Gary Shultz on 2 Corinthians 5:18-21

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21


2 Corinthians 5:18-21

Second Corinthians 5:18-21 enlarges upon and completes the truths expressed in 5:14-15. Second Corinthians 5:16-17 describes two consequences of Christ’s death for those who believe (cf. 5:15). First, for believers there is now a completely different way of viewing reality (v. 16).87 Second, anyone who is in Christ is a new creation, and a part of Christ’s new order for the universe (v. 17).88 All of these benefits of being in Christ are from God (v. 18a),89 as God is the one “who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18b-19). These verses state that God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, and the results of this reconciliation are the forgiveness of sins and the preaching of the cross.90

Reconciliation is a distinctly Pauline idea,91 and most broadly it refers to God’s work in which, out of his love, he acts to bring about harmonious relations between himself and his creation.92 God reconciles through Jesus Christ, on the basis of the work of Christ, the atonement.93 Reconciliation is primarily an objective act; it is something that God has done for humanity in the cross of Christ.94 It is also a subjective act, however, because human beings must themselves subjectively experience the reconciliation that God has wrought in order to have fellowship with him.95 Both the objective and the subjective senses of reconciliation are present in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.

Second Corinthians 5:18-19 are parallel statements, in that verse 19 repeats and amplifies the thoughts of verse 18.96 The objective work of reconciliation appears at the beginning of each verse, in that God has reconciled “us” (v. 18) or “the world” (v.19) to himself. The need for a subjective receiving of God’s reconciliation is highlighted at the end of each verse, as Paul speaks of the ministry and the message of reconciliation.97 This ministry and message of reconciliation is clarified in verse 20, which states “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” In light of God’s reconciling act and consequent entrustment of the message of reconciliation to Paul, Paul describes himself (and others who follow after him)98 as Christ’s ambassador. God makes his appeal through his ambassadors, and people need to believe this appeal in order to be reconciled to God; they need to subjectively experience the objective reality of God’s reconciliation in order to have a relationship with God.99 Second Corinthians 5:21 returns to the objective idea of reconciliation and describes how God accomplished reconciliation in Christ.100 The verse states, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

The interpretive issue that impacts the debate over the extent of the atonement is whom the term “world” is referring to in 2 Corinthians 5:19. There are several possible meanings of this term. Some understand it to be referring to all believers, as only believers are actually reconciled and do not have their trespasses counted against them.101 Similar to this understanding is that Paul, in his use of “world,” is enlarging upon the “us” in verse 18, which refers to “Jews,” and that “world” refers to Gentile believers.102 A third possibility is that Paul uses “world” to refer to all of creation (cf. Col 1:20).103 A fourth option understands Paul as referring to all of humanity with the term “world.”104

The fourth option seems to be the best option for three reasons. First, it harmonizes with the understanding of 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 presented above. Paul has already indicated that Christ died for all humanity, so it would be natural for him to repeat this thought when he discusses reconciliation a few verses later. Second, the first two options above, which understand the term “world” to be referring to believers only, do not fit the context of the passage. Not only has Paul emphasized Christ’s death for all, but he emphasizes the objective and subjective sides of reconciliation. It is only those “who live” and those who are “in Christ” who are subjectively reconciled to God through faith, but all people are objectively reconciled to him.105 The understanding that Paul is referring to Gentiles in distinction to Jews also has no basis in the context, as the word “us” in verse 18 includes the Corinthians, who were not all Jews.106 Third, Paul is clearly referring to humanity with the pronouns “their” and “them,” and with his reference to “transgressions.”107 God did not count the transgressions of humanity against them, but instead reconciled them to himself in Christ; making forgiveness available to all people (this is essentially the same thought as 5:21).108 This language rules out the option of understanding “world” in a cosmological sense. Throughout 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 Paul consistently states that Christ’s death, his atoning work of reconciliation, paid the penalty for the sins of all people so that all people might have a relationship with God.

Shultz, Gary L. “A Biblical and Theological Defense of a Multi-Intentioned View of the Atonement” (Ph.D diss., Southern Baptist Theologican Seminary, 2008) 125-131. [Bold original, italics original; footnotes and values original; and underlining mine.].


87“From the time Paul realized the significance of the death of Christ –‘one has died for all’ therefore all have died’ (v. 14)–the love of Christ for him expressed therein had been the motivating power of his whole life, and not only so, but has also changed his whole outlook. He could no longer regard others from a human standpoint. Things which once had been regarded as important were now seen to have no real value at all (cf. Phil 3:4-8).” Colin Kruse, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, TNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 124. See also Turner, “Paul and the Ministry of Reconciliation,” 81.

88“Those who come to be ‘in Christ’ by faith in the gospel are part of a new order for the universe. The former Adamic order (ta archaia) is gone and a new order has come to exist. The cross has once for all radically changed Paul’s view of reality by its power to being the renewal of the universe by renewing individuals within it (5:16- 17).” Turner, “Paul and the Ministry of Reconciliation,” 82. See also Garland, 2 Corinthians, 286-88; and Kruse, Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, 125-26.

89“Although ta panta can mean ‘the universe’ (e.g., Phil 3:21; Col 1:16-17), there is noting in the immediate context to suggest that Paul is here affirming the divine origin of the cosmos. Rather, ‘all this’ (RSV, REB, NRSV), ‘all these consequences’ (Barrett 162), looks back to the new attitudes of v. 16 and the new creation of v. 17, that is, the new order (kaine,. v. 17), all the benefits of the Christ-event. . . . In vv. 18-21 Paul proceeds to explain how this newness came about.” Harris, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 435.

90“These two participles state two implications or consequences of reconciliation, the first (forgiveness) being related to humans in general (autois. . . auton = kosmon, v. 19a), the second (proclamation) being related to Paul and his colleagues in particular (ev ‘einn).” Ibid., 444.

9191Paul is the only author in the New Testament who uses the word group that relates to reconciliation in a redemptive context. He does so in Rom 5:10, 11; 11:15; 2 Cor 5:18, 19, 20; Eph 2:16; Col 1:20, and 22. For Paul’s theology of reconciliation, see Barnett, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 303-15; Garland, 2 Corinthians, 289-90;

Harris, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 435-39; George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, rev. ed., ed. Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 492-98; I. Howard Marshall, “The Meaning of Reconciliation,” in Unity and Diversity in New Testament Theology: Essays in Honor of George E. Ladd, ed. Robert A. Guelich (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 117-32; Ralph P. Martin, Reconciliation: A Study of Paul’s Theology (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981); Morris, Apostolic Preaching, 214-50; Stott, Cross of Christ, 189-99; Turner, “Paul and the Ministry of Reconciliation,” 77-95; and John Walvoord, “Reconciliation,” BibSac 120 (1963): 3-12.

92Reconciliation is necessary because of humanity’s sin. As Ladd states, “The very idea of reconciliation suggests estrangement. Reconciliation is necessary between two parties when something has occurred to disrupt fellowship and to cause one or both parties to be hostile to the other. Sin has estranged humankind from God.” Ladd, Theology of the New Testament, 492. Concerning broader and narrower senses of reconciliation, Marshall states, “The verb [reconcile] has a broader and a narrower meaning in Paul. The narrow sense is found when ‘God reconciles men to himself’ means that he puts away the wrath which he has toward men and women on account of their sins so that there is no longer any barrier on his side to fellowship with them. The broad sense is found when ‘God reconciles men to himself’ means that God enters into the fellowship with men which the death of Jesus has made possible.” Marshall, “Meaning of Reconciliation,” 128.

93“For although in these verses [2 Cor 5:18-21] the apostle does not specifically mention the death of the Lord, there is not the slightest doubt but that he has it in mind. On Paul’s view is it only through this death that man’s trespasses are put away, and thus the cross is vividly present to his mind in verses 19, 21.” Morris, Apostolic Preaching, 230. See also Stott, Cross of Christ, 195-97.

94“A close examination of the passages in Romans 5 and 2 Corinthians 5 leads to the inescapable conclusion that reconciliation is not primarily a change in humanity’s attitude toward God; it is, like justification, an objective event that is accomplished by God for humanity’s salvation. Reconciliation was wrought first by God for human beings, not in human beings. It is while we were enemies that we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (Rom 5:10). The death of Christ itself accomplished a reconciliation while we were in a state of enmity to God. The same thought is earlier expressed in different words: ‘While we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Rom 5:8). The love of God manifested in reconciliation is not here focused upon the moment when the individual believes in Christ and finds his or her attitude toward God changed from enmity to love; the manifestation of God’s love took place while we were yet sinners, in the objective, historical event of the death of Christ. Reconciliation was accomplished by that death. Therefore reconciliation is a gift that is to be received (Rom 5:11). It comes to men and women from God and is not directly or indirectly due to any act of their own.” Ladd, Theology of the New Testament, 493-94.

95Until God’s offer of objective reconciliation has been received in an attitude of glad surrender, no person is in fact reconciled to God; she or he is still a sinner and in the last day will suffer the full and awful outpouring of the wrath of a holy God. The content of reconciliation, therefore, while first of all the objective act of God, is also the affirmative reaction of people to the proffer of reconciliation. Only then does reconciliation become effective for the sinner; only then is he or she reconciled to God.” Ibid., 496.

96“Paul now [in v. 19] replays in essence what he asserted in v. 18. The sentence thus has the effect of reinforcing and explicating the ministry of reconciliation–both Christ’s and Paul’s – that was set forth there.” Barnett, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 305. See also Marshall, “Meaning of Reconciliation,” 122; and Turner, “Paul and the Ministry of Reconciliation,” 84.

97The message and the ministry of reconciliation are the same. As Harris remarks, “ton. logon tes katallages is clearly parallel to diakonian tes katallages (v. 18). The ministry is the proclamation of the message. Whether God is said to ‘give the ministry of reconciliation’ (v. 18) or ‘to entrust the message of reconciliation’ (v. 19) to Paul and others, the emphasis is on the privilege and obligation of the task of proclaiming that reconciliation.” Harris, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 445.

98Di’ emon, ‘through us’ (= by our mouth/word), certainly includes Paul and his fellow apostles but probably also all proclaimers of reconciliation. Whoever declares ‘the message of reconciliation’ (v. 19) is both a delegated representative of Christ and an actual spokesperson for God.” Ibid., 447.

99Many commentators understand the appeal in v. 20 as directed toward the Corinthians believers who were antagonistic toward Paul and whom Paul was therefore calling on to turn back to him. This is seen as an immediate application of God’s reconciling work. See Barnett, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 310-312; Garland, 2 Corinthians, 298-300; and Martin, Reconciliation, 109. It is better, however, to understand this appeal as the summation of the message of Christ’s ambassadors. This interpretation construes “reconciliation” in its soteriological sense, which is what Paul is talking about in this passage. It also allows for a broader application of being an ambassador for Christ, whereas the former view restricts being an ambassador to Paul. Paul makes his specific appeal to the Corinthian believers in 6:1, not 5:20. See Harris, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 447-49; and Marshall, “Meaning of Reconciliation,” 123-24.

100“This verse [2 Cor 5:21] explains how God did not count the trespasses against us (5:19) and made possible our reconciliation.” Garland, 2 Corinthians, 300.

101Kuiper, For Whom Did Christ Die?, 36; Long, Definite Atonement, 121-30; Nicole, “Definite Atonement,” 205; Owen, Death of Death, 227-28; and Wells, Price for a People, 119-20.

102Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 396; Kruse, Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, 127; Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:480; Symington, Atonement and Intercession, 221-22; and Tiessen, Who Can Be Saved?, 487.

103Barnett, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 302; Martin, 2 Corinthians, 158; and Turner, “Paul and the Ministry of Reconciliation,” 85.

104Lewis Sperry Chafer, “For Whom Did Christ Die?” BibSac 137 (1980): 313; Demarest, Cross and Salvation, 190; Douty, Death of Christ, 106-10; Garland, 2 Corinthians, 293-94; Harris, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 443; Lightner, Death Christ Died, 65-66; Marshall, “Meaning of Reconciliation,” 123; and Walvoord, “Reconciliation,” 3-5.

105“‘God reconciles the world to himself’ thus means: God acts in Christ to overlook the sins of mankind, so that on his side there is no barrier to the restoration of friendly relations. The message of the Christian preacher is a declaration of this fact. It is first and foremost a gospel, a declaration of the good news of what God has done. Hence it can speak of ‘reconciliation’ as an accomplished fact. But at the same time the indicative forms the basis for an imperative. Now people are commanded: ‘be reconciled to God.’ In view of what God has already done, this cannot be understood to mean that they must render God amenable to them by appropriate action. Rather God and Christ appeal to them to accept the fact that reconciliation has been accomplished and to complete the action by taking down the barrier on their side–the barrier of pride and disobedience and hatred of God. Let them put away their feelings against God and enter into a new relationship with him.” Marshall, “Meaning of Reconciliation,” 123.

106Whether one takes the word “us” in v. 18 as referring to believers only or to all of humanity, it includes the Corinthians. The church at Corinth was not made up exclusively of Jews. See Acts 18:1-17.

107“Paul can also use kosmos of the world of human beings (e.g., 1:12; Rom 3:6; 5:12-13), a sense that seems demanded here [2 Cor 5:19] by the autois and auton that follow (in a construction ad sensum) and by the reference to paraptomta. The movement from hm hemas (v. 18) to kosmon (v. 19) with regard to the objects of reconciliation is not a movement from the anthropological to the cosmological, but from the narrower to the wider anthropological focus.” Harris, Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 443.

108Ibid., 444.

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