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2 CORINTHIANS - Introduction

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2 Corinthians - Introduction

Supplemental Commentary:



Occasion of this Letter.  This second canonical letter of St. Paul to the Christians at Corinth was proximately called forth by a report of Corinthian conditions made to the Apostle by his legate Titus.  All authors are agreed on this point.  But what was behind the news brought by Titus?  Why was Titus making a report?  And what matters did his account cover?  Again authorities are in agreement that Titus was reporting results and effects on the faithful at Corinth of a censuring letter which St. Paul had previously written them during his stay at Ephesus.  While in Ephesus the Apostle had heard on good authority that all was not going so well at Corinth.  Factions and moral disorders were already in existence there which needed immediate and vigorous correction, and which only St. Paul himself could properly handle.

Now we know that faults and abuses of this kind are referred to and denounced in the first Corinthian letter that has come down to us.  Was it then the effects and results of this letter that Titus reported to his master and that occasioned our 2 Corinthians?  All authorities until recent times have answered in the affirmative.  Most modern scholars, however, looking more carefully into the contents of the two Corinthian letters we have are disinclined to accept this ancient opinion; they do not believe that our 1 Corinthians furnished the remote occasion of our 2 Corinthians.  And in support of their view these recent scholars say, first, that it is very difficult to reconcile the language of 2 Cor. 2, 3-11 and 7, 8-12 with what St. Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 5, 1 ff about the incestuous man.  There seems to be question of a different kind of offender in 2 Corinthians, and his offense would seem to be of a personal nature against St. Paul himself or some other individual, rather than against the whole community, as in 1 Cor. 5.  Secondly, these authorities hold that the description in 2 Cor. 2, 3-5; 7, 8, of a letter written the Corinthians, and of his feelings while writing it, does not easily fit or harmonize with anything in our 1 Cor.  Finally, the defenders of this new opinion point to 2 Cor. 2, 1; 12, 14; 13, 1, as referring to a visit to Corinth subsequent to the time of founding the Church there.  St. Paul could not speak of his first visit to Corinth, which met with unexpected success, as one of sorrow; nor could he call his forthcoming visit the "third" one, unless he had made a journey thither after his first long sojourn in that city when establishing the Corinthian church.

For these reasons it is the modern and, we think, the more probable view that St. Paul, in order to set matters right at Corinth, went there in person on a second visit some time during his stay at Ephesus; and, failing in his mission, he returned to Ephesus, and thence wrote the severe letter to which he refers in 2 Cor. 2, 3-5; 7, 8, on the effects of which Titus later made a report to him, and which therefore was the remote occasion of this present letter, our 2 Corinthians.  In this opinion, then, St. Paul wrote four letter to the Corinthians: the one spoken of in 1 Cor. 5, 9, which is lost; our 1 Cor.; this intermediate letter written while he was at Ephesus; and our 2 Cor.

Integrity.  But where is that third and intermediate letter?  Has it also not come down to us?  On this point scholars are not in agreement.  Some say that it is wholly lost.  Others believe that we have it, at least in part, in 2 Cor. 10-13, which consequently was written before 2 Cor. 1-9, and which at some later date was joined by a copyist to our present 2 Cor.  A less probable view regards 2 Cor. 10-13 as written shortly after 2 Cor. 1-9, in response to fresh bad news from Corinth.

The reasons for believing that 2 Cor. 1-9 and 10-13 do not belong to one and the same letter are the marked differences in tone and content between the two parts.  It is observed that the first seven chapters of this letter are a joyful acceptance of Titus' report and a mild defense of the work and life of St. Paul and his companions, ending on a note of complete harmony; while 8 and 9 constitute a tactful and restrained handling of the collection to be finished at Corinth for the poor in Jerusalem.  Then suddenly, contrary to his practice in all his other letter and contrary to all psychological rules, he manifests an extraordinary anger, which is unequaled elsewhere in his writings, against his enemies at Corinth who were trying to destroy his authority and his work.  And what the Apostle says in these closing chapters is possibly aimed at the Corinthian church as a whole, and not at a disloyal minority.  How, we are asked, could St. Paul have so sharply terminated a letter, which in the first part is so mild and conciliating?

On the other hand, those who defend the unity of our 2 Cor. point to the evidence of all our extant manuscript copies of the Epistle, which give no signs of dislocation or separation, and to unbroken tradition down to recent times.  They also feel that the differences between these two parts of the letter have been unduly stressed.

Date and Place of Writing.  This letter was written towards the close of St. Paul's third great missionary journey, and therefore very probably some time in the autumn of the year 57 of our era.  He had expected to remain in Ephesus until Pentecost of that year, and then go to Corinth by way of Macedonia, meeting Titus at Troas and there receive from him a report on Corinthian conditions.  But opposition and disturbances at Ephesus compelled him to leave that Asian capital sooner than he had intended, and so it was in Macedonia, very probably at Philippi, that he and Titus met, that the report from Corinth was made, and that our 2 Corinthians was written.

Character of the Letter.  This is doubtless the most personal of all St. Paul's writings, not excepting his letters to Timothy, to Philemon and to the Philippians.  It is also the most vehement and polemical, especially in the four closing chapters, though the Epistle to the Galatians is similarly strongly apologetic and self-defensive in its tone and contents.  In no other letter of St. Paul have we so complete and intimate a portrait of the great Apostle.  As our 1 Cor. gives us a detailed picture of the early Church and its teaching, beliefs and practices, so this letter affords us the most minute description of the person and character of St. Paul that we have.

Purpose.  St. Paul wrote this letter in defense of his own person, authority and work, as well as of his associates in the ministry; to urge the collection that was being made at Corinth for the poor in Jerusalem; and to reply to the accusations of his bitter enemies.



Introduction 1, 1-14

I. Personal Defense 1, 15 -- 7, 16
1. The Apostle Explains His Delay 1, 15 -- 2, 17

2. The Apostle Defends His Assurance 3, 1 -- 5, 10

3. The Apostle Defends His Sincerity 5, 11 -- 7, 1

4. The Apostle Defends His Previous Letter 7, 2-16
II. The Collection for the Poor Christians in Jerusalem 8, 1 -- 9, 15

III. The Apostle Defends his Apostolate 10, 1 -- 13, 10

Conclusion 13, 11-13

Confraternity Bible:



St. Paul wrote this second canonical Epistle to the Christians of Corinth from Macedonia towards the close of his third missionary journey, and therefore very probably around the year 57 of our era.  The Apostle had lately come from Ephesus, where he had spent over two years, and was on his way to Corinth.  He had previously sent Titus to Corinth to visit the new community and to ascertain the effect on the faithful there of a severe letter which he had been obliged to write them some time before.

Paul and Titus had first arranged to meet at Troas, a Mysian seaport on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea; but St. Paul arrived there ahead of schedule, and being anxious for news from Corinth, went across the sea to Philippi in Macedonia, and it was probably there that he met his envoy.

The report given by Titus of the effect on the Corinthians of St. Paul's letter from Ephesus occasioned this Epistle, in which the Apostles defends his life and ministry, urges that the collection---already requested and begun---be made for the poor Christians in Jerusalem, and replies to his bitter opponents.  The Epistle ranks with those to Timothy and the Galatians as the most intensely personal of St. Paul's writings.  But unlike the letters to Timothy, which are calmly pastoral and directive, this Epistle is vehement and hotly polemical, especially in the four closing chapters.  The writer will have his critics and adversaries understand that he is a true apostle of Jesus Christ, and that his sincerity and authority have been amply attested by extraordinary visitations from heaven and by unparalleled labors and sufferings in behalf of the Gospel.