ST PAUL'S LETTER OF SECOND CORINTHIANS
Part I: Introduction and St. Paul's Relationship with the Corinthian Christians
Paul's loving letter of encouragement to the Christians of Corinth, after his letter of rebuke for their sins, reminds us that it is out of love that You establish Your Laws for the Church and send Your admonishments to separate us from our sins. You admonish us so You can encourage us in right behavior and in renewed communion with You. Like the Corinthian Christians, our fruits of repentance grow within us to spiritually strengthen our lives and give us right guidance on the "Narrow Path" to salvation. Send Your Holy Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our study on Paul's consoling letter to the Christians of the Church in Corinth. St. Paul, pray for us!
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jealousy and strife, Paul showed the way to the prize for endurance. Seven
times he was in chains, he was exiled, he was stoned; he became a herald to the
East and in the West, and he won splendid renown through his faith. He taught
righteousness to all the world, and after reaching the boundaries of the West
and giving his testimony before the rulers, he passed from the world and was
taken up to the holy place. Thus he became our greatest example of
St. Clement, Bishop of Rome and Vicar of the Universal Church circa 80/92-101 AD,
Letter to the Corinthians, 5.1, 80/92 AD
According to the testimony of St. Paul in his letters to the Corinthians, the letter entitled First Corinthians is not his first letter to the community, nor is the letter entitled Second Corinthians his second. What follows is a chronology of Paul's relationship with the Christians of Corinth, Greece based on information in Acts of Apostles and 1 and 2 Corinthians:
For a complete timeline of Paul's life from birth to martyrdom and the lists of Paul's missionary journeys, see the handouts for this lesson.
|Biblical Period||#12: The Messianic Age of the Church of Jesus Christ|
|Covenant||The New Covenant in Christ Jesus|
|Focus||Introduction and the Paul's relationship with the Corinthian Christians||Alms for the Church in Jerusalem||Defense of Paul's Ministry and Conclusion|
|Past relationship||Titus' visit and their generosity in giving||Gifts of the churches in Macedonia and Greece||Paul defends the Christ-centered message of his preaching||Conclusion|
|Topic||Paul's ministry among the Christians of Corinth and the resolution of a crisis||The collection from Gentile-Christians for the Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem||Paul's continuing relationship with them||Mend your ways and love one another|
|Location||Paul wrote his letter to the Christian community in the Roman city of Corinth, capital of the Roman Province of Achaea (Greece) from Macedonia in northern Greece.|
|Time||Sometime between 56/58 AD|
|Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2017|
Three times St. Paul will state the theme of his letter by alluding to the words God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 1:10; 24:6). Like Jeremiah, Paul's mission is to "build up" the Corinthian Christians, but he also has the authority to "tear down" or "uproot" them when they go astray from the true Gospel message he and his missionary team members preached to them (2 Cor 10:8; 12:19; 13:10).
Paul's Second Canonical Letter to the Corinthians
Why does Paul add a second epistle?
In the first he had said that he would come to them, but after a long interval
he had not appeared but was still delaying, since the Spirit was keeping him
busy with far greater matters elsewhere. That was the first reason why he
writes, but not the only one. The Corinthians had been corrected by the first
epistle... In addition, they had collected the money which he had asked for and
showed great kindness to Titus when he visited them. For all these reasons,
Paul wrote a second epistle, for it was right that if he had rebuked them when
they were at fault he should commend them now that they had put things right.
St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 1.1-2.
St. Paul addresses three main topics in his letter:
Chapter 1: Introduction
2 Corinthians 1:1-7 ~ Paul's Greeting and Blessing
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is in Corinth, with all the holy ones throughout Achaia: 2 grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, 4 who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. 5 For as Christ's sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.
St. Paul writes his letter in association with St. Timothy who was the co-sender of six of Paul's letters (2 Cor 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Thess 1:1 and 2 Thess 1:1). Timothy was a member of Paul's second missionary team and worked with Paul when he founded the Christian community at Corinth. Timothy was, therefore, well-known by the members of the community (Acts 18:5). Paul also sent Timothy to Corinth to oversee the correction of abuses identified in his earlier letter (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor 4:17; 16:1-11). Later, Paul sent Titus as his representative to make sure his reforms were still in place (2 Cor 2:13; 7:6, 13-14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18).
As with his 1 Corinthians Letter, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians during his Third Missionary Journey (Acts 18:23-21:16). 1 Corinthian was written from Ephesus, but 2 Corinthians was written from Macedonia in northern Greece where Paul was traveling and re-visiting Christian communities he founded on his Second Missionary Journey (1 Cor 16:5; 2 Cor 2:13; 7:5; 9:2). Some scholars suggest the letter was sent in late 56 or early 58 AD while others suggest 54 or 55 AD.
The introduction to Paul's letter in verses 1-11 is, for the most part, the conventional form of the opening in a first century Hellenistic letter that Paul uses in most of his letters. The introduction divides into three parts:
Paul begins his letter by identifying himself, presenting his credentials, and giving a greeting (verses 1-2). His initial greeting is followed by a blessing (verses 3-7), and then he gives thanks to God for the prayers of the Corinthians (verses 8-11).
St. Paul cleverly works in the three words in verse 2 that will be the focus of his letter by referring to holiness, grace (the anointing of God's favor), and the peace that comes to the individual and the community from a loving and right relationship with the Most Holy Trinity.
In verses 3-7, Paul's blessing becomes a doxology or glorification of God with an emphasis on the Christian's experience of both suffering and encouragement. It is an experience, Paul writes, that is shared by Paul and his missionary team together the Corinthian community. Notice how many times Paul repeats the words "encourage/encouragement, afflictions, and sufferings in verses 3-8. The word he uses most frequently is the word parakaleo/paraklesis (Strong's G3870/3874) that can be translated as "comforting/comfort" or "encourage/encouragement." The number of times this word is repeated is accurately recorded in our translation.
Question: How many times are the words "encourage/encouragement,"
"afflictions," and "suffer/sufferings" repeated in 2 Corinthians 1:3-8?
Answer: Paul repeats the word "encourage/encouragement" ten times, the word "affliction" three times, and the words "suffer/sufferings" four times.
Paul's theme of encouragement and compassion in this passage is cast against the background of his multiple references to "afflictions" and "sufferings." The ten times repetition of "encourage/encouragement," may be significant in that ten is the number of divine order in Scripture. It is one of the so-called "perfect" numbers and is repeated in the ten plagues of Egypt, the Ten Commandments, the ten clauses in the Lord's Prayer, etc. Perhaps the frequency of the repetition suggests that God will continue to encourage/comfort us as much as we need in our life journey to salvation. See the document The Significance of Numbers in Scripture.htm.
6 If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement.
"The Father of compassion and God of all encouragement" who encourages Paul and his missionary team (verse 3) is the Father of Jesus Christ. The suffering of Paul and the other missionaries is an example that should encourage the Corinthians to endure their sufferings and afflictions. Paul's sufferings are experiences he shares in union with Christ, "the consolation of Israel" (Lk 2:25, 38). Just as Paul and his missionary team share in Christ's sufferings, they are encouraged that they will also share in His glory. Concerning suffering and encouragement, later, Paul will write to the Christians of Rome: The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him (Rom 8:16-17).
2 Corinthians 1:8-11 ~ Thanks for Deliverance from Suffering for
Paul's Missionary Team in the Roman Province of Asia
8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction that came to us in the province of Asia; we were utterly weighed down beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.
9 Indeed, we had accepted within ourselves the sentence of death, that we might trust not in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. 10 He rescued us from such great danger of death, and he will continue to rescue us; in him we have put our hope [that] he will also rescue us again, 11 as you help us with prayer, so that thanks may be given by many on our behalf for the gift granted us through the prayers of many. Underlining added for emphasis.
In these verses, Paul addresses his brothers and sisters in the community. The term adelphos, "brothers" plural, should be understood to include all members of the faith community, male and female. He discloses to them an "affliction" that he and his missionary team experienced in the Roman Province of Asia (western Turkey). The capital of the province is Ephesus where Paul established the Church and ministered for over two years. The persecution Paul endured was so severe that he and his team feared they would lose their lives. Paul does not disclose what happened to endanger his life and the lives of those with him, but the answer might be found in Acts 19:23-41.
Question: What were the events that took place in
Ephesus in Acts 19:23-41 that might be the danger Paul alludes to in this
Answer: There was a riot that was a reaction to Paul's preaching concerning the existence of only one true God and the condemnation of false idols. The makers of false idols saw Christianity as a threat to their economic success in producing images of idols. The crowd of Ephesian craftsmen attacked Paul and other Christians.
Question: From their experience, what does Paul
write that he and the other Christians with him learned? What is the key word
in verses 9-10?
Answer: Paul uses the word "rescue" three times. In their rescue from what they believed was certain death, they learned to trust not in themselves but in God who "raises the dead." In other words, they learned to put their destiny entirely into God's hands.
The Greek verb rhuomai (Strong's G4506) is translated "rescue," but it can also mean "draw out of danger."
Question: Paul uses this verb in what three ways
to express God's deliverance of Paul and his team in a past, present, and
The future deliverance refers perhaps not only to deliverance in this life but the confidence that ultimately God will rescue them from death in the final Resurrection (see verse 9).
that we might trust not in ourselves but in God who raises the dead (verse 9) is the basis of Christian hope and faith. The Catechism states: "We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and liver for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day" (CCC 989; cf Jn 6:39-40).
11 as you help us with
prayer, so that thanks may be given by many on our behalf for the gift granted
us through the prayers of many.
Paul ends by thanking the Corinthian church for their prayers and the prayers of others for rescue from perils in the future. This verse is an implied request for further prayers for their deliverance from danger. The "many" giving thanks on their behalf probably refers to the increasing number of converts who come to Christ through their preaching that will result in more prayers and more praising God. It is a theme Paul will introduce again in 4:15 and 9:13-14.
The Relationship Crisis between Paul and the Corinthian Christians
2 Corinthians 1:12-17 ~ The Sincerity of their Past Relationship
12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you, with the simplicity and sincerity of God, [and] not by human wisdom but by the grace of God. 13 For we write you nothing but what you can read and understand, and I hope that you will understand completely, 14 as you have come to understand us partially, that we are your boast as you also are ours, on the day of [our] Lord Jesus. 15 With this confidence I formerly intended to come to you so that you might receive a double favor, 16 namely to go by way of you to Macedonia, and then to come to you again on my return from Macedonia, and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 So when I intended this, did I act lightly? Or do I make my plans according to human considerations, so that with me it is "yes, yes" and "no, no"?
In 1:12-17, Paul begins by defending his apostolic vocation and conduct with the Corinthians. His original plan was to visit them before going to Macedonia and then to visit a second time before going to Jerusalem. However, he did not keep to this plan. Apparently, members of the Corinthian community have criticized Paul for not keeping what they considered to be a promise. It is in answering these charges that Paul defends his apostolic ministry.
Question He writes that he and the other missionaries on his
team have treated the Corinthians and other faith communities where they have
taught with integrity in what three ways?
Answer: They have treated everyone with simplicity, sincerity, and with wisdom that comes from the grace of God.
14 as you have come to
understand us partially, that we are your boast as you also are ours, on the
day of [our] Lord Jesus.
On the day of the Last Judgment, Paul and his team will be able to claim/boast of their conversion and the establishment of their faith community as a good "work" for Christ. They will be able to claim/boast of their sincere answer to the missionaries' call to salvation along with the fruits of good works the community has contributed to the salvation of others.
Paul writes that the Corinthian Christians who know him have seen his work on behalf of the community, and they can judge his sincerity for themselves. Then Paul begins to address a series of issues and events that have caused a misunderstanding. The first issue is Paul's revised plans to visit the Corinthian community that have caused some to question whether he is trustworthy (verses 15-17). He defends himself saying that he was sincere when he made his plans and that he had every intention to visit them. However, he writes that there are more than "human considerations" at stake in his decisions.
Question: What does Paul stress continually concerning his
calling and his preaching in 1:12, 21; 4:6; and 5:20?
Answer: Paul continually defends his ministry by declaring that his apostolic calling and his preaching does not come from himself, but from God.
2 Corinthians 1:18-23 ~ We are God's Anointed
18 As God is faithful, our word to you is not "yes" and "no." 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me, was not "yes" and "no," but "yes" has been in him. 20 For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through him to God for glory. 21 But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; 22 he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment. 23 But I call upon God as witness, on my life, that it is to spare you that I have not yet gone to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith; rather, we work together for your joy, for you stand firm in the faith.
St. Paul then makes a theological statement about how God's faithfulness has been manifested through Jesus' faithfulness. He explains that the same faithfulness of Jesus is revealed in the faithfulness of those who have been anointed and sealed by the Holy Spirit in the Lord's service (1:18-22; CCC 1295-96).
18 As God is faithful,
our word to you is not "yes" and "no." 19
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by
us, Silvanus and Timothy and me, was not "yes" and "no," but "yes" has been in
God and His ministers are not of two minds like those who say "yes" in one breath and then deny it in the next breath. The mean what they say and are faithful to their promises. Paul calls on God to be his witness to the sincerity of his words and actions as a man of his word. He cannot act otherwise since he preaches Jesus Christ and follows Him. Christ is absolutely truthful and faithful, and His word is always "yes" to the promises of God (verse 20).
Question: In this passage, how does St. Paul refer to the
promises made by the Most Holy Trinity?
Answer: He writes that God the Father anointed His ministers with grace and established them in God the Son, through the seal of the Holy Spirit upon their hearts.
Paul uses three different key words/expressions in verses 21-22: "anointed," "put His seal," and "given the Holy Spirit ... as a first installment" or guarantee to describe the way God acts in the soul of the Christian:
In being "sealed" by the Holy Spirit, we no longer belong to ourselves, but we become the property of Christ, and together with the anointing of God's divine grace, we receive the Holy Spirit as the first installment or pledge on the gifts we will receive in eternal life. All the effects of Baptism are reinforced in the Sacrament of Confirmation, and Paul may have had this Sacrament in mind in these verses.
Relying on Christ's faithfulness, Christians are able to say "Amen," "so be it" (verse 20), by which they adhere fully to Jesus' teachings as passed on by the Apostles and their successors, like Sts Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, who shepherd the faithful of the New Covenant Church. From the earliest gatherings of Christians, the "Amen" ("so be it") has been announced at the end of the Church's public prayers (cf. 1 Cor 14:16).
In verses 23-24, Paul regrets to announce that they cannot come to Corinth at this time. 2:1-5 suggests the possibility of two theories as to why Paul decided not to go to Corinth:
The words "to spare you" in verse 23 and "work together for your joy" in verse 24 introduce the major themes of the next two passages of the letter in Chapter 2. Do not miss the repetitions of key contrasting words and ideas forming two clusters that will reappear when Paul continues addressing the same subject in 7:5-16:
2 Corinthians 2:1-4 ~ Tears and Painful Circumstances
1 For I decided not to come to you again in painful circumstances. 2 For if I inflict pain upon you, then who is there to cheer me except the one pained by me? 3 And I wrote as I did so that when I came I might not be pained by those in whom I should have rejoiced, confident about all of you that my joy is that of all of you. 4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears, not that you might be pained but that you might know the abundant love I have for you.
The key word in 2:1-7 is "pain." Paul repeats the word "pain/pained/painful" seven times. Verses 1-2 suggests that Paul made a second, "painful" visit to Corinth that resulted in a crisis between Paul and the Corinthian Christians. After his visit, Paul sent a third letter, a lost letter, written with "many tears" and delivered by Titus, pleading with the Corinthians to change their behavior and to mend their relationship with him (2 Cor 2:3-9:13; 7:6-15; 8:6). Despite the misunderstanding, Paul professes his continuing love for the community (verse 4).
In 1:15-2:4 Paul answers the charge of not keeping his word because he
failed to visit Corinth as he said he would.
Question: What does Paul write is the reason he did not come to Corinth on the visit they expected?
Answer: He did not go to Corinth because he did not want to pain/distress them further.
Paul's statements in 1:23-2:6-7 serve as an example of his kind and loving nature. He rejoices in their joys (1:23), and he suffers with them in their sufferings (2:6-7; cf. 11:28-29; 1 Thess 2:19-20). He loves them like a father loves his children, and he only wants what is best for them (1 Cor 4:14-15).
2 Corinthians 2:5-11 ~ Concerning Forgiving an
5 If anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure (not to exaggerate) to all of you. 6 This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person, 7 so that on the contrary you should forgive and encourage him instead, or else the person may be overwhelmed by excessive pain. 7 Therefore, I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, to know your proven character, whether you were obedient in everything. 10 Whomever you forgive anything, so do I. For indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for you in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we might not be taken advantage of by Satan, for we are not unaware of his purposes.
Some unknown person in the community offended Paul in his previous visit, but his offense has also caused pain, Paul writes, to the entire community. Some punishment has been inflicted by the community against the offending party, perhaps a strong rebuke. The offense was not a sin that demanded excommunication, but it was probably a personal attack on Paul that left the community divided on their allegiance to him. Whatever the offense, Paul urges the Corinthian Christians to forgive the person as Paul forgave him and take him back, presumable if he asks for forgiveness.
Question: What does Paul assure the community
concerning his own attitude toward this unnamed person, and why is this
Answer: Paul has forgiven this individual and urges their forgiveness so that Satan cannot divide the community.
The Hebrew word "satan" means "adversary." It is always
Satan's goal to bring discord to the Church by causing division.
Question: What was Satan's first act of division between God and His children? See Gen chapter 3
Answer: Satan works to cause division in the Church just as he encouraged the sin of Adam and Eve to cause division in their relationship and to separate them from their loving God and Divine Father.
The question is why doesn't Paul name the individual and the offense? The answer is probably because he does not consider it necessary to dredge up the painful episode again. They know to whom he refers, and they know the offense. Paul refer to the crisis concerning his unnamed person again in 7:12, and his sufferings concerning "false apostles" in Corinth who attacked his authority, credibility, and integrity (11:13; 12:20-21).
2 Corinthians 2:12-17 ~ Ministers who are the Aroma of
12 When I went to Troas for the Gospel of Christ, although a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 I had no relief in my spirit because I did not find my brother Titus. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia. 14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ and manifests through us the odor of the knowledge of him in every place. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to the latter an odor of death that leads to death, to the former an order of life that leads to life. Who is qualified for this? 17 For we are not like the many who trade on the word of God; but as out of sincerity, indeed as from God and in the presence of God, we speak of Christ.
Paul went to Troas because God gave him an opportunity to preach the Gospel (a door was opened). Troas was an ancient Greek city located on the Aegean Sea near the northern tip of modern Turkey's western coast. His joy in this opportunity was dampened by not finding Titus waiting for him there as they had planned. Titus had delivered Paul's letter to the Corinthian Christians, and Paul was anxious to hear their response to his letter (2 Cor 7:5). Paul went on to Macedonia as planned (1 Cor 16:5-9), a Roman province north of Greece, hoping to find Titus.(1)
thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ and manifests
through us the odor of the knowledge of him in every place.
Paul seems to be referring to the triumphal march of the Gospel of salvation as Christ's ministers carry the message of salvation and knowledge of the Christ out into every corner of the world as Jesus directed them (Mt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
15 For we
are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved and among those
who are perishing
Paul writes that Christians are Christ's ambassadors to the world, and every Christian should act in such a way that everyone they meet senses the "aroma" or essence of Christ in his or her life. For the third time in his letters to the Corinthians, Paul writes of the on-going process of salvation as "being saved" (see 1 Cor 1:18; 15:2 and 2 Cor 2:15). Those who are "perishing" are those who deny Christ and reject the gift of eternal salvation. Those who are anointed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and sealed in the Sacrament of Confirmation to complete their baptism, share more completely in the mission of Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit so that their lives may give off "the aroma of Christ" (CCC 1294).
Question: What different kinds of "odor" does Paul
contrast in 2:14-16?
Answer: The "sweet" aroma of the knowledge of salvation through Christ Jesus and the "stink" of death.
Question: What is the "odor of death"?
Answer: The corrupting power of sin.
Concerning these verses, St. John Chrysostom wrote: "The Gospel continues to spread everywhere a sweet and precious savor, even though some be lost who do not believe it. It is not the Gospel but their own perverseness that brings about their perdition; I should even say that the perdition of the wicked is a proof of the sweetness of the spiritual honey. The salvation of the good and the perdition of the wicked declare the efficacy of the Gospel. The sun, because it is especially bright, hurts the eyes of the weak; and Jesus is come for the fall and rising of many'" (Homilies on 2 Cor, 5; quoting Lk 2:34)
1. Paul first visited the region of Macedonia in northern Greece after the dream of a man of Macedonia imploring him with the words, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." Paul concluded that God was calling him to proclaim the Gospel in Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10), and he and his missionary team traveled to Macedonia on his second missionary journey, founding churches in Philippi and Thessalonica. Paul returned to visit the faith communities he founded on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:1-2). The churches in Macedonia made generous contributions to the collection of alms to support the Mother Church in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:1-4), and Paul remembered the time he and his missionary team spent in Macedonia with great affection (Phil 4:1; 1 Thes 1:3).
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2017 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for this lesson (*indicates Scripture quoted in the citation):
2 Cor 1 (CCC 2627*)