1. Title. Textual evidence attests (cf. p. 10) the brief title Pros Korinthious B, literally, “To the Corinthians 2.” This is the title that appears in the oldest extant manuscript of the epistle, dating from about the 3d century a.d. The longer title, “The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians,” is not found until much later.
For a discussion of this epistle as the “second” one to the Corinthians, and for the use of the word “second” in the title, see below under “3. Historical Setting.” Obviously the title was not a part of the original document.
2. Authorship. External and internal evidence conclusively attest Pauline authorship. The external evidence reaches back to the generation immediately following that of the apostles themselves. Quotations from, and references to, this epistle by many of the early Church Fathers and writers provide abundant testimony to its genuineness and integrity. In his letter to the Corinthians (c. a.d. 95), about 35 years after this epistle, Clement of Rome deals with the same conditions at Corinth as those here considered by Paul (First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians 46). The Corinthian church had apparently not changed to any great extent, for many of the old problems still persisted. Writing to the Philippians, Polycarp (d. c. a.d. 155), bishop of Smyrna, quotes 2 Cor. 8:21 (Epistle 6). In his treatise Against Heresies ii. 30. 7 (c. a.d. 180), Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, quotes and comments upon Paul’s account of his rapture to the third heaven in 2 Cor. 12:2–4. Clement of Alexandria (c. a.d. 200) quotes from 2 Corinthians not less than 20 times (see Stromata i. 1, 11; ii. 19, 20; etc.). Tertullian, of Carthage (c. a.d. 220), the so-called father of Latin theology, quotes frequently from it (Scorpiace 13; Against Marcion v. 11, 12 On the Resurrection of the Flesh 40, 43, 44).
Internal evidence points unmistakably to Paul as the author. Its style is that of Paul. The epistle abounds with references to Paul, to his experiences at Corinth, and to his first epistle to the church there. Many Biblical scholars consider that this epistle gives the clearest and most complete picture of Paul’s nature, personality, and disposition. The historical spontaneity of the experiences recorded in this epistle can be none other than genuine.
3. Historical Setting. Paul made at least three visits, and wrote three, perhaps four, epistles to the church at Corinth. The first visit, about a.d. 51, during the course of his Second Missionary Journey, continued for a year and a half (Acts 18:11). At this time Paul founded and organized the church. He continued to keep in touch with it from time to time through representatives (2 Cor. 12:17). His first written contact with it is mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:9. This document is now presumed lost. Toward the close of more than two years spent at Ephesus, on the third journey, he wrote what is now known as First Corinthians (ch. 16:8; see p. 103).
It is generally accepted that a period of several weeks probably elapsed between the writing of the two Corinthian epistles, the first from Ephesus and the second from Macedonia. Paul had intended to remain in Ephesus until Pentecost, and then to journey to Corinth by way of Macedonia (Acts 19:21). But he left Ephesus sooner than he had intended. This may have been due, in part at least, to the popular uprising that nearly cost him his life (vs. 24–41). The opposition he experienced while at Ephesus placed a great strain upon him. He referred to the opponents of truth as “beasts” (1 Cor. 15:32), and observed that he had been “pressed out of measure, above strength” and had “despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). It was in this condition that Paul left Ephesus for Macedonia.
He journeyed to Troas, the port of embarkation for Macedonia. Here he expected the return of Titus with a report of the response of the Corinthians to his previous epistle. But Titus did not arrive within the time expected, and Paul, finding no rest of spirit because of anxiety for the church at Corinth (ch. 2:13), was unable to take advantage of the open door to the preaching of the gospel at Troas. Pressing on into Macedonia, he met Titus at Philippi. With relief and joy Paul listened to the good news Titus brought from Corinth.
Some think that Paul had returned to Corinth for a second visit. He speaks of a previous visit that had been distressing and disappointing (see on chs. 2:1; 12:14; 13:1, 2). Probably following such a visit and the receipt of further disconcerting news from Corinth (1 Cor. 1:11), he dispatched a letter of reprimand and counsel (1 Corinthians), and sent Titus to prepare the way for a further visit he planned to make (2 Cor. 8:6; 13:1, 2; cf. AA 301).
In ch. 2:4 Paul refers to a former letter he had written to Corinth “out of much affliction and anguish of heart,” and which had made them “sorry” (ch. 7:8). Many scholars think that in these and others passages Paul can hardly refer to 1 Corinthians, since—as they affirm—these statements do not properly describe the spirit and nature of that epistle. Accordingly, they argue that he must have written a letter between the two that appear in the NT. Some who hold this view consider that this letter has been lost, but others think that it is preserved as chs. 10–13 of 2 Corinthians. Plausible reasons can be presented both for and against this theory, but objective proof is lacking for either. This commentary therefore assumes that 1 Corinthians is the letter to which Paul refers in 2 Corinthians (cf. AA 324). From chs. 2:13; 7:5; 8:1; 9:2, 4, it appears that Paul wrote this second epistle while in Macedonia. The date was about a.d. 57 (see pp. 102–104).
Temporarily, at least, Paul’s letters and visits seem to have accomplished their purpose. It is evident from Rom. 16:23 that Paul was hospitably received and entertained by one of the chief members of the church. The change in the church at Corinth is further corroborated by the fact that in the epistles to the Galatians and to the Romans, which were written during the course of his stay at Corinth, he gives evidence of having recovered from the state of restless anxiety and solicitude for the Corinthian church that distressed his ardent soul at Troas (2 Cor. 2:13; cf. ch. 7:6, 13, 14). Also, the collection in Corinth for the saints at Jerusalem came to a successful conclusion (Rom. 15:26).
After the writing of this second epistle and his next visit, we find only scattered references to the Corinthian church. However, an epistle to the Corinthians by Clement of Rome about a.d. 95 reveals that at least some of the old evils had reappeared. Clement does compliment the church for its exemplary conduct in many
ways, but he also rebukes it for its strife and party spirit. This is the last information we have concerning the church at Corinth during the apostolic age.
4. Theme. The immediate occasion for the epistle was the encouraging report Titus had brought from Corinth. The first part of the letter deals with the reception the Corinthians had given Paul’s former epistle, and reviews some of the problems dealt with in it. Following Paul’s instructions the church had disfellowshiped the immoral offender of 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:1–5; cf. 2 Cor. 2:6). Paul now advises how to win back the offender.
The contributions gathered among the churches of Macedonia and Greece for the poor are given special emphasis. This project lay close to Paul’s heart, for it would bind the hearts of Jewish and Gentile Christians together in a bond of fellowship and unity. On their part, the Gentile believers would be led to appreciate the sacrifices of Jewish Christians in bringing them a knowledge of the gospel. In turn, the Jews would be led to appreciate the spirit of fellowship to which the gifts bore mute, yet eloquent witness. But the church at Corinth had been delinquent in collecting their contribution, and far behind the churches of Macedonia, probably as a result of the strife and vice that had absorbed its attention. In this letter Paul makes a final appeal for promptness and diligence.
It seems that a majority of the Corinthian church members heartily accepted the counsel given by Paul and his colaborers. They had received Titus with open arms. Almost from the first there had been factions in the church, some favoring one leader and some another. Much of the trouble occasioned by this division of loyalty had been allayed, but open and malignant opposition, probably by a Judaizing faction similar to the one in Galatia, persisted. Its objective was to undermine Paul’s work, authority, and apostleship. Opponents charged Paul with fickleness for not coming to Corinth as he had originally promised. They argued that he lacked apostolic authority. They branded him a coward for attempting to control the church at a distance, by letter. This proved, they said, that he was afraid to appear in person.
The first nine chapters of 2 Corinthians are characterized by gratitude and appreciation; the last four, by marked severity and self-defense. It has been suggested that the former chapters were addressed to the majority, who had accepted Paul’s counsel and reproof, and the latter to a minority who persisted in opposing his efforts to restore the church to a spirit of harmony. At length, and in various ways, Paul essays to prove his authority and vindicate his conduct among them. For proof of his apostleship he appeals to his visions and revelations from the Lord, to his unparalleled sufferings for the Lord Jesus, and to the seal of divine approval evident in the fruitfulness of his labors. The severity of Paul’s words, addressed to the Corinthian church concerning certain false apostles and possibly a minority of its members still under their influence, is without parallel in his epistles to other churches.
This epistle differs materially from 1 Corinthians. The first epistle is objective and practical; the second, largely subjective and personal. The first is more calm and measured in tone; the second reflects Paul’s anxiety for news from Corinth, his relief and joy when Titus finally arrived, and his firm purpose to deal effectively with those who still troubled the church. The first reflects conditions in the Corinthian church; the second, the passion of the apostle himself for the church. Although the main concern of this second epistle is not doctrinal, as with Galatians and Romans, it does set forth important doctrinal truths.
I. Introduction, 1:1–11.
A. Salutation, 1:1, 2.
B. Thanksgiving in the midst of tribulation, 1:3–11.
II. Recent Relations With the Church at Corinth, 1:12 to 7:16.
A. An explanation of the change in travel plans, 1:12 to 2:4.
B. Counsel for restoring the immoral offender to Christ, 2:5–11.
C. Anxiety to have, and joy upon receiving, news from Corinth, 2:12–17.
D. Apostolic credentials, 3:1–18.
1. Paul’s credentials as a genuine apostle, 3:1–6.
2. The glory of the apostolic commission, 3:7–18.
E. The apostles sustained by divine power in their ministry, 4:1 to 5:10.
1. Strength to endure: an evidence of divine grace, 4:1–18.
2. Life and death in view of eternity, 5:1–10.
F. The ministry of reconciliation, 5:11 to 6:10.
1. The apostle as an ambassador for Christ, 5:11–21.
2. The discipline essential to apostleship, 6:1–10.
G. An appeal to the Corinthians to separate from evildoers, 6:11 to 7:1.
H. Paul’s rejoicing at the warm response of the Corinthians, 7:2–16.
III. The Collection for Needy Christians in Judea, 8:1 to 9:15.
A. The exemplary liberality of the Macedonian churches, 8:1–6.
B. The example of Jesus Christ, 8:7–15.
C. The commission and commendation of Titus to receive the offering at Corinth, 8:16–24.
D. An appeal to the Corinthians to do their part, 9:1–15.
1. An appeal to complete the collection of funds, 9:1–5.
2. An appeal to liberality, 9:6–15.
IV. Paul’s Defense of His Apostleship; An Appeal to the Unrepentant, 10:1 to 13:10.
A. A reply to those who have belittled Paul as an apostle, 10:1–12.
B. Corinth within his appointed sphere of labor, 10:13–18.
C. Marks of difference between true and false apostles, 11:1 to 12:18.
1. The subtlety of false apostles, 11:1–6.
2. Paul not dependent upon the Corinthians for support, 11:7–15.
3. His encounter with peril and privation, 11:16–33.
4. Paul the recipient of divine revelations, 12:1–5.
5. Paul humbled by “a thorn in the flesh,” 12:6–10.
6. Paul not enriched at their expense, 12:11–18.
D. A final appeal to the unrepentant, 12:19 to 13:10.
V. Conclusion, 13:11–14.