2 Corinthians


3. We share in Christ's triumphs, 2:14-17

Ministers of the new covenant

Argument / Thesis

Paul is Christ's ambassador for the new covenant, not a peddler of God's word, like so many, but a person who ministers the word of God with integrity; he is "Christ's authentic agent and spokesperson", Witherington.


i] Context: See 1:1-7. Paul has defended his integrity in 1:12-2:13, and now he sets the stage for an exposition of his covenant ministry covering 3:1-6:13 (to 7:4, Barnett) by first stating the nub of his argument / his thesis, 2:14-17.


ii] Background: See 1:1-7.


iii] Structure: Ministers of the new covenant:

Thesis: Paul, Christ's ambassador for the new covenant

Thanks be to God; His gospel is triumphant, v14a

Gospel preaching is like a wafted incense, v14b

pleasing to God, v15

enlightening the seeker, condemning the rebel, v16

"Who is sufficient for these things?" Only one who is divinely authorized; such a one is Paul, v16b-17


iv] Interpretation:

We now come to the nub of the issue, certainly for the Corinthians. Paul lays his cards on the table: the Corinthians need to choose between either those who "peddle the word of God" or Paul, the one one sent from God to speak for God. Who is it to be? Do they go with the Judaizers, the members of the circumcision party, or do the go with their founding apostle?

God leads his gospel messengers in a victory procession, v14a, as they spread the fragrant aroma of the gospel, v14b. For God, this ministry is a pleasing aroma, v15a, as it wafts over those who are being saved and those who are perishing, v15b. For those who are perishing, the fragrant aroma of the gospel is nothing but the aroma of death, but for those being saved, it is the aroma of life, v16a. Who then is equal to the task of making the gospel known? v16b. Certainly not those who "peddle the word of God" (the Judaizers, members of the circumcision party???), but rather Paul, the founding apostle of the Corinthian church, a person who exercises his ministry out of sincere motives, a person appointed and accountable to God for new-covenant gospel ministry, v17.


The Thesis of 2 Corinthians. Witherington argues that v17 serves as the propositio of the letter. As an example of forensic rhetoric Paul, the defendant, states the nub of his defense against those who would claim that he is no apostle, that he is guilty of misconduct as an ambassador of Christ, possibly even financial misconduct (is the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem a scam?). Unlike the hucksters who slander him, Paul offers the gospel from a sincere heart, commissioned by God, authorized by God, watched over by God, and does so in a Christlike manner. Paul "is Christ's authentic agent and spokesperson", Witherington.

Although v17 carries the weight of Paul's defense, v14-16 sets a firm ground for his claim, so we are best to view the whole as Paul's propositio / thesis.

Text - 2:14a

Ministers of the new covenant, v14-17: i] Thanks be to God for his triumphant gospel, v14a. Rather than "leads us as captives", it is more likely that Paul is declaring that God "leads us in triumphal procession", ESV; see below. Although Paul is often prone to the royal / epistolary plural, the hJmaV, "us", here is likely to be a far more general reference, in this case, a reference to the ministers of the gospel - the apostles and their associate evangelists. In setting the line of argument / thesis for his letter, Paul first establishes that gospel ministry, exercised under God in Christ, is ultimately victorious. It may not always seem this way, and Paul's recent experiences display anything but victory, but the realization of God's covenant promises, through the proclamation of the gospel, are inevitable.

de "but" - but/and. The NIV, as with ESV etc., treats this conjunction as adversative, but best taken as a transitional connective indicating the next step in the argument and so left untranslated (for us serving as a paragraph marker): "I am grateful that God always makes it possible for Christ to lead us to victory", CEV.

tw/ ... qew/ (oV) "to God" - [grace, favor, gratitude = thankfulness be] to god. Dative of indirect object with an assumed optative wish-prayer, "may grace = thanksgiving be offered to God."

tw/ ... qriambeuonti (qriambeuw) dat. pres. part. "who [always] leads [us] as captives [in Christ's] triumphal procession" - the one [always] leading [us] in triumph [in christ]. The participle may be classified as adjectival, attributive, introducing a relative clause limiting "God", or substantival, standing in apposition to "God". The sense of the word is not overly clear, but most commentators think Paul has in mind a Roman victory procession given to a triumphant general. Yet, how does this apply to Paul? Thrall, Witherington, Barnett (with a touch of victory), Garland and Harris see the image carried over from the previous verses such that Paul is a defeated captive led throughout the world before God. Barrett, also Guthrie, sees the image as that of a victorious soldier rather than a captive in procession. The procession under God (durative present tense) is "in Christ", and spreads (durative present tense) the aroma of the gospel everywhere; the image is of victory, not defeat.

hJmaV pro. "us" - Paul may again be using the royal plural such that God leads him "in triumphal procession", but the concept has a broader application, so possibly Paul and his team, or the apostles, possibly all those who minister the gospel.

en + dat. "in" - in [christ]. Local, sphere / incorporative union; "in union with Christ", TEV, "in our relationship with Christ." The phrase "in Christ" lends itself to numerous idiomatic equivalents; "Thanks be to God who leads us ..... on Christ's triumphant way", Phillips.


ii] Gospel ministry is like incense wafting over the lost and saved alike, v14b-16a. Next, Paul establishes that a genuine gospel ministry divides and separates the living from the dead, the saved from the lost. The gospel enlightens the seeker, leading them to life, but at the same time blinds the rebel, leading them to death. As for the imagery employed here by Paul, it is often taken as sacrificial imagery, but it seems more likely that Paul has continued the imagery of a victory procession, with the burning of perfumed incense in the procession. The incense wafts heavenward, while spreading over those in the procession. The preaching of the gospel is like a pleasing incense to God, prompting either life or death in those who hear it.

fanerounti (fanenow) dat. pres. pat. "[and] uses us to spread" - [and] the one revealing / manifesting. Syntax as for tw/ qriambeuonti above.

thV gnwsewV (iV ewV) gen. "of the knowledge" - [the fragrance] of the knowledge. The genitive is adjectival, attributed; "his fragrant knowledge." This aroma is presumably authentic apostolic gospel preaching.

autou gen. pro. "of him" - of him. The genitive is usually understood here as verbal, objective, "the knowledge about him."

en "everywhere" - [through us] in [every place]. Local, space, "in all places" = "everywhere".


Again, with a general esmen ( "we" [rather than the royal plural for "I", Paul] = "we the ones who proclaim the gospel / who .... spread ... the knowledge of him everywhere") Paul further develops the idea of authentic apostolic gospel ministry - such is a perfumed incense ("pleasing aroma", NIV11) to God." As well as an incense with vertical affect, it has a horizontal affect, dividing humanity - it has a different affect on "those who are being saved and" on "those who are perishing", one positive and one negative. The incense wafts over those in the victory parade, those facing execution and those facing release and freedom.

oJti "for" - More reason than cause; not even explanatory, but just a further a development of the thought raised in v14. It is possible that the conjunction may introduce a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Paul thanks God for.

tw/ qew/ (oV) dat. "to God" - [we are an aroma] to god. The dative is possibly of interest, advantage, "for God", but better destination / termination "to God." The fragrance "ultimately has its source in Christ and rises up to God", Guthrie.

Cristou (oV) gen. "of Christ" - Probably ablative, source / origin, "from Christ", so Guthrie, possibly adjectival, possessive, so Harris, or even verbal, objective, "about Christ."

en + dat. "among" - in = among. The dative is local / of accompaniment / association; "among".

toiV sw/zomenoiV (swzw) dat. pres. mid./pas. part. "those who are being saved" - the ones being saved [and among the ones perishing]. The participle, as with "those who are perishing" (a correlative construction with the use of kai), serves as a substantive. The victory parade is surely still in Paul's mind, a parade of captured soldiers, officials and the like, some about to be executed, and some about to be set free.


For the captured enemy in the parade about to be executed, the perfumed incense is a smell of death; for those about to be set free, the perfumed incense is a smell of life. For those who do not respond to the apostolic message, the gospel carries with it the stench of death; for those who do respond to the apostolic message, the gospel has a sweet smell "arising from (ek) life and leading to (proV) life." The question facing the Corinthians is: who is there worthy of this task?

men ..... de "-" - on the one hand [to the ones perishing, a smell from death toward dead] but on the other hand [to the ones being saved, a smell from life toward life]. An adversative comparative construction.

oi|V "to the one" - to the ones. Dative of interest, disadvantage, "for those who are perishing." "For those who are being lost, it (the gospel) is a deadly stench that kills", TEV.

ek + gen. "-" - from [death]. Expressing source / origin; a stench that originates from a corps.

eiV + acc. "that brings [death]" - toward [death]. Spatial, destination / goal; "leading to death", Long.

proV "to [such a task]" - [and] toward [doing such things, who is sufficient, able]? Here adverbial, expressing purpose, "in order to be able to do / for these things" = "who is qualified for this career?", Moffatt.


Paul has asked who is "capable" of exercising an apostolic gospel ministry. He now answers his rhetorical question. Those who "peddle the word of God" (the Judaizers??) are certainly not qualified to exercise such a ministry, but on the other hand, Paul (and his team / the apostles?? Do we have a plural or royal plural here?) is well qualified to exercise such a ministry. "We are not like those who peddle an adulterated message from God; in our relationship with Christ we speak with integrity. In fact, we are commissioned by God, accountable to him."

gar "-" - for. Here more reason than cause. Paul has asked a rhetorical question, and so gar serves to introduce the answer.

wJV .... all wJV .... all wJV "unlike ... on the contrary ..... as " - [we are not] as [the many huckstering, peddling the word of god], but as [from sincerity], but as [from god]. Adversative correlative construction, although here the particle wJV is not serving as a comparative, but rather expresses a quality; not "like", comparative, nor "as", manner, but "are". "We are not (ou ... esmen wJV) hucksters, but rather (all wJV) in Christ we speak with integrity. In fact, we are (all wJV - indicating an intesification) commissioned by God (ek qeou), ministering in the presence of God (katenanti qeou)."

kaphleuonteV (kaphleuw) pres. part. "peddling ... for profit" - [the many] huckstering, peddling. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "the many"; "the many who huckster the word of God." The word, a hapax legomenon, is used in secular writings of the time to refer to someone who is carrying on illicit trade, cheating people, eg., selling adulterated sly grog. The use here is unlikely to have anything to do with money or motives, but everything to do with the corrupt nature of the teaching; "we are not like the many who peddle an adulterated message from God", see Berkeley.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "of God" - The genitive is probably ablative, source / origin; "from God."

katenanti + gen. "before" - before, in the presence of [god, in christ we speak]. Spacial, idiomatic. Expressing the idea of accountability before God. It is "before" God they speak, and this ek, "from" = "with" sincerity (adverbial, modal), "with the purists of motives." Paul claims, for himself (and his team) a fundamental integrity and transparency, as opposed to the duplicity and hypocrisy of those who slander him.


2 Corinthians Introduction

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