Paul’s Opponent in Corinth in 2 Corinthians

The issue in Second Corinthians was not a doctrinal problem or a theological dispute. It appears some members of the church has attacked Paul personally. The double reference in 2 Corinthians 7:12  to an injustice shows the issue was disaffection between fellow Christians. Paul appears to have been so angry over this dispute he could not even travel to Corinth to discuss to with meet the church face to face. Who was Paul’s opponent in Corinth?

The problems stem from a single individual as the primary reason for the disagreement. Second Corinthians 2:5, 6, 7, 8, 10; 7:12 all speak of a specific person. The problem was serious enough Paul changed his travel plans and instead wrote the “tearful letter” (1:23; 2:1, 3, 4; 7:8). In fact, the attitude of  one individual was so serious that it poisoned the life of the entire church (2:5). It is remarkable how even a single individual can destroy what should be a unified body of believers!

Paul's OpponentWho was Paul’s opponent who was put out of the church? In 2 Corinthians 7:12 Paul says this person has wronged him, using a participle, τοῦ ἀδικήσαντος. The verb ἀδικέω as the sense mistreatment or injury, but the damages are to Paul’s reputation and honor rather than physical harm. The verb is used in Philemon 18 to refer to the damages which Onesimus might have caused when he left Philemon’s service.

The most common suggestion is the man is the incestuous man from 1 Corinthians 5. In 2:9 and 7:12 Paul refers to the fact he has already written to the church about this man, and we know from 1 Corinthians Paul did in fact recommend the incestuous 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 suggestion focuses on the situation in 1 Corinthians 6. People were suing one another in the courts over internal “family” matters which ought to have been handled by the church. It may be the case that an individual in the church disagreed with Paul so strongly he went to the courts and tried to overturn Paul’s commands for the church found in 1 Corinthians. It is shocking that a church dispute could have spilled over into the courts, but in the Roman world a perceived insult often did result in a lawsuit.

It is also possible there is a public attack on Paul’s ministry and authority in the background here, an attack so severe Paul must break off travel plans to the church. Some speculate 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 was interpreted by Paul as “an act of flagrant disobedience and revolt” (Suggested by C. K. Barrett, cited in Martin, 2 Corinthians, 34). This could include a 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.

It is quite remarkable to me that a church in the first century was so fragmented that someone might bring a lawsuit over a doctrinal issue or a leader’s decision or some perceived insult.I can think of any number of examples of this sort of thing in modern churches both in America and in the context of a mission church. People with strong personalities trying to lead a church as if it was a business will generate conflict. Although that conflict might be common in the world of big corporations and business, it is has no place in the local church and can only lead to he shame for the church in the community.

This is yet another example of the culture of Corinth warping the church which God established. The members of the church are still thinking like Romans not Christians.

19 thoughts on “Paul’s Opponent in Corinth in 2 Corinthians

  1. We should not in fact be too surprised about the Gentile Christians in the 1st century world, note what Paul writes somewhat in the middle of 1 Corinthians and 1 Cor. 6:11..”such were some of you”. But he also further writes in verses 12 thru 20. They were converts from paganism, and there they were in constant contact and temptation therein! And in fact, we today live in a world much closer to that world, with our now postmodernity…sexual partner swapping (even in marriage), and now open gay sex & relationships, etc. Not to mention pedophilia! Yes, we are much closer now (21st century) to that 1st century sexual world! Sadly as an Anglican priest, I have heard so much of this in my personal ministry, in counciling and hearing confessional aspects. But, yes, incest is still not accepted, at least generally. But one wonders how far our culture will go, especially in the sexual mores? Sorry, but I cannot help but write as a pastor here! So maybe the Roman world and Corinth, was not too much different from our world now? But note, hey I am 62, so I have seen some changes in our so-called Judeo-Christian world!

  2. It truly is remarkable how a “single individual can destroy what should be a unified body of believers.” I wonder how many churches have split from an issue created by or planted by one individual. It’s a tragic thing, really. And yet, Satan knows that this is an effective way to uproot a church. Paul in 2 Cor. 2 gives an awesome example of how to handle things so that “Satan might not outwit us” (2 Cor. 2:11). The damage had been done and the situation had been drawn out long enough. It was time to “forgive and comfort him… to reaffirm your love for him.” (2 Cor 2:7,8). “Paul expressed concern for the individual and urged the church to act redemptively toward him. An unreconciled situation within the fellowship would only open the door for Satan.” (Polhill, 265). Paul is following the example of Christ and showing grace and forgiveness to one who had wronged him and one of his churches. I think this is something that we can draw from when dealing with situations like this in our churches. May we have the wisdom and insight to know when to show love and comfort so that they “will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Cor. 2: 7).

  3. Most every church that I and my family have been involved with have been rather stable and we didn’t have to deal with too much drama. Even so, there have been times when we have seen people leave over petty things such as our pastor’s choice of Bible translation. Seeing situations like this it becomes a little easier to imagine why Paul would be so upset over the issues that had arrisen in the church living in Corinth. On pages 261-262 Polhill gives an account of exactly the things that Paul’s opponents have brought up against him and it’s painful even for me to read! I can’t imagine what Paul must have felt when he saw or heard all these things that had been claimed against him. Can you imaine the frustration that he must have endured while bringing up this church? There are so many things that they had to persevere through, and yet Paul remained faithful and patient with them. Even in his anger against these troubles he ecouraged them with love. (2 Cor. 1:3-7)
    Like Emily, I believe that 2 Corinthians 2 gives a wonderful example of how we are to deal with disunity in a church. He is basically instructing the church to forgive those who have sinned against them, which is quite a challenge in and of itself. Paul set the example in not so many words by saying, “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” (2 Cor. 2:4) Even in the face of these trials, Paul made it clear that our end point was to be love and that this love was to be full.

  4. It’s interesting to see how some of the biggest issues with churches that we see currently was definitely going on in Corinth. People in the church obviously haven’t changed much between the city of Corinth, and now. I liked the last comment you made, P Long, “the members of the church are still thinking like Romans not Christians.” It’s easy to point fingers at an ancient culture and try to find the good and faultlessness in our own time and churches, but the heart of the matter remains the same. Division, gossip, slander, etc exist in churches and relationship because of man’s sinfulness (obviously) along with a lack of turning from the ways of the world. The purpose of repentence is to turn away from and flee from the old ways. What Paul was experiencing through this instance was a man who wasn’t fully repenting from worldliness. Polhill says that the people in this church “took pride in their own accomplishments, boasting “without limit,” comparing themselves with one another by “worldly” standards (10:12-17; 11:12, 18).” (262) This sounds all too familiar to me. We’re no different than the church in Corinth on issues like this. Quite often we celebrate such qualities currently. Personal gain and selfishness (the ways of the Romans/Americans?) can quickly become the center of our churches if we don’t repent from this way of thinking and living. Luke 24:47 says, “and repentence for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” We would do well to preach and live out repentence from sin. Not just grace and forgiveness, but also repentence.

  5. I see so many similarities to what happened with the incestuous man and with what happens in churches in our culture all the time. In that time it must have been a hard adjustment to change from the pagan culture to an entirely new one that was the church. In our time, we also have to deal with the conflict between the culture around us and what it truly means to follow Christ. It seems like the man in question did not want to truly follow the teachings of Christ and the Church. I find it likely that he wanted to be associated with the Church and maybe be a “fan” of God without the responsibly of being a true follower. I think that is what happens many times today. I agree with Long when he says that is indeed quite appealing to interpret this man as having repented. Paul also shows us how great the love of Christ should be in us and instructs the Corinthians to “reaffirm your love to him” (2 Cor. 2:8). If we act in such a way we make it so that Satan cannot take advantage of our weakness (2:11).

  6. Emily made a good remark, “Paul is following the example of Christ and showing grace and forgiveness to one who had wronged him and one of his churches. I think this is something that we can draw from when dealing with situations like this in our churches.” and it really got me thinking about situations that could present themselves in our Church today and how we would deal with them. People in the Church today, as in the past, always like to point fingers, at some one else, or as David said, at the way the culture was before us. We do not like to take blame, instead we would slander someone else’s name, when perhaps they did nothing wrong. Now we can go one of two ways with dealing with someone like this. We can ask them to leave, a kind of forgive and forget type way. Or we can forgive them, and reconcile with them. If we go with option one, we make it easier for our selves to kick more and more people out of the church, or they may leave on their own. However, if we go with option two, we can show not only that we wish to be a unified church, and keep all members, and be a forgiving church, but are also showing the love of Christ to others, and following Paul’s example that he set for us.

  7. One of my friends from high school went to a church that had a severe dispute over theology. The church eventually split and most of the population left. I thought it was understandable at first, splitting over what you are convicted to believe! That isn’t something that you should just roll over for. But the thing was, they were disagreeing over whether or not they were a four- or a five-degree Calvinist church. The upper levels of the church spent so much time and energy fighting over this little issue that they ignored the people of the congregation. People left because they were sick of the ridiculousness of the matter at hand.
    In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul writes, “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.” We are to be ambassadors, representatives of Christ. If we spend so much of our time arguing and fighting between ourselves over petty matters, we are neglecting our duty to take care of the flock. If we love Jesus, then we are called to “Take care of my sheep. (John 21:16)” He gives Peter these instructions, and he gives us these instructions through writers such as John and Paul. We must take care of the people in our congregations, even if it means putting aside hurt feelings such as Paul does in writing to the Corinthians.

  8. Just today I was talking about church drama… In fact it was a mix of church drama and band drama – church band drama. At the church where I play as a guest worship leader, there’s been some problems in the past with drama amidst band members. It’s crazy how little things with music and doctrine can get us so messed up and divided… It’s sad. We are one in Christ, and we ought to live like it! “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). Jesus welcomed the sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors, yet we can’t even welcome brothers and sisters in Christ with minor doctrinal disagreements! The apostle Paul prayed that the believers would be united. He said to the church, “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). Here’s hoping that God can set us straight and help us to love one another without silly drama.

  9. “….an attack on Paul’s authority as an apostle……

    Paul was not an apostle.
    I won’t re-post my extensive documentation for that, but so far, no one in the world has any “Biblical” response or way to refute this proof. (All they have is, “Paul said so”, and Luke’s passing editorial comments out of context in Acts 14. That is all. Nothing else.)

    Here’s a sort of riddle:
    How do you make an Evangelical stop talking?

    Ask him: “What was the name of the man overseeing the church in Corinth when Paul wrote his letters to them?”

  10. On my last comment on lawsuits in the church, Paul had to address that when there is an issue, you don’t have to take it to court, especially when it’s in the family. Paul is dealing with people who are so stuck in their ways of how they used to live. Paul has to deal with a city who has their way of living, and is trying to redirect them must be very frustrating. What is even more frustrating is having a legit hater always on your case. This hater is referred to as the incestuous man. P Long mentioned how frustrated Paul was about Corinth for being so resistant and difficult. At the end of the blog post, it said that this was yet another example of the culture in Corinth. Corinthians acting like Romans still. This makes sense why Paul would also need to write the 2 longest letters to the churches he visited. I have also seen Pauls past in his actions. We see this in how Paul feels towards the incestuous man. Paul wants this man thrown out of the congregation. Wouldn’t you think Paul would want to love this man and forgive him for his wrong, but instead Paul wants to get rid of this man? I can empathize with Paul and his opposition on Corinth, but you can still see Paul working out his purpose even to those who are difficult.

  11. It is amazing what some people will believe although there is no support to what the person is saying. Think about it, how many times have you seen something on social media about someone or something and took it to be true. We do not question and start to tell our friends about what “Johnny” said about “Ashley” on twitter. I think this is what is, although to a bigger scale, what is going on in Corinth. This guy is telling everyone about what Paul did or who he was, that eventually they took it to be true because it had been forced into them. The guy was telling of Paul’s past and claiming that there is not way that God would use him because of it. Paul agrees that his suffering is the means God uses to reveal His glory (1:3-4,11, 20). We are all born in sin but we can all come together and help one another before he returns to judge this still rejecting him (or giving false witness).

    Like the Corinthians, we too are gullible to the truth, especially today’s youth. My sister once sent me a tiktok of this “gay jesus” who took the Bible out of context saying that in Leviticus that it taking off ones robes was them getting naked in front of one another. Whereas, if you actually look at the context of the passage, you would know that it was really just the passing down of Kings or royalty. Little things like that are becoming more and more abundant and people are either believing in a Bible that is wrong or rejecting a wrongly interpret the Bible. The challenge for Paul and us believers is to stay strong in the Truth and give an argument that is Biblical. The sad truth is that you can not save everyone and some people are not called to be saved. If you are in a relationship where your faith is hurting because of the other person then you may need to get out of that relationship.

  12. This is another great example of how the church is in Corinth was still clinging onto their cultural ways, rather than Christianity. It is also interesting to see an example of just how damaging one bad person can be to an entire congregation. One person can cause so much division among the church, which is what one of the struggles the Corinthian Christians struggled with. However, Paul told them to not be divided, but be one with another. ” I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought”(1 Corinthians 1:10). Obviously this is no easy task to do, considering each individually thinks with their own mind, and has their own opinions/ideas. However, it is important for the people of the church to be together in unity. Even in churches today, I think there is plenty of division and “bad apples”, that destroy the churches in our communities. This is not a new problem, and is not a problem that is going to go away.

  13. I, also, found myself agreeing, at first, that it seems remarkable for one person’s attitude to destroy a “unified” body of believers. However, I find it ironic that this has become issue that needs addressing in 2 Corinthians since it was first warned about in Paul’s previous letter. In 1 Cor. 15:33, Paul tells the Corinthians that “bad company ruins good morals,” which was said in response to people denying the future resurrection of the dead. Despite the context being a little different, this lesson Paul gives still applies. You offer the possibility that the opponent in the church was maybe the incestuous man from 1 Cor 5, and, if it really is him, then that would mean the Corinthians either brought him back too soon after “handing him over to Satan,” or never sent him out in the first place. Either way, his company was corrupting the Body of believers that has already struggled with divisions and disunity in the past, so it’s no wonder Paul feels very strongly about this.
    I find it interesting to imagine Paul being so upset that he couldn’t even travel to Corinth to be with the people he spent years with in the past. So often, I can get caught up in thinking of Paul as this saint who is always teaching love and grace among our believers that I can forget he experiences emotion just like everyone else. Of course, he’s going to feel upset with the church attacking him, and I probably wouldn’t want to go visit this place that seems to be at odds with me. However, just like how it’s difficult to think of Jesus flipping tables, same goes for Paul and these Corinthians that can never seem to get things right.

  14. While reading this post I came across this verse 2 Corinthians 2:11 after Paul speaks of forgiveness, He speaks of how important forgiving is “in order that Satan might not outwit us for we are not unaware of his schemes”. (2 Cor 2:11). So many times, there have been splits and divides and ruining of relationships in churches and between people outside of church due to an offense made and lack of forgiveness. It is suggested that one of the possibilities that Paul may have been dealing with lawsuits toward him (Long, Reading Acts). Since Sueing of believers was already a problem that the Corinthian church had previously in 1 Corinthians 6, it may be likely that some offended by Paul are seeking legal action against him (Long, Reading Acts). Though it may seem strange to a modern reader that a Christian would be Sueing another Christian over disagreements this was common in the Greco roman world. We as Christians may not handle conflict with other Christians the same way the early church did, but the attitude remains the same. For example, a member of the council on a church leadership board may not sue the pastor if they do not get along but they may try to seek their removal regardless of if the pastor is faithful to serving God and the ministry is thriving. For all Christians in any position, it ought to be remembered the greatest thing is not our comfort with each other but the fulfillment of Gods work being done in us. This requires us to whether we like it or not seek God’s kingdom instead of our own.

  15. There are points throughout the Bible where we aren’t quite sure who the opponents are in regards to the writer’s. In this post, we find that there are three suggestions of whom the opponent is of Paul. The first suggestion is that the man is the incestuous man from 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul recommended the man to be expelled from the congregation. A second suggestion focuses on the individuals suing one another in the courts over internal family. This suggestion shows that these situations are handled by the church. The final suggestion is that there is a public attack on Paul’s ministry and authority in the background. The attack may be intense enough that Paul must break the travel plans to the church. Long (2019) mentions how remarkable it is that the first century was fragmented that someone might bring a lawsuit over a doctrinal issues. These three suggestions bring us to realize that members of the church are still thinking like Romans not Christians.

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