Introduction to 2 Corinthians

(Part I)

Theodor Zahn

Note: Theodor Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, trans. from 3rd German ed., 3 vols. (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, 1977; 1909 English edition).

The Correspondence of Paul with the Corinthian Church
(Volume I, Chapter IV)

Survey of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians

Unless the close connection between 1 Cor. and 2 Cor. be broken, either by the assumption that between the two there belongs an Epistle of Paul to the same Church, which is lost, or which must be searched for, or by the assumption of an intervening visit, or by the combination of these two hypotheses, 2 Cor. furnishes information both regarding the immediate effect of 1 Cor. and subsequent developments.

Timothy is mentioned in 2 Cor. as a joint writer with Paul of the letter; but the case is not parallel to that of 1 Cor. i. 1, since Timothy was one of Paul's helpers who had had an active part in the organisation of the Churches in Achaia (i. 19 ; cf. 1 Thess. i. 1; 2 Thess. i. 1). This explains why, contrary to his usage in I Cor. i. 4, Paul employs the first person plural from the very beginning of the letter, and uses it quite uniformly up to ix. 15, never exchanging it for the singular except for some good reason, and in only one instance expressly stating who is included in the "we," namely, when he refers to the pioneer preaching of the gospel among the Christians of Achaia, in which Silvanus as well as Timothy had taken part (i. 19). Consequently, as is self-evident, throughout the letter, except where the general nature of the statements made render it clear that all Christians or all like-minded preachers of the gospel are meant, the "we" includes primarily and certainly Timothy and Paul. This is true even of the concluding section chaps, x.-xiii., where, notwithstanding the fact that the introductory αὐτὸς δὲ ὲγὼ Παῦλος indicates that what follows is an expression of Paul's own opinion, in distinction from the joint communication of Timothy and Paul that precedes, we have an occasional substitution of "we" for " I."

Furthermore, it is to be observed that, unlike 1 Cor., 2 Cor. is not intended exclusively for the Church in Corinth, but also for all the other Christians throughout the province of Achaia. But if it were intended for the Corinthians only in the same way that it is meant for the other Christians in Achaia, the designation of the readers would certainly be different: either we should have the different places where the letter was to be read enumerated (cf. Rev. i. 4, 11; 1 Pet. i. 1), or all the Churches would be spoken of together as those of Achaia (Gal. i. 2; 1 Cor. xvi. 19; 2 Cor. viii. 1; Gal. i. 22; 1 Thess. ii. 14). The language of the greeting shows, therefore, that while the letter was intended primarily for the Corinthians, it was applicable also, either in whole or in part, to the other Christians in Achaia, and was intended to be communicated to them. In this respect the greeting is different from 1 Cor. i. 2. Consequently, also, the address Κορίνθιοι, in vi. 11 is not to be understood after the analogy of Phil. iv. 15, Gal. iii. 1, as if directed to all the readers, but its occurrence here is due to the fact that in some degree what precedes, and in particular what is said from this point on, is applicable only to the Church in Corinth. This same circumstance explains also the mention of the city in i. 23, which, following the repeated πρὸς ὑμᾶς, δἰ ὑμῶν, ἐν ὑμῖν, i. 15-19, is somewhat strange, and, like Κορίνθιοι, excepting the greeting of 1 Cor., which does not need to be taken into account here, is quite without parallel. The expressions in i. 15-19 mean "to, through, and in Achaia"; what follows in i. 23 applies only to the Corinthians.

There were, on the other hand, other things which affected just as vitally the remaining Christians in Achaia, particularly the matter of the collection spoken of in chaps. viii.-ix., in which they had all had a part (ix. 2; Rom. xv. 26). If Titus, who, let us assume, brought the letter from Macedonia to Corinth (see below), journeyed by way of Athens, he is likely at once to have made known the contents of the communication which he bore to the Christians in Athens and in other Christian centres in Achaia en route; since he could not well have passed through these places without stopping to greet them. And inasmuch as he was also personally to superintend the collection in Achaia, he is not at all likely to have left it for the Corinthian Church to see that the letter was circulated among the Churches of Achaia, particularly since viii. 16-24 contained recommendations and proofs of the identity of Titus and his companions quite essential for carrying on the collection. But it may be questioned whether in these transactions Titus informed the other Churches of the contents of the entire letter, which dealt so largely with special conditions in Corinth, or only of such sections as i. 1-22, viii. 1-ix. 15, xiii. 11-13.

The Epistle may be divided into three clearly defined sections, chaps, i.-vii., viii.-ix., x.-xiii. The framework of the first section consists of three fragments of an account of the apostle's journey. While he was still in the province of Asia, he and Timothy, who was with him, were threatened with what seemed certain death (i. 8-10). When he reached Troas and was minded to preach the gospel there, a favourable opportunity having offered, he found that he was not in a state of mind sufficiently composed to do so, because he had not been met there by Titus, whom he had sent to Corinth, and whose return he awaited with the utmost anxiety. In the hope of sooner meeting him, he and Timothy left Troas at once and went to Macedonia (ii. 12 f.) After their arrival in Macedonia, where this letter was written, and manifestly not very long before its composition, Titus met him and cheered his heart with good news from Corinth (vii. 5 f.).

The chronological as well as geographical arrangement of the material is retained in the two following sections. In chaps. viii.-ix. Paul speaks of events that were taking place at the time in the Macedonian Churches where he was, particularly of a recent decision, a decision made since the arrival of Titus. He tells the Corinthians what they did not yet know, and what possibly had not been decided upon when Titus left Corinth, namely, that of their own accord the Macedonian Churches had decided to help in the collection for the Christians in Jerusalem, a collection which had been going on in Corinth now for a year, in fact since before the sending of the communication to which Paul replied in 1 Cor. Moved by the commendatory reports of Paul and Timothy about the collections in Achaia, and without Paul's having ventured to ask it (ix. 2, viii. 5), the poor Macedonians had at once gathered a sum which, in view of their circumstances, was considerable (viii. 1-4, ix. 2). They had already selected one of their own number to accompany Paul and Timothy on their journey with the collection by way of Corinth to Jerusalem. The zeal of the Macedonians in this matter, which had been dragging on in Corinth for such a considerable time, and the news brought by Titus regarding the condition of the offering there, led Paul to ask Titus to return to Corinth, whence he had come only a short time before, in company with the representative of the Macedonian Christians and another brother, perhaps the person chosen by the Churches in Asia for this very purpose, in order to complete the collection (viii. 6, 16-24, ix. 3-5).

All that we learn from the second part of the letter (chaps. viii.-ix.) regarding Paul's anticipated visit is, that he did not mean that it should be delayed much longer. He does not intend to wait for the return of Titus and his companions. The two representatives of the Churches are to make the first part of the journey, which was to be completed in company with Paul, somewhat earlier than the apostle, and in company with Titus rather than Paul himself. The three are sent ahead to Corinth to announce his coming (ix. 5), and to deliver the letter in the middle sections of which they had been commended to the Christians of Achaia.

It is not until the third section (chaps, x.-xiii.) that Paul speaks particularly of his own coming. The section begins with a contrast between his anticipated presence among the Corinthians and his absence from them up to this time (x. 1-10), and concludes with the same thought (xiii. 10). Once he expresses the hope of being able to preach the gospel in the regions beyond Corinth (x. 16). But the most important purpose of his coming is to establish order in Corinth, which as yet has not been fully restored (x. 6, xii. 14 f., xiii. 1 f.). He fears that he may find many of the old disorders and be compelled to make use of harsh measures (x. 2, xii. 20 f., xiii. 7-9). As he himself indicates at the close, the purpose of the letter, which is sent from a distance in spite of the fact that he expects to come himself so soon, is to spare himself the necessity of exercising with severity the authority given him by the Lord (xiii. 10), and this is the special purpose of chaps, x.-xiii. It is with this purpose in view that he requests the whole Church to submit itself with more entire obedience than it had done heretofore (x. 6), and resents so decisively the arrogant criticisms of himself and of his letters which were still being made in the Church, particularly by the Christ party (x. 1 f., vii.-xi., xiii. 3-6). For the last time he threatens those who live immoral lives, and who, in spite of all exhortations, have not repented (xii. 21-xiii. 2).

The larger portion of this section is directed against the teachers from abroad, who, as we have seen, were the followers of Peter, and the Church is requested no longer to permit these aliens to carry on their pernicious work, which more than anything else had caused the trouble and bitterness in the relations between Paul and the Corinthians (xi. 1-xii. 18). This third part of the letter is the last precursor of the apostle on the way to Corinth.

Tradition makes the Epistle a unit; and this preliminary survey shows it to be such, with an order which is both natural and logical. In spirit the reader follows Paul from Ephesus through Troas to Macedonia (chaps, i.-vii.); then he lingers with him for a moment in the Churches of Macedonia (chaps, viii.-ix.); finally, he is led to the consideration of conditions in the Church at Corinth from the point of view of Paul's coming visit there. The three sections of the letter treat respectively, the immediate past with its misunderstandings and explanations, the present with its practical problems, and the near future with its anxieties.

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