What Happened between First and Second Corinthians?

After Paul established the church at Corinth (Acts 18:1-17), he remained for 18 months before traveling to Ephesus. He will spend three years in Ephesus, although he appears to have done ministry in Troas as well as planting several churches around the Lycus Valley supported by the Ephesian churches.

Second Corinthians Complicated

From Ephesus, he wrote at least one letter which is now lost (1 Cor 5:9, possibly embedded in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1). After hearing reports of divisions and other sins in the church and also receiving a letter from the church with a number of questions, Paul writes a second letter, 1 Corinthians. Paul sends another “severe letter,” probably lost to us and delivered by Titus (2 Cor 12:18). This letter appears to have upset the Corinthian believers and even angered some of them.

Timothy had been sent to Corinth to “to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Cor 4:14, cf. 16:10). Instead of accepting Timothy as Paul’s personal representative, the church attacks Paul and Timothy is not able to handle the attack so he returns to Ephesus to report to Paul. After hearing from Timothy, Paul makes a “painful visit” to the church (2 Cor 2:1). This is not found in Acts, although Paul spends three years in Ephesus so there is plenty of time for visits to Corinth. This “painful visit” goes very badly and Paul returns to Ephesus angry and humiliated.

After this painful visit he writes another “tearful letter,” which is either lost or embedded in Second Corinthians 10-13. During his time in Ephesus Paul faced some persecution and was faced with the possibility of death. This was likely an arrest and imprisonment, although there are no details in the book of Acts (2 Cor 7:8–9).

Titus intended to leave Corinth and meet Paul in Troas, where Paul is preaching at the time. They cannot find one another. Paul therefore does not know what the situation is in Corinth, causing further anxiety (2 Cor 2:12–13). When Paul and Titus finally meet, Paul learns the church dealt with their factions and desires to be reconciled with Paul (2 Cor 7:6-16).

Now that Paul has a better understanding of the situation in Corinth, he writes 2 Corinthians to deal with any remaining barriers to reconciliation with the church. (Martin suggests the autumn of A.D. 55, from Macedonia, prior to his return to Jerusalem to deliver the collection). It is possible the first nine chapters were written (and sent?) before Paul hears there is still some opposition in the church, chapters 10-13 target the teachers in the Corinthian church who are directly opposing Paul’s authority. The letter is delivered by Titus and two other brothers who are to take care of the collection before Paul arrives.

When Paul finally returns to Corinth he spends three months with the church (Acts 20:2-3). During this time Paul likely wrote the book of Romans from Corinth.

This rather complicated story is an attempt to “read between the lines” and sort out several letters (which we do not have) and visits (which Acts does not report). To a certain extent this is speculative, but it is the traditional view of the relationship between Paul and this particularly difficult church.

As Garland points out that the Corinthians “were not yet comfortable in living out the scandal of the cross” (Second Corinthians, 31). The fact of Paul’s suffering and the possibility they too might suffer was troubling for the Gentiles who had converted to Christ.



17 thoughts on “What Happened between First and Second Corinthians?

  1. It is interesting that there could be a mystery letter to the Corinthians that Paul wrote between 1 and 2 Corinthians like a 1.5 Corinthians. However, I also find it interesting that there is speculation that Paul could have written the first letter before he went back and then later sent the second part. It is also interesting that Paul wrote many letters between 1 and 2 Corinthians and that they are a part of the cannon we have today. It is important to acknowledge that they are large parts of the Bible today and also to think about what Paul was personally experiencing at this time. Paul felt there was a need and he fulfilled it for the Corinthians and that the letters he wrote to them make up such a large part of our Bible today and where we gain many of our beliefs and understanding. This post is interesting just because it give the reader a better idea of why 1 and 2 Corinthians cover just a couple different things.

  2. It is unfortunate that the letter written by Paul was lost because I am and I sure a lot of others are very curious as to why the Corinthian believers got so upset over what was said in that letter. But it is clear that the Corinthian believers are upset because they attack Paul and Timothy for just trying to spread the ways of Christ to each of the churches. I am also curious as to why Paul’s visit to the church was so “painful”. Is it because the last time he was there he was attacked by the Corinthian believers? I wonder if the first nine chapters would have been altered if Paul knew that there was opposition in churches before he had sent it.

  3. I first find it interesting in the comparison between time spent in Corinth and Ephesus. Paul spends 18 months in Corinth and three years in Ephesus and around that area planting churches. Today, what we usually consider short term missions is anywhere between 1 week and 2 years, and for good reason. Much more can get done and relationships are much stronger and discipleship is much more prevalent in a longer amount of time rather than a shorter period. In a way, it is not that surprising that the corinthian believers reverted to their old ways or forgot some of Paul’s valid teachings because he wasn’t there for a long period of time.
    Its interesting that Garland points out they were afraid to commit to living out the scandal of the cross. I don’t think it is easy for anyone to commit to anything when they know it will be a tough battle that might involve suffering. I face this while trying to recruit people for cross country because they are afraid to commit to the frequent pain and walls to break through to get better at running. I think that a lot of Christians today are afraid of committing to Jesus and living out the scandal of the cross because they know that there might be social ridicule or exclusion. The Corinthians probably were torn in listening to Paul and listening to the super apostles because of the desired outcome, suffering verses not suffering. It is encouraging though that there was reconciliation even after a “roller coaster” relationship (TTP, 151).

  4. It is interesting to me when you say, “This letter appears to have upset the Corinthian believers and even angered some of them.” Paul is essentially calling them out for their sins and wrongs and they become offended. There is evidence that this letter was actually more so directed towards one individual in particular. “Paul speaks of having been grieved by one Corinthian man.” (TTP, 141) This makes me wonder what kind of interaction they would have had to leave such a bad taste in Paul’s mouth.
    I can’t help but think about our culture today and the parallels of this. When you talk to someone and you tell them that they are in the wrong, it is almost guaranteed that they will be offended or angry about your evaluation. No one likes to be called out for being in the wrong. It is obviously, from this example in scripture, a common theme throughout all of time. It is unfortunate that this letter went missing because Paul surely went off on the Corinthians and from the parallels that we can already pull from the scripture we do have, this would have definitely had lessons for us as well.

  5. I find the idea that there was possible another letter to the Corinthians to possibly help explain some of the tension between Paul and the church. It is obvious to see that Paul knew when he had to call the people out on their sins, but it is possible that, if he did it again in another letter, the people may begin to feel dislike towards him. No one likes when their sins are pointed out, and this is true even for the Corinthian Christians. Paul does speak of not deciding to make “another painful visit to” the Corinthians in 2:1. It also seems that before he wrote this, he obviously had to of had a “visit to Corinth that caused him anguish” (TTP, 142). Now, this seems to be because of one man. However, because of this missing letter, it makes me wonder what things Paul may have addressed in it, and what he may have spoken about as to how to fix these things. I feel like we could all learn something from the missing letter if we had it. I still find it interesting that there possibly was this letter, because it seems that Paul really tries in 2 Corinthians 7 to show his joy in the people. It seems as though he is definitely trying to restore his relationship with the church after something major happened between them.

  6. It can be hard to contemplate the idea that Paul had other writings out there. I feel either that I am missing out on some wisdom he wrote, or on the opposite side wondering why God didn’t see fit to make sure they got in the Canon. I am so curious as to why they are left out, mainly because the church of Corinth is the poster church of issues. It seems like this is the church that causes him the most grief, the rebellious child as it were. “Paul knew that their obedience would not be won easily. Instead, it would only be won by inflicting sorrow and hurt among them” (TTP 144). Most of the Corinthian letters are a cry to stop sinning, to stop embracing their former habits. 1 Corinthians 10:13 states that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Paul works with this church, toils and anguishes over them, trying to help them as best he can.

  7. The story of the time between the letters of first and second Corinthians is one which many scholars disagree on because of various different things that could have happened during this time. Besides the obvious problems of when Paul’s visit which he called his “painful visit” to Corinth was, there has been division over whether second Corinthians is a singular letter or multiple letters.
    It is disappointing and very sad to see how the church of Corinth fell away from the teachings of Paul and fell into very deep sin. Paul sends multiple letters as well as representatives to try to correct the church and bring them back into correct relationship with the Lord. Paul did not fail in this mission in the way we would expect, but rather, eventually the Lord did bring about the Corinthian church to correction and back into correct relationship with himself.
    It is very helpful to understand what happens in the time periods that are not written about in God’s Word. It gives helpful insight to the lives, cultures and circumstances surrounding various aspects of people’s lives which have a profound impact on what has been written to us in God’s Word and how we ought to read in from the context of in which the original readers understood it, rather than jumping to how people today understand it. In the case of first and second Corinthians this must be the case to the extreme, as a general lack of knowledge regarding the historical contexts easily allows false understanding to creep in.

  8. For some reason, I am really intrigued by how the book of 2 Corinthians was stitched together. As our textbook supposes, there are two main partition theories. One of a complicated five-part split of letters, and the other splits 2 Corinthians 1-9 as one letter and 10-13 as the other. Although Longenecker concludes, for the sake of going through the book, that chapters 10-13 came first, perhaps as the “tearful letter” Paul references in 2 Corinthians 2:4. Chapters 1-9 come afterwards, and Longenecker provides some examples of how issues line up with each other (147) as well as how it is possible for 2 Corinthians to be stitched like this as it was common for letters to be ordered lengthwise instead of chronologically (148). Your blogpost, according to my understanding, agrees that chapters 1-9 and 10-13 were written as separate letter, or at different times, but 1-9 come first and then 10-13, I think this because of what you said, “It is possible the first nine chapters were written (and sent?) before Paul hears there is still some opposition in the church, chapters 10-13 target the teachers in the Corinthian church who are directly opposing Paul’s authority.” I bring this all up to simply ask two things. Is my understanding that you view 2 Corinthians 1-9 as written first, then 10-13 correct? You bring up the other views briefly as well so I wasn’t sure. The other question is: what would be the difference in Paul’s tone be between the two views (1-9 then 10-13, or 10-13 then 1-9)? Hopefully that question makes sense. Of course, Longenecker advises against having a strong insistence for one theory or another (146), and I’m not asking which theory is the best. But with those two theories, how are they different in understanding 2 Corinthians as a whole, how do they interpret 2 Corinthians differently. Hope that makes more sense.

  9. What happened between the two letters is very complicated, especially for a college student. When Paul gets things Ok with the Corinth Church, they send him another letter questioning their faith and ethics. Now, Paul sent Timothy to Corinth to deliver them the letter that Paul wrote: people did not accept that Timothy was Paul’s disciple and was thrown out, so being young and new to this thing, Timothy returned to Ephesus and told Paul about his experience: so Paul went back to Corinth to deal with the issues himself. However, when he returned to Ephesus, he wrote what is known as the 2nd Corinthian letter, a letter to the Corinth Church. This letter is sorrowful. 2 Corinthians 2:4 states, “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you” (NIV). Paul profoundly cares about this Church: so why do they change their ways when he is there, but then they go back to doing the same thing again?

    Since Paul understands the issues better, the Corinth Church spent eight 18 months there. He was helping them to reconcile their relationship with God again and repair their relationships with him. Paul wrote this letter in Macedonia: he targets two groups: the teachers and the people.

  10. The blog post on Paul’s encounters with the Corinthian church shows the many layers of his connection with them. Indeed, the Corinthians presented Paul with a unique task as he attempted to develop and nurture their religion. The lost letters and unrecorded visits make reconstructing the whole image of this chaotic period difficult, but this blog post pieces it all together very well. Paul’s dedication in resolving concerns inside the Corinthian church displays his dedication to their spiritual well-being. The “painful visit” and following “tearful letter” demonstrate his emotional engagement in the community, as well as his determination to overcome difficult conditions for their sake. The struggle of the Corinthians to completely embrace the message of the cross highlights the difficulty of early Christian communities, particularly in the context of Gentile converts. Suffering for one’s religion was unpleasant, and Paul’s own experiences at Ephesus added another degree of complication to their relationship. This blog post helps us understand the complexities of Paul’s mission as well as the early Christian church. While some elements are theoretical due to a lack of specific historical records, the post’s presentation of the traditional view provides vital insights into the dynamics between Paul and this difficult church. It serves as a reminder that, even in the face of adversity, Paul’s dedication to sharing the gospel of Christ was constant.

  11. After doing the reading, I have always found it interesting that between 1 and 2 Corinthians there was a time when Paul wrote two letters and visits to Corinth from Ephesus, which are not found in the Book of Acts or otherwise (2 Cor 2:1-4), and most likely can be found within both 1 and 2 Corinthians, and at the very least, “In the most widely held “partition” theory, only two letters have been merged” (Longenecker, p. 146). In other words, while there are a variety of theories on where these letters are, this is most assuredly the one that that is probably the most viewed as accepted, though there are other theories.
    Also, we do not have the letters that Corinth sent to Paul, so we do not have the means to figure out how and why their reaction to both of Paul’s letters, though we can possibly guess by the ways, meanings, teachings, and some of the harshness used by Paul in some examples of 1 and 2 Corinthians. While it most likely we will never find the letters that Corinth sent to Paul, I would find it interesting if one does appear and able to be read.

Leave a Reply