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
Although the New Testament only contains two letters to the Corinthians, the evidence from the letters themselves is that he wrote at least four:
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
The book is usually divided as follows:
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.
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