The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians
[Sidenote: The Author.]

The genuineness of this Epistle is almost universally admitted, although it is not quoted quite as early as the First Epistle. The two Epistles are interwoven with each other by several threads of thought, such as St. Paul's intention to visit Macedonia, his decision with regard to the incestuous man, and his direction to collect alms for the Christians of Jerusalem. Moreover, this Epistle agrees with the Book of Acts, and at the same time is plainly independent of it. Acts does not mention Titus, whose name is prominent in 2 Corinthians, and at the same time Acts xx.5, 6 corroborates the account of the visit to Troas in 2 Cor. ii.12, 13. The whole style of the Epistle is so natural and impassioned, so wonderful in its light and gloom, that there is only one author to whom we can possibly attribute it.

There is, however, a difficulty with regard to the last four chapters. It is thought by some critics that they are a separate Epistle written by St. Paul to the Corinthians, and afterwards joined to chs. i.-ix. These writers are usually of the opinion that the last four chapters were written before i.-ix., and that their theory will account for the fact that they are more severe and depressed in tone. Now, it is true that i.-ix. seem more hopeful than x.-xiii., and also that i.-ix. contain two references to a previous letter (ii.4; vii.8, 9). We find, too, in 2 {144} Cor. i.23; ii.1, 4, that the apostle shows a shrinking from the thought of another visit to Corinth, while in 1 Corinthians no such feeling is manifested. If, however, 2 Cor. x.-xiii. had been written in the interval, the feeling is not unreasonable. But the facts of the case seem to be most easily explained by the belief that there was a letter written between 1 and 2 Corinthians, but that this letter has been lost. In spite of the difference in tone between the two parts of 2 Corinthians, there is sufficient continuity of theme to make us hesitate to detach them.

[Sidenote: To whom written.]

"Unto the Church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in the whole of Achaia." The latter part of the address shows us that St. Paul felt it necessary to vindicate himself to all the Christians in Greece (Hellas). His opponents had evidently been extremely active.

[Sidenote: Where and when written.]

The Epistle was written in A.D.55, a few months after 1 Corinthians, from some town in Macedonia, probably Philippi. It was sent by the hands of Titus and perhaps St. Luke (2 Cor. viii.18-23).

The First Epistle was received submissively by the Corinthians, the strife of parties subsided, and the case of incest was dealt with as the apostle required. In consequence of this happy result, it seems that St. Paul decided to visit the Corinthians on his way to Macedonia, sailing straight to Corinth from Ephesus (2 Cor. i.15), as well as to pay them the visit which he had promised before (1 Cor. xvi.5).

Timothy, who had arrived at Corinth in accordance with St. Paul's previous wish (1 Cor. iv.17; xvi.10), soon returned to Ephesus with news of a second and more serious crisis. We do not know what caused it, or what was precisely its character, but it is certain that St. Paul's motives and authority were harshly and openly challenged. Perhaps Timothy himself was insulted, and therefore, indirectly, the apostle who gave him his commission and authority. St. Paul wrote at once a {145} very sharp letter, which is the second lost letter to the Corinthians, and he resolved to return to his earlier plan of visiting them only as he came south from Macedonia. He made this resolution to spare them for the present the pain of meeting him. This lost letter was probably sent by Titus (2 Cor. xii.18), who also carried instructions with regard to the collection for the poor at Jerusalem. Apparently St. Paul thought that it would be wiser not to entrust Timothy with the delicate task of again calming the Corinthian wranglers. As soon as Titus left, St. Paul was full of nervous apprehension as to the effect which this letter would produce. He set out from Ephesus (2 Cor. i.8-10) in great anxiety, his departure being perhaps precipitated by the riot so graphically described in Acts. He tells us himself that when he came to Troas he had still no relief for his spirit -- no news from Corinth. Though he found an opening for the gospel at Troas, he hurried on into Macedonia, and at last Titus came with joyful news of the penitence and submission of the Corinthians. St. Paul then wrote this Epistle. Towards the end of December, A.D.55, he reached Corinth, where he stayed for three months.

The Book of Acts fits perfectly with the Epistles. From Acts xx.1-3 we see that St. Paul did visit Macedonia and Greece at the close of his stay at Ephesus, and from Acts xix.22 we see that he sent Timothy before him.

[Sidenote: Character and Contents.]

The Epistle has the nature of a letter sent by a spiritual father to his children rather than of a doctrinal treatise with an argument carefully built up. Its value for us lies chiefly in the vivid reality with which it reflects the personality of the writer, his love for his converts, his intense conviction that his apostolic commission and power are entirely genuine -- a conviction which is set off by his wish always to associate himself with the weakness and fragility of ordinary human nature. Throughout the Epistle there are scattered allusions to Christian doctrine which are of the very highest importance. Before giving an outline of the {146} Epistle, we may notice one or two doctrinal passages of special importance.

First, with regard to the Resurrection. The teaching of 1 Corinthians is further explained. St. Paul shows how entirely he has thrown off the feeling of terror which environed the ordinary Jewish idea of death. The sense of union with God by which a few Jews in some rare flashes of inspiration knew that they would live after death, is here triumphant. St. Paul regards death as a portal to that happy existence which can only be described as being "at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. v.1-8; cf. Phil. i.23). Union with Christ now absolutely guarantees union with Him hereafter. The resurrection-body which in 1 Corinthians he described as "a spiritual body," he poetically calls the "house from heaven" which God will provide for the redeemed spirit. Then he thinks of this new body as a robe. And as he hopes that Christ will come again before we have put off our present body in death, he says that he desires to be clothed with the new body over his present body, "if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked." The last phrase is obscure, but it probably is a fresh rebuke of those Corinthians who denied the resurrection of the body. If so, it means "assuming, as is indeed the case, that we shall really be found clothed with a body at Christ's coming, and not naked (i.e. bodiless spirits)."

Secondly, with regard to the work of Christ. In 2 Cor. iv.4 He is called the "image of God." Now, St. Paul teaches that we men may reflect the likeness of Christ to God:

"The truth in God's breast
Lies trace for trace upon ours impressed:
Though He is so bright and we so dim,
We are made in His image to witness Him."

But St. Paul also teaches that the relation between the Son and the Father is unique. He means that Christ reveals the Father completely in virtue of this eternal relation between them. We are made to become like God, but the Son is not {147} made; He does not belong to the class of created things (1 Cor. viii.6). And St. Paul never speaks of Christ becoming the Son of God. He regards Christ as having always been the Son, exercising divine functions, and therefore as "God blessed for ever" (Rom. ix.5). In 2 Cor. iii.17, 18 he asserts that the Lord is the divine Spirit who animates the new dispensation. The old Jewish dispensation is described as "letter," because it was a system of outward commandments; the Gospel dispensation is described as "spirit," because it is a system of spiritual principles which are summed up in Christ. We by reflecting His glory are transformed into the same image by successive stages of glory. This glory comes from the Lord Jesus, who is the Spirit of Christianity (2 Cor. iii.18). It is important to notice that St. Paul does not confuse the Second Person of the Trinity with the Third Person, and that for many years the Christians used occasionally to describe the divine nature of the Son by the word "Spirit." They gradually gave up this manner of speaking, as it was ambiguous.

In 2 Cor. v.18-21 there is an important statement on the Atonement. The close connection between the Atonement and the Incarnation is shown in the assertion that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself," and the love of both the Father and the Son is shown in the words that "He made Him to be sin on our behalf." The first statement saves us from the idea that God selected a holy man to reveal His will, and then gave up this best of men to unimaginable suffering. No! it was God Himself who came in the Person of the Sufferer. The second statement implies that Christ, though sinless, was treated as a sinner. He thus by dying accomplished the end which our punishment would accomplish, namely, the expression of God's hatred of sin and love of righteousness.

The Epistle opens with an introduction and thanksgiving, in which there seems to be a note of sadness, marking the effect which the crisis in Corinth has left on the mind of St. Paul. He proceeds to give a personal explanation. The visit to the {148} Corinthians on the way to Macedonia was abandoned only because of the pain which it would have given them; the sharp letter was not written in wrath, but in sorrowful love (i.23-ii.1-4). St. Paul goes on to ask pardon for the man who caused the recent disturbance (ii.5-11).

Then, whilst he is describing his journey to Macedonia (ii.12-17), he breaks off suddenly into a digression, in which he describes the dignity of the apostolic ministry, its superiority over the Mosaic ministry, the nature of its commission, and the seal of it in a life which is always martyrdom (iii.1-vi.13). St. Paul concludes this section with a short appeal to the Corinthians to avoid contamination from heathenism (vi.14-vii.1).

He then returns to the situation of ii.13. He tells us with how much joy he received the news that Titus brought him -- joy for the Corinthians, for Titus, and for himself. The next two chapters (viii., ix.) contain instructions and exhortations respecting the fund mentioned in 1 Cor. xvi.1. The last four chapters follow quite naturally. The apostle speaks with plain severity to rebuke those who created the recent disturbance, and to warn any there may be whose submission perhaps has not been quite entire. The prevailing tone is that of pathetic and sorrowful expostulation. St. Paul repeats the unkind things that have been said of him -- how unimposing his presence, that he depends on alms, that he is only eloquent with his pen. But he defends his apostleship with absolute though very humble confidence, counting up the things that he can say for himself -- his share in Jewish privileges, his sufferings for Christ, the revelations that God has sent him, the signs of his success, the continual weakness that Christ gives and blesses. Truly, the apostle is even greater than his grief.

The Epistle concludes with a benediction, in which St. Paul co-ordinates the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. From primitive times these words have been used as the introduction to the most solemn part of the Greek liturgy, from which they were taken into the services of the Church of England.



(1) St. Paul's thankfulness and exhortation: i.1-ii.17. -- Salutation, thanksgiving, the promised visit postponed, the previous letter, the penitent offender. St. Paul's journey to Macedonia, triumph in Christ.

(2) The Apostle's ministry: iii.1-vii.1. -- His converts are his letters of commendation, the superiority of this ministry of the gospel above that of the Mosaic dispensation (iii.).

Christ the subject of his preaching, present light affliction resulting in eternal glory (iv.).

Inspiring hopes of the resurrection, constraining love of Christ, the ministry of reconciliation based on the atonement (v.).

He persuades and suffers (vi.1-13).

Warning against being yoked with unbelievers (vi.14-vii.1).

(3) The Corinthian Church and Titus: vii.2-ix.15. -- The visit of Titus to Corinth, the godly sorrow that followed (vii.2-16).

The collection for the poor at Jerusalem, Macedonian generosity, praise of Titus (viii.).

Exhortation to a generosity like that of the Macedonians (ix.).

(4) A sorrowful expostulation: x.-xiii. -- A warning to those who despise his authority (x.).

His rights and his sufferings for Christ (xi.).

Revelations given, but also a thorn in the flesh, the signs of an apostle, how he and Titus had dealt with the Corinthians (xii.).

He repeats that he will come to Corinth a third time, exhortation, benediction (xiii.).


chapter x the first epistle
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