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Summary of 2 Corinthians


Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian congregation has deteriorated. In 2 Corinthians, the apostle seeks to rebuild his relationship with the Corinthians, to defend his own integrity as a trustworthy and competent servant of Christ, and to refute what he perceives as the claims by other evangelists of background and gifts that are superior to his own. Paul also encourages the Corinthians to continue collecting funds for the Jerusalem churches. To do these things, Paul makes extensive use of autobiography, writing both about hardships and mystical experience. His tone changes dramatically throughout this letter, shifting from well-reasoned argument, to appeals for affection, to attacks on opponents. Because of the changes in tone as well as puzzling jumps between topics, many interpreters believe that what we call 2 Corinthians is actually a combination of multiple letters from Paul to the Corinthian church.


Second Corinthians offers a real-life window on a strained relationship between a church leader and the people whom he loves. In this letter, we see an anxious apostle hoping to restore the relationship he had with churches he founded, even as he tries to avoid being drawn into a contest with other teachers over who has the most impressive skills and credentials. To do this, he discloses much about his own devotion to the Corinthians, his hardships in ministry, and the reconciliation God has accomplished for them all in Christ.


Second Corinthians is the eighth book in the New Testament. It is the third in the collection of Paul’s letters, following 1 Corinthians and preceding Galatians.


This second letter to the Corinthians identifies Paul and Timothy as the letter’s senders. While some of the New Testament letters bearing Paul’s name are more likely to have been written by Paul’s students, there is no reason to doubt that this letter is from Paul himself.


After Paul had left Corinth and was living and working in Ephesus (see 1 Corinthians 16:8), he had a letter exchange with the Corinthians. First Corinthians is left from that exchange. At the end of 1 Corinthians, Paul writes that he expects to visit Corinth. At the beginning of 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of being reluctant to make “another painful visit” (2 Corinthians 2:1). It seems likely, then, that 2 Corinthians was written within several months of 1 Corinthians, after the visit alluded to in 1 Corinthians 16:5-7. All of this probably took place in the early 50s.


Paul writes in order to mend a broken relationship with the Corinthians and to urge them, even though they are currently hosting teachers who disparage Paul, to remain loyal to Christ, to Paul, to the gospel Paul preached, and to the promise they have made to provide for the church in Jerusalem.


Read 2 Corinthians the way you would read a letter from someone who was choosing words very carefully so as not to do further damage to a strained relationship, and who at the same time was having difficulty keeping emotions in check. Paul’s estrangement from the Corinthians, along with the arrival of teachers in Corinth who threaten his place of leadership in that church, are key to understanding this letter.

Read it also noticing how quickly every topic becomes theological. Whether it is a discussion of travel plans or an explanation for why Paul refused money from the Corinthians, always Paul views the issue not “according to human standards,” but rather in terms of God’s reconciling work in Christ and God’s entrusting the ministry of reconciliation to Paul and his coworkers.