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Commentary On Corinthians Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

2 Corinthians 12:1-5

1. It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.

1. Gloriari sane non expedit mihi: veniam enim ad visiones et revelatones Domini.

2. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.

2. Novi hominem in Christo ante annos quatuordecim (sive in corpore, nescio: sive extra corpus, nescio, Deus novit) eiusmodi, inquam, hominem raptum fuisse usque in tertium coelum:

3. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)

3. Scio de eiusmodi homine (sive in corpore, nescio: sive extra corpus, nescio, Deus scit.)

4. How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

4. Quod raptus sit in Paradisum, et audierit verba ineffabilia, quae non licet homini loqui.

5. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.

5. De eiusmodi homine gloriabor: de me ipso non gloriabor, nisi in infirmitatibus meis.

1. It is not expedient for me to glory Now, when as it were in the middle of the course, he restrains himself from proceeding farther, and in this way he most appropriately reproves the impudence of his rivals and declares that it is with reluctance, that he engages in this sort of contest with them. For what a shame it was to scrape together from every quarter commendations, or rather to go a-begging for them, that they might be on a level with so distinguished a man! As to the latter, he admonishes them by his own example, that the more numerous and the more excellent the graces by which any one of us is distinguished, so much the less ought he to think of his own excellence. For such a thought is exceedingly dangerous, because, like one entering into a labyrinth, the person is immediately dazzled, so as to be too quick-sighted in discerning his gifts, while in the mean time he is ignorant of himself. Paul is afraid, lest this should befall him. The graces conferred by God are, indeed, to be acknowledged, that we may be aroused, -- first, to gratitude for them, and secondly, to the right improvement of them; but to take occasion from them to boast -- that is what cannot be done without great danger.

For I will come to visions. |I shall not creep on the ground, but will be constrained to mount aloft. Hence I am afraid, lest the height of my gifts should hurry me on, so as to lead me to forget myself.| And certainly, if Paul had gloried ambitiously, he would have fallen headlong from a lofty eminence; for it is humility alone that can give stability to our greatness in the sight of God.

Between visions and revelations there is this distinction -- that a revelation is often made either in a dream, or by an oracle, without any thing being presented to the eye, while a vision is scarcely ever afforded without a revelation, or in other words, without the Lord's discovering what is meant by it.

2. I knew a man in Christ As he was desirous to restrain himself within bounds, he merely singles out one instance, and that, too, he handles in such a way as to show, that it is not from inclination that he brings it forward; for why does he speak in the person of another rather than in his own? It is as though he had said, |I should have preferred to be silent, I should have preferred to keep the whole matter suppressed within my own mind, but those persons will not allow me. I shall mention it, therefore, as it were in a stammering way, that it may be seen that I speak through constraint.| Some think that the clause in Christ is introduced for the purpose of confirming what he says. I view it rather as referring to the disposition, so as to intimate that Paul has not here an eye to himself, but looks to Christ exclusively.

When he confesses, that he does not know whether he was in the body, or out of the body, he expresses thereby the more distinctly the greatness of the revelation. For he means, that God dealt with him in such a way, that he did not himself understand the manner of it. Nor should this appear to us incredible, inasmuch as he sometimes manifests himself to us in such a way, that the manner of his doing so is, nevertheless, hid from our view. At the same time, this does not, in any degree, detract from the assurance of faith, which rests simply on this single point -- that we are aware that God speaks to us. Nay more, let us learn from this, that we must seek the knowledge of those things only that are necessary to be known, and leave other things to God. (Deuteronomy 29:29.) He says, then, that he does not know, whether he was wholly taken up -- soul and body -- into heaven, or whether it was his soul only, that was caught up

Fourteen years ago Some enquire, also, as to the place, but it does not belong to us to satisfy their curiosity. The Lord manifested himself to Paul in the beginning by a vision, when he designed to convert him from Judaism to the faith of the gospel, but he was not then admitted as yet into those secrets, as he needed even to be instructed by Ananias in the first rudiments. (Acts 9:12.) That vision, therefore, was nothing but a preparation, with the view of rendering him teachable. It may be, that, in this instance, he refers to that vision, of which he makes mention also, according to Luke's narrative. (Acts 22:17.) There is no occasion, however, for our giving ourselves much trouble as to these conjectures, as we see that Paul himself kept silence respecting it for fourteen years, and would not have said one word in reference to it, had not the unreasonableness of malignant persons constrained him.

Even to the third heaven. He does not here distinguish between the different heavens in the manner of the philosophers, so as to assign to each planet its own heaven. On the other hand, the number three is made use of (kat ezochen) by way of eminence, to denote what is highest and most complete. Nay more, the term heaven, taken by itself, denotes here the blessed and glorious kingdom of God, which is above all the spheres, and the firmament itself, and even the entire frame-work of the world. Paul, however, not contenting himself with the simple term, adds, that he had reached even the greatest height, and the innermost recesses. For our faith scales heaven and enters it, and those that are superior to others in knowledge get higher in degree and elevation, but to reach the third heavens has been granted to very few.

4. In paradise As every region that is peculiarly agreeable and delightful is called in the Scriptures the garden of God, it came from this to be customary among the Greeks to employ the term paradise to denote the heavenly glory, even previously to Christ's advent, as appears from Ecclesiasticus. (Sirach, 40, 17, 27.) It is also used in this sense in Luke 23:43, in Christ's answer to the robber -- |To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise,| that is, |Thou shalt enjoy the presence of God, in the condition and life of the blessed.|

Heard unspeakable words By words here I do not understand things, as the term is wont to be made use of after the manner of the Hebrews; for the word heard would not correspond with this. Now if any one inquires, what they were, the answer is easy -- that it is not without good reason that they are called unspeakable words, and such as it is unlawful to utter. Some one, however, will reply, that what Paul heard was, consequently, needless and useless, for what purpose did it serve to hear, what was to be buried in perpetual silence? I answer, that this took place for the sake of Paul himself, for one who had such arduous difficulties awaiting him, enough to break a thousand hearts, required to be strengthened by special means, that he might not give way, but might persevere undaunted. Let us consider for a little, how many adversaries his doctrine had, and of what sort they were; and farther, with what a variety of artifices it was assailed, and then we shall wonder no longer, why he heard more than it was lawful for him to utter

From this, too, we may gather a most useful admonition as to setting bounds to knowledge. We are naturally prone to curiosity. Hence, neglecting altogether, or tasting but slightly, and carelessly, doctrine that tends to edification, we are hurried on to frivolous questions. Then there follow upon this -- boldness and rashness, so that we do not hesitate to decide on matters unknown, and concealed.

From these two sources has sprung up a great part of scholastic theology, and every thing, which that trifler Dionysius has been so daring as to contrive in reference to the Heavenly Hierarchies, It becomes us so much the more to keep within bounds, so as not to seek to know any thing, but what the Lord has seen it good to reveal to his Church. Let this be the limit of our knowledge.

5. Of such a man It is as though he had said |I have just ground for glorying, but I do not willingly avail myself of it. For it is more in accordance with my design, to glory in my infirmities If, however, those malicious persons harass me any farther, and constrain me to boast more than I am inclined to do, they shall feel that they have to do with a man, whom God has illustriously honored, and raised up on high, with a view to his exposing their follies.

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