Introduction to Second Corinthians

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Published 15 June 2021

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Scripture Text: The text of quotations from the Corinthian letters is prepared by Blaine Robison based on the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. All other Scripture quotations are from the NASB Updated Edition (1995), unless otherwise indicated. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.

Sources: Bibliographic data for works cited may be found at the end of this article. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. The abbreviation LXX stands for the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century B.C.

Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use  Yeshua (Jesus), Messiah (Christ), Tanakh (Old Testament), and Besekh (New Testament).



Corinth (Grk. Korinthos) was the principal city and capital of Achaia (see map), as well as being a Roman colony. It was situated on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, roughly halfway between Athens and Sparta. had controlling access to two seas--the Aegean, about five miles to the east and the Ionian on the west. Its eastern port was Cenchrea, located on the Saronic Gulf (Acts 18:18; Rom 16:1), its western harbor was at Lechaeum on the Corinthian Gulf. This proximity to the seas and its nearness to Athens, only forty-five miles to the northeast, gave Corinth a position of strategic commercial importance and military defense.

Corinth was the most prosperous city in Greece and a center of trade for the region. Due to its famous canal Corinth became a major transportation hub for travelers, connecting Rome with the East. Corinth was an exceedingly pagan city with temples devoted to Apollo, Aphrodite, and Poseidon. The Greek historian Strabo (64 BC – AD 24) reported that the temple of Aphrodite employed over a thousand prostitutes (Geography VIII, 6:20).

Residing in this pagan city, as in the other cities of Greece, was a large population of Jews (Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius, §XXXVI). The Jewish settlements throughout the Roman Empire had resulted from emigration (sometimes voluntary and sometimes forced) from Babylon (Tarn & Griffith 219). Josephus reported that "the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers" (Ant. XI, 5:2). All of these settlements became the starting point for the apostles to proclaim the fulfillment of prophetic promises and the Good News of the Messiah (Acts 1:8; Rom 1:16).

Jewish residents of Corinth had their own synagogue (Acts 18:4). The existence of a synagogue in Corinth is pointed to by an inscribed lintel block with enough of the words remaining to make out the reading "Synagogue of the Hebrews" (Mare 14). Luke identifies two of the seven synagogue rulers as Crispus (verse 8) and Sosthenes (verse 17). The Roman authorities in Greece allowed synagogue rulers to exercise authority over members of their community for both civil and criminal matters as may be evidenced by Gallio permitting Sosthenes to be mistreated by Jewish leaders (Schurer II:263).


The charter members of the Messianic congregation came from Jews and Gentiles of Corinth (Acts 18:4, 6-8; 1Cor 10:1, 32; 12:2), thus making a diverse constituency. The Jews came from different backgrounds, some being traditional orthodox Jews (Grk. Ioudaioi, 1Cor 1:22), and others being Hellenistic Jews (Grk. Hellēnes, 1Cor 1:22).

Christian commentators generally believe the greater part of the congregation was composed of native Greeks based on Paul's reference to the "Greeks" (Grk. Hellēnes) who seek after wisdom (1Cor 1:20-24) and also his reference to members of the congregation having formerly been "pagans" (Grk. ethnē; 12:2). However, the former reference could just as easily refer to Hellenistic Jews. See my article Hellenism and the Jews.

The letter recipients are familiar with Scripture, Jewish theology and Jewish culture. The Gentiles in the congregation were people who had associated with the synagogue for a long period and thus had familiarity with Judaism. For an explanation of the constituency of congregations in the apostolic era see my article The Apostolic Community.

Some of the members, most likely the Hellenistic Jews, had formerly lived as pagans (1Cor 6:9-11; 12:2). Although they may have separated from sinful practices they still were too much of the world. As the first letter indicates the congregation in Corinth was the most dysfunctional group of disciples in the apostolic era and perhaps in all of history. None of the congregations condemned by Yeshua in Revelation were as bad as Corinth.


The writer of the letter is identified as Paul the apostle (2Cor 1:1). Paul's life is the best documented of the apostles. For a detailed discussion of Paul's life and ministry, see my article The Apostle from Tarsus. Paul visited Corinth during his second journey (c. A.D. 49-52) and ministered there for 18 months (Acts 18:1-18). He stayed with Aquila and Priscilla and worked with them in the trade of tent-making. He began his ministry of teaching alone, speaking in the local synagogue on the Sabbath and later was joined by Silas and Timothy.

Paul probably came to the city in the fall of A.D. 50, after having proclaimed the good news of the Messiah in Athens. Dating Paul's stay in Corinth is deduced from the mention of Gallio, the Roman proconsul of Achaia, in Acts 18:12. Gallio is mentioned on an inscription of the Emperor Claudius at Delphi dated between January and August, A.D. 52. Since the inscription mentions Gallio as already in office in the first half of A.D. 52, he must have begun his duties July 1, A.D. 51, July 1 being the time each year when Roman proconsuls took office.

No mention is made of Gallio being in office when Paul first came to Corinth. Some time later, after opposition to the Messianic message developed (vv. 6-10), Luke records that Paul was brought before Gallio (vv. 12-17). So the conclusion is that Paul arrived in Corinth some time before Gallio, probably by the fall of A.D. 50, a period of about nine months before the appointment of the proconsul. After this official opposition Paul left Corinth for Syria, sailing from Cenchrea (v. 18). Sometime after Paul founded the congregation two other important leaders visited the area: Apollos, reported by Luke (Acts 18:24−19:1; 1Cor 3:6), and Peter, reported by church fathers (Church History, II, 25:8).



Paul's letters are genuine Jewish correspondence to Jewish people. As David Bivin says, "The New Testament was written by Jews for Jewish readers" (44), and Paul's letters are no exception. The Jewish perspective of Paul and the Jewish character of his letter are listed below.

Second Corinthians is written in an orderly fashion. After a customary introduction Paul proceeds to the discussion of various issues. The Greek of the letters is excellent, but it is debatable whether Paul actually penned their entirety. Just as Gamaliel had a scribe who penned his letters so it was Paul's habit to dictate his letters except for the conclusion. Indirect evidence of a secretary is Paul's statement about writing a sentence "in his own hand (1Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11; Col 4:18; 2Th 3:17; Phm 1:19).

Paul mentions three persons in this letter: Timothy (2Cor 1:1, 19); Silvanus (2Cor 1:19); and Titus (2Cor 2:13; 7:6; 8:23; 12:18). All these persons may be presumed to be Jewish. The fact of having a Greek or Latin name does not prove the individual was a Gentile since Paul had both a Greek and Latin name and Crispus (1Cor 1:14) was the synagogue ruler. Noteworthy is that Paul does not mention Titius Justus, a godly man who loaned the use of his house to Paul for teaching (Acts 18:7).

Like other works in the Besekh each of Paul's letters contain many hapax legomena (words that only appear once), as counted in the NA28. Scholars note that in Second Corinthians there are sixty-four words not found anywhere else in the Besekh (Barnes). In reality Paul was a consummate communicator. The numerous hapax legomena testifies to Paul's linguistic ability as well as the skill of his scribe.


There is no question of the canonicity of Paul's second letter to Corinth (cf. 2Pet 3:15-16). Since the letter was clearly written by Paul, an apostle, it easily gained acceptance in the patristic era as both authentically Pauline and authoritative as Scripture. The letter is included in Marcion's Apostolicon (c. A.D. 140) and in the Muratorian canon (c. A.D. 170), the earliest attempts at defining the apostolic canon. With regard to the patristic usage, the letter is quoted by Irenaeus (c. A.D. 202), Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 215), Tertullian (c. A.D. 220), and Origen (c. A.D. 254).


Paul wrote the second letter to the congregation in Corinth from Macedonia during his third missionary journey (52-57 A.D.), a few months after the first letter. In 1:1 Paul extends his greeting to all the disciples in the region of Achaia, so this letter had a wider distribution than the first. Paul found it necessary in his Corinthian letters to defend his authority as  shaliach (apostle) of Yeshua (2Cor 11:5; 12:11). Adversaries of Paul had slandered his character and deemed him unworthy to tell them what to do. In his second letter Paul warned them that continued insubordination would result in God's judgment (2Cor 13:1-2). Paul had the backing of God.

Hughes describes the sequence of events leading up to the writing of this letter. After the dispatch of the letter labeled "First Corinthians" Paul was anxious to know how it was received. He had an arrangement with Titus to meet him at Troas, Paul's destination after leaving Ephesus (cf. 1Cor 16:5-8; Acts 20:1; 2Cor 2:12-13).

After arriving in Troas he did not find Titus, so he continued his journey to Macedonia, and finally Titus did arrive, probably in Philippi (2Cor 7:5-7). Titus gave his report with a mixture of good and bad news. Like the first letter Paul had Titus deliver this letter, accompanied by an unnamed "brother" (2Cor 8:16-22; 12:18), whom most scholars believe to be Luke.

Harris says that Paul had several overriding purposes in writing. He wished:

(1) to express his great relief and delight at the Corinthians' positive response to his "severe letter" that had been delivered and reinforced by Titus (2:6, 9, 12-14; 7:5-16);

(2) to exhort the congregation to complete their promised collection for the disciples in Jerusalem before his arrival on the next visit (8:6, 7, 10, 11; 9:3-5);

(3) to prepare them for his forthcoming visit by having them engage in self-examination and self-judgment (12:14; 13:1, 5, 11), so that they could discover the proper criteria for distinguishing between rival apostles (chapters 10 to 13); and so that Paul could be spared the pain of having to exercise discipline (10:2, 5, 6, 11; 11:3; 12:19-21; 13:10).

There were, of course, other aims, such as his desire to inform them of the intensity of his trouble in Asia and solicit their prayer for future deliverance (1:8-11), to explain his changes of itinerary (1:12-2:4), to encourage the reaffirmation of their love for the penitent wrongdoer (2:5-11), to insist on their separation from all idolatrous associations (6:14-7:1), and to describe the true nature and high calling of the Christian ministry (2:14-7:4).


The letter may be outlined as follows:

I. Introduction: Greetings and Thanksgiving (1:1-11).

II. Paul's Explanation of His Change of Plans (1:12—2:13).

III. Paul's Philosophy of Ministry (2:14—6:10)

IV. The Collection for Disciples in Judea (8:1—9:15).

V. Paul's Vindication of His Apostolic Authority (10:1—13:10).

VI. Conclusion (13:11-14).


Paul uses a number of quotations to the Tanakh in the letter. Only Jews and proselytes would have been familiar with the words and content of Scripture.

4:13— Psalm 116:10 (LXX Psalm 115:1)

6:2— Isaiah 49:8

6:16— Exodus 29:45; Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:28; Ezekiel 37:27

6:17— Isaiah 52:11; Jeremiah 31:9

6:18— 2Samuel 7:8, 14; Isaiah 43:6

8:15— Exodus 16:18

9:9— Psalm 112:9 (LXX Psalm 111:9)

10:17— Jeremiah 9:24

13:1— Deuteronomy 17:6


Paul makes many references to aspects of contemporary Jewish culture and religion.

1:1— Paul makes reference to "Christ" (Grk. Christos), which is a Jewish title for the Messiah. Christos has no religious meaning in Greek culture. The title occurs in 44 verses of this letter.

1:3-7— Paul follows the liturgical formula for a Jewish b'rakhah (blessing). The praise is directed to the Father rather than to Yeshua.

1:5— Paul's statement about "the sufferings of Messiah are ours in abundance" hints at Psalm 34:19 and Psalm 94:19.

1:20— All the promises given to the patriarchs and Israel are "yes" in Yeshua. (This means the promises have not been canceled nor transferred to Christianity.)

2:11— Paul mentions Satan who first appears in the Garden and then in the story of Job.

2:14-15— The expression "sweet aroma" is an allusion to the burnt offering (Ex 29:18) and the grain offering with oil and incense (Lev 2:2; 6:15).

2:17— Paul's ethical principle of not charging for the good news reflects a rabbinic value (Avot 4:5).

3:6— Paul mentions the New Covenant, which was prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer 31:31). He clarifies the Jewish understanding that the Torah brings life (Deut 30:19-20; John 5:39; Exodus Rabbah 41:1) by saying that in the New Covenant it is actually the Spirit who brings life by enabling God's people to keep His commandments (Ezek 36:26).

3:7— He mentions the stone tablets which contained the words of God (Ex 24:12).

3:13— He mentions Moses veiling his face because of the glory of God (Ex 34:34). The Talmud says, "The countenance of Moses was like that of the sun; the countenance of Joshua was like that of the moon" (Baba Bathra 75a).

3:14-15— The mention of the "Old Covenant" and Moses being read refers to the Torah portion read in a synagogue service.

5:10— Jewish expectation of judgment at the end of the age is alluded to in the statement, "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah."

5:17— Paul's mention of "new creation" is a Jewish idea because it only becomes possible in the Jewish Messiah. "And a people will be created to praise the Everpresent Lord.' [Ps 102:19] The Holy One, blessed be He, will create them a new creation." (Midrash Leviticus 30:3; quoted by Gruber 286)

5:20— The call to "be reconciled to God" alludes to the expectation of personal peacemaking and reconciliation during the ten days of awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Any relational sin that had not been forgiven could not receive atonement.

5:21— Paul says that Yeshua was sinless and that his death served as a sin offering (as translated in CJB, MACE, MRINT, NJB, NLT, OJB, TLV, and WESLEY). The translation of many versions that God made him "to be sin" implies that Yeshua became sinful on the cross, and fails to recognize that the Hebrew word for "sin" is also used of the sin offering in the Torah.

6:14— The exhortation not to be bound to unbelievers alludes to the Torah commandment to avoid mixing unlike things and people (Ex 34:11-12, 15-16; Lev 20:5-6; Num 25:1-2; Deut 22:10; 31:16).

6:15— In the Qumran writings Belial is one of the princes of Darkness. His sons (followers) are worthless and perverse. "The first attack of the Sons of Light shall be undertaken against the forces of the Sons of Darkness, the army of Belial … a time of salvation for the People of God, and a time of dominion for all the men of His forces and eternal annihilation for all the forces of beliah." (DSS 1QM 1:1, 5; TDSS 147f). "he made Belial for the pit, an angel of malevolence, his dominion is in darkness and his counsel to condemn and convict" (DSS 1QM 13:11; TDSS 160).

6:16— Paul also alludes to the Temple using it as a symbol of the Body of Messiah.

7:10— Paul expounds that godly sorrow leads to genuine repentance (Heb. t'shuvah), that is, turning from sin to God, making restitution for wrongs, and resolving to act righteously.

8:9— He mentions that Yeshua had no material wealth.

9:7— The Talmud says, "it is the same whether one gives much or little, as long as he directs his heart to his Father who is in Heaven!" (Shevuoth 15a)

9:10— The expression "seed to the sower" alludes to Isaiah 55:10 and Hosea 10:12.

11:2— Paul uses the verb "betrothed," a term related to marriage. In Jewish culture marriage involved two stages or two ceremonies, erusin (betrothal) and nisuin (consummation). Betrothal meant that from that point the woman belonged to the man. That is, the woman became forbidden to all men but to whom she has now been designated. Betrothal made the woman a legal wife and her status could only be changed by divorce or death.

11:31— Paul attests his integrity with a Jewish blessing "He who is blessed forever knows that I am not lying," what could be called a typical Jewish hodayah (eulogy) (Santala 9).

12:2— He uses the expression "third heaven," an allusion to the Jewish view of the tripartite universe. The first heaven is the atmosphere of the earth, the second heaven is interstellar space and the third heaven is the location of God's dwelling.

13:1— he mentions the Jewish evidentiary standard of "two or three witnesses" (Deut 19:15).

Personal Elements

Overall the letter contains an emotional response from Paul not seen elsewhere in his writings (Chaps. 1, 4—5, 7, 10—12), ranging from personal despair to incredible ecstasy. In 1:1 Paul includes Timothy as a correspondent.

1:8— he mentions his trials in "Asia," possibly a reference to Ephesus.

1:16— he mentions a planned journey to Judea.

1:8— he speaks of sufferings experienced in Asia.

1:19— he says that Silvanus and Timothy shared in his ministry in Corinth.

2:3-4— Paul references a previous letter (1Corinthians).

2:13— Paul mentions Titus, whose name is mentioned 6 times in chapters 7-8 and again in chapter 12.

5:13— Paul relates that some thought him to be insane.

7:5-7— Paul returns to his travel narrative.

8:1-6— Paul letter exhorts the congregation to be generous in the matter of collecting an offering for the disciples in Judea. He planned to send Titus receive the offering. To follow the example of Paul (and congregations in the apostolic era) means giving to the needs of Messianic Jews in Israel.

11:7— Paul mentions that he did not charge for proclaiming the Good News. Rabbinic law forbid charging a fee for teaching Scripture (Avot 4:5; Nedarim 37a, 62a; Derek Eretz Zuta 3:3), so rabbis typically practiced a trade.

11:8— Paul mentions being accused him of pocketing money for himself that they had collected for the relief of disciples in Judea. Paul passionately defends his integrity and his apostolic authority. His opponents in Corinth will experience his authority firsthand by divine validation if they fail to repent of their wicked attitudes.

11:22— Paul stresses his ethnic heritage as being a Hebrew, an Israelite, and a descendant of Abraham.

11:23-27— Paul then offers a list of his trials and burdens, including imprisonments, being beaten and stoned, being shipwrecked, and being in various kinds of dangers.

11:24— he mentions receiving "40 lashes minus one," a phrasing found in Jewish law (Deut 25:3; Makkot 22b).

11:32-33— He mentions his escape from Damascus soon after his transformation and commencement of ministry.

12:2-4— He describes an incredible experience of being caught up to the third heaven, whether in the body or out of the body he did not know. He heard and saw things he was forbidden to share.

12:7— As a result of the sublime revelation Paul says that he was given a "thorn in the flesh" to insure he remained humble. Commentators favor a physical ailment, but his mention of a "messenger from Satan" implies the "thorn" was an adversary in Corinth. False teachers were challenging both Paul's integrity and his authority.

13:12— Paul mentions the cultural practice of the "holy kiss." No one is sure exactly what a holy kiss was, but it was likely some sort of physical expression of affection, such as a hug, an embrace, a kiss, or touching, without any hint of improper intentions. Stern says that in Israel, Arab men and Jewish men from Middle Eastern backgrounds often greet each other by kissing on both cheeks.

Works Cited

Ant.: Flavius Josephus (c. 37-100 A.D.), Antiquities of the Jews. Online.

Barnes: Mark Barnes, List of New Testament Hapax Legomena. Logos Bible Software Forum, 2013.

Gruber: Daniel Gruber, The Messianic Writings. Elijah Publishing, 2011. Translation of the Majority Text of the Greek New Testament with annotations by the author.

Harris: Murray J. Harris, 2 Corinthians. Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 10. Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp, 1989-1999.

Hughes: Philip E. Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1962. (New International Commentary on the New Testament)

Mare: W. Harold Mare, 1 Corinthians. Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 10. Software version 2.6. Zondervan Corp, 1989-1999.

Santala: Risto Santala, Paul: The Man and the Teacher in the Light of Jewish Sources. Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 1995. Online.

Schurer: Emil Schurer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ. 2nd ed. 3 Vols. T&T Clark, 1890-1891. Online.

Skarsaune: Oskar Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Tarn & Griffith: Sir William Tarn and G.T. Griffith, Hellenistic Civilization. 3rd Edition. Edward Arnold Publishers, Ltd., 1952.

TDSS: The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. Rev. ed. Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr. and Edward Cook. HarperOne, 2005.

Additional Resources on Paul

Tim Hegg, Letter Writer: Paul's Background and Torah Perspective. 2nd ed. TorahResource, 2008.

Derek Leman, Paul Didn't Eat Pork. Mt. Olive Press, 2005.

Brad Young, Paul the Jewish Theologian: A Pharisee among Christians, Jews, and Gentiles. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1997.

Copyright © 2021 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.