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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

- 2 Corinthians

by Dr. Robert Utley



A. This book, more than any other letter of Paul, shows us the heart and mind of the Apostle to the Gentiles. It is the closest we have to his spiritual/pastoral autobiography.

B. This book may be Paul's most accomplished rhetorical work. Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, says, "it may well be the most oratorically persuasive of all Paul's writings" p. 541. However, this was done to refute the Sophists who had come to Corinth and attacked Paul's public speaking methods as well as his gospel (i.e. his attack on wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1-4).


C. This book is a strange combination, like Paul himself, of spiritual highs and lows, of free-flowing emotions ranging from anger to great joy.

D. This book is truly a letter and as a letter it is only one half of a conversation. Many of the logical antecedents and circumstances behind Paul's responses have been lost. This is a good example of the truth that the epistles of the New Testament were originally written as correspondence to specific needs, not independent theological dissertations.

E. This book has been neglected by scholarship and in preaching. There are fewer commentaries on 2 Corinthians than any other NT book. This is unfortunate because it is the source of Paul's most definitive discussion on suffering in the Christian life.

F. For pastors, this book offers insightful guidelines on how to deal with problems within local churches. Paul gives us all an example to follow amidst personal attacks and misunderstandings.


A. Even amidst all of the modern scholarly denials of the traditional authorship of biblical books, this book has never been denied to Paul.

B. It is so autobiographical and so difficult to understand some of its phrases that the possibility of someone trying to mimic Paul by writing a book like this is highly improbable. The difficulty and specificity of the letter speak of its genuineness. It is true that many NT scholars think that 2 Corinthians is a composite letter combining several separate letters of Paul into one. I hold to its unity because

1. There is no hint of disunity in any of the ancient Greek manuscripts.

a. No variations of the literary units

b. No manuscript which does not contain all thirteen chapters.

2. Although 2 Corinthians 13:0 was apparently unknown to Clement of Rome in A.D. 96, it is quoted by Polycarp in A.D. 105.

3. The book is understandable as a unit. There seem to be certain themes which show its unity, such as "suffering."

4. The internal evidence is too limited to defend a radical dissection of 2 Corinthians.

C. Paul is stated to be the author in 2 Corinthians 1:1 and 10:1.


A. The date of 2 Corinthians is inseparably linked to 1 Corinthians and the book of Acts.

B. Acts 18:1-18 and 20:2-3 relate Paul's being in Corinth, but there also seems to have been at least one unrecorded trip (2 Corinthians 2:1; with a third visit mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 13:1-2).

C. The major question is the time relationship between Paul's visits and his letters to Corinth.

D. The real problem with dating the events related to Corinth is that we have no external evidence or information between Acts 18:1-18 and Acts 20:2-3, except the ambiguous internal evidence of the Corinthian letters themselves.

E. Paul's contacts with the Corinthian Church-A proposed reconstruction

A.D. 50-52 Paul's Second Missionary Journeya. On Paul's Second Missionary Journey he stayed in Corinth eighteen months (cf. Acts 18:1-11)
A.D. 52 Gallio was proconsul from A.D. 51 (cf. Acts 18:12-17)a. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 seems to refer to a letter about an immoral situation in the church. This letter is unknown unless: (1) as some suppose, that 2 Corinthians 6:14-1 is part of it or (2) that 2 Corinthians 2:3, 2 Corinthians 2:4, 2 Corinthians 2:9 are epistolary aorists and refer to 2 Corinthians.
A.D. 56 (Spring)b. Paul hears about problems in the church while he is in Ephesus from two sources: (1) Chloe's people, 1 Corinthians 1:11 and (2) Stephanas, Forltunatus, and Achaicus, 1 Corinthians 16:17; 1 Corinthians 16:17. They apparently brought a letter from the Corinthian house churches containing questions
A.D. 56 (Winter) orA.D. 57 (Winter)b. Paul answers these questions (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Corinthians 7:25; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 1 Corinthians 16:2) by writing 1 Corinthians. Timothy (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17) takes the response from Ephesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:8) to Corinth. Timothy was not able to solve the problems in the church.
c. Paul made an emergency, painful visit to Corinth (not recorded in Acts, cf. 2 Corinthians 2:1). It was not successful, but he vowed to return.
c. Paul wrote a severe letter (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:3-9; 2 Corinthians 7:8-12) to the Corinthian house churches which was delivered by Titus (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:13-15). This letter is unknown, unless, as some suppose, part of it is in 2 Cor. 10-13.
d. Paul planned to meet Titus in Troas, but Titus did not come, so Paul went to Macedonia (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:5, 2 Corinthians 7:13), possibly Philippi (cf. MSS Bc, K, L, P).
d. He found Titus and heard that the church had responded to his leadership and he then wrote 2 Corinthians in great thanksgiving (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:11-16). It was delivered by Titus
A.D. 57-58 (Winter)e. Paul's last recorded visit to Corinth seems to be referred to in Acts 20:2-3. Although it does not mention Corinth by name, it is assumed. He stayed there during the winter months.e. The marked mood change between chapters 1-9 and 10-13 is explained by some scholars as more bad news (possibly the revitalization of old opponents and the addition of new opponents) from the Corinthian house churches after chapters 1-9 had been written (F. F. Bruce).


A. Just two, 1 and 2 Corinthians

B. Three, with one letter being lost

C. Four, with two lost letters

D. Some modern scholars find the lost letters in 2 Corinthians

1. previous letter (1 Corinthians 5:9) in 2 Corinthians 6:14-1

2. severe letter (2 Corinthians 2:3-4, 2 Corinthians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 7:8-12) in 2 Corinthians 10-13

E. Five, with 2 Corinthians 10-13 being the fifth letter, sent after Titus' report relating the further bad news

F. I hold to C (see also H. C. Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament, p. 209)

1. previous letter-lost (1 Corinthians 5:9)

2. 1 Corinthians

3. severe letter-lost (2 Corinthians 2:1-11, 2 Corinthians 7:8-12)

4. 2 Corinthians


A. In 2 Corinthians the problem seems to be with several factions dominating the different house churches (not necessarily the same factions as in 1 Corinthians, but probably).

1. a group of believers supporting traditional Roman culture and customs

2. a group of believers supporting traditional Greek rhetorical training

3. a group of believers supporting traditional Jewish culture and customs

4. a group of believers from the powerless and the disenfranchised of society

B. The arrival of Jewish troublemakers from Palestine caused additional controversy (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:0 Corinthians 10-13). They are different from the Judaziers of Galatians and the Jewish/Greek legalists of Colossians. They were probably rhetorically trained, charismatic teachers, similar to Apollos.

C. Here are some of the charges leveled against Paul to which he responds.

1. Paul was fickle (i.e. his travel plans changed, cf. 2 Corinthians 1:15ff).

2. Paul was a powerful writer, but weak in personal speech (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:10).

3. Paul was not a polished orator (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 11:6).

4. Paul did not accept money (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:7ff; 2 Corinthians 12:13ff).

5. Paul was not a true Apostle (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:5, 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Corinthians 12:4).

6. Paul was not an orthodox Jew (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:21ff).

7. Paul did not have direct revelation and spiritual visions as they had (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1ff).


A. Thankfulness for the church's positive response to Paul's leadership (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:12, 2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:11-16)

B. Preparation for Paul's third visit (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:1-11). His second was apparently painful and unsuccessful. The changed emotional tone of chapters 10-13 is obvious. Some have asserted that it is the result of several of Paul's letters to the church at Corinth being combined into 2 Corinthians. It is also possible that Paul wrote these after he heard about a new outbreak of opposition within the Corinthian fellowship. It is an emotional addendum.

C. Refuting the itinerant Jewish false teachers (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:0 Cor. 10-12) who had rejected Paul's:

1. person

2. motives

3. authority

4. delivery style

5. gospel message


A. Outlining this book is extremely difficult because of:

1. mood swings

2. variety of subjects

3. extended parentheses (2 Corinthians 1:0 or 7:4)

4. our limited knowledge of the local situation

B. However, there are obviously three major subject divisions:

1. Paul responds to Titus' message and relates his travel plans, chapters 1-7 (there is a major parenthesis dealing with Paul's apostolic ministry, 2 Corinthians 1:0 or 7:4)

2. Paul's encouragement for the completion of the contribution for the Jerusalem church, chapters 8-9

3. Paul's defense of his leadership, chapters 10-13


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the entire biblical book at one sitting. State the central theme of the entire book in your own words.

1. Theme of entire book

2. Type of literature (genre)

READING CYCLE TWO (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the entire biblical book a second time at one sitting. Outline the main subjects and express the subject in a single sentence.

1. Subject of first literary unit

2. Subject of second literary unit

3. Subject of third literary unit

4. Subject of fourth literary unit

5. Etc.

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