2 Corinthians


2 CORINTHIANS 1 The ancient city of Corinth lay on an isthmus between the Greek mainland and the Peloponnese, the southwestern corner of Greece. The isthmus was about 6,562 yards (6,000 m) wide at its narrowest point, which led many to consider digging a canal there (a dream not realized until modern times).Two harbors were nearby: Lechaeum to the north, on the Gulf of Corinth, and Cenchrea to the south, on the Saronic Gulf. Corinth's location made the city a site of great strategic and economic importance. Ships often preferred to sail into Corinth and transport their goods overland across the isthmus on the portage road rather than risk the wild seas around the Peloponnese. This brought lively trade to the city—along with the vices often associated with bustling commercial centers. It is not surprising, therefore, that ancient Corinth became a byword for sexual immorality.

Corinth's history may be divided into two distinct periods: its long duration as one of the major cities of classical Greek civilization and its subsequent years after the Roman conquest as a cosmopolitan crossroads. The classical city was at one time a major player in the politics of Greece' and was particularly important in the long history of competition between Athens and Sparta (Corinth was usually on the side of Sparta). Later, as head of the Achaean League (a coalition of Greek cities), it led resistance to Roman aggression. Its role as host of the Isthmian games (second only to the Olympic games in prestige) greatly enhanced Corinth's ancient status. This city, however, was destroyed in 146 B.C. by the Roman general Lucius Mummius. While some inhabitants stayed in the vicinity of Corinth, the city did not rise to prominence again until 44 B.C., when Julius Caesar refounded it as a Roman colony.

The new city was Roman in its administration and architecture, with the majority of its settlers being freedmen. The natural advantages of the site, coupled with the entrepreneurial vigor of the freedmen, soon led to renewed prosperity.The Corinth of the New Testament era was reputed to be one of the most beautiful cities of the Greco-Roman world. Its importance in trade and its status as a Roman administrative center made Corinth a significant city in Paul's day.

Corinth had a mixed, cosmopolitan populace, as reflected in its many religious shrines:

    • Visitors to Corinth can still find archaeological evidence of votive offerings made to Asclepius, the god of medicine, in gratitude for healings. These offerings were clay models of body parts (often arms, legs or sexual organs) the god had supposedly healed, hung a-round the temple as tributes to Asclepius.

    • Corinth was home to a famous temple to Aphrodite that supposedly employed 1,000 temple prostitutes. While this number may be an exaggeration, scholars can hardly doubt that this port city supported a thriving prostitution industry, probably centered around such a shrine.

    • There were also temples to other Greek gods, such as to Poseidon, god of the sea (appropriate for a port city), and to Demeter and Kore, goddesses of an ancient Greek fertility cult.

    • The cosmopolitan nature of Corinth is reflected in the fact that it also had numerous places of worship for foreign deities, such as a shrine to the Egyptian goddess Isis—as well as a Jewish synagogue.

With its cultural diversity, wealth, pagan-ism and infamous debauchery, Corinth was perhaps not the place onlookers would have expected the church to flourish.Yet it was precisely here that Paul enjoyed one of his most successful ministries—and also here that he experienced some of his greatest challenges with early converts to Christianity.

Paul's Visits and Letters to Corinth

2 CORINTHIANS 2 The chronology of Paul's visits and letters to Corinth' is difficult to track and somewhat disputed, but the following sequence is a reasonable interpretation of the Biblical record:

  • First Visit (A.D. 50-52): Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey, staying on for almost two years with Aquila and Priscilla, who were refugees from Italy because of Emperor Claudius's decree in A.0.49 expelling the Jews from Rome (Ac 18:1-18).2 Paul was summoned before the proconsul Lucius Junius Gallio in the summer of A.D. 51.3 4.

  • In A.D.52 Paul, in the company of Priscilla and Aquila, left Corinth, moving his center of ministry to Ephesus, where he labored for about three years (Ac 18:18-19:41).4 During his absence Apollos visited Corinth on Paul's behalf.

  • Paul wrote his first letter (now lost) to Corinth; it included a warning against associating with immoral people (1Co 5:9-11).5 4

  • Paul dispatched Timothy and Erastus to Corinth (Ac 19:22; 1Co 4:17; 16:10) and received from Chloe's household news about quarreling within the church (1Co 1:11), as well as questions from the congregation, delivered by Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (1Co 16:17).

  • From Ephesus (c. A.D. 55/56) Paul sent a second letter (1Co) to the church there, including instructions on collecting money for needy Christians in Jerusalem (1Co 16:1-3). Aquila and Priscilla remained in Ephesus, and Titus and Timothy returned to Paul from Corinth (both are mentioned in 2Co 1:1; 12:18)

  • Second Visit (A.D. 56): Paul experienced a "painful" visit to Corinth (1Co 4:19; 2Co 2:1-2).

  • Shortly after this visit he wrote a third letter (also lost),sending it via Titus as a letter of "many tears," pleading with the Corinthians to change their behavior (2:3-9,13;7:6-15; 8:6).Some scholars believe that this letter of "tears"was either 1 Corinthians or 2 Corinthians 10-13.

  • Paul proceeded to the seaport of Troas in Asia, where he expected to meet Titus, who failed to arrive (Ac 20:1; 2Co 2:13). Paul later found him in Macedonia. Titus reported some success with the Corinthians:The congregation had dealt with their offender (vv. 7-8; 7:5-16), but their submission to Paul's leadership had declined (10:1-13:10).

  • Paul dispatched a fourth letter (probably 2Co) to Corinth via Titus, who oversaw the collection for Jerusalem and prepared for Paul's visit (8:6-24; 13:1-10).This letter was written approximately one year after 1 Corinthians. The churches throughout Macedonia donated generously for the needy in Jerusalem (2 Co 8:1-2).

  • Third Visit: Paul stayed in Corinth for three months to finalize the collection and reconcile with the church (Ac 20:2 –3; 2Co 12:14; 13:1). Priscilla and Aquila returned to Rome, while Timothy remained with Paul (Ac 20:4; Ro 16:3,21).The Achaean churches contributed for the poor in Jerusalem (Ro 15:26).

  • Around A.D. 57-61 Paul delivered the relief gift in Jerusalem,after which he found himself imprisoned in Caesarea and Rome (Ac 21:15-28:31).6 In approximately A.D. 61 Paul was released from prison and set out once again to preach (Php 1:25-26; 2:24; Phm 22).

Letter Writing in the Greco-Roman World

2 CORINTHIANS 3 In the Greco-Roman world letters allowed people to maintain con-tact with others across great distances. Various letter types have been identified, including family letters and letters of friendship, praise or blame, exhortation, and recommendation. The Greco-Roman letter typically consisted of several parts, beginning with an introduction identifying the writer and recipients and expressing greetings. A short statement of thanksgiving often followed the introduction, after which the author would present the main body of the letter.The writer would conclude with wishes for good health and a statement of farewell. Students in Greek schools were instructed in the conventions of letter writing, and scribes trained in the art of writing were available to help others compose letters.

The traditional letter form is visible in Paul's letters, although he adapted it in several ways:

  • He transformed the Greek greeting into an invocation of grace and peace.

  • He often extended the thanksgiving section by including prayers to God.

  • He employed a benediction in place of the traditional farewell.

In the use of this style, we see that God chose to communicate the New Testament message in a form familiar to its first recipients.

The Judgment Seat

2 CORINTHIANS 5 Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 5:10, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (cf. Ro 14:10). The Greek word translated "judgment seat" is bema. A bema, referred to numerous times in classical literature, was a raised speaker's platform from which proclamations were read and on which citizens stood to appear before officials. Three bemas are referred to in the New Testament:

  • Pilate tried Jesus at the bema in Jerusalem (Mt 27:19; in 19:13).1 4. King Herod Agrippa I was struck by an angel of the Lord while making a speech at the bema in Caesarea (Ac 12:21-23), and Paul later appeared before Governor Porcius Festus there (Ac 25:1-12).

  • The Jews of Corinth ("Map 13") brought Paul to the bema to be tried by Governor Gallio (Ac 18:12-17).

The Corinthian bema where Paul was tried has been excavated. It is a large stone structure at the side of the agora, or public market, rising some 7.5 feet (2.3 m) above the pavement and originally covered with beautifully carved marble. A partially reconstructed Latin inscription found nearby reads,"He reverted the rostra and paid personally the expense of making all its marble." (The word rostra is the Latin equivalent of bema.)

Christianity's founder: Paul or Jesus?

2 CORINTHIANS 7 In modern times it has been popular among some groups to argue that Paul took the simple message of Jesus and created from it something totally different:"Christianity." This argument is flawed. While there are certainly different emphases in the teachings of Jesus and Paul, these are largely due to their unique ministry environments. Jesus operated within Palestinian Judaism, where the Law of Moses was widely taught, while Paul functioned mainly among pagans, who were powerfully influenced by the surrounding Greco-Roman cultures. In any event, the points of convergence between the two vastly outweigh the differences.

The most crucial point of agreement is Jesus' identity as the Messiah. Today many argue that Jesus and the primitive church held to a "low Christology" that regarded the Messiah as little more than a great man, whereas Paul and other second-century Hellenistic' Christians developed a "high Christology," in which Jesus is declared to be a divine figure. It is true that Jesus himself kept his Messianic identity quiet throughout much of his ministry, but this was not because of any self-doubt regarding his identity or mission. Rather, he realized that people would fundamentally misunderstand the true calling of the Messiah.The events surrounding the last week of his life (the Triumphal Entry, the action in the temple,the Last Supper, etc.)2 demonstrate that he understood himself to be the Messiah. Furthermore, Jesus frequently and without hesitation claimed for himself divine prerogatives, such as the right to dictate the Law, as God had done at Sinai (Mt 7:24-29) and to forgive sin (Mt 9:2). Also, the ex-Pharisee Paul could hardly use the title Christos (Greek for"Messiah") outside of a Jewish pattern of thinking.

Equally important is the convergence between Jesus and Paul in terms of the characteristics of kingdom life.Where did Paul learn the absolute centrality of the love commandment (1Co 13; Gal 5:6,14)? Where did he learn that Christians are to love even their enemies (Ro 12:14-21)? Where indeed did he learn to overthrow the traditional values of society and joyfully take on the role of a servant (1 Co 1:26-31)? Where, in short, did he learn that the cross was God's paradoxical path to victory (1Co 1:23; Gal 6:14; Php 2:5-11), the means by which God would bring new life to the world? The obvious answer to all of these questions: from the teachings of Jesus, the author of our faith.

Early Christian Heresies

2 CORINTHIANS 10 In his New Testament epistles, Paul frequently warned his readers to be on guard against false teaching (e.g., 2Co 11:3 —4).These cautions reveal that from an early point Christianity was open to distortions and heresies that took many forms through overemphasis on some and denial of other central Christian teachings.

The "super-apostles" who opposed Paul in 11:5 appear to have erred by overemphasizing their own righteousness (11:15) and boasting about revelations they had purportedly received (12:1). Perhaps they were similar to the Judaizing opponents Paul faced in Galatia,, whose teaching required the continuation of Jewish customs and led to an imposition of circumcision and dietary laws upon Gentiles.' Paul condemned those who distorted the gospel through the addition of Jewish requirements (Gal 1:8) and preached salvation on the basis of faith rather than works. Montanism was a later heresy that placed strict emphasis on law observance. It arose during the second century and encouraged excessive prophetic utterances in the hope of speeding Christ's return.

Other early Christian heresies that denied central Christian beliefs included Gnosticism, Docetism, Ebionism and Arianism.

    • Gnostics were a diverse group, but the main tenet of their philosophy was that the material world was by nature evil and that by knowledge one could ascend to the pure spirituality of the heavenly realm.

    • Docetists, a subgroup of the Gnostics, affirmed the deity of Jesus but denied his humanity, believing that a divine being was incapable of suffering and concluding that Jesus merely appeared to be human and to experience pain.

    • At the opposite extreme, beginning at the end of the first century A.D., a Jewish Christian sect known as the Ebionites denied the deity of Jesus, preferring to uphold him as a human being who perfectly obeyed the law and was rewarded by being made Messiah.

    • Similarly, in the fourth century Arians denied the divinity of Jesus, demoting him to the status of a demigod (a being with more power than a mortal but less than a god, ora person so outstanding as to seem to approach the divine). They argued that upholding the divinity of Jesus would contradict a belief in the oneness and immutability of God.

The creeds composed by the early church were an attempt to combat heresy and identify orthodox teaching. They emphasize the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, who is simultaneously fully God and fully man.

Aretas IV of Nabatea and Petra

2 CORINTHIANS 11 Aretas IV ruled the desert kingdom of Nabatea ("Map IC) from 9 s.c. to A.D. 40.With its capital at Petra, this nation included southern Syria, Jordan, the Negev of Israel, the Sinai Peninsula, portions of the eastern deserts of Egypt and the northwestern region of Saudi Arabia.Begin-rung during the fourth century s.c. Nabatea began to amass great wealth through caravan trade in luxury goods from the East.

Aretas IV, although a usurper with only a marginal claim to the throne, became the most powerful ruler of Nabatea, eventually winning official recognition from Caesar Augustus) During his reign the kingdom reached its zenith commercially, culturally and artistically. Numerous coins minted by Aretas IV have survived, many of them bearing his image.

One of Aretas IV's daughters married Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great and the ruler of Galilee and Perea in Transjordan from 4 s,c to A.D. 39. Herod Antipas later divorced Aretas's daughter in order to marry Herodias, the wife of his half brother Herod Philip I. John the Baptist spoke out against this, warning Herod Antipas, it is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife' (Mk 6:18). John was imprisoned and eventually executed at the request of Herodias (Mt 14:1-12; Mk 6:14- 29),As there was also a dis-pine between Aretas IV and Antipas regarding rule over a territory called Gamalitis, Aretas used Antipas's rejection of his Nabatean wife as an occasion to wage war. The Jewish historian Josephus recorded that when Aretas.

The most famous Nabatean site is Petra, located in modem Jordan in what was once Edomite territory. lt lay near the king's High-way, one of the important trade routes on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The site occupies an area approximately I mile(1.6 km) long and slightly less distance in width Magnificent tombs and funerary banquet halls had been carved into the sandstone mountains surrounding the area, the most famous of which are the Treasury of the Pharaoh and the Royal Tombs. An ancient cultic site sitting atop one of the surrounding peaks features one of the bev altars from antiquity Petra may possibly be identified as the Old Testament site of Sela, captured by Amaziah of Judah (2Ki 14.7) 312 B.C, when the Greeks took control of the Near East, Petra was the capital of the Nabateans, who may have imitated from the Persian Gulf.

After Paul began preaching in the synagogues of Damascus, the local Jews, with the support of the Roman ethnarch under Aretas IV, attempted to kill him, but he was able to escape (Ac 9:23-25; 2Co 11:32-33). This incident indicates that both Rome and Aretas IV had political power in Damascus.