1I* must boast; not that it is profitable, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2I know someone in Christ who, fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows), was caught up to the third heaven. 3And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) 4was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter.a 5About this person* I will boast, but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. 6Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me 7because of the abundance of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated,* a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.b 8Three times* I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,c 9* but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,* in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.d 10Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ;e for when I am weak, then I am strong.*
Selfless Concern for the Church.* 11I have been foolish. You compelled me, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I am in no way inferior to these “superapostles,”f even though I am nothing. 12* The signs of an apostle were performed among you with all endurance, signs and wonders, and mighty deeds.g 13* In what way were you less privileged than the rest of the churches, except that on my part I did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!h
14Now I am ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, for I want not what is yours, but you. Children ought not to save for their parents, but parents for their children. 15I will most gladly spend and be utterly spent for your sakes. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16But granted that I myself did not burden you, yet I was crafty and got the better of you by deceit.i 17Did I take advantage of you through any of those I sent to you? 18I urged Titus to go and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? And in the same steps?j
Final Warnings and Appeals.* 19Have you been thinking all along that we are defending* ourselves before you? In the sight of God we are speaking in Christ, and all for building you up, beloved. 20For I fear that* when I come I may find you not such as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; that there may be rivalry, jealousy, fury, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.k 21I fear that when I come again* my God may humiliate me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, immorality, and licentiousness they practiced.
* [12:1–4] In the body or out of the body: he seemed no longer confined to bodily conditions, but he does not claim to understand the mechanics of the experience. Caught up: i.e., in ecstasy. The third heaven…Paradise: ancient cosmologies depicted a multitiered universe. Jewish intertestamental literature contains much speculation about the number of heavens. Seven is the number usually mentioned, but the Testament of Levi (2:7–10; 3:1–4) speaks of three; God himself dwelt in the third of these. Without giving us any clear picture of the cosmos, Paul indicates a mental journey to a nonearthly space, set apart by God, in which secrets were revealed to him. Ineffable things: i.e., privileged knowledge, which it was not possible or permitted to divulge.
* [12:5–7] This person: the indirect way of referring to himself has the effect of emphasizing the distance between that experience and his everyday life, just as the indirect someone in Christ (2 Cor 12:2) and all the passive verbs emphasize his passivity and receptivity in the experience. The revelations were not a personal achievement, nor were they meant to draw attention to any quality of his own.
* [12:7] That I might not become too elated: God assures that there is a negative component to his experience, so that he cannot lose proper perspective; cf. 2 Cor 1:9; 4:7–11. A thorn in the flesh: variously interpreted as a sickness or physical disability, a temptation, or a handicap connected with his apostolic activity. But since Hebrew “thorn in the flesh,” like English “thorn in my side,” refers to persons (cf. Nm 33:55; Ez 28:24), Paul may be referring to some especially persistent and obnoxious opponent. The language of 2 Cor 12:7–8 permits this interpretation. If this is correct, the frequent appearance of singular pronouns in depicting the opposition may not be merely a stylistic variation; the singular may be provoked and accompanied by the image of one individual in whom criticism of Paul’s preaching, way of life, and apostolic consciousness is concentrated, and who embodies all the qualities Paul attributes to the group. An angel of Satan: a personal messenger from Satan; cf. the satanic language already applied to the opponents in 2 Cor 11:3, 13–15, 20.
* [12:8] Three times: his prayer was insistent, like that of Jesus in Gethsemane, a sign of how intolerable he felt the thorn to be.
* [12:9] But he said to me: Paul’s petition is denied; release and healing are withheld for a higher purpose. The Greek perfect tense indicates that Jesus’ earlier response still holds at the time of writing. My grace is sufficient for you: this is not a statement about the sufficiency of grace in general. Jesus speaks directly to Paul’s situation. Is made perfect: i.e., is given most fully and manifests itself fully.
* [12:9b–10a] Paul draws the conclusion from the autobiographical anecdote and integrates it into the subject of this part of the boast. Weaknesses: the apostolic hardships he must endure, including active personal hostility, as specified in a final catalogue (2 Cor 12:10a). That the power of Christ may dwell with me: Paul pinpoints the ground for the paradoxical strategy he has adopted in his self-defense.
* [12:10] When I am weak, then I am strong: Paul recognizes a twofold pattern in the resolution of the weakness-power (and death-life) dialectic, each of which looks to Jesus as the model and is experienced in him. The first is personal, involving a reversal in oneself (Jesus, 2 Cor 13:4a; Paul, 2 Cor 1:9–10; 4:10–11; 6:9). The second is apostolic, involving an effect on others (Jesus, 2 Cor 5:14–15; Paul, 2 Cor 1:6; 4:12; 13:9). The specific kind of “effectiveness in ministry” that Paul promises to demonstrate on his arrival (2 Cor 13:4b; cf. 2 Cor 10:1–11) involves elements of both; this, too, will be modeled on Jesus’ experience and a participation in that experience (2 Cor 9; 13:3b).
* [12:11–18] This brief section forms an epilogue or concluding observation to Paul’s boast, corresponding to the prologue in 2 Cor 11:1–15. A four-step sequence of ideas is common to these two sections: Paul qualifies his boast as folly (2 Cor 11:1; 12:11a), asserts his noninferiority to the “superapostles” (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11b), exemplifies this by allusion to charismatic endowments (2 Cor 11:6; 12:12), and finally denies that he has been a financial burden to the community (2 Cor 11:7–12; 12:13–18).
* [12:12] Despite weakness and affliction (suggested by the mention of endurance), his ministry has been accompanied by demonstrations of power (cf. 1 Cor 2:3–4). Signs of an apostle: visible proof of belonging to Christ and of mediating Christ’s power, which the opponents require as touchstones of apostleship (2 Cor 12:11; cf. 2 Cor 13:3).
* [12:13–18] Paul insists on his intention to continue refusing support from the community (cf. 2 Cor 11:8–12). In defending his practice and his motivation, he once more protests his love (cf. 2 Cor 11:11) and rejects the suggestion of secret self-enrichment. He has recourse here again to language applied to his opponents earlier: “cunning” (2 Cor 11:3), “deceit” (2 Cor 11:13), “got the better of you” (see note on 2 Cor 11:20), “take advantage” (2 Cor 2:11).
* [12:19–13:10] This concludes the development begun in 2 Cor 10. In the chiastic arrangement of the material (see note on 2 Cor 10:1–13:10), this final part corresponds to the opening; there are important similarities of content between the two sections as well.
* [12:19] This verse looks back at the previous chapters and calls them by their proper name, a defense, an apologia (cf. 1 Cor 9:3). Yet Paul insists on an important distinction: he has indeed been speaking for their benefit, but the ultimate judgment to which he submits is God’s (cf. 1 Cor 4:3–5). This verse also leads into the final section, announcing two of its themes: judgment and building up.
* [12:20] I fear that…: earlier Paul expressed fear that the Corinthians were being victimized, exploited, seduced from right thinking by his opponents (2 Cor 11:3–4, 19–21). Here he alludes unexpectedly to moral disorders among the Corinthians themselves. The catalogue suggests the effects of factions that have grown up around rival apostles.
* [12:21] Again: one can also translate, “I fear that when I come my God may again humiliate me.” Paul’s allusion to the humiliation and mourning that may await him recall the mood he described in 2 Cor 2:1–4, but there is no reference here to any individual such as there is in 2 Cor 2:5–11. The crisis of 2 Cor 2 has happily been resolved by integration of the offender and repentance (2 Cor 7:4–16), whereas 2 Cor 12:21 is preoccupied with still unrepentant sinners. The sexual sins recall 1 Cor 5–7.