Introduction to the Bible - 47 - 2 Corinthians

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians

by Louis Berkhof


 The contents of this Epistle are naturally divided into three parts:

 I. Review of Pauls Relation's with the Corinthians, 1: 1--7:16. After  the usual epistolary introduction, 1: 1-11, the apostle vindicates  himself with respect to the change in his intended visit, and with  reference to what he had written respecting the offender, 1: 12--2:13.  Having done this, he takes up the discussion of the apostleship. In the  first place he considers the office of an apostle, comparing the  ministry of the Law with that of the Gospel, 3: 6-18, and vindicating  his own position as an apostle of the New Covenant, 2: 14--3: 5; 4:1-6.  Then he treats of the sufferings of an apostle which are inseparably  connected with his work, but are alleviated by the hope of future  glory, 4: 7--5:10. Next the life of an apostle passes the review, which  finds its constraining motive in the love of Christ, has its spiritual  basis in the life of the Redeemer, and is marked by sufferings,  dishonor and poverty, on the one hand; but also by longsuffering and  kindness, by knowledge and righteousness, on the other, 5:11--6:10.  This is followed up by an appeal of the apostle to the Corinthians that  they should give him place in their hearts, and should not be unequally  yoked together with unbelievers, 6: 11--7: 4. Finally the apostle tells  the Corinthians that he had been comforted greatly by the coming of  Titus, by whom his fears that the former letter might have estranged  them, were allayed and made place for rejoicing, 7: 5-16.

 II. The Collection for the Judaean Christians, 8:1--9:15. The apostle  points the Corinthians to the example of the Macedonians who gave  abundantly for the poor at Jerusalem, 8:1-7; and to the example of  Christ who became poor that the Corinthians might be enriched, 8: 8-15.  He commends to them Titus and the two brethren that are sent with him  to gather the collection, 8:16-24; and exhorts them to give abundantly  for this worthy cause, 9:1-15.

 III. Pauls Vindication of his Apostleship, 10:1--13:14. In this part  Paul deals directly with his opponents. First of all he points out that  the ministry entrusted to him also extended to the Corinthians, 9:1-18.  Then he replies to his opponents that he had been perfectly loyal to  the cause of Christ, 11:1-6; that he had not dealt deceitfully with the  Corinthians, when he refused support from them, 11: 7-15; that he had  far greater things in which to glory than they could boast of, 11:  16--12:10; and that it had never been and was not now his aim to make a  gain of the Corinthians, 12: 11-18. Finally he gives them warnings in  view of his coming visit, and closes his epistle with final salutations  and benediction, 12:19--13:13.


 1. II Corinthians is one of the most personal and the least doctrinal  of all the letters of Paul, except the one written to Philemon. The  doctrinal element is not altogether wanting; the great truths of  salvation find expression in it, as well as in the other letters of the  apostle; but, though they enter into its composition, they have a  subordinate place and are, as it were, eclipsed by its large personal  element, in which we see the very heart of the apostle, with all its  varying moods of courage and anxiety, of love and aversion, of hope and  disappointment. Alford says: "Consolation and rebuke, gentleness and  severity, earnestness and irony succeed one another at very short  intervals and without notice."

 2. The second characteristic of this Epistle is closely connected with  the preceding one; it is the most unsystematic of all the letters of  Paul. How greatly it differs in this respect from the Epistle to the  Romans and from First Corinthians, becomes perfectly evident, when one  attempts to give an outline of the contents. This irregularity is due  to the fact that in this letter we do not find a calm discussion of  doctrinal subjects or of certain phases of Christian life, but above  all an impassioned self-defense against unjust charges and calumnies  and insinuations. However humble the apostle may be, and though he may  regard himself as the least of all the saints, yet in this letter he  finds himself constrained to boast of his sufferings and of his work.

 3. The language of this Epistle has been judged variously, some  criticizing it severely and others praising its excellencies. We cannot  deny that it is more rugged and harsh, more obscure and difficult of  interpretation than we are accustomed to in Paul's other writings.  "Parentheses and digressions often intersect the narrative and disturb  its sequence." (Davidson) Meyer says beautifully: "The excitement and  varied play of emotion with which Paul wrote this letter, probably also  in haste, certainly make the expression not seldom obscure and the  sentences less flexible, but only heighten our admiration of the great  delicacy, skill and power with which this outpouring of Paul's spirit  and heart, possessing as a defense of himself a high and peculiar  interest, flows and gushes on, till finally, in the last part, wave on  wave overwhelms the hostile resistance." Comm. p. 412.


 The external testimony to the authorship of Paul is inferior to that of  I Corinthians; yet it is so strong that it leaves no room for honest  doubt. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and many others,  from all parts of the early Church, quote it by name.

 But even if this were not so strong, internal evidence would be quite  sufficient to settle the question of authenticity. In the first place  the Epistle claims to be a product of the great apostle. In the second  place it is written in a style that is in many respects  characteristically Pauline, notwithstanding its unique features; it  contains the doctrine of salvation, as we are wont to hear it  proclaimed by the apostle of the Gentiles; and it reveals his  character, as no other Epistle does. And in the third place the thought  of this Epistle is closely interwoven with that of I Corinthians. In I  Cor. 16: 5 Paul speaks of his plan of travel, and in II Cor. 1:15-24 he  comments on it; in I Cor. 5 he urges that discipline be applied to the  incestuous person, and in II Cor. 2: 5-11 he says, with reference to  this case, that they have inflicted sufficient punishment, and  restrains their evident severity; respecting the collection for the  Judaean Christians which he enjoins on the Corinthians in I Cor. 16:14,  he gives further directions in II Cor. 8 and 9; to the Judaeizers who  cast doubt on his apostleship he refers in I Cor. 4 and 9, and speaks  of them more at length in II Cor. 10-13.

 The authenticity of the Epistle too was attacked by Bruno Bauer and by  the Dutch critics that we mentioned in connection with the first  Epistle. But their work failed to convince anyone but themselves. Godet  truly says: "--the scholars who cannot discern, across these pages, the  living personality of St. Paul, must have lost in the work of the  study, the sense for realities." Introd. to the N. T. I p. 337.


 1. Occasion and Purpose. In order to understand the occasion that  induced Paul to write this Epistle to the Corinthians, we must bring it  in connection with the first letter, which was in all probability borne  to Corinth by Titus, Paul's spiritual son. After it had gone forth, the  apostle pondered on what he had written in that letter, and it caused  him some uneasiness of mind, II Cor. 7: 8. He reflected that he had  written in a rather severe strain regarding the divisions at Corinth  and the incestuous person, and feared for a time that his words might  be misconstrued, that his letter might create a false impression, and  that his severity might provoke resentment and thus injure the cause of  the gospel that lay so near to his heart.

 We are aware that some scholars, as f. i. Hausrath, Schmiedel, Kennedy,  Baljon, Findlay, Robertson (in Hastings D. B.) and Davidson hold that  II Cor. 2:4, 9; 7:8 refer to a second lost epistle of Paul, the  so-called Painful Letter; but with Zahn, Holtzmann and Bernard (in  Expositors Gk. Test.) we believe it to be a rather gratuitous  assumption that such an epistle ever existed.

 Shortly after Paul had sent I Corinthians, he left Ephesus for Troas,  where a splendid opportunity for work offered. Yet he was keenly  disappointed, for he had expected to find Titus there with tidings from  Corinth; and when he did not find him, his very anxiety caused him to  sail for Macedonia that he might meet his beloved brother and  co-laborer the sooner and be reassured by him, II Cor. 2:12, 13. The  mere change of the field of labor brought him no relief, for he says:  "When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were  troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears." 7:  5. Soon, however, he was comforted by the coming of Titus, 7: 6; the  painful uncertainty now made place for calm assurance, yea even for joy  and thanksgiving. But his happiness was not unalloyed, since the report  of Titus was not altogether favorable. The Corinthian congregation as a  whole had taken kindly to the warnings and directions of the previous  letter. The words of reproof had made a deep impression on them, had  saddened their hearts, had filled them with sorrow,--but it was a godly  sorrow that worked repentance. Hence the apostle had occasion to  rejoice and did rejoice, 7: 7-16. The enemies of Paul, however, had  been embittered by the former Epistle and had increased their sinister  work, attempting to undermine the apostolic authority of Paul by  charging that he was fickle and vacillating, 1:15-24; that he was  controlled by fleshly motives, 10: 2; that he was bold at a distance,  but cowardly, when present, 10:10; that he was dealing deceitfully with  the Corinthians even in taking no support from them, 11: 7-12; and that  he had not shown himself an apostle by his works, 12:11-13.

 The question may be asked to which one of the four parties mentioned in  I Corinthians the enemies belong with which the apostle deals in II  Cor. 10-13. It is quite clear, and scholars are generally agreed, that  they were in the main, if not exclusively, ultra-Judaeists. But there  is no such unanimity in classifying them with one of the divisions of  which the first Epistle speaks. Following F. C. Baur many, such as  Baljon, Davidson, Weiss, identify them with those whose watchword was:  "I am of Christ !" Others, however, as Meyer and Zahn regard them as  belonging to the party that professed special allegiance to Peter. To  this view we give preference; however, with the provisos that in this  letter Paul does not deal with the whole party, but rather with its  leaders, who had probably come from Judaea with letters of  commendation, 3:1, and whom Paul qualifies as "false apostles,  deceitful workers, transforming themselves in apostles of Christ,"  11:13 ;--and that it is quite possible that some of his words refer to  those who, ignoring and dispising all human authority, claimed to be of  Christ, and did not uphold the honor and faithfulness of the apostle  against the false teachers. Cf. 10: 7.

 This being the situation at Corinth, when the apostle wrote his second  letter, he was naturally led to write with a twofold purpose. In the  first place it was his desire to express his gratitude for the way in  which the Corinthians had received his former letter, and to inform  them of the joy he experienced, when they had manifested their  willingness to mend their ways and had been filled with godly sorrow.  And in the second place he considered it incumbent on him to defend his  apostleship against the calumnies and the malignant attacks of the  Judaeistic adversaries.

 2. Time and Place. In view of the account we have given of the course  of events that followed the writing ofI Corinthians, it is not very  difficult to establbish approximately both the time and the place of  writing. We may assume that, in accordance with the plan expressed in I  Cor.15 : 8, the apostle remained at Ephesus until Pentecost of A. D.  57. On leaving Ephesus he went to Troas, from where he crossed over to  Macedonia. There he soon met Titus, presumably in the summer of that  same year, and therefore some time before he was ready to visit  Corinth, and received information from him regarding the condition of  the Corinthian church. Overjoyed by what he heard, but at the same time  apprehending the danger that lurked in the agitation of the Judaeizers,  he immediately wrote II Corinthians, and sent it to Corinth by the hand  of Titus, who was accompanied on his journey by two of the brethren,  whose names are not recorded, 8:18, 22. The letter was written,  therefore, in the summer of A. D. 57, somewhere in Macedonia.


 The integrity of the letter has been attacked especially on two points.  It is claimed by some that the verses 6: 14--7: 1 do not belong, where  they stand, but form an awkward interruption in the course of thought.  A few scholars regard them as a part of the lost letter to which I Cor.  5: 9 refers. Now it is true that at first sight these verses seem out  of place, where they stand, but at the same time it is very well  possible to give a plausible explanation for their insertion at this  point. Cf. Meyer, Alford, Expositors Greek Testament.

 Several critics opine that the chapters 10-13 did not originally form a  part of this letter. Hausrath and Schmiedel advocated the theory that  they constituted a part of the so-called Painful letter that intervened  between I and II Corinthians. The reasons why they would separate this  section from the other nine chapters, are the following: (1) The 10th  chapter begins with the words Autos de ego Paulos, which de marks these  words as an antithesis to something that is not found in the preceding.  (2) The tone of the apostle in these last chapters is strikingly  different from that in the other nine; from a calm and joyful tone it  has changed to one of stern rebuke and of sharp invective. (3) Certain  passages found in the first part point back to statements that are  found in the last chapters, and thus prove that these are part of a  previous letter. Thus 2: 3 refers to 13:10; 1:23 to 13:2; and 2:9 to  10:6.

 But to these arguments we may reply, in the first place, that de often  does no more than mark the transition to a new subject (cf. I Cor. 15:  1; II Cor. 8:1); in the second place, that the change of tone need not  surprise us, if we take in consideration the possibility that Paul did  not write the whole Epistle at a single sitting and therefore in the  same mood; and the fact that in the last chapters he deals more  particularly with the false teachers among the Corinthians; and in the  third place, that the passages referred to do not necessitate the  construction put on them by the above named critics. Moreover, if we  adopt the theory that another letter intervened between our two  canonical Epistles. we are led to a very complicated scheme of Pauls  transactions with Corinth, a scheme so complicated that it is its own  condemnation.


 The ancient Church was unanimous in accepting the Epistle as a part of  the Word of God. Of the apostolic fathers Polycarp plainly quotes it.  Marcion included it in his canon, and it is also named in the  Muratorian Fragment. The Syriac and old Latin Versions contain it, and  the three great witnesses of the end of the second century quote it by  name.

 This Epistle too has permanent value for the Church of God. It is  inseparably connected with I Corinthians, and as such also brings out  that it is not the wisdom of the world but the foolishness of the cross  that saves; and sheds further light on the application of Christian  principles to social relations. More than any other Epistle it reveals  to us the apostles personality, and is therefore a great psychological  aid in the interpretation of his writings. It also has considerable  doctrinal interest in that it exhibits a part of the apostles  eschatology, 4: 16--5 : 8; brings out the contrast between the letter  and the spirit, 3: 6-18; describes the beneficent influence of the  glory of Christ, 3:18--A: 6; and contains an explicit statement of the  reconciliation and renovation wrought by Christ, 5:17-21.