2 Corinthians Introduction
The Difficult Chronology of Paul's Letters and Visits to Corinth
1. Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey and planted the church (A.D. 50 Acts 18:1-17).
2. Paul left Corinth and made his way back to this sending church in Antioch. After being in Antioch a while, Paul was eventually sent on his third
missionary tour and ended up back in Ephesus where he remained for three years (Acts 19; 20:31).
3. While in Ephesus, Paul heard of severe moral problems within the Corinthian church from Chloe's people and wrote a letter telling them how to deal with it. He referred to this "previous letter" in 1 Corinthians 5:9 (A.D. 55). This letter is a lost letter. It has been designated by scholars as "Letter A."
4. After a season, Paul received a letter from some members of the church at Corinth concerning some alarming problems that were arising (1 Corinthians 7:1). It seems to be from Chloe's family and Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, who eventually came to Ephesus to give Paul the letter, comprised of the problems over which the church was in conflict (1 Corinthians 1:11; 16:17). In response, Paul wrote what is now known as 1 Corinthians (A.D. 55) and sent it to Corinth in the hands of Timothy (I Corinthians 4:17). We will call the 1 Corinthians letter "Letter B."
5. "Letter B," the 1 Corinthians letter, was not successful; the situation worsened and the rebellion against Paul's ministry and authority seems to have seriously worsened. On hearing the report, Paul made a quick visit to Corinth seeking to resolve the conflict and restore their relationship (2 Corinthians 2:1; 12:14; 13:1-2). Many call this the "painful visit" that broke Paul's heart.
6. The conflict eventually reached a near-breaking point when one Corinthian leader defied Paul's authority. The church did not defend or affirm Paul's authority, so Paul left humiliated and returned to Ephesus.
7. In Ephesus, Paul wrote a third letter to the Corinthians "in a spirit of affliction and anguish" (2 Corinthians 2:3-4, 9; 7:8, 12). This "exceedingly severe letter," delivered by Titus (2 Corinthians 2:3, 13; 7:13), is the letter referred to as the letter of rebuke, and Paul almost regretted sending it. This letter has been referred to as "Letter C."
8. Titus went to Corinth with the "rebuke letter" in hand seeking to reconcile relationships. Paul was unable to wait for Titus to return with the news, so he left Ephesus and went to Troas (2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:5, 13). At Philippi, Paul heard from Titus that there had been a change in spirit toward him. The leader of rebellion was disciplined and ultimately rejected.
9. Paul responded by writing 2 Corinthians from Philippi (A.D. 56). This letter we will refer to as "Letter D."
10. Paul returned to Corinth one final time (Acts 20:1-3) where his relationship with the church was fully restored, and he received the offering to carry to Jerusalem. It was during this stay in Corinth when Paul likely wrote his letter to the Romans.
Purpose of 2 Corinthians
There is one central theme in the second letter to the Corinthians—the relationship between suffering and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul's opponents had argued that Paul had suffered way too much to be a true Spirit-empowered apostle of Jesus Christ.
Paul, on the other hand, makes it clear that his endurance through adversity, his thankfulness in trials, and his ability to comfort others with the comfort he had received from God was evidence Paul was aptly empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Paul's Warning About Rejecting His Apostleship
Because Paul's life and ministry embodied the cross and resurrection of Christ, he warned that to reject him was equal to rejecting the message of Christ.
2 Corinthians is divided up quite conspicuously:
1. Paul seeks to strengthen the faithful majority by defining his faithful past track record (ch. 1-7).
2. Paul seeks to complete the collection for Jerusalem as an expression of their repentance (ch. 8-9).
3. Paul reaches out one last time in mercy to those in rebellious opposition to him, warning of judgment to come on those remaining in rebellion (ch. 10-13).