2 Corinthians


The character of Paul's ministry, 3:1-6:13

iv] A ministry of life or death, 4:7-15

a) A ministry handed over to death


"The apostles' ability to accomplish their task is not the result of their own natural capabilities, but is given them by God. They are just as much exposed to danger and hardship and human weakness as anyone else - more so than many people. Nevertheless, in situations where complete defeat and absolute failure might well be expected as the natural outcome, they continually experience some measure of success and victory. The suffering and the difficulties they have to contend with provide occasion for the display of the transcendent power which is God's alone", Thrall*.


i] Context: See 3:1-6. We now move to the second part of Paul's argument concerning the character of his ministry - An authentic gospel ministry entails suffering, 4:7-5:10. Having developed the theme of glory in 3:7-4:6, a theme he will again return to in v16-18 (the limitations of this present age are overshadowed by future glory), Paul goes on to describe the present limitations experienced by the apostolic band (or his fellow missioners, or, if he is using the royal plural, then he is referring to himself), of suffering and death, v7-12. Difficult though the limitations are, they do not hinder the work of the gospel, v13-15.


ii] Background: See 1:1-7.


iii] Structure: A ministry handed over to death:


We are pots of clay moulded by the hand of God, v7;


In the hand of God, troubles may strike us down, but will not destroy us, v8-9;


Authentic gospel ministry shares the experience of Christ, v10-12.


iv] Interpretation:

Greek literature of the time often carried a peristasiV, "a catalogue of circumstances" where the writer expresses a composed and serene demeanor in the face of adversity. We see this evidenced in the passage before; see also 6:3-10, 11:23b-33, 12:9-10. Paul is nothing more than a "jar of clay", v7, subject to all the rigors of life, subject to "pressure on every side", "at our wit's end", "pursued by men", and "knocked down, but never knocked out", Barclay, v8-9. The mortal Paul may be "handed over to death for Jesus' sake (on account of Jesus)", Cassirer, but this dying produces life in others, v10-12.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 4:7.

Paul's ministry does exhibit divine power, but within the trials and tribulations of life, v7-12: i] Principle: "The treasure of the gospel (or of its ministry, or of the knowledge of divine glory) is possessed within the context of a human existence so lacking in outward splendor that it may be likened to containers made of earthenware", Thrall.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the argument - for us it serves as an indication of a new paragraph and so is left untranslated.

touton pro. "this" - [we have] this [treasure]. Anaphoric, referring back = "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God", v6. It is this treasure which empowers Paul's ministry.

en + dat. "in" - in [baked clay vessels]. Local; expressing space / sphere. The image is unclear, but probably Paul is referring to human frailty, created from the dust, so Barnett, but surely not unimportant, so Barrett.

iJna + subj. "to show that" - that. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, "it is divinely ordained that the human bearer of the divine revelation should be an earthenware vessel", Barnett / end-view, as NIV / consecutive, expressing result, "with the result that the surpassing power is shown to be from God and not from us." "Purpose .... and achieved result", Harris.

thV dunamewV (iV ewV) gen. "[this all-surpassing] power" - [the excellence, quality ("extraordinary quality or character", BAGD / "excess, immense", Zerwick)] of the power. The genitive is likely to be adjectival, attributed, as NIV.

h|/ (eimi) pres. subj. "is" - may be. Plummer argues that Paul obviously intends "may be seen to be", so RSV, REB, .... "So that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God", NRSV.

tou qeou (oV) "[is] from God" - of god. The genitive is probably ablative, expressing source / origin, as NIV, "may be seen to be from God", but possibly adjectival, possessive, "belongs to God", so Harris.

ex (ek) + gen. "from" - [and not] of [us]. Expressing source / origin. The added ex hJmwn is emphatic since iJna + the negation mh itself expresses "not from us" in the context.


ii] Illustration: the list of trials, v8-9. For Paul, there is his weak self, "perplexed", along with the circumstances of life pressing in on him. Yet he is not crushed, "not in despair". The inner substance of his faith maintains him. He is sure the Lord is with him and this gives him strength, Heb.13:5. Experience has confirmed for Paul the sustaining power of the indwelling Christ, Act.14:19f; As the Lord put it, "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness", 12:9.

The passage consists of four paired participles, each pair linked by the counterpoint construction all ouk, "..... but not ...." Barnett shapes the construction thus:

Afflicted but not trapped;

bewildered but not in despair;

persecuted but not forsaken;

felled but not destroyed.

qlibomenoi (flibw) pres. mid./pas. part. "we are hard pressed" - being oppressed, troubled, crushed. This participle, as with the seven that follow, may be classified either as attendant circumstance, expressing action accompanying the verb ecomen, "we have", v7, or modal, expressing manner. Seeing the negation ou instead of the expected mh is used with this list of participles, some commentators suggest that they are virtually serving as indicative verbs. Hughes argues that the use of ou indicates the actuality of the situation described. Whatever the syntax, most translations handle the four pairs of participles as indicatives; "we are under pressure on every side, but never without a way out", Barclay.

en + dat. "on [every side]" - in [every way]. The preposition here is adverbial, introducing an adverbial construction possibly modal, expressing manner, "in every way", but if paired up with the adverb pantote, "always", v10, then temporal; "we are often crushed", CEV.

stenocwroumenoi (stenocwrew) pres. pas. part. "[not] crushed" - [but not] being pressed in closely. Participle as above. With the sense of having no means of escape, so Plummer; "but never cornered", REB.

aporoumenoi (aporew) pres. mid. "perplexed" - being at a loss, perplexed [but not despairing]. Participle as above. In the sense of perplexed, despairing, "in desperate perplexity", Cassirer, all ouk, "but not" completely so.


diwkomenoi (diwkw) pres. mid./pas. part. "persecuted" - being persecuted [but not being forsaken]. Participle as above. Possibly with the sense "pursued", so Barclay, but more likely "persecuted", a sense that fits well with ouk apollumenoi, "not abandoned, forsaken by God."

kataballomenoi (kataballw) pres. mid./pas. part. "struck down" - being cast down [but not being destroyed]. Participle as above. The word has a military background, of a soldier struck down in battle, "but not given the death-blow", Thrall, Filson. Barclay opts for a boxing image; "we are knocked down but never knocked out."


iii] Explanation: a believer shares the experience of Christ, v10-12. Jesus, throughout his ministry, experienced trouble, even unto death. Those who follow Christ, particularly when exercising a ministry which confronts the powers of the dark domain, will similarly experience trouble (a kind of death). Yet, a believer will also experience, as Christ did, life; victory out of defeat, resurrection, restoration. But, not only "in us", but "in you." Paul may well have experienced a kind of death in trouble and persecution, trouble which his opponents have used to invalidate his apostolic standing, but trouble only validates his ministry, and through it provide new life in Christ.

pantote adv. "always" - always. Temporal adverb. "Always ...... at all times, v11; emphatic.

periferonteV (periferw) pres. part. "we [always] carry around" - carrying around. The participle is again somewhat difficult to classify. Harris treats it as syntactically independent, functioning as an indicative, but technically it stands attendant on the main verb ecomen, "we have [this treasure in jars of clay]", v7. Long suggests that it is adverbial, modal, expressing manner.

en + dat. "in [our body]" - in [the = my body]. Local, expressing space, metaphorical. "Every day we experience something of the death of Jesus", Phillips, or possibly better "we share."

thn nekrwsin (iV ewV) "the death" - the dying. Possibly the state of death, so Thrall, but better process, "the dying of Jesus", Harris. This "dying" is the experience of being "afflicted, bewildered, persecuted, felled."

tou Ihsou (oV) gen. "of Jesus" - The genitive is adjectival, probably possessive / verbal, objective, "the dying experienced by Jesus", Harris. In our life's journey, mentally and physically, we share something of "the death that Jesus died", NEB.

iJna kai + subj. "so that" - that [and = also]. The construction is either final, expressing purpose, "in order that", so Barnett, end-view, "with a view to", or consecutive, expressing result, "with the result that", hypothetical result, "so that." If kai is taken with iJna it serves as an intensive and is left untranslated; the NIV takes it with hJ zwh as an adjunctive, "also".

tou Ihsou (oV) gen. "of Jesus" - [the life] of jesus [in the body of us might be manifested]. As with "death of Jesus", the intent of the genitive is not overly clear, but it is probably adjectival, possessive / verbal, objective, "the life experienced by Jesus." In our life's journey we experience / share something of "the life that Jesus lives", NEB. This is evidenced, first, in that Paul and his team may be "struck down, but not destroyed", and second, the principle of life is evidence in new life "in you" through the apostolic mission.


gar "for" - More reason than cause, explanatory, so either left untranslated, or "let me explain, ...." In explaining v10, Paul clarifies the idea of sharing the death and life of Jesus in v11 and then in v12 explains a substantial aspect of the revelation of Jesus' life in the experience of "us" (Paul, or Paul's missionary team, or the apostles), namely zwh en uJmin, "new life in you."

oiJ zwnteV (zaw) pres. part. "[we] who are alive" - [we] the ones living. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting hJmeiV, "we".

eiV + acc. "to [death]" - [are always being given over, delivered over] to, into [death]. Spacial; "placed into the situation / experience of death." The passive verb paradidomeqa, "delivered over to" is often used of Jesus' passion and clearly Paul wants to make the link between a believer's suffering for the sake of the gospel and Jesus' suffering. The passive is probably theological; God is the agent.

dia + acc. "for [Jesus'] sake" - because of [jesus]. More benefit than cause, "on behalf of" rather than "because of", contra Harris, "Paul's suffering was on account / because of his loyal preaching of the gospel of Jesus." Better: "The apostle replicates the the sufferings of the Master, "on his behalf. For him it is like master, like servant", cf., 12:10, Barnett.

iJna kai + subj. "so that" - that. Syntax as v10. "The purpose of this exposure to mortal suffering, as the following clause shows, is the manifestation of the zwh tou Ihsou (life of Jesus) within the apostle's weak and vulnerable human existence", Thrall.

en th/ qnhth/ sarki hJmwn "in our mortal body" - [and = also the life of jesus may be manifested] in the mortal flesh of us. This phrase expands en tw/ swmarti, "in our body", v10, making clear that what Paul means by "body" is "mortal flesh", "the transitory, creaturely, and weak nature of the body", Harris.


Paul / his missionary team / the apostles are without doubt weak, for they share in the sufferings of Christ, are "given over to death for Jesus." It is easily demonstrated that "death is at work in" them. The circumstances of their life, alluded to in v8-9, is common knowledge, cf., 6:3-10. Yet, it is also easy to see the evidence of life at work in them, particularly in the power of the gospel which they proclaim. The tangible evidence of the gospel at work may be found in the Corinthian church itself.

w{ste "so then" - so that / thus, therefore. This conjunction normally serves to introduce a consecutive clause expressing result, "with the result that ...", but sometimes it serves to introduce a logical conclusion, as here; "So, death is at work in us, but life in you", ESV.

energeitai (energew) pres. mid. "[death] is at work" - [death] works. Middle rather than passive, "is at work", Furnish; "is operative in us", Harris.

en + dat. "in" - in [us]. Local, expressing sphere; "in the sphere of our lives."

de "but" - but/and [life works in you]. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrasting point, "but". We may have expected a men .... de construction, "on the one hand ..... but on the other ...", but the logic here is nearly causal; because death is at work in the life of the apostles, suffering as they do for the gospel, life is at work in those who hear and respond to the gospel. This is really a new thought. Up to this point, the logic has been concessive; although the apostles suffer, they are not done in. Now it is causal; because they suffer, you are not done in. Both death and life, in the sense of suffering and victory, derive from the resurrection-life which a believer shares in the risen Christ.


2 Corinthians Introduction


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