Sacred Scripture Deep Dive: 2 Corinthians

Sara and Justin Kraft

Sacred Scripture Deep Dive: 2 Corinthians

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was written about one year after his first letter. Again, we have only one side of the correspondence, so it is difficult to know the exact issues in the Corinthian community which Paul is attempting to address. It does seem that, at least in part, the issues are carry overs from Paul’s first letter. A major theme of 2 Corinthians regards Paul’s own authority which is a likely continuation to Paul’s response the personality cult factions which had arisen and which Paul addressed in his first letter. 

The letter itself is both fascinating and somewhat difficult to follow. Rather than presenting a focused argument, Paul seems to jump from topic to topic only to return to previous points over and over again. The tone is also quite interesting as Paul alternates between that of a teacher educating his pupils and that of a father scolding his children. In this manner, the letter is one of the most personal of Paul’s writing. We see the depth of his love for the community, the intensity of his frustration, and perhaps even a glimpse of his sense of humor. 

The letter itself is 13 chapters, too long for a review of its entire content within this short blog. Therefore, we will examine a few passages to see if we can get a glimpse into the personality of Saint Paul.

The Authority of Paul Rooted in Christ

Paul begins the letter by reminding the Corinthians of his great care for their well-being. 

“For we are not like the many who trade on the word of God; but as out of sincerity, indeed as from God and in the presence of God, we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2: 17)

Apparently, some animosity had developed because Paul had been unable to make a promised visit. It appears, this was perceived as a slight and had exacerbated the factionalism which Paul had addressed in 1 Corinthians. And so, Paul is forced to reestablish his authority in the face of so called “superapostles” (2 Corinthians 11: 5) which are undermining his teaching.

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you?” (2 Corinthians 3:1)

This reestablishment of Paul’s authority is returned to again and again throughout the letter. For it seems that these superapostles have visited Corinth undermining Paul’s work. They have slandered Paul, insinuating that his teaching is not worthy of following (Corinthians 10). 

The chapters that follow highlight the power of Paul’s personality as he corrects them and shows that any weakness he may have expressed has been for their own good. 

“For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough. For I think that I am not in any way inferior to these “superapostles.” Even if I am untrained in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; in every way we have made this plain to you in all things. Did I make a mistake when I humbled myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge?” (2 Corinthians 11: 4-7)

Here we begin to see the strength of Paul’s personality as he rhetorically challenges the Corinthians and their new teachers. If strength is the benchmark by which they will judge the worthiness of his teaching, he will play along for they “gladly put up with fools”. 

“Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly put up with fools, since you are wise yourselves. For you put up with it if someone enslaves you, or devours you, or gets the better of you, or puts on airs, or slaps you in the face. To my shame I say that we were too weak! But what anyone dares to boast of (I am speaking in foolishness) I also dare. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I am talking like an insane person.) I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure.” (2 Corinthians 11: 18-27)

Danger, danger, and more danger. And if this were not enough to endure, Paul satirically notes that he must endure the pain of their fickleness. 

“And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 12: 28)

Yet, Paul’s argument is not without humility. Underpinning his declaration of authority is the expression that while he may have more natural cause to boast of his work than any other, all these accomplishments and his teaching are ultimately rooted in the power of God. 

“I beg you that, when present, I may not have to be brave with that confidence with which I intend to act boldly against some who consider us as acting according to the flesh. For, although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:2-5)

“We are not boasting beyond measure, in other people’s labors; yet our hope is that, as your faith increases, our influence among you may be greatly enlarged, within our proper limits, so that we may preach the gospel even beyond you, not boasting of work already done in another’s sphere. “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 10: 15-17)

As you can see, Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is an intriguing glimpse into the character of this great saint. Through it we hope you come to know this great man and champion for our Lord so that his “influence may be greatly enlarged” in your own life.