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An Introduction To Second Corinthians

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I. AUTHOR: The Apostle Paul

A. It is generally agreed that Paul was the author of Second Corinthians (except for portions (e.g., 6:14--7:1) which some understand to be non-Pauline interpolations

B. The account of Paul’s founding of the church is reported in Acts 18 (see historical reconstruction below)

C. External Evidence also supports this conclusion1

1. Clement of Rome (c. 95-97)

2. Polycarp [Philippians 2:2 (2 Cor. 4:14); 4:1 (2 Cor. 6:7)] (c. 110-150)

3. The Shepherd of Hermas2 (c. 115-140)

4. Irenaeus (c. 130-202)

5. The Epistle to Dognetus3 (c. 150)

6. Justin Martyr (c. 150-155)

7. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215)

8. Tertullian (c. 150-220)

9. Origen (c. 185-254)

10. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-386)

11. Eusebius (c. 325-240)

12. Jerome (c. 340-420)

13. Augustine (c. 400)

D. Internal Evidence:

1. Paul identifies himself as the author in 2 Corinthians 1:1

2. Paul refers to himself within the letter (10:1; “I”; biographical portions like 11--12)

3. Paul often portrays himself as struggling to maintain his authority as an apostle with the Corinthians, and to preserve the Corinthians from apostasy; this would be unlikely for an imitator

II. THE FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH

A. The Church in Corinth was planted on Paul’s second missionary journey in AD 50-51 after his visit in Athens (cf. Acts 15:36; 18:1-18)

B. Paul stayed with Roman Jews (who were expelled in AD 49 or 50) named Aquila and Priscilla eighteen months in Corinth teaching the word of God and working as tent makers (Acts 18:1-3, 11)

C. Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia and joined Paul in Corinth whereupon Paul devoted himself full time to the ministry of the word (Acts 18:5)

D. When the Jews rejected Paul, he left the synagogue and began meetings in the house of Titus Justus next to the synagogue (Acts 18:7-8)

E. The Jews brought Paul before Gallio (proconsul of Achaia AD 51 or 52) for breaking their law of worship, but he dismissed Paul since it was not a matter of “wrong or of viscous crime” (Acts 18:12-17)

F. Paul set off for Syrian Antioch (Acts 18:18--22)

1. In Cenchrea he had his hair cut from his vow (18:18)

2. Aquila and Priscilla accompanied Paul on his journey to Ephesus where they remained (18:18-19, 26)

3. Paul set off from Ephesus, landed at Caeserea, greeted the church there and went down to Syrian Antioch (18:21-22)

G. Paul spent some time in Antioch, and set off on his third missionary journey traveling back through Galatia, Phrygia and coming to Ephesus (18:23; 19:1)

H. Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew, came to Ephesus, was instructed by Aquila and Priscilla (18:24-26), and went over to Corinth to teach God’s word (18:27--19:1 cf. 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:5-6)

III. PAUL’S SUBSEQUENT CONTACTS WITH THE CHURCH AT CORINTH

A. On Paul’s third missionary journey Ephesus became his base of operations for three years (Acts 18:23; 19:1--20:1, 31).

B. An Unrecorded Visit

1. From Ephesus Paul made a visit which was not recorded in the book of Acts

The second visit to Corinth recorded in Acts 20:1-3 is probably the third visit which Paul promises to make in 2 Corinthians 12:14 and 13:1

a. “Here for this third time I am ready to come to you ....” (2 Cor. 12:14)

b. “This is the third time I am coming to you.” (2 Cor. 13:1)

2. Paul’s unrecorded visit (his actual second visit) is probably the sorrowful visit mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:1; 12:21; 13:2 cf. 13:1)

a. Paul’s first visit (recorded in Acts 18) was not a sorrowful one.

b. From the point of view of 2 Corinthians the sorrowful visit has already occurred and the third visit has not yet occurred (cf. 2 Cor. 2:1 with 12:14; 13:1)

c. Paul does say that he does not want to come to the Corinthians in sorrow again (2 Cor. 2:1; 13:2) requiring discipline as before (2 Cor. 12:21)

C. A “Lost” Epistle

1. Paul wrote an epistle which the church does not now possess (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9, “I wrote you in my letter ....”)

2. While it is possible that this epistle was written before the unrecorded (sorrowful) visit, it seems more logical to place it after the sorrowful visit:

a. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 explains some of the contents of the lost epistle: not to associate with immoral people within the body and not with respect to unbelievers

b. If Paul had visited the Corinthians (in the unrecorded/sorrowful visit) after he wrote the “lost” epistle, then he would have probably explained this point in person rather than needing to explain it in another letter (our 1 Corinthians)

D. The Sending of Timothy

1. Paul later sent Timothy to Corinth by way of Macedonia (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10-11; Acts 19:22)

2. It is doubtful whether Timothy reached Corinth before the writing of 2 Corinthians

a. Acts 19:22 reports that Timothy went only as far as Macedonia

b. 1 Corinthians 4:17 and 16:10-11 views the coming of Timothy as still future

c. 2 Corinthians 1:1 reports Timothy as being with Paul in Macedonia

E. The Writing of 1 Corinthians

1. After the sending of Timothy, news of conflicts in the Church at Corinth reached Paul through “Chloe’s people” (Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus) (1 Cor. 1:11-12; 16:17)

2. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in response to the reports from “Chloe’s people” and probably sent it by Titus (cf. 1 Cor. “???” and 2 Cor. 7:12-15)

3. Either Titus, or whoever delivered 1 Corinthians, probably told the Corinthians of Paul’s intention to visit the Corinthians twice as is reported in 2 Corinthians 1:15--2:4

4. It is possible that 1 Corinthians is the sorrowful/severe letter written by Paul (2 Cor. 2:4; 7:8)

a. Some identify 2 Corinthians 10-13 as part of the “sorrowful” letter, but this assumes the disunity of 2 Corinthians.

b. While 1 Corinthians does not express a sorrowful tone on behalf of Paul. It seems that the term “sorrowful” in 2 Corinthians refers to the response of the Corinthians rather than the mindset of Paul (2 Cor. 2:4; 7:8)

c. Paul’s affliction (2 Cor. 2:4) was probably in having to make so many corrections to those whom he loved in the young church, but who trusted in natural wisdom.

F. The Anxious Concern of Paul

1. Paul seemed to have agreed with Titus to meet him in Troas when Titus returned from delivering the letter of 1 Corinthians to Corinth to report on the response to the Corinthian church to Paul’s severe letter of correction (2 Cor. 2:13)

2. Paul could not find Titus and thus went on to Macedonia (2 Cor. 2:12-13)

G. The Finding of Titus

1. Paul found Titus in Macedonia (2 Cor. 7:5-6)

2. When Paul heard of the response of the church to 1 Corinthians, he wrote 2 Corinthians from Macedonia (2 Cor. 7:5-16; 8:1; 9:2-4)

IV. THE DATE OF SECOND CORINTHIANS is the fall of AD 56 or 57:

A. First Corinthians was probably written in the spring of AD 55/56 (see introduction to First Corinthians for argumentation)

B. Second Corinthians was probably written in the fall:

1. Paul’s final departure from Corinth was after three winter months (Acts 20:3) whereupon he sailed from Philippi in the spring (“after the feast of Unleavened Bread” 20:6).

2. Therefore, Paul’s writing of his intended visit in 2 Corinthians 12:14; 13:1 would have been before his final winter stay there: in the fall

C. Possibly as much as eighteen or more months intervened between the writing of First and Second Corinthians:

1. They could have been written in the spring and the fall of the same year, but the “winter” of 1 Corinthians 16:6 need not be the “winter” of Acts 20:3

2. “Last year” in 2 Corinthians 8:10; 9:2 need not point to a six month interval since it is hard to know which calendar (Roman, Jewish ecclesiastical, Athenian, Jewish civil) he was following

3. This allows time for Paul to engage in evangelism along the Egnatian Way and possibly in Illyricum (?) (2 Cor. 2:12; Rom. 15:19)

D. Therefore, 2 Corinthians was probably written about eighteen months after First Corinthians (AD 55/56), or in the fall of AD 56/57

V. HAROLD HOEHNER’S CHRONOLOGY is as follows:4

A. Paul’s first missionary journey AD 49

B. Paul’s second missionary journey AD 50-52

1. Arrives in Corinth AD 50 or 51

2. Leaves Corinth AD 52

3. Returns to Syrian Antioch -- AD 52

C. Paul’s third missionary journey -- AD 53-57

1. Arrives in Ephesus in AD 53 and stays three years (Acts 19:10; 20:31)

2. Corinthians written -- AD 56

3. Arrival in Macedonia -- AD 56

4. Corinthians written -- AD 56-57

5. Arrives at Corinth -- AD 56 or 57

6. Leaves Corinth -- AD 57

VI. NOTE WELL: There are other possible historical reconstructions of the events:

A. It is quite possible that the “unrecorded” visit took place after 1 Corinthians was written. In addition there could be another “lost epistle” to the Corinthians which is described in 2 Corinthians 2:4 and 7:8. Titus may have carried this letter also.

B. Possible additional orders are:

1. Founding visit / Former letter/ 1 Corinthians / Painful visit / Severe letter / 2 Corinthians / Anticipated visit

2. Founding visit / Former letter / Painful Visit / Severe letter / 1 Corinthians / 2 Corinthians / Anticipated visit

C. The Proposed order is as follows:

Founding visit / Painful visit / Former letter / 1 Corinthians (severe letter) / 2 Corinthians / Anticipated visit

VII. THE OCCASION AND PURPOSES of 2 Corinthians

A. Titus reported about the brother who had been living in immorality with his step mother and Paul responded (1 Cor. 5:1-6; 2 Cor. 2:5-11)

B. Titus reported that Paul’s change of plans had upset the Corinthians, so, Paul responded (2 Cor. 1:15--2:4)

C. Titus reported that there continued to be divisions (by “Judaizers” and legalists) in Corinth about Paul’s authority as an Apostle, so, Paul responded (2 Cor. 10:10-12).

D. Paul desired to encourage the Corinthians concerning his genuine love for them in response to their good reception of the “severe” letter (2 Cor. 7:3-16)

E. Paul desired to make final arrangements for the collection from the Gentile churches to go with him to the church in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8--9)

F. Paul desired to encourage the church to continue in obedience to his words because God is speaking through him


1 Geisler, A General Introduction to the Bible, 187-188,193.

2 Similitude 9:13.7-8; cf. 2 Cor. 13:11.

3 5:7 (2 Cor. 10:3); 5:12 (2 Cor. 6:9-10); 5:15-16 (2 Cor. 4:12; 6:10).

4 Harold Hoehner, “Chronology of the Apostolic Age,” Th.D. dissertation, Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1965.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines