Why does Paul change the pronoun from us to you in 2 Corinthians 4, verse 12? Paul was honest with his struggles "to do good," but he never explicitly denied the Holy Spirit dwelled within him. In these verses, Paul seems to be suggesting it, which is absurd. Here are verses 7 - 12, according to the New International Version.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.


Paul is actually defending himself here in this second letter to the Corinthians. In this passage when he says "us" he is meaning the people that he has been ministering to as well as the Corinthians, but when he gets to that last line So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you, he is telling them, almost forcefully, that they are not alone and that the same things that are happening to them are happening to the other churches in other cities.

Paul is trying to define the difference between those that are saved and those that are not, while explaining that we are all figuratively in the same boat whether we are saved or not. To do this he explains that we are all facing the same temptations, the same temptations that even Jesus faced (maybe not as extreme), whether we are saved or not, and that the big difference is we (you in the quote) are saved by the blood of Christ and strive for forgiveness and righteousness whereas those that are not saved do not strive for righteousness or forgiveness through Jesus.

  • I suppose you are right. This was my interpretation, too. My concern about it is that Paul uses "we" consistently in the preceding verses: "But 'we' have this treasure in jars of clay," "We are hard pressed," "`'We' always carry," and "For we who are alive." Likewise, he uses the object "us" consistently in the preceding verses. Suddenly, in verse 12, Paul writes "life is at work in 'you'." – user74973 Jun 8 '15 at 17:48
  • I think it is a collective you, meaning the group of believers. Like the you is not singular but plural. – Malachi Jun 8 '15 at 18:25
  • Yes, the "you" refers to his audience (or believers in the audience) in Corinth. – user74973 Jun 8 '15 at 18:29
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    This seems plausible. By the time that Paul wrote this second letter to the believers in Corinth, he had been preaching in many parts of the Roman empire. He had become familiar with the various resistances of people from different cities. I guess that you are saying that he is complimenting the Corinthians for their perseverance! – user74973 Jun 9 '15 at 14:35
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    Is this what you are saying? – user74973 Jun 9 '15 at 14:36

I had the same question. But as I did some research and called to mind what I have been taught about this letter, here is my understanding:

The letter is addressed "from Paul an apostle ... and Timothy, our brother" to the church at Corinth. Starting in chapter 1 he says "we" and "you" i.e. v 8 "we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia ..." He seems to be clearly referring to himself, and perhaps others with him (we), telling the Corinthians (you). He continues that way in chapters 1-3, so it doesn't make sense that he would be using the "we" differently in chapter 4.

The context of II Corinthians is I Corinthians and another letter in between which he refers to in II Cor 2:4, but which we do not have. Since he addresses the letter as, "Paul the apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God" it seems reasonable to read the letter as his apologetics for his authority to speak to them about their lifestyles. They were a young church in a very worldly city and were experiencing a change of world view. They needed a pastor to teach, correct, guide in this new life, the life of Christ they now had in them. So he speaks of all that has happened to him as being for their benefit, and how God has cared for him through many trials, testifying to the life of Christ in him

  • Welcome to BH community. A good start with a focussed answer to the question well based in the context ch. 4. You rightly identified, "we" -Paul and associates," the messengers of "life," who face the constant dangers, even the physical death, i.e, 1 Cor.15:31; 2Cor. 1:8, and "you" -the Corinthians, the beneficiary who now have eternal life in them. – Sam Jun 17 '20 at 21:40

Just like when he said "I die daily" (1 Corinthians 15:31).

Here he refers that by their persecutions and trials, death crushes them and the result is that "you" the audience have life at work (the product of their witnessing) in them.


With "death is at work in us" Paul is referencing the troubles faced when ministering in Corinth. This is visible in Acts 18:6

But when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood is on your own heads! I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”

Yet by enduring it, now "life is at work in you" as in the recipient (not only Corinthians but also us as readers) got to hear the good news.


As I see it, the "we" is the apostles and the "you" are the Corinthians.

Paul is explaining the challenging path God has laid before his apostles:

NIV 1 Corinthians 4:

8Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you! 9For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. 10We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! 11To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

He contrasts their experience of "becoming kings" and the like (probably some "you are a king's kid" kind of program) with their mistreatment by the world.

It is in this sense that the apostles experience "death" daily which allows God to empower them to preach life to their hearers.

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    This is definitely not right ... if what you mean by "apostles" is eleven of the original twelve Apostles. Paul did not travel with the other Apostles. Paul had a lot of disciples who were dear friends to him - notably Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. He only had one of these men at his side at a time. None of them the original Apostles. – user74973 Sep 20 '18 at 18:30
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    See my previous comment. Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy were devout Christians and missionaries. They suffered poverty, persecution, and ridicule for their faith. – user74973 Oct 5 '18 at 22:29
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    My question was not about whom Paul was referring with the pronoun "us." – user74973 Oct 5 '18 at 23:00
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    Here, I will repeat my question just for you. – user74973 Oct 5 '18 at 23:00
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    "Why does Paul change the pronoun from us to you in 2 Corinthians 4, verse 12?" – user74973 Oct 5 '18 at 23:00

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