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Paul and the Corinthian Correspondence: Part II

In the previous post, we saw that Paul likely wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus around 53-55 CE to the Christ assemblies in Corinth. In this post, I want to turn to the reception of 1 Corinthians among its intended recipients, the subsequent interactions between Paul and the Corinthians, and the data from 2 Corinthians. What complicates matters is that most scholars judge 2 Corinthians to be a composite text that combines more than one letter of Paul. There are different partition theories and reconstructions of Paul’s travels and letter-writing activity (e.g., see Daniel Wallace’s introductory post for one possible reconstruction or Bart Ehrman’s blog posts for another), but I would favour the following reconstruction:

  1. Paul’s co-worker Timothy had been dispatched to Corinth to re-enforce Paul’s doctrinal and ethical teachings (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10; Acts 19:22). It is doubtful that Paul’s intervention in the area was well received.
  2. * Paul may have briefly visited Corinth a second time here or at any time before point #6.
  3. Paul changed his plans about visiting the Corinthians on his way to Macedonia (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:5-6; 2 Corinthians 1:15-2:2) and wrote a “tearful letter” to them instead due to the grief that they had caused him (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:3-4; 7:8). Either this letter has been lost or the remnants of it are preserved in 2 Corinthians 10-13.
  4. Paul initially hoped to meet his co-worker Titus in Troas before he arrived in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13), but he actually met him in Macedonia. Titus arrived with a positive report about how the Corinthians repented in response to the “tearful letter” (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:5-16).
  5. Paul sent another letter, which was perhaps delivered by Titus (8:17-18; 12:18), and this letter consisted of 2 Corinthians 1-9. There is debate about whether this letter continued with chapters 10-13, despite the abrupt shift to a more severe tone, or whether chapters 10-13 preserve parts of another letter (i.e. the earlier “tearful letter” or an even later and final letter to the Corinthians) that was appended to chapters 1-9.
  6. Paul mentions his plans to visit Corinth a third time (2 Corinthians 12:14; 13:1), which is likely documented in Acts 20:1-3, and he wrote the epistle to the Romans from Corinth around 57 CE.

*Many commentators argue that Paul referenced this second visit in 2 Corinthians 2:1: he characterized this as a sorrowful experience as he had to confront the Christ believers in Corinth in general and a dissident member in one of their congregations in particular (2:5-11; 7:12) and, after leaving Corinth, he cancelled his plans to re-visit Corinth on route to Macedonia and wrote the “tearful letter” instead. In contrast, Stephen C. Carlson’s “On Paul’s Second Visit to Corinth: Πάλιν, Parsing, and Presupposition in 2 Corinthians 2:1″ JBL 135.3 (2016): 597-615 renders this verse as arguing that Paul did not wish to visit the Corinthians again as he did not want to cause them grief by reprimanding them and, thus, 2:1 has nothing to do with Paul’s second visit that may have occurred anytime before the writing of the letter preserved in 2 Corinthians 10-13.

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