Letter to the Corinthians (2)

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Who is the Author?

Scholarly consensus

There is a consensus among historians and Christian theologians that Paul is the author of the second Epistle to the Corinthians

Harris, Murray J. (2005). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. 

The letter is quoted or mentioned by the earliest of sources, and is included in every ancient canon, including that of Marcion of Sinope. 



2 Corinthians 1:1 gives the name of Paul as the author which, seeing Paul’s writings, does not surprise us. The book is very similar to Paul’s other letters, but especially to the Book of 1 Corinthians. There are many references back to Paul’s first letter in this second one to Corinth. 

Because Paul established the church in Corinth, he felt a sense of personal responsibility for the members of that church (4:15). So, Paul had a good reason to write this letter.

Timothy the scribe?

A verse also mentions Timothy. Paul had recently sent Timothy to Corinth, and then Timothy returned to Paul. So, the Christians in Corinth knew Timothy well. It is possible that Timothy wrote some of the letter. Paul often says “we” when he could have said “I”; so perhaps they worked together on the letter. However, the most likely explanation is that Timothy wrote down Paul’s words. We know that Paul sometimes worked like that (see for example Tertius in article on the book of Romans). The reference to Timothy is similar to the reference to Sosthenes in 1 Corinthians 1:1.

Manuscript evidence for Paul’s authorship P46

Image of 2 Corinthians 11:33–12:9

The above manuscript known as P46 is a page of an early collection of fragments containing the book of 1 Cor 3:6–2 Corinthians 9:7; 2 Cor 9:7–end (Other’s are mentioned but these are the ones relevant for us)

Dating to the late 2nd century/ start of the third, the manuscript evidence gives witness to the name of Paul, his attribution of him as the author from early on which is found in Egypt and is known to be a copy pushing the original further to the event. Considering how papyrus can deteriorate within a few hundred years, this is truly remarkable fortune.

Muratorian fragment (170 AD)

This document dating to the late second century gives us Paul’s stamp of the letters he has written according to early church tradition. We see here as it refers to both letters to the Corinthians: “As for the Epistles of (40-1) Paul, they themselves make clear to those desiring to understand, which ones [they are], from what place, or for what reason they were sent. (42) First of all, to the Corinthians, prohibiting their heretical schisms”


Paul was a writer/composer

Here church fathers make reference to Paul passing on commands or writing letters (with or without a scribe, likely with a scribe for all of them?). It is an additional factor for all Paul’s epistles that he was known as someone who wrote, taught truth and passed on commands, given an authority the first disciples did not possess. See two references below to this.

Ignatius wrote to the Romans ca. 105-107 AD:

I may be found a sacrifice to God. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles of Jesus Christ, but I am the very least [of believers]: they were free,”

Ignatius, Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1

Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians ca. 115 AD:

For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter,”

Polycarp, Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1

Peter endorses Paul’s writings

If 2 Peter is written in the first century (though sceptical scholars have been known to attribute it to someone in the second century) this passage would bear the mark that Peter endorses Paul writing letters also

“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

2 Peter 3:15-17:

Audience, Location & purpose

Paul’s main purpose was to prepare the church at Corinth for his return.

Originally, Paul had worked for 18 months to establish the church at Corinth*. For Paul, that was very unusual. Usually, he only remained in each place for a few days. He remained in Corinth because God was doing something very special in that city. Many people who had lived very evil lives were becoming Christians*. Nowhere else had Paul seen so many people who served false gods become Christians.

The church that Paul established there was an astonishing church. There was great excitement in the meetings, and the Holy Spirit was very active there. The church members were eager to serve God; and Paul considered it his favourite church*.

However, the Christians there were slow to become mature in their relationship with God*. They formed opposing groups and they argued fiercely. They spoke much about their own rights and they had not yet learned to love each other. Some of them were behaving in a wild manner during their meetings.

These problems became very clear a few years after Paul left Corinth. It seems that, at the time of Paul’s first letter, Corinth’s church leaders were urging him to return. However, Paul was not yet available to do that*. Also, he did not consider it wise for him to return when their problems were so severe*. So instead, he advised them in that letter, and he also sent Timothy to help them*. Later, he sent Titus.

Titus’s experience at Corinth* convinced Paul that the time was now right for Paul’s own return. However, Paul still worried that the church members may not be completely ready*. So, Paul sent Titus back, ahead of him, to prepare them*. Paul also sent this letter to prepare them. Titus probably took the letter to Corinth a few weeks before Paul expected to arrive there.



Internal evidence

Paul wrote 2 Corinthians less than a year after he wrote 1 Corinthians (which we know thanks to the Gallio inscription is likely around 51AD). Paul was working in Corinth in the year 51 A.D.; he wrote these books a few years afterwards. Paul was still in Ephesus when he wrote the first of these letters. He then went to Troas, from where he travelled by sea to Macedonia. He wrote this second letter from Macedonia. It seems likely that Titus took the letter to Corinth. The letter arrived just a few weeks before Paul himself returned to Corinth. Paul intended by his letter to prepare the church there for his arrival. Paul remained in that region (Greece) for 3 months. He had said previously that he wanted to spend the Winter in Corinth. After that, Paul went to Jerusalem and then, as a prisoner, to Rome.

Now, there is a hypothesis that the Book of 2 Corinthians is a collection of two, or more shorter letters. But there is no evidence to support it and it would destroy the very clear structure that the book has.

Scholarly views

There is scholarly consensus that the letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians were written by Paul during his third missionary journey, which encompassed the years 52-57 A.D. There is sufficient biographical information in both the letters to the Corinthians and in the book of Acts to allow these letters to be dated very accurately. The sequence of events is described below:

  1. Paul visits Corinth for the first time and establishes a church there (Acts 18:1-17). Among his converts were Sosthenes, who is listed as a co-author of 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 1:1).
  2. Paul travels to Ephesus, where he stays for three years. It is here that he writes his first letter to the Corinthians, however, this letter is not our canonical First Corinthians, it is called “the previous letter” (1 Cor 5:9). We will call this letter “Corinthians A.”
  3. Paul receives news from various sources about trouble at Corinth (1 Cor 1:11, 1 Cor 7:1, 1 Cor 16:17). In response he writes “Corinthians B”, the letter we know as 1 Corinthians. This is written from Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8) and is apparently sent by the hand of Timothy.
  4. Paul apparently visits Corinth for a second time, although we have no record of this visit. We know it occurred because Paul says in 2 Cor 12:14 and 2 Cor 13:1-2 that he intends to visit for a third time.
  5. Things seem to have worsened in the aftermath of the visit, leading Paul to write the “severe letter”, which we will call “Corinthians C.” Paul mentions this letter in 2 Cor 2:4 and 2 Cor 7:8.
  6. Paul was worried about the severe letter and overall situation. He hurried to meet Titus, who was returning with a response (2 Cor 2:13, 7:5, 7:13).
  7. Paul was encouraged by the news from Titus, and wrote “Corinthians D”, the letter of 2 Corinthians. Some scholars believe the other letters of Paul may have been added into our canonical 2 Corinthians. For example the “severe letter” may have been added, now forming 2 Cor 10-13, and a portion from Corinthians A may have been tucked into 2 Cor 6:14-7:1.

1 Cor 5:7-8 seems to say that Passover season is imminent. The time frame for both letters then is quite narrow, with 1 Corinthians being written before Passover in 55 A.D. and 2 Corinthians being written in 56 A.D.


Canonical status

What was the acceptance rate of 2 Corinthians as canonical? Polycarp uses 2 Corinthians very early on and heretics like Marcion used chunks from it but edited it to make it fit his view. Valentinus was willing to use it however. Generally there is a strong church acknowledgement of the letter of 2 Corinthians as canonical and this view is unquestionable from the church fathers and is of little doubt in modern scholars minds. 

See this table for a list on who recognised each book as canonical (key(s) below)

It does not mention every Church Father who used the New Testament books, this is just a survey of some of the most known
  • Ig = Ignatius
  • Po = Polycarp
  • M = Marcion
  • Va = Valentinus
  • JM = Justin Martyr
  • IR = Irenaeus 
  • C = Clement of Alexandria 
  • T = Tertullian
  • MC = Muratorian Canon
  • O = Origen
  • E = Eusebius
  • CS = Codex Sinaiticus
  • A = Athanasius
  • D = Didymus the Blind
  • P = Peshitta (Bible of the Syrian church)
  • V =  Latin vulgate 
taken from ntcanon.org/table.shtml 

Jesus, nor the apostles, nor Polycarp, Clement or Irenaeus left much for us to work with in terms of a formal “ok so here’s the rules of determination”. But what they did do is inform us that they had an informative way of knowing what was truth and what was not. And the truth had to have a connection to eyewitnesses.

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

2 Peter 1:16 

2“So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection

Acts 1:21-22

One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (This report is from an eyewitness giving an accurate account. He speaks the truth so that you also may continue to believe.)

John 19:34-35

“God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this.

Acts 2:32

You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. And we are witnesses of this fact!

Acts 3:15

We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

Acts 5:32

“And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, not to the general public, but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

Acts 10:39-43

[Paul] With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.

Romans 9:1

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.

1 Corinthians 15:3-9

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:

1 Peter 5:1

Caius the church father in 200AD writes how they knew of two fake letters circulating in Paul’s name. 

“There are also in circulation one to the Laodiceans, and another to the Alexandrians, forged under the name of Paul, and addressed against the heresy of Marcion; and there are also several others which cannot be received into the Catholic Church, for it is not suitable for gall to be mingled with honey”.

Caius, Church leader

How did they work this out? How did they know what was the divinely inspired word of God? We can thank Eusebius for beginning to help us clear up this territory. In his Ecclesiastical History, he mentions his four categories of books with descriptions as to why some were accepted, disputed, rejected and seen as heretical from his survey of the church fathers history going back and into the apostolic age. This is the structure we will take when we assess the books of the New Testament and this includes investigating the books the church rejected. 

So these summarised standards are these:

  1. Apostolicity. Was it written by an Apostle or one of their colleagues?
  2. Orthodoxy. Was the teaching orthodox? Consistent with Old Testament and the Christian worldview?
  3. Catholicity. Not the Catholic Church (that doesn’t exist for a few hundred years yet!)… This meaning widely agreed upon
  4. Relevance. Was it relevant to the church? Or does it seem completely detached from what we already have in the canon? (I.e. everything Gnostic)
  5. Inspiration. Did it have the ring of truth, the life changing power within?


We see in 2 Peter 3:15-17 accredit the works of Paul as scriptures, and Peter, being the lead apostle, can testify to apostolicity. Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, Paul has called himself inline with the apostles (Romans 1:1 for example) and several times in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 we see Paul associate himself with the Apostles as those to whom the risen Jesus appeared to. So Paul is an apostle and in Galatians 2:6 the Apostles Peter and James reviewed what Paul was preaching and added nothing to his message, meaning what he was preaching was inline with them. 2 Corinthians, through it’s author, has all the signs of being apostolic.


Like stated on the exchange in the beginning of Galatians 2, Paul got his message verified by the apostles. Paul also has a consistent message doctrinally with what Jesus teaches. There is nothing in the writings of Corinthians that is said to contradict the Gospels or the Christian message. There are times when Paul is addressing specific cultural questions and then he responds which feels more specific than the Gospels, all Paul is doing here is applying to more specific scenarios and giving depth to which we may not be inspired to uncover.


There has been no challenge by the early church fathers to 2 Corinthians, even heretics like Marcion and Valentinus tried to use the documents. Ignatius doesn’t quote from it but that doesn’t mean he disagreed with it, he may just not of required it in what he was responding to. 


This is not only relevant, but for the church in Corinth, and the modern church, Paul is addressing questions which any church could be tasked with and through God’s guidance and Christ’s law. Much of what Paul writes you can see it being written to just one church but also see how it could address the church kingdom as a whole.


Paul is called by God (Acts 9), claims in many of his letters to be sent as an Apostle for Christ Jesus (Romans 1 for example).  He has the mandate also of the Apostles (Galatians 1:17 – 2:6; 2 Peter 3:15-17) and is considered by the church Canonical, with it being in all the Christian lists of New Testament books. They could additionally as with all New Testament books recognise the ring of truth within that shows the readers of the text that it is inspired. Corinthians falls into this bracket. An Inspired Paul led by God is the claim to this letter.

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