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Second Epistle to the Corinthians

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians is a book in the New Testament, written by Paul the Apostle.

II Corinthians is only 13 pages long, but it is the book in which the transformation of Christianity into a religion incompatible with its Jewish genesis is completed. It recounts Paul’s wrestle with the Christian Judaizers from Palestine whose touchstone of continuity was Mosaic Law. It is in this letter that Paul abandons the concept of Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law to its destruction, with emissaries from the Jerusalem church scurrying along behind, attempting to undo the damage.

“There is a consensus on two points: the intruders were Jewish Christians, and they attacked Paul’s apostolic authority. Disagreement, however, persists concerning the adversaries’ origins and role at Corinth, because the evidence points in different directions. Some hints indicate Judaizers of Palestinian origin, whose attitude toward the law was more positive than Paul found palatable. Other clues, however, are thought to suggest Hellenistic Jewish wandering preachers, who were convinced that their possession of the Spirit showed itself in their eloquence, their ecstatic experiences, and their power to work miracles.” TNJBC 1990 p. 817

Textual issues

While there is little doubt among scholars that Paul is the author, there is discussion over whether the letter was originally one letter or a combination of two or more of Paul's letters.

Although the New Testament only contains two letters to the Corinthians, the evidence from the letters themselves is that he wrote at least four:

  1. 1 Cor 5:9 ("I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people", NIV) refers to an early letter, sometimes called the "warning letter".
  2. 1 Corinthians
  3. Paul refers to an earlier "letter of tears" in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4 and 7:8. 1 Corinthians does not match that description; so this "letter of tears" must be between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians.
  4. 2 Corinthians

The abrupt change of tone from being previously harmonious to bitterly reproachful in 2 Corinthians 10-13 has led many to speculate that chapters 10-13 form part of the "letter of tears" which were in some way tagged on to Paul's main letter. Those who disagree with this assessment usually say that the "letter of tears" is no longer extant.

Some scholars also find fragments of the "warning letter", or of other letters, in chapters 1-9, for instance that part of the "warning letter" is preserved in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, but these hypotheses are less popular.

Much of the commentaries has to do with different theories on the compilation of the book and the number of visits Paul made to Corinth. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P. who wrote TNJBC commentary for the Second Letter to the Corinthians explains:

“With the exception of 6:14-7:1, which many consider a post-Pauline interpolation, the authenticity of 2 Cor [Corinthians] is unquestioned. Its unity, however, is a matter of some controversy. Although the integrity of 2 Cor has its defenders …, the majority of commentators see it as a collection of Pauline letters. The most influential view is that of G. Bornkamm … who divides 2 Cor into five letters … This hypothesis is based on what are viewed as hard transitions in the present text of 2 Cor. ...but with many interpreters I do not find that the breaks in chaps. [chapters] 1-9 involve such a degree of discontinuity as to demand a partition hypothesis. Chaps. 10-13, however, cannot be the continuation of chaps. 1-9; it is psychologically impossible that Paul should suddenly switch from the celebration of reconciliation (1-9) to a savage reproach and sarcastic self vindication (10-13). Thus, 2 Cor is certainly a combination of two letters.” P. 816


Paul's contacts with the Corinthian church can be reconstructed as follows:

  1. Paul visits Corinth for the first time, spending about 18 months there (Acts 18:11). He then leaves Corinth and spends about 3 years in Ephesus (Acts 19:8, 19:10, 20:31). (Roughly from 53 to 57 AD, see 1 Corinthians article).
  2. Paul writes the "warning letter", probably from Ephesus.
  3. Paul writes 1 Corinthians from Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8).
  4. Paul visits the Corinthian church a second time, as he indicated he would in 1 Corinthians 16:6. This is probably still during his 3 years based in Ephesus. 2 Corinthians 2:1 calls this a "painful visit".
  5. Paul writes the "letter of tears".
  6. Paul writes 2 Corinthians, indicating his desire to visit the Corinthian church a third time (2 Cor 12:14, 2 Cor 13:1). The letter doesn't indicate where he is writing from, but it is usually dated after Paul left Ephesus for Macedonia (Acts 20), from either Philippi Thessalonica in Macedonia.
  7. Paul presumably made the third visit after writing 2 Corinthians, because Acts 20:2-3 indicates he spent 3 months in Greece. In his letter to Rome, written at this time, he sent salutations from some of the principal members of the church to the Romans.


The book is usually divided as follows:

  • 1:1-11 - Greeting
  • 1:12 - 7:16 - Paul defends his actions and apostleship, affirming his affection for the Corinthians.
  • 8:1 - 9:15 - Instructions for the collection for the poor in the Jerusalem church.
  • 10:1 - 13:10 - A polemic defense of his apostleship
  • 13:11-14 - Closing greetings


In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he again refers to himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God and reassures the people of Corinth will not have another painful visit but what he has to say is not to cause pain but to reassure them the love he has for them. It was shorter in length in comparison to the first and a little confusing if the reader is unaware of the social, religious, and economic situation of the community. Paul felt the situation in Corinth was still complicated and felt attacked. Some challenged his authority as an apostle and compares the level of difficulty to other cities he has visited who had embraced it, like the Galatians. He is criticized for the way he speaks and writes and finds it just to defend himself with some of his important teachings. He states the importance of forgiving others, and God’s new agreement that comes from the Spirit of the living God (2 Cor. 3:3), and the importance of being a person of Christ and giving generously to God’s people in Jerusalem, and ends with his own experience of how God changed his life (Sandmel, 1979).


Easton's Bible Dictionary writes,

This epistle, it has been well said, shows the individuality of the apostle more than any other. "Human weakness, spiritual strength, the deepest tenderness of affection, wounded feeling, sternness, irony, rebuke, impassioned self-vindication, humility, a just self-respect, zeal for the welfare of the weak and suffering, as well as for the progress of the church of Christ and for the spiritual advancement of its members, are all displayed in turn in the course of his appeal."--Lias, Second Corinthians.


See also


TNJBC = The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, S.S., Union Theological Seminary, New York, NY, Joseph A Fitzmyer, S. J. (emeritus) Catholic University of America, Washington DC, and Roland E. Murphey, O. Carm. (emeritus) The Divinity School, Duke University, Durham, NC, with a foreword by His Eminence Carlo Maria Cardinal martini, S.J., Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1990

A.C. = The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The text carefully printed from the most correct copies of the present Authorized Version. Including the marginal readings and parallel texts. With a Commentary and Critical Notes. Designed as a help to a better understanding of the sacred writings. By Adam Clarke, LL.D. F.S.A. M.R.I.A. With a complete alphabetical index. Royal Octavo Stereotype Edition. Vol. II. [Vol. VI together with the O.T.] New York, Published by J. Emory and B. Waugh, for the Methodist Episcopal Church, at the conference office, 13 Crosby-Street. J. Collord, Printer. 1831.

TIB = The Interpreter’s Bible, The Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard versions with general articles and introduction, exegesis, [and] exposition for each book of the Bible in twelve volumes, George Arthur Buttrick, Commentary Editor, Walter Russell Bowie, Associate Editor of Exposition, Paul Scherer, Associate Editor of Exposition, John Knox Associate Editor of New Testament Introduction and Exegesis, Samuel Terrien, Associate Editor of Old Testament Introduction and Exegesis, Nolan B. Harmon Editor, Abingdon Press, copyright 1954 by Pierce and Washabaugh, set up printed, and bound by the Parthenon Press, at Nashville, Tennessee, Volume X

External links

Online translations of Second Epistle to the Corinthians:

Commentary articles by J. P. Meyer on Second Corinthians, by chapter: 1-2, 3, 4:1-6:10, 6:11–7:16, 8-9, 10-13

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