The Second to the Corinthians 4:1-18

4  Therefore, since we have this ministry+ through the mercy that was shown us, we do not give up.  But we have renounced the shameful, underhanded things, not walking with cunning or adulterating the word of God;+ but by making the truth manifest, we recommend ourselves to every human conscience in the sight of God.+  If, in fact, the good news we declare is veiled, it is veiled among those who are perishing,  among whom the god of this system of things+ has blinded the minds of the unbelievers,+ so that the illumination* of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God,+ might not shine through.+  For we are preaching, not about ourselves, but about Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.  For God is the one who said: “Let the light shine out of darkness,”+ and he has shone on our hearts to illuminate them+ with the glorious knowledge of God by the face of Christ.+  However, we have this treasure+ in earthen vessels,+ so that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not from us.+  We are hard-pressed in every way,+ but not cramped beyond movement; we are perplexed, but not absolutely with no way out;*+  we are persecuted, but not abandoned;+ we are knocked down, but not destroyed.+ 10  Always we endure in our body the death-dealing treatment that Jesus suffered,+ that the life of Jesus may also be made manifest in our body. 11  For we who live are ever being brought face-to-face with death+ for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made manifest in our mortal flesh. 12  So death is at work in us, but life in you. 13  Now because we have the same spirit of faith as that of which it is written: “I exercised faith, therefore I spoke”;+ we too exercise faith and therefore we speak, 14  knowing that the One who raised Jesus up will raise us up also with Jesus and will present us together with you.+ 15  For all these things are for your sake, so that the increase of the undeserved kindness should abound even more because many more are offering thanksgiving to the glory of God.+ 16  Therefore, we do not give up, but even if the man we are outside is wasting away, certainly the man we are inside+ is being renewed from day to day.+ 17  For though the tribulation is momentary and light, it works out for us a glory that is of more and more surpassing greatness* and is everlasting;+ 18  while we keep our eyes, not on the things seen, but on the things unseen.+ For the things seen are temporary, but the things unseen are everlasting.


Or “light.”
Or possibly, “but not left in despair.”
Lit., “weight.”

Study Notes

ministers: Or “servants.” The Bible often uses the Greek word di·aʹko·nos to refer to one who does not let up in humbly rendering service in behalf of others. (See study note on Mt 20:26.) Here Paul speaks of himself, Timothy, and all spirit-anointed Christians as “ministers of a new covenant.” (2Co 1:1) This means that among other things, they were serving its interests by preaching and teaching the good news in order to help others to come into the new covenant or to receive its benefits.​—See study note on Ro 11:13.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.”

their coming to know you: Or “their taking in knowledge of you; their continuing to know you.” The Greek verb gi·noʹsko basically means “to know,” and here the verb is used in the present tense to express continuous action. It may denote a process of “taking in knowledge about someone; getting to know someone; becoming better acquainted with someone.” It may also include the thought of making an ongoing effort to get better acquainted with someone who is already known. In this context, it refers to a deepening personal relationship with God brought about by ever-increasing knowledge of God and Christ and a growing trust in them. Clearly, this necessitates more than knowing who a person is or knowing his name. It would also involve knowing what that person likes and dislikes and knowing his values and standards.​—1Jo 2:3; 4:8.

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.”

by the face of Christ: Or “reflected in the face of Christ.” Paul’s use of “face” here relates to the idea mentioned at 2Co 3:7, 12, 13 concerning the glory that Moses’ face reflected.

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.

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.”

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).

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.

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.

trials: Or “troubles; tribulation.” The Greek word used here basically means distress, affliction, or suffering resulting from the pressures of circumstances. It is often used with reference to the affliction associated with persecution. (Mt 24:9; Ac 11:19; 20:23; 2Co 1:8; Heb 10:33; Re 1:9) The tribulation might include imprisonment and death as a result of a course of integrity. (Re 2:10) However, other circumstances, such as famine (Ac 7:11), poverty, and adversities common to orphans and widows (Jas 1:27), even family life and marriage, may bring varying degrees of “tribulation.”​—1Co 7:28.

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.


Earthen Vessels
Earthen Vessels

Shown here are clay vessels that date to the first century C.E. Craftsmen in Corinth produced vessels like these. In his second inspired letter to the Corinthian congregation, Paul compared Christians to this type of inexpensive container. Each day, the disciples in Corinth handled clay jars, pots, and lamps common to the routines of life. As they handled these breakable vessels, the disciples would be reminded of having the correct view of themselves and the privileges Jehovah had granted them.​—2Co 4:1, 5-11.