Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


15. 2 Corinthians

Video Introduction


This chapter offers a brief overview of the contents of 2 Corinthians, followed by discussion of historical background and major themes.

In terms of historical background, 2 Corinthians is probably the fourth letter sent by Paul to this troubled congregation; it is his response to news that the congregation desires to be reconciled with him following an unfortunate falling out that prompted him to be harsh with them. Many scholars, however, believe that the work we now possess is actually a compilation of numerous notes and letters—in this case the bulk of 2 Corinthians might be identified with Paul’s fourth letter to the church, while sections of the letter might be identified with other correspondences.

Paul devotes most of the letter to discussing the character and content of his ministry and he does so in a defensive vein, owing to strained relations with the church and to the presence of what he calls super-apostles who have exalted themselves at his expense. Two chapters of 2 Corinthians deal with the topic of fund-raising: Paul lays out principles for generous, proportionate giving as he encourages the Corinthians to support a collection he is taking for Jerusalem. The final chapters of the letter, however, are an uncharacteristically bitter assault on the super-apostles: Paul defends his own apostolic authority, cites the marks of a true apostle, and engages in some ironic “boasting” that leads to his conclusion that human weakness is more commendable than strength.

Study Questions

  1. Outline the history of correspondence between Paul and the Corinthians, indicating at least four letters that he is thought to have sent and which of these four would correspond to the letters we have in the New Testament. What do we know about the content of the “lost letters”?

  2. Summarize the “patchwork theory” that suggests 2 Corinthians might be a compilation of various notes and letters Paul sent.

  3. What was the “collection for Jerusalem” that Paul discusses in 2 Corinthians 8–9 and what principles does he articulate when encouraging the Corinthians to take part in this collection? Cite two ways in which he tries to motivate generosity.

  4. What four marks of apostleship does Paul lay out in 2 Corinthians and how do these relate to his contest with the so-called super-apostles?

  5. Of what accomplishments does Paul boast in his defense against the super-apostles? Give three examples of “achievements” that mark him as a laudable apostle. Give another three examples of matters that he contends expose his weaknesses and ultimately count for more than the things that show his strength?

Video: Principles for Giving