- Introduction (1:1-11)
- Defense of the ministry (1:12 - 7:4)
- Paul's reconciliation to the Corinthians (7:5-16)
- The grace of giving (8:1 - 9:15)
- Paul champions his apostolic authority (10:1 - 13:10)
- Concluding exhortation and benediction (13:11-14)
Authorship, date, and background
The letter known to us as 2 Corinthians was written by Paul in A.D. 56. It was probably composed in Macedonia and sent to Corinth. Paul had hoped his second letter to Corinth (1 Corinthians) would correct the problems of the young church. Instead, the situation deteriorated and the apostle was severely alienated from these believers. The pressures were both internal and external. Internally, someone in the congregation led a revolt against the apostle, a revolt which included other church members. Externally, a group of Jewish Christians came from Jerusalem claiming to represent other apostles. They purported to bring with them information which undercut both the apostolic commission and the authority of Paul with the congregation (11:4, 5, 12, 13, 20-23). All of this, plus the fact that 1 Corinthians had not solved the problems, caused Paul to make a hasty journey to Corinth. He was rebuffed and humiliated (2:1, 12:14, 13:1). The situation worsened. Upon his return he wrote a third letter to Corinth (2:3, 4, 9; 7:8, 12). It was a "stern" communication delivered by Titus (7:6-8) who was instructed to return with a response as soon as possible. First Paul waited for Titus at Troas. Then he moved on to Macedonia where Titus came to tell him that the crisis was over; the Corinthian church had been reconciled to Paul.
Paul now wrote his fourth letter to the Corinthian church, a letter which we now have under the title of 2 Corinthians. Some scholars have claimed that chapter 10-13 are the third or "stern" letter which was incorporated into the fourth letter. But the manuscript evidence does not warrant this conclusion. We can only conclude that the third letter is no longer in existence.
Characteristics and content
2 Corinthians is not a theological treatise per se, nor does it have the systematic and ordered appearance characteristic of 1 Corinthians. In this second (Paul's fourth) letter, the apostle runs the gamut of human emotions: despair, joy, ecstatic elation, sarcasm, and even threats mark the progress of the epistle. One sees in the deep currents of a pastor's sense of rejection by his beloved children whom he has brought to Christ, followed by a sense of relief and joy when the crisis is over and the dissidents have been reconciled to him. Even tough the letter is after the fact. Paul makes a passionate and detailed response to the attacks levelled against his apostolic commission and authority. Later in the letter, he defends his authority in relation to his person.
Speaking biographically, Paul recounts his own background and with deep emotion rightfully boasts of his sufferings for the sake of Jesus. He glories in the sober reality that he supports himself and does not look to the churches for financial help. He rebukes the false teachers sharply who attacked his personhood, and discloses that God, who was given him an exalted state and ministry, has also given him a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble. The reader must ask himself the questions: "Did not the apostle pray to be delivered from the appalling experiences he suffered?" Why did God allow all of these dreadful circumstances to cloud the life of His servant? The answer comes through loud and clear in Paul's letter to the Romans, which was written later. There the apostles says for the comfort of believers in all ages who are called upon to suffer: "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Rom 8:37).