Place and Time of Writing
- Paul wrote this while in Macedonia. You can see the location in the upper left of this map.
- He wrote this shortly after I Corinthians, so we will say 53 also.
- Of all the letters of Paul, this is the most personal and autobiographical.
- He feels his position as an Apostle was being attacked by some of the Corinthian Christians and so gave details about his life as an Apostle.
- Like I Corinthians, II Corinthians also does not include the second part about how to live as a Christian. This was a more personal letter and so Paul focused on other topics.
- House churches in Corinth.
- He defends his authority as an Apostle because some of the Christians in the house churches were saying that Paul was not an Apostle.
- He encourages them to donate money to help the Christians in Jerusalem.
More details about II Corinthians
Before we move on, here is a list of Paul's friends and co-workers that are prominent in Acts and Paul's letters:
- Apollos = A temporary leader of church in Corinth.
- Barnabas = A one-time mentor of Paul and a missionary; he traveled with Paul on his first missionary trip.
- Luke = Physician and traveled with Paul; he recorded Paul’s movements and wrote Acts.
- Mark = A much younger follower of Peter and Paul; he wrote the Gospel of Mark.
- Onesimus = Friend of Paul.
- Philemon = Fellow prisoner and then follower of Paul.
- Tertius = One of Paul’s secretaries (amanuensis).
- Timothy = A much younger follower of Paul; Paul discipled or mentored Timothy; Timothy was like the son that Paul never had.
- Titus = One of Paul’s closest friends and one of his most trusted assistants. Titus was at the Council of Jerusalem with Paul.
Why did Paul write the letter?
Paul wrote the previous letter, I Corinthians, to address problems with the Christians in Corinth. From that letter we can see that Paul was very concerned with their problems and with their spiritual state. After writing that letter he apparently made a second visit, which was unpleasant. [This second trip is not shown on the map because it must have been brief.] We know this from his reference to a second trip in 12:14: “Now I am ready to visit you for a third time.” After that Titus visited the Corinthian Christians and realized that they had changed and were accepting of Paul’s authority. Titus finds Paul in Macedonia and informs him of the change of heart in the Corinthian Christians. Paul then writes this letter in which he focuses on several personal matters and encourages them to make a collection of money for the Jerusalem Christians.
Paul describes those who were against him and defends his Apostleship
- Who were they?
- Apparently teachers either within the house churches or ones who moved to Corinth after Paul left (as in Galatians) were teaching contrary to Paul’s (and the Council of Jerusalem’s) message. We are not certain what they were teaching. They may have been Jewish Christians who wanted to retain circumcision (the Covenant) and the Law. They may have been Docetics, who taught that Jesus was only a phantom and a messenger of the highest God (we will discuss that much more in the epistle of Colossians). But we do know that they countered Paul’s leadership by questioning his authority.
- 11:3-5: “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For it someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you are receiving a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you preached, you put up with it easily enough. But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those ‘super-Apostles.’”
- One way they elevated their teaching was to claim they had a higher spiritual state than Paul, and they even have called themselves “super-Apostles.” Another way they disregarded Paul’s teaching was to claim that Paul was not really an Apostle. Therefore, Paul had to respond to this attack on his authority as an Apostle.
Paul’s defense on his authority as an Apostle
- When Paul had his vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus, he spoke with Jesus but the men with him did not see or hear Jesus. This could cause some people, who did not like Paul’s message, to question if Paul was really an Apostle.
- Let’s pause and talk about the importance of Apostles. When we discussed the canonization of the New Testament, I mentioned that a book had to have a link with an Apostle in order to be included in the NT. An Apostle in the First Century is a very important part of early Christian leadership. The Apostles were understood to have a special even supernatural authority and understanding from God. Therefore, whatever they wrote or contributed to letters or Gospels, those books are understood by Christians to be from God.
- This is different than a Christian author writing a best-selling book today. Though that book is understood to be written from the person’s perspective, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and is meaningful to many Christians, it is not accepted as “God’s own truth" or "God's words." Writings linked to Apostles were different because God spoke more directly and clearly to them, and so their words do come directly from God.
- Therefore, when Paul’s authority as an Apostle was questioned, if people could prove that Paul was not an Apostle, that meant that Paul’s teachings and writings, including I Corinthians, could be disregarded. Those men were using a rhetorical or debating tool (used commonly in politics!) known as “ad hominem” or “attacking the messenger.” They did not attack his ideas, but they attacked his authority. Basically they said, “You don’t have to follow Paul’s teachings because he is not an Apostle, and therefore does not have the authority to instruct us.”
- To counter that Paul knew that he couldn’t describe his vision of Jesus, because some people didn’t accept that as truth. After all, if he said, "I saw Jesus and he gave me my authority," someone else could say the same thing (since there were no eyewitnesses to Jesus appearing to Paul other than Paul himself.) So he used a different tactic: he showed that those who physically persecuted him (Jews and Romans) were attacking him in ways that they would only use if they viewed him as a leader of Christians, i.e., an Apostle.
- Paul describes the ways he was persecuted: 11:23-26: “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.”
- He even says that he didn’t want to discuss this, but he is intent on showing that he is an Apostle. Basically he says that the Jewish leadership and the Romans thought he was a Christian leader (Apostle) and so the Corinthian Christians can trust the Jews’ and the Romans’ view of Paul.
The longest discussion of the principles and practice of giving in the New Testament.
- Note: when Christians give money to God it is called either a "tithe" or an "offering." Technically, a title is the regular amount that someone contributes to God (meaning the church or some other ministry) whereas an offering is a one-time gift for a special cause.
- Paul collected money from the Christians in Macedonia for the relief of Christians in Jerusalem, and he wanted to continue that in Corinth. He had collected money from them in the past and wanted to continue that practice.
- 8:1, 2, 10, 11: "And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. . . . And here is my advice about what is best for you in this manner: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means."
- He planned to make a third trip to visit them, and he expected to collect the money so he could send it to Jerusalem. This part of the letter was preparation for that collection.
- In addition, Paul describes the attitude that each Christian should have toward giving money to God: 9:6,7: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should give whatever they decide to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Outline of II Corinthians
- 1:1-2: Greetings
- 1:3-3:6: Paul describes his reasons for writing the first letter and in not visiting a third time immediately. (He had visited a second time but it was unpleasant)
- 3:7-7:16: Paul describes his ministry; or another way of looking at it, Paul describes why he does what he does.
- chapters 8 & 9: Paul encourages them to make a collection of money for the Christians in Jerusalem.
- 10-12:14: Paul defends is authority as an Apostle.
- 12:14-13:10: Paul informs them of his upcoming third trip now that they will welcome him.
- 13:11-14: Closing remarks
Readings from II Corinthians
- The long-term view of the Christian (4:16-18): “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix out eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
- How one should view oneself (10:17, 18): “But, ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”
- Final remarks (13:11-14): “Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
- “A holy kiss”: The only denomination I know of that practices this is the Amish. Other Christians interpret this as “greet warmly.”
- Paul ends with a reference to the Trinity, and he even includes a comment on the role of each part of the Trinity: Love comes from the Father, grace from Jesus, and fellowship from the Holy Spirit.
Timeline up to the book of II Corinthians
Dates are approximate.
|63 B.C.||Romans conquer Israel.|
|27 B.C.||Pax Romana began and lasted until A.D. 180.|
|4 B.C.||Jesus born.|
|All dates after this are A.D.|
|30||Jesus was crucified, buried, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven.
Apostles travel to Jerusalem and choose Matthias to replace Judas as an Apostle.
Day of Pentecost: Peter assumes leadership of Christianity.
|30-50||Peter was leader of Christianity.|
|33||Jesus appeared to Paul and Paul became a Christian.|
|48-50||Paul's First Missionary Trip.|
|50||Council of Jerusalem; Paul became one of the main Christian leaders.|
|50-55||Paul's Second Missionary Trip.|
|53||I Corinthians & II Corinthians written.|
|55-60||Paul's Third Missionary Trip.|
|60-62||Paul arrested in Jerusalem and taken to Rome.|
|62-63||(Not in Acts) Paul probably released from prison during this time.|
|63-65||(Not in Acts) Paul probably traveled. He may have gone to Spain.|
|64||Fire in Rome and Christians persecuted by Emperor Nero.|
|65||(Not in Acts)Paul back in Rome; he and Peter arrested and martyred: Peter crucified upside down and Paul beheaded.|
|67||Gospel of Mark written.|
|70||Temple in Jerusalem destroyed by Romans (it has not been rebuilt).|
|80||Gospels of Matthew and Luke written.|
|90||Gospel of John and book of Acts written.|
|95||Christians persecuted by Emperor Domitian; Apostle John exiled on island of Patmos where he wrote Revelation.|
|96||Emperor Domitian died; Apostle John probably moved to Ephesus.|
|100||Apostle John died; he was the last Apostle to die.|
|390's||New Testament canon "closed" at Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397).|
|1200's||Chapters added to the New Testament.|
|1500's||Verses added to the New Testament.|
©2016 Mark Nickens