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Introduction to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians


I. Writer


The apostle Paul (1Cor. 1:1; 10:1);

According to the records of the Scriptures, Paul was originally named Saul (Acts 13:9) and was an Israelite, of tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1), Hebrew of Hebrews according to the blood relationship (Phil. 3:5). He was born in Tarsus of Cilicia, at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to exactness of the law of fathers (Acts 22:3). Later, according to the strictest sect of our religion he lived a Pharisee (Acts 26:5) and was zealous for the law of his fathers and persecuted the church (Phil. 3:6). However, Paul did it ignorantly, in unbelief (1Tim. 1:13). One day, when he went to seize believers of the Lord Jesus to Damascus, the Lord revealed to him on the way (Acts 9:1-5). From then on, Paul became a Christian and was called to be an apostle (Rom. 1:1), preaching the gospel towards the Gentiles mainly (Gal. 2:8). He wrote at least thirteen epistles one after another and was known as the main interpreter of the truth of Christianity.


II. The Time and Location the Book was Written


It was approximately wrote in AD 57 in Philippi Macedonia (see 2:13; 7:5). This book not only mentioned Paul’s own situation in Macedonia but also told the church in Corinth the situation of the churches in Macedonia (8:1-5).

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians was written at least one year after the first book (see 9:2). Probably, Paul went to Troas in summer (see 2:12) and came to Macedonia in winter or spring of the next year (see 2:13) and then arrived at Corinth.


III. The Recipients


The assembly of God which is in Corinth, and all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia (1:1);

Paul had dwelt in Corinth for one year and a half (Acts 18:11, 18-19) before arriving at Ephesus. The church in Corinth was supposed to be built by Paul during that time. He preached the gospel there and worked diligently with his fellow workers: Aquila and Priscilla and Silas and Timothy and etc. (Acts 18:2, 5).

The city of Corinth was located in the southern part of Greece, in the west of Athens, and was also in a vital communications line between Rome and the east. The city was known as a vital city of commercial center. Corinth was known as temples, especially the female Greek god Venus of beauty and sex. The Corinthians advocated for whoredom in the name of religion, and the number of the temple prostitutes was even up to one thousand. Thus, the city was also known as immorality on account of the corrupt religious belief. People often described the corruption and depravity of life by the words of “like Corinth”.


IV. The Purposes of Writing this Book


If we desire to know why Paul wrote this epistle, we should firstly know the background of this epistle. When Paul was still in Ephesus, he was highly concerned about the church in Corinth and sent the young fellow worker Timothy to help them soon after he has written the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Probably, believers in Corinth were unkind to Timothy, so Paul decided to go to Corinth by himself again (see 12:14, here “the third time” indicated that he has been to Corinth the second time). However, he failed to go there on time. So he promised to go there again soon (see 2:1). Once he arrived at Ephesus, Paul wrote an epistle out of much distress of heart and with many tears and let Titus send it there (see 2:3-4), and the epistle was yet lost. Later, Paul nearly lost his life in the riot in Ephesus so he left there, but did not go to Achaia. Possibly, he thought it was of little avail to visit believers in Corinth before their attitude toward him was changed. Therefore, he waited for Titus in Troas. And since he had not found Titus, he came away to Philippi in Macedonia (see 2:12-13). Though the condition of the church in Philippi was good, Paul still had no rest, for he did not know the reaction of believers in Corinth to the epistle which Paul wrote with tears. He was not comforted until Titus came (see 7:7).

The messages brought back by Titus were mostly good news, that is, most of believers in Corinth repented after hearing the exhortations of Paul. However, there were still some defects. Someone thought Paul used lightness, for he said he would go there but he did not. Actually, Paul did not go for the purpose of sparing them (1:23). Some of them dealt with the sinner too severely to forgive him (2:6-7). Some of them did not know clearly about false apostles (3:1; 5:12). Some of them failed to be clearly separated from false teachers (6:14-16). Some of those who disobeyed even started rumors to slander Paul. Some of them thought Paul walked according to flesh (10:2). Someone thought he had confidence in himself that he was of Christ and yet seldom mentioned the relation of Paul with Christ (10:7). Some of them said Paul wrote to threaten them and yet he was nothing in fact. Some of them said Paul’s bodily presence and words were inferior to that of other apostles (10:10-11). And some of them said Paul was crafty and took them by guile (12:16) and they denied the revelation of Paul and disbelieved the words in him spoken by Christ (13:3) and etc.

In accordance with the background mentioned above, we can find that Paul writes this epistle for reasons as follows:

1)    To explain why he promised to go there but did not do it;

2)    To introduce the principles of his walking and service;

3)    To exhort believers in Corinth to distinguish the distinctions between the true apostles and false apostles;

4)    To encourage believers in Corinth to forgive the one who had already confessed his sin and repented;

5)    To exhort believers in Corinth to partake of the ministry for the saints in Jerusalem;

6)    To show his apostleship and the possession of the authority of apostle though various proofs;

7)    To let those who disobeyed repent, lest Paul should treat them with power when he went there the third time;


V. The Importance of this Book


    Though the Second Epistle to the Corinthians is en epistle that expresses personal feeling, it still contains many important truth and examples, which makes the book not only carry great value in Theology but also provide important principles for the walking and service of the Lord’s servants and all Christians:

1)    This book gives very clear revelation of the nature, character, mind and words of the Holy Trinity (see 1:10, 18-22; 4:6; 5:18-21 and etc.)

2)    This book provides materials worthy of reference concerning the features and excellence of the New Testament (see chap.3).

3)    This book presents clear reference concerning the importance, contrast and relationship of the flesh and the spirit (see 4:7-5:10).

4)    There are good examples and explanations in this book about the responsibilities of God’s workers, principles of walking as well as the right attitude and heart they should have (see 5:11-7:16; 10:1-11:12; 12:6, 13-21; 13:1-10).

5)    The book also mentions the spiritual principles of the sacrifices of money and the way of dealing with money in the church (see chap.8-9).

6)    He gives good examples of the proof and authority of the apostle as well as the principles of performing authority (see 11:23-13:10).


VI. General Description


Christ and him crucified are the experience and ministry of the ministers of the New Testament. Paul dealt with the difficulties in the church with Christ and him crucified in the first book, and testified by himself in the second book that how he himself live in the reality of Christ and him crucified. He had become a minister of the New Testament and had received a ministry of glory before God because of the deep work, breaking and constitution of Christ and him crucified on him. Therefore, we can know from the First Epistle to the Corinthians and the Second Epistle to the Corinthians that what the great servant of God had done and what he was were consistent, namely, the crucified Christ.

VII. Special Points


There are special points of this book as follows:

1)        Paul showed himself, and yet he still preached Jesus Christ, not himself. When the authority of the apostle of Paul was challenged by those “greatest apostles”, we can see the inner condition of him that had never been revealed and many moving things in his life and service. Therefore, this book is a book of the least theoretical color but the most personal color among all the epistles of Paul, thus making us thoroughly know the saint “in Christ”.

2)        Paul’s happiness and sufferings are presented before us and his condition can be imagined from this book. Sometime, he was in the peak of joy, and sometimes in the valley of sorrow. Therefore, we know even Paul who was so strong might also be discouraged or disappointed. However, what encourages us is that the Lord Christ always gives him ample power so that he can even overcome death.

3)        We can also see from this epistle that how Paul dealt with his relation with the church. He loved the church as that parents love their children. He disciplined and rebuked and mourned them on account of their strife and division. He was concerned about the poor saints in Jerusalem, so he collected money in the Gentile church to provide them. Thus, that all the churches in Christ are one body is manifested and Christians’ loving one another is practiced.

4)        The devices and opinions of Paul’s enemies can clearly be seen from this epistle. They are deceitful workers who transform themselves into apostles of Christ. Firstly, they gain the recognition of believers and then occupy the thoughts of believers. Besides, they slander Paul in many ways and make believers turn to doubt and despise Paul.

5)        The perfect blessing words that are continually used (13:4);


VIII. It’s Relations with Other Books in the Bible


It is the dispute, rebuke and condemnation in the First Epistle to the Corinthians so that believers in Corinth who were disturbed and misled would turn to and look on Christ. And in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, it mentions the testimony, comfort and encouragement of the apostle so as to bring believers in Corinth to experience and enjoy Christ. Therefore, the second book focuses more on experience than the first book and is more subjective and thorough. Here, the main differences between the two books are listed as below:

1)    The first book deals with various problems in the church, and the second one solves many problems inside believers.

2)    The first book corrects believers’ opinions upon and working of gifts and the second one corrects believers’ opinions upon ministry.

3)    The first book helps the church to be preserved from the influence of the world and the heresy, and the second one helps the church to resist the influence of the false apostles and the heresy.

4)    The first book points out the truth and principles of the true love of Christians, and the second one expresses the examples and practices of the true love of Christians.

5)    The first book mainly deals with the problems among believers, and the second one solves the problems between believers and the workers.


IX. Key Verses 


Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit (3:5-6)”.

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body (4:7-10)”.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God (5:20)”.


X. Key Words


“Consolation” (twenty-two times in the whole book);

“Boast” (twenty-two times in the whole book);

“Ministry” (3:7, 8, 9; 4:1; 5:18; 6:3…);


XI. Outlines of the Book


A.   Introduction and explanation (1:1-2:11):

1.    Greeting (1:1-2);

2.    Be thankful for the consolation in tribulations (1:3-11);

a.    The consolation to us is for the purpose of comforting others (1:3-7).

b.    Man can only rely on God rather than man himself in tribulations (1:8-11).

3.    Explain his journey (1:12-2:13):

a.    We conducted ourselves in the world not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God (1:12-14).

b.    Paul intended to go but did not go. However, it was not because he did it lightly (1:15-17).

c.    Their word to believers was not Yes and No (1:18-22).

d.    His delay was for the purposing of sparing them (1.23-24).

e.    He determined that he would not come again in sorrow (2:1-3).

f.     He wrote so that believers might know the love which he had so abundantly for them (2:4).

g.    He urged the church to reaffirm her love to the one who had repented (2:5-11).

h.    His heart was shown when he waited for Titus (2:12-13).


B.   The examples of Paul’s serving the Lord (2:14-7:16):

1.    Diffuse the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ in every place (2:14-17);

2.    Make believers an epistle of Christ by the Spirit of God (3:1-6);

3.    Let the glory of Christ be filled in us (3:7-4:6):

a.    The ministry of the Spirit is of the glory that excels (3:7-11).

b.    Be transformed into the same image from glory to glory (3:12-18);

c.    Preach Christ only so that the glory of Christ can be shone in our hearts (4:1-6);

4.    Do not look at the earthen vessels which are seen, but at the treasure which is not seen (4:7-5:17):

a.    Be delivered to death for Jesus' sake so that others may receive the risen life (4:7-15).

b.    Though the outward man is perishing, the inward man is being renewed day by day (4:16-18).

c.    Though the earthly house is destroyed, we will be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven (5:1-5).

d.    Walk by faith, not by sight (5:6-8).

e.    Make it our aim to be well pleasing to Him and to live for Him (5:9-15).

f.     Regard no one according to the flesh, but according to the new creation (5:16-17).

5.    We have received the ministry of reconciliation and fulfilled it (5:18-7:16):

a.    We are ambassadors for Christ, so we implore men on Christ's behalf be reconciled to God (5:18-21);

b.    In all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God (6:1-10).

c.    Implore men be reconciled to us with wide open heart (6:11-13; 7:2-4).

d.    Be separated so as to have good fellowship with God (6:14-7:1).

e.    Be exceedingly joyful on account of the good news reported by Titus (7:5-16).


C.   Encouragements for believers to have part in the gift of love (8:1-9:15):

1.    To imitate the example of the churches of Macedonia (8:1-8).

2.    To imitate the example of Jesus Christ that He became poor for us (8:9-15).

3.    To imitate the example of the earnest care and walking in light of Titus and etc. (8:16-24).

4.    One shall give cheerfully, not grudgingly (9: 1-5).

5.    One shall sow more in order to increase more the fruits of the righteousness (9:6-15).


D.   To speak in defense of his apostle authority (10:1-12:21):

1.    He declares the principles of his working (10:1-18):

a.    The weapons of his warfare are not carnal but mighty in God (10:1-5).

b.    The authority he performed was for edification and not for destruction (10:6-11).

c.    He boasts within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us, not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men's labors (10:12-18).

2.    He declares his mental attitudes as an apostle (11:1-15):

a.    Be jealous for believers whose minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (11:1-3);

b.    Manifest the knowledge of the apostle in everything not through words (11:4-6);

c.    Humble oneself in order to exalt believers (11:7);

d.    Be careful in things concerning money so as not leave any chances for men to slander (11:8-12);

3.    He receives him as a fool so that believers can differentiate between the true and false apostle (11:13-23a):

a.    The false apostles are deceitful workers who transform themselves into apostles of Christ (11:13-15).

b.    The false apostles boast according to the flesh, he also will boast (11:16-23a).

4.    He declares the proofs of him as an apostle (11:23b-12:21):

a.    The first proof: experiencing many tribulations (11:23b-33);

b.    The second proof: having the Lord’s manifestation and revelation (12:1-10);

c.    The third proof: all perseverance, and signs and wonders and mighty deeds (12:11-13);

d.    The fourth proof: love like parents (12:14-18);

e.    The fifth proof: all things are for edification (12:19-21);


E.   Exhortations and conclusion (13:1-14):

1.    Exhort believers not to let him use sharpness according to the authority (13:1-10):

2.    Final exhortations (13:11);

3.    Greeting (13:12-13);

4.    Blessings (13:14);


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Mary Zhou