Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians stands out for its themes of comfort in the midst of affliction, strength in the midst of weakness (as exemplified by Paul himself), and the discerning of true teachers from false ones. Paul’s example and teachings recorded in 2 Corinthians serve as a call for all Saints to remain true and faithful to the eternal covenants they have made with God, the Eternal Father, no matter the circumstances or the consequences.
Even though the Second Epistle to the Corinthians states that it was written by the Apostle Paul and Timothy (see 2 Corinthians 1:1), it is likely that Paul wrote this epistle on behalf of himself and Timothy. The numerous references Paul makes to his own experiences suggest that he alone is the author of this book (see 2 Corinthians 11:16–33; 12:1–14; 13:1).
Shortly after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, a riot developed in Ephesus in opposition to his teachings (see Acts 19:23–41), and he departed to Macedonia (see Acts 20:1; 2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:5). It appears that while he was there he wrote 2 Corinthians, likely about A.D. 57. In addition to 1 Corinthians, it is believed that Paul wrote two other letters before writing 2 Corinthians. We know about these letters because Paul mentioned them (see 1 Corinthians 5:9; 2 Corinthians 2:3–4, 9; 7:8–12).
While Paul was in Macedonia, Titus brought him news from Corinth that an earlier letter he had sent had been well received by the Saints there (see 2 Corinthians 7:6, 13). The Corinthian branch was making progress, but Paul also learned of false teachers there who were corrupting the pure doctrines of Christ. Sometime after Paul’s initial visit to Corinth and a probable second visit, when Paul seems to have chastised some of the Saints (see 2 Corinthians 2:1; 12:21), preachers from the Jerusalem area came to Corinth and began teaching the Saints that they must adopt Jewish practices, contrary to Paul’s teachings. Much of 2 Corinthians addresses the problems caused by these unwelcome teachers. Paul referred to them as “false apostles” and “deceitful workers,” who were “transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). Some of these men accused Paul of dishonest actions and even challenged his authority as an Apostle.
Paul’s letter addressed both those who desired more of his words (see 2 Corinthians 1–9) and those who had neither the desire to repent nor the inclination to accept his counsel (most obvious in 2 Corinthians 10–13). In general, the text of 2 Corinthians reveals several purposes of this letter: (1) to express gratitude to and strengthen those Saints who responded favorably to his previous letter; (2) to warn of false teachers who corrupted the pure doctrines of Christ; (3) to defend his personal character and authority as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 10–13); and (4) to encourage a generous financial offering from the Corinthian Saints to the impoverished Saints of Jerusalem (see 2 Corinthians 8–9).
In response to critics who questioned his apostolic authority and his doctrine, Paul shared autobiographical details of his life and wrote of his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
While many of Paul’s letters focus on doctrine, much of this letter emphasizes Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian Saints and his love and concern for them. Though Paul was firm in his opposition to critics, throughout 2 Corinthians we see him as a tender priesthood leader caring for the happiness and well-being of the Saints.
In this letter Paul referred to what may have been the most sacred moment in his life. In 2 Corinthians 12:2–4, Paul described himself as “a man in Christ,” who was “caught up to the third heaven,” where he saw and heard unspeakable things. This vision, taken together with his previous doctrinal statement concerning the degrees of glory in the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:35–44), can be seen as a biblical parallel to Joseph Smith’s vision recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 76.
The book of 2 Corinthians may be a collection of several letters Paul wrote to the Corinthian Saints.
Paul testified that God comforts His children in all their tribulations. He challenged the Saints to love and forgive one another. The gospel and the workings of the Spirit of the Lord are more glorious than the letter of the law of Moses. Paul encouraged his readers in their moments of adversity and reminded them of the temporary nature of mortal adversities compared with the eternal nature of God’s love and reward. He helped readers understand their need to be reconciled to God through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
In the face of criticism and opposition from false teachers, Paul defended his sincerity as a servant of the Lord and invited his readers to be separate from the world. He taught about “godly sorrow” (see 2 Corinthians 7:10). Paul thanked the Corinthian Saints for their contributions to the poor in Jerusalem and encouraged them to continue to give generously, for “God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). He spoke strongly against “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:13). Paul gloried in the Lord and shared biographical details of his tribulations and faith in Jesus Christ. He recorded his vision of the third heaven. Paul invited the Saints to examine themselves and to prove themselves faithful.
In the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians we see evidence of a growing rift between some of the Corinthian Saints and Paul. A small group of Church members in Corinth opposed Paul and wanted him to have less influence among them. Some of the criticism directed at Paul was because he had canceled an earlier promised trip to Corinth; thus, some people felt he was not trustworthy (see 2 Corinthians 1:15–19). Paul defended his conduct and ministry (see 2 Corinthians 2:12–17; 3:1–6; 4:1–5; 5:19–20), and he expressed affection for the Corinthians and taught them of the peace that comes from loving and forgiving their fellowmen. He taught them how they could be reconciled to their Heavenly Father through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Paul’s writings can help the reader become a living example of his words: “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men” (2 Corinthians 3:2).
As Paul wrote about the tribulations suffered by the Saints, as recorded in 2 Corinthians 1:3–10, he repeatedly used the words “comfort,” “consolation,” and “delivered.” God’s comfort is a dominant theme throughout the first few chapters of 2 Corinthians. Paul related with strong and heartfelt language a severe trial he and his companions had suffered in Asia (see 2 Corinthians 1:8–10) to teach that the Lord does not leave His followers to suffer alone. By relying on the Lord rather than just on himself, Paul was able to endure this time of deep despair.
President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) taught: “In order to be tested, we must sometimes face challenges and difficulties. At times there appears to be no light at the tunnel’s end—no dawn to break the night’s darkness. We feel surrounded by the pain of broken hearts, the disappointment of shattered dreams, and the despair of vanished hopes. We join in uttering the biblical plea ‘Is there no balm in Gilead?’ [Jeremiah 8:22.] We are inclined to view our own personal misfortunes through the distorted prism of pessimism. We feel abandoned, heartbroken, alone. If you find yourself in such a situation, I plead with you to turn to our Heavenly Father in faith. He will lift you and guide you. He will not always take your afflictions from you, but He will comfort and lead you with love through whatever storm you face” (“Looking Back and Moving Forward,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 90).
In 2 Corinthians 1:4, Paul taught that those who have received God’s comfort in their tribulations are then able to comfort others who have tribulations. The commitment to comfort others is a hallmark of our Christian discipleship and a requirement for baptism (see Mosiah 18:8–10). Elder Orson F. Whitney (1855–1931) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
“To whom do we look, in days of grief and disaster, for help and consolation? … [We look to] men and women who have suffered, and out of their experience in suffering they bring forth the riches of their sympathy and condolences as a blessing to those now in need. Could they do this had they not suffered themselves?
“… Is not this God’s purpose in causing his children to suffer? He wants them to become more like himself. God has suffered far more than man ever did or ever will, and is therefore the great source of sympathy and consolation” (“A Lesson from the Book of Job,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1918, 7; see also James E. Faust, “Refined in Our Trials,” Ensign or Liahona, Feb. 2006, 5).
The Corinthian Saints brought comfort to the Apostle Paul through their prayers in his behalf, and he expressed his gratitude for this support (see 2 Corinthians 1:11). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also expressed to Church members, on behalf of all the General Authorities of the Church, his gratitude for their continual prayers and sustaining support: “Not one of us could serve without your prayers and without your support. Your loyalty and your love mean more to us than we can ever possibly say” (“Because of Your Faith,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 6).
The difficult passage in 2 Corinthians 1:15–20 appears to be Paul’s response to an accusation that he had shown levity or light-mindedness (see 2 Corinthians 1:17, footnote a) in promising to visit Corinth but then changing his travel plans. Some said he could not be trusted—one day he said “yea” (yes, I am coming), but the next day he said “nay” (no, I am not coming). Paul’s critics seemed to imply, “If we cannot trust Paul, how can we trust what he taught us about God?” In response to this allegation, Paul declared that the message he and his companions taught was true and that God and Jesus are trustworthy and do not vary. Jesus is always “yea”—the fulfillment or “amen” to all God’s promises.
Paul stated that he and his missionary companions had been “anointed” and “sealed” by God (2 Corinthians 1:21–22). The anointing could have referred to an anointing with oil, similar to that received by kings, priests, and prophets in the Old Testament, setting them apart for their divinely ordained work (see Exodus 29:7; 1 Kings 1:34, 39; 19:15–16). But the word may simply mean that God had given Paul the Holy Spirit, with the abundant blessings that accompany that gift. That meaning seems to fit Paul’s reference to the Spirit in 2 Corinthians 1:22. The Greek word Paul used to indicate being “sealed” by God means that God had placed His stamp of ownership upon him.
According to the Bible Dictionary, the word earnest means “a pledge or security. The word thus translated is a commercial term denoting the deposit paid by a buyer on entering into an agreement for the purchase of anything. As used by Paul (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14) it means that the Lord gives us His Holy Spirit in this life as a foretaste of the joy of eternal life. The Spirit is also the Lord’s surety that He will fulfill His promise to give eternal life to the faithful” (Bible Dictionary, “Earnest”; see also 1 John 4:13; D&C 88:3–5; the commentaries for Romans 8:14–16 and for Ephesians 1:13–14). When we feel the Spirit of the Lord, we can know that we are accepted of the Lord and that His promises are in effect in our lives.
In 2 Corinthians 2:1–4, Paul acknowledged that some of his writings in a previous epistle could have seemed harsh because he was chastening the members. Prophets of all ages have carried the responsibility to teach, warn, and correct God’s children (see Jacob 2:2). President Brigham Young (1801–77) taught about why Church leaders may sometimes appear to be harsh in their counsel: “At times I may to many of the brethren appear to be severe. I sometimes chasten them; but it is because I wish them to live so that the power of God, like a flame of fire, will dwell within them and be around about them” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 115).
We gain an insight into Paul’s love and compassion from 2 Corinthians 2:5–11. We do not know whether the transgressor Paul referred to is the one mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:1 or another offender—perhaps one of the false teachers in Corinth who had opposed Paul and his teachings. Paul encouraged Church members to forgive the man and comfort him so that he would not be “swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:7).
Elder C. Max Caldwell (1933–2012) of the Seventy and Leaun G. Otten discussed the dangers of withholding forgiveness from others: “When we take the position of withholding forgiveness from our fellow men, we are attempting to block his progress towards salvation. This position is … not Christlike. We are endeavoring to impede the progress of a living soul and deny him the forgiving blessings of the atonement. This philosophy is saturated with impure motives that are designed to destroy the soul” (Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants, 2 vols. , 1:314; see also D&C 64:9–11).
Paul knew that if the Corinthian Saints failed to forgive the man who had received Church disciplinary action, there would be increased discord among them (see 2 Corinthians 2:11). Satan had gained one victory when the man sinned. If the Saints failed to forgive the repentant man, Satan would have another victory. Paul was teaching the Saints how to avoid allowing Satan to “get an advantage of us” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
One of the ways we receive strength to overcome Satan is to understand the ways he seeks to mislead the children of men. President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency said: “Satan’s most strenuous opposition is directed at whatever is most important to the Father’s plan. Satan seeks to discredit the Savior and divine authority, to nullify the effects of the Atonement, to counterfeit revelation, to lead people away from the truth, to contradict individual accountability, to confuse gender, to undermine marriage, and to discourage childbearing (especially by parents who will raise children in righteousness)” (“The Great Plan of Happiness,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 72).
After teaching that Saints should love and forgive each other, Paul taught more about the characteristics of disciples of Jesus Christ. He declared that God would always support His Saints, causing them “to triumph in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:14). He then drew upon the imagery of sacrifices and incense burned in the temple when he said that the Saints are “unto God a sweet savour of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15). The smoke of temple offerings was described as a sweet savor to God (see Exodus 29:18; Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17; Numbers 15:7). Similarly, the lives of righteous Saints represented an offering that was pleasing to God, for they were becoming like Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15).
Verse 16 describes the effects that the Saints and the gospel of Jesus Christ had upon listeners. To Christ’s enemies, the sweet fragrance of the Saints and their witness of Christ was like the savor of death, but to those who accepted the Apostles and their teachings, it was the savor of life.
When Paul asked, “And who is sufficient for these things?” he recognized that no person is sufficient to represent the Savior unless he has the Savior’s grace to help him. And he declared that he and the other disciples did not “corrupt the word of God,” but with sincerity “in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:16–17).
The word corrupt, as used in 2 Corinthians 2:17, is taken from the Greek word for a peddler; it referred specifically to persons who sold impure or adulterated goods. As an Apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul did not preach the gospel for money nor adulterate its message as some were doing in Corinth at that time.
In response to those who opposed him and tried to discredit him in Corinth, Paul asked rhetorically, “Do I really need letters of commendation proving that I am a legitimate Apostle?” (see 2 Corinthians 3:1). In this question, Paul referred to the ancient practice of carrying letters of commendation when visiting a new community (see also Acts 18:27; Romans 16:1–2). Such letters usually introduced people, testified of their character, and witnessed that they were not intruders or impostors. Paul then declared that the transformed lives of the Saints in Corinth already constituted the best kind of “letter of commendation,” verifying that Paul had proper authority, for the Saints’ changed lives were like an epistle from Christ Himself (see 2 Corinthians 3:2–3; see also 1 Corinthians 9:2).
Paul’s declaration that members of the Church are like epistles, “read of all men,” suggests that the personal conduct of Church members is the way many will first come to know the Church and judge its truthfulness. Just as a shopkeeper is judged by the goods he sells, so the Church—and sometimes even Jesus Christ—is judged by the lives we live. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught, “In the ultimate sense, the gospel is not written on tablets of stone or in books of scripture, but in the bodies of faithful and obedient persons; the saints are, thus, living epistles of the truth, the books of whose lives are open for all to read” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 2:414).
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) added: “The only things that can ever embarrass this work are acts of disobedience to its doctrine and standards by those of its membership. That places upon each of us a tremendous responsibility. This work will be judged by what the world sees of our behavior. God give us the will to walk with faith, the discipline to do what is right at all times and in all circumstances, the resolution to make of our lives a declaration of this cause before all who see us” (“This Thing Was Not Done in a Corner,” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 51).
Paul taught that while the commandments of the law of Moses had been written on stone tablets, “the Spirit of the living God” can write the gospel in the “fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3). President Russell M. Nelson explained that when doctrines of the gospel are written in the fleshy tables of our hearts, “they become an integral part of our nature” (“Living by Scriptural Guidance,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 17). This process of internalizing gospel doctrines occurs through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Paul declared to the Corinthian Saints that he was a minister of the “new testament,” meaning the new covenant of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He referred to the old covenant, which was the law of Moses, as the “letter” and the new covenant as “the spirit.” Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles applied Paul’s words to our need to understand the “spirit” or “why” of God’s commandments:
“Doctrine usually answers the question ‘why?’ Principles usually answer the question ‘what?’ Whenever we emphasize how to do something without reference to why we do it or what we do, we risk looking beyond the mark. At the very least, we fall into the trap Paul described to the Corinthians: ‘For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life’ (2 Corinthians 3:6).
“Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has used the example of teaching our Aaronic Priesthood deacons the doctrines and principles of sacrament meeting so they will understand that the rules they follow (such as dressing appropriately and passing the sacrament in a nondistracting way) support what the Lord would have us accomplish in sacrament meeting (renewing our covenants and remembering the Atonement in a reverent manner) [see “The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 37–40]. In many areas we are guided only by doctrines and principles rather than rules. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves’ [Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 284]. We are responsible to the Lord for how we respond in such situations” (“Looking beyond the Mark,” Ensign, Mar. 2003, 44).
The Greek word diathēkēs, translated in 2 Corinthians 3:6 and 14 as “testament,” carries the primary meaning of “covenant.” Thus, when Paul used this word, he was not referring specifically to the New Testament but to the new covenant of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Paul referred to “the reading of the old testament” (2 Corinthians 3:14), he was referring to the old covenant—the Mosaic law contained in the pages of what Christians call the Old Testament.
When Paul taught that the new covenant would be written on people’s hearts (see 2 Corinthians 3:3), he was pointing to the fulfillment of a prophecy of Jeremiah: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. … I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33). Paul also drew upon Old Testament imagery when discussing a “veil” over Moses’s face and a “veil” over the hearts of the people when they read from the scriptures (2 Corinthians 3:13–16; see also Exodus 34:29–35). Paul was teaching that in his day, Israel was “blinded” in its understanding of the law of Moses (2 Corinthians 3:14; see also Romans 11:7, 25).
Joseph Smith Translation, 2 Corinthians 3:16 states that when the “heart [of the children of Israel] shall turn to the Lord, the veil [of misunderstanding] shall be taken away.” This is true of everyone whose heart turns to the Lord, for the Spirit enables them to understand the scriptures and the gospel in fulness (see 2 Corinthians 3:16–17; Joseph Smith—History 1:73–74).
To read about the doctrine of hope, see the commentary for Hebrews 6:11, 18–19.
Paul taught that when the veil of blindness is taken away from our hearts, the Spirit of the Lord brings liberty into our lives (see 2 Corinthians 3:17). Those who obey the gospel of Jesus Christ are freed from the captivity of the adversary. President Gordon B. Hinckley testified: “The gospel is not a philosophy of repression, as so many regard it. It is a plan of freedom that gives discipline to appetite and direction to behavior. Its fruits are sweet and its rewards are liberal” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1965, 78; see also the commentary for John 8:30–32).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that it is Satan, not God, who seeks to destroy agency and liberty: “It is an eternal principle that has existed with God from all eternity that man should be free. God ordained the law of agency in [the premortal life] so that his spirit children could either follow him or rebel against his laws and go to perdition with Lucifer. Then in this mortal probation man again was given freedom of choice, freedom to gain salvation by obedience or to be damned through disobedience. Since Satan always seeks to destroy the agency of man, he influences churches and governments to deny freedom of worship and to force man to perform acts contrary to the divine will. Governments and churches which curtail or deny man the power to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, are not of God; they are not directed by the power of his Spirit” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:415–16).
The Apostle Paul wrote that as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we “are changed into the same image” as the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18) and we grow closer to Him. The word “changed” (metamorphoō) in 2 Corinthians 3:18 is the same word translated as “transfigured” in Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2 and as “transformed” in Romans 12:2. It indicates a dramatic, fundamental transformation—a metamorphosis. The Spirit is the means by which God gradually transforms us into glorious beings like Him. Alma similarly taught that when we are spiritually born of God, we receive His image in our countenances (see Alma 5:14; the commentary for Romans 8:29).
The phrase “glory to glory” could also be translated “with increasing glory” or “to higher degrees of glory,” thus suggesting man’s potential to gradually become like Heavenly Father.
Furthermore, when we become the children of Christ we begin to take on the image, countenance, and characteristics of our spiritual Father, Jesus Christ (see Mosiah 5:7).
The “god of this world” is Satan, who blinds people’s eyes and hides the gospel from those who are spiritually lost. Elder Bruce R. McConkie helped us understand Paul’s reference: “This world is the sensual, carnal, and devilish society of men who live on the face of the earth; it is a world that shall continue to exist until Christ comes and the wicked are destroyed, which destruction is, ‘the end of the world’ [Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:4]” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:417).
Paul compared himself and his fellow ministers of the gospel to ordinary-looking clay jars that contain the “treasure” of “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:6–7). Paul stated that the contrast between humble, unimpressive missionaries and the light they bear—the gospel of Jesus Christ—reveals a divine purpose: “That the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
2 Corinthians 4:8–10; 6:4–10; 11:23–33 contain Paul’s account of many of the perils he experienced as a missionary and Apostle of Jesus Christ. Though many of these perils were extreme, Paul testified that because he was always supported by God, he was able to continue to be of service to God and the Saints. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained that Paul’s description of his trials, found in 2 Corinthians 4:8–10, can also be used to describe the Savior’s great sufferings: “On some days we will have cause to remember the unkind treatment [the Savior] received, the rejection he experienced, and the injustice—oh, the injustice—he endured. When we, too, then face some of that in life, we can remember that Christ was also troubled on every side, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed (see 2 Cor. 4:8–9)” (“This Do in Remembrance of Me,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 69).
President George A. Smith (1817–75) of the First Presidency received counsel in the spirit of Paul’s inspiring words from his cousin the Prophet Joseph Smith at a time of great difficulty: “He told me I should never get discouraged, whatever difficulties might surround me. If I was sunk in the lowest pit of Nova Scotia and all the Rocky Mountains piled on top of me, I ought not to be discouraged but hang on, exercise faith, and keep up good courage and I should come out on the top of the heap at last” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 235).
Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy used Paul’s words to help us put our mortal afflictions into an eternal perspective: “The Apostle Paul taught, ‘For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’ [2 Corinthians 4:17]. It is interesting that Paul uses the term ‘light affliction.’ This comes from a person who was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and who experienced many other trials [see 2 Corinthians 11:23–28]. I doubt many of us would label our afflictions light. Yet in comparison to the blessings and growth we ultimately receive, both in this life and in eternity, our afflictions truly are light” (“More Than Conquerors through Him That Loved Us,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2011, 79; see also the commentary for Romans 8:17).
President Brigham Young taught: “All intelligent beings who are crowned with crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives must pass through every ordeal appointed for intelligent beings to pass through, to gain their glory and exaltation. … If we obtain the glory that Abraham obtained, we must do so by the same means that he did. If we are ever prepared to enjoy the society of Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or of their faithful children, and of the faithful Prophets and Apostles, we must pass through the same experience, and gain the knowledge, intelligence, and endowments that will prepare us to enter into the celestial kingdom of our Father and God. … Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 261–62).
In both ancient and modern times, some people have mistakenly believed that the physical body is a negative thing and that a disembodied state—living as a spirit only—is preferable. When writing to the Corinthians, Paul expressed his desire not to be rid of a mortal body, but to be “clothed upon” with an immortal, resurrected body (2 Corinthians 5:1–4; see also 1 Corinthians 15:53).
Sister Susan W. Tanner, while serving as Young Women general president, spoke of her newly born granddaughter and of the feelings of holiness she felt in “the presence of a celestial spirit newly united with a pure physical body”: “Our bodies are our temples. We are not less but more like Heavenly Father because we are embodied. I testify that we are His children, made in His image, with the potential to become like Him. Let us treat this divine gift of the body with great care. Someday, if we are worthy, we shall receive a perfected, glorious body—pure and clean like my new little granddaughter, only inseparably bound to the spirit. And we shall shout for joy (see Job 38:7) to receive this gift again for which we have longed (see D&C 138:50)” (“The Sanctity of the Body,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2005, 13, 15).
Paul taught that while we are in our mortal bodies, “we are absent from the Lord,” meaning that in mortality we are not in the personal presence of God. While we are on earth, we must “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:6–7). Part of God’s plan is that when we were born, a veil was placed over our minds to cover the memory of our premortal heavenly home. Without the memory of our premortal life, we seek to learn and live by faith. If we follow the path our Savior exemplified, our Heavenly Father’s richest blessings will be ours, as President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) testified:
“When we get to the other side of the veil, we shall know something. We now work by faith. We have the evidence of things not seen. The resurrection, the eternal judgment, the celestial kingdom, and the great blessings that God has given in the holy anointings and endowment in the temples, are all for the future, and they will be fulfilled, for they are eternal truths. We will never while in the flesh, with this veil over us, fully comprehend that which lies before us in the world to come. It will pay any man to serve God and to keep His commandments the few days he lives upon the earth” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff , 154).
After teaching that we must walk by faith in this life, that we should seek to obtain an immortal, resurrected body, and that we should labor to be accepted by Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:1–8), Paul taught that we will all stand before Christ to be judged for the things we have done in mortality, whether good or bad (see 2 Corinthians 5:10). Paul taught, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11), meaning that because Paul and his companions feared, or reverenced, the Lord and knew they were accountable to Him, they labored to persuade others to prepare for that great Day of Judgment. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote about the Savior’s role at the Day of Judgment:
“The Son, not the Father, is the Judge of the whole earth, but his judgment is made in accordance with the will of the Father and therefore is just [see John 5:22, 30]. …
“Because Jesus is the Son of Man of Holiness he has been given the power to execute judgment, to sit in judgment at the great and last day, to call all men forth in immortality to stand before his bar [see John 5:27]” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:192, 195; see also the commentary for John 5:22, 27, 30).
Paul taught that if there were no Atonement of Jesus Christ, “then were all dead” spiritually. The Atonement changes everyone who accepts it; those who choose to follow Jesus Christ no longer “live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” They become a “new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:14–15, 17). Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught what it means to be a “new creature” in Christ:
“The essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ entails a fundamental and permanent change in our very nature made possible through the Savior’s Atonement. True conversion brings a change in one’s beliefs, heart, and life to accept and conform to the will of God (see Acts 3:19; 3 Nephi 9:20) and includes a conscious commitment to become a disciple of Christ.
“… As we honor the ordinances and covenants of salvation and exaltation (see D&C 20:25), ‘press forward with a steadfastness in Christ’ (2 Nephi 31:20), and endure in faith to the end (see D&C 14:7), we become new creatures in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17)” (“Converted unto the Lord,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 107).
After teaching that all people are accountable for their actions and will one day stand before Jesus Christ to be judged (see 2 Corinthians 5:9–11), Paul pleaded with the Corinthian Saints to be reconciled to God through the Atonement of Christ. There are only a few biblical verses that explicitly state that Jesus Christ was completely without sin; 2 Corinthians 5:21 is one of them (see also Hebrews 4:14–15; 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Verse 21 is also one of the clearest scriptural statements on the purpose of the Atonement and the way we are reconciled to God. Paul taught, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, as a result of His Atonement, Jesus Christ can say to us, “I will take your sins and I will give you my righteousness.” Jesus Christ became a vicarious sacrifice for our sins, meaning that all of our sins were laid upon Him and He bore them, even though He had never sinned. Because of this great sacrifice, upon condition of our repentance, we can share in the Savior’s righteousness.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie provided this explanation of Paul’s teachings about reconciliation: “Reconciliation is the process of ransoming man from his state of sin and spiritual darkness and of restoring him to a state of harmony and unity with Deity. Through it God and man are no longer enemies. Man, who was once carnal and evil, who lived after the manner of the flesh, becomes a new creature of the Holy Ghost; he is born again; and, even as a little child, he is alive in Christ” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:422–23; see also the commentary for Romans 5:11).