Main Themes of 2 Corinthians

The background to 2 Corinthians is complicated by letters from Paul we do not have as well as visits to Corinth by Paul, Timothy and Titus. An additional problem is 2 Corinthians is a compilation of several other letters. Perhaps parts of 2 Corinthians contain other letters sent by Paul (the so-called “tearful letter”). Some suggest chapters 8 and 9 are separate letters dealing with the collection, and chapters 10-12 are yet another letter dealing with the super-apostles. I would recommend any serious commentary on 2 Corinthians for an overview of these suggestions or an introduction to the New Testament such as Raymond Brown. Combining letters around a similar theme is not surprising, but it is also not necessary to understand the overall theme of the whole letter: the need for reconciliation between Paul and the church.

First, Paul must deal with the damage in his relationship the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 1-7). The church did not receive the letter of 1 Corinthians well and Paul’s attempts to deal with the tensions seem to have created more problems. The reason Paul did not return to Corinth is to spare them from another difficult visit (1:23-2:1). Paul admits he has caused the church a great deal of pain, but (with God as his witness), he did not intend it that way. Although he does admit he may have caused the pain the church felt after 1 Corinthians, the “tearful letter” and the painful visit.

Paul wanted to gladden those he had pained, but the pain was ultimately necessary. His tough letter was written to make it possible for him to have a “joyful visit” the next time he came to Corinth (2:3). Paul was confident the church world respond to his tearful letter, even if there was come fear it might cause them pain. But not all grief and pain is bad, in fact godly grief produces a great deal of positive virtues. If Paul had upset them with his strong challenge, that pain is a positive benefit if they are reconciled to him

Second, Paul must encourage the Corinthian church to make good on their promise to participate in the collection he has made for the poor saints in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8-9). Paul’s collection would have looked very suspicious to a resident of a Roman city like Corinth. Public works were not funded through taxation or public fundraising, but through wealthy people who want to gain honor from public benefaction. There is no honor in putting money into general fund and sending it off to distant (non-Roman) city to be used to help poor people. It is no surprise at all the Corinth church was slow to participate in the Collection. But it is remarkable (from a modern Christian perspective) this wealthy Christian church refused to participate in Paul’s collection to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem. But now that Paul and the church have reconciled, it is now time for the church to participate in this important ministry Paul initiated. In fact, for Paul, participating in this gracious gift is an opportunity to render a service to God.

Third, Paul must deal with some competition in the church, the so-called “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 10-13). Paul probably coined this sarcastic description of his opponents, but it may be based on the attitude of the opponents themselves. They consider themselves to be superior to Paul in terms of honor, use of rhetoric, and perhaps even blessings from God. Some have argued this is a reference to the apostles in Jerusalem, but it seems unlikely Paul would refer the Twelve with this snarky title. More likely the super apostles are Greeks in Corinth who have accepted the Gospel but are now behaving like Greek intellectuals. Like many of the other issues in Corinth, Paul is dealing with a pagan worldview in the church. The opponents appear to be trained communicators (v. 6) and accepted patronage from the church (v. 7-9). This would be consistent with any other Greco-Roman philosopher or teach and more or less expected by the Corinthian congregation. Rather than superior apostles, the opponents are like Satan, masquerading true apostles (11:12-15). Rather than boast in his accomplishments, Paul choose to boast in his suffering as a servant of Jesus Christ. Boasting in beatings and arrests is an outrageous reversal of what the super-apostles consider to be indicators of divine favor. Paul claims in these final chapters of the book that the follower of Christ can expect to suffer as Christ himself did.

6 thoughts on “Main Themes of 2 Corinthians

  1. It is unfortunate for Paul that each of his visits come with a negative aspect with it. It kind of makes the people think negative thoughts every time they would see him because that is all they are use to with him visiting. I do agree that not all pain is bad because I am a firm believer in what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. The pain the people of the church in Corinth would go through for Christ I believe would in end strengthen there relationship with Him. I am curious to know why the “super-apostles” seemed to think they were superior to Paul and how they went about validating that to the church in Corinth.

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  2. Relationships are filled with ups and downs and are never going to be perfect. Especially if one end had to be done through letters and then delivered by another individual. The tone of voice in the 1 Corinthians letter may not have been the tone in which Paul intended it. That is where people get in trouble. They read more into or make assumptions when that is not actually what was meant. “Paul admits he has caused the church a great deal of pain, but (with God as his witness), he did not intend it that way” (P. Long – Blog). After the initial letter Paul then needs to send encouragement to the people of Corinth. Through all of the ups and downs Paul still stands by the Corinthians. “But not all grief and pain is bad, in fact godly grief produces a great deal of positive virtues” (P. Long – Blog). Paul wants to show people that they are people of God and that even in suffering good things can come from it.

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  3. When considering the Corinthian culture back then we can’t put our modern day spin on it and view the Corinthians as “bad guys”. Yes, Paul was being the ancient world Robin Hood and collecting money from the rich to give it to the poor. But unlike this notion being extremely common nowadays and people not really being weary of where their money goes. Back then people were extremely suspicious because who says the money that you’re collecting is actually going where you say its going? Even though people were weary Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 8:1- 9:15 “Paul express his complete confidence that the Corinthian communities of Jesus devotion will partite wholeheartedly in that initiative” (TTP, 157). Unfortunately Paul’s “competitors” try to frame him as a phony through this effort. Stating that Paul will just be using the money for himself. So the question at the end of the day is did this activity help or hurt Paul’s ministry?

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  4. 2 Corinthians reminds me a lot of where we are today. Broken and sinful congregation of people who don’t really want to listen to anyone. I think that if anything, 2 Corinthians was written on purpose in parallel to what the world would be like one day. Paul is the one who strives to strengthen the congregation and the entire Corinthian church. Paul, although unorganized and all over the place; his leadership helped to unify the Corinthian church.

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  5. The Corinthians were in a hard spot. It is hard to exactly identify this with what is going on today. But I agree with April, we are a very broken society. Sometimes we all need a slap on the wrist. It is not going to be what we want. No one in their right mind likes to be told what they are doing wrong. Paul is not telling these people that they are doing horrible things to make them feel bad. He wants so badly for them to step up to their potential, that he is willing to potentially sacrifice if these people will want to see him again. I firmly believe what he did took courage. No one likes to look back at the work they have done and see it failing once again. He wants to have a friendly relationship with them, but that is the thing. Paul shows us a great example of what tough love looks like. He does not need to do that, but he wants to know that this group of people actually see the light. It is the tough love that we do not want that makes the difference. He is trying to be a leader by example and by witnessing to them. There was not the time to waste with trying to help them. Paul handles the situation exactly how it should have been handled.

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