The first letter had been sent; Paul had been hindered from coming to see the Corinthian Christians as he had promised. Titus found refreshment from the Corinthians, but Paul was none too pleased by what was likely Titus’ report about the conditions in Corinth and the aspersions cast against Paul’s behavior and standing. Another letter proved necessary.
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is the eighth book in modern editions of the New Testament. Paul and Timothy are listed as the authors of the letter (2 Corinthians 1:1), yet Paul’s voice is the one primarily heard. Perhaps Paul personally wrote 2 Corinthians or again dictated to an amanuensis as in Romans and 1 Corinthians. Pauline authorship of 2 Corinthians is not in dispute even among scholars, although many suggest that what we call 2 Corinthians is a pastiche of two or perhaps even three letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians. For our purposes we will consider the letter to represent a single piece of correspondence. It would seem that Paul has left Ephesus and Asia after escaping dire circumstances and wrote to the Corinthians in advance of a personal visit (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, 13:1); he seems to have intended to come directly to Corinth and Achaia and from there to Macedonia but was compelled to change his plans (2 Corinthians 1:15-18, 2:12-13). From this evidence it would seem that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians while in Macedonia (ca. 57-58; Acts 20:1-2). Internal evidence from the letter may suggest that Paul had visited and communicated at other points between 1 and 2 Corinthians; in 2 Corinthians, Paul continued to encourage the Corinthian Christians to fully trust in God, provide their promised gift, and to give no ground to the “super-apostles” in their midst, rebuking those in error.
After his standard greeting (2 Corinthians 1:1-2), Paul began the letter with a prayer to the God of comfort who allowed Paul to comfort others in their affliction; he made known to the Corinthians the dangerous situation he and his associates escaped in Ephesus (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). Paul then began a sustained argument defending his ministry (2 Corinthians 1:12-7:16). Paul addressed his change of plans and assured the Corinthians of both God’s and his faithfulness toward them (2 Corinthians 1:12-24). Paul did not want to visit the Corinthians in sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:1-4); he counseled the Corinthian Christians to forgive and welcome back the sinning member they had chastised, perhaps the individual from 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 (2 Corinthians 2:5-11). Paul had an effective door for ministry opened in Troas but was concerned about Titus, and so he came to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13). Paul spoke in Christ; Paul did not need to have anyone commend him in Corinth, for they themselves were his commendation and letter in Christ; God is sufficient, having given the ministry of the new covenant in the Spirit in contrast of the old covenant and the letter of the Law; the new covenant is more glorious; Moses covered his face because of the glory of the old, but in Christ and the Spirit the veil is removed and we can be transformed in the Spirit (2 Corinthians 2:14-3:18). Paul grounded his commendation is in the truth and among those who recognize and accept the Gospel which he preached (2 Corinthians 4:1-6). He remained in the flesh and suffers distress, yet this momentary affliction cannot be compared to the eternal weight of glory to come (2 Corinthians 4:7-18). The present body is mortal and yearns not to be naked but further clothed with immortality; Christians are to walk by faith, not by sight, and take courage, knowing we still stand in judgment before Christ (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). Paul has proclaimed the Gospel, was constrained by the Gospel, and exhorted the Corinthians to be reconciled to God in Christ and be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Paul commended his ministry not in idle boasts but in dangers, distress, and weakness; he loved the Corinthians and desired to be thus loved and respected in turn (2 Corinthians 6:1-13). The Corinthians were not to be yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Paul was comforted by Titus’ comfort derived from the Corinthians; Paul was sorry yet not sorry for the trouble he produced by letter since it led to godly repentance (2 Corinthians 7:1-16).
Paul then commended the churches of Macedonia and their generosity for the needs of the saints in Judea; he had boasted of Achaia’s readiness to give also and expected the Corinthians to make good on his boast; he commended Titus to them; he grounded his expectation of benevolence in the Lord Jesus and His example and commended the cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15).
Paul then turned more explicitly towards discussing the difficulties and opponents faced in Corinth: the “super-apostles” commending each other and casting aspersions on Paul’s ministry (2 Corinthians 10:1-13:10). He exhorted the Corinthians to consider himself as present in his letters, rejecting the criticism that he is weighty in word but contemptible in presence (2 Corinthians 10:1-18). Paul sarcastically asked how he has wronged the Corinthians by “robbing” from other churches to serve them; he warned them about these false “super-apostles,” and gloried not in commendations but in his weaknesses and distress, setting forth what he had suffered in Christ (2 Corinthians 11:1-33). He boasted in the man caught up to Paradise; because of the revelations he was given a “thorn in the flesh” which the Lord Jesus did not take away despite his pleas, for Paul was to learn that when he is weak he is strong, and thus he would boast in his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Paul cas down the gauntlet: he was coming again to the Corinthians, he had done the work of an apostle before them, he was willing to give all for them, and he did not want to have to come with a rod and discipline them; such was what he would rather do by letter and to build up when present (2 Corinthians 12:11-13:10). He concluded with his standard salutations (2 Corinthians 13:11-14).
We do not know how well Paul’s letter and presence were received; we do know that Corinth would remain troubled, manifest in 1 Clement. And yet we do well to learn from Paul and his correspondence with the Corinthians; we can put our faith in the God of comfort, work diligently in ministry, boast in weakness, and give cheerfully. May we be perfected in Christ to the glory of God!
Ethan R. Longhenry