Study Notes—Chapter 4
this ministry: That is, the ministry performed by the “ministers of a new covenant” mentioned at 2Co 3:6. (See study note.) By means of this ministry, which Paul calls a “treasure,” the truth is made manifest.—2Co 4:2, 7.
we do not give up: Or “we do not lose heart (get discouraged).” In this context, the expression indicates that Paul and his companions refused to allow themselves to grow weary and lose enthusiasm in carrying out their “ministry.”
adulterating the word of God: In the Christian Greek Scriptures, this is the only occurrence of the Greek verb rendered “adulterating.” However, a related noun is rendered “deceit” at Ro 1:29 and 1Th 2:3 and “trickery” at 2Co 12:16. The basic idea of the phrase “adulterating the word of God” is that of corrupting, distorting, or falsifying God’s message. It may also include the idea of mixing God’s message with something that is foreign or inferior, such as human philosophies or personal ideas. Paul would not adulterate the word of God by mixing the pure truth of God’s word with the beliefs of those Jews and Greeks whom he was teaching, just to make it more palatable to them. He refused to water the truth down in order to make it more acceptable to a world whose wisdom was foolishness to God.—1Co 1:21; see study note on 2Co 2:17.
the god of this system of things: Satan is “the god” referred to here. This is clearly indicated later in the verse where it says that he “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.” Jesus called Satan “the ruler of this world” and said that he would be “cast out.” (Joh 12:31) Jesus’ statement and the fact that Satan is called “the god of this system of things [or, “of this age”]” indicates that his position is temporary.—Compare Re 12:12.
this system of things: The basic meaning of the Greek word ai·onʹ is “age.” It can refer to a state of affairs or to features that distinguish a certain period of time, epoch, or age. (See Glossary, “System(s) of things.”) Since “this system of things” is Satan’s dominion, he has molded it and given it certain features and a distinctive spirit.—Eph 2:1, 2.
minds: Or “mental powers.” The Greek word noʹe·ma is rendered “minds” at 2Co 3:14; 11:3, “thought” at 2Co 10:5, and “mental powers [or, “minds; thoughts,” ftn.]” at Php 4:7.—See study note on 2Co 2:11.
the glorious good news about the Christ: The good news can truly be termed “glorious” in view of its content. This message describes the marvelous development of God’s sacred secret in connection with Christ (Col 1:27), the role of his corulers in the Kingdom (1Th 2:12; Re 1:6), as well as the wonderful future for all mankind promised by God (Re 21:3, 4). It is also possible to render this Greek phrase “the good news about the glory of the Christ.”
Let the light shine: Or “The light will shine.” Paul is here alluding to Ge 1:3. Jehovah God is the Source of both physical and spiritual light.
the glorious knowledge of God: As used in the Bible, the original-language verbs for “to know” and the corresponding nouns for “knowledge” often refer to more than simply knowing facts or having information. They may also convey the idea of knowing someone personally, acknowledging his position, and obeying him. (See study note on Joh 17:3.) In the context of 2Co 4:6, the “knowledge of God” is connected with the spiritual light that God gives his servants by means of Christ. The knowledge of God can be called “glorious” because it involves God’s glorious personality and qualities. The Greek expression rendered “the glorious knowledge of God” can also be rendered “the knowledge of the glory of God,” emphasizing that God’s glory is the focus of this knowledge. A similar expression appears at Hab 2:14, where it says: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah.”
treasure in earthen vessels: Or “treasure in jars of clay.” The Scriptures often compare humans to earthen jars. (Job 10:9; Ps 31:12) In Paul’s day, there were mounds of broken vessels near ancient harbors or market areas. These vessels had been used to transport food or liquids—wine, grain, oil—and even silver and gold coins. Often, the vessels broke or were discarded once the more valuable contents had been delivered. Although the clay vessels were inexpensive, they were useful in getting valuable goods to their destinations. Such vessels were also used to preserve important items. (Jer 32:13-15) One example is the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were preserved in jars in the Qumran area. The “treasure” referred to in Paul’s illustration is the God-given commission, or ministry, to preach the life-giving message of God’s Kingdom. (Mt 13:44; 2Co 4:1, 2, 5) The earthen vessels are the frail humans to whom Jehovah has entrusted this treasure. Although they are ordinary people whose imperfect bodies have limitations, God uses them to get the “treasure” to its destination.
the power beyond what is normal: Paul here uses the Greek word hy·per·bo·leʹ to describe power that is “beyond what is normal,” the extraordinary power that only God can give.—See study note on 2Co 12:7.
the death-dealing treatment that Jesus suffered: Or “the putting of Jesus to death.” Paul is saying that he and his associates were constantly exposed to the dangers of being put to death and to the type of suffering that Jesus experienced.
being brought face-to-face with death: Or “being given over to death.” In this context, the expression denotes “being in constant danger of death,” or “constantly exposed to the threat of death.” The Greek verb used in this expression, often rendered “to hand over,” is the same verb used several times to describe how Jesus was “handed over” to the Jewish authorities.—Mt 20:18; 26:2; Mr 10:33; Lu 18:32.
I exercised faith: An image of a manuscript page showing the passage starting with this expression at 2Co 4:13 and ending at 2Co 5:1 can be seen in App. A3. (The actual manuscript page contains 2Co 4:13–5:4.) This papyrus manuscript is designated P46 and is often dated to about 200 C.E. It is the oldest known manuscript collection of Paul’s letters. This collection contains nine of his letters, including nearly all of 1 and 2 Corinthians. This early date assigned to the codex would mean that it was written only about 150 years after Paul originally penned his letters.
I exercised faith, therefore I spoke: Paul is here quoting from Ps 116:10 according to the Septuagint (115:1, LXX).
the man we are outside: Here Paul refers to the Christian’s physical body, which is wasting away. This physical deterioration may refer to weakness caused by disease, disabilities, and old age, as well as by mistreatment or other hardships.
the man we are inside is being renewed: Paul highlights that even when the outer man is “wasting away,” Jehovah constantly renews, or gives fresh spiritual strength to, his servants from day to day. (Ps 92:12-14) “The man we are inside” refers to our inner spiritual nature, character, and strength. The phrase is related to “the new personality” that Christians put on. (Col 3:9, 10) Paul encourages Christians to focus their attention on “the things unseen,” God’s grand promise of a future reward.—See study note on 2Co 4:18.
tribulation: The Greek word used here, thliʹpsis, can in this context also be rendered “trials; sufferings; affliction; troubles.”—See study note on 2Co 1:4.
we keep our eyes, not on the things seen, but on the things unseen: The Christians in Corinth were carrying out their ministry under much hardship. (2Co 4:8, 9, 16) So Paul encourages the Corinthians not to allow such problems and persecutions (things seen) to cloud their view of the glorious reward set before them (things unseen). The expression “keep our eyes” renders a Greek word (sko·peʹo), which means “to pay careful attention to; to keep thinking about; to fix attention on.” By following Jesus’ example and keeping their eyes fixed on the happy outcome of the Christian course, they could daily renew their resolve to persevere in faithful service.—Heb 12:1-3.