Overview of the Book of 2 Corinthians

Question
Overview of the Book of 2 Corinthians
Answer

Overview of the Book of 2 Corinthains

Author: The author is the apostle Paul.

Purpose:

To express affection and gratitude for past repentance in Corinth and to encourage further loyalty to Paul as an apostle of Christ.

Date: A.D. 55

Key Truths:

  • Christians should take comfort and encouragement from God's care in the midst of suffering.
  • God's strength is manifested through human weakness.
  • The New (re-newed) Covenant in Christ gloriously fulfills the expectations of the Old Covenant.
  • Christians must help meet each other's material needs.

Author:

That the apostle Paul was the author of this letter (2 Cor. 1:1) is almost universally acknowledged. See "Introduction to 1 Corinthians: Author."

Time and Place of Writing:

The most likely date for the writing of 2 Corinthians is A.D. 55. Paul probably wrote this letter within a year of writing of 1 Corinthians - after he left Ephesus in Asia Minor (Acts 19:1; 20:1) but before he reached Corinth in Greece (Acts 20:2).

After founding the Church in Corinth in A.D. 51-52 (Acts 18:1-18), Paul returned to Antioch, ending his second missionary journey (Acts 18:22). On his third missionary journey Paul traveled to Ephesus and stayed there for three years (Acts 19:1-41; 20:31). During his stay in Ephesus, messengers came from Corinth with questions, which Paul answered in 1 Corinthians (1Cor. 16:17-18). Sometime later Paul apparently heard of continuing difficulties at Corinth and made a quick voyage from Ephesus to Corinth and back. This first visit in Corinth (after his initial 18-month stay) did not go well, and Paul later referred to it as a "painful visit" (2 Cor. 2:1). Although a later visit is not recorded in Acts, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians that he intended to travel to Corinth a "third time" (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1). We do not know many details about what made the first visit painful, but apparently one or more of the believers at Corinth opposed or seriously offended Paul (2 Cor. 2:5, 10).

Most commentators believe that after his "painful visit" Paul wrote the Corinthians what is generally referred to as a "severe letter," which has not been preserved (2 Cor. 2:3-4; 7:8). Other interpreters hold that the letter referred to in these verses is in fact the one now called 1 Corinthians. Still others believe that the letter referred to is 2 Corinthians 10-13, which now follows 2 Corinthians 1-9 but was originally a separate letter.

While planning a second short trip to Corinth (which would be his third stay there), Paul sent Titus by sea to deliver his "severe letter," while Paul himself took the longer land route through Troas and Macedonia (2 Cor. 2:12-13; 7:5-9,13-15; Acts 20:1-2). Paul did not know how the Corinthians would receive Titus and the letter he bore. So when he left Ephesus and traveled toward Troas, he experienced considerable anxiety regarding the Corinthian Church (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:5). Although there was an opportunity for effective ministry when he reached Troas (2 Cor. 2:12), Paul's spirit was still deeply troubled. He left Troas and went on to Macedonia (2 Cor. 2:13; most likely to the Church in Philippi), hoping to meet Titus there. When Titus finally arrived (probably at Philippi, but perhaps at Thessalonica), Paul was overwhelmed with joy as he heard about the Corinthians' genuine repentance and deep affection and loyalty to him (2 Cor. 7:6-15).

Paul wrote 2 Corinthians from Macedonia to express thanksgiving for the repentance and renewed obedience of the Corinthian believers (2 Cor. 7:5-16). He also wrote to encourage them to complete their collection to aid the poor Christians in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8-9). Paul defended his ministry against the accusations of "false apostles" (2 Cor. 11:13) in Corinth, who were challenging his authority and integrity (2 Cor. 10-13; cf. 2 Cor. 3:1-6; 7:2).

Paul arrived in Corinth and remained there for three months (Acts 20:2-3). He then departed for Jerusalem with the collection that had been sent from many churches to aid the poor Christians there (Acts 20:3-21:17).

Original Audience:

See "Introduction to 1 Corinthians: Original Audience."

Purpose and Distinctives:

Second Corinthians is a very personal letter filled with expressions of deep emotion. As such, it affords us extraordinary insight into Paul's heart. Two chief themes appear in connection with this: divine comfort and encouragement in the midst of suffering and troubles (2 Cor. 1:1-7:16; see especially 2 Cor. 1:3-7; 7:4, 7, 13) and God's strength manifested through human weakness (2 Cor. 10:1-13:14; see especially 2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Other important supporting themes include the blameless nature of Paul's conduct (2 Cor. 1:12 ,17-18; 6:3-10; 7:2-3), his frequent suffering for the sake of the Church and for God's glory (2 Cor. 1:5-11; 4:8-12; 6:4-10; 11:23-12:9), his strong love for all the Churches and especially for the Corinthian Church (2 Cor. 2:4; 11:2, 7-11; 12:14-15) and his apostolic authority to build up the Church and to defeat any opposition (2 Cor. 2:9; 10:8; 13:8-10). Other distinctive emphases include the glory of the New (re-newed) Covenant ministry (2 Cor. 3) and the principles of Christian stewardship and charity (2 Cor. 8-9).

As indicated above, some scholars have suggested that 2 Corinthians was not originally a single letter. They most frequently claim that 2 Corinthians 10-13 constitute a separate epistle written on a different occasion and later appended to 2 Corinthians 1-9. The primary reason for thinking of 2 Corinthians 10-13 as a distinct communication is that Paul's tone and attitude toward the Church at Corinth seem positive and affirming in 2 Corinthians 1-9, but severe and threatening in 2 Corinthians 10-13. Could both sections have been written on the same occasion, and could the two be addressing the same circumstances in the same Church?

The change of tone at 2 Corinthians 10:1 may be accounted for by the change of subject matter. In the earlier part of the epistle, Paul was primarily concerned with sharing his joy and thanksgiving at the repentance of the Corinthians. He also wanted to give an extensive and positive description of his own ministry of the gospel. Having accomplished that, he appealed to the Corinthians to complete the collection for the Jerusalem Christians (2 Cor. 8-9). Finally, leaving the most distasteful task until the end, he attacked the problem of the false apostles and their accusations against him (2 Cor. 10-13). In light of the circumstances, such a change in tone is understandable. Moreover, it is significant that from the earliest times in the history of the church there has been no indication of division in this epistle, either in the manuscript tradition or in the earliest historical writings of the church. It has been read and understood as a unified epistle, and this still seems to be the best explanation.

Other suggestions challenging the unity of 2 Corinthians, but with far fewer supporters, have been that 2 Corinthians 2:14-7:4 is a separate letter, that 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 is a separate paragraph inserted into 2 Corinthians and that 2 Corinthians 8-9 are a distinct letter. In response to these proposals, it may be admitted that the sections in question do mark distinct changes in tone and subject matter; however, this is a frequent characteristic of Paul's writings, and these sections are not out of place in the larger argument of the epistle.

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

The Epistles of the New Testament

Related Topics:

Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries and adjunct Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL.