1. God’s Victory Procession (2:14–17)

This passage is very important within the structure of the letter. As noted earlier, 1  there is a significant continuity with the preceding section. At the same time the thanksgiving with which it opens may be seen as a second beginning to the letter, parallel with the initial benediction. 2  The passage bears an important relation to the subsection 2:14–4:6, in particular to 4:1–6. There is significant repetition of vocabulary and ideas between 2:14–17 and 4:1–6, 3  so that those passages “frame” the subsection.

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, 4  we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.

In the immediately preceding passage Paul described his sufferings in Troas (vv. 12–13), after which he moved on to Macedonia, 5  where further pain awaited him (7:5). But Paul has also been alluding to other suffering in the recent past—the deadly peril in Asia (1:8–11) and the anguish (there?) in writing to the Corinthians (2:4). Joined to the suffering motif, however, is the triumph of the power of God, expressed earlier as God’s comfort and deliverance of Paul (1:3–11). This power-in-weakness theme, which will reappear at other points within the defensive excursus on new covenant ministry (cf. 4:7–5:10; 6:3–10), appears at the beginning of the excursus in the paradoxical triumphal but antitriumphal metaphor (2:14–16). 6 

For the moment Paul lays aside the other major theme to this point in the letter, namely, his defense of the charge that in not returning to Corinth but sending a letter instead he made his plans “lightly” and “according to the flesh” (1:12–2:2). Paul now rests his defense of his travel decision to give an account of his ministry under the new covenant.

The opening metaphor is a complex combination of a victory procession (v. 14) and the impact of fragrance and aroma on God and people (vv. 15–16). As God leads Paul in his victory procession through Paul’s preaching and life, the apostle spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ wherever he goes (v. 14). Yet, the bearer of this fragrance to people suffers in the course of his apostleship, whether in Ephesus or Troas. Hence Paul sees himself—in continuity with “the sufferings of Christ” 7  —as the aroma of an acceptable sacrifice ascending to God (v. 15a).

The paradoxical nature of the metaphor may be conditioned by the circumstances then prevailing in Corinth. The arrival of the “peddlers” (v. 17) may have cast Paul in a different light in the eyes of the Corinthians, at least so it appears to Paul. Paul’s word to characterize their self-presentation is hyper, “above,” “superior.” He calls them “superlative” (hyperlian) apostles and is sensitive to the inference that he is, thereby, “inferior” (11:5; 12:11). They are, indeed, triumphalists, whose “boasting” of superiority has forced Paul to the “foolishness” of “boasting”—in his case, by contrast, in his “weaknesses” (see on 11:1–12:13). His catalogue of privations and suffering in ministry in the “Fool’s Speech” proper (11:23–12:10; see also 4:7–12; 6:3–10) serves as commentary on the antitriumphalist element in the victory parade metaphor.

This triumphal yet antitriumphal image points to Paul’s effectiveness in ministry (see also on 10:3–6). As God leads Paul in triumphal parade, his hearers are divided into those who are being saved and those who are perishing (v. 15b, c). For some Paul is the fragrance of death (v. 16a), to others of life (v. 16b), depending on their response to the apostolic message of the death and resurrection of Christ. Their response to Paul confirms them either in death (those who are perishing) or life (those who are being saved), causing him to cry, “Who is equal to such a task?” (v. 16c).

Paul’s apologetic for his ministry under the triumph-fragrance-aroma-fragrance imagery (vv. 14–16) then gives way to a polemical note. Unlike the many who peddle the word of God, Paul exercises his ministry out of sincere motives, as called by and accountable to God (v. 17). This negative contrast prepares the ground for the extended contrasts of new and old covenant ministries—their glories and their peoples—that will unfold in the next chapter.

14 The sudden 8  and unheralded introduction 9  of triumphal imagery 10  is striking. To be sure, Paul has spoken of God’s comfort and deliverance of him (1:3–11), but nothing has prepared the reader—then or now—for the remarkable thanksgiving 11  with which he begins the section on the ministry of the new covenant (2:14–7:4). 12 

There is a natural structure 13  to this powerfully metaphorical verse. A brief thanksgiving (“But thanks be to God” 14  ) is followed by two participles, one that God “always leads us in triumphal procession,” the other—which amplifies the first—that God “spreads 15  the fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ 16  ] through us in every place.” Each participle is qualified by a universal: God “always leads us … spreads in every place 17  the … knowledge of [Christ] through us.”


Thanks be to




who always



us in triumph in Christ





spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ]


in every place.

Set against the barely escaped deadly perils of Asia (1:8–10), the writing of the emotion-wrought letter (2:4), and the deep disappointment in Troas (1:12–13), Paul gives thanks to God that, despite everything, he leads his minister, Paul, 18  in triumph.

It is, indeed, the triumph of God, here accentuated by the universals “always … in every place”; if Paul triumphs, it is not of himself but only of God, and that through weakness. There is paradox here, as implied by the metaphor “lead [captive] in triumph,” which points at the same moment to the victory of a conquering general and the humiliation of his captives marching to execution. The metaphor is at the same time triumphal and antitriumphal. It is as God leads his servants as prisoners of war in a victory parade that God spreads the knowledge of Christ everywhere through them. Whereas in such victory processions the prisoners would be dejected and embittered, from this captive’s lips comes only thanksgiving to God, his captor. Here is restated the power-in-weakness theme (cf. 1:3–11) that pervades the letter. 19 

It is quite possible that Paul’s use of the “triumph” metaphor is calculated to answer those Corinthians who, we infer, regard him as physically and spiritually debilitated (10:3–4, 7, 10; 13:3). To be sure, his ministry is marked by suffering, but so far from that disqualifying him as a minister, God’s leading him in Christ as a suffering servant thereby legitimates his ministry. Christ’s humiliation in crucifixion is reproduced in the life of his servant. All that he endures as a preacher is in continuity with the crucified Christ he preaches (5:21; cf. 6:4–10). There is no hiatus between the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of the apostle in a world blinded to God and alienated from God (4:4; 5:18–20). The “sufferings of Christ” do indeed flow over into the apostle’s life (1:5). His “weaknesses” are “on behalf of” Christ (12:10). It is “for Jesus’ sake” that he is their “slave” (4:5), that he is continually being given over to death (4:11).

The image of the captive-slave in a military procession is critical both to the sovereignty of God and to his servants’ sufferings “in Christ” as they proclaim him; it is “in Christ” that God leads him.

The continuity of suffering shared by the obedient Christ and his faithful servant forms a point of contrast with newly arrived “superlative” apostles (11:5; 12:11). These “false apostles” (11:13) corrupt the message of Christ to their own advantage (2:17; cf. 4:2), possibly avoiding some of the opprobrium of the world by so doing. It appears that they compound that sin by pointing to the apostle’s distress as evidence of his inferiority in contrast to their various gifts, which are evidence of their supposed superiority to him (see on 10:12–12:13 passim). 20 

Powerful as the triumphal but antitriumphal image is, however, it must not be separated from that of the fragrance-aroma 21  image employed in the third section of this verse and which reappears with different vocabulary in v. 15 and the same vocabulary in v. 16, 22  but transmuted in those verses to a new image, that of the Levitical sacrifices. In this verse as “God … spreads … the fragrance of the knowledge [of Christ] through us,” it is probably connected with the image of the Roman triumph, in which the prisoners in the captivity procession strew incense as they walk. 23 

God makes manifest the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere through “us.” But this manifestation of Christ is not located in Paul’s person—as if by some kind of incarnation 24  —but in his gospel ministry. This is clear from the immediate context, which shows that Paul is referring to his reason for coming to Troas, namely, “for the gospel of Christ” (v. 12). It is by Paul, as herald of Christ, that God manifests the knowledge of Christ. It is not in his person alone, but through Christ crucified and risen whom he proclaims and whose sufferings he replicates, that Paul manifests the knowledge of Christ. The proclamation of Christ is like a strong fragrance, unseen but yet powerful, impinging on all who encounter Paul in his sufferings as he preaches Christ wherever he goes. 25  In the victory parade metaphor of this verse, the apostle is God’s captive, whom God leads about spreading the knowledge of Christ—incense-like—by means of the proclamation of Christ.

15 Paul’s initial “for” 26  immediately picks up the “fragrance” of the previous verse, which is now given as “aroma.” Paul is the “aroma of Christ” that impacts concurrently 27  both (1) vertically (“to God”) and (2) horizontally among people (“among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing”).

Thus part (c) of the previous verse (“God … spreads … the fragrance … of [Christ] through us”) is the logical basis for part (a) of this verse (“for we are to God the aroma of Christ …”), and parts (b) and (c) represent the two groups for whom this is true (“those who are being saved” and “those who are perishing”). These in turn form the first two parts of the chiasmus that will be completed in v. 16. The Greek word order of v. 15a (“because of Christ an aroma we are to God”) points to the significance of Christ in this passage. 28 

One aspect of the metaphor of v. 15 is that the suffering apostle, like the Christ he preaches, is analogous to the aroma of the sacrificial victim that, as in the Levitical picture, ascends to the nostrils of God. 29  Strikingly, Paul asserts that “we are the aroma of Christ to God.” This suffering arises because the world to which Christ came and in which the apostle preaches Christ is hostile to God. Paul implies that his sacrifice, like that of Christ himself, is one with which God is well pleased, as with those sacrifices acceptable to God under the old order. In the previous verse the fragrance of Christ was the knowledge of him conveyed by the apostle’s preaching. But in this verse the aroma of Christ, insofar as it impinges on God, is the apostle’s sacrificial sufferings, which rise, odorlike, to God. 30 

The apostle as this aroma, however, also impinges on humankind, “among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” Reference to the earlier letter shows that Paul’s “we are the aroma” should not be taken as if he himself, as distinct from his preaching of the cross, is that aroma:


1 Corinthians 1:18

2 Corinthians 2:15

For the message of the cross

For we are to God the aroma of



is foolishness


to those who are perishing,

among those who are being saved

but to us who are being saved

and those who are perishing.

it is the power of God.


It is Paul as the proclaimer of Christ crucified, and who as a consequence suffers, who is the aroma of Christ. The personally powerful fragrance-aroma imagery of vv. 14–16 is controlled by the immediate context, which began with his reference to coming to Troas “for the gospel of Christ.”

Paul divides those among whom he moves into one of two classes—“those who are being saved” and “those who are perishing.” 31  There is no third group. Here we are reminded of the eschatological character of the gospel; 32  the apostle’s hearers are either those who, through the word of God, are now reconciled to God—those who are being saved—or those who remain alienated from God, perishing (cf. 2 Thess 1:7–10). The “day of Christ” will reveal who are saved and who are lost (cf. 1:14; 4:14; 5:10; 1 Thess 5:2; 1 Cor 1:8; 5:5).

The present tenses for “being saved” and “perishing”—used in identical terms as in 1 Cor 1:18 above—point to the dynamic character of the gospel of Christ, the word of God. It is not that “being saved” or “perishing” are themselves processes but that the message borne by the apostle as he is led about by God dynamically divides the hearers into one of two groups.

It is probably not fortuitous that the stress in the chiasmus (vv. 15b, c, 16 a, b), that is, on the first and last line, is on “being saved” and “life.” God’s intention is positive, that is, to save, to give life. John Calvin noted that we must “distinguish between the proper office of the gospel, and the accidental one (so to speak) which must be imputed to the depravity of mankind, to which it is owing, that life is turned into death.” 33  God’s “proper” work is “to save” and “give life,” whereas his “accidental” work is to cause to “perish.” In this regard, the apostolic word, like the prophetic, if proclaimed in uncorrupted form (cf. 2:17; 4:2), is invariably powerful, leaving no hearer unaffected (see, e.g., Isa 55:10–11).

16 The previous verse is now further elaborated. The untranslated particle men immediately picks up the “aroma of Christ … among those perishing” as “to some a fragrance of death to death.” The balancing particle de picks up “aroma of Christ … among those who are being saved” as “to others a fragrance of life.”

Structurally in this three-part verse, parts (a) and (b) complete the chiasmus begun in v. 15b and v. 15c. Part (c) of v. 16 is a question (lit. “who is sufficient to these things?”) that arises either from the aroma image (vv. 15–16) alone or more probably—since the pronoun (“these things”) is plural—from both it and its predecessor, the fragrance image (v. 14).

The chiasmus (vv. 15b, c, 16a, b) may be set out as follows:



We are …








the aroma of Christ









being saved











to some

the fragrance of

death to death




to others

the fragrance of

life to life.

The references to “death” and “life” 34  point to the death and resurrection of Christ, as in “the gospel of Christ” that Paul proclaims wherever he goes (v. 12; cf. v. 14). The “fragrance” of the death of Christ smelled in the apostolic herald by those who reject Christ crucified is “unto death,” a sign of their own eternal “death.” The “fragrance” of the risen Christ smelled in the apostle by those who turn to Christ is “unto life,” a sign of their own eternal “life.” 35  This “death” and “life” are encountered in Christ’s physical absence in the persona of the apostolic messenger.

Are we to give a positive or a negative answer to Paul’s question, “Who is sufficient …?” 36  Perhaps in favor of a negative is his reference to “those who peddle the word of God” (v. 17), who might have suggested that they were, indeed, adequate for such a task. 37  In this case Paul would be saying that neither they nor he is sufficient for this ministry. Had not Joel asked, “Who is sufficient for this?” (i.e., the “Day of the Lord”—Joel 2:11), expecting the reply, “No one.” But given his confident statements in the verses following, it is more likely that Paul’s question is actually an assertion of his adequacy for the ministry of an apostle. Unlike these other preachers Paul’s ministry originates in God (2:17), and he is made adequate for it by God (3:6). 38 

Paul, therefore, is making a stupendous claim—Barrett called it “the horrifying truth” 39  —that people encounter (the aroma of) Christ crucified and risen in the one who preaches Christ crucified and risen, and that eternal destinies are determined by that encounter. 40  Small wonder, therefore, that he cries out: “Who is sufficient 41  for these things?” Rudolf Bultmann asks: “Who can be a bearer of such a word …?” 42  Who indeed? Paul will give his answer to that question a few verses later: “[God] has made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant” (3:6). Paul’s question masks an assertion; he is “sufficient” in ministry, despite what his detractors say. 43 

For this reason, Paul’s movements—associated as they often were with difficulty and suffering—should be viewed aright. So far from being a sad, defeated figure—therefore disqualified from recognition in ministry by his sufferings, as some appear to have been saying—let the Corinthians understand that in preaching the gospel of Christ crucified and risen, the sovereign God was leading his suffering apostle in triumph, spreading the odor of the knowledge of Christ through his preaching wherever he went (v. 14) and dividing humanity into those being saved and those perishing.

17 Paul’s “for” 44  implies an answer to the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” with which the previous verse ended. The whole opening phrase, “for we are not” (RSV), implies that Paul and his associates are, by God’s strength, “sufficient” for that task, but that those about whom he will now speak are not. Moreover, whereas Paul’s “we are the aroma of Christ to God” spoke of close identification of the apostle with his Lord in acceptable sacrificial ministry, the contrastive “peddling” image now introduced points to tawdriness on the part of these letter-bearing ministers.

Thus a polemical theme is now introduced to the letter, to be developed at greater length and intensity later (cf. 5:11–13; 10:12–12:13). Rhetorically speaking, we are now faced with the language of contrast as Paul introduces the newly arrived ministers in Corinth, 45  setting his ministry against theirs.

Paul achieves this contrast by a two-part sentence that begins, “We are not as 46  the many, 47  peddling the word of God,” 48  whereas the second part reads, “but as men of sincerity, indeed as from God, before God, in Christ we speak.” 49  Unlike them he does not “peddle the word of God”; rather, he “speak[s the word of God] with sincerity.”


For we are

not as the many







peddling the word of God


but as from




but as from












in Christ we speak.

How is Paul able confidently to attribute such negative motives to these men, while expecting his own claim “of sincerity” 50  to be accepted? It appears that he is appealing to the known fact that these men have received some material benefit from the Corinthians (cf. 11:20), whereas Paul deliberately refused payment from them (11:7–12; 12:13–16). It is sufficient to apply the verb “peddle” 51  to them—a pejorative word implying adulterating a product for improper gains—and “sincerity” to himself to signal that the whole subject of financial benefit is being raised, even though the Corinthians may not accept his view of things (4:2; 7:2; 12:17–18).

What Paul “speak[s]”—and the newcomers “adulterate”—is “the word of God,” 52  the “word of reconciliation” (5:19), which is synonymous with the “gospel” 53  of Christ crucified, God’s message of “good news” for the world, which God has entrusted to Paul (cf. 5:18). That this “word” is able to be “adulterated” by others (cf. 4:2) implies its existence in a standard, pure form (cf. Rom 6:17; 2 Tim 1:13), which Paul claims to declare in its purity. A “pure” gospel makes possible “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (cf. 11:2–4). The objectively measurable character—the “thatness”—of the “word of God/the gospel” is implied in the important formulalike statement recorded in the First Letter. 54 

Within the second part of the sentence Paul gives a valuable summary of his ministry, which, brief as it is, has overtones of the Damascus Road call. This segment—indeed the whole sentence—is controlled by the verb “we speak.” 55  This speaking is characterized by four qualities that are true of Paul but, by implication, not of the “peddlers.” (1) Paul speaks “with sincerity” 56  from pure motives, as we have already noted. (2) He speaks “as from God”; 57  what he says originates with God. As he will say later, “God gave us the ministry of reconciliation … [God] committed to us the word of reconciliation” (5:18–19). The “word” spoken by Paul was given to him by God, as at his Damascus road call (cf. Gal 1:15–17). (3) He speaks the word, “before God,” “in the presence of God,” 58  mindful that the all-knowing God hears what he speaks in his name and will hold him accountable on the day of judgment (4:2; 5:10; 12:19). (4) That Paul speaks “in Christ” 59  also points back to his incorporation “in Christ” as at the Damascus event (5:17; cf. Acts 9:18; 22:16); his present speaking flows from that unique event (cf. 4:13–14).

This verse is linked with the passages on either side. 60  In regard to what has preceded, those preachers “who peddle the word of God” stand in contrast with Paul, who went to Troas “for the gospel of Christ,” whom God “leads in triumphal procession,” and through whom God “spreads everywhere” the “knowledge of [Christ]” (2:12, 14). On the other hand, “the many [who] peddl[e] the word of God” of this verse is repeated in the next as “some … who need letters of recommendation.”

While Paul’s words represent an apologetic for his apostolate then, they have application for the pastorate now. To be sure, there are differences. The origin in God of Paul’s Damascus call, when he saw the risen and glorified Lord uniquely, conferred on him the office of apostle and revelator (see on 4:6). Nonetheless, in this verse Paul sets certain standards for missionaries and ministers who come after him in succeeding generations. There is a givenness, a thatness, to the word of God that must not be reduced or distorted. All ministers must be as committed to the canon of the gospel as Paul was. That this verbal message is the word of God demands that those who speak it incarnate the integrity of God in their lives, mindful that they do so in the sight of the God before whose tribunal they must stand (see on 5:10). And, like Paul, they speak out of the fullness of a relationship with Christ, that is, as those “in Christ.”



 1 See above, 137–38 (following III).

 2 See J. Lambrecht, “Structure,” 345–46, and Thrall, 1.188–89, for analyses of the structure of 2:14–7:4. It is clear that, whereas this section can be subdivided in various ways, 2:14–4:6 is a discrete subsection, with many repetitions occurring in the “framing” passages 2:14–17 and 4:1–6; see Thrall, 1.189 n. 6.

 3 E.g., τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις (2:15); τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις (4:3); τῆς γνώσεως αὐτοῦ (2:14); τῆς γνώσεωςτοῦ θεοῦ (4:6); καπηλεύοντες τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ (2:17); δολοῦντες τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ (4:2); κατέναντι τοῦ θεοῦ (2:17); ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ (4:2).

 4 Gk. οἱ πόλλοι, “the many,” is to be preferred to οἱ λοίποι (as in p46 and Marcion).

 5 See generally J. Murphy-O’Connor, “Paul and Macedonia”; A. C. Perriman, “Between Troas and Macedonia,” 39–41; J. I. H. McDonald, “Paul and the Preaching Ministry,” 35–50.

 6 We agree with Perriman, 39, insofar as he argues (against, e.g., Hughes and Barrett) for the continuity of this passage with the preceding material. However, we disagree with his preference for an interpretation of the metaphor along exclusively positive lines (with Barrett—“glory of the triumph”), rather than along paradoxical lines (“strength-in-weakness”). In our view the triumph metaphor of 2:14 paradoxically expresses the power of God in the apostolic weakness, a theme that Paul has already introduced within the letter (1:3–11; 2:4, 12–13) and which will often reappear (4:7–15; 6:3–10; 12:4–5, 7–9).

 7 Cf. 1:5.

 8 The contrastive but usually untranslated δέ indicates both (1) a new section (as at v. 12) and (2) the greatness of God in contrast to the human predicament; ὁ δὲ θεός—or similar words—are very common—see, e.g., Luke 16:15; 18:7; Acts 3:18; 13:30; Rom 15:5, 13; 16:20; 1 Cor 6:14; 15:57; Gal 3:20; Eph 2:4; Phil 4:19; Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 5:10. Paul is indeed giving deliberate thanks to God in contrast to listing the difficulties in Troas (vv. 12–13) and Asia (1:8–10), but in so doing he introduces a metaphor that will establish the power-in-weakness character of the new covenant ministry set out in the excursus following (2:14–7:4).

 9 See P. B. Duff, “Metaphor, Motif and Meaning,” 79–92, who holds 2:14–6:13; 7:2–4 to be “an independent letter fragment,” for the suggestion that the striking triumph vocabulary was carefully chosen by Paul to attract the attention of the various groups in Corinth.

 10 Gk. θριαμβεύοντι, “leads in triumph”; NIV, “leads … in triumphal procession.” For comprehensive analysis of the lexical background of θριαμβεύω (which appears in the NT elsewhere only at Col 2:15 and not at all in the LXX) and historical references to Roman victory processions see S. Hafemann, Suffering and Ministry, 16–34 (also Furnish, 174–75; Thrall, 1.191–95). Among the various views of the meaning of the metaphor we note: (1) Hafemann, 18–19, who rejects ten meanings canvassed by others in favor of this definition: “… all the evidence points to the conclusion that there is only one basic and common meaning for this term available in the time of Paul, namely, that of the triumphal procession in which the conquered enemies were usually led as slaves to death, being spared this death only by an act of grace on the part of the one celebrating the triumph” (33). Because a military triumph must precede a triumphant procession Hafemann concludes that the imagery points to God’s triumph over Paul on the Damascus road and then to his leading the apostle to his death as a minister of the gospel. But against Hafemann it is to be noted that Paul declared that God had delivered him from “deadly peril” (1:10). Indeed, 2 Corinthians is more about Paul’s suffering and the process of dying (see 4:7–12) than summary death as by execution in the Roman triumph. Moreover, to see in this one word the whole story of God’s triumph over Paul in his conversion and God’s subsequent leadership of him as his minister may be to prove too much from that single word. In any case, it is doubtful whether the readers would have read all this into θριαμβεύω.(2) Furnish, 175, who observes that the notion of the apostle being put on display is the essence of the metaphor and that it is by no means certain that a Roman triumph is in mind. He sees as the main point that the gospel of Christ is effectively proclaimed through Paul’s ministry. But this minimizes the contrastive note of thanksgiving in the face of suffering, which is so important in this passage.(3) P. B. Duff, “Metaphor, Motif and Meaning,” 79–92, who suggests that in this image Paul uses a calculated ambivalence, which his various readers may interpret either as a Roman victory triumph or a Hellenistic royal epiphany procession, depending on their opposition or support of Paul.(4) Hughes, 76–79, who views this image as indicating “victorious progress,” and Barrett, 98, who regards “Paul … [as] represent[ing] himself as one of the victorious general’s soldiers sharing in the glory of the triumph.”In our view θριαμβεύοντι should be regarded as a passing allusion to a Roman victory procession intended to express both (1) the reality of God’s sovereignty in Paul’s ministry as a preacher of Christ (cf. Paul’s prayer ἵνα ὁ λόγος τοῦ κυρίου τρέχῃ καὶ δοξάζεται2 Thess 3:1), and (2) the itinerant apostle’s suffering in that ministry.In regard to (2), P. Marshall, “Metaphor of Social Shame,” 302–17, has argued plausibly that to be “led in triumph” is a metaphor of humiliation. Marshall finds evidence of the humiliation of the captives in Seneca’s comments: they are “placed upon a foreign barrow to grace the procession of a proud and brutal victor” and “driven in front of the chariot of another” (On the Happy Life 25.4). A culturally vivid picture of apostolic humiliation drawn from the Roman triumph but not using the present vocabulary is to be seen in 1 Cor 4:9ὁ θεὸς ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀποστόλους ἐσχάτους ἀπέδειξιν ὡς ἐπιθανατίους, ὅτι θέατρον ἐγενήθημεν τῷ κόσμῳ καὶ ἀγγέλοις καὶ ἀνθρώποις, “God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena … a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men,” which G. D. Fee, 1 Corinthians, 174–75, takes to refer to the Roman triumph, as in 2 Cor 2:14.That God leads Paul in triumph is a paradox. It is at the same time both triumphal (God is the leader) and antitriumphal (“led in triumph” meant suffering).Further, in our view θριαμβεύω must be regarded as integral with the two connected images of fragrance and aroma; it does not stand alone. On the one hand, God’s sovereignty is seen in the impact of the ministry (“a fragrance from death to death” and “from life to life”—v. 16). On the other hand, “the aroma of Christ to God” (v. 15a) speaks of sacrificial suffering. Among many other views see, e.g., S. B. Heiny, “The Motive for the Metaphor,” 1–21.

 11 Gk. τῷ δὲ θεῷ χάρις.

 12 Only after this defense is completed will he resume his travel narrative, describing his coming to Macedonia and his eventual reunion with Titus (7:5–6).



τῷ δὲ θεῷ χάρις




τῷ πάντοτε θριαμβεύοντι

ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ




καὶ τῆν ὀσμὴν

τῆς γνώσεως αὐτοῦ




φανεροῦντι διʼ ἡμῶν


ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ.



 14 Man of faith that he is, Paul gives thanks to his God through it all. As God has delivered him from danger (1:10) and God makes him “sufficient” for the ministry of the new covenant (2:16; 3:6), so God also leads him in triumph in the midst of suffering.

 15 Gk. φανεροῦντι. The verb φανερόω means to make visible an invisible reality (important within 2 Corinthians—2:14; 4:10, 11; 5:10, 11; 7:12; 11:6; cf. the adverb φανερῶς in 4:2). The suggestion noted in Furnish, 175, that Paul is here using the vocabulary of his opponents, is questionable given its use in 1 Cor 4:5 and Rom 1:19; 3:21; 16:26.

 16 Gk. τῆς γνώσεως αὐτοῦ. Whose “knowledge” does Paul make known? Does αὐτοῦ have God (so, e.g., Furnish) or Christ (so, e.g., Plummer) as its antecedent? Because αὐτοῦ lies between ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ and Χριστοῦ εὐωδία, it is more probably the “knowledge of Christ” rather than the “knowledge of God” that is in Paul’s mind. Nonetheless, the “knowledge of [Christ]” is the means to the “knowledge of [God]” (see 4:4, 6).

 17 The phrase ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ specifies that in each place Paul goes, he spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ (cf. ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ κόσμῳ1 Thess 1:8; Rom 1:8).

 18 Paul here reverts to the plural “we”/“us,” following a passage cast in the singular “I”/“me” setting out his feelings at the writing of the “Severe Letter” (2:3, 4, 9) and the difficult experience at Troas (2:12–13). For Paul’s use of singular and plural pronouns within this letter see generally on 1:1.

 19 As the letter unfolds, Paul will refer at length, though in more general terms, to his life of suffering as a minister of the gospel (4:7–12; 6:4–10; 11:23–12:13).

 20 To be noted is Duff’s view, “Metaphor, Motif and Meaning,” 90–92, that Paul’s metaphor “led in triumph” is directed apologetically to those who say that God is taking vengeance on Paul for embezzlement. But (1) there is no clear evidence in the passages quoted (2:17; 4:2; 7:2) that Paul was accused of embezzlement, and (2) it is more likely that he was here accused of “inadequacy” (cf. 2:16; 3:5, 6), and that the imagery of God’s prisoner of war in his victory parade is well accounted for on this basis.

 21 The vocabulary is ὀσμήν (v. 14) … εὐωδία (v. 15) … ὀσμὴὀσμή (v. 16), on which see S. Hafemann, Suffering and Ministry, 35–49. It should be noted (a) that the two words often occur together in the LXX (ὀσμὴ εὐωδίας τῷ κυρίῳ) in sacrificial contexts (e.g., Lev 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2), where they have the sense of “terminus technicus meaning ‘a soothing, tranquillizing odor of sacrifices acceptable to YHWH’ ” (so BDB, 629, 926); (b) that ὀσμὴ εὐωδίας is found twice elsewhere in Paul’s letters (Eph 5:2; Phil 4:18); in both cases θυσία appears in the context; and (c) that where the LXX metonymy is employed, but the words are separated as in 2 Cor 2:14–16, ὀσμή and εὐωδία are virtual synonyms for the odor of acceptable sacrifice (so Sir 24:15).

 22 Gk. ὀσμή (v. 14), εὐωδία (v. 15), and ὀσμή (v. 16).

 23 The strewing of incense as part of the victory ceremonial is mentioned at the triumph of Scipio Africanus minor (Appian, Punic Wars 66). The use in context of θριαμβεύω with ὀσμή appears to demand some allusive connection of this kind, despite the Levitical/cultic use of ὀσμή in the LXX and elsewhere in Paul (see above, n. 38). Bultmann, 64, rejects the association of ὀσμή both with incense and with sacrifice, preferring “the ancient idea that fragrance is a sign of the divine presence and the divine life.” But this is to introduce a complicating and extraneous image into the discussion.

 24 Contra Hafemann, Suffering and Ministry, 17: “… Paul views himself in his apostolic calling not only as one who preaches the message of good news to the world, but equally important, as one ordained by God to be an embodiment of that gospel, called to reveal the knowledge of God by and through his very life. It is this identification of the message with the messenger, first seen in Christ and then carried on in his apostles, that Paul develops in 2:14–16a.” It is better, however, to emphasize that the sufferings of the apostle replicate the sufferings of the Lord as a consequence of Paul’s preaching of Christ.

 25 Thrall, 1.196–99, gives alternative connotations of ὀσμή in this context. In addition to the above, these include ὀσμή as signifying (1) the imperfect nature of revelation, (2) the presence of divinity, (3) an association with OT Wisdom, and (4) the Levitical imagery of acceptable sacrifice. None of these suggestions is likely to be what Paul had in mind. In our view the ὀσμή imagery (1) is continuous with the Roman victory parade, in particular the use of incense, and (2) refers to the all-pervasive, irresistible impact of that powerful odor. The word of God, like a strong odor, is invisible yet powerfully effective.

 26 Gk. ὅτι, expressing a “causal” relationship between the previous verse and this verse.

 27 Gk. τῷ θεῷ ἐν τοῖς σῳζομένοις καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις.

 28 This significance also emerges from Paul’s repetition of Christ within vv. 12–15: “gospel of Christ” (v. 12) … God … leads us … in Christ … [God] … spreads … the knowledge of [Christ] (v. 14) … of Christ an aroma we are …” (v. 15).

 29 E.g., Lev 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2.

 30 Contra S. J. Hafemann, Suffering and Ministry, 45: “the two images” (i.e., “triumphal procession” and “sacrificial aroma”) … “form a coherent picture of Paul as the medium of the revelation of the knowledge of God manifested in Christ.” In our reading of vv. 12–16 this is only true of Paul, who suffers as a herald of Christ. The sacrificial Paul in himself is no revelation of God.

 31 Cf. 2 Thess 2:10. Only “those who are perishing” are mentioned in 4:3, who are there identified as “unbelievers” in 4:4.

 32 Bultmann comments: “The gospel is … not equivocal, and hearing spells decision (cf. 4:2). In the separation which it brings about between the σῳζόμενοι and the ἀπολλύμενοι there occurs the eschatological event, the judgement” (68).

 33 John Calvin, Romans–Galatians, 1764.

 34 The rabbis compared the various effects of the Torah on those who read it: “since he busies himself with the Torah, it becomes the medicine of life … but for everyone who does not busy himself with the Torah for its own sake, it becomes the medicine of death” (Str-B 3.498ff., quoted in Bultmann, 68).

 35 Phrases such as ἐκ θανάτου εἰς θάνατονἐκ ζωῆς εἰς ζωήν suggest a Semitic idiom expressing superlatives, namely, “the stench of ultimate death … the fragrance of ultimate life” (Furnish, 177); for a similar construction see 3:18; 4:17; Rom 1:17.

 36 See Thrall, 1.208–10, for extended discussion of this question.

 37 Thrall, 1.208, notes, with references, that Paul’s τίς questions usually expect a negative reply.

 38 It is possible that the Corinthians have taken out of context his words ὃς οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς καλεῖσθαι ἀπόστολος (1 Cor 15:9), to which Paul must now reply.

 39 Barrett, 102.

 40 See Thrall, 1.207–08, for discussion of the question why Paul would offer thanks to God (v. 14) and then proceed with so much emphasis on “the perishing”/“death.” Attractive is her suggestion that Paul is anticipating criticism of a lack of response from Jewish hearers. How, then, would Paul’s ministry be from God? Such a consideration might explain Paul’s “from death to death” and “from life to life.” The Torah, the prime document of Judaism, had the same effect; it becomes “the medicine of life” to him who “busies … himself with it,” otherwise it is “the medicine of death” (see p. 154 above—n. 34).

 41 Gk. ἱκανός, which, according to K. Rengstorf, TDNT 3.293–96, means “to be sufficient,” “large enough,” “qualified,” “competent.” See further F. T. Fallon, “Self-Sufficiency or God’s Sufficiency,” 369–74, for linguistic background for ἱκανός and possible connections with the “divine man.”

 42 Bultmann, 69. Plummer asks, “What kind of a minister ought he be who preaches a gospel which may prove fatal to those who come in contact with it?” (72).

 43 In view of the contrast with Moses that follows (3:12–18), it may be significant that Moses says οὐχ ἱκανός εἰμι (LXX Exod 4:10); Paul is ἱκανός, but it is from God (3:4–6).

 44 Gk. γάρ, untranslated in the NIV.

 45 Who are they? From 2:17–3:3 important information may be gleaned about them, namely, that they are (1) a group (“the many … some”—cf. 10:12–18; 11:5, 12–15, 22–23a; 12:11) who have (2) come to Corinth from elsewhere (“letters of recommendation”). Since there is no reference to them in 1 Corinthians, it is likely that they have arrived recently in Corinth, within a year or so since the writing of that letter. Paul’s careful designation of himself as a “minister of a new covenant” (3:5) and his conclusion that Moses’ glory has now been superseded (3:7–11) make it likely that these newly arrived ones are Jews, ministers of a covenant of Moses. This is confirmed by his questions “Are they Hebrews … Israelites … Abraham’s descendants?” (11:22) and his designation of them as “ministers of righteousness” (11:15).

 46 Gk. οὐὡς.

 47 The “many” (οἱ πολλοί) of this verse, repeated as “some people” (τινες) in the next, suggests that “the many” is rhetorical (and disparaging) rather than numerical.

 48 The first part of the sentence could also be taken as, “We are not peddling the word of God as many do.” The meaning is unaffected either way.

 49 Gk. ἀλλ[ά ἐσμεν] ὡς ἐκ θεοῦ κατέναντι θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ λαλοῦμεν. Note (1) that the repetition of ἀλλά is ascensive, “but … indeed …,” and (2) the end location of λαλοῦμεν, “we speak,”is emphatic, in contrast to their “peddling,” which is also present tense.

 50 He has already pointed to his sincerity in 1:12.

 51 Gk. καπηλεύω; NIV, “peddle for profit”; see the extended note in Furnish, 178; Thrall, 1.212–15. The verb is found only here in the NT and not at all in the OT. The cognate noun κάπηλος, which is found in the OT and the Apocrypha (LXX Isa 1:22; Sir 26:29), is virtually synonymous with ἔμπορος, “merchant.” Merchants were routinely regarded as cheats who would adulterate their products for improper gain.According to Plato, “Knowledge is the food of the soul; we must take care that the sophist does not deceive us when he praises what he sells, like those who sell the food of the body, the merchant and the hawker (κάπηλος), for they praise all their wares, without knowing what is good or bad for the body. In like manner those who carry about items of knowledge, to sell and hawk (καπηλεύειν) them to any one who is in want of them, praise them, all alike, though neither they nor their customers know their effect upon the soul” (Plato, Protagoras 313D).In the Hellenistic era καπηλεύω was used metaphorically of itinerant teachers and philosophers. Philostratus, e.g., criticizes Euphrates, a teacher, “huckstering his wisdom” (τὴν σοφίαν καπηλεύεινLife of Apollonius 1.13). Plummer, 74, notes that κάπηλος was often associated with wine selling, making the imagery allusively consistent between 2:17 and 4:2.

 52 A phrase occurring forty times within the NT, including twelve times in Acts and frequently in Paul’s letters (4:2; 1 Cor 14:36; Rom 9:6; Col 1:25; 1 Thess 2:13; 2 Tim 2:9; Tit 2:5). Often where “the word” is used alone (e.g., 1 Cor 2:2), “the word of God” is clearly implied. The phrase refers to the spoken message about Christ, the gospel of God, as the various usages indicate.

 53 Cf. 2:12; 4:3, 4; 8:18; 9:13; 10:14; 11:4, 7 (τὸ εὐαγγέλιον); 10:16; 11:7 (εὐαγγελίζομαι).

 54 The gospel by which Paul established the church in Corinth and which he now repeats by way of reminder (1 Cor 15:1–7) consists of four statements about Christ—Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, he was buried, he was raised the third day, and he appeared to the people listed—each introduced by “that,” ὅτι.

 55 Gk. λαλοῦμεν.

 56 Gk. ἐξ εἰλικρινείας. See also 1:12; 1 Cor 5:8.

 57 Gk. ἐκ θεοῦ.

 58 Gk. κατέναντι θεοῦ. See further D. A. Renwick, Paul, the Temple and the Presence of God, 49–50, for an explanation as to how Paul lived in the presence of God and yet suffered.

 59 Gk. ἐν Χριστῷ.

 60 This verse provides an example of Paul’s pastoral method in which he moves from the occasional to the theological (see on 3:6). What begins as a defense of his ministry (concurrent with an attack on the newcomers—2:17–3:1) will soon become an exposition of the new covenant (3:4–4:6), the bridge to which is “written on our hearts” (3:2), a direct allusion to the OT promise of the new covenant (Jer 31:33).