Critical Issues in 2 Corinthians

Craig Price  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 32 - Fall 1989

As I reflect upon my graduate classroom experiences with Dr. Virtus Gideon, images of a Christian gentleman, scholar, mentor, and encourager emerge from my thoughts. His life was a living testimony of the “treasure” possessed in an earthen vessel (2 Cor. 4:7, NIV). His presence and sagacity are now deeply missed, but his life and love for Christ live on in those of us who are privileged to have known him as a friend.



Second Corinthians is one of the most neglected letters of the entire Pauline corpus. Beasley-Murray notes several reasons for this neglect:[1]George R. Beasley-Murray, “2 Corinthians,” Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 6. 1) The historical allusions in the letter are obscure; 2) Paul’s compressed theological ideas place a heavy exegetical demand upon interpreters;[2]Ibid. Beasley-Murray notes that Paul at times assumes the reader’s acquaintance with his presuppositions. and 3) The Greek is complex. Despite these troublesome areas, the letter is one of Paul’s richest in terms of theological profundity and autobiographical revelation. Paul wears his “heart on his sleeve and speaks without constraint, hiding neither his affection, nor his anger, nor his agony.”[3]C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Harper’s New Testament Commentaries (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 32. R. P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 40 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1986), lxii-lxiii describes 2 Corinthians as a “very human document” in which Paul divulges his inner life. Similarly, Martin Hengel, Between Jesus and Paul: Studies in the Earliest History of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 69, explains that Paul has relegated all formal and liturgical talk to the background in order to make way for the personal appeal of the letter. He argues that Paul’s employment of “Christ” without the definite article exemplifies this intention.

When considering the critical issues of 2 Corinthians, one does well to examine the structure of the letter and the historical allusions found in both Corinthian letters. Paul’s travel in relation to Corinth is paralleled in the structure of 2 Corinthians and the historical allusions aid in piecing together Paul’s complex association with this troubled church. In addition to these issues, the unity of 2 Corinthians, the number and identity of Paul’s letters to Corinth, and the nature of his opponents are examined here.


Structural Division of the Letter

A three-fold division within the letter has long been recognized. Paul discussed his apostolic ministry in chapters 1-7; he discussed the relief offering for the Jerusalem saints in chapters 8-9; and he vindicated his apostolic authority and presented future plans for visiting the church in chapters 10-13. Bengel was one of the first to associate Paul’s historical “itinerary” with this three-fold division.[4]J. A. Bengel, Gnomon of the New Testament, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1857), 676, 678. He demonstrated how Paul’s past movement from Ephesus to Macedonia is recounted in chapters 1-7, his present hope for a generous collection from the churches of Macedonia is expressed in chapters 8 and 9, and his future travel plans are presented in chapters 10-13. More recently, Hughes has noted this itinerary format in connection with the framework of the letter,[5]Philip E. Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The

New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1962), xxi.
but Corley has developed this itinerary motif extensively by diagraming the structure of the entire book around the apostle’s travel plans.[6]Bruce Corley, Treasure in Earthen Vessels: An Exposition of Second Corinthians (Dallas: Word Books, 1989), 28. This three-fold structure aids our understanding of the historical reconstruction of the events associated with the letter.
A. Itinerary: Asia in Weakness (1:8-11)

a. Comment: Reason for the Tearful Letter (1:12-2:11)

b. Itinerary: Troas to Macedonia (2:12-13)

Preliminary Comparison:
The Glory of the Ministry (2:14-7:4)

b’. Itinerary: Macedonia and Titus (7:5-7)

a’. Comment: Effect of the Tearful Letter(7:8-16)

B. Itinerary: Macedonia ·in Generosity (8:1-7)

a. Comment: The Collection Planned (8: 8-24)

b. Comment: The Collection Completed (9:1-15)

C. Itinerary: Corinth in Boldness (10:1-6)

a. Comment: Warnings to the Disobedient (10:7-11:15)

Final Comparison
Boasting as a Fool (11:16-12:13)

a’. Comment: Forebodings of the Visit (12:14-13:10)


Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians

Historical reconstruction of the events which led to the composition of Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth is at best suggestive and tentative. A brief review of these events is provided here, but more detailed reconstructions may be found in critical commentaries.[7]See Barrett, 5-21; Martin, xxxiii-liii; idem, New Testament Foundations: A Guide for Christian Students, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI:   Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1978), 170-84; Beasley-Murray, 3-7; and Corley, 12-26.

Paul arrived in Corinth for the first time on his second missionary journey where he met Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:2) in A.D. 49.[8]The edict expelling all Jews from Rome was issued by Claudius in A.D. 49. He remained in Corinth for eighteen months (18:11). During this time, Paul was brought to trial before Gallio by a group of angry Jews (18:12). From an inscription found at Delphi we learn that Gallio was proconsul for one year beginning in July, A.D. 51. If we assume that Paul was brought before the proconsul shortly after he took office, then the apostle’s ministry to Corinth began around A.D. 50. He remained in Corinth “for some time” before sailing to Ephesus from Cenchrea (18:18). After a brief journey to Caesarea, Jerusalem, and Antioch, he returned to Ephesus for an extended three-year ministry beginning in summer A.D. 52 (18:22-24) where he began his correspondences with the church at Corinth. Paul mentioned a letter in 1 Cor. 5:9 (commonly referred to as Corinthians A) which he wrote prior to our canonical 1 Corinthians (Corinthians B). Most probably this letter was lost[9]Some scholars hold that 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1 is this “previous letter.” See J. C. Hurd, The Origin of I Corinthians (London: SPCK, 1965), 77. or it could have been deliberately destroyed.[10]R. V. G. Tusker, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Ml: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1960), 16. Soon after Corinthians A was written, “some from Chloe’s household” (1 Cor. 1:11) either wrote or visited Paul in Ephesus and reported “that there were quarrels” in the Corinthian church which demanded his immediate attention. Later, a delegation from the church brought Paul a series of questions for his consideration. Paul then wrote Corinthians B to address the issues from Chloe’s people (1 Corinthians 1-4) as well as the questions from the delegation (1 Corinthians 7-16). Most likely the delegation carried the letter (Corinthians B) back to the church, but Timothy was also sent to Corinth by Paul to deliver instruction (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor. 4:17). Paul planned to remain in Ephesus until Pentecost of A.D. 55 (1 Cor. 16:8).

Timothy must have returned to Paul bearing disparaging news that his letter (Corinthians B) had not had its intended effect. New troubles had come upon them from outside.[11]Barrett, 6. The Corinthians had allowed a group of false apostles into their midst, forcing Paul to deal directly with the intruders. The result was a change of itinerary. Paul’s original plan had included a visit to Corinth after he made his way through Macedonia (1 Cor. 16:5-9). Because of the intrusion by the false apostles, Paul abandoned this itinerary and sailed directly to Corinth making a “painful visit” (2 Cor. 1:23-2:1).[12]The “painful visit” is Paul’s second visit to the church in Corinth and is not recorded in Acts. This “painful visit” certainly cannot refer to his first visit when he founded the church. Paul mentioned an impending “third visit” in his future travel itinerary which he discussed in 2 Corinthians (cf., 12:14; 13:1). Paul had planned to return to Corinth after the “painful visit” in order that they might “benefit twice” from his presence (1:15-16), but he altered his plans again and returned to Ephesus (1:17). Paul’s unpleasant encounter with the “offender”[13]James Denney, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The Expositor’s Bible (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1894), 2-9, equates the identity of the incestuous man of 1 Cor. 5:1-5 with the offender Paul speaks of in 2 Cor. 2:5-11 and 7:11-12. He argues on the basis of general resemblances between the two passages: 1) Paul employs the word “matter” in 2 Cor. 7:11 and 1Thess. 4:6. Since the context in 1 Thessalonians is sexual perversion, Denney links the context of 2 Cor. 7:11 to 1Cor. 5:1-5; 2) The “sight of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:10) is similar to the “name of our Lord” (1 Cor. 5:4); 3) “Satan” is men­tioned in 2 Cor. 2:11 and 1 Cor. 5:5; 4) Paul speaks of being “grieved” in 2 Cor. 12:21 and of their “grief” in 1 Cor. 5:2; and 5) He sees similarity between “him . . .anyone” (2 Cor. 2 :6, 5) and “among you . . . him” (1 5:1, 5). Hughes, 63, 277, concurs, adding that this interpretation is the traditional ancient view. Hughes lists the following support for this view: Chrysostom, Ambrosiaster, Theodoret, Theophylact, Hodge, Stanley, Lightfoot, Denney, Weiss, and Zahn.

Furnish opposes this view and presents a detailed argument against equating the men of these two passages. He argues that in every case “the alleged similarities between 1Cor. 5:1-5 and 2 Cor. 2:5-11 break down.” See Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians, The Anchor Bible (Garden City: Doubleday & Co. 1984), 163-68. Paul recommended the strict sentence of delivering the man to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh.” How could Paul now beg leniency in 2 Corinthians 5 for the same person? He would no doubt have been accused of vascillation. Furthermore, if the incestuous man of 1 Corinthians is identified with the offender of 2 Corinthians 5, then the injured party would have to be none other than the father whose wife his son had taken. The passage in 2 Corinthians 5 clearly implies that the person offended can be none other than Paul (See F. F. Bruce, I and II Corinthians, The New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1971, 184-85; 218-19). Proponents of this second view are Tertullian, Plummer, Barrett, Bruce, Beasley-Murray, Furnish, and Martin.
during the “painful visit” (2:5-11; 7:12) most likely accounts for this second alteration of travel plans.[14]The experience likely occurred while Paul was visiting the church on the “painful visit.” The offender encountered Paul to his face, creating an embarrassing situation. It is more difficult to explain the offender as a “ringleader who launched a personal attack on Paul” precipitating the “painful visit” (Martin, xxxiv); or that the offense occurred after the “painful visit” because Paul would not retreat from an adversary, Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, Ml: Zonder­ van, 1976), 309. The offender had wronged not only Paul but the entire congregation (2:5). Paul wished to spare them another “painful visit” (1:23; 2:1) so he returned to Ephesus and decided to deal with the matter by writing another correspondence.

Between Paul’s second and third visits, he penned two more letters to Corinth. He wrote what has been called the “tearful letter” (Corinthians C) to deal with the offender, thus sup­ planting a second, personal confrontation with the Corinthians. In this letter the church was instructed to handle the punishment of the offender (2:5-11). Titus was likely the bearer of the “tearful letter” whom Paul had instructed to go to Corinth and complete the collection (8:6) and then meet him in Troas (2:12). When Paul arrived in Troas during the winter of A.D. 55 or spring of A.D. 56 and did not find Titus there, he passed up an opportunity for evangelization because of his anxiety over Titus’s absence. Instead, he pressed on to Macedonia in search of him (12:13). Upon meeting Titus in Macedonia, Paul learned that the Corinthians had been deeply grieved over Paul’s “sorrowful letter” and had had a change of heart (7:7). Paul penned 2 Corinthians (Corinthians D) from Macedonia in preparation for his third and final visit to the church there (Acts 20:2-3). This evidence may be summarized as follows:[15]Corley, 23. Others have constructed chronologies with slight variations, but most are similar to this one.

Founding Visit (Paul’s first)—50-51
Corinthians A (the previous letter)—After 51
Delegation from Corinth—Winter 54-55
Corinthians B (1 Corinthians)—Spring 55
Painful Visit (Paul’s second)—Summer 55
Corinthians C (tearful letter)—Fall 55
Titus in Macedonia—Winter 55-56
Corinthians D (2 Corinthians)—Fall 56
Impending Visit (Paul’s third)—Winter 56-57


The Problem of the Unity of the Letter

Any serious study of 2 Corinthians must come to terms with questions that have been raised regarding the unity of the letter. Of primary importance is the identity of the ”tearful letter.”

The Identity of the “Tearful Letter”

Kummel states that “the crucial problem is the question whether [chapters] 1-9 and 10-13 could have been parts of the same letter.”[16]Werner Georg Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, trans. Howard Clark Kee (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975), 290. It should be understood that among reputable scholars there is no universal agreement over the identity of this letter. Three major suggestions have been proposed.

Canonical 1 Corinthians

Canonical 1 Corinthians has been traditionally identified by some as the “tearful letter.” This view maintains that Paul wrote three letters to the church in Corinth: the “previous letter” which is now lost; canonical 1 Corinthians which is identified with the “tearful letter”; and canonical 2 Corinthians. Those who identify the “tearful letter” with canonical 1 Corinthians[17]Proponents of this view are Chrysostom, Hodge, Stanley, Lightfoot, Denney, Lampe, Hughes, and Zahn. support their claim by equating the incestuous man of 1 Cor. 5:1-5 with the unnamed offender of 2 Cor. 2:5-11. As noted above, Furnish has cogently demonstrated that these two men cannot be the same person, thus weakening the case that the “tearful letter” is actually canonical 1 Corinthians.[18]See Furnish, 163-68 for his detailed and convincing refutation of this view which equates the incestuous man of 1 Cor. 5:1-5 with the offender of 2 Cor.  2:5-11. Further objection to this view has been raised on the grounds that the tenor of 1 Corinthians is simply not severe enough to be called a “tearful” or “severe” letter.[19]James Moffatt, An Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, reprint ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961), 119, argues that the spirit of 1Corinthians is one of calm and practical discussion “whose occasional outbursts of emotional tension could not have caused Paul even a momentary twinge of compunction.”

2 Corinthians 10-13

This view proposes that there were four letters written by Paul to the Corinthians: the “previous letter” which is now lost; canonical 1 Corinthians; canonical 2 Corinthians; and the “tearful letter” which is now preserved as chapters 10-13 of canonical 2 Corinthians. Arguing primarily on the grounds of internal evidence, this view has been favored by many modern scholars.[20]Support for this view is largely fourfold: 1) a drastic change of mood exists between 2 Cor. 9:27 and 10:l; 2) inconsistencies suggest that chapters 1-9 cannot have been from the same letter as 10-13 (cf. 1:24 with 13:5; 7:16 with 12:20-21; and 7:1 with 11:3, etc.); 3) 2 Cor. 10:16 more naturally fits a provenance from Ephesus (where Paul wrote the “tearful letter”) rather than from Macedonia (where Paul wrote chapters 1-9); and 4) other references seem to imply reversal of the twO groups of chapters (cf. 10:1with 7:16 where the force of the Greek preposition in the former is negative and the latter positive; 10:6 with 2:9; and 12:16 with 4:2, etc.). See Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, The International Critical Commentary, reprint ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1951), xxix­-xxxiii. See also the following for discussions which favor this approach: Beasley-Murray, 4; and Moffatt, 119-23. Objections against this view have been raised on the grounds that there is not one shred of textual evidence to support the claim that chapters 10-13 ever preceded chapters 1-9 or that they ever existed as a separate unit. If canonical 2 Corinthians postdates a redaction,[21]Bomkamm accounts for the order of these chapters as the work of an editor who collected the letter fragments together into what we now call 2 Corinthians. See Martin 2 Corinthians xxxix, xlvi. why would an editor (incorrectly) place the sorrowful letter after chapter 9 if it had preceded chapters 1-9? Why is there no mention of the offender in chapters 10-13 since he was the subject of the “tearful letter”? How could Paul speak of Titus’s visit to Corinth (12:18) as having already occurred if these chapters are supposed to com­ pose the “sorrowful letter”?[22]Corley, 25-26 suggests that Paul’s reference in 2 Cor. 2:18 harks back to Titus’s trip in 2 Cor. 7:7, 13-16 which occurred before chapters 1-9 were written. D. A. Carson, From Triumphalism to Maturity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13 (Grand Rapids, Ml: Baker Book House, 1984), 11, understands 2 Cor. 12:18 as a reference to Titus’s visit mentioned in 2 Cor. 8:6, 16-19. He argues that chapters 10-13 cannot be Corinthians C based on the following inconsis­tencies: 1) The offender is not mentioned in chapters 10-13; Paul promises an imminent visit in these chapters, but the “tearful letter” was written instead of making another “painful visit”; Paul could not boast of the Corinthian’s generosity (2 Cor. 7:14; 9:2) if they were charging him with using the funds for himself (2 12:16); 4) The tone of chapters 10-13 is ironical, but it does not sound like the mood of “great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears” of 2:4; and 5) Why is there no mention of the interlopers in chapters 1-9 if this section was written after chapters 10-13? These questions have led some to propose the writing of a fifth letter (Corinthians E).

Corinthians E

Some have suggested that chapters 10-13 represent a fifth letter that Paul wrote sequentially after chapters 1-9: the lost “previous letter”; canonical 1 Corinthians; the lost ”tearful letter”; chapters 1-9 of canonical 2 Corinthians; and chapters 10-13 (Corinthians E) of canonical 2 Corinthians. The fifth letter was written after chapters 1-9 had been dispatched to Corinth.[23]This view is proposed by the following: Martin, 2 Corinthians, xlvi; Barrett, 21; Bruce, 169-70; Ernest Best, Second Corinthians, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987), 91-92; and Furnish, 44-48. Barrett reasons that Titus had not fully under­ stood the mood in the church at Corinth and reported that all was well-unless the situation had changed immediately after he departed.[24]Barrett, 21. Paul was so pleased by Titus’s good report that he quickly wrote chapters 1-9 and dispatched them to Corinth. In the meantime Paul received word that the situation was not so positive as he had supposed. Paul then found it necessary to write chapters 10-13 (Corinthians E) to reestablish discipline and order. The two letters were later combined as canonical 2 Corinthians because the ending of chapters 1-9 and the beginning of chapters 10-13 were lost.

This view avoids the problems encountered in the proposal that equates chapters 10-13 with the “tearful letter.” It suffers, however, from the lack of manuscript evidence to support a partition of the chapters. Furthermore, could Titus have been so grossly mistaken regarding the mood of the church? What evidence suggests that Paul had received this additional bad news?

A plausible solution has been offered which has much in common with the five-letter hypothesis, yet does not resort to the proposition of a fifth letter.[25]Carson, 14-16, prefers not to be too dogmatic on the fine points but thinks that chapters 1-13 are unified. He maintains that a short interval of time elapsed between Paul’s writing of chapters 1-9 and 10-13. Johannes Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, trans. Frank Clarke (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1959), 171, suggests the possibility that the interval between the writing of chapters 1-9 and 10-13 is so short that the two parts are, indeed, one letter. Much of chapters 10-13 is anticipated in chapters 1-9.[26]Corley, 25. Paul’s emotional appeal at the end of 2 Corinthians emphasizes his earlier arguments regarding his self-defense and handling of sensitive issues in the church. Young and Ford have argued that chapters 10-13 compose an emotional preoration where Paul reiterated his argument of chapters 1-9.[27]Frances Young and David F. Ford, Meaning and Truth in 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1989), 36-40. Preorations may be observed in classical apologies where writers frequently recapitulated their arguments at the end of their letters, but with emotional flare to emphasize their points. Young and Ford, 43, claim that Paul has consciously constructed an apology according to the literary norms of his day. This would account for the change of emotional tone in the last four chapters of the letter. They have observed this same phenomenon in the apologies of Demosthenes, Aristotle, Dionysius, and Quintilian.

This latter solution presents an attractive solution to the problems of the other views. It has the advantage of squaring with the textual evidence indicating the letter was one unit. It explains the change in Paul’s emotional tone in chapters 10-13 and it avoids the necessity of supposing that he received more bad news from Corinth after he had written chapters 1-9.

The Problem of Interpolations

The issue of interpolations is directly related to the broader question regarding the number of letters Paul wrote to Corinth.[28]Walter Schmithals, Gnosticism in Corinth: An Investigation of the Letters to the Corinthians, trans. John E. Steely (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971), 100-101, proposed that 1and 2 Corinthians are comprised of as many as six different letters. The passages below have been identified by some as comprising interpolations into the text because they appear to interrupt the flow of the letter.

2 Cor. 2:14-7:4

Bultmann has argued that 2:14-7:4 is an interpolation which belongs with the “tearful letter” or chapters 10-13.[29]Rudolph Bultmann, The Second Letter to the Corinthians, ed. Erich Dinkler, trans. Roy A. Harrisville (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1985), 18. In 2:13 Paul spoke of his anguish over not finding Titus in Troas so he moved on to Macedonia in search of him. Paul broke into a burst of thanksgiving to God at 2:14 and coursed through a discussion of how God enabled him to carry out his apostolic ministry in spite of great sufferings and hard­ ships. At 7:5 Paul resumed his discussion on Macedonia. It appears that Paul’s discussion on Macedonia has been interrupted by the insertion of 2:14-7:4.

An interpolation does not need to be sup­ posed here. It is quite plausible that Paul has simply digressed in his discussion. The idea of affliction runs throughout this section (4:7-12; 5:4; 6:3-10; 7:4-7). The mention of Titus at 2:13 could easily have evoked within Paul the need to express thanksgiving to. God for his triumphal leadership (2:14) and inner renewal (4:16) even through times of severe hardship, suffering, distress, and weakness.

The abrupt transition between 7:4 and 7:5 has been identified as further evidence that some­ one has inserted a separate piece of material. However, this transition is not so abrupt that a literary break must be postulated. With the idea of affliction running throughout this section 7:4 and 7:5 are totally compatible.[30]See Colin G. Kruse, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987), 35-37, for a summary of the evidence favoring 2 Cor. 2:13-7:4 as an integral part of the letter. Paul said ”in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds” (7:4) and “we were harassed at every turn” (7:5), but “God who comforts the downcast, comforted us” (7:6).

2 Cor. 6:14-7:1

The section from 6:14-7:1 has been identified as an interpolation because it appears at first to be void of logical progression. Paul argued for his apostolic ministry in 6:11-13, asking that the Corinthians “open wide” their hearts. Suddenly, at 6:14 he began to exhort the Corinthians not to associate with unbelievers. Paul took up his plea once again at 7:2 for the Corinthians to “make room for us in your hearts.” This passage has been variously described as either a non­-Pauline insertion,[31]Bultmann, 180, suggests that this section is a piece of the lost Corinthians A which Paul refers to in 1 Cor. 5:9. a preformed piece of tradition,[32]Martin holds that Paul has digressed in his thought at this point and inserted a preformed piece to enforce his hortatory appeal for reconciliation. See Martin, 2 Corinthians, xliii-xliv; Ii-Iii; and 211-12. Recent attempts have been made to associate this passage with writings found at Qumran (see Martin’s discussion of these findings, (2 Corinthians, xliv). Because of the presence of eight hapax legomena (words used only once in Paul’s letters) and the apparent break in Paul’s thought process at 6:14 and 7:4, the authenticity of this section has been considered suspect by some scholars. or a genuine part of the original letter.[33]Kruse, 37-40, summarizes the arguments favoring retention of this passage in its present position. They represent the perspective that Paul digressed to warn the Corinthians against the ever-present threat of paganism. Bruce is convincing in his argument that Paul has made a deliberate digression in 6:14-7:1. He argues that Paul was quite capable of digressing in order to emphasize his point; the Corinthians must make a complete break with their former idolatrous associations.[34]Bruce, 170-71, 213-14. Bruce is not persuaded that the docu­ment is a non-Pauline insertion because the positioning of the insertion at this particular place is more difficult to explain. He is also not persuaded that Qumran is the source for certain features in Paul’s discussion (i.e., the dualistic antitheses of light/dark and Christ/Belial; the idea of community as a temple; the idea of separation; and the conflation of Old Testament citations) because they were not peculiar to Qumran alone.

Murphy-O’Connor suggests that Deut. 11:13-16 supplies the background for Paul’s thought progression here in 6:14-7:1.[35]Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “Relating 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 to Its Context,” New Testament Studies, 33 (1987): 274-75. He argues that once Paul wrote ”making many rich” and “possessing everything” (6:10), he became conscious that he had just described the reward promised in Deut. 11:13-15 for perfect obedience to God. Paul associated the negative “heart turned away” (NASB) in Deut. 11:16 with a positive “heart opened wide” (NASB) in 2 Cor. 6:11. The next warning in Deut. 11:16 is against paganism. Following the progression of thought from Deut. 11:13-16, Paul warned the Corinthians against the danger of paganism in 2 Cor. 6:14. In light of Deut. 11:13-16 the twists and turns in Paul’s thought are not unusual, but on occasion even typical.


Paul’s Opponents in Corinth
The Identity of Paul’s Opponents

Paul described his opposition throughout the book but he is particularly poignant in answering the slanders leveled against him in chapters 10-13. A group of false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13) had slipped into the ranks of the church at Corinth after Paul left. Having gained entrance into the church by letters of recommendation (3:1; 10:12, 18), they professed to belong to Christ (10:7) but they preached a different gospel (11:4; cf. 4:5). They boasted openly and foolishly about their achievements and spiritual experiences (cf. 10:8, 13-18; 11:16-21, 30; 12:1-10). The speech of the opponents was impressive (10:10) and highly refined (11:6). They were eager to accept remuneration for their services to the point of taking advantage of the Corinthians (11:20). Fond of peddling the word of God for profit (2:17), they employed deceptive measures and distorted the word of God (4:2). They claimed authority from the ”super apostles” (11:5; 12:11) and placed emphasis upon their Palestinian ancestry (11:22). These men had frustrated Paul’s patience to its limit, causing him much distress (10:2; 12:11; 2:6). Paul indicted these false apostles as servants of Satan (11:13-15)!

Who were these men? Their identity has been variously described as Jewish Gnostics,[36]Schmithals, 293-95, argues that Jewish Gnosticism is evidenced by the presence of anthropological dualism, absence of a redeemer myth, an emphatic self-consciousness on the part of the opposition, a conspicuous consciousness of mission, an emphasis upon spiritual gifts, and a weakening of cosmic dualism which all point to the pre­sence of Jewish Gnosticism in Corinth. Barrett, 29, argues convinc­ingly that Schmithal’s assessment is incorrect because 2 Corinthians is no longer dealing with the problem of libertinism, the gnostic understanding of resurrection, nor of the problem of spiritual gifts. The opponents are latecomers who threaten to undermine Paul’s authority. itinerant, Hellenistic wonder-workers,[37]Dieter Georgi, Die Gegner des Paulus im 2. Korintherbrief (Neukirchener Verlag: 1964), 145-68, 192-246 proposes that Paul’s opponents were Jewish Hellenists or syncretists of the Dispersion who were influenced heavily by the Hellenistic “divine man” con­cept. This view supposes that certain Hellenistic wonder-workers traveled the countryside imitating the preaching styles of inspired figures from the Hellenistic world. Carson, 20-21, argues that evi­dence for these itinerant preachers is scant and that they would not likely carry letters of recommendation from the Jerusalem leaders, but would claim independence from them. or Palestinian Jews.[38]Traditionally the opponents of Paul at Corinth have been understood to be Palestinian Jews. See Bruce, 172-74; C. K. Barrett “Paul’s Opponents in 2 Corinthians,” Essays on Paul (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1982), 78-83; E. Earle Ellis, “Paul and His Oppo­nents,” Prophecy and Hermeneutic in Early Christianity (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1978), 102-15; Corely, 19; and Kummel, Opinion remains divided whether the “super apostles” should be equated with the “false apostles” (Carson, Kruse) or whether these designations refer to two separate groups (Barrett, Bruce, Harris). The fact that Paul made no mention of his opponent’s insistence on circumcision has led some to doubt they were Judaizers in the strict sense, at least as we see them in Galatians. It is clear from 11:22 that the men were “Hebrews,” “Israelites,” and ”Abraham’s descendants.” The issue at Corinth was not gnosis (knowledge) or charismata (gifts); it was clearly exousia (authority)-specifically Paul’s apostolic authority. Paul’s battle was with Palestinian Jews from the mother church in Jerusalem who were attempting to impose their authority on the church at Corinth.[39]Bruce, 173-74.

The Issue of Paul’s Authority

Second Corinthians has been described as an example of Paul’s exercise of authority[40]Young and Ford, 207, define authority as “the exercise of power which involves the right to power. It entails obedience and so is essentially interactive, a social relationship whose meaning and interpretation are vital to the nature of any community.” cast in a three-fold, relational framework which he sets forth in his address:[41]According to Young and Ford, 208-14, authority is “relational and interactive” between Paul the apostle, God the Father, and the church at Corinth. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God . . .to the church of God which is at Corinth” (1:1). Paul was an apostle first “by the will of God.” His “right to power” in his ministry (4:7) and his competence for ministry were both derived from God (3:5). He emphasized the fact that his entire ministry of reconciliation was committed to him from God (5:18-19). Therefore, his ministry was open before the one who granted him his authority (1:23; 3:4; 4:2; 5:10-11; 7:12; 8:21). This authority which the Lord gave him was to be employed for building-up and strengthening the Corinthian church (10:8; 12:19; 13:10). The apostle described his ministry to the Corinthians in terms of “glory.”

Performing a midrash or commentary on Exod. 34:29-35, Paul compared his ministry of the new covenant with Moses’ fading ministry of the old covenant (2 Cor. 3:6-18) Paul established that his ministry of the Spirit was more glorious than Moses’ ministry of death (3:7-8). As glorious as it was, the former ministry of Moses condemned men and was fading in its glory, but Paul’s ministry brought righteousness with its greater glory (3:7-9, 11). Moses had to veil his face in order to hide its fading radiance from the Israelites (3:13). Their minds were rendered insensitive and their hearts continued to be covered with a veil when the old covenant was read (3:13-15). Christ alone is able to remove this veil which covers the heart “whenever any­ one turns to the Lord” (3:16). With unveiled faces all believers ”are being transformed into his likeness” and “reflect the Lord’s glory” (3:18).[42]Bruce, 193.

Still some disbelieved, but it was not because Paul had distorted his message of the gospel of Christ (4:2). Paul had set forth the “truth” and appealed to “every man’s conscience.” As long as men refused to believe the gospel, it would remain veiled to them. Just as a veil covered the law preventing the Jew from understanding it, a veil covered the gospel to prevent men from yielding to it.[43]Beasley-Murray, 28. Hughes, 125, comments that the gospel itself was unveiled and proclaimed openly. It was veiled to them because it was veiled in them. How is it that men could be so unbelieving toward the gospel? Satan, the great deceiver, had “blinded the minds of unbelievers” to the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (4:4-5). To unbelievers the veil remains much like the veil which rested upon the hearts of Israel (3:15), but to all who turn “to the Lord the veil is taken away” (3:16). God has made his light to shine in the heart of man to “give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (4:6). This, indeed, is the “treasure in jars of clay” (4:7).

Paul was appointed to his glorious ministry as an apostle by God (1:1). God established, anointed, and sealed Paul as an apostle to Corinth (1:20-22). Paul recounted certain characteristics of his apostolic ministry to the Corinthians: His message was Jesus (4:5); he per­ formed the signs of a true apostle (12:12); he was not inferior to the “super apostles” (11:5; 12:11); and he claimed that the Corinthians were within his divinely apportioned jurisdiction (10:13-16). In 4:5-7 Paul summarily described the “complex network of active relationships through which the quality of his apostolate may be discerned.”[44]Young and Ford, 212. The message of Paul’s apostolic preaching was “Christ Jesus as Lord”; Paul and his co-workers were the Corinthians’ “servants for Jesus’ sake”; God took the initiative and determined the priority when he said, “Let light shine out of darkness”; the Spirit “made his light shine in our hearts” by revealing Christ and uniting all equally in him; and the sphere in which God has chosen to work his power is in “jars of clay” Paul’s apostolic authority and God’s shekinah glory had come to be refocused most dramatically “in the face of Christ.”

The third aspect of Paul’s concept of authority involved the Corinthians themselves. Paul understood them to be the sphere where his authority and power were exercised (10:13-16). Paul was not one to build on any other man’s foundation (Rom. 15:20). As his field of ministry, he did not lord his authority over them, but insisted that they recognize it voluntarily (1:21-24). Paul and his companions had carried the death of Jesus in their own bodies that the life of Jesus might be revealed in their bodies (4:10); they despaired even of life as their hearts felt the sentence of death in order that they might rely on God rather than themselves (1:8-9); they were outwardly wasting away while being renewed inwardly day by day (4:16); and they suffered numerous hardships (6:4-11). Death was working in the apostles so that life could work in the Corinthians (4:12). The apostles had endured all of these sufferings in order to benefit the Corinthians (4:15). The cumulative effect of the apostle’s suffering and preaching was that more and more people might be reached, thereby causing an overflow of thanksgiving to the “glory of God.”

In spite of the sufferings Paul and his co­workers had experienced, the opponents flaunted their credentials (3:1) and attempted to discredit the apostle’s reputation (10:18). Paul did not enjoy boasting, but he could easily produce credentials of suffering and heightened spiritual experiences if necessary (12:1-6). Although he thought it foolish to boast, he boasted of that which exposed his weakness (11:30). Paul boasted gladly about his weaknesses, suffering, insults, and difficulties. For when he was weak, then he was made strong by Christ’s power working effectively in him (12:9-10). His boasting was never in himself, but in the Lord (10:17).

As an apostle appointed by the will of God to the Corinthians, Paul claimed them as his seal of apostleship in the Lord (1 Cor. 9:2). For the Corinthians or any other persons to oppose Paul’s authority was in essence to oppose God himself.[45]Bruce, 173. They were faced with making a self-examination (13:5). Earle Ellis eloquently portrays the enduring verity of Paul’s words.

It was, in a word, a battle of prophets, and the congregations were called upon to choose-Paul or his opposition. The dust of their warfare has settled and history has recorded the choice of the churches, at least of the continuing churches. If scholars are still drawn to the ancient debate and to the issues it raises, they are influenced in no small part, one suspects, by the attraction of the one unsilenced voice in the conflict, Paul the Jew of Tarsus, who in his letters continues the battle for his Messiah.[46]Ellis, 115.


Category: Journal Article
Tags: ,

Share This Article:  

Southwestern Journal of Theology
To download full issues and find more information on the Southwestern Journal of Theology, go to