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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

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2 Corinthians

Carolyn Osiek

Before Beginning …

Second Corinthians features some of the most profound moments of Paul's theology, but in a puzzling arrangement. If 1 Corinthians has a structure that is clear and easy to follow, his second letter to the same church is characterized by disorderly sequence, to such a degree that many scholars think it is actually a composite of several letters Paul sent to the same church. The tone tends to be more defensive than most of his letters, and the flow of thought choppy. Some fragments (for example, 6, 14–7, 1 ) appear completely out of context. The transition from 2, 13 to 2, 14 is very rough, while 7, 5 seems to pick up exactly where 2, 13 left off. Further, chapters 8 and 9 seem to have been originally two separate letters, each dealing with the collection, but neither assuming the other nor conditioned by the whole context of chapters 1 through 7 and 10 through 13 . Finally, chapters 10 through 13 could stand alone as an “apologia,” an explanation in defense of Paul's own spiritual experience, his vocation, and apostolic credentials. Certainly 2 Corinthians exhibits traces of an ongoing conversation.

Yet the lack of cohesion in Paul's thought may be only apparent. It is also possible that there is an order to the letter that demonstrates Paul's typical A‐B‐A' pattern, which also influenced 1 Corinthians. So, for example, Paul begins and ends 2 Corinthians with personal testimony about the painful difficulties both he and the Corinthians have experienced in the course of their relationship (see 1, 12–7, 16 as A, and 10, 1–13, 10 as A'). Within this frame, the two middle chapters, 8 and 9 , dealing with the collection for the poor in Jerusalem (B section) illustrate that for Paul, the generosity of the Corinthians symbolizes the success of the Gentile mission. The older scholarship, with its emphasis on literary sources and redactions, is more prone to see the letter as composed of several fragments. In this case, a later editor combined the pieces into the whole that we now have, but the parts sometimes do not fit together well. If this is the case, an explanation is needed as to why the editor did such a poor job. Newer scholarship, with its emphasis on literary analysis, tends to try to look at the letter as a unified whole. In this case, the disruptions in the flow of the text are due to Paul's deliberate digressions for rhetorical effect.

Whichever may be the true situation, we need to work through 2 Corinthians in its final, canonical form, even if it also represents originally separate letters or letter fragments. We approach 2 Corinthians as part of the New Testament canon, a letter preserved by the early church and read at liturgical gatherings in spite of its criticisms of the Corinthians and the many challenges it raised for the church there. Despite the many troubles and misunderstandings between them, the Corinthians seem to have respected Paul's authority enough to preserve his words, reflect on them, and circulate them to other churches. Lest we think that ours is the only age in which deep divisions appear in the church, this letter reveals that Christian community in the first years was no idyllic experience. The Corinthian letters will serve as a corrective to such mistaken idealism.

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Oxford University Press

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