II Corinthians

Author: Paul of Tarsus

Date Written: 55 or 56 AD


Second Corinthians is the fourth letter that Paul wrote to the Christian community in Corinth (only 2 letters survive). Paul's relationship with the Corinthian Christians is in crisis and he hopes to mend it with this letter.  He had originally evangelized the Corinthians and considers himself their spiritual father (Acts 18).  Yet since he wrote I Cor, other teachers have come to Corinth with letters of recommendation (3:1) and have been teaching doctrines that contradict Paul's message.  They also have personally criticized Paul's behavior and indulged in ad hominem attacks.  Paul made a quick visit to Corinth in order to correct the situation, but it turned out to be very painful (2:1).  From what we can glean from the text of II Cor, he was harshly criticized and offended by a particular person and the Corinthians did not defend him.  After this painful visit, he sent a harsh letter to the Corinthians against his opponents.  II Cor follows this harsh letter and anticipates Paul's arrival at Corinth for his third visit.


In Ch 1-7 Paul expresses his deep affection for the Corinthians.  He explains his change of travel plans which prevented him from coming to Corinth as he had expected.  Paul compares his ministry of the new covenant to Moses' ministry of the old covenant.  While Moses wore a veil to cover the glory of God, we look on the glory of the Lord with unveiled face because of Christ's redemptive work (3:18).  The glory of God has now shone in our hearts, his life is at work in us and God will raise us just as he raised Jesus from the dead (4:14).  Paul goes on to explain why he has not accepted the Corinthians' patronage, but he recommends they patronize the church at Jerusalem instead.  In fact, they had already started a collection and Paul asks that they finish it so he can bring it to Jerusalem soon (8-9).


In the last section of the letter (10-13), Paul forcefully defends himself and his ministry against his opponents at Corinth.  He explains the contrast between his letters and his face-to-face meetings with the Corinthians.  He shows that he did not accept the patronage of the Corinthians in order to preach the gospel free of charge.  Paul then engages in a contest of foolish boasting in order to demonstrate the legitimacy of his ministry and his authority as an apostle.  He thinks this boasting is necessary to silence his opposers and regain the Corinthians' trust.  Fortunately, his long list of persecutions gives us many historical details to piece together Paul's biography.  Paul ends his letter with instructions about bringing accusations before him when he comes and a few words of encouragement.


Paul writes II Cor for explicitly personal purposes, yet his language is suffused with theological meaning.  This dynamic makes II Cor a challenging letter to understand and it must be noted that we are really reading someone else's mail.  Paul displays how a good pastor of souls should relate to his flock in times of crisis.  Some themes of II Cor are God's comfort in affliction, dealing with difficulties in relationships, forgiveness, the centrality of the life of Jesus, the paradoxical nature of the Christian life: "treasure in jars of clay," the hope of heaven, our bodies as temples of God, tithing, the meaning of suffering and the importance of apostolic authority.  II Cor shows how Christian faith is very much intertwined with earthly life, but only until we "put on our heavenly dwelling" (5:2).


By Mark Giszczak

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January 27, 2015

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