New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation - Lesson 25

2 Corinthians

Paul defends his actions and apostleship and encourages the people in the church in Corinth to contribute to his collection for the poor in Jerusalem.

Robert Stein
New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation
Lesson 25
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2 Corinthians

Lesson Twenty-five: Corinthians

Part 3

III. 2 Corinthians

A. Introduction

B. Outline

1. Salutation (1:1-2)

2. Thanksgiving (1:3-11)

3. Body of the Letter (1:12-13:10)

a. The defense of his actions and apostleship (1:12-7:16)

i. Defense of actions (1:12-2:13)

ii. Defense of apostleship (2:14-7:16)

b. The collection for the poor in Jerusalem (8:1-9:15)

c. Defense of apostleship and the future visit (10:1-13:10)

i. Defense of apostleship (10:1-12:13)

ii. Future visit (12:14-13:10)

4. Closing (13:11-14)

  • Acts was written by the same person that wrote the Gospel of Luke and continues where Luke left off with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

  • Luke wrote as a historian and includes details related to geography, political leaders and navigational terms. He was also an eyewitness and acquainted with eyewitnesses of events recorded in Acts.

  • Luke's purpose in writing Acts was give an orderly historical account of events surrounding Christ's ascension, the first followers of Christ and the spread of the early Church.

  • Acts 1:8 is the theme verse for the whole book. The structure of the book of Acts shows how this theme was fulfilled by recording events relating the spread of the gospel geographically.

  • At first, the early Church was made up mostly of Jews who continued to live a Jewish lifestyle.

  • Two events in the early Church were the choosing of an apostle to take the place of Judas Iscariot, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

  • The elements of conversion in the New Testament are repentance, faith, confession, regeneration and baptism.

  • Many of the early Christians spoke Greek and Aramaic. Stephen was one of the first deacons and was martyred for his faith.

  • The apostle Paul's background as a Jew, training as a Pharisee, and Roman citizenship had a significant influence in his ministry and writings.

  • Paul had a dramatic conversion experience as he was traveling on the road to Damascus.

  • After Paul's conversion, on some areas of his theology his positions stayed the same, and on some areas his positions changed dramatically.

  • Many of the events related to Paul's life and ministry are recorded in the book of Acts.

  • The conversion of Cornelius and Peter's vision were important events in emphasizing the inclusion of Gentiles into the early Church.

  • The church at Antioch sent out Paul, Barnabas and John Mark to preach the gospel. This was Paul's first missionary journey.

  • The Jerusalem Council was a meeting of the early Church leaders to decide how to include Gentiles Christians into what had, up to this point, been a predominantly Jewish Christian group.

  • Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus and Paul and Silas went through Asia Minor, then to Macedonia and Greece.

  • Some of the letters from Paul in the New Testament are to an individual and some are to congregations. The letters are written in a form that includes the same general elements in the same order.

  • A main theme of 1 Thessalonians is the second coming of Christ.

  • Paul addresses some issues regarding the second coming of Christ, such as being responsible to work and support yourself in the meantime.

  • On his third missionary journey, Paul spent most of his time in Ephesus.

  • Paul defends his apostleship and explains that the foundation of our relationship with God is based on faith, not works.

  • Paul begins by defending his apostleship. He then explains justification by faith and gives some ethical exhortations. (The lecture does not cover points C. Ethical Exhortations (5:1-6:10) and D. Conclusion (6:11-18), but we included the outline points for your benefit.)

  • Most people agree that Paul wrote both letters to the Corinthians. He answered questions from people in the Corinthian church and addressed problems that had arisen.

  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes unity and diversity in the body of Christ, and responds to questions about marriage, spiritual gifts and the Lord's Supper.

  • Paul defends his actions and apostleship and encourages the people in the church in Corinth to contribute to his collection for the poor in Jerusalem.

  • The content of Paul's letter to the church in Rome was shaped by the ethnic background of the congregation and the challenges they were facing at that time.

  • The outline of Paul's letter to the Romans indicates his understanding of the fundamental concepts of the gospel.

  • Paul wrote Romans from the perspective of his calling as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

  • Paul begins Romans by stating the problem of sin and enumerating a few specific sins. His conclusion in chapter 3 is that both the Jews and the Gentiles are under the wrath of God.

  • The divine remedy to the problem of sin and separation from God is justification by a righteous God.

  • The results of God's righteousness include, peace, hope, freedom, living in the Spirit and assurance.

  • Paul was arrested in the Temple in Jerusalem, went on trial in Caesarea, and was transported to Rome and imprisoned awaiting trial before Caesar.

  • A major theme in the book of Philippians is joy in times of adversity.

  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the preeminence and supremacy of Christ.

  • Imperative is always based on the indicative.

  • Most scholars agree that Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul, partly because the content follows an outline that is similar to other letters attributed to him that are contained in the New Testament.

  • In Ephesians, Paul emphasizes who we are in Christ and the mystery of the gospel.

  • Paul writes to Philemon about how Philemon should receive his runaway slave Onesimus, who has become a committed disciple of Christ under Paul's influence and is returning to him.

  • Luke does not record the details of Paul's death in the book of Acts.

  • The best argument is for Pauline authorship, possibly with the help of a secretary.

  • Two themes in 1 Timothy are the role and requirements for bishops and elders, and the role of women in ministry.

  • Paul gives instructions to Titus who is a pastor in Crete.

  • Paul gives instruction to Timothy, who is a young pastor.

  • It is unclear who wrote the book of Hebrews.

  • A major theme in Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ. There are also passages that emphasize that perseverance is essential.

  • According to James, true faith results in works.

  • The apostle Peter wrote this letter to encourage Christians to be faithful during a time of suffering.

  • Themes in 1 Peter include the atonement, the new birth and the continuity of the Old and New Testaments.

  • Some people question whether or not 2 Peter was written by the apostle Peter.

  • Themes in 2 Peter include false teachers and the return of the Lord.

  • 1 John is similar to the Gospel of John in style, vocabulary, theology and purpose.

  • John makes a distinction between acts of sin and continuing in sin.

  • Jesus came as God in the flesh and offers us the gift of eternal life.

  • Revelation is a book written in an apocalyptic genre by the apostle John.

  • The philosphy of interepretation you use when you study the book of Revelation determines what you think specific passages in the book are teaching.

  • Chapters 1-12 begins with the seven churches, and includes the seven seals and seven trumpets.

  • Revelation chapters 13-22 focus on the beast, Christ's final victory, final judgment and the millenium.

  • After Christ ascended and the church was spreading, it was helpful to have a written record of Christ's life and the apostles' teaching. All the books included in the New Testament were written before the end of the first century.

  • Each book included in the New Testament had to meet specific criteria. They are arranged with the Gospels first, then letters, then the book of Revelation.

In this second graduate-level class on New Testament Survey, Dr. Robert Stein walks you through the New Testament books Acts through Revelation. In his analysis of the books, you will learn not only the facts but also be challenged with their theological and spiritual significance.


After Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the best reconstruction that I can think of is that he sent Timothy to Corinth. He mentions in 1 Corinthians that he’s going to send Timothy there; in 1 Corinthians 16:10, he writes, “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am.” So Timothy is to come, and when he goes to Corinth, he comes back and brings a very negative report to Paul. Things are not going well, and so Paul makes an emergency visit. In 2 Corinthians 2:1, he refers to this as a “painful” visit, “I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you.” He was not well received. And then in 12:21, “I fear that when I come again [after this painful visit], my God may humble me before you.” And then, “This is now the third time that I am coming to you,” (13:1). So what happens is that this painful visit of Paul doesn’t seem to resolve the issue, and so he writes this harsh letter which we call 1½ Corinthians. And Titus delivers that, and he plans to meet Titus at Troas, which is still in northern Turkey. But he can’t wait. He’s so eager, he says he’ll go over to Macedonia and meet him on the way. And there, Titus brings him good news, and so the Corinthians have repented; the harsh letter has apparently worked, and they would like to see Paul. And so Paul, in his joy, writes 2 Corinthians and sends Titus and two other people to deliver that, and tells of a future visit.

So in 12:14, “Here for the third time I am ready to come to you.” He established the church in the second missionary journey. After writing 1 Corinthians he found out that things were going badly. He visited them a second time – that was the painful visit. He then writes 1½ Corinthians, and now he’s ready for a third visit. And in 2 Corinthians 13:1, “This is the third time I am coming to you.”

There’s a funny story that said when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was to be installed as the President of the United States for the third time, they asked him when he swore his oath of allegiance where in the Bible he’d like it opened to. He said 1 Corinthians 13, but by mistake it was opened to 2 Corinthians 13, which says “This is the third time I‘m coming to you.” Whether that’s true or not is hard to say.

The outline of the letter again begins with a salutation, and then the normal thanksgiving. Even with all the problems in 1 and 2 Corinthians, there is a thanksgiving section in these letters. So you must know then how upset he must have been in the Galatian letter. Because if he can give thanks with all these problems here, and you can’t do it in Galatians, Galatians must really have been a difficult situation. In 1:8 and following, he has a passage about his being “unbearably crushed”, that he “despaired of life itself”, he “…received a sentence of death ….” We don’t know what that means. Some have suggested that Paul in Asia was forced to fight the wild beasts (because he makes a mention of fighting beasts in 1 Corinthians 15:32). But Paul was a Roman citizen; he would never have had to fight in the arena. He could be beheaded, but nothing like this. So again, what this experience is, they apparently knew about it and he doesn’t have to explain it. It’s not an epistle like we have.

In 1:22, he makes a reference to a passage that I want to comment on, because it’s found not only there, but in 5:5 and then in Ephesians 1:14. He says, “It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us. He has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” This is the RSV translation; the NIV translates this final word as “pledge”; the King James Version says “…He’s given us the earnest of His Spirit.” And in 5:5 that same reference is made, “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” Now the word ‘earnest’, interestingly enough, is still used today in that old English sense of the King James Version. When you buy a house, what do you have to put down? Earnest money. Earnest money is both a pledge of the rest of it coming, but also part of the money that is to come. And it’s a very good old-fashioned term, which, as we understand it, fits the role of the Spirit well. The Spirit is both part of our inheritance as believers (the first fruits, so to speak, of our salvation), but also the guarantee that the rest will be coming. So the presence of the Spirit then in the life of a Gentile, apart from circumcision, indicated that they had already entered the Kingdom of God and were guaranteed that they would be part of the future inheritance, even though they were not circumcised. Therefore, circumcision can’t be a necessity for that situation (the coming of the Spirit that way).

Let me just read a little of what Paul says about his own experiences here. He is in chapters 10 and 1 rather harshly rebuking the church, and then let me read chapter 12,

“I must boast. There is nothing to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up in the third heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows – and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man [he’s talking about himself, having experienced that] I will boast, but not on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses – though if I should wish to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I shall be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming too elated by the abundance of revelation, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.”

What is the thorn in the flesh? There are all sorts of suggestions. He didn’t have to explain it to the Corinthians – they knew it. We don’t. Was it malaria? Was it eye disease? Was it epilepsy? A lot of the critics would like the epilepsy theory, because that would explain his visions, etc. But he doesn’t explain. He continues in verse 8, “Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Paul prayed three times to be healed of it, and he wasn’t. Now I’m not quite ready to say that if he really had enough faith he would’ve been healed. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ might rest upon me. For the sake of Christ then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

In chapter 11, he talks about the same thing. There apparently were people, rivals, who were boasting things like, “I’m better-looking than Paul”; “I’m a better preacher”; “I’m more eloquent”; “He’s really not much”; etc. And so in 11:7, “Did I commit a sin in abasing myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel without coast to you? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you.” There’s only one church that we know of that Paul accepted money from – the Philippians. He would not accept it from others, to provide an example, and also to make sure that people would not accuse him of being “in this for the money”. “And when I was with you and was in want, I did not burden any of you, for my needs were supplied by the brethren who came from Macedonia [Philippi is in Macedonia]. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. …. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” Verse 16:

“I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying I say not with the Lord’s authority, but as a fool in this boastful confidence. Since many boast of worldly things, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

“But whatever anyone else dares to boast of – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”

In other words, Paul is saying “You put up with these people who are boasting all these things. And I’m not going to forgive you for making me do this, but I’m going to boast too, then. I’m speaking like a fool.” And then he boasts, and all you have to do is say, “Do you think that any of the people living in Corinth that were trying to steal a flock away from Paul could meet these kinds of things?” And then he says that his greatest burden is the anxiety of the churches – his love for the church and his worries for them. Even worse than the beatings and all of those things is the worry about the Corinthians and the Galatians, and things of that nature.

The letter ends in Chapter 13 with a reference to a third visit, and then verses 11-14, “Finally, brethren, farewell. Mend your ways, heed my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” And here you have a Trinitarian formula placed side-by-side with those three. It’s an amazing thing.

One final statement I’ll make on 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, where he talks about the state after death, in which he sees this as a state in which there’s a conscious existence with God after death, but where there is an awaiting and a looking forward to the resurrection. You can read that on your own.