2 Corinthians and Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

The members of the church are Paul’s co-workers in a “ministry of reconciliation.”  If by “ministry of reconciliation” Paul refers to his missionary efforts, he is therefore including the church in those efforts.

If Paul and the church are not reconciled, then how can they be partners in the ministry of reconciliation? Paul’s appeal in these texts is that he is speaking on behalf of God when he says that the church ought to be reconciled with him.  To some extent reconciliation can occur because the church has dealt with a major problem that was a barrier to the improvement of the relationship between Paul and Corinth (2 Cor 2:6-11).

The issue at Corinth was not a doctrinal problem or a theological dispute, it appears rather than an individual in the church has attacked Paul personally. The double reference in 7:12  “to wrong,” “to treat unjustly,” “to injure”  shows that the issue was a disaffection between fellow Christians.

  • The problems stem from a single individual as the primary reason for the disagreement (2:5, 6, 7, 8, 10; 7:12 all speak of a specific person, most clearly in the last 7:12).
  • The problem was serious enough that Paul changed his travel plans and instead wrote the “tearful letter” (1:23; 2:1, 3, 4; 7:8).
  • The attitude of  this one individual’s opposition to Paul was so serious that it poisoned the life of the entire church (2:5).

Who is this person that opposed Paul so strongly and was put out of the church? The key term here is adikasas in 2 Cor 2, “one who was wrong.”   Most commonly, the man is identified as the incestuous man from 1 Corinthians 5.  In 2:9 and 7:12 Paul refers to the fact that he has already written to the church about the man, and we know from 1 Cor that Paul did in fact recommend that the man be expelled from the congregation.  There is a connection between 1 Cor 5 (hand him over to Satan) and this passage, and it is very appealing to read this as saying that the incestuous man repented and returned to the church a changed man.

A second set of suggestions focus on the situation in chapter 6 of 1 Cor, where people are suing one another in the courts over internal “family” matters.  It may be that an individual has come into the church and disagreed with Paul so strongly that he entered the courts and tried to overturn Paul’s “rulings” that we find in 1 Corinthians.

Perhaps there is a public attack on Paul’s ministry and authority in the background here, so severe that Paul must break off travel plans to the church.  There is some speculation that the attack took place in front of Timothy or Titus, or even that Titus was the object of the attack. Whatever the attack was, it is interpreted by Paul as “an act of flagrant disobedience and revolt.” (C. K. Barrett) This could include the party within the church that supported the incestuous man, or simply an attack on Paul’s authority as an apostle.

Because the church has dealt with the problem, Paul feels that at least one hindrance to reconciliation is out of the way, he can return to Corinth now that the insult to him has been removed from the congregation.

7 thoughts on “2 Corinthians and Reconciliation

  1. Phillip,

    firstly, thanks for your clarification on Acts 18. Secondly, its refreshing to read your discussion about whether the offender of 2 Cor was the offender of 1 Cor 5. This common sense identification has been too quickly dismissed by commentators in recent decades. I have flip-flopped on this issue, but tend now to equate the two men. The Corinthian church as a whole was boasting about the incestuous act, and the offense of 2 Cor also had the involvement of the church as a whole. Also, Paul’s decision not to visit the Corinthians is closely related to the offense of 2 Cor and also to the offense of 1 Cor 5 (see 1 Cor 4:17-21). Also, Paul’s authority is under attack in 1 Cor 4 and in 5:9ff Paul responds to a criticism of what he had previously written on sexual immorality. It is therefore quite possible or probable that the incestuous man was defying Paul’s authority and his incestuous act was an act of defiance against Paul. This matches the offense of 2 Cor which seems to have been (in part at least) an attack on Paul. Furthermore, the offense of 1 Cor 5 is connected with the mission of Timothy to Corinth (1 Cor 4:17) and the offense of 2 Cor is also connected with Timothy’s mission to Corinth if Timothy was Titus renamed (as I believe).

    My arguments here assume that there is a close connection between 1 Cor 4 and 1 Cor 5. On this I recommend David Hall’s “the unity of the corinthian correspondence” and also Michael Goulder’s observation that the sequence of thought in 1 Cor 4-5 is the same as that in 2 Cor 5-6 (including in the disputed 2 Cor 6:14-7:1).

  2. It appears to me, that a looming theme in corinthians is Paul’s authority regarding the ministry that God has called him too. In essence, the fact that God was speaking and acting on behalf of and according to, the will and desires of God. I would say that for Paul to write on behalf of “being wrong” would be a critical pillar of this argument. Thoughts? Suggestions?

    • Mat – you are correct that the main problem is Paul’s authority. I am not sure it is so much about Paul’s calling, but rather the church’s disrespect for that calling! They do not see Paul as having authority over them

  3. The chances that this is the same perpetrator in 2 Cor. 2 and 1 Cor. 5, considering that the context seems the same and the attitude similar. Whatever the identity of the instigator, the crime as Phil Long quotes, “an act of flagrant disobedience and revolt.” (C. K. Barrett) is what really matters in Paul’s letter, the attack on his teachings, so he breaks off prior engagements and addresses the importance of his authority given him by God and encourages the Corinthians to turn their ear from this man.

  4. Paul seeking reconciliation was important for a number of reasons. But the biggest reason was he needed to re-establish trust with Corinthian’s following his letter that they took offense to. In order to continue his ministry and share the good news with them in a way that they would accept and believe, he would first have to restore the relationship that had previously been damaged (Longenecker, 2014). It is not at all easy to regain trust after it is lost. It takes time and these feelings can often linger. It was a major setback to Paul’s ministry because he had to readjust the focus from his original ministry to now restoring what he had broken. The important thing with Paul’s situation is he was doing the work of the Lord. The ministry that the Lord had sent him out to do. It is evident that the Lord was working in the hearts of the Corinthian’s as Paul was restoring the relationships and working towards reconciliation. The Lord has the ability to soften hearts and He also gave the Corinthians the ability to forgive. We see that today when events happen that cause relationships to fall apart. The only way those relationships can be restored is when we allow God to work in the hearts of those involved. 

  5. Thanks for explaining the whole situation in 2 Corinthians and showing thoughts on the possible reasons behind the conflict between Paul and the church in Corinth. It seems like there was a whole lot going on in this situation, especially with this specific person that was causing trouble. From what I can try and understand is this person was possibly the one from the incident in 1 Corinthians 5, who created a huge mess within the church. The disagreement wasn’t about doctrines but seemed like more of a personal attack on Paul. This situation got so bad that it affected the entire church community, making Paul change his plans and even write a “tearful letter” as you mentioned. It’s very interesting to think about how this conflict might have been related to issues in 1 Corinthians like the lawsuits among church members. Maybe this person disagreed with Paul so much that they tried to challenge his authority in public or even take the matter to the court. But it does look like the church dealt with the problem, which is why Paul feels like one obstacle to reconciliation is out of the way. It’s cool to see how these ancient texts still have relevance to situations in real life even though they happened such a long time ago.

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