Bible Study of 2 Corinthians


Well-Known Member

Our church Tuesday morning Bible study. This is one passage I'm teaching on 1 May. This takes much reading, prayer and contemplation. Any insights would be very beneficial to me and group.
Thank you.

Paul Tackles His Opponents:
Paul rarely identifies himself by name in the body of his letters (2 Cor 10:1; Gal 5:2; Eph 3:1; Col 1:23; 1 Thess 2:18; Philem 9 are the sole exceptions). When he does, it inevitably carries special significance. I, Paul, . . . beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be (10:1-2). This rather startling comment at 10:1 marks the transition to the last of the letter's three major sections (1:1--7:16; 8:1--9:15; 10:1--13:13[14]). Indeed, so startling is Paul's statement, coming after his plea for the Corinthians' affection (chapter 6), his expressions of joy and confidence (chapter 7) and his fundraising appeal (chapters 8--9), that many today find it hard to believe that 1:1--9:15 and 10:1--13:13 originally coexisted in the same letter.

This is not the only difficulty. There are other aspects of chapters 10--13 that seem to be at odds with the rest of the letter. For one, Paul's remarks about his critics become much more pointed and strident. The "some" who peddle the word of God for profit (2:17) and carry letters of recommendation (3:1-3) are now called "false apostles," "deceitful workmen" and "[Satan's] servants" (11:13-15) who are out to enslave, exploit and slap the Corinthians in the face (11:20). Also, Paul's defense becomes much more impassioned: "What anyone else dares to boast about . . . I also dare to boast about" (11:21)--so much so that he admits to being out of his mind to talk as he is doing (11:23). Moreover, his tone is marked by biting sarcasm and scathing irony (for example, 11:19: "You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!"). Indeed, translations average six exclamation points in rendering the Greek of chapters 10--12. Finally, Paul's attitude toward the Corinthians becomes threatening: "On my return," he warns, "I will not spare those who sinned earlier" (13:2). "Examine yourselves," he commands, "to see whether you are in the faith" (13:5; see the introduction).

A number of proposals have been put forward to account for this state of affairs. Some think that the explanation lay in Paul's frame of mind--that he penned chapters 10--13 after a bad night's sleep or that a lengthy dictation pause intervened. Others suppose that he received fresh news of an alarming character, prompting him to abruptly shift gears. Different audiences are sometimes proposed. Perhaps chapters 1--9 are addressed to the Corinthian congregation, while chapters 10--13 are directed at certain false apostles who have forced themselves into the congregation. Or maybe chapters 1--9 are intended for the majority who supported Paul (2:6), and chapters 10--13 are aimed at the minority who were still against him. It is even surmised that the abrupt shift is the result of Paul's habit of picking up the pen from his secretary and writing the final comments and greeting in his own hand (compare 1 Cor 16:21).

The difficulty, though, is that there are no contextual clues to alert the reader to a bad night's sleep, the receipt of disturbing news ("I hear that . . ."), a change of audience ("Now, to the rest of you . . .") or a change of writers ("I write this in my own hand"). This has led some to suggest that Paul intentionally reserved his criticism until he had regained the Corinthians' trust or that he first consolidated his apostolic authority and then exercised it. Yet the earlier chapters do not lack for criticism (in 3:1, for example, he says, "Do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?"). And Paul's authority is hardly a settled issue in the final chapters ("since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me," 13:3).

The real problem that requires explanation is the sudden intensity of approach and stridency of tone at 10:1. How probable from a pastoral standpoint would it be for Paul to begin the letter with praise ("Praise be to the God and Father . . ." 1:3) and conclude with a sharp warning ("Examine yourselves," 13:5)? There is no real parallel to this in his other letters.

Many today consider the integrity of chapters 1--13 a hopeless cause and have abandoned ship in favor of one of too alternatives. One alternative is that chapters 10--13 are to be identified with Paul's "severe letter," sent prior to chapters 1--9 to rebuke the church for its lack of support and to call for the punishment of the individual who had challenged and humiliated Paul on his last visit (see, for example, Plummer 1915:xxxvi; Héring 1967:xii). The second alternative is that 2 Corinthians 10--13 was written after chapters 1--9 in response to reports of new developments at Corinth (e.g., Barrett 1973, Bruce 1971, Furnish 1984, Martin 1986, M. J. Harris 1976).

However, the lack of any manuscript or patristic evidence to suggest that chapters 10--13 circulated independently of chapters 1--9 is a major drawback of both of these alternatives (see the introduction). Also, it is not as if abrupt changes of tone do not occur elsewhere in Paul's letters (for example, Phil 3:2). Even so, "I am glad I can have complete confidence in you" (7:16) and "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith" (13:5) do seem unlikely bedfellows.

As is often the case in life, the explanation probably lies in a combination of factors. "I, Paul," suggests that Paul now writes alone and with some urgency. Timothy, who is associated with Paul in the writing of 2 Corinthians (1:1), may well have served as secretary. Paul could have dismissed him at the conclusion of 9:15, intending to add a personal greeting and letter closing at his leisure. Disturbing news about the Corinthian church may have come in the meantime, leading Paul to confront the Corinthians in the personal and direct fashion that characterizes these final four chapters. His haste to address the problem may account, at least in part, for the abruptness of approach and stridency of tone.

Formally, 10:1--13:13 acts as a body closing section. It is the second such section in 2 Corinthians. Chapter 7:3-16 functions in much the same way (see the commentary). The presence of too body closing sections in a single letter is not without parallel in Paul's letters. Romans (1:10-15; 15:14-33) and 1 Corinthians (4:14-21; 16:1-18) are too noteworthy examples. First Corinthians, in particular, provides a close structural parallel. The question is, why too in this letter?

A careful look at both sections shows that they complement and balance one another. Chapter 7 states why Paul is not writing ("I do not say this to condemn you," v. 3), spells out the relationship betoeen Paul and the Corinthians ("you have such a place in our hearts," v. 3) and provides expressions of confidence (vv. 4-16). Chapters 10--13, on the other hand, give Paul's explicit reason for writing ("This is why I write these things," 13:10) and announce his impending visit ("when I come," 10:2; "This will be my third visit to you," 13:1). In fact, what 7:3-16 lacks by way of Paul's future travel plans, 10:1--13:13 pursues with a vengeance (see the note on 7:3-16). The phrase "when I come" begins the section, and "this will be my third visit" concludes it. Sandwiched in betoeen are expressions urging responsibility and threats of what will happen if responsible behavior is not forthcoming. Paul does obliquely speak of his upcoming visit at 9:4 ("if any Macedonians come with me"), but it is only in chapters 10--13 that an explicit announcement is made and details are given. Indeed, it would be a breach of epistolary etiquette for Paul to have written without formally announcing an upcoming visit. So chapters 10--13 fulfill a necessary function, without which chapters 1--9 would be incomplete.

Carol Berubee

Well-Known Member
This is long, but I hope it helps. This is my adaptation of Conybeare's translation.

The "severe letter" (now missing) was sent from Ephesus to address those who supported the incestuous man (2 Corinthians 2:4-5). (Then, Paul left Ephesus and went to Macedonia. He waited there for Titus to return from Corinth with word about the Corinthians' response to the severe letter. After Titus came, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians. ) Paul learns from Titus that the majority inflicted the proper punishment (disfellowship) and now need to restore the man because he repented (2:6-8).

But now Paul veers into the issue of the Judaizing false apostles. He says he spreads the offering of incense (the Gospel) and he is the fragrance. He not only offers the incense, he is the offering to God. But he doesn't do it for profit, the implication being that the false apostles do peddle themselves for money. Paul isn't commending himself, nor does he need letters of commendation (particularly not from the Twelve -- the context is Judaizers who accused Paul of not being a true Apostle because he wasn't one of the Twelve). Rather, the Corinthian Christians were his letter of commendation, written on his heart and read by all. This letter is not one of ink, like the Law (again, context is Judaizers), but of the Spirit. Moses had to wear a veil to hide the fading glory of the Law, but Paul speaks unveiled, without disguise (2:14-3:16).

Paul has integrity, unlike the fraudulent Judaizers. Paul has the ministration of the Spirit and he dispenses it without fear. He proclaims Christ, not himself; he is their bondservant, always in tribulation for them (the Judaizers boasted of themselves, sought to put believers into bondage, and never suffered tribulation). Paul's sufferings are on behalf of the Corinthians, so that God's mercy toward Paul might elicit their thankfulness (4:1-15).

Paul wants to be swallowed up of life, clothed upon (the Rapture), but no matter what, he wants to be pleasing in His sight. The Judaizers, however, say that Paul tries to please men (cf. Galatians 1:10). But Paul doesn't care; he walks in integrity, so why can't the Corinthians see that? The Judaizers also accuse Paul of boasting, but Paul says their boasting is in outward things, while Paul's boasting is in Christ's possession of his heart. If Paul exalts himself (as they accuse and for which they say he is "beside himself"), it's for God's cause; but if he humbles himself, it's for the Corinthians' benefit (5:1-13).

Notice the warning in 5:20-6:2 (and 13:5). Paul is writing to believers, as a whole, but he knows that there may be some who are not saved. He can't pass them by, he can't dispense his ministry of the Gospel properly without accounting for the fact that unbelievers may be lurking in the assemblies.

Now he says he commends himself, not by word, but by deed (unlike the Judaizers). All of his sufferings on behalf of the Gospel and the care of the churches should be apparent to the Corinthians. Paul has poured himself out for them; he is theirs, he loves them completely, but they don't fully love him (6:3-13).

Some believe that 6:14-7:1 is a fragment that must have been wrongly inserted by a copyist at some point, because it doesn't seem to flow. If you set it aside and go from 6:13 to 7:2, it seems to flow better. However, I think 6:14-7:1 is the perfect bridge between the foregoing plea against the Judaizers and then the following rebuke against the ongoing immorality among some of the Corinthians.

Don't be yoked with unbelievers. On the one hand, don't heed the unbelieving Judaizers. On the other hand, don't side with the immoral among you, some of whom may also be unbelievers. Those of the "grace" party misunderstood Paul's teaching and took grace as license. Legalism is bondage, but so is immorality. Both are idolatry.

Titus comes from Corinth to Macedonia. Paul wants the Corinthians to give him a favorable hearing, based on what he said in 6:12-13. He hasn't defrauded anyone and he boasts of them, not himself. And now hearing from Titus, he is comforted to know that the majority inflicted the proper punishment of the incestuous man. They had mourned over Paul's reproof of them in the severe letter, but it was a godly sorrow that led to repentance. He had grieved them with the severe letter, but he doesn't regret it (although, at first he did regret it). But their grief was only for a season, so now he rejoices, not that they were grieved, but that grief turned to repentance. They had cleared themselves in this matter. But Paul's rebuke in the severe letter wasn't so much to punish the incestuous man or to avenge the man's father, but to make manifest to the Corinthians Paul's zeal for them (7:2-12).

Paul gently rebukes them for not finishing the collection they had started the year before for the Jerusalem believers (8:1-9:15).

Now Paul exhorts them by the meekness and gentleness of Christ that they won't force him to show boldness when he comes. He was accused by the Judaizers of being "lowly in outward presence" when he was with them, but only treated them boldly when he was absent (by letter). So, now he says he will come in power and reckon with those who have reckoned him as walking in the flesh (they had given heed to the Judaizers' accusations against Paul's personality and ministry). But though we live in these bodies of flesh, our weapons of warfare are not in weakness of the flesh, but mighty in God to overthrow the strongholds of the adversaries (the false teachers). And when the obedience of the church is complete, Paul will punish the disobedient. As in a military campaign, when the population is secured, the rebellious are punished (10:1-6).

Who of you assumes he is, more than the rest, "of Christ?" (The implication was that the Judaizers were appealing to the Law that was upheld in Christ's earthly ministry and even among the Twelve after Pentecost, but Paul wasn't a part of either of those ministries, so he wasn't a legitimate Apostle, especially since he was teaching that the Gentiles didn't have to come in by way of the Law and Judaism.) If you belong to Christ, so does Paul no less. He boasts of his authority (though it didn't come from the Twelve, but he was using it to build up the Corinthians, not cast them down). One false apostle in particular said Paul's letters were bold, but his bodily presence and speech were weak and contemptible; however, that false apostle can be sure that Paul's letters will be backed up by his deeds when he would come to Corinth (10:7-11).

The false apostles measure themselves against each other, which is folly. Paul boasts only of those things he had ministered, not of the labors of others (as the Judaizers did, perhaps that they were directly linked with the Twelve). Paul boasts in the Lord and is proved worthy if the Lord commends him, not if he commends himself (as do the Judaizers) (10:12-17).

The Corinthians must bear with Paul in his folly of boasting. He fears they would be beguiled as was Eve, that they were believing the false apostles who preached another Jesus, or presented another Spirit, or another Gospel. But Paul was not inferior to any Apostle. Though an unskilled orator, he had knowledge. But the Judaizers were tearing him down because he taught for free, telling the Corinthians that a true Apostle was entitled to maintenance (and they were), so if Paul doesn't take money, he must know that he's not really qualified for the position -- he's a fraud. But Paul took money from others, like the Philippians, so that he could minister to those in Corinth and others. Paul challenges the slanderous Judaizers to minister for free and then maybe they can boast. They are servants of Satan (11:1-15).

The Corinthians think they're wise by listening to the false teachers, but the false teachers boast in their flesh, not the Lord. But Paul can do that, too. The Judaizers enslave, devour, entrap the Corinthians; they exalt themselves. But Paul is weak, yet bold, just as they are. They say they're servants of Christ (Pauls speaks as a "madman" because it's obvious they aren't servants of Christ), but Paul is far more. He shares the weakness of the Corinthians, but when they are caused to fall, he gets angry. He boasts of his weakness, not how abundantly he lives. He can't boast as the Judaizers do and still be speaking in the Spirit (11:16-12:1).

Paul then recounts his time in the third heaven. He could boast of this man, the one who has Apostolic knowledge and authority, but he won't boast of himself, the servant, except in his weakness. He let's his power and doctrine speak for itself. The false apostles have only their boasting to offer and they slander Paul in his weakness and his decision not to take the Corinthians' money (12:2-6).

Paul is glad to boast in his stake in the flesh, and all his weaknesses so that the strength of Christ may rest upon, and dwell in, him. The Corinthians forced him into this folly of boasting. They should be commending Paul, not the false apostles. Paul was the one who came with the signs of an Apostle, but he didn't ask for their money (12:7-13).

He's now coming for a third visit and won't ask for anything except them -- they're hearts. Paul is being spent for their souls but the more he loves them, the less they love him. Was it by cunning that he refused their maintenance? Did he defraud them? Did Titus defraud them? Paul isn't defending himself to them, but is speaking in Christ for their edification (12:14-19).

When Paul comes, will he find sinful behavior among them? Will God again humble him because of their faults? Will Paul be caused to mourn over many among those who sinned before his last visit, but have yet to repent of immorality? He is coming a third time and he warns again: to those who sinned before and to all the other offenders, "If I come again, I won't spare." Paul will prove the power of Christ Who speaks in him. Christ isn't weak toward the Corinthians, but works mightily. Christ died in the weakness of the body of flesh, but now lives in power. Paul shares the weakness of Christ's body. The false apostles say he is weak in bodily presence, and contempible in ministry, but so was Christ weak in the flesh, dying a shameful death. Paul, like Christ, will triumph over his adversaries in the power of God when he comes to deal with the Corinthians (12:20-13:4).

The Corinthians must examine, not Paul, but themselves, whether they are in the faith. They must put themselves to the proof. They sought Christ's presence in Paul, but they need to examine themselves. Is Christ in them? He is in them, unless when put to the proof (upon examination), they fail to abide the proof and prove, instead, to be reprobate. But Paul hopes they will find that he abides the proof that Christ's presence is in him. He prays they repent so he doesn't have to prove his power. He hopes they do the right thing, even if it seems to them that he is unable to abide the proof. (Even if they think he's a false apostle, they should still do the right thing.) Paul is writing now so he doesn't have to deal harshly with them in the strength of authority which Christ had given him. But that authority is not to cast them down, but to build them up (13:5-10).


And so we have two different issues going on: immorality and giving heed to false teachers.

Paul had to write the severe letter concerning immorality and the willingness of some to accept the immorality because they thought this acceptance was a manifestation of "love" and "grace." After the severe letter, many repented and disfellowshipped the incestuous man. Paul now hears of this and is glad that the majority had obeyed him. However, there are still others who are in sin who have yet to repent. Will Paul find them still in unrepentance when he comes for a third time to Corinth? He now tells them that he will show his power and authority in Christ concerning sin the church.

The other problem is the Judaizers having sway over some in the Corinthian church. While their doctrines were false, the main issue Paul is dealing with in this letter is their undermining of Paul's authority. The tie-in with the immorality problem is that if some of the Corinthians believed the Judaizers that Paul wasn't a true Apostle, then why should they listen to Paul concerning their sins? So, Paul has to fight for the truth on both fronts. In proving his authority as an Apostle, he can then demand their repentance and obedience concerning sin. He's glad that the majority dealt with the one instance of sin, but because of the influence of the Judaizers, he still had to contend with the Corinthians concerning others who were in sin. Hence, the seeming contradiction when he says he's glad that they repented, but then says he will be harsh with them when he comes again. The one instance of repentance, he praises; the remaining sinfulness, he must deal with.