2 Corinthians

Exegetical Study Notes on the Greek Text

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These exegetical notes are available for download in the form a 309p A5 PDF eBook Commentary on the Greek text of the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. Follow the link at the bottom of the page.


On the return of Titus from Corinth after his delivery of 1 Corinthians, Paul's fear, as to the state of the Corinthian church, is greatly allayed. The majority of the Corinthians have again recognized Paul and have dealt with the immoral members singled out in 1 Corinthians. Paul knew that his previous letter was harsh and had hurt some members, but they were now acting on his instructions. Yet, Titus was is able to inform Paul that all is not well. It seems very likely that Judaizers, members of the circumcision party, have infiltrated the church and are now undermining Paul's understanding of the gospel, as well as the character of Paul himself. In response to this news, Paul writes 2 Corinthians. In this letter Paul restates his apostolic role (primarily mission) and defends himself against recent criticism (fickle, ugly). As apostle to the church, he will soon come and deal with those who are affecting the Christian fellowship and therefore the church should examine itself prior to his visit.

The Structure of 2 Corinthians

1. Greeting and benediction, 1:1-7

Paul thanks God for getting him through his recent troubles and asks the Corinthians to pray for his team.

A Pauline benediction, 1:1-7

2. Paul defends his integrity, 1:8-2:13

Paul's delay at coming is not a fickle decision, rather, he did not wish to cause pain. The immoral member is the one who caused the pain and he has been dealt with, therefore forgive him.

i] Lifted up by prayer, 1:8-11

i] Paul's self-defense, 1:12-17

ii] Paul defends himself theologically, 1:18-22

iii] About the previous letter, 1:23-2:4

iv] The limits to discipline, 2:5-11

v] Paul's visit to Troas, 2:12-13


3. We share in Christ's triumphs, 2:14-17

Paul, Christ's ambassador for the new covenant

Ministers of the new covenant, 2:14-17

Argument Proper

"We are not peddlers of God's word like so many, but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence"

4. The character of Paul's ministry, 3:1-6:13

i] A servant of the new covenant, 3:1-6

ii] The glory of the new covenant, 3:7-18

iii] The treasure of gospel ministry, 4:1-6

iv] A ministry of life and death, 4:7-15

    a) A ministry handed over to death, 4:7-12

    b) A ministry for the life of others, 4:13-15

v] Eternal in dimension, 4:16-5:5

vi] An earthenware container, 5:6-10

vii] Ruled by Christ's love, 5:11-15

viii] A work of reconciliation, 5:16-21

ix] An appeal for reconciliation, 6:1-13

5. Exhortations, 6:14-7:4

i] Do not harness yourselves to an uneven team, 6:14-7:1

ii] Make room for us in your hearts, 7:2-4

6. Paul's meeting with Titus, 7:5-16

Paul is overjoyed by the tidings brought by Titus

Paul and Titus, 7:5-16

7. The collection for the believers in Palestine, 8:1-9:15

The Corinthians obviously wish to help, but have not acted as yet - Paul identifies the generosity of the Christians in Macedonia and the poverty of Jesus.

i] The grace of giving, 8:1-7

ii] The generosity of Christ, 8:8-15

iii] The impending visit of Titus, 8:16-24

iv] Fulfilling promises, 9:1-5

v] Giving generously, 9:6-15

8. Paul defends his ministry, 10:1-12:21

Paul defends himself against those who question his credentials, denounces his opponents and answers misrepresentations.

i] Paul's vindication, 10:1-11

ii] Appropriate and inappropriate boasting, 10:12-18

iii] The interlopers are identified and opposed, 11:1-15

iv] Paul's credentials and his experiences, 11:16-33

v] Paul's vision and revelation, 12:1-6

vi] The thorn in the flesh, 12:7-10

vii] Paul justifies his apostolate, 12:11-18

viii] Expressions of concern, 12:19-21


9. A recapitulation, 13:1-10

Warning and admonition, 13:1-10

10. Conclusion, 13:11-13

The grace of God, 13:11-13


Paul may not have experienced a classical Greek education, but he is an educated man and seems to have understood the principles of rhetoric (speech delivery) and epistolography (letter writing). Both forms are somewhat similar, but given that Paul's letters were designed to be read to a congregation, they tend to be classified as rhetorical. Most fall into the category of deliberative rhetoric, speech delivery designed to persuade an audience, or forensic rhetoric, accusing or defending. The essential elements of such a speech can be distilled down to the following items:

Exordium - an introduction serving to introduce the subject matter while eliciting the sympathy of the audience;

Narratio - a narrative section providing background information;

Propositio - proposition / thesis to be tested, or a partitio, summary of proofs;

Probatio - rhetorical proofs, often with a refutio, a refutation of the opponents arguments;

Digressio - a digression where a proof or refutation is covered in more detail;

Exhortatio - exhortation;

Peroratio - a concluding recapitulation of the main theme.

In epistolography the opening of a letter aligns with the exordium in rhetoric, although more personalized, as in Paul's epistles, and the conclusio of a letter aligns with the peroratio in rhetoric.

Paul's letters exhibit a range of these elements, although not formally classical. Paul is interested in content, not form; substance is his aim, not style. When we come to 2 Corinthians, it is forensic in style although there is little agreement as to its rhetorical structure. This is partly caused by what seems to be three separate parts to the letter (was the letter to be read at three sittings?): 1-7, 8-9, 10-13. In fact, the letter presents as a wondering monologue of thoughtful allusions with limited formal linkage. Yet, it probably presents this way because Paul experiences a range of emotions as he writes - joy, tenderness, anger, self-vindication - all mixed together with profound theological concerns. So, what we end up with is something more loosely structured than say Romans.

A number of modern commentators have sought to structure 2 Corinthians along rhetorical lines. Witherington's attempt in his commentary has much in its favor:

Epistolary prescript, 1:1-2

Exordium / epistolary thanksgiving, 1:3-7

Narratio, 1:8-2:16

Propositio, 2:17

Probatio / refutatio, 3:1-13:4

Argument 1: 3:1-6:13

Argument 2: 6:14-7:1

Argument 3: 7:2-16

Argument 4: 8:1-9:15

Argument 5: 10:1-13:4

Peroratio, 13:5-10

Epistolary Conclusio greetings and remarks, 13:11-13.

Another worthy attempt to structure the letter along rhetorical lines was undertaken by Fredrick Long in Ancient Rhetoric and Paul's Apology: The Compositional Unity of 2 Corinthians, NTS Monograph 131, Cambridge University Press, 2004. Instead of a single propositio Long suggests a partitio, a summary of proofs, five in number, 1:17-24. Then follows the probatio, 2:1-9:15, where the five proofs are expanded, with a refutatio, 10:1-11:15, and personal justification, 10:1-11:15. The peroratio follows, 12:11-13:10.


Three aims may be discerned:

i] Thanksgiving. Paul wants to express his joy for the Corinthians. "I am in good spirits about you at every point."

ii] Exhortation. To encourage them on a number of points.

To beware of false apostles - the Judaizers

To deal with immoral practices;

To raise finances for the poor believers in Palestine.

iii] Prepare for his visit. To prepare the church for his coming visit.


First and foremost, throughout the letter as a whole, Paul sets out to confront the Judaizers and their nomist heresy. It was essential for Paul to defend the gospel of God's free grace, namely, that the full appropriation of the promised blessings of the covenant are realized through Christ's faithfulness and our faith response, and this against the Pharisaic notion that the blessings of the covenant are appropriated through a faithful attention to the Mosaic law. In confronting the nomist heresy of sanctification by obedience with the doctrine of grace through faith / justification by faith, Paul must also defend himself against the judaizers' slander of his person. Paul is no antinomian, he, like them, is a Hebrew through and through, 11:22. He is an apostle in his own right and doesn't need commendatory letters from anyone, 3:11 (clearly a practice of the circumcision party in the Jerusalem church to authorize their delegates). Yet, although a Jew who ticks all the holiness boxes, Paul has found a holiness / righteousness in Christ which is apart from the Torah, a holiness / righteousness which, in itself, shapes holiness / righteousness. So, to maintain the perfect standing a believer possesses in Christ, by grace through faith, against those who promoted sanctification by obedience, Paul sets out to defend his own apostolic credentials.

Historic reconstruction

Paul first visited Corinth in around AD 50 on his second missionary journey, Acts 18:1-18. He stayed there about eighteen months. The city was an important trading centre in Achaia (Greece). Paul is the first to preach the gospel in the town and a small church forms around the new converts, cf., Acts 18.

On his third missionary journey Paul makes Ephesus his center of operations, staying there for over two years, AD 53-55. During his stay at Ephesus, Paul writes to the Corinthian church (the former letter, a letter which denounces fornication in the church, 1Cor.5:9f - This letter is now lost, although some argue that some of it is incorporated in 1 Corinthians. There is obviously strong resentment in the church because of Paul's words, cf., 1 Cor.1). While at Ephesus, Paul also undertook a quick visit to the church (the painful visit, 2Cor.13:2 - Paul is disturbed at the behavior of the new Christians, their fornication etc., and so he warns them of possible disciplinary action. Corinth was renowned for its immoral behavior and so the new Christians must have found it difficult to adapt to Biblical morality. This visit is not recorded in Acts). We really have no idea which was first, the former letter, or the painful visit, but together they stirred up a hornets nest and prompted Paul to change his plans to make Corinth his next port of call (probably his intention was to make Corinth his next base of operations).

On visiting Paul in Ephesus, Stephanus, Furtunatus etc., report on the continued trouble in the church, and also deliver a letter from the church asking certain questions. In response to the situation, Paul sends Timothy, his right-hand man, to visit the church. He then writes another letter (the harsh / severe letter, probably 1 Corinthians) and sends it off, most likely with Titus.

Within weeks of sending Titus, Timothy returns with a bad report as to the conditions in Corinth, so much so that Paul is not sure if he should have written 1 Corinthians to them.

Troubles then develop in Ephesus (Acts 19) and so Paul is forced to leave. After traveling to Troas and then to Macedonia, he meets Titus who gives his report on how the church is fairing:

• Paul's apostolic position in the church is recognized (2Cor.7:7);

• Appropriate action has been taken against the offender, 1Cor.5 (2Cor.7:12);

• The actual criticisms against Paul were clarified. a) Inconsistency - he said he would visit them but he didn't; b) Lowly impression;

• A growing anti-Pauline sentiment is evident in the church, most likely promoted by the presence of members of the circumcision party;

• Some unconfessed immorality needs correction;

• The collection of money for the Jewish Christians in Palestine is moving ahead, but very slowly.

Paul then penned his third letter to the church (2 Corinthians), which is carried to Corinth by Titus with instructions to sort out the problems in the church and facilitate the collection for the poor in Palestine.

In the winter /autumn of AD 55, Paul evangelizes Macedonia and Illyricum and then moves back through Macadonia to Greece, Acts 20:2-3. On reaching Corinth, Paul sets up base camp for some three months, probably early AD 56. It is then Paul is able to deal with any lingering problems, particularly the opposition group lead by the Judaizers. It is within this context that Paul pens his general letter to the Romans.

In the spring of AD 56, Paul's travel plans are disrupted and so he is forced to travel again through Macadonia on his return trip to Jerusalem where he is arrested and sent for trial to Rome.


This reconstruction of Paul's visits and his letters to Corinth is but one of a number of possibilities. Paul's second visit to Corinth may be before or after the former lost letter. Barnett argues for a third flying visit between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians; he argues that this is Paul's painful visit. These visits are not reported in Acts so we are unsure when Paul made it/them, cf., 2Cor.13:2. We are also unsure what letter Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 2:4, 7:8. Is it the former lost letter, cf., 1Cor.5:9, or a lost letter penned between the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians? These notes presume that this painful / harsh letter is actually 1 Corinthians.

The Compilation Hypothesis

Some modern commentators are inclined to the view that 2 Corinthians is the work of an editor who has stitched together at least two Pauline letters. A two part division is the most popular view and of course, if true, significantly alters the historic reconstruction above. With the two-part hypothesis, 1:1-9:15, excluding 6:14-7:1, is the main part of a Pauline letter attached to another Pauline letter covering 10:1-13:10. This stitching of both letters was undertaken by an editor who removed the conclusion of the first and the introduction of the second. Tasker, in his commentary, states that "it has become very fashionable to maintain that the last four chapters are not part of the letter which Paul wrote from Macedonia when he received the good news which Titus brought back from Corinth, but that they formed the closing part of the painful letter to which reference is made in 2 Cor.7:8." Those who maintain the unity of 2 Corinthians hold the view that the painful letter is none other than 1 Corinthians. Just because 1 Corinthians has positive elements in it doesn't mean that it is not painful; Paul is highly critical of both individuals, and the congregation as a whole, in 1 Corinthians.

There is no textual evidence whatsoever of there ever being two separate letters prior to the existence of 2 Corinthians. The argument for the two-letter theory rests wholly on literary evidence, of two thematically different parts to the letter. Yet, by dismissing an author's mood swings, the exegete inevitably influences their exegetical conclusions. The mood swings in this letter are very important; they reflect Paul's joy in the resolution of problems identified in 1 Corinthians, but at the same time his horror at becoming aware of the increasing influence of the Judaizers and their nomist heresy of sanctification by obedience. It is worth noting that it is very likely that Romans was penned probably some six months after writing this letter. Romans, of course, serves as a theological treatise which sets out to address the nomist heresy. Paul's horror is particularly evident from chapter 10 onward. In these chapters he defends his own credentials and at the same time confront those who come and proclaim another Jesus, 11:4. As Naylor puts it, "chapters 10-13 are a fitting and logical climax to the main theme of the epistle, which is that the new covenant is infinitely superior to that of Moses, a waning arrangement grossly misinterpreted by self-appointed false apostles."

An interesting theory proposed by E.R Richards in The Secretary in the Letters of Paul, 1991, is that chapters 10-13 are actually a postscript added to the completed letter, chapters 1-9, on receipt of further bad news from Corinth. This would explain the change of mood, but again it is a theory without textual support.

English Commentaries on 2 Corinthians

Level of complexity:

1, non-technical, to 5, requiring a workable knowledge of Greek.

Deceased: D. For publications no longer in print

Other identifiers: Recommended R; Greek Technical G; Theology T


Barnett, NICNT, 1997. 4R

Barrett, Black's, 1973. 3

Belleville, IVP, Commentary Series, 1996.2

Best, Interpretation, 1987. 2

Bruce, NCB, 1971.2D

Carson, Baker (ch. 10-13), 1984. T

Danker, Augsburg, Fortress, 1989. 3

Filson, Interpreter's Bible 10, 1953. 3DG

Furnish, Anchor, 1984. 4

Garland, NAC, 1999. 3

Guthrie, BECNT, 2015. 3

Hanson, Torch, 1954. 1D

Harris, NIGTC, 2005. 5R

Hughes, NICNT, 1962. 3D

Isaacs, Oxford University Press, 1921. 4GD

Keener, NCBC, 2005. 2

Kruse, Tyndale, 1987, 2nd. ed. 1994. 2R

Kruse, EGGNT, 2020. G

Lambrecht, Sacra Pagina, 1999. 3

Lenski, Lutheran Book Concern, 1937 (Wartburg Press 1946). 3

Long, HGT, 2015. G

Martin, Word, 1986. 5

Meyer, T & T Clark, 1884. 4GD

Naylor, EPSC, 2 volumes, 2002. 3R

Pfitzner, ChiRho, 1992. 2D

Plummer, ICC, 1915. 4GD

Strachan, MNTC, 1935. 2D

Tasker, Tyndale, 1958. 2D

Thrall*, CBC, 1965. 1D

Thrall, ICC, 1994. 5R

Witherington, SRC, 1995. 3T


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