The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians - Introduction
First and Second Corinthians were not the only letters Paul wrote to Corinth, and an examination of the sequence of events behind the surviving letters indicates tensions in the relationship between Paul and the Corinthian church. Although the exact details cannot all be recovered from the text, the events can reasonably be reconstructed as follows.
After Paul founded the church at Corinth (2 Cor 1.19; see also Acts 18.1–7, esp. v. 5 ), the congregation wrote to him at least once (1 Cor 7.1 ), and Paul also wrote them a letter, now lost, which is mentioned in 1 Cor 5.9 . Then Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus (1 Cor 16.8 ). Some time after that, Paul sent Timothy to Corinth as his personal emissary (see 1 Cor 4.17 note b; 16.10–11 ), but Timothy returned with news that a group of Jewish‐Christian missionaries had arrived at Corinth and were undermining Paul's apostolic authority and teaching. Paul refers to these missionaries ironically as “super‐apostles” (2 Cor 11.5; 12.11 ), “false apostles” ( 11.13 ) and even “Satan's ministers” ( 11.15 ). This challenge to his missionary activity prompted Paul to visit Corinth a second time. The result was unfortunate: Evidently a member of the congregation offended him seriously ( 2.5–6 ); he later called this the “painful visit” ( 2.1; 7.2 ). After his bitter departure, Paul wrote what he called the “letter of tears” ( 2.4; 7.8 ), a letter that is now lost. Either despite or because of its severity, this letter evidently succeeded in persuading the majority that Paul's position was correct, as Titus reported when he met Paul in Macedonia ( 7.6–7 ). Relieved at the resolution of the conflict, Paul wrote a conciliatory letter that included 1.1–2.13; 7.5–16 , and probably other parts, now lost. In addition, Paul sent two letters on the collection for the poor in the Jerusalem church (chs 8–9 ), which had begun over a year earlier (1 Cor 16.1–4 ). Paul's confidence in the resolution was premature, however, for he later had to write a bitter polemical letter directed against the “super‐apostles” (chs 10–13 ).
Thus, 2 Corinthians as it now stands seems to be a composite of fragments from different letters, though their precise extent and relative chronology are open to question (see notes on 2.13; 6.14–7.1; 8.1–9.15; 10.1–18 ). This disjointed character makes reading the letter difficult. After a standard opening greeting ( 1.1–2 ), Paul moves to a characteristic blessing of God and a thanksgiving for consoling his afflictions ( 1.3–7 ) and delivering him ( 1.8–11 ). He then dwells on his relationship with the Corinthians ( 1.12–2.13 ), but after a conciliatory passage and before he finishes recounting his travel plans ( 2.5–13 ) he enters into an argumentative discourse ( 2.14–5.21 ) that ends in an anxious appeal for reconciliation ( 6.1–13; 7.2–4 [ 6.14–7.1 appears to be parenthetical]). Thereafter the travelogue resumes, as does the earlier conciliatory theme, and Paul concludes by expressing his complete confidence in the Corinthians ( 7.5–16 ). Two chapters ( 8 and 9 ) on the collection for the poor in the Jerusalem church (1 Cor 16.1–4; see also Gal 2.10 ) may be separate letters, one to Corinth and one to Achaia, the region in southern Greece of which Corinth was the principal city (compare 8.1 to 9.2 ). Finally, a highly charged polemical letter (10.1–13.10) ends with a farewell and benediction ( 13.11–13 ).
Certain motifs run through the letter. The paradoxical relationship between affliction and consolation, first raised in 1.3–11 , is the backbone of the arguments in 4.7–10; 4.16–5.10; and 12.7–10 . The twin themes of boasting and confidence intimated in 1.12–14 stand in the background in 3.4–18; 8.1–7,24; 9.1–5 ; and all of chs 10–13 .