Bible Study Guide: 2 Corinthians

What makes 2 Corinthians unique?

This letter gives insights into Paul's personal relationship with the Corinthian Christians, especially how he tries to answer attacks that have been made against him. While many support him, some challenge his authority as an apostle. Others criticize him for the way he speaks and writes, and still others think he is unfriendly and too harsh in his comments. As Paul defends himself as an apostle of Christ, he shares a number of important teachings about:

  1. forgiving others (2:5-17);
  2. God's new agreement that comes from the Holy Spirit and not from the Law (3:1-18);
  3. how anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person (5:17-21);
  4. giving generously to help God's people in Jerusalem (8:1-15; 9:1-15); and
  5. how God has changed Paul's own life (12:1-9).

Why was 2 Corinthians written?

Paul had lived and worked among Christ's followers in Corinth. Later he wrote to them in order to encourage them and to answer their questions. He also promised to come and visit them (1 Corinthians 16:5,6). At the beginning of 2 Corinthians, Paul writes to explain why he has changed his mind. He stayed away from Corinth so that he would not seem to be too hard and demanding (1:23), and because he wanted to see if they would follow his instructions about forgiving and comforting people who had sinned (2:5-11). Paul also wrote the letter in order to defend himself as a true apostle of Christ and to encourage the Corinthians to be generous in giving money to help Christians in other parts of the Roman world.

What's the story behind the scene?

Paul wrote a series of letters to the church in Corinth. These include an earlier letter mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:9 and the letter we know as 1 Corinthians. He also mentions a letter he wrote when he was sad (2 Corinthians 2:3,4). Second Corinthians is perhaps two letters written by Paul that circulated together, and then were eventually joined together. The first one is made up of chapters 1-9, and the second, chapters 10-13. It is possible that 6:14-7:1 is a fragment of yet another letter, since it breaks the flow of thought from 6:11-13 to 7:2. Paul probably stayed in Corinth first in about A.D. 50-51 and wrote 1 Corinthians around A.D. 53-54, after he had gone back to Jerusalem (Acts 18). The two letters that form 2 Corinthians were written some time after that. (Click here to read the Wikipedia article on the ancient city of Corinth. Click here to visit the Corinth Computer Project at the University of Pennsylvania.)

How is 2 Corinthians constructed?

Although 2 Corinthians is probably not one single letter, its beginning and ending are typical of the greetings that people in Paul's day would use to open and close letters. The letter can be outlined in this way:

  1. Greetings and prayers of thanks (1:1-11)
  2. Paul wants to make peace with his opponents (1:12-6:13; 7:2-16)
  3. A possible fragment from another letter (6:14-7:16)
  4. Paul encourages the Corinthians to be generous givers (8:1-9:15)
  5. Paul defends himself as a true apostle of Christ (10:1-12:21)
  6. Final warnings and greetings (13:1-13)