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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Date and Social Setting.

1.

In addition to the correspondence which was included in the NT, the Corinthian letters themselves bear witness to additional writings which are either non-extant or have been subsumed along with other letters within the body of 2 Corinthians (see 2 COR A.I). 1 Cor 5:9 demonstrates that Paul wrote a letter prior to 1 Corinthians, probably concerning the immoral behaviour of church members. Some have identified this letter with 2 Cor 6:14–7:1 . 1 Corinthians was written around 54 CE in response to a letter from the Corinthians which had raised several questions. The events which precipitated the correspondence known as 2 Corinthians are a subject of great debate and we are limited to conjecture concerning them. One possible reconstruction of events is as follows. It appears that between the time of the composition of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians (or fragments thereof), Paul paid an emergency ‘sorrowful visit’ to Corinth (2 Cor 2:1 ). This probably was the apostle's second visit to the community (cf. 2 Cor 12:14; 13:1 ), the first being the occasion of the founding of the community in 50 or 51 CE. It seems that this second visit did not go well (2 Cor 2:1–11; 7:12 ) and Paul followed it up with a ‘tearful letter’ (2 Cor 2:4; 2:2–11; 7:5–12 ). Although some have identified this letter with 2 Cor 10–13 , it is more likely that it has been lost. A subsequent report to Paul that his ‘tearful letter’ had produced the desired effect in the community led to the composition in Macedonia in 55–6 CE of 2 Cor 1–9 (2 Cor 7:5; cf. 2 Cor 2:12–13; 8:1; 9:2 ). Titus apparently delivered this letter to the congregation (2 Cor 7:4–16; cf. 2 Cor 8:17–18 ). However, the situation deteriorated again. Some months later Paul wrote 2 Cor 10–13 , also probably from Macedonia. In this letter he stated his intention to come to the community a third time (2 Cor 12:14; 13:1 ). (This reconstruction follows Furnish 1988: 1191–2 closely and is based on the two-letter hypothesis. For an alternative reconstruction based upon the five-(or six-)letter hypothesis see Betz 1992: 1149–52.)

2.

When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, he responded to problems involving community division and behaviour, problems he felt were incompatible with membership in Christ's body. By the time of the composition of 2 Corinthians (or various letter fragments), community problems extended to include the nature of the apostle's relationship with the Corinthians. Indeed, some wonder whether the harsh, critical—even sardonic—tone of 1 Corinthians may have alienated its recipients to the extent that a second, more conciliatory letter was required. Convinced that the relationship was severely threatened, and of the need for reconciliation, Paul set out to defend his apostolic authority. By the time that 2 Cor 10–13 was composed (See 2 COR A.1) the situation had become acute, due to the influence of apostolic rivals in the community. Throughout 2 Cor 10–13 Paul's preoccupation with these rivals is evident, but there are also insinuations in earlier chapters of threats by opponents to Paul's apostleship (e.g. 2 Cor 3:1–6 ). The nature of Paul's authority is a theme which runs throughout 2 Corinthians, and this text has therefore been of great interest to scholars concerned with the general question of how Paul exercised authority and distributed power in the community (Schütz 1975; Holmberg 1980; Meeks 1983; MacDonald 1988 ). Often these scholars draw upon social-scientific insights such as the foundational theories of the sociologist Max Weber on charisma and authority. Some of the specific issues under investigation include Paul's apostolic credentials and talents, his involvement in the collection for the Jerusalem church, and his attitude towards receiving material support from the congregation. Paul's use of a ‘theology of the cross’ (which locates power in weakness; 2 COR 4:7–15 ) to anchor his apostolic authority in a divine mandate has also been of considerable interest.

3.

Corinth became a Roman colony in 44 BCE and architectural, artefactual, and inscriptional evidence points to a strong Romanizing influence in this old Hellenistic city (Witherington 1995: 6–7). The growing awareness of the need to understand NT groups in the light of the context of Graeco-Roman society has had an important effect on the study of 2 Corinthians. For example, comparison of 2 Cor 8–9 to administrative correspondence in the empire has shed light upon the form and purpose of these chapters (Betz 1985 ). Increasingly, scholars are examining the influence of Greek rhetorical style upon Paul. The obvious use of such rhetorical devices as parody in 2 Cor 10–13 has invited further probing on the way Paul forms and develops his arguments in 2 Corinthians. It is now possible to say that rhetorical analysis of 2 Corinthians represents an important methodological approach, one which complements more traditional exercises in historical criticism. Rhetorical analysis sheds light on questions ranging from the purpose of the letter to its literary integrity (e.g. Young and Ford 1987; Marshall 1987; Crafton 1990; Witherington 1995 ). The recognition of the importance of rhetoric in the ancient world and in the letters of Paul has also contributed to a further understanding of Paul's emphasis on boasting and self-praise in 2 Corinthians. Public demonstrations of self-worth (which included performances of rhetoric) were a central means of establishing one's authority in a society which had an honour/shame orientation (Witherington 1995: 6, 432–7; 2 COR 1:12–14; 2 COR 4:1–6 ). Investigation of the structures of the patron-client relationship in the ancient world has also shed light on Paul's interaction with the Corinthians (Marshall 1987; Chow 1992; Witherington 1995; 2 COR 5:11–19; 2 COR 8:16–24; 2 COR 10:12–18 ).

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