The Second to the Corinthians 12:1-21

12  I have to boast. It is not beneficial, but I will move on to supernatural visions+ and revelations of the Lord.+  I know a man in union with Christ who, 14 years ago—whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know; God knows—was caught away to the third heaven.  Yes, I know such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body, I do not know; God knows—  who was caught away into paradise and heard words that cannot be spoken and that are not lawful for a man to say.  I will boast about such a man, but I will not boast about myself except of my weaknesses.+  For even if I want to boast, I will not be unreasonable, for I would say the truth. But I refrain from doing so, in order that no one should give me more credit than what he sees in me or hears from me,  just because of receiving such extraordinary revelations. To keep me from becoming overly exalted, I was given a thorn in the flesh,+ an angel of Satan, to keep slapping me, so that I might not be overly exalted.  Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it would depart from me.  But he said to me: “My undeserved kindness is sufficient for you, for my power is being made perfect in weakness.”+ Most gladly, then, I will boast about my weaknesses, in order that the power of the Christ may remain over me like a tent. 10  So I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in times of need, in persecutions and difficulties, for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am powerful.+ 11  I have become unreasonable. You compelled me to, for I ought to have been recommended by you.+ For I did not prove to be inferior to your superfine apostles in a single thing, even if I am nothing.+ 12  Indeed, the signs of an apostle were produced among you with great endurance,+ and by signs and wonders and powerful works.*+ 13  For how were you less favored than the rest of the congregations, except that I myself did not become a burden to you?+ Kindly forgive me for this wrong. 14  Look! This is the third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not become a burden. For I am seeking, not your possessions,+ but you; for the children+ are not expected to save up for their parents, but the parents for their children.+ 15  For my part, I will most gladly spend and be completely spent for you.+ If I love you so much more, am I to be loved the less?+ 16  But be that as it may, I did not burden you.+ Nevertheless, you say I was “crafty” and I caught you “by trickery.” 17  I did not take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you, did I? 18  I urged Titus and I sent the brother with him. Titus did not take advantage of you at all, did he?+ We walked in the same spirit, did we not? In the same footsteps, did we not? 19  Have you been thinking all along that we have been making our defense to you? It is before God that we are speaking in union with Christ. But, beloved ones, all that we do is to build you up. 20  For I am afraid that somehow when I arrive, I may not find you as I wish and I may not be as you wish,+ but instead, there may be strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, dissension, backbiting, whispering, being puffed up with pride, and disorder. 21  Perhaps when I come again, my God might humiliate me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who previously sinned but have not repented of their uncleanness and sexual immorality and brazen conduct that they have practiced.

Footnotes

Or “and miracles.”

Study Notes

a man: Paul does not name the man who received this supernatural vision, but the context strongly suggests that Paul is referring to himself. In defending his qualifications as an apostle against the attacks of such opposers as the “superfine apostles” (2Co 11:5, 23), Paul cites as evidence the “supernatural visions and revelations of the Lord” that he has received (2Co 12:1). Since the Bible does not speak of any other person who had such an experience, Paul is logically the man here described.

the third heaven: In the Scriptures, “heaven” may refer to the physical heavens or to the spiritual heavens, the place where Jehovah and his angels live. (Ge 11:4; Isa 63:15) However, the word may also refer to a government, whether ruled by man or by God. (Isa 14:12; Da 4:25, 26) Here Paul is apparently describing a revelation of something in the future, a revelation that he received through a vision. (2Co 12:1) At times, the Scriptures repeat things three times to add intensity or strength. (Isa 6:3; Eze 21:27; Re 4:8) It seems, then, that “the third heaven” that Paul saw was the ultimate government, God’s Messianic Kingdom, the heavenly government made up of Jesus Christ and his 144,000 corulers.​—Isa 65:17; 66:22; 2Pe 3:13; Re 14:1-5.

Paradise: The English word “paradise” comes from the Greek word pa·raʹdei·sos, and similar words can be found in both Hebrew (par·desʹ, at Ne 2:8; Ec 2:5; Ca 4:13) and Persian (pairidaeza). All three words convey the basic idea of a beautiful park or parklike garden. The translators of the Septuagint used the Greek term pa·raʹdei·sos to render the Hebrew word for “garden” (gan) in the expression “garden of Eden” at Ge 2:8. Some translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures into Hebrew (referred to as J17, 18, 22 in App. C) render Lu 23:43: “You will be with me in the garden of Eden.” This promise made to the criminal hanging next to Jesus was not the promise to be in “the paradise of God” mentioned at Re 2:7, since that promise was made to “the one who conquers,” that is, Christ’s corulers in the heavenly Kingdom. (Lu 22:28-30) This criminal was not a conqueror of the world with Jesus Christ; nor had he been “born from water and spirit.” (Joh 3:5; 16:33) He will evidently be one of “the unrighteous” who are resurrected as earthly subjects of the Kingdom when Christ rules over the Paradise earth for a thousand years.​—Ac 24:15; Re 20:4, 6.

the third heaven: In the Scriptures, “heaven” may refer to the physical heavens or to the spiritual heavens, the place where Jehovah and his angels live. (Ge 11:4; Isa 63:15) However, the word may also refer to a government, whether ruled by man or by God. (Isa 14:12; Da 4:25, 26) Here Paul is apparently describing a revelation of something in the future, a revelation that he received through a vision. (2Co 12:1) At times, the Scriptures repeat things three times to add intensity or strength. (Isa 6:3; Eze 21:27; Re 4:8) It seems, then, that “the third heaven” that Paul saw was the ultimate government, God’s Messianic Kingdom, the heavenly government made up of Jesus Christ and his 144,000 corulers.​—Isa 65:17; 66:22; 2Pe 3:13; Re 14:1-5.

paradise: The Greek word pa·raʹdei·sos occurs three times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. (Lu 23:43, see study note; 2Co 12:4; Re 2:7) Similar words can be found in both Hebrew (par·desʹ at Ne 2:8; Ec 2:5; Ca 4:13) and Persian (pairidaeza). All three words convey the basic idea of a beautiful park or parklike garden. The word “paradise” can mean various things in this context. (See study note on 2Co 12:2.) Paul may have been referring to (1) the literal earthly Paradise that is ahead, (2) the spiritual condition that God’s people will enjoy in the new world, or (3) the conditions in heaven. It was not lawful to speak of such things in Paul’s day because God’s time had not yet come to reveal the details regarding the outworking of God’s purpose.

a man: Paul does not name the man who received this supernatural vision, but the context strongly suggests that Paul is referring to himself. In defending his qualifications as an apostle against the attacks of such opposers as the “superfine apostles” (2Co 11:5, 23), Paul cites as evidence the “supernatural visions and revelations of the Lord” that he has received (2Co 12:1). Since the Bible does not speak of any other person who had such an experience, Paul is logically the man here described.

such a man: Or possibly, “such a thing,” that is, such an experience.​—See study note on 2Co 12:2.

a man: Paul does not name the man who received this supernatural vision, but the context strongly suggests that Paul is referring to himself. In defending his qualifications as an apostle against the attacks of such opposers as the “superfine apostles” (2Co 11:5, 23), Paul cites as evidence the “supernatural visions and revelations of the Lord” that he has received (2Co 12:1). Since the Bible does not speak of any other person who had such an experience, Paul is logically the man here described.

superfine apostles: Paul here uses an expression that may also be rendered “super-apostles” or “superlative apostles.” He uses this somewhat sarcastic designation to describe those arrogant men who apparently saw themselves as superior to the apostles whom Jesus himself had appointed. Paul calls them “false apostles” because they were actually ministers of Satan. (2Co 11:13-15) They taught their own version of the good news about Christ. (2Co 11:3, 4) They also belittled and slandered Paul, challenging his God-given authority as an apostle.

extraordinary: Paul uses the Greek word hy·per·bo·leʹ to describe the “extraordinary,” or surpassing, character of the revelations he received. (See study note on 2Co 12:2.) This Greek word occurs eight times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, all of them in the writings of Paul. It is translated in various ways, according to context. For example, at 2Co 4:7, the word describes “power beyond what is normal,” and at 2Co 1:8, the “extreme pressure” that weighed on Paul and his companions.​—See Glossary, “Hyperbole.”

a thorn in the flesh: Paul here uses a metaphor to describe an ongoing affliction. A thorn embedded in the body would be a source of persistent pain. (The Greek word rendered “thorn” means “anything pointed,” such as a pointed stake, a splinter, or a thorn.) Paul does not specify whether the pain represented by this thorn was physical or emotional in nature. Some statements in Paul’s writings raise the possibility that Paul suffered from problems with his eyesight, something that would have made it difficult for him to travel, to write letters, and to carry out his ministry. (Ga 4:15; 6:11; see also Ac 23:1-5.) In this context, Paul was discussing the persistent attacks of his arrogant opposers, so he might be referring to the stress and anxiety those false teachers caused him. (See study note on 2Co 11:5.) Whatever the source of his pain, Paul calls it an angel of Satan, suggesting that Satan seeks to use any affliction, whether physical or emotional, to discourage a servant of God. Paul maintains a positive view of this trial, considering the “thorn” as a way to help him keep from becoming overly exalted, that is, a way to help him remain humble so that he can please God.​—Mt 23:12.

slapping: Or “beating.” The Greek verb Paul uses here may refer to being literally struck with the hand, knuckles, or fist. It is used that way at Mt 26:67, where Roman soldiers are said to have struck Jesus “with their fists.” At 1Co 4:11, the word is used in a more general sense, expressing the idea of treating roughly.

the Lord: Paul here uses the Greek expression ton Kyʹri·on (the Lord), which in some instances is used to refer to Jehovah and in others, to Jesus. In this case, it is logical to conclude that Paul speaks of making three heartfelt requests to the Lord Jehovah, the “Hearer of prayer.” (Ps 65:2) He is the One to whom all prayers are properly addressed. (Ps 145:18; Php 4:6) In answering Paul, Jehovah referred to the “undeserved kindness” along with the “power” that Jehovah generously gives to his servants. (2Co 12:9; Isa 40:26; Lu 24:49) Some have pointed out that in verse 9, Paul also speaks of “the power of the Christ.” However, Paul’s use of that phrase does not mean that he addressed his three requests to Christ. Jesus has power, but it comes to him from the Source of all godly power, Jehovah.​—Lu 5:17.

in a little unreasonableness: Paul understood that his boasting might make him seem to be unreasonable. (2Co 11:16) But he felt compelled to make a defense of his apostleship throughout the latter part of 2 Corinthians. (In fact, in 2Co 11 and 12, Paul used the Greek words aʹphron and a·phro·syʹne, rendered “unreasonable [person],” “unreasonably,” and “unreasonableness” eight times: 2Co 11:1, 16, 17, 19, 21; 12:6, 11.) The “superfine apostles” were causing much harm to the congregation by undermining respect for Paul and his teaching. Such false teachers had compelled him to boast in order to emphasize his God-given authority. (2Co 10:10; 11:5, 16; see study note on 2Co 11:5.) Under these circumstances, his boasting was by no means unreasonable.

unreasonable: See study note on 2Co 11:1.

wonders: Or “portents.” In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the Greek word teʹras is consistently used in combination with se·meiʹon (“sign”), both terms being used in the plural form. (Mt 24:24; Joh 4:48; Ac 7:36; 14:3; 15:12; 2Co 12:12) Basically, teʹras refers to anything that causes awe or wonderment. When the term clearly refers to something portending what will happen in the future, the alternate rendering “portent” is used in a study note.

wonders: Or “portents.”​—See study note on Ac 2:19.

the third time: Paul here cites, not three actual visits to Corinth, but three occasions on which he was ready to visit. He was willing to visit but needed the right circumstances. His first visit took place when he founded the congregation at Corinth and stayed for a year and a half. (Ac 18:9-11) In the second instance, Paul intended to visit them but that visit never happened. (2Co 1:15, 16, 23) Evidence suggests that there was little time between the writing of the two inspired letters to the Corinthians, not enough for such a visit to have taken place. Also, only one visit is mentioned in the book of Acts. (Ac 18:1) However, the third intended visit, which Paul mentions here and at 2Co 13:1, 2, did happen; Paul visited Corinth about 56 C.E., writing the book of Romans from there.​—Ac 20:2, 3; Ro 16:1, 23; 1Co 1:14.

spent for you: Or “spent for your souls.” Here “you” is rendered from the Greek “the souls of you [plural].” In this context, the Greek word psy·kheʹ, traditionally rendered “soul,” refers to the people, so the expression is rendered by the pronoun “you.”​—See Glossary, “Soul.”

whisperers: Or “gossipers.” The Greek word apparently denotes one who habitually engages in harmful gossip, perhaps spreading malicious rumors.​—See study note on 2Co 12:20.

whispering: Or “gossip.” The Greek word conveys the idea of secret gossip, spreading negative information or rumors in a confidential or secretive manner. This is the only occurrence of the Greek word in the Christian Greek Scriptures, but a related word, rendered “whisperers,” occurs in a list of bad practices found at Ro 1:29 (see study note). Also, the corresponding Greek verb for “to whisper” is used negatively in the Septuagint at 2Sa 12:19 and Ps 41:7 (40:8, LXX).

uncleanness: Or “filthiness; depravity; lewdness.” Of the first three “works of the flesh” mentioned in this verse, “uncleanness” (Greek, a·ka·thar·siʹa) is the broadest in meaning. This word appears ten times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Literally, the word refers to something physically unclean or filthy. (Mt 23:27) The figurative meaning encompasses impurity of any kind​—in sexual matters, in speech, in action, and in spiritual relationships, such as the worship of false gods. (Ro 1:24; 6:19; 2Co 6:17; 12:21; Eph 4:19; 5:3; Col 3:5; 1Th 2:3; 4:7) “Uncleanness” can therefore refer to various types of wrongdoing of varying degrees of seriousness. (See study note on Eph 4:19.) It stresses the morally repugnant nature of the wrong conduct or condition.​—See Glossary, “Unclean.”

sexual immorality: The Bible uses the Greek word por·neiʹa as a general term to refer to all sexual activity that is unlawful according to God’s standards. One lexicon defines por·neiʹa as “prostitution, unchastity, fornication” and adds that this word is used when speaking “of every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse.” Such unlawful activity would include not only prostitution, adultery, and sexual relations between unmarried individuals but also homosexual acts and bestiality, all of which are condemned in the Scriptures. (Le 18:6, 22, 23; 20:15, 16; 1Co 6:9; see Glossary.) Jesus showed that sexual immorality is wicked by classing it with murder, thievery, and blasphemy.​—Mt 15:19, 20; Mr 7:21-23.

brazen conduct: Or “shameless conduct; wantonness.” As used in the Bible, the Greek word a·selʹgei·a denotes conduct that constitutes a serious violation of God’s laws and that stems from a brazen, disrespectful, or boldly contemptuous attitude. This term appears ten times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. (Mr 7:22; Ro 13:13; 2Co 12:21; Ga 5:19; Eph 4:19; 1Pe 4:3; 2Pe 2:2, 7, 18; Jude 4) One lexicon defines the word as “debauchery, licentiousness, lewdness, i.e., [to] be unrestrained in moral attitudes and behaviors.” Jewish historian Josephus used this Greek term when describing that pagan Queen Jezebel erected a shrine to Baal in Jerusalem. This act was an outrage, one that brazenly flouted public opinion and decency.​—Jewish Antiquities, Book 8, chap. 13, par. 1 (Loeb 8.318); see Glossary.

uncleanness: Of the three terms listed in this verse (“uncleanness,” “sexual immorality,” and “brazen conduct”), “uncleanness” (Greek, a·ka·thar·siʹa) is the broadest. Literally, the word refers to something unclean, or filthy. (Mt 23:27) In its figurative meaning, it embraces impurity of any kind​—in sexual matters, in speech, in action, or in spiritual relationships. (Compare 1Co 7:14; 2Co 6:17; 1Th 2:3.) “Uncleanness” can refer to different types of wrongdoing and may vary in degree of seriousness. (Eph 4:19) It stresses the morally repugnant nature of the wrong conduct or condition.​—See Glossary, “Unclean,” and study note on Ga 5:19.

sexual immorality: The Greek word por·neiʹa is a general term for all sexual intercourse that is unlawful according to the Bible, including adultery, sexual relations between unmarried individuals, homosexual acts, and other sexual sins.​—See Glossary and study note on Ga 5:19.

brazen conduct: Or “shameless conduct.” The Greek word a·selʹgei·a denotes conduct that is a serious violation of God’s laws and that reflects a brazen or boldly contemptuous attitude.​—See Glossary and study note on Ga 5:19.

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