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Second Epistle to the Corinthians
CORINTHIANS, SECOND EPISTLE TO THE (κορίνθιους, δεύτερα ἐπιστολὴ πρὸς τούς; the second of two books or epistles in the addressed by St. Paul to the Christian community at Corinth).
The period of Paul’s contacts with the Corinthians is indicated in Acts (
In attempting to determine the extent of the correspondence which Paul had with the Corinthians, the most widely-discussed hypothesis refers to four letters. The first letter is commonly referred to as the “lost letter” (cf.
Involved in the consideration of the extent of the Corinthian correspondence is the related matter of the number of visits which Paul made to Corinth. Reference already has been made to the two visits which are recorded in Acts. It is not possible to say that these were the only visits to Corinth. In the light of this impossibility, there is a strong inclination today to consider the probability of another visit. This probability rests upon data gleaned from 2 Corinthians. According to this epistle, relations had become very critical. Upon realizing how serious the deterioration really was, Paul sent Titus to Corinth with the “painful letter” (cf.
In explaining the identity of this “painful letter” two points of view have had much more impressive support than other points of view. The one point of view is the traditional equating of 1 Corinthians with the “painful letter.” This view does not consider seriously the possibility of more than two visits by Paul to Corinth. The other point of view, on the basis of more recent study, considers it improbable that Paul’s state of mind when writing 1 Corinthians can be described by his words in
It may be that some progress can be made toward a partial understanding of the contents of the letter by correlating Paul’s probable second visit to Corinth and the strained relations involved with the “painful letter” which he wrote in an attempt to alleviate the tense crisis. Assuming that Paul wrote such a letter after such a painful visit to Corinth, he may well have written concerning matters which distressed him greatly and which had occasioned his hurried and humiliating departure from Corinth. This “painful letter” was taken by Titus to Corinth. Meanwhile, Paul prepared to leave Ephesus for Macedonia, where he expected Titus to rejoin him and report on developments at Corinth. After a lapse of time extending for some days or weeks, Titus reached Paul and gave him a heartening report. The Corinthians were repentant and wanted reconciliation (
Before Paul could return to Corinth for the third visit, two matters needed attention. For one thing, Paul was in Macedonia for the purpose of making sure that the churches had prepared their collections which he was to take to Jerusalem. For another, the unsettled and tense relations between Paul and Corinth had interrupted the efforts to complete the collection in Corinth. With the memory of humiliating rejection removed, and with the anticipation of another visit to Corinth, Paul wrote the “thankful letter” (2 Cor), which was considered to be his last known letter to Corinth.
The MS evidence for the unity of 2 Corinthians is particularly impressive. The present arrangement of the epistle is found in all the MSS. None of the MSS divide the epistle, and among the MSS there is no variation which suggests disunity. Consequently, there is no evidence from the MSS to create any doubt concerning the unity of the letter.
Notwithstanding the MS support for the unity of 2 Corinthians there have been and continue to be impressive attempts to show that there is internal evidence of disunity. This disunity is borne out by the difference in the tone of
The arguments for the unity of the epistle are: (1) there is no evidence of MS disturbance which would permit the supposition that 2 Corinthians was originally two letters, or parts of two letters, incorporated into one letter; (2) while
Authorship, date and origin.
The author is unquestionably Paul, for none other than Paul has ever been suggested as the author. It is more characteristic of his style and manner than any of the other epistles in the NT which are attributed to him. It contributes significantly to our knowledge of Paul by providing much autobiographical material and revealing glimpses into his personality, including his emotions, his personal sense of integrity and his incisive grasp of what it meant to be a genuine apostle of the Lord. External evidence attests his authorship, for it has been a well-documented fact that 2 Corinthians was circulated throughout the churches as early as a.d. 140. At this early date, the epistle was recognized without question as Pauline. That recognition remains as strong today as ever.
The chief purpose of 2 Corinthians is to prepare the church at Corinth for Paul’s visit which he is soon to make. However, this effort to prepare the church should not obscure the influence of the critical situation through which Paul had just passed in his relations with the Corinthians. Nor should it obscure Paul’s sigh of relief and his attitude of joyous thankfulness over the fortunate change of attitude on the part of the Corinthian church. The complexity of the occasion requires that oversimplification of stating the purpose be avoided. The letter was written in a period of greatly improved relations between Paul and the Corinthians. Immediately preceding this period there had been serious differences which endangered Paul’s leadership at Corinth. With the threatened rebellion no longer troubling Paul to the extent he was troubled at the height of the crisis, he wrote to the Corinthians, communicating to them his thankful relief. Moreover, he wrote to them concerning the collection which he expected to gather for the church at Jerusalem. This project had fallen behind in the critical situation that developed. Furthermore, apparently because there remained residual elements of unrepentant minorities, Paul wrote with extraordinary vigor and vehemence concerning his authority as an apostle. In anticipation of his coming visit to Corinth, Paul wrote with great force concerning his claim to unequivocal apostolic leadership over the Corinthian congregation. His opponents who had challenged his apostolic authority were, in return, challenged by Paul himself as he marshaled impressive evidence authenticating his apostolic authority and leadership. All of this constrains Paul to write to the Corinthians that he expects to visit them shortly.
Content, including outline.
This epistle is not as systematically structured as 1 Corinthians. The most likely explanation is that Paul has more of an emotional rather than a logical order for the letter. The first part reveals a deep emotional outpouring of grateful thanksgiving over the easing of the tense situation. In this part Paul reveals his delicate sensitiveness to the strained relations. He also shows great joy over the restoration of Corinthian loyalty to him. The second section discloses a fervent appeal for liberality in the collection for the church at Jerusalem. Paul informs the Corinthians that Titus and others are coming to help them in this project. The third section manifests an indignant spirit as Paul vehemently asserts the authority of his apostolic office and ministry. The epistle is outlined as follows:
“A man in Christ.”
In 1 Corinthians where Paul counsels on church problems, the self-portrait is that of a Christian minister. In 2 Corinthians where he gives strikingly intimate glimpses into his own person, the self-portrait is that of “a man in Christ” (
Perhaps nowhere in the NT is the theme of the ministry set forth in its sublimity as in 2 Corinthians (cf.
Next, Paul discusses the work of the ministry in connection with the predicament of trial. This triumphant ministry is committed to earthen vessels subjected to great affliction and tribulation (
Finally, Paul describes the theme of the ministry. It is the ministry of reconciliation (
Paul’s collection for needy Christians at Jerusalem had an important role in his missionary efforts. He has devoted two chs. (
J. H. Kennedy, The Second and Third Epistles of St. Paul to the Corinthians (1900); K. Lake, The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul (1911); A. Menzies, The Second Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians (1912); A. Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (1915); R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (1935); R. H. Strachan, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (1935); H. Lietzmann, An die Korinther I - II, 4th ed. (1949); F. V. Filson, “The” (The Interpreter’s Bible) (1953); R. V. G. Tasker, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (1958); E. P. Hughes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians (1962).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
I. TEXT, AUTHENTICITY AND DATE
1. Internal Evidence
2. External Evidence
II. RESUME OF EVENTS
III. THE NEW SITUATION
1. The Offender
2. The False Teachers
3. The Painful Visit
4. The Severe Letter
IV. HISTORICAL RECONSTRUCTION
V. INTEGRITY OF THE EPISTLE
1. 2 Corintians 6:14-7:1
2. 2 Corintians 10:1-13:10
VI. CONTENTS OF THE EPISTLE
1. 2 Corintians 1-7
2. 2 Corintians 8-9
3. 2 Corintians 10-13
VII. VALUE OF THE EPISTLE LITERATURE
I. Text, Authenticity and Date.
1. Internal Evidence:
Compare what has already been said in the preceding article. In the two important 5th-century uncials, Codex Alexandrinus (A) and Codex Ephraemi (C), portions of the text are lacking. As to the genuineness internal evidence very vividly attests it. The distinctive elements of Pauline theology and eschatology, expressed in familiar Pauline terms, are manifest throughout. Yet the epistle is not doctrinal or didactic, but an intensely personal document. Its absorbing interest is in events which were profoundly agitating Paul and the Corinthians at the time, straining their relations to the point of rupture, and demanding strong action on Paul’s part. Our imperfect knowledge of the circumstances necessarily hinders a complete comprehension, but the references to these events and to others in the personal history of the apostle are so natural, and so manifestly made in good faith, that no doubt rises in the reader’s mind but that he is in the sphere of reality, and that the voice he hears is the voice of the man whose heart and nerves were being torn by the experiences through which he was passing. However scholars may differ as to the continuity and integrity of the text, there is no serious divergence among them in the opinion that all parts of the epistle are genuine writings of the apostle.
2. External Evidence:
Externally, the testimony of the sub-apostolic age, though not so frequent or precise as in the case of 1 Corinthians, is still sufficiently clear to establish the existence and use of the epistle in the 2nd centuryis silent when he might rather have been expected to use the epistle (compare Kennedy, Second and Third Corinthians, 142 ff); but it is quoted by Polycarp (Ad Phil., ii.4 and vi.1), and in the Epistle to Diognetus 5 12, while it is amply attested to by Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Tertullian and .
It was written from Macedonia (probably from Philippi) either in the autumn of the same year as that in which 1 Corinthians was written, 54 or 55 AD, or in the autumn of the succeeding year.
II. Resume of Events.
III. The New Situation.
It is manifest that we are in the presence of a new and unexpected situation, whose development is not clearly defined, and concerning which we have elsewhere no source of information. To elucidate it, the chief points requiring attention are:
(1) The references to the offender in 2Co 2 and 7, and to the false teachers, particularly in the later chapters of the ep.;
(2) the painful visit implicitly referred to in 2:1; and
(3) the letter described as written in tears and for a time regretted (2:4; 7:8).
1. The Offender:
The offender in
2. The False Teachers:
Esp. in the later chapters of 2 Corinthians there are, as we have seen, descriptions of an opposition by false teachers that is far beyond anything met with in 1 Corinthians. There indeed we have a spirit of faction, associated with unworthy partiality toward individual preachers, but nothing to lead us to suspect the presence of deep and radical differences undermining the gospel. The general consensus of opinion is that this opposition was of a Judaizing type, organized and fostered by implacable anti-Pauline emissaries from Palestine, who now followed the track of the apostle in Achaia as they did in Galatia. As they arrogated to themselves a peculiar relation to Christ Himself ("Christ’s men" and "ministers of Christ,"
3. The Painful Visit:
4. The Severe Letter:
Paul not only speaks of a visit which had ended grievously, but also of a letter which he had written to deal with the painful circumstances, and as a kind of ultimatum to bring the whole matter to an issue (
IV. Historical Reconstruction.
In view of such an interpretation, we may with considerable probability trace the course of events in the interval between 1 and 2 Corinthians as follows: After the dispatch of 1 Corinthians, news reached the apostle of a disquieting character; probably both Titus and Timothy, on returning from Corinth, reported the growing menace of the opposition fostered by the Judaizing party. Paul felt impelled to pay an immediate visit, and found only too sadly that matters had not been overstated. The opposition was strong and full of effrontery, and the whole trend of things was against him. In face of the congregation he was baffled and flouted. He returned to Ephesus, and poured out his indignation in a severe epistle, which he sent on by the hands of Titus. Before Titus could return, events took a disastrous form in Ephesus, and Paul was forced to leave that city in peril of his life. He went to Troas, but, unable to wait patiently there for tidings of the issue in Corinth, he crossed to Macedonia, and met Titus, possibly in Philippi. The report was happily reassuring; the majority of the congregation returned to their old attachment, and the heavy cloud of doubt and anxiety was dispelled from the apostle’s mind. He then wrote again--the present epistle--and forwarded it by Titus and other brethren, he himself following a little later, and finally wintering in Corinth as he had originally planned. If it be felt that the interval between spring and autumn of the same year is too brief for these events, the two epistles must be separated by a period of nearly 18 months, 1 Corinthians being referred to the spring of 54 or 55, and 2 Corinthians to the autumn of 55 or 56 AD. (Reference on the reconstruction should especially be made to Weizsacker’s Apostolic Age, English translation, I; to Sabatier’s Note to the English edition (1893) of his Apostle Paul; and to Robertson’s article in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes).)
V. Integrity of the Epistle.
Although the genuineness of the various parts of the epistle is scarcely disputed, the homogeneity is much debated. Semler and some later writers, including Clemen (Einheitlichkeit), have thought that
1. 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1:
2. 2 Corinthians 10:1-13:10:
It is universally acknowledged that there is a remarkable change in the tone of the section
VI. Contents of the Epistle.
The order of matter in 2 Corintians is quite clearly defined. There are three main divisions:
(1) chapters 1-7;
(2) chapters 8-9; and
(3) chapters 10-13.
1. 2 Corinthians 1-7:
2. 2 Corinthians 8-9:
In the second section,
3. 2 Corinthians 10-13:
(1) In relation to his converts, it shows us how sensitive he was, how easy it was to touch him on the quick, and to wound his feelings. The apostle was very human, and nowhere are his kindred limitations more obvious than in these present incidents. He would probably be the first to acquiesce, if it were said that even with him the creed was greater than the life. In the hastily written and nervously repented passages of that severe epistle; in the restless wandering, like a perturbed spirit, from Troas to Macedonia, to meet the news and know the issue of his acts, we see a man most lovable indeed, most like ourselves when issues hang in the balance, but a man not already perfect, not yet risen to the measure of the stature of Christ. Yet we see also the intensity with which Paul labored in his ministry--the tenacity with which he held to his mission, and the invincible courage with which he returned to the fight for his imperiled church. He loved those converts as only a great soul in Christ could love them. His keenest sorrow came in the disaster that threatened them, and he flew to their defense. He had not only won them for Christ, he was willing to die that he might keep them for Christ.
(2) The epistle is charged with a magnificent consciousness on the apostle’s part of his high calling in Christ Jesus. He has been called with a Divine calling to the most glorious work in which a man can engage, to be to this estranged earth an ambassador of heaven. Received as Divine, this vocation is accepted with supreme devotion. It has been a ministry of sorrow, of strain and suffering, of hairbreadth escapes with the bare life; with its thorn in the flesh, its buffering of Satan. Yet through it all there rings the note of abounding consolation in Christ Jesus, and never was the "power of Christ," resting on frail humanity, more signally manifested.
See the references to both epistles, and to 2 Corinthians alone, under this heading in the preceding article. To the list there given should be added Moffatt’s Introduction to the Literature of the, 1911; valuable for its critical presentation of recent views, and for its references to the literature.
R. Dykes Shaw