2 Corinthians Part One Deep Dive
2 CORINTHIANS - PART 1
| Dr Adam White
In the last blog, we finished with Paul sending what is known to us as 1 Corinthians. I say “known to us” because there was a previous letter to which he refers in 1 Cor 5:9. There isn’t space to comment on it as we actually don’t know anything about it. So, let’s pick it up from where Paul sent the second letter (our 1 Corinthians) to deal with a whole list of issues. He delivered this—most likely—with Sosthenes, and it would be followed up by a subsequent visit from Timothy, who had the unenviable task of making sure it worked (1 Cor 16:10). But as I said last time, it didn’t; in fact, it seems to have caused a further breakout of conflict led by a particular opponent of Paul. Somebody in the church had issues with Paul already (perhaps the head of the “I follow Apollos” group in the previous blog) but was now making some serious accusations about the apostle over his handling of the offering for Jerusalem.
We saw previously that when Paul arrived in Corinth, he was offered support by one of the wealthier members of the church. He refused it because it would put him under obligation to one person, rather than Christ. What compounded the issue was that when Timothy and Silas arrived from Philippi, they brought with them financial aid that enabled Paul to preach full time (Acts 18:5). But now in this second letter, he had the audacity to ask them to continue raising money for Jerusalem (1 Cor 16:1–4). What were already festering doubts about Paul quickly became full-blown accusations of embezzlement.
Timothy came to Corinth sometime after the letter was read to the church; what was originally the “I follow Apollos” faction had now become the “Paul is the enemy” faction. The situation was clearly beyond his ability to deal with and was now urgent, so Timothy returned to Paul with the bad news, prompting a second visit by Paul to Corinth (2 Cor 12:14 and 13:1). During this visit, Paul was confronted in an offensive manner by this opponent and made to answer the charges levelled against him (2 Cor 2:5 and 7:12)—specifically, accusations of embezzlement (2 Cor 12:16–18) and that Paul is not a legitimate apostle. The rest of the Corinthian members stood neutral throughout, none of them apparently came to the defence of Paul. Seeing that there would be no resolution, Paul departed in humiliation with a promise to return to them on better terms (2 Cor 2:1 and 13:2).
Paul returned to Ephesus to figure out his next move. Originally, he had told the Corinthians that he would return in person when things were more settled. On reflection, however, he decided to write a third letter, what has become known as the “letter of tears” (2:4 and 7:8). We don’t have this letter anymore, unfortunately. He sent the letter of tears with Titus to address the situation, while he himself travelled to Troas. The original plan was to meet Titus in Troas and go from there. After a while in Troas, however, he couldn’t find him, naturally adding to an already stressful situation. Not sure of what to do next, he departed and went onto Macedonia, whereupon he eventually met up again with Titus (2:12–13).
Titus had a bitter-sweet report. The letter had been mostly successful. The Corinthians were repentant of their inaction, and Titus had made large inroads towards reconciliation. Additionally, the offender had been dealt with by the community through, we must imagine, excommunication (2 Cor 2:5–11; 7:5–16). But there were still a few lingering doubts about Paul’s integrity. After all, he said he would return in person but instead sent a horrible letter with Titus. That could all be dealt with easily enough; the real concern was a report of unexpected visitors to Corinth.
It seems that at some point in the interim, the Corinthians had gone and replaced Paul with new apostles, the self-styled “super-apostles”. That was bad enough. But they were now at work in the church actively undermining Paul’s authority and no doubt eroding the newly reached reconciliation. In response to this news, Paul writes a fourth letter, our 2 Corinthians.