The Second to the Corinthians 2:1-17

2  For I have made up my mind not to come to you again in sadness.  For if I make you sad, who will be there to cheer me up except the one I saddened?  I wrote what I did, so that when I come I may not be saddened by those over whom I ought to rejoice,+ because I have confidence that what brings me joy brings all of you the same joy.  For out of much tribulation and anguish of heart I wrote you with many tears, not to sadden you,+ but to let you know the depth of love I have for you.  Now if anyone has caused sadness,+ he has saddened, not me, but all of you to an extent—not to be too harsh in what I say.  This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man;+  now you should instead kindly forgive and comfort him,+ so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sadness.+  I therefore exhort you to confirm your love for him.+  For this is also why I wrote to you: to determine whether you would give proof of your obedience in all things. 10  If you forgive anyone for anything, I do also. In fact, whatever I have forgiven (if I have forgiven anything) has been for your sake in Christ’s sight, 11  so that we may not be overreached by Satan,+ for we are not ignorant of his designs.+ 12  Now when I arrived in Troʹas+ to declare the good news about the Christ and a door was opened to me in the Lord, 13  my spirit felt no relief because of not finding Titus+ my brother. So I said good-bye to them and departed for Mac·e·doʹni·a.+ 14  But thanks be to God, who always leads us in a triumphal procession in company with the Christ and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him in every place! 15  For to God we are a sweet fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16  to the latter ones an odor of death leading to death,+ to the former ones a fragrance of life leading to life. And who is adequately qualified for these things? 17  We are, for we are not peddlers of the word of God+ as many men are, but we speak in all sincerity as sent from God, yes, in the sight of God and in company with Christ.


Study Notes

rebuke: Or “punishment.” In his first inspired letter to the Corinthians, Paul directed that a man who had unrepentantly practiced sexual immorality be removed from the congregation. (1Co 5:1, 7, 11-13) That discipline had good effects. The congregation was protected from a corrupting influence, and the sinner sincerely repented. The man performed works befitting repentance, so Paul now indicates that the “rebuke given by the majority [was] sufficient” and that the man be welcomed back by the congregation. This is consistent with the ways of Jehovah, who disciplines his people “to the proper degree.”​—Jer 30:11.

be overwhelmed: Or “be swallowed up.” The Greek word used here can literally refer to swallowing or devouring something. (Heb 11:29; 1Pe 5:8) According to one lexicon, the phrase “be overwhelmed by excessive sadness” means “to be so overcome with grief as to despair . . . to grieve to the point of giving up.”

confirm your love for him: The Greek word translated “confirm” is a legal term meaning to “validate.” (It is rendered “validated” at Ga 3:15.) The Christians in Corinth needed to demonstrate that their love was real, making it clear by their attitude and actions that the repentant man was warmly welcomed back to the congregation. By restoring their good relationship with him, they would “confirm,” or validate, their love for him. They were not to assume that he would automatically sense their love for him. It needed to be demonstrated.

overreached by Satan: Or “outwitted (taken advantage of) by Satan.” By the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, Satan had corrupted the congregation in Corinth. The congregation had been too lenient, letting a wicked man carry on his immoral practice without regard for the reproach it brought on God’s name. For this, Paul reproved them. (1Co 5:1-5) But now the man had genuinely repented. If the congregation went to the other extreme and refused to forgive the man, Satan would be overreaching the congregation in another way. The congregation would become harsh and merciless, like Satan himself, greatly discouraging the repentant one.

we are not ignorant of his designs: Paul does not just say that “we are aware of his designs.” Rather, he uses a figure of speech called litotes, that is, an understatement made in order to give emphasis by saying that the opposite is not true. (An example of litotes can be found at Ac 21:39, where Tarsus is called “no obscure city,” which means an important city.) Accordingly, some translations render this phrase “we are well aware of his schemes” or “we know his wiles all too well,” which conveys similar emphasis.

designs: Or “intentions; schemes.” The Greek word noʹe·ma used here is derived from the word nous, meaning “mind.” However, here it refers to Satan’s evil schemes, or what he devises. Satan uses all his crafty thinking to stop Christians from serving God. However, the Gospel accounts expose Satan’s strategies, as do earlier Scriptural accounts, such as the book of Job. (Job 1:7-12; Mt 4:3-10; Lu 22:31; Joh 8:44) Later in this letter, Paul writes that “the serpent seduced Eve by its cunning” and that “Satan himself keeps disguising himself as an angel of light.” (2Co 11:3, 14) Therefore, Paul could write, we are not ignorant of his designs. Some have suggested that Paul here uses a subtle play on words, which could be rendered “we are not unmindful of his mind,” that is, his evil way of thinking.

my spirit felt no relief because of not finding Titus: While in Ephesus, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. That letter contained much strong counsel. He then sent Titus to Corinth to assist in the collection for the needy brothers in Judea. (2Co 8:1-6) Paul had hoped to meet up later with Titus in Troas, but not finding him there, Paul said: “My spirit felt no relief.” Perhaps Paul was disappointed at being unable to learn from Titus how the Corinthians reacted to his strong letter. Paul openly shared his emotions with the Corinthian Christians, showing how deeply he cared for them. He then “departed for Macedonia,” where Titus met him with good news. To Paul’s great relief and joy, the congregation had reacted favorably to the apostle’s counsel.​—2Co 7:5-7; see study note on 2Co 7:5.

leads us in a triumphal procession: The Greek word thri·am·beuʹo, meaning “to lead in a triumphal procession,” occurs only two times in the Scriptures, each time in a somewhat different illustrative setting. (2Co 2:14; Col 2:15) A Roman triumphal procession was an official parade held to thank the deities and to glorify a victorious general. Triumphal processions were portrayed in sculptures and paintings and on coins. They were also illustrated in literary and theatrical works. A representation of the June 71 C.E. triumph can be seen on the relief panels of the Arch of Titus in Rome. These panels depict Roman soldiers carrying sacred vessels taken from the ruined temple in Jerusalem.

spreads the fragrance: Or “makes the fragrance perceptible.” This part of the metaphor is probably drawn from the practice of burning incense along the way of a victory procession, or triumph. Paul likens the spreading of the knowledge about God to the spreading of a fragrance.

a sweet fragrance of Christ: The Greek word here rendered “sweet fragrance” is eu·o·diʹa. This term is also used at Eph 5:2 and Php 4:18, where, combined with the Greek word o·smeʹ (meaning “odor; smell”), it is rendered “sweet fragrance.” In the Septuagint, these two words are often used to render the Hebrew expression for “a pleasing aroma” in connection with sacrifices to God. (Ge 8:21; Ex 29:18) In this verse and the preceding one, Paul talks more about the triumphal procession, comparing its incense to the sweet fragrance of Christ. This “fragrance” elicits different reactions, depending on whether a person accepts the Christian message or rejects it.

an odor: Or “a fragrance.” The Greek word o·smeʹ occurs twice in this verse, once in the expression “an odor of death” and once in the expression “a fragrance of life.” The Greek term may refer to a pleasant odor, or scent (Joh 12:3; 2Co 2:14, 16; Eph 5:2; Php 4:18), or to an unpleasant one. At Isa 34:3 in the Septuagint, it refers to “the stench of . . . carcasses.” Here at 2Co 2:16, the figurative odor is the same in both occurrences; it represents the message proclaimed by Jesus’ disciples. In a literal triumphal procession, captives would be paraded in front of the crowd and then executed at the end of the procession. To them, the fragrance would be “an odor of death.” In Paul’s illustration, what made this odor pleasant or unpleasant was the reaction of individuals to the message. The message was “a fragrance of life” to those receiving it appreciatively, but it was “an odor of death” to those rejecting it.

for these things: That is, for this kind of ministry that Paul has described in the preceding verses. Thus, Paul asks who is adequately qualified to act as a true minister of God and to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.

We are, for we are not: This is in answer to the question found at the end of verse 16. Paul is not presumptuous when stating that he and his fellow workers are qualified for such a ministry. Rather, he clearly shows that they speak as sent from God, that is, they recognize that they are fully dependent on God in order to be qualified. Also, their ministry is conducted in all sincerity, that is, with pure motives.​—2Co 3:4-6.

for we are not peddlers of the word of God: Or “for we are not commercializing [or, “not making profit from”] God’s message.” In contrast with false teachers, Paul, the apostles, and their associates had good motives when they preached the pure message of God. The Greek verb rendered “to be a peddler” (ka·pe·leuʹo) was initially used to refer to someone engaging in retail business or an innkeeper, but it gradually included the idea of being deceptive and having greedy motives. A Greek word related to the one used here appears in the Septuagint at Isa 1:22 in the phrase “your wine merchants [“taverners”] mix the wine with water.” In the Greco-Roman world, wine was generally diluted with water before consumption. In order to make more money, some would increase the amount of water used to dilute the wine. Some scholars have therefore suggested that Paul was alluding to such dishonest wine dealers. The same metaphor was used in Greek literature to describe the activity of itinerant philosophers who peddled their teaching for money. When Paul spoke about many men who were “peddlers” of God’s word, he apparently had in mind false ministers who added human philosophies, traditions, and false religious ideas to Jehovah’s Word. As a result, they figuratively watered down God’s word, spoiling its fragrance and taste and weakening its power to impart joy.​—Ps 104:15; see study note on 2Co 4:2.


The Arch of Titus in Rome
The Arch of Titus in Rome

The photo on the left shows the triumphal arch located at the Forum in Rome, Italy. The arch was built to commemorate the victory by Roman General Titus over Jerusalem and Judea in 70 C.E. In June 71 C.E., Titus and his father, Emperor Vespasian, celebrated this victory in the capital of the Roman Empire. Titus succeeded Vespasian as emperor in 79 C.E. Two years later, Titus died unexpectedly, and shortly thereafter, this arch was built in his honor. Titus’ triumphal procession is represented in bas-relief sculptures carved on each side of the passage through the arch and originally painted in vibrant colors. On one side (1), Roman soldiers are shown carrying sacred furniture from Jerusalem’s temple. Clearly seen among the spoils are the seven-branched lampstand and the table of showbread, on which rest the sacred trumpets. The relief on the other side of the passage (2) shows the victorious Titus standing in a chariot drawn by four horses. These reliefs exemplify the illustrations that the apostle Paul used in two of his letters. (2Co 2:14; Col 2:15) Those who received Paul’s letters were no doubt familiar with Roman triumphal processions. At the time, such public rituals were authorized by the Roman emperor or his family. The Arch of Titus confirms the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy about the city of Jerusalem being captured and its inhabitants taken captive.​—Lu 21:24.

Triumphal Procession
Triumphal Procession

During the time of the Roman republic, the Senate honored a conquering general by allowing him to celebrate the victory with a formal procession. The procession usually included musicians, followed by men leading cattle that would be slaughtered. The spoils of war came next. Then came the captive kings, princes, generals, and their families. They were followed by more of the defeated enemy, bound in fetters. Walking behind them were the men who would execute them. Then came the general in a grand chariot. Triumphal processions were portrayed in sculptures and on paintings and coins as well as illustrated in literary and theatrical works. The apostle Paul referred to “a triumphal procession” in two different illustrations. (2Co 2:14; Col 2:15) These are the only two Biblical occurrences of the Greek verb thri·am·beuʹo, which is rendered “to lead in a triumphal procession.”