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- 2 Corinthians
by Peter Pett
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in order to deal with problems that had arisen in the church at Corinth, but it did not completely dispel those problems. Indeed it would seem that he soon learned that things were worse than he had thought. Opposition to the Apostle persisted and Paul's critics, especially seemingly one prominent one, continued to speak out against him in the church. One main issue was Paul's apostolic authority. His critics were claiming that their authority was equal to Paul's, or even that he had no authority at all.
News of these continuing problems in Corinth reached Paul in Ephesus during his prolonged stay there during his third missionary journey. He then decided to make a brief visit to Corinth. However his efforts to resolve the conflicts appear to have fallen on deaf ears (2 Corinthians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1-2). Indeed he apparently suffered insults which caused him to lose face during that visit (2 Corinthians 2:5-8; 2 Corinthians 7:12). Consequently the visit was very hurtful, not least because he saw it as a defeat for the full truth of the Gospel.
So he returned to Ephesus where, in spite of determined opposition, things were flourishing. His next step in dealing with the situation in Corinth was to send Titus , with a companion, bearing from Ephesus a severe letter which Paul had compiled (2 Corinthians 2:3-4; 2 Corinthians 7:8-12; 2 Corinthians 12:18). Paul apparently directed this letter, which is now lost, at the parties opposed to him, and particularly at their leadership. Some commentators believe that 2 Corinthians 10-13 contains part of this letter, but there are good grounds for doubting this.
Paul evidently hoped to hear from Titus while still in Ephesus. However, persecution made it expedient for Paul to leave there earlier than he had expected (Acts 20:1), and he eventually found an open door for the gospel in Troas to the north. But eager to meet Titus, who was taking the land route from Corinth back to Ephesus, Paul decided to leave Troas and moved west into Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13). There Titus met him and his report was encouraging (2 Corinthians 7:6-16). A majority of the church had responded to Paul's words and the church had disciplined the troublemakers (2 Corinthians 2:5-11), although this does not mean that all the problems described in 1 Corinthians have been put right (2 Corinthians 12:20-21).
But some in the church still refused to acknowledge Paul's authority over them. He was still being accused of fickleness (2 Corinthians 1:17-24); he was aware of a still unwilling minority (2 Corinthians 2:6); there were still suggestions that he was corrupting the word of God (2 Corinthians 2:17); there were still some who rejected his teaching (2 Corinthians 4:2-5); there were still those who gloried in appearance and not in heart (i.e. preferring his opponents to him for the wrong reasons - 2 Corinthians 5:12), thus demonstrating that there were still those who stood in opposition to him. And there were still some who were compromising with idols (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
It is possibly to these that 2 Corinthians 10:1 to 2 Corinthians 13:10 are directed, but it may be that we are also to see that as arising because of the unexpected arrival of visitors from elsewhere (whom he describes as ‘pseudo-apostles’) who again sought to undermine his position. News of this latter as he came close to ending his letter may well have caused this final powerfully expressed end to his letter, as the fears, which had been quelled, again began to mount.
So Paul had cause to rejoice at the change of heart of the majority, and 2 Corinthians is to quite some extent a letter of rejoicing, but there was still much that required putting right and it is rejoicing with a sharp edge. Serious things have to be said by him, coming to their climax in the final chapters.
Thus his concern in respect of the unrepentant minority, his continued concern over the general state of the church, his desire to oversee for the despatch of the money the Corinthians had begun to collect for their poorer brethren in Jerusalem (compare 1 Corinthians 16:1), and possibly the sudden news of dangerous opponents who had arrived in Corinth, were all factors to be taken into account, and these affected the contents of 2 Corinthians, which was written from Macedonia in or around 56 AD.
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