Second Corinthians


I. Introduction

On the road in Macedonia, St. Paul authored at least two letters to the church in Corinth after writing First Corinthians.; these were possibly the "Book of Tears" (see 2 Cor 2:3-4; 2 Cor 7:5-12) and Second Corinthians (thus making it the fourth letter he wrote them; the first one mentioned in 1 Cor 5:9 was lost). He penned these missives for three reasons. First, he wanted to answer criticism that he faced among the members there concerning his status and authority as an apostle; he also desired to address the judgment he endured for his practice of evangelizing without cost, even refusing hospitality. At the same time, he earnestly sought support for the mother church in Jerusalem. And, he strove to correct some lingering abuses mentioned in First Corinthians, even though the community had made a little progress in these areas.

II. Dating: Early Autumn of 56 CE in Macedonia.

Paul wrote Second Corinthians within several months after leaving Ephesus where he authored First Corinthians, but before left Macedonia (Acts 20:1-3; 2 Cor 8:1-5); he originally intended to make his way to Corinth, but changed his mind (1 Cor 1:15-2:4).

A. Argument for Editing.

Many scholars cast a critical eye upon the letter as a single entity, but posit two or more letters stitched together by an editor. They point to the "Book of Tears" mentioned in 2 Cor 2:3-4 and 2 Cor 7:5-12; one line of reasoning equated 10:1-13:10 as this document based upon the following reasons:

1. Structure.

Unlike the other Pauline letters, Second Corinthians consisted of two distinct chaistic groups (1:3-7:16 and 10:1-13:10) divided by a section without such an overarching structure (8:1-9:15).

Greeting (1:1-2; parallel in 13:11-13)

Chiasmus 1: Paul's Work Among the Corinthians (1:3-7:16)

A1: Introductory Comments (1:3-2:13)

B1: Defense of Paul's Ministry (2:14-4:4)

C1: Paul's Ministry: "Treasure in earthen vessels" (4:5-15)

C2: Paul's Ministry "...walk by faith, not by sight" (4:16-5:10)

B2: Defense of Paul's Ministry (5:11-7:4)

A2: Joy in Reconciliation Despite Sending a Prior Letter (7:5-16)

The Collection for Jerusalem (8:1-9:15)

Chiasmus 2: "Book of Tears" (10:1-13:10)

A1: Paul's Style of Ministry with the Corinthian Community (10:1-18)

B1: Paul and His Opponents (11:1-15)

C: Paul's Boast (11:16-12:10)

B2: Paul Compared Himself with his Opponents (12:11-18)

A2: Paul's Apologia and Planned Third Visit to Corinth (12:19-13:10)

Short Farewell (13:11-13; parallel in 1:1-3)

2. Content.

Each one of the parts mentioned above contained different themes: Paul's modest defense for his ministry (1:3-7:16), his appeal for funding the Jerusalem collection (8:1-9:15) and a far more aggressive boast of his status as an apostle (10:1-13:10). The differences between the first and last groups stood in stark relief. Paul penned 10:1-13:10 to heighten his boast against the apostle's opponents, those he called "super-apostles." In 11:16-12:10, he asserted his equality to them as a Jew, then insisted on his superiority to them in terms of suffering and spiritual visions. Yet, he played down his pride in 2 Cor 3:1 and 2 Cor 5:12. How could one letter contain such a discrepancy? A scholar could explain away the differences themselves as the flow of Paul's thoughts in a hastily written letter, he faced a far more daunting task arguing that position in the face of the apostle's boast couched in a chaistic structure.

3. Change in tone.

The tone between chapters 8-9 and 10-13 shifted in a jarring manner. In chapters 8-9, Paul implored his audience to contribute to the collection he was taking for the mother church in Jerusalem. Suddenly, he changed the subject to an full blown apologia for his ministry. Why would he ask for charitable contributions from the Corinthian community one moment, then the next moment roar off into a subject that would put the community on the defensive?

4. Evidence that 10:1-13:10 preceded 1:3-7:16: Individual verses.

a. In obedience to Paul's authority:

10:5-6 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

2:9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything.

b. Spare the community Paul's wrath:

13:2 I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them…

1:23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth.

c. Paul's suffering due to his anger:

13:10 For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority…

2:3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice…

These verses indicated Paul wrote 10:1-13:10 to the community in his controlled rage, yet relented to an extent when Titus returned with news of their efforts to repent (2 Cor 12:18).

5. Evidence for Editing.

Distinct structures and sharp differences in content argued for editing. The brevity of and lack of named friends/coworkers in the conclusion to the letter (2 Cor 13:11-14) also indicated the hand of an editor.

B. Main Argument Against Editing.

No theory lacked critics, however. These scholars questioned separating 10:1-13:10 from the rest of the letter and identifying it as the "Book of Tears." Many appeal to the argument from silence: no evidence exists in the historical record that 10:1-13:10 began as a separate document, much less as the "Book of Tears." So, 10:1-13:10 could not be it.

This line of reasoning depends upon probability and the argument for simplicity (Occam's razor); the simplest way to explain the lack of a document was to assume it probably didn't exist in the first place. In reality, it's a bet that what has not been found will never be found.

Basing an argument on probability has its pitfalls. Non-existence is speculative along a continuum; it does not attain certitude. True, the chances for actually finding such a document are remote, but the historical record bursts with surprises. Unlike the hypothetical nature of the "Q" source, Second Corinthians clearly indicated that such a letter of anguish existed. The problem did not lie in existence but in identification.

Arguing from simplicity depends upon taking all the evidence into account. Just because the final form of Second Corinthians had unity did not mean it had cohesion. Instead, the evidence of different structures and content argue heavily for editing. If an editor did compile Second Corinthians, 10:1-13:10 stood as the best candidate for the "Book of Tears."

C. Dating of the "Book of Tears:" Spring of 56 CE.

If 10:1-13:10 was the "Book of Tears," when did Paul write it? Let's place its date within Paul's three visits to Corinth.

1. First Visit.

Paul originally visited Corinth during his second missionary journey (50 CE) when he established the church community there (Acts 18:1-18).

2. Second Visit.

The Corinthian community disintegrated into factions; Paul felt it necessary to pen First Corinthians in response and tasked Timothy to deliver the letter (1 Cor 16:10-11). He wrote the letter during the winter of 55 CE or early spring of 56 CE. 1 Cor 4:19 and 1 Cor 16:5-8 mentioned plans for a second visit (about 56 CE) to address the issues at hand; there was no mention of a second visit in Acts.

Paul made his base of operations in Ephesus, a major seaport on the Aegean. Since Corinth lie along ancient sea lanes as a stop-over point only 250 miles away, he could have easily booked passage for a three to four day journey, spent a few weeks in the city and returned to Ephesus. The "we " passages (Acts 16:18-20:4) did not include his time in Ephesus; that fact could explain why a short, second visit was not recorded in Acts.

3. Third Visit.

In 2 Cor 12:14 and 2 Cor 13:1, Paul laid out his plans for a "painful visit." He gave Titus the job of delivering the "Book of Tears" to the community (2 Cor 7:8) most likely from Ephesus in the spring of 56 CE. While he evangelized in Macedonia (summer of 56 CE), he wrote Second Corinthians; in 2 Cor 1:12-2:4, he demurred from visiting the community over the pain he caused from his comments.

D. Conclusion

Based upon the comments within the "second" letter to the community at Corinth, the hotheaded Paul wrote the end of the text ("Book of Tears:" 10:1-13:10) before he cooled his anger, restated his apologia (1:3-7:16) and requested contributions for the mother Church in Jerusalem (8:1-9:15). Considering the short time window between the letters mentioned in the "second" document, we can assume Paul wrote the "Book of Tears" approximately in the spring of 56 CE on the road in Macedonia, demurred, then penned a more conciliatory message that summer.

III. Synopsis and Commentary: Part 1: Paul's Work Among the Corinthians (1:3-7:16)

Chiasmus 1: Paul's Work Among the Corinthians (1:3-7:16)

A1: Introductory Comments (1:3-2:13)

B1: Defense of Paul's Ministry (2:14-4:4)

C1: Paul's Ministry: "Treasure in earthen vessels" (4:5-15)

C2: Paul's Ministry "...walk by faith, not by sight" (4:16-5:10)

B2: Defense of Paul's Ministry (5:11-7:4)

A2: Joy in Reconciliation Despite Sending a Prior Letter (7:5-16)

A. Step A: Letter Salutation (1:1-3; parallel in 13:11-13)

St. Paul began his letter with a brief greeting along with Timothy to the Church in Corinth (2 Cor 1:1-2); the salutation matched the style of those in his other letters.

1. Thanksgiving (1:1-11).

Paul continued with an extended benediction for his deliverance. He praised God for divine comfort in times of trial so he could empathize with other Christians facing prejudice. In fact, he saw the troubles he endured to evangelize as comfort to those in Corinth; he suffered so they could enjoy the fruits of his activities, just as the Passion of Christ gave salvation to all believers. Because of the hardships he endured, he could relate to the rising opposition they faced in Corinth (2 Cor 1:3-7).

Paul then mentioned his suffering on the road in Asia Minor. He and his companions felt they like they had been condemned to death, but had escaped so they could continue to evangelize. While this tested their faith, they found solace in the prayers of the churches (2 Cor 1:8-11)

2. Paul changed his travel plans (1:12-2:4).

In 1 Cor 16:10-12, Paul originally intended to visit the Corinthian church in the spring as he made his way to Jerusalem with the charitable donations of the Gentile communities. However, he changed those plans; hence, some in Corinth accused him of vacillating. In his defense, he point to his sincerity and transparency in preaching the Good News; then, he appealed to the community for their understanding. He wanted to visit them but he could not for another reason. He did not vacillate in his intention, just as God did not change his mind on a whim. In fact, God's promises were steady, hence trustworthy; he saved those who put their faith in Christ, including Paul and the faithful in Corinth. He and those who doubted him both partook in the charisms of the Spirit. What they shared together far outstripped any disappointment the Corinthians might have felt at his absence (2 Cor 1:12-20).

After his prologue, Paul honestly set forth one reason for his change of plans. He wrote First Corinthians in terse prose, but now he had second thoughts on his tone. He truly cared for the community and he anguished over the letter. He did not want another visit to cause further pain (2 Cor 2:1-4).

3. Pardon for the Offender (2:5-11).

In 1 Cor 5:1-8, Paul ordered the community to excommunicate a man who slept with his stepmother. While he did not specify this man directly in Second Corinthians, the apostle strongly implied the connection, since there was no other in either Corinthian letters. In a pastoral manner, he called upon the community to forgive the sinner lest the man despair. In the beginning, he commanded the community to shun the sinner as a test of their obedience and its members responded accordingly. Now, the man repented so they should receive him back into the fold. And, as the community forgave, so did Paul (2 Cor 2:5-11)

4. Anxiety in Troas (2:12-13).

Acts 16:8-10 mentioned the city only in passing and within the context of a vision Paul had calling him to Macedonia. In Second Corinthians, he alluded to this invitation (2:12, "for me a door (of opportunity) having opened") but he felt a loss with the absence of Titus. Thus, he left for Macedonia (2 Cor 2:12-13).

B. Step B1: Defense of Paul's Ministry (2:14-4:4; parallel in 5:11-7:4)

1. The Triumphal Parade (2:14-17).

Paul suddenly shifted tone, invoking a parade of triumph that was only held for conquerors in Rome. The most recent festival was declared by Claudius in honor of the general Ostorius over the Britons in 51 CE. During the procession, thick plums of incense offered to the gods in temples along the parade route (Via Sacra) floated over the crowds, sweetly scenting the festivities. The apostle invoked this imagery to describe his missionary journey. Along the way, he and his entourage followed the hero, Christ; the Good News he proclaimed was like sweet smelling incense that brought life, unlike the stench of sin that brought death. Paul and his fellow evangelists did not peddle mere words about Christ, but were sent by God and stood in the presence of the Risen One, just like the soldiers in the parade who followed their victorious leader (2 Cor 2:14-17).

2. The Mosaic and Christian Covenants (3:1-18).

Paul again defended himself ("we") against questions about his authority. He claimed no need for a letter of recommendation, but pointed to the results of his evangelization. The church he founded in Corinth was his resume, the "letter of Christ," written in the Spirit, not on stone tablets of the old covenant. His competence came from a commission given by God. The apostle ministered the new covenant of the Spirit that gave eternal life, unlike the Law which condemned sinners to death (2 Cor 3:1-6).

Paul expanded upon the distinctions between the Christian and the Mosaic covenants. Both were revealed in glory. When Moses descended Mount Sinai with the covenant carved in stone, the Israelites turned away, not to look upon the leader's radiant face. But because that covenant could only declare the guilt of sin, its glory faded compared to that of the new covenant in Christ that acquitted the condemned. Notice the apostle did not oppose the covenants, but described them in progressive terms. The Mosaic covenant held until the end times; now, with the advent of the final days that began at the Crucifixion, the Christian covenant replaced it. Through the "ministry of death" came the "ministry of life" (2 Cor 3:7-11).

Paul acted with boldness in proclaiming the Good News. But, his Jewish brothers and sisters did not accept the Good News ("hardened minds"). When they heard the Torah read at synagogue services, he contended their eyes were still covered by the "veil" of ignorance; only faith in Christ could raise it and let them see the glory of the new covenant. He held that Christians saw the Lord's glory, if only partially. But they attained spiritual freedom from the old covenant (duty to the Torah) in the Spirit (2 Cor 3:12-18).

In this discussion about his leadership, Paul implicitly directed his comments towards his Jewish opponents, either within the Church (Judaizers) or outside (non-Christian Jews). His immediate audience were Gentile believers. If Jews found a relationship with YHWH by keeping the Torah (which defined sin), the non-Jews were automatically condemned because they lived outside that relationship. The apostle held Gentile faithful found salvation through faith in Christ. While he still found value in the Law (Rom 3:31), he considered its utility to Gentiles as passing on to something greater.

3. Paul's Suffering on the Road (4:1-4).

Realizing God's mercy so he did not lose heart, Paul insisted on his innocence in spreading the Good News. He neither deceived his audience nor distorted the message. Returning to the veil image, he charged those who rejected his message as wearing the "veil" of ignorance; if they would only see the "light" of the Gospel, they would avoid destruction. (2 Cor 4:1-4).

C. Step C1: Paul's Ministry: "Treasure in earthen vessels" (4:5-15)

Paul insisted he preached not for self-promotion, but as "slaves" for his audience. In doing so, he held that he was an instrument in God's prerogative. Through the Gospel, God enlightened the hearts of those who believed.

Paul saw his own precarious state ("clay jars") in contrast to the life of the Spirit within him ("treasure") that came from God (2 Cor 4:7). He faced persecution, beatings and even death threats for the gospel, but his faith and his charisms carried him forward. In his sufferings, the apostle bound himself the Paschal Mystery; in his struggles, he died with Christ; in his missionary successes, he shared in the live of the Risen Christ. As he believed, he proclaimed, in hope of the general resurrection. He reasoned that the more who received the Good News, the more who would hope in eternal life, the more who would give praise and glory given to God. So, he endured temporary suffering for eternal reward. (Notice his irony with the images of light and the veil; now he implied that what could be seen in this world blinded but what could not be seen in the next world gave clear sight.) (2 Cor 4:7-18)

D. Step C2: Paul's Ministry "...walk by faith, not by sight" (4:16-5:10)

Paul shifted the metaphor for his physicality from a clay jar to a tent, but placed this image in view of eternal life. The dwelling of his body would pass away; he, however, would find a heavenly home made by God himself. He groaned for that body of God's life and that yearning gave him the perseverance to carry on. While he preferred heaven, he served the Lord on earth in hope; he "lived by faith and not by sight" (2 Cor 5:7; notice he referred back to the irony of sight in 2 Cor 4:18). He only desired to please the Lord, for he foresaw the Final Judgment as a moment of complete personal revelation (2 Cor 5:1-10)

E. Step B2: Defense of Paul's Ministry (5:11-7:4; parallel in 2:14-4:4)

1. Ministry of Reconciliation (5:11-21).

When he reminded his audience about his reputation, Paul made a cryptic comment. His activities gave the Corinthians a substantive answer to those who were "proud of their outward appearance." These were Paul's Jewish opponents whom he referred to in 2 Cor 3:1-18, those proud of their circumcision. If the local church faced some opposition from either the Jewish community or the party of Judaizers (2 Cor 5:12), the problem was minimal based upon this single reference.

Nonetheless, the apostle turned his sights on to what he considered a greater issue, the death of Christ. The Crucifixion demarcated the old order from the new, death from life. Christ died for all then rose from the dead, so all have died and should live for him in hope of their resurrection. The faithful who died (made a reality in baptism) rose to life in Christ as a new creation. This summed up Paul's ministry of reconciliation; he evangelized to help his listeners realize God set aside his judgment on the world (implicitly based upon violations of his Law); now the Lord wanted all to be forgiven. Paul preached as an "ambassador of Christ," constantly encouraging his audience to "be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 4:20). Thus, he pointed to the Innocent One bearing guilt for the sake of believers, so the believers could realize a right relationship with God (2 Cor 5:11-21).

2. The Acceptable Time (6:1-10)

Paul restated the immediacy of his call by quoting Isaiah 49:8; now was the time of salvation. For his part, he again insisted on his innocence for the call, pointing out the many sufferings he endured in his ministry, claiming the virtuous and spiritual ways he conducted his evangelization (2 Cor 6:1-10).

3. Call for Repentance (6:11-7:4)

Using the above defense of his ministry as a prologue, Paul stated he opened his heart to the Corinthians, now they should hear his instruction in kind. He demanded members in the community end a relationship with some outside group or corrupting influence (6:16a indicated the libertines who attended pagan festivals). He pointed to the presence of God in the community and his call to holiness as separation from the unclean (2 Cor 6:16-17; see Lev 26:11-12), even invoking a baptismal reference (2 Cor 7:1); in this way, the faithful became children of God (2 Cor 6:18; see 2 Sam 7:14). Instead of fellowship with the evil, he called upon the church to strengthen their ties with him, especially in light of his missionary efforts on their behalf; he took great pride in them and the work he did among them (2 Cor 6:14-7:4).

F. Step A2: Joy in Reconciliation Despite Sending a Prior Letter (7:5-16; parallel to 1:3-2:13)

After the call to repentance, Paul briefly recounted his struggled on the road as a prelude to the encouragement he found in Titus' report. The apostle's companion related the community's concern for Paul and their efforts to reform based upon First Corinthians. Despite the pain it caused (2 Cor 2:1-4), Paul's terse letter had the affect he desired. After a period of anger and defensiveness, the church at Corinth took his words to heart; instead of rejecting Titus, they showed him gracious hospitality as an indirect proof of their repentance. They confirmed Paul's boosting to Titus about the community. Thus, the apostle's affection for them grew; his confidence in them had been restored (2 Cor 7:4-16).

IV. Synopsis and Commentary: Part 2: The Collection for Jerusalem (8:1-9:15)

In chapters 8-9, Paul promoted his collection for the church in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1-4, Rom 15:25-27). He boast about the extreme generosity of the Macedonians; even in their poverty, they contributed to the collection beyond their means. He used these comments to urge the Corinthian assembly to contribute; he even sent Titus and an advance party to the community in order to prepare the collection as a test of their love. In the same way Christ impoverished himself to enrich others, he urged his audience to contribute generously, not out of guilt, but out of a free-giving spirit. He noted the collection began a year before; now he cajoled his audience to finish the task, not merely as a matter of generosity, but one of fairness. Citing Exo 16:18, he reminded the Corinthians that they took care of a need our of their abundance; some day, they would receive assistance in their day of need (2 Cor 8:1-15).

The advance party mentioned above included Titus as Paul's appointed leader and two other unknown "brothers," one of the apostle's traveling companions known for his evangelization (2 Cor 8:18-19), the other tested by Paul many times and found worthy of the task (2 Cor 8:22). Paul appointed this trio to insure the integrity of the collection (2 Cor 8:20-21; with an allusion to Prov 3:4), for they represented Paul personally as well as the many churches in the Aegean basin (2 Cor 8:23). He urged the Corinthians to show the trio hospitality, for they eagerly wished to serve the faithful there (2 Cor 8:16-24).

After he gave the trio's resume to his audience, Paul related his boasts to the Macedonians about the generosity of the Corinthians as one of the reasons for sending Titus and his companions; if they failed in their quest, the apostle would be solely disappointed, even humiliated. Of course, he insisted the community give freely, citing an agricultural saying loosely based on Prov 11:24-25 (2 Cor 9:6) and an allusion to cheerful giver from Prov 22:8 (LXX). He assured those donating that God gave in overflowing measure so the faithful live a life overflowing with righteous acts, citing Ps 112:9. Returning to the agricultural image of the sower, he reinforced the belief that God implicitly initiated the collection through his grace ("charis"), along with bounty of all good works that welled up into abundant thanksgiving ("eucharistia") to the Lord. He noted the generosity of the community bolstered their reputation as faithful Christians ("in obedience to the gospel of Christ") and gave the recipients, along with other communities, another reason to glorify God. In the end, Paul thanked God for his "exceeding" grace poured out on the Corinthians, thus placing the collection within a liturgical outlook (2 Cor 9:1-15).

Chapters 8-9 consisted of several small chaistic groups within three larger chaisms: 8:1-15, 8:16-24 and 9:1-15. due to these smaller clusters, some scholars hold chapters 8 and 9 came from different documents, but others believe the chapters form a single unit.

V. Synopsis and Commentary: Part 3 "Book of Tears" (10:1-13:10)

Chiasmus 2

A1: Paul's Style of Ministry with the Corinthian Community (10:1-18)

B1: Paul and His Opponents (11:1-15)

C: Paul's Boast (11:16-12:10)

B2: Paul Compared Himself with his Opponents (12:11-18)

A2: Paul's Apologia and Planned Third Visit to Corinth (12:19-13:10)

A. Step A1: Paul's Style of Ministry with the Corinthian Community (10:1-18)

Paul first compared his gentle style of ministry when he visited the community with his terse style of writing, assuring his audience that, indeed, he was not passive-aggressive as some assumed. He was willing to "go to war" for the Gospel, destroying any arrogant argument so that all might obey Christ. Accusing the Corinthians of judging by appearances alone and assuming their place as faithful, he called for the community's self-reflection. If they belonged to the Lord, so did he; they could not charge him with deviating from the Good News. Moreover, he preached based upon the "authority of the Lord" so he could build up people, not tear them down; hence, he boasted about his evangelistic ministry. Returning to the charge he was passive-aggressive, Paul did not intend to scare his audience with his letters, but he would act when he visited them in a way that was consistent with the tone and content found within them (2 Cor 10:1-11).

Paul next turned to the charge some made against him of puffed up self-promotion. He wouldn't compare himself with his self-appointed judges for the only standard they had was themselves, thus, making them fools. Instead, he would boast, but within limits. He took pride in his ministry of evangelization; after all, he founded the church in Corinth. He would not take credit for the work of another missionary, but that fact did not stop him from claiming his mandate came from Jesus. Quoting Jer 9:24, "the one boasting must boast in the Lord" (2 Cor 10:12-18).

B. Step B1: Paul and His Opponents (11:1-15)

After he asked for the indulgence of his audience, Paul invoked the image of a middle man who helped arrange the marriage between clans. In this case, he promised the community (the virgin bride) to Christ (the husband). But, then he shifted the image to the Fall where the devil tempted the community away from "sincere devotion to Christ" (11:3) like he led Eve astray. They received self-proclaimed "super-apostles" who proclaimed a different vision of Jesus, invoking a different spirit with a different content and delivering it in a much more eloquent style than Paul. He recognized the shortcomings of his rhetorical style but would not back away from his contention that he possessed superior knowledge. Nor would he give into the charge, that, because he refused any support from the community based upon his self-employment, he was inferior to those traveling charlatans who insisted upon the financial generosity of the community. Indeed, he received support from other churches (including the poor Macedonians) so he could evangelize the Corinthians free of charge. And he would continue to minister to them without cost to silence these false prophets who clothed themselves as "apostles," invoking the image of Satan as a deceiving "angel of light." These hucksters merely paraded around as "servants of righteousness"; they would soon face their end (2 Cor 11:1-15).

C. Step C: Paul's Boast (11:16-12:10)

In the highpoint of his argument, Paul compared himself to his competitors in three areas: his origin, his sufferings and his visions. First, he claimed equity; he was as Jewish as the "super-apostles" were ( 2 Cor 11:22). In 2 Cor 5:12, he referred to those judged by "outward appearances" which could refer to circumcision. Taken together, these two verses could point to Judaizers who asserted superiority to Paul based upon their strict adherence to the Torah (Acts 15); the apostle fought vehemently against these opponents (Gal 6:11-13, Rom 1:16-17, Rom 3:21-22). More likely, however, the title referred to Kephas (Simon Peter; Gal 2:7-14) whom Paul rebuked in Gal 2:11-14 for eating exclusively with his fellow Jews, not with Gentiles; Kephas thus implied full membership in the Church required conversion to Judaism. The leader of the apostles had a following in Corinth (1 Cor 1:12).

Second, Paul claimed superiority to his opponents as a "servant of Christ." Here, he asserted his position not based upon his message but upon his sufferings. Like Jesus, he endured greater efforts, more prison time, more severe beatings and more near death encounters. To make his point, he detailed many of these experiences, even an escape from Damascus when he faced a death sentence (2 Cor 11:23-28, 2 Cor 11:32-33).

Last, Paul claimed superior knowledge based upon direct revelation, hence a closer relationship with God. He related a heavenly vision he had as a possible out-of-body experience (his shift to the third person in 2 Cor 12:1-4). He ascended to the third heaven (the highest level according to the Testament of Levi 2:7-10, 3:1-4) where he heard ineffable words too sacred to speak.

Notice Paul did not insist upon a better or more detailed content. Instead he claimed superiority based upon his background, his willingness to suffer for the Good News and his ecstatic experience; put together, these validated his place as an apostle and his message. He boasted about his status as a messenger send by Jesus, yet some of his Corinthian critics considered him a fool; so, he picked up the insult with some hint of sarcasm. (If they were so wise, as 2 Cor 11:19 stated, why did they put up with insults, enslavement, exploitation or physical abuse?) Yet, he would adopt their slight to prove his place, both as a beginning (2 Cor 11:16-19, 2 Cor 11:21) and ending (2 Cor 12:11) to the core of his argument.

By his own admission, Paul recognized a God-given check on his pride, a weakness or "thorn in the flesh" that he attributed to demonic messenger. Despite his prayer for relief, he only had the grace of God to rely upon. Then, he came upon an significant insight into his ministry; in his very weakness, the power of the Good News gained traction. Not only did his own energy diminish, the "power of Christ" became more prominent. The message and its charisms, not the messenger took center stage. Thus, Paul felt content to face his troubles, knowing that "whenever I am weak, he is strong" (2 Cor 12:6-10).

D. Step B2: Paul Compared Himself with his Opponents (12:11-18)

Even as a fool worth nothing, Paul gave little ground to the "super-apostles." He possessed great charisms, equating power with authenticity. Then, he returned to the question of his legitimacy. Was he less of an apostle simply because he demurred from the hospitality offered by the Corinthians? Did the members there measure the honor of an apostle based upon the gifts they gave him? Paul wanted to visit them for a third time and live among them without cost to the church, even at the cost of his life. Neither he nor Titus whom he sent took advantage of the community (2 Cor 12:11-18).

Notice this section (B2) paralleled 11:1-15 (B1) in four ways. First, Paul saw his boast as foolishness (2 Cor 11:1; 2 Cor 12:11). Second, he considered himself better than the "super-apostles" (2 Cor 11:5; 2 Cor 12:11). Third, he alluded to spiritual power (2 Cor 11:6; 2 Cor 12:12). Finally, he insisted upon his financial independence not to cause a burden upon the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:7-12; 2 Cor 12:13-18). These parallels strengthened the chaistic structure of 10:1-13:10.

E. Step A2: Paul's Apologia and Planned Third Visit to Corinth (12:19-13:10)

Rounding out the "Book of Tears," Paul presented a short defense to the Corinthians, then challenged them to reflect on their actions. Why did he have to defend himself? Toiling in full view by God, he worked to build them up, yet he feared that neither a visit would satisfy all parties involved nor resolve the subjects of immorality which he addressed in First Corinthians (chapters 5-7). Nonetheless, with a quote from Deu 19:15, he planned a third visit to correct the sinners, thus proving his authority. Again, he compared himself to Christ; his weakness among the faithful there reflected that of Jesus on the cross who, three days later, gained eternal power through his Resurrection. He and the community together lived in weakness, only to show outsiders God's power. So, he urged them to self-reflection and testing to see if Christ lived among them. He passed the test, did they? No matter what they thought of him, he encouraged them to live moral lives; he was pleased when, in moments of his own weakness, they remained steadfast. Hence, he wrote them so he would have no need to chide them when he arrived. His divinely given authority gave him the power to build up, not tear down (2 Cor 12:19-13:10).

F. A Short Farewell (13:11-13; parallel in 1:1-3)

The letter concluded with a generic send off: various exhortations to live repent and live in peace, an exchange of greetings and a final benediction for the Corinthians. These verses could have been the original conclusion to 10:1-13:10 or an addition place there by an editor. Either way, the letter ended abruptly, lacking details that were found in other letters (First Corinthians and Romans, for example).

VI. Summary

In First Corinthians, Paul implicitly stressed the Church as the eschatological community, the assembly that lived in the world, yet, in the Spirit, touched the presence and the power of the Lord who would return in glory. In Second Corinthians, he placed this belief in the distant background. Instead, he focused upon his three concerns: his status and power as an apostle, his concern over irregularities in the Corinthian community and the collection for the "saints" in Jerusalem. This letter, as we now have it, clarified and deepened our understanding about the struggles both Paul and the Corinthian church faced in the 50's CE.


Stergiou, Costas. Computer software. Vers. 5.0. 2015. 2015 <>.

NET Bible. module. The NET Bible. 2015 <>.

Novum Testamentum Graece. module. Vers. NA27. <>.