2 Corinthians - New Testament - Bible

Facts and summary

1 Timothy is the eighth book of the Christian New Testament. The author of the book is traditionally understood to be the Apostle Paul and is dated to the mid 50's A.D. The letter was originally written to the church at Corinth and Christians through Achaia. The book is 13 chapters long and is often associated with 1 Corinthians in the New Testament. The purpose of the book is to respond to false teachers who had been speaking against Paul at Corinth. 2 Corinthians emphasizes Paul's integrity and role as apostle.

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.

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 century Clement of Rome is 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 Clement of Alexandria.

Resume of Events

Great difficulty exists as to the circumstances in which the epistle was written, and as to the whole situation between 1 and 2 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians Paul had intimated his intention of visiting the Corinthians and wintering with them, coming to them through Macedonia (16:5-7; compare also Acts 19:21). In 2 Cor 1:15,16 he refers to a somewhat different plan, Corinth--Macedonia--Corinth--Judaea; and describes this return from Macedonia to Corinth as a second or double benefit.

But if this plan, on which he and his friends had counted, had not been entirely carried out, it had been for good reason (1:17), and not due to mere fickleness or light-hearted change to suit his own convenience. It was because he would "spare" them (1:23), and not come to them "again with sorrow" (2:1). That is, he had been with them, but there had been such a profound disturbance in their relations that he dared not risk a return meantime; instead, he had written a letter to probe and test them, "out of much affliction and anguish of heart .... with many tears" (2:4).

Thank God, this severe letter had accomplished its mission. It had produced sorrow among them (2:2; 7:8,9), but it had brought their hearts back to him with the old allegiance, with great clearing of themselves, and fear and longing and zeal (7:11). There was a period, however, of waiting for knowledge of this issue, which was to him a period of intense anxiety; he had even nervously regretted that he had written as he did (7:5-8). Titus, who had gone as his representative to Corinth, was to return with a report of how this severe letter had been received, and when Titus failed to meet him at Troas 2 Cor 2:13, he had "no relief for his spirit," but pushed on eagerly to Macedonia to encounter him the sooner.

Then came the answer, and the lifting of the intolerable burden from his mind. "He that comforteth the lowly, even God, comforted" him (7:6). The Corinthians had been swayed by a godly sorrow and repentance (7:8), and the sky had cleared again with almost unhoped-for brightness. One who had offended (2:5 and 7:12)--but whose offense is not distinctly specified--had been disciplined by the church; indeed, in the revulsion of feeling against him, and in sympathy for the apostle, he had been punished so heavily that there was a danger of passing to an extreme, and plunging him into despair (2:7).

Paul accordingly pleads for leniency and forgiveness, lest further resentment should lead only to a further and sadder wrong (2:6-11). But in addition to this offender there were others, probably following in his train, who had carried on a relentless attack against the apostle both in his person and in his doctrine. He earnestly defends himself against their contemptuous charges of fleshliness and cowardice (chapter 10), and crafty venality (12:16,17). Another Jesus is preached, a different spirit, a different gospel (11:4). They "commend themselves" (10:12), but are false apostles, deceitful workers, ministers of Satan, fashioning themselves into ministers of Christ (11:13,14).

Their attacks are vehemently repelled in an eloquent apologia (chapters 11 and 12), and he declares that when he comes the third time they will not be spared (13:2). Titus, accompanied by other well-known brethren, is again to be the representative of the apostle 2 Cor 8:6,17 ff. At no great interval Paul himself followed, thus making his third visit (12:14; 13:1), and so far fulfilled his original purpose that he spent the winter peacefully in Corinth (compare Acts 20:2,3; Rom 15:25-27 and 16:23).

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 2 Cor 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).

The Offender

The offender in 1 Cor 5:1-5 had been guilty of incest, and Paul was grieved that the church of Corinth did not regard with horror a crime which even the pagan world would not have tolerated. His judgment on the case was uncompromising and the severest possible--that, in solemn assembly, in the name and with the power of the Lord Jesus, the church should deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.

On the other hand, the offender in 2 Cor 2:5 ff is one who obviously has transgressed less heinously, and in a way more personal to the apostle. The church, roused by the apostle to show whether they indeed cared for him and stood by him (2:9; 13:7), had, by a majority, brought censure to bear on this man, and Paul now urged that matters should go no farther, lest an excess of discipline should really end in a triumph of Satan. It is not possible to regard such references as applying to the crime dealt with in 1 Corinthians.

Purposely veiled as the statements are, it would yet appear that a personal attack had been made on the apostle; and the "many" in Corinth (2 Cor 2:6), having at length espoused his cause, Paul then deals with the matter in the generous spirit he might have been expected to display. Even if the offender were the same person, which is most improbable, for he can scarcely have been retained in the membership, the language is not language that could have been applied to the earlier case. There has been a new offense in new circumstances. The apostle had been grievously wronged in the presence of the church, and the Corinthians had not spontaneously resented the wrong. That is what wounded the apostle most deeply, and it is to secure their change in this respect that is his gravest concern.

The False Teachers

Especially 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," 2 Cor 10:7; 11:13), it is possible that the Christus-party of 1 Corinthians (and possibly the Cephas-party) may have persisted and formed the nucleus round which these newcomers built up their formidable opposition. One man seems to have been conspicuous as their ring-leader (2 Cor 10:7,11), and to have made himself specially obnoxious to the apostle.

In all probability we may take it that he was the offender of 2 Cor 2 and 7. Under his influence the opposition audaciously endeavored to destroy the gospel of grace by personal attacks upon its most distinguished exponent. Paul was denounced as an upstart and self-seeker, destitute of any apostolic authority, and derided for the contemptible appearance he made in person, in contrast with the swelling words and presumptuous claims of his epistles It is clear, therefore, that a profound religious crisis had arisen among the Corinthians, and that there was a danger of their attachment to Paul and his doctrine being destroyed.

The Painful Visit

2 Cor 12:14 and 13:1,2 speak of a third visit in immediate prospect, and the latter passage also refers to a second visit that had been already accomplished; while 2:1 distinctly implies that a visit had taken place of a character so painful that the apostle would never venture to endure a similar one. As this cannot possibly refer to the first visit when the church was founded, and cannot easily be regarded as indicating anything previous to 1 Corinthians which never alludes to such an experience, we must conclude that the reference points to the interval between 1 and 2 Corinthians.

It was then beyond doubt that the visit "with sorrow," which humbled him (12:21) and left such deep wounds, had actually taken place. "Any exegesis," says Weizsacker justly, "that would avoid the conclusion that Paul had already been twice in Corinth is capricious and artificial" (Apostolic Age, I, 343). Sabatier ( Apostle Paul, 172 note) records his revised opinion: "The reference here (2:1) is to a second and quite recent visit, of which he retained a very sorrowful recollection, including it among the most bitter trials of his apostolical career."

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 (2 Cor 2:4; 7:8). This letter was written because he could not trust himself meantime to another visit. He was so distressed and agitated that he wrote it "with many tears"; after it was written he repented of it; and until he knew its effect he endured torture so keen that he hastened to Macedonia to meet his messenger, Titus, halfway.

It is impossible by any stretch of interpretation to refer this language to 1 Corinthians, which on the whole is dominated by a spirit of didactic calm, and by a consciousness of friendly rapport with its recipients. Even though there be in it occasional indications of strong feeling, there is certainly nothing that we can conceive the apostle might have wished to recall. The alternative has generally been to regard this as another case of a lost epistle Just as the writer of Acts appears to have been willing that the deplorable visit itself should drop into oblivion, so doubtless neither Paul nor the Corinthians would be very anxious to preserve an epistle which echoed with the gusts and storms of such a visit.

On the other hand a strong tendency has set in to regard this intermediate epistle as at least in part preserved in 2 Cor 10 through 13, whose tone, it is universally admitted, differs from that of the preceding chapters in a remarkable way, not easily accounted for. The majority of recent writers seem inclined to favor this view, which will naturally fall to be considered under the head of "Integrity."

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 2 Cor 9 should be eliminated as logically inconsistent with chapter 8, and as evidently forming part of a letter to the converts of Achaia. But the connection with chapter 8 is too close to permit of severance, and the logical objection, founded on the phraseology of 9:1, is generally regarded as hypercritical. There are two sections, however, whose right to remain integral parts of 2 Cor has been more forcibly challenged.

2 Corinthians 6:14 through 7:1

The passage 2 Cor 6:14 to 7:1 deals with the inconsistency and peril of intimate relations with the heathen, and is felt to be incongruous with the context. No doubt it comes strangely after an appeal to the Corinthians to show the apostle the same frankness and kindness that he is showing them; whereas 7:2 follows naturally and links itself closely to such an appeal. When we remember that the particular theme of the lost letter referred to in 1 Cor 5:9 was the relation of the converts to the immoral, it is by no means unlikely that we have here preserved a stray fragment of that epistle .

2 Corinthians 10:1 through 13:10

It is universally acknowledged that there is a remarkable change in the tone of the section 2 Cor 10:1 through 13:10, as Compared with that of the previous chapters In the earlier chapters there is relief at the change which Titus has reported as having taken place in Corinth, and the spirit is one of gladness and content; but from chapter 10 onward the hostility to the apostle is unexpectedly represented as still raging, and as demanding the most strenuous treatment. The opening phrase, "Now I Paul" (10:1), is regarded as indicating a distinctive break from the previous section with which Timothy is associated (1:1), while the concluding verse, 13:11 to end, seem fittingly to close that section, but to be abruptly out of harmony with the polemic that ends at 13:10.

Accordingly it is suggested that 13:11 should immediately follow 9:15, and that 10:1 through 13:10 be regarded as a lengthy insertion from some other epistle. Those who, while acknowledging the change of tone, yet maintain the integrity of the epistle, do so on the ground that the apostle was a man of many moods, and that it is characteristic of him to make unexpected and even violent transitions; that new reports of a merely scotched antagonism may come in to ruffle and disturb his comparative contentment; and that in any case he might well deem it advisable finally to deliver his whole soul on a matter over which he had brooded and suffered deeply, so that there might be no mistake about the ground being cleared when he arrived in person.

The question is still a subject of keen discussion, and is not one on which it is easy to pronounce dogmatically. On the whole, however, it must be acknowledged that the preponderance of recent opinion is in favor of theory of interpolation. Hausrath (Der Vier-Capitel-Brief des Paulus an die Korinther, 1870) gave an immense impetus to the view that this later section really represents the painful letter referred to in 2 Cor 2 and 7. As that earlier letter, however, must have contained references to the personal offender, the present section, which omits all such references, can be regarded as at most only a part of it.

This theory is ably and minutely expounded by Schmiedel (Hand-Kommentar); and Pfleiderer, Lipsius, Clemen, Krenkel, von Soden, McGiffert, Cone, Plummer, Rendall, Moffatt, Adeney, Peake, and Massie are prominent among its adherents. J. H. Kennedy (Second and Third Cor) presents perhaps the ablest and fullest argument for it that has yet appeared in English. On the other hand Sanday (Encyclopaedia Biblica) declares against it, and Robertson (Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes)) regards it as decidedly not proven; while critics of such weight as Holtzmann, Beyschlag, Klopper, Weizsacker, Sabatier, Godet, Bernard, Denney, Weiss, and Zahn are all to be reckoned as advocates of the integrity of the epistle.

2 Corinthians 10 through 13

The third section, 2 Cor 10 through 13, as has been pointed out, is a spirited and even passionate polemic, in the course of which the Judaizing party in Corinth is vigorously assailed. The enemies of the apostle have charged him with being very bold and courageous when he is absent, but humble enough when he is present. He hopes the Corinthians will not compel him to show his courage (10:2).

It is true, being human, he walks in the flesh, but not in the selfish and cowardly way his opponents suggest. The weapons of his warfare are not carnal, yet are they mighty before God to cast down such strongholds as theirs, such vain imaginations and disobedience. Some boast of being "Christ's," but that is no monopoly; he also is Christ's. They think his letters are mere "sound and fury, signifying nothing"; by and by they will discover their mistake. If he should glory in his authority, he is justified, for Corinth was verily part of his God-appointed province, and he at least did not there enter on other men's labors.

But it would be well if men who gloried confined themselves to glorying "in the Lord." For after all it is His commendation alone that is of any permanent value (10:3-18). Will the Corinthians bear with him in a little of this foolish boasting? Truly he ventures on it out of concern for them (11:2). And as they are manifest adepts in toleration, abounding in patience toward those who have come with a different gospel, they may perhaps extend some of their indulgence to him, for though he cannot lay claim to a polished oratory comparable to that of these "super-eminent" apostles, yet at least he is not behind them in knowledge (11:4-6).

Can it be that he really sinned in preaching the gospel to them without fee or reward? Was it a mark of fleshly cunning when he resolved not to be burdensome to them, while he accepted supplies from Macedonia? Ah! it was not because he did not love them, but because he decided to give no occasion to those who were too ready to blame him--those false apostles, who, like Satan himself, masqueraded as angels of light and ministers of righteousness (11:7-15). Come, then, let him to this glorying, this poor folly, which they in their superlative wisdom bear with so gladly in the case of those insolent creatures who now bully and degrade them (11:16-21). Hebrews! Israelites! So is he. Ministers of Christ!

There he excels them--in labors, in perils, in persecutions; in burdens, anxieties, sympathies; in visions and revelations of the Lord; in infirmities and weaknesses that have made more manifest in him the strength of Christ 2 Cor 11:22-12:10. Certainly all this is folly, but they are most to blame for it who, through lack of loyalty, have forced him to it. Did he injure them by declining to be burdensome? Is it so sore a point? Let it be forgiven! Yet when he comes again he will take no other course (12:11-18).

They must not imagine that in all this he is excusing himself to them. He is sincerely and affectionately concerning himself for their edifying. He trembles lest when they meet again they should be disappointed in each other; lest they should be found in unworthy strife and tumults, and lest he should be humbled of God before them, having cause to mourn over some who are hardened and impenitent in their sins (12:19-21).

For they must meet again--he is coming for the third time--and this time he will not spare. Let them prove themselves whether they be in the faith; for surely they must know whether Christ be in them. He earnestly prays for their goodness and honor; not to the end that no display of his power may be called for, but simply that he will be glad to appear weak if they should appear strong. Could they but believe it, their perfecting is the aim of all his labors (13:1-10). And so, with words of grace and tenderness, exhorting them to unity and peace, and pronouncing over them the threefold benediction, he bids them farewell (13:11-4).


ISBE (in the public domain)