New Testament | Study Guide

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New Testament | 2 Corinthians | Summary

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Summary

  • Paul recalls a past "painful visit" (2 Corinthians 2:1) but writes that he hopes to visit them again.
  • He reminds the Corinthians in heartfelt terms that he faces everything for them, including suffering and persecution.
  • Paul explains he has relied on God's grace while suffering hardships.
  • Paul praises the Corinthians for their willingness to repent, which has become a cause for him to boast about them to other believers.
  • After writing a brief recommendation of Titus and other coworkers in the mission, Paul appeals to the Corinthians to give generously on behalf of the saints.
  • Explaining that he works on behalf of God and not for his own advancement, Paul addresses some apparent challenges to his authority.
  • Paul describes "a person in Christ"—probably himself—who experienced a heavenly journey as a vision or a real bodily visit and received revelations.
  • Paul explains his plans to come visit Corinth again, so he advises them to continue engaging in moral behavior until his arrival.

Analysis

Paul identifies himself as an apostle, while it appears that some other early Christ-believers question his authority to teach the gospel and even challenge his use of the apostolic title. Because Paul addresses this problem head on, the letter offers readers some insight into what various early Christ-believers thought an apostle was, and what responsibilities or liabilities went along with that position of authority.

The definition of the Greek term apostolos is one who is sent on behalf of another, an ambassador. Paul defends his use of the title when he describes his work: "So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). In 2 Corinthians 10 he points out that no matter what attributes the others use to boast or brag about themselves, he is equally qualified. In fact, he points out, his willingness to undergo serious suffering and remain hopeful makes him superior to those who just list their qualifications.

Paul's comments about the divine source of his authority are also revealing; he asserts that a heavenly vision gives him authority to teach. Most scholars agree that the cryptic passage about "a man" who had a heavenly vision "whether in the body or out of the body" (2 Corinthians 12:2–3) probably refers to Paul himself. Paul understands this episode can provide his teachings with a sort of legitimization that he can use to refute those other apostles who challenge his role in the Corinthian ekklēsia.

The relationship between the Corinthians and other church communities is an important component of the discussion in 2 Corinthians. While 1 Corinthians seemed to focus mainly on ending divisions and creating unity within the Corinthian ekklēsia, this letter reveals that a wider unity among all Christ-believers was also important to Paul.

His desire for unified teaching and the spread the gospel shapes several elements of the letter. First, Paul prioritizes teaching over his personal reputation and safety. He is willing to subordinate his own well-being to the mission. Second, the spread of the gospel is so important that the Corinthian Christ-believers need to put their personal grievances aside. Accordingly, in 2 Corinthians 7 Paul can rejoice that the Corinthians have repented of their past wrongdoing, and in 2 Corinthians 5 he can urge them to work toward reconciliation with others and with God. Third, the unity among Christ-believers that Paul envisions gives him the confidence to request monetary donations for the good of "the saints" (believers) in Jerusalem.

Some New Testament scholars argue that the best way to gain insight into the historical situation in Corinth is to search for seams in 2 Corinthians where it appears that multiple letters have been "stitched together" to form the single canonical letter that is part of the modern New Testament. The existence of another letter in their ongoing correspondence would explain a statement such as 2 Corinthians 2:3 ("I wrote as I did") or Paul's admission that he sent a letter that was distressing to the community at Corinth and "grieved" them (2 Corinthians 7:8). Another popular partition theory suggests that Paul is responding in 2 Corinthians 1–9 to a positive report from Titus, while the remaining chapters (2 Corinthians 10–13) reflect a different, more negative situation.

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