Background

For information about the city of Corinth, Paul’s visit there on his second missionary journey, and the congregation at Corinth, please see the introductory information on 1 Corinthians.

Letters and Visits

The book we know as 2 Corinthians is not the second letter written by Paul to the Christians in Corinth but most likely is the third or even fourth letter.  It seems the actual second letter is what is called “1 Corinthians” since in that letter Paul mentions a previous letter (1 Cor 5:9).  Some also believe he may have written a third letter (2 Cor 2:1-11) before writing the letter we now call “2 Corinthians”.  The other letter or two mentioned by Paul are no longer extant, thus the designations “1 Corinthians” and “2 Corinthians” for the letters that we do have.

There is also some question as to the order of Paul’s three visits to the Christians in Corinth in relation to the letters he wrote to them.  He planted the church on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-8), and then later visited them a second time, a visit he called his “painful visit” (2 Cor 2:1ff).  It is ultimately unclear when this painful visit took place, whether it took place before or after he wrote his first two letters to the congregation.

What we do know about the events that prompted this letter we call 2 Corinthians is that the Corinthian congregation seemed to have struggled with people who were openly critical of Paul’s authority as an apostle as well as a number of other errors and sins.  But Paul cared too much for the Corinthians to let these men alienate them from the truth and love of the gospel.  So at the beginning of his third missionary journey he tried to guide the Corinthian congregation by visiting them a second time and writing two letters from Ephesus.  After he wrote what we call 1 Corinthians and sent it along with Titus, Paul anxiously awaited Titus’ report of how it was received.  Not having heard from Titus, Paul traveled to Troas and then to Macedonia, where Titus and Timothy finally met up with him and gave him a favorable report (2 Cor 7:5-6).  However, the men who were opposing Paul were still causing problems in the congregation, so Paul wrote another letter from Macedonia, the letter we call 2 Corinthians.  In this letter Paul confronts the men who opposed him while also preparing the Corinthian church for his third visit and the offering he was gathering for the poor Christians in Jerusalem.

The two most common views of the order of events are as follows:

  1. The Traditional (and more plausible) View: 3 visits; 3 letters
    • 1st visit: 2nd Journey (Acts 18:1-8)
    • 2nd visit: The “painful visit” of 2 Cor 2:1ff, from Ephesus during his third journey
    • 1st letter: The non-extant letter of 1 Corinthians 5:9, written from Ephesus during his third journey
    • 2nd letter: 1 Corinthians, from Ephesus approximately in the spring of 57 AD (referred to in 2 Cor 2:1-11)
    • 3rd letter: 2 Corinthians, from Macedonia approximately in the fall of 57 AD
    • 3rd visit: From Macedonia approximately 57 AD (2 Cor 12:14; 13:1-2)
  1. A More Recent View: 3 visits; 4 letters
    • 1st visit: 2nd Journey
    • 1st letter: The non-extant letter of 1 Cor 5:9
    • 2nd letter: First Corinthians
    • 2nd visit: The “painful visit” of 2 Cor 2:1ff
    • 3rd letter: A non-extant “sorrowful letter”1Some commentators consider 2 Corinthians 10-13 to be this “sorrowful letter.”  They assume that it was mistakenly attached to the rest of 2 Corinthians (too abrupt of a change in tone between chapter 9 and chapter 10).  But all manuscripts have all of 2 Corinthians as we have it today. (referred to in 2 Cor 2:1-11)
    • 4th letter: 2 Corinthians
    • 3rd visit: From Macedonia (2 Cor 12:14; 13:1-2)

Authorship

The early church unquestionably attributes the letter of 2 Corinthians to the apostle Paul, just as internal evidence indicates (2 Cor 1:1; 10:1).  This letter is quoted by Polycarp in approximately 105 AD, by Irenaeus in 185 AD, by Clement of Alexandria in 210 AD, and by Tertullian in 210 AD.

For more information on the apostle Paul, see the introductory information on 1 Corinthians.

Place and Date of Writing

The apostle Paul writes this letter while on his third missionary journey after leaving Ephesus and moving to Troas, and then moving on to Macedonia (2 Cor 2:13; 7:5) where he was met by Titus and Timothy (2 Cor 1:1; 7:6).  Since Paul’s third journey is commonly dated to approximately 53-57 AD, and since he later spends the winter of 57 AD in Corinth, it seems likely he wrote 2 Corinthians in the fall of 57 AD before his third visit.

See also the Chronology of New Testament Books.

Purpose and Content

As stated above in Letters and Visits, Paul continued to receive word that there were men in the Corinthian congregation who were trying to undermine his work as apostle and oppose the pure gospel he was preaching.  Paul then pens this letter to the congregation as a strong and emotional defense of his ministry, his apostleship, and the gospel itself.

After receiving a report from Titus that most of the Corinthian congregation indeed followed his instructions on confronting the openly sexual immoral member mentioned in 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 5:1-5,9-11), Paul also writes to commend the Corinthians for following his instructions.  He then encourages the Corinthians to forgive this erring brother and welcome him back into fellowship (2 Cor 2:5-11).

The rest of the letter focuses on his coming third visit to Corinth.  He explains his change in travel plans, his earnest desire to collect an offering for the poor brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, and his intentions to deal severely with those who oppose his apostleship and the gospel message he preaches.

It seems that 2 Corinthians had the desired effect on the congregation since Paul will later spend three winter months in and around Corinth (Acts 20:2-3).  It is also during that winter in Corinth that Paul writes his famous letter to the Romans.  It appears that reconciliation with the Corinthians was indeed made.

Notable Passages

  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
  • 2 Corinthians 1:18-22
  • 2 Corinthians 2:14-17
  • 2 Corinthians 3:4-6
  • 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
  • 2 Corinthians 4:1-6
  • 2 Corinthians 4:7
  • 2 Corinthians 4:13-18
  • 2 Corinthians 5:7
  • 2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2
  • 2 Corinthians 6:14
  • 2 Corinthians 7:10
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9
  • 2 Corinthians 9:7-11
  • 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
  • 2 Corinthians 11:14
  • 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
  • 2 Corinthians 13:14

Outline

  1. Retrospect: Paul’s Authority and Ministry in Corinth – 2 Corinthians 1-7
    1. Ministry Under the God of All Comfort (2 Cor 1:1-11)
    2. The Ministry of Divine Triumph (2 Cor 1:12-2:17)
    3. The Ministry Commended by Christ (2 Cor 3:1-3)
    4. The Ministry of the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:4-4:6)
    5. The Ministry of Imparting the Life of Jesus to Men (2 Cor 4:7-5:10)
    6. The Ministry of Reconciliation (2 Cor 5:11-6:10)
    7. The Ministry of God’s Exclusive Appeal (2 Cor 6:11-7:4)
    8. Titus’ Report: The Joyful Prospect of Reconciliation (2 Cor 7:5-16)
  2. The Present: Collection for Saints of Jerusalem – 2 Corinthians 8-9
    1. The Example of the Churches of Macedonia (2 Cor 8:1-7)
    2. You Know the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 8:8-15)
    3. Commendation of Titus and Two Brothers (2 Cor 8:16-9:5)
    4. God Loves a Cheerful Giver (2 Cor 9:6-15)
  3. Prospect: Paul’s Impending Visit to Corinth – 2 Corinthians 10-13
    1. Paul’s Defense Against the Charges of His Opponents (2 Cor 10:1-18)
    2. Paul’s “Foolish” Boasting (2 Cor 11:1-12:21)
    3. Paul’s Impending Visit and Conclusion (2 Cor 13:1-14)2Roehrs, Walter H., and Martin H. Franzmann. Concordia Self-Study Comentary. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1998.

References   [ + ]

1. Some commentators consider 2 Corinthians 10-13 to be this “sorrowful letter.”  They assume that it was mistakenly attached to the rest of 2 Corinthians (too abrupt of a change in tone between chapter 9 and chapter 10).  But all manuscripts have all of 2 Corinthians as we have it today.
2. Roehrs, Walter H., and Martin H. Franzmann. Concordia Self-Study Comentary. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1998.