ‘Out of darkness light shall shine,’ is he that hath shone in our hearts for the illumination of the knowledge,” etc. The radical reason why the Apostles preach Jesus Christ, and not themselves, is because such is the will of God, who in the beginning of the world made light shine out of darkness, and who through Christ has made the light of faith shine in the hearts of the Apostles in order that, through their preaching, they might enlighten the world with a knowledge of the glory of God, as it was revealed in the person of Christ, i.e., in His Divinity, His actions, His doctrine, etc. 

In the face of Christ is doubtless an allusion to the “face of Moses” (2 Cor 3:7), with which Christ’s face is contrasted; but the meaning seems to point rather to the person of Christ, who was the revelation of the glory of the Father.

THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE SUBLIMITY OF THE APOSTLES’ MINISTRY AND THE INFIRMITY OF THEIR LIVES 
A Summary of 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

St. Paul has described very clearly the excellence of the Apostolic ministry. This is now understood. But how reconcile the discharge of such exalted functions as fall to the lot of Christian ministers with the weakness and abject misery of the lives of the Apostles? Looking at the lowly condition of St. Paul and his companions, their adversaries could easily make a case against them by telling their converts not to believe them and not to follow them, seeing that they were abandoned and rejected of God. The Apostle, therefore, anticipates this objection by showing that God chose weak instruments (a) to make it plain that the power of the Gospel was not from men, but from Himself; and (b) to render the Apostles more like to Christ whose death and Resurrection they exemplified and preached for the life and salvation of the faithful. 

2 Cor 4:7. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of us. 

This treasure, i.e., the exalted office of the Christian ministry. 

In earthen vessels, i.e., in fragile vessels made of clay. The allusion is not only to man’s body, but especially to his weak human nature, as is clear from verse 8. God chose weak instruments to spread His Gospel, in order to make it plain that the efficacy of their preaching and the excellence of their message were due to Him, and not to themselves. 

2 Cor 4:8. In all things we suffer tribulation, but are not distressed; we are straitened, but are not destitute:

Five illustrations of the contrast between the “treasure” and the “earthen vessels” now follow (verses 8-1 1). 

In all things we suffer, etc. More literally, “Pressed on every side, but not crushed”; “perplexed, but not unto despairing.” The participles in Greek look back to Εχομεν (=echomen)  we have, of verse 7. 

2 Cor 4:9. We suffer persecution, but are not forsaken; we are cast down, but we perish not: 

We suffer persecution, etc. Better, “Pursued, but not deserted,” by God so as to be captured by enemies; “struck down (as in battle), but not destroyed.” 

2 Cor 4:10. Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies.

The divine purpose of the Apostles’ suffering is now explained. By their continual tortures and exposure to death the

Apostles represented and, in a sense, repeated the sufferings of Christ, in order that their many deliverances might be a proof of the life of the risen Jesus whose rescuing power was thus manifested in them. Like Christ’s Resurrection, the Apostles were witnesses to the truth of the Gospel, for they showed that Jesus is still alive and able to save (Plum.). 

The mortification of Jesus means the dying, or putting to death of Jesus, although νέκρωσιν (=nekrosis) is used elsewhere in the New Testament only once (Rom. 4:19), and then to describe the “deadness” of Sara’s womb. 

2 Cor 4:11. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake; that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

The thought of the preceding verse is brought out more clearly. 

We who live, etc., i.e., we the living, are constantly exposed to death, although constantly rescued by the living Christ. God wishes the lives of the Apostles to be such in order that now, while on earth, they may manifest in their mortal bodies the life, i.e., the triumph of Jesus who died and is risen again for us. 

2 Cor 4:12. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.

The Apostles were continually exposed to death for their preaching, but they were sustained by the living Jesus to work for the spiritual life and salvation of the faithful. “The Corinthian Church enjoyed the fruit of supernatural life, gathered for it by the Apostles’ perils” (Rick.).

THE APOSTLES WERE COMFORTED IN THEIR TRIBULATIONS BY THE HOPE OF A GLORIOUS RESURRECTION
A Summary of 2 Corinthians 4:13-18

Having explained the purpose of God in permitting the sufferings of the Apostles, St. Paul now speaks of the end the Apostles themselves had in view in the exercise of their difficult ministry. In spite of the constant menace of death they ceased not to preach the Gospel, knowing that a glorious resurrection awaited them and their converts, that God’s glory was promoted by their labors, and that an eternal reward would be given in exchange for their transitory sufferings.

2 Cor 4:13. But having the same spirit of faith, as it is written: I believed, for which cause I have spoken ; we also believe, for which cause we speak also:

The Apostle wishes to say that the same trust and confidence in God sustains him and his companions in their tribulations which sustained the Psalmist in his desolation and sorrow. As the Psalmist spoke in consequence of his faith in the divine promises, so the Apostles fearlessly preach because of the same faith. St. Paul quotes the LXX of Psalm 116:10, which in form only differs from the Hebrew: “I believed, for I must speak.” The Psalmist believed that God would deliver him from the death, tears, and dangers spoken of in Ps 116:1-9, and therefore he spoke the thanksgiving part of Psalm 116, of which the first verse (10) is given here. The Apostles believed that God would never forsake them, and therefore they spoke the Gospel truths.

2 Cor 4:14Knowing that he who raised up Jesus, will raise us up also with Jesus, and place us with you.

Who raised up Jesus. Better, “Who raised up the Lord Jesus” (with manuscripts C D F G K L P). In their sufferings the Apostles are encouraged by the hope that as God raised Jesus, their Head, from the grave, so He will one day raise them from the dead and unite them and their converts with their divine Chieftain.

With Jesus, rather than “through Jesus,” according to the best MSS. The preposition “with” indicates not time, but the unity of all the faithful in and with Christ.

And place us, etc., i.e., will place us Apostles with you alive in the kingdom of God. For this same use of παραστησει, see Acts 1:3; Acts 9:41.

The Apostle here, as in 5:1-8, speaks as if he did not expect to be alive at the Second Coming of Christ; whereas in 1 Cor 15:51-52, he spoke as though he might live to see that event. This shows that he had no revelation in the matter: he knew “not the day nor the hour” (Matt 25:13).

Jesus (Vulg., Jesum) in the first part of the verse should be preceded by “Lord” (Dominum), as in the best MSS.

2 Cor 4:15. For all things are for your sakes; that the grace abounding through many, may abound in thanksgiving unto the glory of God.

For (γαρ) looks back to the last words of the preceding verse. The prominence given the faithful there, with whom he hoped to be associated in heaven, reminds the Apostles here that all his labors, sufferings, trials, etc., as well as his deliverances, have been for their sakes, that they may have life (verse 12), and that the grace, i.e., the divine help, granted to him in answer to their prayers, may call forth their thanksgiving, thus giving glory to God. The glory of God was, therefore, the ultimate end of all the labors and sufferings of the Apostles.

2 Cor 4:16. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man is corrupted, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

For which cause, etc., i.e., since all their trials and labors are for the good of the faithful and the glory of God, the Apostles faint not (verse 1), i.e., never lose courage. And although their bodies, again and again rescued from destruction and death, are gradually wasting away, their souls and spiritual faculties grow stronger every day in view of the rewards awaiting them hereafter (verse 17).

2 Cor 4:17. For that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory.

For that which is at present momentary, etc. Better “For our present light affliction,” etc. “Our” before “present” is omitted by B and St. Chrysostom.

Present is contrasted with eternal, light with weight, tribulation with glory.

Momentary (Vulg., momentaneum) is not in the best MSS.

Above measure exceedingly shows how far the reward surpasses what is performed. God punishes less than we deserve, and rewards more than we merit (St. Thomas).

This verse is a proof that the good works of the just are meritorious of eternal life (Conc. Trid., Sess. VI. cap. 16).

2 Cor 4:18. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen, are temporal; but the things which are not seen, are eternal.

The Apostles hope to have part in the rewards just described because they do not seek the passing things of this world, such as riches, pleasure, glory and the like, but the lasting goods of the world above that is not seen with bodily eyes.

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