Book Overview - 2 Corinthians
by Henry Alford
THE SECOND EPISTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS
ITS AUTHORSHIP AND INTEGRITY
1. THE former of these is undoubted. No Epistle more clearly marks itself out as the work of the Author whose name it bears. It is inseparably connected with the First, following it up, and only differing from it as circumstances since occurring had affected the mind of the writer. See this more dwelt on, when I speak of its style and matter, below, §iii.
2. The external testimonies are,
( α) Irenæus, Hær. iii. 7. 1, p. 182:
Quod autem dicunt, aperte Paulum in secunda ad Corinthios dixisse: In quibus Deus sæculi hujus excæcavit mentes infidelium.
( β) Athenagoras, de resurr. mort. xviii. p. 331:
εὔδηλον παντὶ τὸ λειπόμενον … ἕκαστος κομίσηται δικαίως ἃ διὰ τοῦ σώματος ἔπραξεν, εἴτε ἀγαθὰ εἴτε κακά.
( γ) Clement of Alexandria very frequently cites our epistle: e.g., Strom. iii. 14 (94), p. 553, P.:
αὐτίκα βιάζεται τὸν παῦλον ἐκ τῆς ἀπάτης τὴν γένεσιν συνιστάναι. λέγειν διὰ τούτων· φοβοῦμαι δὲ μὴ, ὡς ὁ ὄφις εὔαν ἐξηπάτησεν, κ. τ. λ. (2 Corinthians 11:3.)
And again, Strom. iv. 16 (102), p. 607, P.:
ὁ ἀπόστολος (specified as παῦλος previously) … ειρηκεν ἐν τῇ δευτέρᾳ πρὸς τοὺς κορινθίους· ἄχρι γὰρ τῆς σήμερον ἡμέρας τὸ αὐτὸ κάλυμμα τοῖς πολλοῖς ἐπὶ τῇ ἀναγνώσει τῆς παλαιᾶς διαθήκης μένει.
( δ) Tertullian, de Pudicitia, ch. 13 init. vol. ii. p. 1003:
Novimus plane et hic suspiciones eorum. Revera enim suspicantur apostolum Paulum in secunda ad Corinthios eidem fornicatori veniam dedisse, quem in prima dedendum Satanæ in interitum carnis pronuntiarit, &c. He then cites 2 Corinthians 2:5-11.
See more testimonies in Davidson, vol. ii. p. 279.
3. The integrity of this Epistle has not however been unquestioned. Semler (in 1767) imagined it to consist of three separate epistles,—(1) chapters 1 to 8 + Romans 16:1-20 + ch. 2 Corinthians 13:11-13. This he supposes to have been the letter which Titus bore on his second mission to Corinth. (2) On receiving intelligence of the effect produced at Corinth, the Apostle writes a second Epistle in justification of himself, chap. 2 Corinthians 10:1 to 2 Corinthians 13:10. (3) An Epistle sent to the other churches in Achaia on the subject of the collection for the saints at Jerusalem, ch. 9. To this curious theory a convincing refutation was furnished by Gabler (De capp. ult. ix.–xiii. poster. ep. P. ad Corr. ab eadem haud separandis, Gotting. 1782). Weber again (de numero Epp. P. ad Corr. rectius constituendo, 1798) thought it had been originally two Epistles, (1) chapters 1 to 9+2 Corinthians 13:11-13,—(2) ch. 2 Corinthians 10:1 to 2 Corinthians 13:10. But Meyer (from whom the foregoing particulars are taken) quotes respecting all such fanciful discussions a good remark of Hug (Einl. ii. p. 376), that it would be just as reasonable to suppose the περὶ στεφάνου of Demosthenes to be two orations, because in the former part the orator defends himself calmly and in detail, and in the latter breaks out into fierce and bitter invective. Certainly, on the principle which these critics have adopted, the first Epistle to the Corinthians might be divided into at least eight separate epistles, marked off by the successive changes of subject.
CIRCUMSTANCES, PLACE, AND TIME OF WRITING
1. At the time of writing this Epistle, Paul had recently left Asia (2 Corinthians 1:8): in doing so had come by Troas (2 Corinthians 2:12): and thence had sailed to Macedonia (ibid.; cf. Acts 20:1-2), where he still was (ch. 2 Corinthians 8:1; 2 Corinthians 9:2, where notice especially the present καυχῶμαι,—2 Corinthians 9:4). In Asia, he had undergone some great peril of his life (2 Corinthians 1:8-9), which (see note there) can hardly be referred to the tumult at Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41(51),—but from the nature of his expressions was probably a grievous sickness, not unaccompanied with deep and wearing anxiety. At Troas, he had expected to meet Titus (2 Corinthians 2:13), with intelligence respecting the effect produced at Corinth by the first Epistle. In this he was disappointed (2 Corinthians 2:13), but the meeting took place in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 7:5-6), where the expected tidings were announced to him (2 Corinthians 7:7-16). They were for the most part favourable, but not altogether. All who were well disposed had been humbled by his reproofs: but evidently his adversaries had been further embittered. He wished to express to them the comfort which the news of their submission had brought to him, and at the same time to defend his apostolic efficiency and personal character against the impugners of both. Under these circumstances, and with these objects, he wrote this Epistle, and sent it before him to break the severity with which he contemplated having to act against the rebellious (ch. 2 Corinthians 13:10), by winning them over if possible before his arrival.
2. The place of writing is no where clearly pointed out. There is no ground for supposing it to have been Philippi, as commonly imagined(52). Nay such a supposition is of itself improbable. In ch. 2 Corinthians 8:1 Paul announces to the Corinthians the generosity which had been the result of God’s grace given ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῆς ΄ακεδονίας. It is hardly likely that he would make such announcement, if he had hitherto been stationary at Philippi, the first of those churches on his way from Asia. All that we can say is, that the Epistle was written at one of the Macedonian churches; more probably at the last which he visited than at the first. The principal of those churches were at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berœa. We know from 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18, how anxious the Apostle was again to visit the Thessalonian church: and in the absence of all detail respecting this journey in Acts 20:1-2, we may well believe that he would have spent some time at Thessalonica. If then Philippi from its situation is improbable, it would seem likely that Thessalonica was the place. But all is conjecture, beyond the fact that it was written from Macedonia.
3. The time of writing is fixed within very narrow limits. About Pentecost A.D. 57 (see chronological table in Prolegg. to Acts) Paul left Ephesus for Troas: there he stayed some little time: thence went to Macedonia; and sufficient time had elapsed for him to have ascertained the mind of the Macedonian churches and to have made the collection. Here falls in our Epistle: after which (Acts 20:2) he came into Greece (Corinth) and abode there three months: and then is found, after travelling by land through Macedonia, at Philippi on his return at Easter, 58. So that the Epistle was written in the summer or autumn of 57.
4. Two questions belong to this part of our subject, which it is not very easy to answer. From 1 Corinthians 4:17, we learn that Timotheus had been sent to Corinth by Paul (see also Acts 19:22, where he is said to have been sent with Erastus to Macedonia) to prepare the Corinthians for his own coming by reminding them of his ways and teaching. And in 1 Corinthians 16:10-11, we find directions given to them for their reception of Timotheus and speeding his return: “for,” adds the Apostle, “I expect him with the brethren.” Here, however, some little uncertainty is expressed as to his visiting them, the words being ἐὰν δὲ ἔλθῃ τιμόθεος. Now at the time of writing this second Epistle, we find Timotheus with Paul in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 1:1), without any hint given of his having been at Corinth, or of any tidings respecting the church there having come through him. Nay there is an apparent presumption that he had not been at Corinth: for in 2 Corinthians 12:18 where speaking of those whom he had sent to Corinth he mentions Titus by name, no allusion is made to Timotheus. Had he been at Corinth, or not?
I believe, in spite of these apparent obstacles to the view, that he had been there. The purpose of his mission, as stated in 1 Corinthians 4:17, is too plain and precise to have been lightly given up. And, as Meyer suggests, the relinquishing of the intended journey of Timotheus as well as that of the Apostle, would have furnished to the adversaries another ground for the charge of fickleness of purpose, which they would not fail to use against him. Had therefore the journey been abandoned, some notice and apology would probably have been found in this Epistle. That Timotheus is not mentioned in this Epistle as having gone to them, is easily accounted for by the circumstance that he is associated with the Apostle in the writing of the Epistle.
Meyer believes that tidings had been brought by him from Corinth of an unfavourable kind respecting the effect of the first Epistle; and that the state of the Apostle’s mind described in 2 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 7:5, is to be traced to the reception of these tidings, not merely to the anxiety of suspense.
5. The second question regards the mission of Titus to Corinth, which took place subsequently to our first Epistle, and on the return from which he brought to the Apostle the further tidings of the effect of that letter, referred to 2 Corinthians 7:6. The most natural supposition is that he was sent to ascertain this matter: and this is the view of De Wette and others. Bleek however, with whom agree Credner, Olshausen, and Neander, makes a totally different hypothesis, which is thus expressed by the latter, Pfl. u. Leit. p. 437: “Timotheus had brought to the Apostle painful tidings which excited his anxiety, especially respecting the agitation caused by one individual, who insolently set himself against Paul and endeavoured to oppose his apostolic authority. (This latter view he defends by explaining 2 Corinthians 2:5; 2 Corinthians 7:12, not of the incestuous person of 1 Corinthians 5 but of some adversary of the Apostle.) On this account Paul sent Titus to Corinth with a letter (now lost), in which he expressed himself very strongly on these circumstances; so that after Titus had set out, his heart, full as it was of paternal love towards the Corinthian church, was distressed with fear lest he had written somewhat too harshly, and been too severe upon them.” This ingenious conjecture, while it might serve to clear up some expressions in 2 Corinthians 2:1-4, which seem too strong for the first Epistle, can perhaps hardly be admitted in the absence of any allusion whatever of a clearer character. All we can say is, it may have been so: and after all that has been written on the visits of Timotheus and Titus, we shall hardly arrive nearer the truth than a happy conjecture.
MATTER AND STYLE
1. In no other Epistle are these so various, and so rapidly shifting from one character to another. Consolation and rebuke, gentleness and severity, earnestness and irony, succeed one another at very short intervals and without notice. Meyer remarks: “The excitement and interchange of the affections, and probably also the haste under which Paul wrote this Epistle, certainly render the expressions often obscure and the constructions difficult, but serve only to exalt our admiration of the great oratorical delicacy, art, and power, with which this outpouring of Paul’s spirit, especially interesting as a self-defensive apology, flows and streams onward, till at length in the sequel its billows completely overflow the opposition of the adversaries. Erasmus strikingly says, Paraphr. Dedicat.,—‘Sudatur ab eruditissimis viris in explicandis poetarum ac rhetorum consiliis, at in hoc rhetore longe plus sudoris est, ut deprehendas quid agat, quo tendat, quid vetet: adeo stropharum plenus est undique, absit invidia verbis. Tanta vafrities est, non credas eundem hominem loqui. Nunc ut limpidus quidam fons sensim ebullit, mox torrentis in morem ingenti fragore devolvitur, multa obiter secum rapiens, nunc placide leniterque fluit, nunc late, velut in lacum diffusus, exspatiatur. Rursum alicubi se condit, ac diverso loco subitus emicat, cum visum est, miris mæandris nunc has nunc illas lambit ripas, aliquoties procul digressus, reciprocato flexu in sese redit.’ We may also apply to our Epistle the words in which Dionys. Hal., de admiranda vi dicendi in Demosthene, c. 8, designates the style of that orator,— μεγαλοπρεπῆ, λιτήν· περιττήν, ἀπέριττον· ἐξηλλαγμένην, συνήθη· πανηγυρικήν, ἀληθινήν· αὐστηρήν, ἱλαράν· σύντονον, ἀνειμένην· ἡδεῖαν, πικράν· ἠθικήν, παθητικήν.”
2. The matter of the Epistle divides itself naturally into three parts:
1. 1 Corinthians 1:1 to 2 Corinthians 7:16. Here he sets forth to them his apostolic walk and character, not only with regard to them, though he frequently refers to this, but in general.
2. 2 Corinthians 8:1 to 2 Corinthians 9:15. He reminds them of their duty to complete the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem.
3. 2 Corinthians 10:1 to 2 Corinthians 13:10. Polemical justification of his apostolic dignity and efficiency against his disparagers.
Second Sunday after Epiphany