Although the concept of suffering is discussed or addressed throughout the Bible, the scope of this work is limited to an exegesis of the passage of II Corinthians 1:3-7. Generally, «the purpose of exegesis is to determine, with reasonable probability, the intention of the author as he has made that intention known in the text in its historical context» (McKnight 1988,16). Proper understanding of the passage requires that attention be paid to its author, audience and the context in which the passage was written. The second part of this publication deals with the text itself.
Although the historical evidence of this letter is not as early as that of I Corinthians, it is almost equally as strong. External evidence suggests that the second epistle to the Corinthians had not yet reached Rome by the end of the first century since it is not quoted by Clement of Rome (c.A.D. 96). Falwell and Hindson observe that it was known to Polycarp who quotes 4:14. Furthermore, they affirm that «II Corinthians is further attested in the letter of Diognetus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, the Muratorian Canon and «Marcion’s Apostolocon. It is also found in the Old Syriac…» (Falwell and Hindson 1978,431).
Internal evidence provides support for Pauline authorship (II Cor. 1:1; 10:1). The letter is stamped with his style containing more autobiographical material than any other of his other letters. Foreman categorically notes that «there is no question about the writer of this ‘second’ letter to the Corinthians» (1961, 112) since it belongs to the unquestioned letters of Paul. Generally, Paul is identified as the author of the second epistle to the Corinthians and «few have contested the claim» (Carson, Moo and Morris 1992,262).
Carson, Moo and Morris observe a unit that some question chapter 6:14-17:1 since a number of scholars judge this unit to be a later interpolation written, probably, by someone in the Pauline school. However, they affirm that although «various partition theories have been proposed, in most of these theories, the various sections are nevertheless ascribed to Paul» (1992, 262). Even the founder of the Tubingen School, F.C. Baur, Harris observes, «acknowledge it as genuinely Pauline…» (1986, 305). The researcher therefore supports the assertion that II Corinthians is generally regarded as «perhaps the most intensely personal of all Paul’s letters» (Alexander and Alexander 1983, 596).
BACKGROUND TO THE EPISTLE OF II CORINTHIANS
This subsection will discuss issues concerning background such as date of writing, audience, context and outline. This preliminary information will put the passage in perspective.
Scholars like Hamack, Turner and Ramsay respectively suggest a dating in A.D. 53, 55 and 56. Guthrie asserts that the epistle is difficult to date and attributes this to the «complicated character of the historical background» (1970, 441). The probability that 2 Corinthians was written in the fall (autumn) of A.D 57 is however high. Acts 20:6 notes that Paul left Philippi for Jerusalem in the spring (‘after the Feast of Unleavened Bread’). Three verses earlier (Acts 20:3), it is noted that three months had been spent in Corinth where Paul arrived in Macedonia. Comments about a forthcoming visit to Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:14; 13:1) give an indication that the epistle was shortly written before that winter.
Foreman supports this view when he observes that «this letter or these letters (for it is possible that we have two or more letters combined into one) were evidently written not very long after First Corinthians. If we calculate the date of First Corinthians as A.D. 56-57, then Second Corinthians would be about A.D. 57» (1961, 112).
Among the main reasons presented for the writing of the second epistle shortly after the first by Lange are the course and conditions of things at Corinth, the contents and «the anxious suspense which the writer shows with regard to events immediately anticipated» (1960, 3). From the foregoing, the researcher reasonably infers that the epistle was written around the fall of A.D. 57. This would be during Paul’s third missionary journey, in a part of which Luke says very little (Acts 20:1-2).
The opening greetings of the letter (1:1b) states that it was addressed to the church in Corinth and to the Christians throughout Achaia which would include the groups at Greece and Cenchrea. The account of the beginning of the Corinthian church is recorded in Acts 18:1-7. Paul came to Corinth after difficult experiences in Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:1-5) and unsatisfactory reception in Athens (Acts 17:16-34). His prestige position as a rabbi made it easier for him to participate in the activities in the synagogue and he came into contact with many Jews and Greeks as he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul turned to the Gentiles with the Gospel when opposition grew within the Jewish community. A strong church in Corinth was a result of his two year stay. This relatively young church was located in the city. Corinth was located forty miles of Athens and on the hill overlooking it was the temple to the goddess Aphrodite, notorious for immorality. Corinth had a notorious reputation to the extent that the phrase ‘the Corinthian girl’ is synonymous with prostitute. ‘To Corinthianise’ therefore means to involve in sexual immorality. Commentaries on the loose living of the Corinthians, Carson, Moo and Morris argue that although the description of a thousand temple prostitutes of temple of Aphrodite could possibly be an exaggeration, «the reality must have been bad enough to win such an egregious reputation» (1992, 263). Interestingly, there is a very big lesson for the contemporary church. Most pastors would not associate themselves with such Christians. Realistically, «If the ‘church planning committee’ of any church or denomination had been given an accurate description of Corinth, they would probably have listed it as the most unlikely place to start a church» (Chafin 1985,19).
Inspite of the above, Paul refers to the people as the Church of God in Corinth. The Corinthians were generally regarded as Christians even though he was deeply grieved over their spiritual condition at times, including their immaturity and lack of love (cf. I Cor. 3:1-17; 6:11etc). Inspite of all that the false teachers had done to him, he is aware of the divine help they need to live as true Christians. He extended the grace in II Corinthians 13:14 with the striking words ‘with all of you’, clearly showing that he bears no grudge for the trials and sorrows that members of the church at Corinth have caused him.
Paul teaches a very important lesson when he appeals for prayers in II Corinthians 1:11. A close reading of I Corinthians reveals the character of the Corinthians. After saying the best of them, it is evident that there is a great distance between them and Paul (the great saint) in Christian maturity. The lesson is that the weakest of Christians may help the greatest, at the throne of grace.
It is worth mentioning that «Paul had a greater correspondence with the Corinthian church than is preserved in Scripture» (Plummer, Tasker and Hughes 1982, 232). Indubitably, «to understand II Corinthians, it is necessary to know something of the whole course of events in the relationship between Paul and his converts in Corinth» (Kruse 1994,1188). He wrote I Corinthians to deal with several problems in the church but problems still persisted. The visit he paid to Corinth then is regarded as both painful for him and the church (II Cor. 2:1). Consequently, he planned another visit but delayed and eventually wrote II Corinthians. He however visited Corinth again (Acts 20:2,3) after writing this epistle. Generally, «virtually everyone agrees that Paul addresses tensions caused by opponents, at least in chapters 10-13, but views on the nature of the opponents vary» (Keener 1993,492).
Biblical evidence confirm that in II Corinthians, Paul wrote «out of much affliction and anguish of heart» (II Cor. 2:4), a letter which made the Corinthians «sorry» and «grieved» (II Cor. 7:8). He had mixed feelings for writing that letter (he regretted and was glad – II Cor. 7:8-9). Paul sent Titus to determine the state of affairs in Corinth and the latter returned with an encouraging report. Reference is sometimes made of a letter that was lost and a letter that was severe. Although opinions vary, «whatever a reader concludes about the way this ‘letter’ was written, and whether it is a letter or letters, makes no difference at all in the value of the letter for us» (Foremann 1961, 115).
The epistle was written «not only to defend him (Paul) against the occasional criticisms of the Corinthian church, but also against the slander and accusations that his enemies raised against him wherever he was preaching» (Tenney 1985, 302). False teachers who were challenging both Paul’s personal integrity and his authority as an apostle had infiltrated the Corinthian church. The controversy that began had created a powerful group of opponents who used every means to discredit him. They charged him with many accusations. They said, among other things, that he was walking according to the flesh (10:2), acted as a coward (10:10), demeaned himself by working and did not maintain his integrity by taking support from the churches (11:7), unqualified to teach since he was not one of the original apostles (11:5; 12:11-12), lacked credentials (3:1), fleshy (10:2), boastful (10:8, 15), deceitful (12:16), and embezzled funds entrusted to him (8:20-23). The accusers were apparently Jews (11:22) who had entered the Pauline churches and were doubtless responsible for the schism in Corinth. In character, they were haughty and domineering (11:19-20), unwilling to either do pioneering work or suffer for Christ (11:23ff). Paul’s comments on his lack of verbal dexterity, refusal to assert his apostolic authority and his weakness (11:6-7, 30) conspire to conclude that «these people placed stress on their own great rhetoric, spiritual authority and strength» (Calvin, Tasker and Hughes 1982, 232). Generally, «the main motive of this letter appears to be to express relief at the good news that Titus brought to Paul about the improved attitude of the Corinthians towards the apostle. This is particularly clear from chapter 7» (Guthrie 1970, 438). Tenney (1985) argues that «2 Corinthians affords an insight into the career of Paul that none of the other epistles gives» (302).
Although Paul had various purposes in writing, it is realistic to discuss why Paul wrote and how many letters are there in II Corinthians together. If we conclude that more letters have been combined, then we should say that Paul did not at any one time have all the afore-mentioned reasons for writing. Furthermore, if we conclude that this is now and has always been only a single letter, then we should say that various parts of the letter were written for various reasons.
Having raised their hopes of a visit (I Cor. 16:5ff), Paul had failed to come to Corinth, with the result that some in Corinth had permitted themselves to listen to insinuations that he had treated them with fickleness (v.17). In II Corinthians 1:17 , he informs them that the main reason why he forbore to come was that he might spare them. Another good reason stated indirectly and with such remarkable tenderness is that he had suffered much affliction in Asia that he had even despaired of life. It is realistically argued that II Corinthians 1 is «no mere amiable preamble intended only to cushion the sterner matters which the Apostle is shortly to broach. On the contrary, it is very much a piece with the major theme of the opening portion of this epistle, namely, Paul’s vindication of his own integrity (Hughes 1962, 9).
Hughes also quotes Chrysostom’s forceful argument that «anyone preparing to find fault cannot for shame drag to the bar one who is thanking God for deliverance from such great calamities, and bid him clear himself for loitering» (Hughes 1962, 9).
Falwell and Hindson brilliantly summarize the reasons for Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:
1. To explain his sufferings in Asia (1:3-11);
2. To justify himself in his change of plans about returning to Corinth (1:12-2:4);
3. To instruct them as to the treatment of the offender (2:5-11);
4. To express his joy at the good news of their progress (2:12-13);
5. For full reconciliation with himself (6:11-7:16);
6. To urge the Corinthians to participate in the collection for the church at Jerusalem (chapters 8-9);
7. To establish his authority as an apostle (10:1-13:10) (1978,432).
One of the primary lessons of Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians is that the Christian life absolutely offers no immunity from suffering. His inclusion of the reference to suffering is therefore very deliberate. Perhaps he wanted to help the Church in Corinth. The passage under consideration, II Corinthians 1:3-7 clearly shows that suffering is part of the Christian ministry and could be one of the means to experience the comfort of God with the intention that the sufferer, through peculiar experiences, will be in a position to comfort others.
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Carson, D.A., Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris. 1992. An introduction of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan : Zondervan Publishing House.
Chafin, Kenneth L. 1985. 1,2 Corinthians. In The Communicator’s Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Farwell, Jerry and Edward E. Hindson. 1978. Liberty Commentary on the New Testament. Lynchburg, Virginia : Liberty Press.
Foreman, Kenneth J. 1961. The Letter of Paul to the Romans, the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. In The layman’s Bible Commentary, vol. 21. 112-152. Richmond, Virginia : John Knox Press.
Guthrie, Donald. 1970. New Testament Introduction. Downers Grove, Illinois : Inter-Varsity Press.
Guyon, Jeanne. 1997. Jeanne Guyon : An Autobiography. New Kensington, Pasadena : Whitaker House.
Harris, Murray J. 1976. 2 Corinthians. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 10. Grand Rapids, Michigan : Zondervan Publishing House : 301-406.
Hughes, Philip Edgcumbe. 1962. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians : the English Text with
Introduction, Exposition and Notes. Grand Rapids, Michigan : Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Keener, Craig S. 1993. The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament. Downers Grove,
Illinois : InterVarsity Press.
Kruse, Colin G. 1994. II Corinthians. In New Bible Commentary. 1188-1205. Leicester : Inter-Varsity Press.
Mcknight, Scot. 1988. Interpreting the Synoptic Gospels. Grand Rapids, Michigan : Baker Book House.
Plummer, Calvin A., R.V.G. Takser and P.E. Hughes. 1982. II Corinthians. In New Bible dictionary.
2nd ed. 229-234. Illinois : Tyndale House Publishers.
Tenney, Merrill C. 1985. New Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, Michigan : Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
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