Introduction to 2 Corinthians




Of all Paul’s letters, none is more personally revealing of his heart than 2 Corinthians. At the same time, it is also the most defensive of any New Testament letter. In it Paul mounts a strong argument (“apology” in the positive sense) for his authority and ministry. A number of important doctrines are taught in the epistle, yet its greatest value may be that it reveals the heart and spirit of one of the most effective ministers of all time. We are thus shown that genuine ministry—although it may have to be guarded from attack—is commissioned by Christ and empowered by the Spirit.

The Corinth Canal that was completed in 1893. Nero used six thousand Judean slaves to attempt to build the canal but lacked the tools needed to complete the project. Today the canal is used for tourist vessels.

The Corinth Canal that was completed in 1893. Nero used six thousand Judean slaves to attempt to build the canal but lacked the tools needed to complete the project. Today the canal is used for tourist vessels.


AUTHOR: All biblical scholars agree that Paul wrote this letter (1:1; 10:1). It contains more personal information about him than any other letter, and its Greek style is especially like that of Romans and 1 Corinthians. Proposed chronologies of Paul’s life and ministry include a number of variations. Yet for 2 Corinthians, the consensus is that the letter was written about AD 56 (from Ephesus during Paul’s third missionary journey).

BACKGROUND: Although Bible students have often disagreed about the sequence of events that led to the writing of 2 Corinthians, the following scenario seems likely.

First Corinthians was not well received by the church at Corinth. Timothy had returned to Paul in Ephesus (1Co 4:17; 16:10). He reported that the church was still greatly troubled. This was partly caused by the arrival in Corinth of “false apostles” (2Co 11:13-15). These were perhaps Judaizers, asking Corinthian believers of Gentile heritage to live according to Mosaic regulations (Gl 2:14).

Paul visited Corinth a second time, the first time being his church-planting visit. He described this visit as sorrowful or “painful” (2:1; 13:2). Apparently the false apostles agitated the Corinthians to disown Paul. This second visit, not mentioned in Acts 19, occurred sometime during the apostle’s long ministry in Ephesus.

Paul then wrote a (now lost) severe letter of stinging rebuke to Corinth from Ephesus (2:3-4,9). He sent this letter by Titus.

Titus came to Paul with the news that most of the Corinthian church had repented. They now accepted Paul’s authority (7:5-7).

Paul decided to write the Corinthians one more time, expressing his relief but still pleading with an unrepentant minority. He promised to come to Corinth a third time (12:14; 13:1). This was fulfilled when Paul stayed in Corinth while on his way to Jerusalem with the financial collection from many churches (Ac 20:2-3).


Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians mainly to express his joy that the majority had been restored to him, to ask for an offering on behalf of the poor saints in Jerusalem, and to defend his ministry as an apostle to the minority of unrepentant Corinthian believers. His desire was to encourage the majority and to lead the minority to change its mind about the validity of his apostolic ministry.

Important themes Paul developed in 2 Corinthians include the nature of apostolic authority and ministry, the new covenant, the intermediate state (the status of believers between the death of their bodies and the resurrection), and sacrificial giving. The overriding theme is the nature of true ministry. The diversity of these themes was driven by the circumstances that gave rise to the epistle.

The matter of sacrificial giving is the focus of chaps. 8-9, the most extensive New Testament teaching on Christian stewardship. Paul asked the churches he had founded to send a generous offering to the poor believers of Jerusalem. This occupied much of his energy during the last part of his third missionary journey. He mentioned it in his three longest epistles (Rm 15:28; 1Co 16:1-4; 2Co 8-9).


Second Corinthians contributes to our understanding of ministry. On this subject, we learn four key truths: (1) God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and has given to us a ministry of reconciliation; (2) true ministry in Christ’s name involves both suffering and victory; (3) serving Christ means ministering in his name to every need of the people; and (4) leaders in ministry need support and trust from those to whom they minister.


This letter follows the standard format found in the other letters bearing Paul’s name. The salutation (1:1-2) and thanksgiving (1:3-11) at the beginning are followed by the main body of the letter (1:12-13:10). A final greeting (13:11-13) stands as the conclusion.

The body of 2 Corinthians is the most disjointed of Paul’s letters. It is hard to miss Paul’s change of tone from chaps. 1-9 (which are warm and encouraging) to chaps. 10-13 (which are harsh and threatening). Whatever one decides about the original unity of the letter, no doubt the major turning point of 2 Corinthians occurs at 10:1.

Largely because of the change in tone between the first part of the letter and the last part, some interpreters have proposed a different understanding of the original form of 2 Corinthians. They propose that two separate letters of Paul have been joined to make up what is now known as 2 Corinthians. What if, it is asked, chaps. 10-13 were in fact the missing severe letter (2:4,9) written after 1 Corinthians but before 2 Corinthians 1-9? The major differences in tone between these chapters would be more readily accounted for if this were true.

However, it seems much more plausible that the letter originated in the form in which we now have it. All the ancient Christian writers knew the letter only in its present form, which is to say unified as one single letter. Surely within a single letter an author may address two different sets of issues (a majority concern and a minority concern) and use two different tones (encouraging and threatening).


I.Special Greetings (1:1-11)

A.Salutation (1:1-2)

B.Expression of thanksgiving (1:3-11)

II.Clarification of Paul’s Ministry (1:12-7:16)

A.Paul’s itinerary explained (1:12-2:4)

B.Forgiveness and recent travel (2:5-13)

C.True gospel ministry and doctrinal digression (2:14-7:1)

D.Paul’s joy at receiving good news (7:2-16)

III.A Collection for Needy Christians (8:1-9:15)

A.Encouragement to generous giving (8:1-15)

B.Management of the collection (8:16-9:5)

C.Results of cheerful giving (9:6-15)

IV.The Case against False Apostles (10:1-13:10)

A.Paul’s authority from Christ (10:1-18)

B.False apostles condemned (11:1-15)

C.Paul’s speech as a fool (11:16-12:10)

D.Signs of a true apostle (12:11-21)

E.Basis of Paul’s authority (13:1-10)

V.Final Greetings (13:11-13)

AD 33-40

Jesus’s trials, death, resurrection, and ascension Nisan 14-16 or April 3-5, 33

Pentecost 33

Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road October 34

Paul returns to his native Tarsus. Summer 37-40

Barnabas travels from Antioch of Syria to find Paul. Summer 40

AD 45-50

Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark make the first missionary journey. 47-49

Paul and Silas begin second missionary journey by land through Cilicia, Galatia, and Asia Minor to Troas. 49-50

Paul, Silas, and Timothy sail from Troas to Macedonia and minister in the Macedonian cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. 50

Paul preaches on Mars Hill in Athens. 50

Paul arrives in Corinth and spends eighteen months planting the church. 50-51

AD 50-56

Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla, who had come to Corinth when Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome six years earlier. 51

Paul writes 1 and 2 Thessalonians from Corinth. 51

Paul’s hearing before Corinth’s proconsul, Gallio, brother of the Roman philosopher Seneca 51

Paul begins his third missionary journey by land through Asia Minor to Ephesus. 53

Paul spends three years in Ephesus. 54-56

AD 56-70

Paul writes 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. 56

Paul writes 2 Corinthians from Ephesus. 56

Paul spends the winter in Corinth where he writes the letter to Romans. 57

Paul returns to Jerusalem with funds he had collected from Gentile churches to support the poor in the Jerusalem church 57

Shortly before his death, Emperor Nero brings six thousand slaves from Judea to build a canal across the Isthmus of Corinth. Following Nero’s death the project is abandoned. 67