2 Cor 2:5-11

The Restoration of the Offender

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5 Now if someone has caused pain, he has not caused me pain. Rather, for a time – so that I should not be a burden to you - he has hurt all of you. 6 The punishment imposed by the majority is enough for such a one, 7 so you ought rather to pardon and comfort him, lest he be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 Therefore I urge you, take the decision to love him. 9 I am writing for precisely this reason, that I might determine your attitude, whether you are obedient in everything. 10 And the one whom you have forgiven anything, I have forgiven also; for indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven on your account, in the presence of Christ, 11 in order that we might not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

2:5 [1]

εἰ δέ τις λελύπηκεν, οὐκ ἐμὲ λελύπηκεν, ἀλλὰ ἀπὸ μέρους, ἵνα μὴ ἐπιβαρῶ, πάντας ὑμᾶς.

‘Now if someone has caused humiliation, [2] he has not humiliated me. Rather, for a time [3] – so that I would not be a burden [to you] [4]  - [he has humiliated] all of you.’

Though the figure of the incestuous offender has been in the background throughout 1:12-2:4, the allusion in 2:4 to the church’s profound distress (λυπέω) on receiving the Letter of Tears has brought him into the foreground, and Paul now refers to him directly, though he graciously spares him the humiliation of being named. The perfect tense of the verb λελύπηκεν references an ongoing state brought about by a past action: even if the offender has caused the home church severe and ongoing outrage and humiliation, Paul himself has not been so affected. [5] The tears Paul refers to in 2:4 were shed not so much on account of the offender's outrageous behaviour as on account of the church's solidarity with him. But, for a time (ἀπὸ μέρους), the offender has caused the whole church (πάντας ὑμᾶς) such anguish, since his behaviour called forth the Letter of Tears; cf. 7:8, 'for I see that my letter did grieve you (ἐλύπησεν ὑμᾶς), even if only for a short time (πρὸς ὥραν)'. This anguish, he implies, they must now put behind them.

The second sentence includes a parenthesis, ἵνα μὴ ἐπιβαρῶ. Danker glosses the verb ἐπιβαρέω ‘to be a burden to, weigh down, burden’, citing literary sources, inscriptions and documentary papyri. In the case of  the present verse (in which the verb lacks a direct object), however, he says that the phrase ἵνα μὴ ἐπιβαρῶ 'seems to have the meaning, "in order not to heap up too great a burden of words" = in order not to say too much'; [6] but he notes that this proposed sense is unattested in the extant sources. Other possibilities, he says, include 'exaggerate', 'be too severe'. The only other NT instances of ἐπιβαρέω [7] refer to Paul not being a financial burden to his congregation. Elsewhere in 2 Corinthians Paul uses cognates of  ἐπιβαρέω with reference to his policy of self-support: καταβαρέω in 12:16, and ἀβαρής in 11:9, both NT hapax legomena. In my view it is better, in 2:5, to supply ὑμᾶς and to take ἐπιβαρέω in its attested sense, 'to be a burden to (you)'. In the Greco-Roman world, a financial dependent was widely considered a 'burden' (βάρος), [8] and βάρος and its cognates are frequently used of financial burdens. [9] There is sufficient evidence that during the crisis Paul was offered as a lump sum the support to which, by the Lord's command, he had been entitled, but which he had declined (1 Cor 9:1-18), perhaps more than a year's pay  (Acts 18:11). As Peterman points out, 'in the Greco-Roman world financial dependency yielded social dependency and inferiority'; [10] had Paul accepted the offer he would have lost his authority in Corinth, and would have been unable to press his demand that the offender be disciplined.

Against this background, one may reasonably infer that the words ἵνα μὴ ἐπιβαρῶ are an allusion to this disgraceful episode. Had he taken the bribe, the Letter of Tears would not have been written, and the church would not have suffered the consequent humiliation (2:4; 7:8). Though he points to the offender as the cause of the church's λύπη, Paul simultaneously reminds them of their complicity in his offence. By alluding to their solidarity with the offender, and to their attempt to head off a painful confrontation, Paul highlights the hypocrisy of those who would now hold the offender responsible for their own humiliation. [11]

There is a further subtlety: in 1:8 Paul uses the verb βαρέω (‘weigh down, burden’) in describing the suffering he endured in order to spare the church. Vv. 4-5 therefore remind the church once more of Paul's great authority as their suffering benefactor, while simultaneously linking their humiliation to their offer of his outstanding pay. He will return to the issue in 9:1-5, as he demands that they fulfill their obligation by donating the promised sum to the collection for the church in Jerusalem, threatening further humiliation should they hesitate.


ἱκανὸν τῷ τοιούτῳ ἡ ἐπιτιμία αὕτη ἡ ὑπὸ τῶν πλειόνων,

 ‘This [12] punishment [13] imposed by the majority [14] is enough [15] for such a one’.[16]

The time of outrage and humiliation must now come to an end, both for the church and for the offender. In response to the Letter of Tears, the majority has taken decisive action against him (7:11), and Paul now declares that this punishment is sufficient for him. The pronoun τοιοῦτος, ‘such a one’, implies that the punishment is in his case sufficient, because the offender possesses certain special characteristics: his repentance is clearly presupposed. Evidently the dissenting minority remain a concern to Paul.


ὥστε τοὐναντίον μᾶλλον ὑμᾶς a χαρίσασθαι καὶ παρακαλέσαι, μή πως τῇ περισσοτέρᾳ λύπῃ καταποθῇ τοιοῦτος.

a D F G 33 read ὑμᾶς μᾶλλον; A B vgms read ὑμᾶς; 1881 reads μᾶλλον.

 ‘So you ought [17] rather [18] to pardon [19] and console [him], [20] lest such a one be overwhelmed [21] by excessive sorrow.’ [22]

Since the punishment imposed by the others is enough for him, it must now be lifted. As Paul later points out (7:10), godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation. Evidently the offender has suffered godly sorrow, and he has repented; his punishment has done its work. God has consoled Paul, and Paul is consoling the church (1:3f); they, in turn, must console (παρακαλέω) the offender. If they fail to do this, godly sorrow, which has already led to repentance, may give way to excessive sorrow, severe depression, and perhaps even suicide.


διὸ παρακαλῶ ὑμᾶς κυρῶσαι εἰς αὐτὸν ἀγάπην·

 ‘Therefore I urge [23] you to decide in favour of [24] love [25] for him.’

Paul therefore (δίο, marking a strong inference) urges the church to take the decision to love the offender; a definite act of the corporate will is required. It seems likely that the litigation Paul criticises so forcefully in 1 Cor 6:1-8 was in some way connected with the incestuous affair. [26] If so, then his forgiveness and loving acceptance by the whole church may be an essential step in the social and spiritual reunification of the community; cf. 12:20.


εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ ἔγραψα, a ἵνα γνῶ τὴν δοκιμὴν ὑμῶν, εἰ b εἰς πάντα ὑπήκοοί ἐστε.

a (F G) 81 104 629 b vgs read ἔγραψα ὑμῖν.

b A B 33 read for εἰ; p46 1505 omit εἰ.

 ‘I am writing [27] for precisely [28] this reason, [29] that (ἵνα) I might determine [30] your attitude, [31] whether you are obedient [32] in everything.’

Paul now gives a further reason (γάρ) why the church should do for the offender as he has instructed: he proposes the first of three tests of their integrity as a Christian community (cf. 8:24; 13:5). Despite the consensus to the contrary, given our reconstruction of the Letter of Tears ἔγραψα is almost certainly an epistolary aorist  [33] (it is hardly credible that Paul would now say that he wrote the letter as a test of their obedience). The offender, being the disgraced son of its leader, is closely associated both with one of the former rival factions, as well as with the libertarian heresy that underlay the recent crisis; now that he has repented, Paul is asking the church to unite around him and to put the past behind them. Their obedience in this matter will serve as a test that will enable him to determine their attitude: they must receive the offender back into fellowship. It is not enough merely to tolerate his presence among then; they must embrace him in Christian love. If they obey him in this, then the apostle will know that they will be obedient to him in everything.


ᾧ δέ τι χαρίζεσθε, κἀγώ· καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ ὃ κεχάρισμαι, εἴ τι a κεχάρισμαι, δι' ὑμᾶς ἐν προσώπῳ χριστοῦ, ἵνα μὴ πλεονεκτηθῶμεν ὑπὸ τοῦ σατανᾶ, οὐ γὰρ αὐτοῦ τὰ νοήματα ἀγνοοῦμεν.

a For ὃ κεχάρισμαι, εἴ τι, which is read by p46 א A B C F G 0243 0285 81 1175 2464 lat Ambrosiaster,

D* reads κεχάρισμαι, εἴ τι,
33 reads εἴ τι κεχάρισμα ὃ,
D1 K L Ψ 365 1241 1505 Majority Text (b) syh read εἴ τι κεχάρισμαι ,
D2 P 104 1739 1881 read κεχάρισμαι εἴ τι.

The data is difficult to evaluate. [34]

 ‘And the one whom you forgive anything, [35] I have (already) forgiven;[36] for indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, for your sake I have forgiven as Christ's representative [37] so that we might not be outwitted [38] by Satan; for we are not ignorant [39] of his designs.’ [40]

Paul has said already that the offender did not cause him λύπη (here, ‘severe outrage and humiliation’), but rather his fellow believers in Corinth (2:5); so Paul himself has little to forgive. However, for their sake (δι' ὑμᾶς), he invokes Christ as witness to his forgiveness of the offender. As always, he leads them by example (cf. 1 Cor 4:16-17; 11:1). Despite the denial of 2:5, he sees an ongoing danger: the Letter of Tears produced powerful emotions, mourning, longing and zeal for the apostle, and indignation and vengeance against the offender (7:7, 11). Satan will likely attempt to stir the church to lose sight of their corporate responsibility for the recent crisis, and to hold the offender solely responsible for the apostle's sufferings and their humiliation, in order to create fresh divisions in the church and (if possible) to bring about his destruction. The whole church must now unite in forgiving him and embrace him, knowing that Paul has already forgiven him in Christ’s presence: the matter is closed.


[1] In 1992, in the early stages of the writing of my doctoral dissertation, the late Prof. Ralph P. Martin challenged me to offer an exegesis of 2 Cor 2:5. Unfortunately, it took rather longer than I could have foreseen.

[2] BDAG s.v. λυπέω 1, ‘to cause severe mental or emotional distress’. In discussing 2 Cor 2:5, Danker says λυπέω, when used absolutely, 'is certainly more than cause pain or vexation. In Polyaenus 8, 47 it is used of the severe humiliation or outrage experienced by a king who has been deposed by his subjects'.

[3] BDAG s.v. μέρος 1c.

[4] LSJ s.v. ἐπιβαρέω A1.

[5] Paul's use of a first class condition 'draws the reader into the discussion', inviting dialogue; Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics 711.

[6] BDAG s.v. ἐπιβαρέω, citing Heinrici, Schmiedel, Lietzmann, Wendland. This seems to be the understanding of the Peshitta, 'lest the word should be heavy for you' (Magiera, NT Peshitta Translation with Footnotes 2006).

[7] 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3:8, in each instance in the phrase πρὸς τὸ μὴ ἐπιβαρῆσαί τινα ὑμῶν, 'so that I wouldn’t burden any of you’. Referring to these texts Danker comments, 'Paul emulates civic-minded persons who did not wish the public to be burdened … cp. IGR III, 739, 30, 57f of the billionaire Opramoas μηδὲ ἐν τούτῳ βουλόμενος βαρεῖν τὸ ἔθνος "not wishing in this matter to burden the people";' BDAG s.v. ἐπιβαρέω.

[8] Peterman, Paul's Gift from Philippi 168-71.

[9] Hock, Social Context of  Paul's Ministry 30.

[10] Peterman, Paul's Gift from Philippi 71-73, 80-82; the quotation is from 168;  Seneca, Ben. 2.13.2.

[11] As I hope to demonstrate, the hypothesis that, following 1 Corinthians, the church offered the apostle a payoff also illuminates the line of argument of 8:1-9:15.

[12] The demonstrative adjective αὕτη signals that ἐπιτιμία is perceived as present or near in the discourse: ἡ ἐπιτιμία αὕτη, ‘this punishment’; BDAG s.v. οὗτος 2b.

[13] BDAG glosses ἐπιτιμία, ‘punishment’, citing fist century sources, and context supports this sense; cf. ἐκδίκησις, 7:11.

[14] BDAG s.v. πολυς 1bβא; cf. 4:15.

[15] BDAG s.v. ἱκανός 3b. The predicate (ἱκανόν), a neuter adjective, is followed by the subject (ἡ ἐπιτιμία), a feminine noun; the construction is paralleled in Matt 6:34 (Thrall, Second epistle to the Corinthians I 174 n 315).

[16] BDAG s.v. τοιοῦτος cαא.

[17] Supplying δεῖν after ὑμᾶς; Moule,  An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek 144.

[18] τοὐναντίον μᾶλλον, BDAG sv. μᾶλλον 3aβ.

[19] BDAG s.v. χαρίζομαι 3.

[20] Supplying αὐτόν or τοιοῦτον.

[21] BDAG s.v. καταπίνω 2b.

[22] BDAG s.v. περισσότερος, ‘pertaining to being beyond a standard of abundance, greater, more, even more.’

[23] BDAG s.v. παρακαλέω 2.

[24] BDAG s.v. κυριόω 2.

[25] BDAG s.v. ἀγάπη, ‘the quality of warm regard for and interest in another, esteem, affection, regard, love ’.

[26] The incestuous offender enjoyed the protection of his father, a powerful patron in the church; his affair was celebrated as an audacious demonstration of the sexual freedom the church claimed to enjoy. It appears that a rival patron, the leader of a rival faction, being unable to outdo or even equal his opponent, attempted to destroy him in the civil courts by means of vexatious litigation (on the civil courts and 1 Cor 6:1-8 see especially Winter, After Paul Left Corinth 58-75).

[27] BDAG s.v. γράφω 2c, taking ἔγραψα as an epistolary aorist; BDF §334; cf. 1 Cor 5:11.

[28] BDAG s.v. γάρ 1b.

[29] εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ καί, BDAG s.v. γάρ 1b; s.v. οὗτος 1bβ.

[30] BDAG s.v. γινώσκω 2, ‘to acquire information through some means’.

[31] BDAG s.v. δοκιμή 2, ‘the experience of going through a test with special reference to the result’.

[32] BDAG s.v. ὑπήκος.

[33] Cf., however, Stegman, Reading ἔγραψα in 2 Corinthiians 2:9 as an Epistolary Aorist. Though he works with the consensus view of the 'interim events', Stegman also argues, and very persuasively, that ἔγραψα must here be read as epistolary.

[34] See, e.g., Thrall, Second epistle to the Corinthians I 177 n 332.

[35] The verb χαρίζεσθε here takes a dative object ᾧ, the person forgiven, and also an accusative object τι, that which is forgiven; BDAG s.v. χαρίζομαι 3.

[36] Perfect tense of χαρίζομαι, referring to an ongoing state that has resulted from a past action.

[37] BDAG s.v. πρόσωπον 1bβג.

[38] BDAG s.v. πλεονεκτέω 1b.

[39] BDAG s.v. ἀγνοέω 1b.

[40] BDAG s.v. νόημα 1b.