The Second Epistle to the Corinthians
Read or listen the Second Epistle to the Corinthians online (ESV, Bible Gateway)
As we read about the background of 2 Corinthians, we will note how little St. Luke has recorded in Acts about the years of 30-60 A.D. The author leaves many events unmentioned, for there is about one chapter written per year.
According to Acts it seems that St. Paul visited Corinth only two times: First on his second Mission trip (Acts 18:1-17) and second on his third Mission trip (Acts 20:1-16).
In addition, it appears that Paul might have sent a total of four Letters to the Corinthians of which two, the second and fourth, have survived.
The whole of Paul’s communication with the church of Corinth can be constructed as follows:
- First visit to Corinth in Paul’s second Mission trip (Acts 18:1-18)
- First Letter to Corinth (see 1 Cor 5:9, this Letter has disappeared)
- The Corinthians reply to Paul (see 1 Cor 7:1)
- A second Letter to Corinth (called “the 1st Letter to Corinthians”) sent from Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8)
- Adversaries of Paul arrive in Corinth (2 Cor 3:1) and Paul receives information difficulties in the church
- Paul’s quick visit to Corinth (2 Cor 12:14; 13:1) which was a painful one for both (2 Cor 2:1-4). Paul returns to Ephesus.
- Paul sends a third Letter (disappeared), the Letter of Tears (also known as Severe Letter), from Ephesus. (2 Cor 2:3-4, 9; 7:8)
- Paul sends Titus to Corinth (possibly with the Letter of Tears, 2 Cor 12:18). Titus manages to calm the situation.
- Paul travels from Ephesus to Troas, where he was supposed to meet Titus (2 Cor 2:12-13)
- Paul leaves for Macedonia (current northern Greece) where he receives Titus who brings happy news (2 Cor 2:13).
- Paul sends his fourth Letter to Corinth (called “the 2nd Letter to Corinthians”)
- Paul’s third visit to Corinth (Acts 20:1-6) where he spends three months The 2nd Corinthians is therefore written from Macedonia on the year 56 or 57 A.D. It was his most personal and it gives a closer picture about Paul than his other Letters.
Is St. Paul an Apostle?
The most important theme of the 2nd Letter to Corinthians is whether St. Paul is an apostle and what is the value of his teachings and writings. What he has written to the Corinthians, as well as everything else he has written and what the Holy Spirit has preserved us in the Bible, is the teaching of an apostle authorized by God.
The reason why Paul had to defend his apostleship was that there came “false apostles” (2 Cor 11:13; also called as “super-apostles” in 2 Cor 11:5) to Corinth after he had left. These people accused St. Paul several times that he was not a true apostle but only some kind of evangelist, since Paul did not follow Jesus Christ while he still lived, but only after having a vision of the resurrected Christ (Acts 9:1-19).
In addition, these false apostles had shown to the Corinthians letters of recommendation from the church in Jerusalem (2 Cor 3:1) to show that they were representing greater and more important people than Paul. Because of this, the church in Corinth divided into two groups where most of them turned against St. Paul (2 Cor 11:3).
The accusations against St. Paul can be grouped together as follows:
- Paul was bodily weak, and his speech was of no use (2 Cor 10:1; 11:6)
- He was out of his mind (“beside himself”; 2 Cor 5:13)
- He tried to control the church and kept them in fear with his Letters (2 Cor 1:24; 10:9)
- He tried to reach his authority everywhere (2 Cor 10:14)
- He was afraid to present himself with all the privileges of an apostle (2 Cor 11:7; 12:14-16)
- His boasting was beyond limits (2 Cor 10:8, 13, 15)
- He commended himself continuously (2 Cor 5:12)
- He did not stay in the truth (2 Cor 1:17; 7:14)
- He tried to take advantage of the church (2 Cor 12:16-18)
Between Two Lines
At the same time there were similar difficulties in the church of Galatia. There as well the “Judaizers” pursued to deny the apostleship of St. Paul and accused him of teaching only the basics of the gospel. According to them, a true Christian should follow the law of the whole Old Testament, that is, to become a Jew.
Therefore, St. Paul was between two lines of fire: In the east were the difficulties of Galatia and in the west the problems of Corinth. Even in Ephesus Paul had trouble (Acts 19:23; 2 Cor 1:8). Even until today tourists to Ephesus are shown the “Jail of St. Paul”, so clearly Paul was in danger of death even in Ephesus though Acts does not record it to us.
There was also serious sexual immorality in Corinth (2 Cor 12:21), which could have come through the heresy of the Gnostics. The Gnostics thought that only the soul is important and that the soul only is saved. The body is worthless and therefore you can do whatever you like with it.
In this difficult situation St. Paul decided to make a quick visit to Corinth, but he had to return (perhaps because of what was happening in Galatia) before all things were put back to order (2 Cor 10:2; 13:2). It seems that the false apostles opposed St. Paul in person while they both were in Corinth (2 Cor 10:10).
The 2nd Letter to Corinthians is St. Paul’s attempt persuade the church of Corinth to turn back to following himself and the true gospel. The “Letter of Tears” and the visit of Titus to Corinth had settled the biggest problems, but Paul still saw things where he needed to guide them to repentance.
Paul says that he does not need any letter of recommendation, since the church of Corinth itself is his letter of recommendation and a testimony of his true apostleship (2 Cor 3:2-3). God does not write letters of recommendation on paper but into the life of his servant!
Another reason of writing this Letter is the collection of offerings to the poor of the church of Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:1-6; 9:1-5), which Paul planned to take with him after visiting Corinth.
Paul managed to win both churches, those in Corinth and in Ephesus, back to his side. His opponents suffered a crucial defeat, for after this it was very difficult to undermine the gospel (that is free from works and deeds) in the pagan world.
The Structure of the Letter
The two above mentioned main points are visible in the structure of the Letter:
- Introduction 1:1-11
- Contradicting views are specified 1:12-2:17
- St. Paul defends his apostleship 3:1-6:10
- Separate yourselves from the ungodly 6:11-18
- Reconciliation between St. Paul and the church of Corinth 7:1-16
- Offerings to the poor of the church of Jerusalem 8:1-9:15
- St. Paul deals with his opponents 10:1-13:10
- Final greetings 13:11-13