THE SECOND LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS

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?
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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; 5:116:12; 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?
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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
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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
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2. 2 Cor 2:17; 3:1; 7:7-12; 11:19-21a; 12:13-18
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3. 2 Cor 11:18, 21b-23
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4. 2 Cor 11:5; 11:13-15; 12:11
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5. 2 Cor 4:2; 11:3, 13
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6. 2 Cor 5:13; 12:1-7, 11-12
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It seems that, in contrast to the false apostles, whom Paul also sarcastically calls “superapostles,” 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.
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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
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2. 2 Cor 12:21
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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?
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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 dur-
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ing 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 8:1618, 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
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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 Corinthians
2 Cor 1-9
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.
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.
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.
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2 Cor 10-13
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?
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.
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.
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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 1013 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
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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.
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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”?
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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 1013, 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
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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’ visit to the Corinthians in 2 Cor 12:18, which most naturally is taken to
be a reference to the Titus’ 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.
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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
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6.2. 2 Cor 1:12-2:4
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6.3. 2 Cor 2:5-11
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6.4. 2 Cor 2:12-13; 6:11-7:16
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6.5. 2 Cor 8-9
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6. 2 Cor 10-13
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