In 2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul introduces himself to the congregations of Corinth and of the Roman province of Achaia as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” and mentions Timothy as his cowriter. In New Testament scholarship the authenticity of this verse and of the Pauline authorship of 2 Corinthians is undisputed. Neither is there controversy about the textual basis of canonical 2 Corinthians. With the exception of smaller variants, the manuscript tradition bears witness to the text as published in Nestle-Aland: 2 Corinthians 1:1—13:13 is attested as a single literary unit. The first unambiguous reference to 2 Corinthians, however, is made in the middle of the second century C.E. in the Marconite canon; the oldest manuscript available (P46) dates roughly back to 200 C.E. The rather long period of time between the writing of 2 Corinthians, which the majority of scholars date at approximately 55 C.E., and its first attestation in manuscript form about one hundred and fifty years later, serves as one argument for viewing 2 Corinthians as a composite letter (cf. Becker 2006). As part of the Corinthian correspondence (1 and 2 Corinthians), this Pauline letter not only enables readers to gain an insight into the lively and multifaceted relationship between Paul and one of his congregations, but it also is the most personal account of Paul's understanding of his apostolic identity and his ministry.

Structure and Content.

Like other Pauline letters 2 Corinthians opens with a prescript (1:1–2) and a proem (1:3–11) and it closes with a postscript (13:11–13). The body of the letter (1:12—13:10) can be divided into three main parts: Paul's defense of the nature of his ministry (2:14—7:4); his appeal for the resumption and completion of the collection (8–9); and an attack on intruding missionaries, who claim authority over the Corinthian congregations (10:1—13:10). The first part (2:14—7:4) is framed by two smaller passages (1:12—2:13; 7:5–16), both of which deal with an incident that occurred during one of Paul's visits to Corinth (the so-called intermediate visit) and with the events ensuing from that incident.

1:1–2 Prescript: Salutation

1:3–11 Proem: Benediction

1:12—7:16Paul's defense of his apostolic ministry

1:13—2:13 Paul and his congregation I: Events ensuing from the intermediate visit

2:14—4:6 Paul's ministry of a new covenant

4:7—5:10 Apostolic sufferings, divine preservation, and the hope for resurrection

5:11—6:10 Paul's ministry of reconcili- ation

6:11—7:4 Paul's appeal for reconcili- ation

7:5–16 Paul and his congregation II: Paul's joy at the repentance of the Corinthians

8:1—9:15 Paul's appeal for the resumption and completion of the collection

10:1—13:10Paul's attack on the intruding missionaries and his preparations for a third visit

10:1–18: Paul's defense of his status as apostle and founding father of the congregation

11:1—12; 13 Boasting foolishly [11:16—12:13 The fool's speech]

12:14—13:10 Making preparations for his third visit

13:11—13:13Postscript: exhortation, greetings, blessing

Literary History.

In 1 and 2 Corinthians several references to a lively correspondence between Paul and his congregation can be found: in 2 Corinthians 10:10 Paul mentions several preceding letters, which he has written to the Corinthians (cf. 1 Cor 5:9), in 2 Corinthians 2:3–4 and 2 Corinthians 7:8–12 he refers to a severe letter that resulted in the Corinthians' remorse, and in 1 Corinthians 7:1 Paul speaks of a letter he received from his congregation. In combination, these exegetical observations have led to the assumption that 2 Corinthians contains more than one and up to six letters. The following section describes the main reasons leading to doubts about the literary integrity of 2 Corinthians, outlines the different partition theories, and makes a sketch of the historical events taking place between 1 and 2 Corinthians and thereafter.

Reasons for Questioning the Literary Integrity.

The literary integrity of 2 Corinthians is disputed due to the following linguistic reasons:

In comparison to the preceding chapters, there is a perceivable change of tone in CHAPTERS 10 TO 13. While CHAPTERS 1–9 convey the impression of a reconciliation between Paul and his congregation (7:5–16; cf. 2:5–11), invectives are distinctive of what follows. To mention but one example, Paul calls the intruding rival missionaries “Satan's ministers” (11:12–15), thus trying to lure the Corinthians away from his opponents and gather them behind him. In addition, striking linguistic features suggest that CHAPTERS 10 TO 13 do not originally belong to CHAPTERS 1 TO 9. According to many scholars the abrupt transition between 9:15 and 10:1 suggests the beginning of a different letter. In CHAPTERS 10 TO 13 Paul also employs a different set of vocabulary. For example, he does not employ the term “weakness,” which plays a dominant role in the fool's speech (11:16—12:13) and beyond.

An alteration of tone can also be perceived within CHAPTERS 1–9. Some commentators ask how Paul's joy at the Corinthians' remorse (7:8–12) and his appeal for reconciliation with God and his apostle (5:11–21; 6:11—7:4) fit together. They draw the conclusion that CHAPTERS 1 TO 9 also consist of several letters (see the Weiss-Bultmann hypothesis below).

Some scholars suggest that CHAPTER 8 and CHAPTER 9 are not part of the same letter. Since both deal with the collection of the gentile congregations in Achaia for the Jerusalem church, these scholars suggest that a later editor linked the two originally separate (administrative) letters to one another and put them in their present place in canonical 2 Corinthians. One of their arguments refers to the expression peri men gar in v. 1 of CHAPTER 9, which—as they presume—indicates the beginning of a new letter. For additional arguments cf. Betz (1985) and Mitchell (2005).

Many scholars agree that the passage 6:14—7:1 is not only a separate letter fragment, but an interpolation. On a syntactic level they point out the interrelation between 6:13 and 7:2: The appeal to give Paul room in their hearts (7:2) can be directly linked to the appeal to make their hearts wide (6:13). Thus 6:14—7:1 interrupts the context. In addition scholars deny the Pauline authorship of the passage due to several hapax legomena (i.e., words that don't appear elsewhere in Paul) and some non-Pauline theological concepts, such as the positive notion of “flesh.”

2 Corinthians


Paved road that led to the port of Lechaion located to the north of Corinth. The road, which is about 40 feet (12 meters) wide, was lined with shops—and possibly a synagogue—on both sides.

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Partition Theories.

On the basis of the exegetical observations outlined in the previous section, a large number of partition theories have been developed. What follows is a brief sketch of the most important of these theories. Their names are adopted from Bieringer (1994).

The Semler-Windisch- and the Hausrath-Kennedy-Hypothesis.

The starting point of the Semler-Windisch- as well as the Hausrath-Kennedy-hypothesis is the observation that the polemical tone of CHAPTERS 10 TO 13 does not fit the conciliatory atmosphere of the preceding chapters. According to these hypotheses this change of tone can best be explained if CHAPTERS 1 TO 9 and CHAPTERS 10 TO 13 are perceived as two separate letters or letter-fragments, which reflect different stages of Paul's conflict with his congregation. Semler and Windisch claim that CHAPTERS 1 TO 7 precede CHAPTERS 10 TO 13, whereas Hausrath and Kennedy turn this order around: they identify CHAPTERS 10 TO 13 as part of the severe letter mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:3–4 and 7:8–12 and draw the conclusion that these chapters must have preceded the letter of reconciliation in CHAPTERS 1 TO 7. The evaluation of CHAPTERS 8 and 9 varies from scholar to scholar, but these differences do not have an effect on the assessment of the historical order of CHAPTERS 1 TO 7 and CHAPTERS 10 TO 13.

The Weiss-Bultmann-Hypothesis.

Bultmann shares two convictions with Hausrath and Kennedy: the severe letter is included in 2 Corinthians and it precedes the letter of reconciliation. According to Bultmann, however, Paul's extensive defense of the nature of his ministry in 2:14–7:4 is also part of the severe letter. The letter of reconciliation consists of 1:1—2:13 and 7:5–16. In Bultmann's view CHAPTER 8 belongs to the letter of reconciliation, whereas CHAPTER 9 is part of the severe letter. The hard transition between 2:13 and 2:14 and the observation that 7:5 can be directly linked to 2:13 are crucial for extracting 2:14—7:4 from its context.

The Bornkamm-Schmithals-Hypothesis.

In contrast to Weiss and Bultmann, Bornkamm and Schmithals assign 2:14—7:4 and 10–13 to two different letters or rather stages of Paul's conflict with the Corinthians (cf. Semler, Windisch, Hausrath, Kennedy). Only CHAPTERS 10–13 are part of the severe letter (cf. Hausrath and Kennedy). THE PASSAGES 2:14—7:4 and 10–13 (in this historical order!) precede the letter of reconciliation (1:1—2:13; 7:5–16). According to Bornkamm it is most likely that CHAPTERS 8 and 9 are two separate writings. They represent the final stage of the Corinthian correspondence.


On the basis of the Bornkamm-Schmithals-hypothesis Mitchell has made an innovative proposal, placing CHAPTER 8 not at the end, but at the beginning of the correspondence preserved in 2 Corinthians. Her arguments comprise:

  • (1) the redundancy of two appeals for the collection;
  • (2) the interrelation between the accusation of fraud in financial matters (stealing funds of the collection) and the appeal for the collection: This interrelation would not be sufficiently accounted for, if CHAPTERS 8 and 9 were placed at the end of the correspondence;
  • (3) rhetorical parallels between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians 8; and especially
  • (4) the retrospective view of the delegation sent to Corinth (2 Cor 8) in 12:17–18.

While argument (4) strongly suggests that 2 Corinthians 8 must have preceded CHAPTERS 10 TO 13, argument (3) hints at a close temporal proximity between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians 8.

The table on the next page provides an overview of the different partition theories outlined above and some of the scholars supporting them.

Each of these theories possesses distinctive features, and each of them adopts (essential) elements of previous theories. The sheer number of observations that led to the pleas against the literary integrity of 2 Corinthians and the different well-founded partition theories underline the expertise and innovative power of New Testament scholarship. While 2 Corinthians might be a compilation of several letters, it nevertheless has literary integrity.

In addition to the absence of any textual evidence that proves the compilation of several letters in 2 Corinthians, no compelling linguistic reasons can be found to support a (particular) partition theory. Even among the scholars favoring one of these theories, the difference in tone and atmosphere between CHAPTERS 1 TO 9 and CHAPTERS 10 TO 13 does not automatically lead to the conclusion that large parts of these chapters could not have been part of the same letter (cf. the Weiss-Bultmann-hypothesis). Harris (2005), Schnelle (2007), and others argue that the polemics in CHAPTERS 10 TO 13 are due to disturbing news that Paul received from Corinth. While CHAPTERS 1 TO 9 presuppose the good news about the Corinthians' remorse, CHAPTERS 10 TO 13 reflect the danger of intruding missionaries turning the Corinthians away from their apostle. Paul added CHAPTERS 10 TO 13 to CHAPTERS 1 TO 9 before sending the letter to Corinth.

The interruption of the narrative in 2:13 and the link back to this verse in 7:5 reveal Paul's rhetorical competence: The ring pattern which connects the passages 1:12—2:13 and 7:5–16 serves to emphasize that the Corinthians' repentance is nothing but a first step toward full reconciliation (Matera). The lengthy digression of 2:14—7:4 gives evidence of the ongoing dispute over the nature of Paul's ministry which yet needs to be resolved.

In contradiction to the assumption that 2 Corinthians 8–9 consists of two separate administrative letters, scholars have pointed out the literary interrelation between these chapters. In their opinion verses 9:3–5 refer back to and presuppose passage 8:16–24: Both passages deal with the delegation Paul has sent to Corinth/Achaia. As Harris has observed, the expression peri men gar need not necessarily be interpreted as the beginning of a new letter, the gar referring back to what precedes (cf. also Stowers 1990).

It becomes evident that on the basis of linguistic features the literary integrity of 2 Corinthians can hardly be proved right or wrong (cf. Becker 2004). That leads to a final aspect to be taken into consideration.

Up to now the question of editorial principles which led to the present arrangement of different letters in canonical 2 Corinthians has yet to be resolved. The reason for this is that we do not find any explicit or implicit indicators of how an alleged editor intended his compilation of letters to be understood. This being the case, an argument from silence gains importance: The editor of canonical 2 Corinthians perceived his compilation as integral and coherent. This criterion has to be excluded or at least neglected from the outset, if 2 Corinthians is regarded as a composite letter. If it is not excluded, partition theories lose some of their plausibility, since at least in the eyes of the editor canonical 2 Corinthians is comprehensible as a literary unit. This argument also withstands the thesis of Becker (2004), who suggests that an editor arranged five different letters in their historical order with the intention of preservation.

The last argument becomes even more important if we take into consideration that, despite the implementation of Betz's demand to focus on the

Partition theory Historical order of the letter fragments Scholars supporting, building upon or modifying these theories
Semler-Windisch-hypothesis (1) 1–9 (2) 10–13 Sampley (2000); Thrall (1994); Wünsch (1996)
Hausrath-Kennedy-Hypothesis (1) 10–13 (= severe letter) (2) 1–9 (= letter of reconciliation) Klauck (1994)
Weiss-Bultmann-hypothesis (1) 2:14—7:4; 9; 10:1—13:13 (= severe letter) (2) 1:1—2:13; 7:5–16; 8 (= letter of reconciliation) Vielhauer (1975)
Bornkamm-Schmithals-hypothesis (1) 2:14—6:13; 7:2–4 (2) 10–13 (= severe letter) (3) 1:1—2:13; 7:5–16(= letter of reconciliation, perhaps also including chapter 8) (4) 9 Betz (1985); Mitchell (2005)
Literary Integrity Lambrecht (1999); Matera (2003)

literary and rhetorical structure of 2 Corinthians, no scholarly consensus has been reached in the last several decades in favor of a particular partition theory. Betz argues that even the plea for literal integrity is nothing more than a hypothesis. However, those scholars who view 2 Corinthians as a composite letter bear the burden of proof. In this context it is interesting to note that these scholars disagree on a multitude of points such as: (1) the number of letters; (2) the extent of the letters; (3) the historical order of the letters; (4) the question of whether the severe letter is included in 2 Corinthians; and, if this question is answered positively, to what extent; and (5) the question whether 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are two separate administrative writings (Betz) or whether one or both of these chapters originally belonged to other letters incorporated in 2 Corinthians. The scholarly dissent is certainly no proof for the literary integrity of 2 Corinthians. However, the interpretation of 2 Corinthians should focus on the textual basis we have, which is the text preserved in canonical 2 Corinthians. Nevertheless, the question of literary integrity remains a legitimate task of historical-critical research.

Historical Reconstruction of the Relationship between Paul and the Corinthian Congregation.

The plea for the literary integrity of 2 Corinthians in combination with Paul's statements about his travel plans (1 Cor 16:5–9; 2 Cor 1:15F.; 2:1; 12:14; 13:1–2) leads to the following historical reconstruction.

After the congregation in Corinth had received 1 Corinthians, Paul made an unexpected visit (the so-called intermediate visit). During that visit a member of the congregation offended Paul (2:5–16; 7:11–12). Since the Corinthians did not take their apostle's side, Paul departed to Ephesus. In order to prevent another painful encounter with his congregation (2 Cor 2:1; cf. 1:23), Paul changed his travel plans. Instead of visiting Corinth once more, Paul wrote the severe letter and sent it through Titus to Corinth. From Ephesus Paul traveled via Troas (2:13) to Macedonia. There he finally met Titus (7:6–7), who told him about the punishment of the offender (2:6) and the remorse of the congregation (7:8–12). A first step toward reconciliation had been made. Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 1–9 in order to express his joy at the settlement of this particular conflict, to convince the Corinthians of the legitimacy of his ministry (2:14—7:4), and to make an appeal for the completion of the collection for Jerusalem (8–9). To ensure the completion of the collection he sent a delegation headed by Titus to Corinth (8:16–24).

As 2 Corinthians 12:17–18 suggests (cf. Schnelle), the delegation returned with bad news from Corinth: Intruding missionaries had stirred up the congregation against their founding apostle and claimed apostolic authority. They disputed Paul's status as a minister. Paul reacted by writing CHAPTERS 10 TO 13. He announced a third visit and declared that he would not hesitate to act in the authority of the LORD (13:4) and to punish his opponents.

Romans 15:26–27 mentions the successful completion of the collection in Achaia and Macedonia. This indicates that Paul succeeded in gathering the Corinthians behind him anew.


The following interpretation presupposes the literary integrity of 2 Corinthians and the historical reconstruction of the events taking place between 1 and 2 Corinthians and thereafter as presented in the section above. Thus, Paul wrote CHAPTERS 1 TO 9 in order to get the Corinthian church completely on his side: The conflict concerning “the offender” had already been settled to the satisfaction of Paul (2:5–11; 7:8–12), but the doubts about the legitimacy of the Pauline ministry still needed to be dispelled. This was the precondition of Paul's chief aim, the resumption and completion of the collection for the Jerusalem church (2 Cor 8–9). In CHAPTERS 10 TO 13 Paul reacted to disturbing news from Corinth: rival missionaries threatened to lure the Corinthian congregation away from him. Second Corinthians 1–9 and 2 Corinthians 10–13 represent two different stages of Paul's conflict with the Corinthians.

The Proem: Leitmotifs of the Letter (1:3–11).

Before giving an interpretation of the different parts of 2 Corinthians, a brief glance at the proem reveals two leitmotifs of this letter:

First, in comparison with other Pauline letters, the beginning of the proem in v.3 is distinctive: The content of the benediction is not the divine grace visible among his addressees, but Paul's own experience of divine comfort in the midst of suffering and affliction. This is the central theme governing the whole letter, especially Paul's advocacy of his ministry in 2:14—7:4 (cf. 11:16—12:13). In response to the criticism that his ministry is lacking glory, Paul emphasizes from the very beginning that afflictions are inseparable from his service as “minister of a new covenant” (3:6). They represent the “sufferings of Christ” (1:5). In the apostolic sufferings, however, God proves himself as “the Father of mercies and the God of all consolations” (1:3), “who raises the dead” (1:9). Therefore sufferings and afflictions as well as divine consolation and comfort are two sides of the same coin. They constitute the paradoxical nature of Paul's apostolic ministry and do not affect its glory. The paradoxical nature of Paul's ministry is also found in the hardship lists, which occur at central points of the letter (4:7–11; 6:3–10; cf. 11:23–30).

Second, in 1:9 a second distinctive feature of 2 Corinthians becomes apparent: Paul mentions an incident that took place in the Roman province of Asia and almost killed him: “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” Here Paul anticipates an argument with his rival missionaries: self-reliance, self-recommendation (3:1; 5:12; cf. 10:12, 18), and boasting (5:12; cf. 10:17) contradict the character of his ministry. As minister of a new covenant he remains dependent on divine consolation and comfort. His ministry displays not his own, but God's power (4:7). Paul's competence to serve as a minister of a new covenant comes solely from God (3:4F.). Paul does not proclaim himself, but Jesus Christ as LORD (4:5). He is a slave of Christ (4:5), an ambassador for Christ (5:20), and God's fellow worker (6:1). All of these descriptions underline Paul's dependence on God. Self-reliance and self-recommendation are signs of false apostles (cf. 10:17–18).

The conviction that sufferings and afflictions are characteristics of Christian ministry and Christian life displays an apocalyptic worldview. This worldview comes to the fore throughout the letter, especially in Paul's advocacy of his ministry in 2:14—7:4. What follows is a brief interpretation of the different parts of 2 Corinthians.

Paul and his Congregation I: Events Ensuing from the Intermediate Visit (1:12—2:13).

This passage deals with the events ensuing from an insult against Paul committed by a member of the congregation during the so-called intermediate visit. As a result of this offense and the Corinthians' not taking Paul's side, the apostle changed his travel plans: Instead of visiting his congregation once more, Paul wrote the severe letter (2:3–4: cf. 7:8–12). This had the effect that the Corinthians questioned Paul's reliability, which the apostle tries to restore (1:15—2:4). In addition Paul exhorts his congregation to forgive the offender (2:5–11). 2:12–13 are closely linked to 7:5–16.

Paul's Defense of his Apostolic Ministry (2:14—7:4).

The four different parts of this section of the letter are interpreted separately.

Paul's Ministry of a New Covenant (2:14—4:6).

In 2:14—4:6 Paul depicts the glory of his ministry in comparison to the ministry of Moses (3:6–11). Even though there are significant differences between these two ministries and the two covenants they represent, the new covenant depends on the old one. For Stegemann (2005) and Maschmeier (2010) this observation is crucial for their interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3:1–18. It underlines the continuity between the old and the new covenant (for an opposite view cf. Grindheim 2001). Paul's point is that God's divine presence (that is his glory) is reflected not only in Moses' face, but also eschatologically in the face of Jesus Christ (4:6). In this context Paul describes the identity of believers in Christ as part of an ongoing process of transformation: Believers are transformed into the image of Christ “from one degree of glory to another” (3:18). This transformation will be completed at the Parousia. Until then the glory of the new covenant can only be experienced in the midst of sufferings and afflictions. Thus the reproach that Paul veils the gospel (4:3) is not correct. The hardship list (4:7–11) underlines the paradoxical way in which the truth of the gospel of the glory of Christ (4:2–4) is revealed in the apostolic afflictions. As apostle of the new covenant, Paul represents the death and life of Jesus (4:10).

Apostolic Afflictions, Divine Preservation, and the Hope for Resurrection (4:7—5:10).

In this passage of the letter, Paul expresses his apocalyptic worldview in several ways:

  • (1) Referring to the truth of the gospel, he employs the metaphor of “the treasure in clay jars” (4:7) in order to introduce the hardship list (4:7–11). The precondition of the manifestation of God's power and the apostle's ongoing dependence on it are the apostolic afflictions. Divine preservation in these afflictions and the hope for resurrection are intimately connected to each other.
  • (2) In 4:16–18 Paul focuses on the transformation process of Christian identity, distinguishing between an “inner” and an “outer” man or rather between internal and external realities. As the preceeding hardship list shows, the externals are “wasting away” and temporary, whereas the internals are “renewed day by day” (4:16) and eternal.
  • (3) In 5:1–10, Paul continues by contrasting earthly and heavenly existence. He expresses his wish to “be away from the body and at home with the LORD” (5:8), only to emphasize the need of an ethical conduct in the present. The believers are responsible for their conduct and will be judged at the Parousia (5:10). Thus the wish to be “at home with the LORD” does not devalue bodily human existence.

Paul's Ministry of Reconciliation (5:11—6:10) and His Appeal for Reconciliation (6:11—7:4).

5:10–21 is the climax of this part of the letter. Paul depicts himself as God's ambassador of reconciliation (5:20) and appeals to his addressees to be reconciled with God and his apostle (6:1—7:4). This passage illustrates how Paul links specific problems with (and within) his communities to major theological convictions, in this case his struggle with the Corinthians, who favor externals over matters of heart (5:13), and the belief in God's reconciliation of the world through Christ (5:19–21). Paul's argument, paraphrased, goes like this: “If you don't accept me as your apostle, you're also questioning God's work of reconciliation through Christ. Don't judge me according to human standards (5:16) on the basis of my outward appearance (5:12). Do not receive the divine grace in vain (6:1), but understand that apostolic afflictions don't call the glory of the new covenant in question. In afflictions I recommend myself as a true servant of God. Open your hearts (6:12; cf. 7:2) and boast about me (5:12) as I boast about you (7:4).”

Paul and His Congregation II: Paul's Joy at the Repentance of the Corinthians (7:5–16).

This passage is closely linked to 1:12—2:13. Paul expresses his consolation, which is due to the Corinthians' remorse and repentance. Titus, whom he finally met in Macedonia (7:6–7), told him that the Corinthians had punished the offender and had finally gathered behind Paul. Thus the conflict with the offender was settled.

The Collection as a Symbol of the Unity of Jewish and Gentile Believers (2 Cor 8–9).

In CHAPTERS 8 and 9 Paul urges his Gentile audiences in Corinth and Achaia (9:2) to resume and complete the collection for the Jerusalem church. CHAPTERS 8 and 9 illustrate once more Paul's rhetorical skills to link theology to everyday matters. Paul portrays Christ as the role model of generous giving: “For you know the generous act of our LORD Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (8:9). Without explicitly mentioning money, the apostle relates the collection for Jerusalem to Christ's salvific work. A similar theological reasoning can be found in 9:6–11: According to Paul's conviction, God as the source of grace, generosity, and abundance enables the believers to give freely and abundantly as well. They just pass on what they have received from God. Paul underlines that sharing what one has received from God does not lead to poverty, since sharing presupposes divine abundance (9:8; cf. 8:13–15). As a concrete example of generous giving Paul refers to the churches in Macedonia. Even though they suffered from extreme poverty, they participated in the collection even beyond their financial means, thus giving themselves to God and his apostle (8:1–5). This is what Paul expects from the Corinthians as well. Their participation in the collection would be a proof of the genuineness of their love of God and of Paul (8:8).

In order to ensure the completion of the collection as a voluntary and generous gift (9:5), Paul announces his decision to send a delegation led by Titus to Corinth (9:1–5). The delegation also serves to dispel doubts about Paul's integrity in financial matters: a brother appointed by the Macedonian churches is part of the delegation and secures the correctness of the collection (8:18–21).

The collection for the Jerusalem church is an essential feature of Paul's ministry (Gal 2:10). As its “crown jewel” (Sampley, p. 6) it represents the eschatological unity of Jewish and gentile believers. At the same time the collection underlines the special status of the believers in Jerusalem (and beyond), which is based on their Jewish identity, or rather on God's election of Israel. That through Christ “Gentile believers have come to share in their [Israel's] spiritual blessings” (Rom 15:27) presupposes the glory of the Sinai covenant (cf. 2 Cor 3:1–18) and the special status of the Jewish people, whether they believe in Jesus as God's Messiah or not (Rom 9:1–13; 11:29).

Paul's Attack on the Intruding Missionaries and His Preparation for a Third Visit (2 Cor 10–13).

In comparison to the preceding chapters, CHAPTERS 10 TO 13 have a harsh tone: Paul is launching an assault on intruding missionaries, who deny the legitimacy of his ministry, claim authority over the Corinthian congregations (10:12–18), and turn the Corinthians against him. The contours of the identity of the rival missionaries, who Paul calls “Satan's minister” (11:14F.; cf. 11:3), “false apostles” (11:13), “deceitful workers” (11:13), and (ironically) “super-apostles” (11:5), are somewhat sharper than in CHAPTERS 1 TO 9. As Strecker (1992, pp. 572–573) notes, they supposedly were Hellenistic Jewish-Christians, who attached value to visions, revelations (12:1–5), and miraculous apostolic deeds (12:12) and who had a pneumatic understanding of their ministry.

“Boasting” plays a dominant role in CHAPTERS 10 TO 13, especially in the “fool's speech” (11:16—12:13), which forms the center of these chapters (Lambrecht). In this speech Paul proves his paradoxical superiority over his opponents. He points out the nature of his ministry, which is characterized by “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ” (12:10). In his weaknesses, however, Paul experiences the power of Christ dwelling in him (12:9). Thus he is willing to boast solely in his weakness: “for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10). Another aspect of the fool's speech is of some importance: In 12:1–5 Paul portrays himself as an ecstatic visionary (cf. 5:13) having visions and revelations from God. Instead of boasting of them, he minimizes their relevance to his ministry, since they bear the risk of illegitimate boasting. In this context Paul mentions a “thorn in the flesh” (12:7). Its exact nature is disputed, but its relevance seems clear: it keeps Paul from thinking too highly of himself and from boasting according to human standards (12:7).

One of the main charges Paul had to face was his refusal to accept financial support from the Corinthians (11:7–15; 12:18). Paul did not deny the missionaries' right of maintenance in principle (cf. 1 Cor 9) and he received support from other congregations (cf. Phil 4:15–16). This raised the question of Paul's love of the Corinthians. In addition, speculations about and/or accusations against his management of the collection for Jerusalem seem to have circulated in Corinth: Did Paul deny patronage only to defraud the Corinthians of the collection or rather to embezzle money? Paul argues that his renunciation of maintenance is an expression of his love of the Corinthian congregation (11:11; 12:15). Just like parents put away money for their children, so does Paul (12:14). Paul uses the metaphor of the parent-child relationship in order to emphasize his status as the founding apostle and to legitimate his denial of patronage. In contrast to the rival missionaries he does not seek their money, but the Corinthians themselves (12:14). This excludes fraud of any kind.

With the last part of the letter (12:19—13:10) Paul prepares his third visit to Corinth. He describes his relationship to the Corinthians in terms of the weakness-strength contrast. In a rhetorically skillful way, he underlines that his humble and gentle conduct (10:1) is not a sign of his weakness, but of the strength of the Corinthians. Once more the paradoxical nature of his ministry becomes apparent: his weakness is their strength and is also his strength, since if Paul does not have to punish the Corinthians, he has carried out his mission to build up the congregation (13:10).


This article has dealt with the historical, literary, and theological issues of New Testament research on 2 Corinthians. Even though these issues are closely linked to each other, in the last decades scholarly discussion has primarily focused on the question of the literary integrity of this letter. The number of partition theories is quite impressive, yet no consensus has been reached in favor of one of them. This does not deny the necessity of further investigation of the genesis of 2 Corinthians, but it seems more promising to concentrate on its interpretation as a literary unit. Whichever approach is favored, however, two aspects of 2 Corinthians remain undisputed: 2 Corinthians is the most relevant letter for information on Paul's understanding of his apostolic service, and it provides insights into the development of the relationship between Paul and one of his congregations over a period of time that is unmatched by the other Pauline letters.



  • Becker, Eve-Marie. Letter Hermeneutics in 2 Corinthians. Studies in Literarkritik and Communication Theory. Journal for the Study of the New Testament: Supplement Series 279. London and New York: T&T Clark International, 2004. English translation of Schreiben und Verstehen. Paulinische Briefhermeneutik im Zweiten Korintherbrief. Neuetestamentliche Entwürfe zur Theologie 4, first published in 2002.
  • Becker, Eve-Marie. “2. Korintherbrief.” In Paulus. Leben—Umwelt—Werke—Briefe, edited by Oda Wischmeyer, pp. 164–191. Tübingen: Francke, 2006.
  • Betz, Hans D. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. A Commentary on Two Administrative Letters of the Apostle Paul. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985. Betz provides a thorough rhetorical analysis of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.
  • Bieringer, Reimund. “Teilungshypothesen zum 2. Korintherbrief. Ein Forschungsüberblick.” In Studies on Second Corinthians, edited by Reimund Bieringer and Jan Lambrecht, pp. 67–105. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1994.
  • Bieringer, Reimund, and Jan Lambrecht. Studies on 2 Corinthians. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1994. A collection of essays dealing with literary and theological issues.
  • Bornkamm, Günther. “Die Vorgeschichte des sogenannten Zweiten Korintherbriefes.“ In Geschichte und Glaube. Zweiter Teil. Gesammelte Aufsätze Bd. 4, pp. 162–194. Beiträge zur Evangelischen Theologie 53. München: Christian Kaiser Verlag, 1971.
  • Bultmann, Rudolf. Der zweite Brief an die Korinther. Kritisch-exegetischer Kommentar über das Neue Testament Sonderband, edited by E. Dinkler. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1987.
  • Grindheim, Sigurd. “The Law Kills but the Gospel Gives Life: The Letter-Spirit Dualism in 2 Corinthians 3.5–18.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 84 (2001): 97–115.
  • Harris, Murray J. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2005.
  • Klauck, Hans-Josef. 2. Korintherbrief. Die Neue Echter Bibel. Neues Testament 8. Würzburg: Echter, 1994.
  • Lambrecht, Jan. Second Corinthians. Sacra pagina 8. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1999.
  • Maschmeier, Jens-Christian. Rechtfertigung bei Paulus. Eine Kritik alter und neuer Paulusperspektiven. Beiträge zur Wissenschaft vom Alten und Neuen Testament 189. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 2010. The interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3 serves as a starting point for a reassessment of Pauline theology.
  • Matera, Frank J. II Corinthians. A Commentary. The New Testament Library. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2003. This commentary presupposes the literary integrity of 2 Corinthians.
  • Mitchell, Margaret M. “Paul's Letters to Corinth. Interpretive Intertwining of Literary and Historical Reconstruction.” In Urban Religion in Roman Corinth. Interdisciplinary Approaches, edited by Daniel Schowalter and Steve J. Friesen, pp. 307–338. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005. In her article Mitchell suggests an elaborate partition theory focusing on the historical place of 2 Corinthians 8.
  • Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome. The Theology of the Second Letter to the Corinthians. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Sampley, J. Paul. “The Second Letter to the Corinthians.” In The New Interpreters Bible, edited by Leander E. Keck et al., vol. 11, pp. 3–180. Nashville, Abingdon, 2000.
  • Schnelle, Udo. Einleitung in das Neue Testament. Stuttgart: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007.
  • Stegemann, Ekkehard W. “Der Neue Bund im Alten: Zum Schriftverständnis des Paulus in 2 Kor 3.” In Paulus und die Welt. Aufsätze, edited by Christina Tuor and Peter Wick, pp. 41–58. Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 2005. An important essay on the theological significance of 2 Corinthians 3, which is highly disputed in New Testament scholarship.
  • Stowers, S. K. “Peri men gar and the Integrity of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.” Novum Testamentum 32 (1990): 340–348. A good example of how exegetical observations are linked to the question of the literary integrity of 2 Corinthians.
  • Strecker, Georg. “Die Legitimität des paulinischen Apostolats nach 2 Korinther 10–13.” New Testament Studies 38 (1992): 566–586.
  • Sumney, J. L. Identifying Paul's Opponents. The Question of Method in 2 Corinthians. Journal for the Study of the New Testament: Supplement Series 40. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic, 1990.
  • Thrall, Margaret E. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. 2 vols. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T & T Clark International, 1994/2000.
  • Vielhauer, Philipp. Geschichte der urchristlichen Literatur. Einleitung in das Neue Testament, die Apokryphen und die Apostolischen Väter. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1975.
  • Wünsch, Hans-Michael. Der paulinische Brief 2 Kor 1–9 als kommunikative Handlung: Eine rhetorisch-literaturwissenschaftliche Untersuchung. Theologie 4. Münster: Lit Verlag, 1996.

Jens-Christian Maschmeier