THE SECOND LETTER
TO THE CORINTHIANS



1. Who wrote the Second Letter to the Corinthians?

1.1. What does 2 Cor 1:1 indicate about the authorship of 2 Corinthians?

2 Cor 1:1 indicates that the authors of  2 Corinthians were Paul and Timothy.

1.2. Until 2 Cor 9:15, the first person plural (1:4-13a, 14, 24; 2:14-3:6, 12-13; 4:1-5; 4:7-18; 5:11-6:12; 7:2-6, 7a, 13, 14b; 8:1, 4-6, 13, 17-22, 23b; 9:11) occurs more frequently than the first person singular (1:13b, 15-17, 23; 2:1-12; 6:13; 7:3-4, 7b-12, 14a, 16; 8:3, 8, 10, 16, 23a; 9:2-5). When using the first person plural, Paul is speaking to the Corinthians on behalf of himself and Timothy, as well as, by extension, his other colleagues. When he reverts to the first person singular, presumably Paul intends his readers to understand him alone as the speaker. (The first person plural in 1:18-22 includes Paul, Timothy and Silvanus, for Paul is referring back to the founding of the church in the past; its use in 1:21; 3:18; 4:6; 5:1-10; 7:1 probably refers to believers in general). The reverse is true from 2 Cor 10:1 until the end of the letter: in this section, the first person singular (10:1-2, 8-9; 11:1-12a, 16-21a, 21c-12:18, 20-13:3, 6a, 10) occurs with much greater frequency than the first person plural (10:3-7, 8b, 11-18; 11:12b, 21b; 12:19; 13:4, 6b-9). As will become evident, this is because in the last four chapters of 2 Corinthians, Paul defends himself against criticism.


2. To whom was the Second Letter to the Corinthians written?

2.1. What does 2 Cor 1:1 indicate about the intended readers of 2 Corinthians?

It indicates that the intended readers of 2 Corinthians were the members of "the church of God in Corinth with all of the saints in all of Achaia."

2.2. Unlike 1 Corinthians, the letter is addressed also to churches in Achaia other than the church in Corinth (see 2 Thess 1:4: in Corinth Paul says that he boasts among the "churches"). In Rom 16:1, Paul refers to a certain Phoebe from the church in Cenchraea, near Corinth; perhaps there was also by this time a church in Athens, although Paul had little success there on his second missionary journey. No doubt, there were other churches in the Roman province of Achaia. While in Corinth for the eighteen months Paul and his associates probably ventured forth to other cities for the purpose of evangelism.


3. When was the Second Letter to the Corinthians written?

2 Corinthians was written after 1 Corinthians, and represents a later phase in the turbulent and strained relationship between Paul and the church at Corinth. A crisis in the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians occurs between the sending of letters that are now known as 1 & 2 Corinthians; when he writes 2 Corinthians this crisis has nearly passed. Information about the troubles between Paul and the church in Corinth, however, derives exclusively from the Corinthian correspondence; there is no hint of it in Acts 18-19.

3.1. According to the Book of Acts, Paul founds the Corinthian church during his second missionary journey. Some time later, at the completion of his third missionary journey, he probably visits Corinth church again. On his third missionary journey, Paul traveled to Ephesus, where he remained for three years (Acts 19:1; 20:31). After the riot in the city over the negative impact of the preaching of the gospel on the sale of silver images of Artemis (19:23-41), Paul left Ephesus, and went to Macedonia; from there he went south to Achaia (20:1-6). While in Achaia, Paul no doubt visited the Corinthian church, although Luke does not say so explicitly. (It was Paul's plan to visit Corinth again after leaving Ephesus and spend the winter there [1 Cor 16:5-7].) What Luke omits to say in his account of this part of Paul's third missionary journey is important for a complete understanding of the nature and origin of both 1 & 2 Corinthians. He says nothing of the deteriorating relationship between Paul and the Corinthian church, nor anything about the multiple correspondence between him and the church during his three years in Ephesus. In addition, Luke is silent about a visit by Paul to Corinth before he left Ephesus, a visit between the founding of the church and his probable visit to Corinth implied in Acts 20:1-6. For this information one must look to 1 & 2 Corinthians.

3.2. From data available in 1 & 2 Corinthians, it is possible to fill out the sparse picture in the Book of Acts of Paul's relationship with the Corinthian church subsequent to his sending of 1 Corinthians. The following events occurred after Paul's sending of 1 Corinthians and before his arrival in Corinth at the end of his third missionary journey.

A. Because he says nothing about them in the letter, it seems that, at some point after he sent 1 Corinthians, men whom Paul identifies as "false apostles" infiltrated the Corinthian church and exacerbated the pre-existing tensions between Paul and the Corinthian church. The exact identity of these "false apostles" and their theological differences with Paul has long been a topic of debate among scholars; unfortunately, no consensus has emerged, suggesting that there is inadequate evidence. Nevertheless, a partial determination of the identity of these intruders is possible from data from 2 Corinthians, in spite of the many unknowns that still remain. What is said or implied about these "false apostles" in the following passages?

1. 2 Cor 10:6, 12-18; 11:4

Paul's opponents in 2 Corinthians have infiltrated the church some time after its founding and are therefore intruders with no authority to be there. This is supported by the following evidence. In 2 Cor 10:6, Paul distinguishes the Corinthians, whose obedience will be complete, from his opponents, whose disobedience will be punished, suggesting that they are not a part of the original congregation. In 2 Cor 10:12-18, Paul disputes the intruders' right to be in Corinth, since they are infringing on his territory; this implies that they arrived sometime after the founding of the church. Finally, in 2 Cor 11:4, Paul describes his opponents as those who came to the Corinthians and preached another Jesus than the Jesus that he and his associates preached; the implication is that they came after Paul's eighteen months spent at Corinth during his second missionary journey.

2. 2 Cor 2:17; 3:1; 7:7-12; 11:19-21a; 12:13-18

It is probable that the "false apostles" are to some extent itinerant apostles who have brought with them letters of recommendations from other churches (2 Cor 3:1). They demand support from the Corinthians (and other churches) as their right, to which the Corinthians comply. Since he sarcastically remarks that he and his associates were too weak to exploit the Corinthians, it seems that Paul's refusal to take funds is put down to the problem with his weakness: he so lacks this apostolic boldness, unlike the "false apostles," that he cannot bring himself to exact material support from the church (2 Cor 7:7-12; 12:13-18). In fact, Paul believes that the "false apostles" have financially exploited the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:19-21); he characterizes them as peddling the word of God for profit (2 Cor 2:17).

3. 2 Cor 11:18, 21b-23

It seems that the false apostles are Jews who boast in their Jewishness, in contradistinction to the gentile believers at Corinth (2 Cor 11:18-22). This is evident from the fact that Paul reluctantly explains that he is as much a Hebrew, an Israelite and from the seed of Abraham as they are; the implication is that these men were taking pride in such self-designations. In addition, these intruders are claiming to be "servants of Christ." What they meant by such a term is not clear, but obviously it is a claim to superiority.

4. 2 Cor 11:5; 11:13-15; 12:11

Paul refers to these intruders as "super-apostles" (2 Cor 11:5; 12:11), a term probably coined with a touch of irony by him, reflecting the high esteem with which they were held by some in the Corinthian church and probably their claim to be superior to Paul. In fact, in Paul's view these men are "false apostles" (2 Cor 11:13-15).

5. 2 Cor 4:2; 11:3, 13

Whatever exactly they are putting forth as the "good news" Paul rejects as false (2 Cor 4:2; 11:3, 13); unfortunately, the details of their false teaching are not disclosed in the letter.

6. 2 Cor 5:13; 12:1-7, 11-12

From what Paul says in his own defense in 2 Cor 12:11-12, it seems that the "false apostles" have a reputation for being able to perform signs and wonders; they deny the title of apostle to Paul because he allegedly has no similar record of miracle working. In addition, these men can boast of having received "visions and revelations." That Paul feels compelled to relate his own revelatory experience, undisclosed for fourteen years, implies that he is being compared unfavorably in this respect (2 Cor 12:1-7; 5:13).

     It seems that, in contrast to the false apostles, whom Paul also sarcastically calls "super-apostles," the Corinthians affixed to Paul the disapprobious label of "weak" (asthenê); this encapsulated their overall appraisal of him, disqualifying him thereby from being considered an apostle (2 Cor 10:10; 11:21, 30; 12:5). Paul appears to be quoting from the one who still heads up the opposition against him when he writes, "For he says, 'His letters are weighty, but in person he is weak'" (10:10; see 10:9; 1 Cor 2:1-3). Similarly, when he remarks that he, unlike his opponents, was too "weak" to exploit the Corinthians, Paul seems to be turning an accusation leveled against him on its head (11:21). The same use of irony to refute the charge of being too "weak" occurs in 2 Cor 13:9: Paul says that he and his colleagues rejoice when they are supposedly "weak," but the Corinthians are "strong," because their prayer is for the perfection of the Corinthians. Finally, standing behind Paul's paradoxical assertions that he boasts in his weakness is the negative assessment that he is too "weak" to be a bona fide apostle (11:30; 12:5). This charge of being "weak" is still retained by a significant minority at the time of Paul's writing of 2 Corinthians. In general, it seems that to be "weak" means to be lacking in those traits associated with "successful" people.

B. The letter now known as 1 Corinthians apparently is not well-received by the Corinthians. Possibly, Timothy, whom Paul sent to Corinth about the same time that he sent 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 4:16-17; 16:10-11), returns to Ephesus and tells Paul that his letter has been ineffectual. When he hears about this, it seems that Paul makes a brief, unplanned visit to Corinth in the third year of his stay in Ephesus, the purpose of which is disciplinary; this is his second visit to the city. (Paul did plan to visit the Corinthians again [1 Cor 4:19-21; 16:4-5], but not so soon.) (Corinth is about 400 kilometers by sea from Ephesus and a journey between the two cities would take about three days under good conditions.) That he makes this visit to Corinth is passed over in silence by the Book of Acts, but is clearly implied by two of Paul's remarks in 2 Corinthians. (The references to his visit to Corinth in 1 Cor 2:1; 3:2; 11:2 can only be to his first visit, at which time he founded the church.) From what he says in the following passages, one can conclude that Paul has been to Corinth twice before he writes 2 Corinthians.

1. 2 Cor 12:14

Paul tells the Corinthians that he is ready to visit them for third time, and he reassures them when he does he will not burden them because what he wants is them not their possessions, contrary to what Paul's opponents have been saying. The implication is that Paul has been to Corinth twice already. The first visit is the founding of the church, which Luke describes in Acts 18. The second visit, however, is omitted by Luke in his account of Paul's three year stay in Ephesus (Acts 19); this visit probably occurs before his departure from Ephesus but after his sending of 1 Corinthians.

2. 2 Cor 13:1-2

In anticipation of his third visit to the church in Corinth, Paul warns the Corinthian believers that he will not spare "those who had sinned earlier and the others." He also refers to his second visit to them, when he warned them that on his third visit he would take severe measures against those whom he found to be in a state of sin on his second visit. In other words, he gives them a period of time in which to repent, the period between his second and his anticipated third visit. It is clear from what Paul says that he has been to Corinth twice at the time of his writing 2 Corinthians.

      This second, unplanned visit that Paul makes to Corinth is usually referred to as the "painful visit," because the Corinthians treat him so abusively. What does Paul indicate about his experience in Corinth during his second visit to the city in the following two passages?

1. 2 Cor 2:1

Upon his return, Paul says that he decided that he would not make another painful visit to the Corinthian believers. Obviously, the experience was unpleasant for him.

2. 2 Cor 12:21

Paul says that God "humbled me before you." What he means is that he was humiliated in Corinth because he was unsuccessful in convincing the Corinthian believers to turn from their sins, which he lists as "impurity, sexual immorality and debauchery." Paul left the city defeated and alienated from the church. He fears that the same scenario would be repeated if he goes for a third visit.

C. Upon his return from his "painful visit" to Ephesus, Paul writes another letter to the Corinthians, usually called the "severe letter" or the "tearful letter," in which he takes them to task for their sins (2 Cor 2:3-4). In particular, he seems to deal with one specific offender in the letter (2 Cor 2:5-11), and the letter probably serves to defend his right to apostleship against the false teachers (see 2 Cor 3:1; 5:12). He sends this letter with Titus accompanied by some unidentified "brothers" (2 Cor 2:13; 7:6, 13-14; 12:17-18). There are some in Corinth, however, who are not too impressed by Paul's letters, especially since they stand in such stark contrast to his feeble personal presence (10:10; see 12:21). What does Paul think about his idea of sending his "severe letter" to the Corinthians according to 2 Cor 7:8?

Before he receives news from Titus that the Corinthian believers have responded favorably to it, Paul regrets sending his "severe letter," thinking that it is too harsh and that it will further alienate him from the church at Corinth.

D. Because of his disastrous second visit to Corinth, Paul changes his travel plans and is then criticized by the Corinthians as capricious and unreliable for doing so (2 Cor 1:15-2:1). Paul's original plan, which he related in 1 Corinthians, was to visit the Corinthian believers after traveling through Macedonia; he wanted to spend some time with them, and perhaps even spend the winter with them (1 Cor 16:5-7). As indicated already, after writing 1 Corinthians, Paul thought it advisable to make an emergency visit to the church in Corinth, and did so. Apparently, at some point during that second visit, Paul told the Corinthians that he would visit them again, a third time, on his way to Macedonia and then visit them a fourth on his way back from Macedonia en route to Judea (2 Cor 1:16). In this way, he planned to give them a double benefit (deuteran charin) (1:15). This proposed itinerary is different from what is found in 1 Corinthians. Upon his return to Ephesus, however, Paul changes his mind again, returning to his original plan outlined in 1 Cor 16:5-7: to visit the church in Corinth once after traveling through Macedonia. (He is in the process of doing this when he writes 2 Corinthians.) He does this presumably in order to postpone his third visit to Corinth for as long as possible, because he wants to give them as much time as possible to repent of their sins and hostility towards him (2 Cor 2:1). When he comes for the third time, he knows that he cannot spare those who sinned earlier (2 Cor 1:23; 13:2). Somehow, the Corinthians have heard that Paul has changed his plans again and use this as proof of his instability: "When I decided to do this did I do it lightly? Or do I do things in a worldly manner saying 'Yes, yes' and No, no' at the same time?" (2 Cor 1:17).

E. Paul relates a devastating, but unidentified experience that he and Timothy at least have in the Roman province of Asia (Perhaps the "we" includes, however, more than the pair). The experience is so burdensome that it is beyond their ability to bear it, so that they feel themselves to be under a sentence of death. They even give up all hope of survival: when he says that they "despaired of life itself" (2 Cor 1:8), Paul probably means that they were ready and even expecting to die. Whatever it was, this perilous situation must have been something other than being the focus of the hostility of the riotous mob in Ephesus, because Paul's life was never really in danger during that incident (Acts 19:23-41). Thus, Luke omits all reference to this incident in the Book of Acts.

F. Presumably because of this devastating experience, Paul then leaves Ephesus and goes to Troas, where expects to find Titus traveling on his way back from Corinth after having delivered the "severe letter." He is disappointed, however, to discover that Titus is not in Troas (2 Cor 2:13). Paul and Timothy (and perhaps others) meet up eventually with Titus somewhere in Macedonia, where they receive good news about how most of the Corinthians have responded positively to the "severe letter" (2 Cor 7:5-7, 13). (Paul's departure from Ephesus and journey to Macedonia is one of the few point of contact between events mentioned in 2 Corinthians and Luke's account in Acts 19:1-20:6.) It is in response to this good news that Paul writes the letter now known as 2 Corinthians; he sends the letter with Titus and two unnamed "brothers" (2 Cor 8:16-18, 22), and expects the letter to precede his arrival in Corinth.

3.3. It is possible that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians only a few months after he wrote 1 Corinthians. In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes about how "last year" (apo perusi) the Corinthians not only agreed to participate in the collection project that Paul undertook to raise money for poor in Judea (2 Cor 8:10; 9:2), but also began to give towards it (2 Cor 8:10). Thus, at the time of his writing 2 Corinthians a new year has begun since the Corinthians agreed to be part of the collection project and actually began giving towards it, for otherwise Paul could not refer to this as occurring "last year." At this time, the Macedonian churches have already made a substantial contribution to the collection project, inspired, in part, by the example of the Corinthians (2 Cor 8:1-4; 9:12), but the Corinthians have lagged behind and have yet to complete the same task (2 Cor 8:6-7; 9:3-5). It is possible that Titus went to Corinth at some time before the sending of 1 Corinthians, told the church there of Paul's plan to take up a collection and received their commitment to participate in the project. When he returned to Paul in Ephesus, Titus told Paul of the Corinthians' willingness to be part of the project, whereupon Paul gave them instructions on how to organize their giving so that when he arrived the money would be waiting for him when he arrived (1 Cor 16:1-2).

      There are, however, two unanswered questions related to this matter. First, which calendar did Paul have in mind when he wrote that the Corinthians did what they did "last year"? The Macedonian calendar began the new year in the fall (September 21) similar to the Jewish civil calendar, which began its new year about the same time. Or did Paul reckon the date by Olympiads, according to which the transition from one year to the next occurs in the summer? Or did Paul use the Julian calendar, according to which the new year begins in January? Second, how much time has actually elapsed between the Corinthians' agreement to participate in the collection project (2 Cor 8:10; 9:2) and the time when Paul is writing about this as an event that occurred "last year"? This time period could range from a few months to almost two years, depending on when in the respective year each of the two events occurred. (To refer to an event as happening "last year" seems to presuppose the passage of at least a few months, for otherwise one would probably refer to such a recent event in the past as occurring a few weeks ago or last month or some similar phrase.) It is not clear whether the Corinthian believers had begun to give to the project before Paul sent 1 Corinthians, or whether they had waited for Paul's instructions given in 1 Cor 16:1-2 before they began their systematic giving to the project (on the first day of the week, when they met together). In other words, the question is whether the sending of 1 Corinthians is included as one of the events of "last year," insofar as it preceded the Corinthians' giving towards the collection project and is presupposed by it.

      That Paul wrote 2 Corinthians only a few months after 1 Corinthians is at least one possible interpretation of the available data. If Paul left Ephesus sometime around Pentecost (late spring), as he said he intended to (1 Cor 16:8), and if he reckoned the beginning of the new year according to the Macedonian calendar (or the Jewish civil calendar or even by the Olympiads), then a new year would have begun if he wrote 2 Corinthians in October or November. If this reconstruction is correct, then Paul continued on his way to Corinth where he probably spent the winter months, as he planned (1 Cor 16:6), and was in Philippi by next Passover (Acts 20:6). This makes sense of the implication that his arrival in Corinth is immanent in 2 Cor 12:14; 13:1, 10. Obviously, such a chronological reconstruction requires that all the events to which Paul alludes in or events presupposed by 2 Corinthians occurred between the spring and the fall of the same year. (Generally, no traveling by ship was done in the winter months, so no traveling between Corinth and Ephesus would have taken place until the spring.)


4. Where was the Second Letter to the Corinthians written?

Based on a knowledge of Pauline chronology, if he wrote it after his departure from Ephesus and before his arrival in Corinth for his third visit, where was Paul when he wrote 2 Corinthians (see 2 Cor 2:13; 7:5; 8:1; 9:2-4)?

Paul was probably somewhere in Macedonia when he wrote 2 Corinthians.


5. What is the Second Letter to the Corinthians?

5.1. The structure of 2 Corinthians is tripartite: 2 Cor 1-7; 8-9; 10-13. These three parts, however, do not form a literary unity, having little connectiveness to one another. In 2 Cor 1-7, Paul responds to the news received from Titus after his return from Corinth; even in this section there is a certain amount of disunity. In the next two chapters of the letter, 2 Cor 8-9, Paul deals with the issue of the unfinished collection project. Finally, in 2 Cor 10-13, Paul defends himself against his lingering opposition, and the tone of the letter changes from conciliatory to confrontational.

5.2. Outline of the Second Letter to the Corinthians

A. 1:1-11 This represents the introduction of the letter.

1. 1:1-2 This is the salutation of the letter.

2. 1:3-11 Paul offers thanksgiving to God for his comforting of him and his colleagues in times of trouble. Paul then relates the great hardships that he and his associates suffered in Asia and how God delivered them from these.

B. 1:12-13:10 This section represents the main body of the letter.

1. 1:12-9:15

From 1:12 to 9:15 Paul is conciliatory to the majority of the Corinthians Christians, since they have repented of their hostility towards him.

a. 1:12-2:17

Paul defends himself against the accusation of inappropriate conduct, and justifies the fact that he did not follow his previously stated itinerary, since the Corinthians interpreted Paul' s changes to his travel plans as being an indicator of his unreliability.

b. 3:1-7:16

In the remainder of this section, Paul comments on his ministry, intermixed with statements defending himself and his actions.

i. 3:1-18

Paul defends himself against the charge that he and his associates are commending themselves to the Corinthians. He says that the Corinthians themselves are their letter of recommendation. He then speaks about how God has made him and his associates competent to be ministers of the new covenant, the ministry of the Spirit that brings righteousness, not the ministry of the letter (Law) that condemns.

ii. 4:1-15

Paul continues his defense of his ministry and that of his associates by denying that they used deception and that they distort the word of God. He adds that the gospel that they preach is concealed to those who are perishing. Paul also compares an apostle in his role of preaching the gospel to a clay container and the gospel that he preaches to a treasure stored in that clay container. In order to make it clear that the power for their work as apostles is from God, Paul and his colleagues are made to appear as unimpressive as clay containers.

iii. 4:16-5:10

Paul compares the present difficult situation in which he and his colleagues find themselves to the eternal glory that awaits them. Building on this idea, he compares the present body to a tent that, when destroyed, will be replaced by an eternal dwelling with God, of which the Spirit is the deposit. Finally, he warns the Corinthians that they must stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be judged for what they have done in the body.

iv. 5:11-6:2

Paul again says that he and his colleagues are not trying to commend themselves. He describes the ministry of reconciliation to which they have been called, and admonishes the Corinthians to be reconciled to God, not receiving the grace of God in vain.

v. 6:3-13

Paul's describes the hardships that he has endured as an apostle and exhorts the Corinthians not to withhold their affection from him.

vi. 6:14-7:1

Paul encourages the Corinthians to be righteous, separating themselves from unbelievers.

vii. 7:2-16

Paul's describes of the reaction of him and Timothy when Titus returned from Corinth with the good news that the majority of the Corinthians repented of their hostility towards Paul.

c. 8:1-9:15

Paul attempts to get the Corinthians to renew their efforts at collecting money for the churches in Judea. To this end, he compares them unfavorably to the Macedonian Christians, who gave freely out of their poverty. Apparently, the Corinthians put the project on hold because of some suspicion about Paul's motives and role in this undertaking. Paul reassures them that the purpose of this collection is not to impoverish them but to share with the genuinely needy; he explains that Titus, whom they seem to trust, will be part of the delegation to deliver the collection. Paul reminds them of the principle that God loves a cheerful giver and will return generously to the one who gives generously.

2. 10:1-13:10

In this section, Paul turns his attention to the minority that still opposes him. The tone of the letter changes from conciliatory to confrontational.

a. 10:1-18

Paul defends himself against the charges that he is timid in person but bold when he writes to them and that he lives "according to the flesh." He explains that unlike his opponents, he and his colleagues do not compare themselves, commend themselves or boast beyond limits.

b. 11:1-12:13

Paul unwillingly compares himself to his opponents, the "super-apostles," in order to prove that he is not their inferior. He does so with great reservation because he believes that a criterion of apostolic ministry is "weakness," which is incompatible with such self-assertion. He explains how God gave him a "thorn in the flesh" to prevent him from becoming conceited after having heard inexpressible things while caught up in the third heaven.

c. 12:14-13:10

Paul announces to the Corinthians that he is soon coming again to Corinth, and he defends himself against the charge that he exploits the Corinthian during his visits. Paul tells them that he does not want to find sin in the church when he comes and warns his remaining opponents that he will not spare them upon his third visit. He admonishes them to examine themselves to be sure that they are in the faith.

C. 13:11-14

This represents the conclusion of the letter. Paul brings the letter to a close with an admonition, greetings and a benediction.

5.3. Some scholars have detected the presence of interpolations of other letters into the original letter that Paul sent to the Corinthians just before his third visit to them.

5.3.1. 2 Cor 10-13

A. Although not exclusively in these three chapters (see 2 Cor 2:17; 3:1b; 5:12, as well as 2 Cor 1:12, 13-14, 17; 2:16b; 3:1a; 3:5-6a; 4:2-3; 4:7-9; 5:11; 5:16; 6:3-4; 4:5; 7:2), in 2 Cor 10-13, Paul deals with accusations leveled against him by his opponents. The result is a palpable change of tone beginning at 2 Cor 10:1. Whereas he is mostly conciliatory in 2 Cor 1-9, Paul becomes combative in 2 Cor 10-13. The change of tone is evident in the stark contrast between the commendatory comments that he makes in 2 Cor 1-9 and his critical statements in 2 Cor 10-13.

2 Cor 1-9
2 Cor 10-13
1:24: Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. 13:5: Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?

7:16: I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.

8:7: But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

12:20-21: For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

2:3:3: I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy.

7:4: I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.

10:2: I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world.
7:11: See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. 11:3: But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
3:2: You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 13:10: This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.

Because of this difference in tone between these two sections of 2 Corinthians, it has been proposed that 2 Cor 10-13 is actually a fragment or even the whole of the "severe letter."  If true, this means that 2 Cor 10-13 was written before Paul's reconciliation with the Corinthian church, which would explain its antagonistic tone. Another suggestion is that Paul wrote 2 Cor 10-13 as a separate letter after 1 Cor 1-9 in response to some further unsettling news about the Corinthians not known to him when he wrote the earlier letter. It is more probable, however, that the change of tone in 2 Cor 10-13 is a result of Paul's beginning to address his residual opposition in the Corinthian church. It seems that, after hinting at it for several chapters (e.g., 2 Cor 1:17-18; 2:17; 4:2-5; 5:12-13), at the end of the letter, Paul finally puts forward a defense against the accusations of those who still oppose him, which were once shared by the majority of the Corinthians, but still retained by a minority. (It should be noted that, in 2 Cor 2:6, Paul speaks of "the majority," implying that there is a minority that is still recalcitrant.) Thus, the alleged inconsistencies between 2 Cor 1-9 and 2 Cor 10-13 that those who adopt the partition theory explain as resulting from Paul's writing at two different times and in two different contexts are explainable as the result of there being two different groups of intended readers, those who are reconciled to Paul and a minority that remains hostile and resistant.

B. The other evidence advanced by the advocates of the partition theory is inconclusive. 

1. It is said that the three references to Paul's future visit to Corinth in 2 Cor 10-13 (2 Cor 10:6; 13:2, 10) are best interpreted as referring to another anticipated "painful visit." On this hypothesis, the warnings about what he would do when he visited for the third time in 2 Cor 10-13 (2 Cor 10:1-6; 13:2-3, 10) were issued before Paul received the good news about the change of heart of the Corinthians, at which time they became unnecessary. From this it is concluded that 2 Cor 10-13 was written after the "painful visit" but before 2 Cor 1-9, which represents Paul's response to the good news received from Titus about the Corinthians. Thus, 2 Cor 10-13 could be part of the "severe letter." But, if Paul was anticipating resistance from a minority in Corinth when he arrived in Corinth for the third time, then the references to a future visit in 2 Cor 10-13 could just as easily be referring to this anticipated third visit.

2. It is argued that several of Paul's statements in 2 Cor 1-9 presuppose something written in 2 Cor 10-13, implying that the latter was written before the former.  Each of these passages, however, admits of another explanation than that 2 Cor 10-13 was written before 1 Cor 1-9 and that the latter presupposes the former.

a. 2 Cor 10:1 / 7:16

In 2 Cor 10:1 Paul appeals to the Corinthians to be reconciled with him and then alludes to a criticism leveled against him that he is timid in person but "bold towards you" (tharreô eis humas) when absent, i.e., writing letters. In 2 Cor 7:16, Paul says that he rejoices that "I have complete confidence in you" (tharreô en humin), referring to the Corinthians. Supposedly, Paul's use of the word tharreô in 7:16 presupposes his use of the same word in 10:1. In other words, Paul is using the same word in a positive sense that he used in a negative sense in an earlier letter. But, even assuming that it is intentional, it is just as likely that Paul used the word tharreô with both a negative and a positive sense in the same letter, if he was writing to two different readerships. Besides, it seems that the accusation that Paul is timid in person but "bold" towards them when absent originates with his opponents.

b. 2 Cor 10:2 / 8:22

In 2 Cor 10:2 Paul says that he does not want to be forced to be bold by means of the confidence that he has (pepoithêsei), whereas in 8:22 he says that the unidentified "brother" that Paul is sending to the Corinthians is zealous with respect to the Corinthians "because of his great confidence towards you" (pepoithêsei pollê tê eis humas). It is argued that Paul uses the word "confidence" first negatively, and then, after his reconciliation with the Corinthians, in a positive sense. But such an argument seems highly tenuous, for Paul could easily have used the same word in two different contexts in the same letter.

c. 2 Cor 10:6 / 2:9

In 2 Cor 10:6, Paul warns that he is ready to punish every act of disobedience once the Corinthians' obedience (hupokoê) becomes complete, whereas in 2 Cor 2:9, he explains that he wrote in order to determine whether they would pass the test and be obedient (hupêkooi) in all things. It is argued that, in the former, Paul is looking forward to the future obedience of the Corinthians, unlike the latter, which presupposes that they have already become obedient; on this hypothesis, he uses a cognate of the same word in the later letter. But if Paul still anticipates resistance from a minority of the Corinthians and still believes that even among the repentant majority there are issues still to be resolved until their obedience can be said to be complete, then to have both statements in the same letter is consistent. In addition, it is probable that in 2 Cor 10:6 Paul does not aim "to punish the acts of disobedience" of the Corinthians, but of the false apostles. In other words, once the church has become fully obedient, Paul will be in a position to deal punitively with the intruders into the community.

d. 2 Cor 12:16 / 4:2

In 2 Cor 12:16, reflecting an accusation leveled against him, Paul remarks sarcastically, "But being crafty (panourgos) I caught you by trickery." In 2 Cor 4:2, he says about himself and his colleagues that they did not "walk in craftiness (en panourgia)." Supposedly, in his self-defense, Paul uses the word "crafty" in an earlier letter and then again in a later one. But there is no reason why he could not use the same word twice in the same letter in defense of himself and his colleagues.

e. 2 Cor 12:17 / 7:2

In 2 Cor 12:17, Paul asks whether he took advantage (epleonektêsa) of the Corinthians when he was in Corinth, and in 2 Cor 7:2, he declares, "We took advantage (epleonektêsamen) of no one. The use of the same verb ("to take advantage of"), however, implies only that Paul is addressing himself to the same accusation, which he could just as easily have done in one and the same letter as in two sequential letters.

f. 2 Cor 13:2 / 1:23

In 2 Cor 13:2, Paul warns that if he comes again he will not spare (pheisomai) the Corinthians, unlike his previous visit, but in 2 Cor 1:23, he says that he did not come to Corinth, in order to spare (hoti pheidomenos) the Corinthians, and so changed his travel plans. It is argued that the former precedes in time the latter, because in 2 Cor 1:23, supposedly, Paul has decided that he will not come again to Corinth, at least right away, whereas in 2 Cor 13:2 he has not decided whether he will come again to the city ("If I come..."). Another interpretation of the chronology implied in these two passages, however, is possible. In 2 Cor 1:23, Paul is explaining why he changed his plans: in order to spare the Corinthians. But when the majority relented of their hostility to him, Paul then decided that he would visit them for a third time. But, because of continued resistance by a minority within the church, Paul warns them that he will not spare them on his third visit, unlike his second visit.

g. 2 Cor 13:10 / 2:3

In 2 Cor 13:10, Paul tells the Corinthians that he writes what he does in order that when he is present he will not have to deal harshly with them. In other words, he hopes that they will respond positively to his letter. Earlier in 2 Cor 2:3, he tells the Corinthians that he wrote as he did in order that he would not be distressed when he came. It is argued that the former passage refers to a present act of writing, whereas the latter refers to the same act of writing but as a past event. It follows that 2 Cor 13:10 precedes 2 Cor 2:3 in time. Another interpretation of these two passages, however, is possible. 2 Cor 2:3 does indeed refer to the "painful letter," but Paul wrote 2 Cor 13:10 at the same time as 2 Cor 2:3 because he still expects some resistance to him when he comes for the third time. Only if there were no more resistance to Paul in the church at Corinth must 2 Cor 13:10 precede chronologically 2 Cor 2:3.

3. In 2 Cor 10:16, Paul says it is his goal to "preach the gospel in the regions beyond you" (eis ta huperekeina humôn euaggelisasthai), by which he probably means regions to the west of Corinth, namely Rome and Spain, where he intends to go after he has delivered his collection to the Judean believers (see Rom 15:24, 28). It is argued that Paul would not have referred to regions west of Corinth as "regions beyond you" if he were writing from Macedonia, because these regions would be just as much beyond him and his colleagues as they would be beyond the Corinthians; rather, he would say "regions beyond us" or some other similar phrase. But he would refer to Rome and Spain as regions beyond the Corinthians if he was writing from Ephesus, from which it follows that 2 Cor 10:16 must have been written when Paul was still in Ephesus and therefore 2 Cor 10-13 could be the "severe letter." What do you think of the argument that 2 Cor 10-13 must have been written before Paul went to Macedonia because of the presence of the phrase "the regions beyond you," and so must be part of the "severe letter"?

The argument from the use of the phrase "the regions beyond you" has limited force, because Paul could have spoken of Rome and Spain as "the regions beyond you" because he himself was not from Corinth. When traveling, he really does not belong anywhere geographically. If he were a permanent resident of Macedonia then the argument would be stronger.

4. It is argued that, when he asks, "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?" (2 Cor 3:1) and says "We are not commending ourselves to you again" (2 Cor 5:12), Paul is referring to his extended self-commendation in 2 Cor 10-13 (see 10:7; 1:5;, 18, 23; 12:12). Allegedly, after he undertook to commend himself to the Corinthians in the "severe letter," represented by 2 Cor 10-13, Paul changed his mind about the use of the tactic of self-commendation, which explains why he wrote in a later letter that he would not commend himself again. This is one interpretation of the data. Another is to understand Paul as saying to the repentant majority that he and his colleagues have no reason to commend themselves to the Corinthians again because they are the founders of the church (see 2 Cor 3:2: "You yourselves are our letter"). Reluctantly, as a last resort, however, they undertake to compare their own apostolic credentials with those of their opponents, so that it will become clear to the lingering opposition that they are not any less qualified to be apostles.

C. Arguments in favor of the original unity of 2 Cor 10-13 with the rest of 2 Corinthians include.

1. Based on what Paul says in 2 Cor 2:1-11; 7:12, it seems that, in part, the "severe letter" was prompted by opposition to Paul of a particular, unidentified man. Yet, it is odd that nothing is said of this man in 2 Cor 10-13 if these chapters are part of the "severe letter."

2. Paul mentions Titus's visit to the Corinthians in 2 Cor 12:18, which most naturally is taken to be a reference to the Titus's visit when he delivered the "severe letter" to the Corinthians. If so, then 2 Cor 10-13 cannot be part of the "severe letter."  If not, then this visit of Titus is otherwise unknown.

3. There is no evidence from manuscripts, versions or quotations that 2 Cor 10-13 ever existed as a part of another letter to the Corinthians, be this the "severe letter," or some other letter.

4. If 2 Cor 10-13 represents a fragment or the whole of the "severe letter," and so precedes 2 Cor 1-9 chronologically, it is strange that Paul says nothing in 2 Cor 1-9 about the Corinthians' reaction to his polemic against the false apostles found in 2 Cor 10-13.

5.2.2.  Because it disrupts the train of thought between 2 Cor 6:13 and 7:2, 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 has been suspected of being an interpolation of a fragment of another genuine letter of Paul, perhaps even the one alluded to in 1 Cor 5:9. Because Paul deals with the issue of believer's relations with unbelievers in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 and says that he dealt with this very issue—among others, no doubt—in his "previous letter" (1 Cor 5:9), it is possible that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is a fragment of this lost letter.  It is more probable, however, that the discontinuity is a feature of the Pauline digressional style, perhaps the result of his writing the letter in stages over a period of time. In addition, there is no manuscript evidence that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 did not originally belong between 2 Cor 6:13 and 7:2. Besides, why would an interpolator insert this alleged letter fragment in an inappropriate place in the original letter? 

5.2.3. The transition between 2 Cor 6:2 and 6:3 is so abrupt and 2 Cor 6:3 follows so naturally upon 2 Cor 5:13 that some have concluded that 2 Cor 5:14-6:2 is an interpolation. This is possible, but without textual evidence that it is not original it is better to view 2 Cor 5:14-6:2 as a Pauline digression.


6. Why was the Second Letter to the Corinthians written?

Paul had many reasons for writing this letter, which have already been discussed in other contexts. What do the following passages indicate about Paul's specific purposes for writing 2 Corinthians?

6.1. 2 Cor 1:3-11

Paul wrote to describe to the Corinthians his previous suffering and to provide an explanation of it.  According to Paul, the purpose of this occasion of suffering was twofold:  to be qualified to comfort those who suffer with the comfort that they received from God (1:4) and to teach him trust not in himself but in God, "who raises the dead" (1:9-10).

6.2. 2 Cor 1:12-2:4

Paul wrote to defend himself against the charge that he changed his travel plans several times without justification. The charge was that Paul could not be trusted to do what he promised. He explained that, each time he changed his travel plans, he had a good reason.

6.3. 2 Cor 2:5-11

Paul wrote to instruct the Corinthians on what to do about the particular man who had previously caused him so much trouble but now had repented. Paul instructed the Corinthians to forgive him and receive him back.

6.4. 2 Cor 2:12-13; 6:11-7:16

Paul wrote in response to the good news that he received from Titus about the Corinthians' change of mind towards him. He made another appeal for the Corinthians to be reconciled to him.

6.5. 2 Cor 8-9

Paul wrote to organize the faltering collection project among the Corinthians.

6.6. 2 Cor 10-13

Paul wrote to defend himself against those who still opposed him in the church at Corinth.  In so doing he explained to the Corinthians the true nature of apostleship, how "weakness" was a requirement to be an effective apostle. He also distinguished himself as a true apostle from the "false apostles."


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