reveals Paul’s deep concern for a troubled Greek
church. The Church at Corinth had great potential,
but its history was marked by dissension, confusion
in theology, distortions in worship, and apathy in
moral concerns. Therefore, it is a letter of extreme
relevance for churches in our day and age.
This is a unique letter
with a writing style that is very personal, bold, at
times sarcastic, and very defensive. It shares the
concern, passion, intimate feelings and thoughts of
an apostle who is defending his own apostleship and
ministry in a church which he founded. The letter is
the least systematic of the Apostle Paul’s writings.
Even a casual reading gives the impression of a man
who is on his feet fighting a battle with his
feelings and personal biases clearly involved. It
reads almost like a man who expresses freely his
feelings about himself and his ministry in a
journal. Thus analysis of this letter is almost
impossible. Try outlining it for yourself. Read with
pencil in hand.
THE CITY OF CORINTH
If it weren’t for a tiny
four mile strip of land the southern part of Greece
would be an island. That little strip of land joins
the two parts of Greece together. The city of
Corinth stood on that narrow neck of land. All of
the land traffic from Athens and northern Greece to
Sparta had to be routed through Corinth. Also the
east to west traffic of the Mediterranean passed
across this strip of land. The extreme southern tip
of Greece, the Malea, was the most dangerous cape in
the Mediterranean for shipping lanes. The Greek
mariners said, "Let him who sails round Malea forget
his home." Another said, "Let him who sails round
Malea first make his will."
If the ships were small
enough they were dragged out of the water, set on
rollers, and hauled across the isthmus, and
re-launched on the other side. "The isthmus was
actually called the Diolkos, the place of
dragging across." If the ship was too large to be
dragged across the isthmus, the cargo was unloaded
and carried by porters to the other side and
re-embarked on another ship at the opposite side.
Corinth was a rich,
thriving, commercial, cosmopolitan city of almost
700,000 people. It was located on the Isthmus of
Corinth connecting northern and southern Greece. The
city was one of the greatest trading and commercial
centers in the Roman Empire. Farrar wrote, "Objects
of luxury soon found their way to the markets which
were visited by every nation in the civilized world.
. ." It was also the place where the Isthmaian Games
were held, which were second only to the Olympics.
But it also became a
byword for its moral corruption. Corinth became
synonymous with immorality. To live like a
Corinthian meant to have extremely low moral
standards and loose conduct. They used the word
korinthiazesthai meant to live like a
Corinthian, i.e., live a drunken, immoral, perverted
If that life style wasn’t
bad enough above the city was a hill called
Acropolis, and on it stood the temple of Aphrodite,
the goddess of love. Perhaps it would be more
accurately named the goddess of lust. A thousand
priestesses, or sacred prostitutes were attached to
this temple. At night they came down from their
temple to ply their trade upon the streets of
From 350-250 B.C. Corinth
was the most prominent city in Greece. Disaster fell
upon Corinth in 146 B.C., and the city was
completely destroyed when the Romans conquered
Greece. After a century of ruins, in 46 B.C. Julius
Caesar rebuilt her, and she became a Roman colony,
and capital city of the Roman province of Achaea
from 27 B. C. The merchants came back and she
regained her commercial supremacy under the Romans.
A large colony of displaced Jews grew in the city.
Trades people from all over the world came to
Corinth. "Roman Corinth quickly regained the
prosperity of its predecessor. . . With the old
prosperity, the old reputation for sexual laxity
As a Gospel witness it
was both a strategic and difficult city. The
citizens enjoyed a diverse life-style. Many races
and cultures greatly influence the character of the
city. Transients and tourists came to Corinth in
search of pleasure, diversion, and commerce. It was
a hotbed of crime and vice.
THE CHURCH AT CORINTH
On his second missionary
journey (c. A. D. 50), Paul established the church
in Corinth (Acts 18:1-18). He came from Athens after
an extremely difficult situation. One scholar
suggests that Paul was in a dejected mood when he
He had been forced to
flee from one Macedonian city after another leaving
behind churches in Philippi, Thessalonica and
Beroea. He arrived in Corinth in a state of
"weakness and in much fear and trembling" (I Cor.
2:3). According to Paul’s example it was a long
ministry, eighteen-months, second only to his stay
at Ephesus. In Corinth he lived with Aqua and
Priscilla, who until recently had resided in Rome,
but were forced leave by Claudius’ edict expelling
Jewish colony from Rome. This rather well–to–do
couple followed Paul’s customary manner of
tent-making and preaching in the synagogue. Timothy
and Silas arrived from Macedonia to help. The term
was characterized by continuing harassment by
unbelieving Jews, and Paul was forced to leave the
synagogue (Acts 18:6). Crispus was the ruler of the
synagogue who became a believer. Titus Justus, a
recent convert, opened his house for services and
became the first meeting-place of the Corinthian
church. The church grew rapidly and included both
Jews and God–fearing pagans. When Paul left the city
for Syria (A. D. 52) "there was a large and
vigorous, though volatile, church there."
However, the young
believers later met pressures from troublemakers and
divisive forces from within.
DATE, PLACE AND
suggests strongly that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians on
his third missionary journey. Various dates between
55 A. D and 57 A. D. have been proposed. And
approximate date of 55 A. D. for 1 Corinthians and
56-57 A. D. for 2 Corinthians would be acceptable.
The occasion for 2
Corinthians was the resurgence of hostility and
antagonism toward Paul’s apostolic authority.
Various allegations against Paul are scattered
throughout the letter (1:15ff; 3:1ff; 10:1ff, 13ff;
The place of writing is
Macedonia, a year or more after 1 Corinthians and
before the writing of Romans (Acts 20:1-3; Rom.
A chronology of the
difficulty in determining these dates and occasion
is given below.
GENUINENESS OF THE
Many scholars are of the
same opinion as J. W. Shepard regarding the
genuineness of 2 Corinthians. He writes:
"There is abundant proof
of the circulation and genuineness of this epistle
previous to 120 A. D. Polycarp and Irenaeus are
among those who testify to this fact ;through
citation and otherwise. The evidence is yet more
copious for early circulation dating from 175 A. D.;
the Muratorian Fragment, Marcions Canon, and the
citations from Clement of Alexandria and others. . .
The internal evidence of Pauline authorship is so
clear in the matter of style, vocabulary, and
character of its general teachings as to render its
authenticity unmistakable. So strong is both the
external and internal evidence that only a small
group of ‘eccentric critics’ any longer call in
question its genuineness."
RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN PAUL AND THE CORINTHIANS
1. Paul visited Corinth
on his second missionary journey and established a
church there about A.D. 50 Acts 18:1-17).
2. While in Ephesus (A.D.
55), Paul heard of moral problems within the
Corinthian church from Chloe’s people and wrote a
letter of instruction to them. He referred to this
"previous letter" in 1 Cor. 5:9. This letter no
longer exists; it was lost without trace. We will
call it Paul’s "Corinthians A" letter after F. F.
3. Paul received a letter
from some of the members in the church concerning
serious problems within the fellowship (I Cor. 7:1).
They sought Paul’s counsel in dealing with the
issues. The family of Chloe came with news of the
church (I Cor. 1:11), and the visit of Stephanas,
Fortunatus and Achaicus (I Cor. 16:17). On the basis
of the letter and other information that reached him
in Ephesus about problems in the church, Paul wrote
what is now called 1 Corinthians in about A.D. 55
and sent it to Corinth via Timothy (I Cor. 4:17). We
will call 1 Corinthians letter "Corinthians B".
4. The pastoral letter, 1
Corinthians, was not successful and the situation
grows worse. In fact, it seems to have stimulated
further rebellion against Paul’s authority. In
response Paul probably made a brief visit across the
Aegean Sea to Corinth in a personal attempt to
resolve the crisis (2 Cor. 2:1; 12:14; 13:1-2). This
is often referred to as the "painful visit" which
breaks his heart. Paul was rebuffed by members of
the church. The opposition comes to a head with one
member in particular defying his authority. The
leadership in the church took no effective action in
Paul’s defense. Paul, deeply humiliated, left
5. The "painful visit"
didn’t accomplish its goal, therefore Paul returned
to Ephesus and wrote a third letter to the
Corinthians "out of much affliction and anguish of
heart and with many tears." It is referred to in 2
Corinthians 2:3-4, 9, and 7:8, 12. This "exceedingly
severe letter," delivered by Titus (2 Cor. 2:3f, 13;
7:13), is often called the stern or rebuking letter.
This letter left Paul almost sorry that he had
written it. We will call it letter "Corinthians C".
6. Titus visited Corinth
with the "severe letter" in an attempt to reconcile
the situation. Paul, in the meantime, was so anxious
to hear from Titus that he left Ephesus traveling
north to Troas seeking him (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:5, 13).
Somewhere in Macedonia, probably Philippi, Paul
received the good news from Titus of a change in
attitude in the Corinthian church. The leader of
rebellion had been rejected and disciplined. The
church was once again open to Paul’s counsel and
desirous of his friendship.
7. Paul responded by
writing 2 Corinthians from Philippi around A.D. 56
or early A.D. 57. We will call this letter
8. Paul made a final
visit to Corinth (Acts 20:1-3) during which he
solidified his relationship with the church and
received the mission offering for the Jerusalem
church. On this stay in Corinth Paul probably wrote
his letter to the Romans. He sends Titus back to
them with two other friends.
F. F. Bruce is of the
opinion that "this second visit of Titus to Corinth
was not so happy as the former one. . . Paul was
really putting them on the spot. . . . A new feeling
of resentment showed itself among some members of
the church, and it was fostered by certain visitors
to Corinth who did their best to undermine Paul’s
prestige in his converts’ eyes." He bases his theory
on 2 Cor. 10-13.
PURPOSE OF SECOND
False teachers who
claimed to be apostles had infiltrated the
Corinthian church with the goal of discrediting
Paul’s ministry and apostleship. This letter was
written with the purpose of refuting these
intruders. Paul is defending his integrity.
1. Paul wrote to prepare
the Corinthians for his visit and insure the
restored relationship with them (chapter 1-7).
2. He wrote to remind the
church of their commitment to the offering for the
poor saints at Jerusalem (chapters 8-9).
3. Paul defended his
apostolic authority (chapters 10-13).
4. "He wrote to reprimand
the obstinate remnants of the ‘Cephas’ and ‘Christ’
factions for their persistent opposition" (Shepard,
THEME OF 2 CORINTHIANS
The joys and sorrows in
Paul’s ministry at Corinth at a time when his
authority is undermined and severely questioned.
INFORMATION ON PAUL
provides us with autobiographical material unique to
Paul’s personal life. We observe his reaction to
criticism and conflict, pastoral concern for his
churches, the heartbreaks and the joys of his
ministry, the inner spiritual struggles are moving,
his sense of mission, his genuine humility, and
unconquerable hope in Christ.
FORM OF ANCIENT
follows normal the form of ancient letter writing.
Paul used the same literary pattern everyone else
used in nearly every one of his letters.
I. Greetings (1:1)
II. The Prayer (1:2)
III. Thanksgiving (1:3)
IV. Main Body of the
V. Salutations and
Personal Greetings (13:13)
Paul did not sit down and
write his letter to the church. He dictated them to
a secretary and then wrote a personal note and his
authenticating signature. At the end of I
Corinthians he says: "This is my signature, my
autograph, so that you can be sure this letter comes
from me" (I Cor. 16:21; cf. Col. 4:18; II Thess.
3:17). In my mind’s eye I see Paul walking back and
forth in a little room, pouring forth his heart and
soul, while a secretary raced to get all the words
down. In Paul’s mind was those whom he was
addressing. In the letter to the Romans we know who
the amanuensis was. His name was Tertius (Rom.
UNITY OF THE LETTER
R. V. G. Tasker
concluded, "2 Corinthians has come down to us as a
single Epistle. In no MS (manuscript) is there any
trace of a division at any point in the letter, or
any variation in the arrangement of the material;
and in no early Christian writer is there any
suggestion that the document is composed of parts of
different letters, or that it was not all written at
one time to meet one particular situation."
Moreover, Philip Hughes
concludes: "Sufficient has been said, we trust, for
the presentation of our case that II Corinthians as
it has come down to us is indeed only one letter,
diversified in its parts but none has less an
Many modern scholars,
however, do conclude the letter is composed of at
least two other letters or fragments of them. See
William Barclay’s commentary as an example.
Title: Introduction to
Series: Introduction to