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Alternate Lecture on: NT 600 New Testament Survey The Second Letter to the Corinthians

Alternate Lecture on: NT 600 New Testament Survey

The Second Letter to the Corinthians

by Timothy Kenney, PhD

When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus (mid 54), he probably thought he had calmed the situation there and solved the major problems. That letter was not well received, nor was his following, painful visit. The lost ‘severe letter’ and the visit of Titus to Corinth seemed effective in resolving the crisis and bringing about reconciliation (2 Cor 1-7). Paul and Titus met up in either Philippi or Thessalonica for the winter of 54-55 where the positive news from Titus brought gladness to Paul. The issue of the collection for the poor of Jerusalem (ch.8-9) was a powerful sign of the unity Paul hoped to create between Jewish and Gentile Christianity.

The second letter to the Corinthians is the most personal of Paul’s epistles. Here he shows us his own understanding of his apostolate. Since his departure from Corinth, new missionaries had followed him with their criticism of his mission. These may have been from Jerusalem or even from Antioch - some over-zealous critics from this former centre of the Pauline mission had, after Paul’s falling out with Peter over the exclusion of Gentile Christians from table fellowship with Jewish Christians, set out to undermine Paul. They had criticised Paul both for his personal weaknesses and for the doctrines he preached. This threatened relations between the community at Corinth and Paul their pastor. The letter then becomes an engagement in reconciliation.

Paul defends his apostolic ministry. But more is in jeopardy than offended ego. The Christian identity of the community is threatened by an attack on its apostle and his message; both are foundational for the community’s faith. Paul had to insist on his apostolic identity because it was so often denied to him. So he often begins his letters, ‘From Paul, an apostle, called by Christ Jesus…’ In II Corinthians we see a Paul passionately committed to his faith and call as an apostle.

What is expressive of Paul’s integrity and humility is that he does not boast of his success and achievements to back up his claims for apostolic authority; instead, he boasts only of his sufferings! (3-6, 11-12). Paul knew well from his own experience that the test of his discipleship lay in entering into the cross and the death and resurrection of Jesus. After all, this was the Jesus that Paul encountered in his Damascus experience. Paul never knew or wrote about the Jesus of history; always ‘in Christ’ was the dying and risen One.

After greeting the believers in the church at Corinth and explaining why he had not visited them as originally planned (vv. 1:3–2:2), Paul explains the nature of his ministry. Triumph through Christ and sincerity in the sight of God were the hallmarks of his ministry to the churches (2:14-17). He compares the glorious ministry of the righteousness of Christ to the “ministry of condemnation” which is the Law (v. 3:9) and declares his faith in the validity of his ministry in spite of intense persecution (4:8-18). Chapter 5 outlines the basis of the Christian faith—the new nature (v. 17) and the exchange of our sin for the righteousness of Christ (v. 21).

Chapters 6 and 7 find Paul defending himself and his ministry, assuring the Corinthians yet again of his sincere love for them and exhorting them to repentance and holy living. In chapters 8 and 9, Paul exhorts the believers at Corinth to follow the examples of the brothers in Macedonia and extend generosity to the saints in need. He teaches them the principles and rewards of gracious giving.

Paul ends his letter by reiterating his authority among them (chapter 10) and concern for their faithfulness to him in the face of fierce opposition from false apostles. He calls himself a “fool” for having to reluctantly boast of his qualifications and his suffering for Christ (chapter 11). He ends his epistle by describing the vision of heaven he was allowed to experience and the “thorn in the flesh” he was given by God to ensure his humility (chapter 12). The last chapter contains his exhortation to the Corinthians to examine themselves to see whether what they profess is reality, and ends with a benediction of love and peace.

After sending his second letter, Paul himself visited the church in Corinth for the third time. He spent the three winter months in Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:5-7; Acts 20:3). While there Paul wrote his Letter to the Romans. In that letter he indicated that he saw his work in the regions where he had been ministering as finished. He stated that it was time for him to move westward to Rome and Spain (Romans 15:23,24). This information, linked together with the tone in which Paul wrote it (Romans 15:25,26), seems to indicate that Paul's letters, plus his visits and those of Timothy and Titus, had resolved the problems in the Corinthian congregation. A God-pleasing order and peace had at last been brought to the church in Corinth.

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A general outline is provided below:

1:1-1:2 -------------- Salutation
1:3-1:11 -------------- Paul's Thanksgiving after Affliction
1:12-2:4 -------------- The Postponement of Paul's Visit

2:5-2:11 -------------- Forgiveness for the Offender
2:12-2:17 -------------- Paul's Anxiety in Troas

3:1-3:18 -------------- Ministers of the New Covenant

4:1-4:15 -------------- Treasure in Clay Jars
4:16-5:10 -------------- Living by Faith

5:11-6:13 -------------- The Ministry of Reconciliation

6:14-7:1 -------------- The Temple of the Living God

7:2-7:16 -------------- Paul's Joy at the Church's Repentance

8:1-8:15 -------------- Encouragement to Be Generous
8:16-8:24 -------------- Commandation of Titus

9:1-9:15 -------------- The Collection for Christians at Jerusalem

10:1-10:18 -------------- Paul Defends His Ministry

11:1-11:15 -------------- Paul and the False Apostles
11:16-11:32 -------------- Paul's Sufferings as an Apostle

12:1-12:10 -------------- Paul's Visions and Revelations
12:11-12:21 -------------- Paul's Concern for the Corinthian Church

13:1-13:10 -------------- Further Warning
13:11-13:13 -------------- Final Greetings and Benediction

We now turn to St. Paul's letter to the Galations in our next article.

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