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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Corinthians, Second Epistle to

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1. Circumstances of the Epistle . The circumstances of this Epistle are more difficult to discover than those of any other of St. Paul’s Epistles. The historical situation has been well described as a ‘trackless forest,’ and as a consequence the views of writers are very varied. We may best start by noticing that the Epistle was clearly written when the Apostle was burdened by some great anxiety, perhaps physical, but assuredly spiritual ( 2 Corinthians 11:28 ). This anxiety seems to have been connected with at least three things: ( a ) a mission of Titus; ( b ) a letter St. Paul had written to Corinth, either our 1 Cor., or an Epistle now lost ( 2 Corinthians 7:8 ); ( c ) the treatment of some offender at Corinth, either the guilty one of 1 Corinthians 5:1 , or some resolute opponent of St. Paul’s authority. In 2 Corinthians 13:1 we read of a projected third visit (for such seems the most natural interpretation of the words), and this presupposes a second visit of which we have no record. Four questions then need to be answered. (1) Why Titus’ mission should have caused anxiety? (2) What was the letter that led to St. Paul’s concern as to its effect? (3) Who was the offender referred to? (4) When did the second visit take place?

2. St. Paul and Corinth . The Church was founded in 53 or 54 on the Second Missionary Journey ( Acts 18:1 ). St. Paul remained there two years. After leaving, he kept up communications ( 2 Corinthians 12:17 ), though it was only at Ephesus on the Third Missionary Journey in 56 ( Acts 19:1 ) that he could resume personal intercourse. While there, he heard of the terrible immorality, and wrote a short letter ( 1 Corinthians 5:9 ), ordering them to have no intercourse with fornicators. This letter, now lost, may be referred to in 2 Corinthians 1:18; and if so, it may have contained a statement that he would come to Corinth before going to Macedonia. This project, however, was altered ( 1 Corinthians 16:5 ). About the same time (a.d. 56) he possibly paid a second visit from Ephesus to Corinth, which caused him great pain and grief ( 2 Corinthians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 12:14; 2 Corinthians 12:21; 2 Corinthians 13:1 ). Then in the spring of 57 he wrote 1 Cor., and on the strength of his Apostolic authority ordered the punishment of the incestuous person ( 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 ). At the same time he sent Timothy on a mission ( 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10 ) to support and supplement his letter. It is possible that Timothy returned with the sad news that the Church refused to carry out St. Paul’s orders, or possibly that there was a growing opposition to his authority under some Judaizing ringleader. Then followed the mission of Titus, carrying with him a letter, our 1 Cor., or another now lost ( 2 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:8 ), in which St. Paul insisted on Church discipline. Paul leaves Ephesus owing to riot ( Acts 19:1-41 ), expects to see Titus in Troas, but does not meet him until they reach Macedonia in the summer or autumn of 57 ( 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 ). The news Titus brought from Corinth is mixed. The majority of the Church had obeyed his orders and punished the offender ( 2 Corinthians 2:6-11 ), but the Judaizers had grown stronger in opposition to the Apostle, charging him with inconsistency, false Apostleship, boasting, and money-making. They were also probably endeavouring to thwart his collections for Jerusalem ( 1 Corinthians 16:1 , 2 Corinthians 8:9 ). Not least of all was the still existing danger for Gentile converts of relapsing into heathen worship and impurity ( 2 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Corinthians 12:19-21 ). As a result of this news, St. Paul writes our 2 Cor., in which (1) he expresses great satisfaction at the good news of discipline exercised against evildoers, (2) justifies the collection for Jerusalem, and (3) vindicates his Apostolic authority. Then followed a visit (the third) to Corinth, and a stay of three months ( Acts 20:3 ).

The most uncertain point is the place of the second visit. As above stated, it is thought by some to have taken place before our 1 Cor. was written, though others suggest it should come soon after Timothy’s mission and as a result of his failure. On this view, however, it is difficult, if not impossible, to account for Titus’ mission. It is also urged (Robertson in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ) that a place for the second visit cannot be found anterior to our 1 Cor., and it must therefore be removed altogether from the sphere and circumstances of our two Epistles. It is also uncertain whether the offender is the one of 1 Cor., as seems more probable, or some entirely different person who was a virulent opponent of St. Paul’s Apostolic authority. Godet makes out a strong and almost convincing case for a different set of circumstances in 2 Cor. from those in 1 Corinthians. There is equal uncertainty as to the letter about which St. Paul was anxious Most probably it is one now lost, and not our 1 Corinthians. Denney ( Expos. Bible ) considers the connexion between 1 and 2 Cor. so close as to need no hypotheses of additional Epistles now lost. He would explain 2 Cor. entirely out of 1 Corinthians. Bernard favours this view (so formerly Plummer). On the other hand, Godet places the second visit between our 1 and 2 Cor., which visit is thought to be the painful and recent one in 2 Corinthians 1:8 f., 2 Corinthians 1:23 . The following, modified from Robertson (Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] i. 495), is perhaps the best scheme of events: (1) Foundation of Church at Corinth ( Acts 18:1-5 ). (2) Apollos at Corinth ( Acts 19:1 , 1 Corinthians 1:12 ). (3) St. Paul at Ephesus ( Acts 19:1 ). [The second visit to Corinth if before our 1 Cor.] (4) Lost letter of 1 Corinthians 5:9 (perhaps announcing the plan of 2 Corinthians 1:16 ). (5) Some would put second visit to Corinth here. (6) Visit of Stephan as and others from Corinth to St. Paul at Ephesus ( 1 Corinthians 16:17-18 ), asking for advice on certain matters ( 1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 8:1 ). (7) 1 Cor. sent by Titus and the ‘brother’ ( 2 Corinthians 12:18 ). (8) St. Paul determines to pay a double visit to Corinth ( 2 Corinthians 1:15 ). (9) Painful news from Corinth through Titus leads to a change of plan. (10) A severe letter sent. (11) Titus sent to Corinth ( 2 Corinthians 7:7-15 ), with, on the whole, favourable results. (12) Titus returns and meets St. Paul in Macedonia. (13) Titus sent to Corinth with 2 Corinthians. (14) St. Paul’s visit to Corinth and three months’ stay ( Acts 20:3 ).

It is interesting to note the happy results of this letter. Not only did the Apostle go again to Corinth, but actually wintered there. Still more, it was during these three months that he wrote his great Epistle to the Romans, the quiet tone and massive strength of which bear witness to the restfulness of the Apostle’s mind and heart, as well as to the complete victory over the Judaizers. Not least of all, his favourite project the collection for Jerusalem was brought to a successful completion, and the Church of Corinth had some of its members included in the delegation to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4 ). His vigorous Epistle was therefore not in vain, and Corinth and the whole Church have been the gainers by it in the overruling providence of God.

3. Date . 1 Cor. was written in the spring of 57, and 2 Cor. probably in the same year, though it is impossible to say definitely what was the exact interval between them. The all-engrossing topic of the collection for Jerusalem (chs. 8 and 9) indicates the date as during the time of the Third Missionary Journey. St. Paul had left Asia ( 2 Corinthians 1:8 ), and had passed through Troas ( 2 Corinthians 2:12 ), and was in Macedonia ( 2 Corinthians 2:13 , 2 Corinthians 9:2 ). From Acts 20:3 we know that he wintered at Corinth, and so 2 Cor. fits in exactly with Acts 20:2 . Waite ( Speaker’s Com .) therefore suggests October 57 and not earlier. This would suit the circumstances of Timothy’s and Titus’ visits, and account for the great change at Corinth towards St. Paul. Godet would put just over a year between the two Epistles, arguing that such a change of circumstances and tone could not have arisen within a few months.

4. Integrity . There is no ground for supposing that the letter is not now in its original form. Recent attempts to separate it into two letters and to identify one of them (chs. 10 13) with the supposed lost painful Epistle, are not only not convincing in their arguments, but also have the great weight of textual criticism and Church tradition against them. It is impossible to suppose that all trace of such textual changes could have been entirely removed. Our authorities for the text are early enough to make us question the possibility of a sufficient time elapsing for so serious a modification of the original text. The subject-matter entirely agrees with the situation described above. The strong feelings under which the Epistle was written, and the conflicting emotions which swayed the Apostle, amply account for its ruggedness and abruptness.

5. Character . Not even Galatians gives so full a revelation of the Apostle’s mind and soul as does 2 Corinthians. It has been rightly called ‘Paul’s Apologia ,’ and as 1 Cor. is the first chapter of Ecclesiastical History, so 2 Cor. is the first chapter of Ecclesiastical Biography. It reveals the personal character of the great Apostle of the Gentiles in its twofold aspect of tenderness and strength, gentleness and severity, meekness and indignation. In questioning his Apostolic authority, the Judaizers were really questioning the gospel he preached, and indirectly the Master he loved and served. We are not surprised, therefore, to notice the vehemence of his vindication and the torrent of irony and denunciation with which he overwhelms his opponents. Here as nowhere else we see the man he was, stern yet tender, with a will of steel and yet a heart of wax. The iron hand and the velvet glove are combined in no common degree. His spiritual experiences are also brought out here as nowhere else; his visions ( 2 Corinthians 12:1 ), his ‘thorn’ ( 2 Corinthians 12:7 ), his conflicts ( 2 Corinthians 2:10 , 2 Corinthians 12:7 ), his physical weakness ( 2 Corinthians 4:7 ), his constant sufferings ( 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 ), We see something of what he had to endure from his unscrupulous Judaizing foes in their remarks about his personal appearance ( 2 Corinthians 10:10 ), his fickleness ( 2 Corinthians 1:17 ), his pretended Apostleship and Jewish birth ( 2 Corinthians 11:22 ), and his doubtful, if not dishonest, motives about the collection ( 2 Corinthians 6:3 ). But if we see what he endured , we see also what he enjoyed in union with his Master. We have not a few indications of his personal relation to Christ and his oneness with his Master in suffering ( 2 Corinthians 1:5 , 2 Corinthians 4:10 ), fellowship ( 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 ), and the hope of glory ( 2 Corinthians 5:1 ). The keynote of chs. 1 9 is ‘comfort in tribulation,’ and of chs. 10 13 ‘boasting in weakness.’ The Epistle is thus noteworthy for its remarkable revelation of the inner life of the Apostle as he faced his enemies, pleaded with his friends, bore the burden of the care of all the Churches, and lived in fellowship and communion with His unseen Lord and Master.

The doctrinal element of the Epistle is necessarily not prominent, but the foundations of the characteristic Pauline position are both assumed and seen. The comparison between the two dispensations (ch. 3), the teaching about Christ’s death (2 Corinthians 5:14-21 ), the eschatology ( 2 Corinthians 4:16 to 2 Corinthians 5:8 ), the Christology ( 2 Corinthians 8:19 ), and the Trinitarian expression of the concluding Benediction ( 2 Corinthians 13:14 ), are among the leading Apostolic thoughts.

6. Authenticity . There are but slight traces of the Epistle in the writers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, though this is not to be wondered at, because of its personal rather than doctrinal character. The evidence for the text of the Epistle is, of course, practically on the same basis as that of 1 Corinthians. The real proofs of authenticity are internal, and are found in the character of the Epistle. It is too manifestly Pauline in its intensely individual character to be other than genuine, and hence it has long been one of the four undisputed Epistles of Paul.

7. Analysis . The personal and emotional nature of the contents makes analysis far less easy than that of Epistles which were written under very different, because quieter, circumstances. Perhaps we may best understand and master the contents of the Epistle if, generally following Godet, we analyze it under its three main sections. Their connexion is mainly chronological: 2 Corinthians 1:12 to 2 Corinthians 7:16 dealing with the past in relation to himself and Corinth, 2 Corinthians 8:1 to 2 Corinthians 9:15 dealing with a special and important matter of present duty, and 2 Corinthians 10:1 to 2 Corinthians 13:10 taking up a question that affected the entire future of his relations to them and the whole Church.

(1) Personal Introduction, 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 .

(2) 2 Corinthians 1:12 to 2 Corinthians 7:16 . Himself and his ministry with special reference to Corinth. The Past .

( a ) 2 Corinthians 1:12 to 2 Corinthians 2:11 . Explanation of his change of plans.

( b ) 2 Corinthians 2:12 to 2 Corinthians 7:3 . After personal references he passes to discuss the Christian ministry.

i. Its power, 2 Corinthians 2:14 to 2 Corinthians 4:6 .

ii. Its tribulations and hopes, 2 Corinthians 4:7 to 2 Corinthians 5:10 .

iii. Its object and source, 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 .

iv. Its fulfilment by himself,2 Corinthians 6:1 2 Corinthians 6:1 to 2 Corinthians 7:3 .

( c ) 2 Corinthians 7:4-16 . The return of Titus and its glad results.

(3) 2 Corinthians 8:1 to 2 Corinthians 9:15 . His efforts on behalf of the poor saints in Jerusalem. The Present .

( a ) 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 . The example of Macedonia.

( b ) 2 Corinthians 8:6 to 2 Corinthians 9:5 . The new mission of Titus.

( c ) 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 . The Corinthian Church encouraged to give.

(4) 2 Corinthians 10:1 to 2 Corinthians 13:10 His approaching visit to Corinth, and the consequent need of a personal vindication in the face of enemies. The Future .

( a ) 2 Corinthians 10:1-18 . His claim to Apostolic authority.

( b ) 2 Corinthians 11:1 to 2 Corinthians 12:18 . His claim to superiority of Apostleship.

( c ) 2 Corinthians 12:19 to 2 Corinthians 13:10 . His contemplated visit and mode of procedure.

(5) Personal conclusion, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 .

[Note The chronology t given above follows Lightfoot. According to Turner (Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] , art. ‘Chronology of the NT’) the dates would all be two years earlier.]

W. H. Griffith Thomas.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Corinthians, Second Epistle to'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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