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New Testament Survey: The Book Of Second Corinthians

Written By: Steve Shirley

The Book Of Second Corinthians


  • Paul (2 Cor 1:1)(2 Cor 10:1)
    (For more on Paul see: Survey: Biography Of Paul)
  • The early church fathers (i.e. Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Eusebius) universally agreed, and it has never been seriously questioned, that Paul authored this book.
  • This is the most personal and autobiographical Epistle that Paul wrote. We learn more about him from this Epistle than any other he wrote. (Discussed more below.)
  • Most agree that this was the 5th of the 13 Epistles that Paul wrote.

The Stats:

  • Chapters: 13
  • Verses: 257

Date Written:

  • 55-57 A.D.
  • Most scholars believe this was written in the fall of the same year as 1st Corinthians. (1st Corinthians being written in the spring.)

Place Written:

  • Macedonia (probably from the city of Philippi within Macedonia)
    (pointed to in 2 Cor 2:13, 2 Cor 7:5, 2 Cor 9:2)
  • Timothy was with Paul when he wrote this (2 Cor 1:1).

Written To:

  • Christians at the church in Corinth.

Key Verses:

(2 Cor 1:3-4)(2 Cor 3:18)(2 Cor 4:7-10,16-18)(2 Cor 5:1,6-10,17,21)(2 Cor 6:14-18)(2 Cor 7:10)(2 Cor 8:9)(2 Cor 9:6-7)(2 Cor 10:4-5)(2 Cor 11:14)(2 Cor 12:9-10)(2 Cor 13:14)

How Many Letters Were Written?

  • There are two views as to how many letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Some believe three and some believe four. We will look at both views. (This gets a bit complicated!)

The Four Letters View:

  • Letter #1. After planting the church at Corinth (Acts 18:1-18), and then leaving, Paul heard reports about problems with fornication and sexual immorality. He wrote a letter (1 Cor 5:9) to address this topic. We do not have a copy of this letter today. (Those who hold to a three letter view also agree this was letter #1.)
  • Letter #2. While in Ephesus, Paul apparently heard that there were numerous problems in this church he had founded in Corinth. This came from two different sources: the household of Chloe (1 Cor 1:11) and a letter from Corinth by means of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (compare 1 Cor 16:17 to 1 Cor 7:1). He addressed these numerous problems by writing 1st Corinthians. (Those who hold to a three letter view also agree that this was letter #2.)
  • After sending 1st Corinthians, news reached Paul (probably from both Timothy and Titus) of growing opposition by false teachers (Judaizers) who were seeking to destroy Paul’s apostolic authority and ruin his credibility.
  • It appears, that in response to this, Paul made a short 2nd visit to Corinth from Ephesus which is not recorded, but possibly alluded to in (2 Cor 13:2), in which he says he gave a warning at that time. In (2 Cor 2:1), Paul refers to this as a “painful” visit. We know that Paul’s 1st visit, was when he planted the church, and it was not painful. In addition, Paul says in (2 Cor 12:14) and (2 Cor 13:1) that when he came again it would be his third visit.
  • Letter #3. After Paul returned to Ephesus, he was apparently very distressed and agitated, and wrote what is called “the severe letter” (2 Cor 2:4)(2 Cor 7:8). He wrote this letter with “many tears” to chastise the leaders of this movement, and those who were believing these reports. He then sent it back with Titus. After he wrote it, he repented of it (2 Cor 7:8).
  • Paul was so tormented waiting for news about how the letter was received that he left Ephesus, and went to Troas to find Titus. Even though God had opened a door for Paul to minister in Troas, he could not do so because of his torment (2 Cor 2:12). Therefore, he left Troas and went to Macedonia to find Titus (2 Cor 2:13). His torment continued in Macedonia, as he could still not find Titus. (2 Cor 7:5). Finally, Titus appeared in Macedonia, and gave Paul a wonderful report that his letter had made them sorry and the majority had repented of their rebellion against Paul (2 Cor 7:8-16).
  • Letter #4. After hearing this report, Paul then wrote 2nd Corinthians.

*** A number of scholars believe that the “painful letter” that Paul wrote is actually what is found in 2nd Corinthians chapters 10-13. Because it differs so much from the proceeding chapters of 1-9 in tone, and in a way that is not easily accounted for, it is believed that it may have been preserved by adding it on to the end of 2nd Corinthians.

The Three Letters View:

  • If the above view is correct, then the letter of (2 Cor 2:5-11) “forgiveness of an offender” would refer to Paul asking for the forgiveness for the leader of the opposition against him. The three letter view holds that this offender was the incestuous man spoken of in (1 Cor 5). This would also apply to the man Paul is speaking of in (1 Cor 7:12).
  • The previous letter, that was written with “many tears” would not be a lost letter, but instead would be referring to 1st Corinthians.
  • When Paul says he was coming for a “third time” it would not mean literally coming, but rather, “he was “ready” to come for a third time. In other words, he had prepared to come before, but hadn’t been able to (see: 1 Cor 16:5-9, 2 Cor 12:14, 2 Cor 1:15-17,23).
  • The news that Paul was so tormented about receiving from Titus was not a response to a “severe” lost letter, but rather, a response from his writing 1st Corinthians, and seeing how they responded to the numerous problems he addressed in that Epistle.


  • There are a number of purposes. Three main ones are listed below.

#1. To discuss his spiritual labors and share his feelings over the condition of matters in Corinth. (Ch. 1-7)

  • The range of feelings Paul expressed are why this Epistle is so personal. Some of these included: affection, wounded feelings, sternness, irony, rebuke, humility, impassioned self-vindication, a just self-respect, zeal for the welfare of the weak and suffering, as well as for the progress of the church of Christ, and the spiritual advancement of its members. He shared these while in a near constant state of physical weakness, weariness, and pain [discussed more below]).
  • Chapters 1:1-2:4 explain Paul’s trials in Asia, and why he was originally delayed in making his third visit. If the “painful visit” theory above is correct, then it would have been because he did not want another painful visit (2 Cor 2:1), and because he wanted to spare them (2 Cor 1:23). However, after the positive report from Titus, he would now be making the third visit very soon, which he did after writing this Epistle (Acts 20:2-3). (He was there for 3 months on his third visit and wrote Romans at this time.)

#2. To give specific directions regarding a collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem. (Ch. 8-9:15)

  • Titus, as well as two other trusted men were put in charge of this collection (2 Cor 8:16-24).
  • This collection was apparently successful (Rom 15:26).

#3. To defend his apostolic claim, and reprove those false teachers, and their adherents, who were seeking to destroy Paul’s character, credibility, and influence. (Ch. 10-13)

  • Among the things he was accused of was:
    • Being fickle: (2 Cor 1:17)
    • Being a coward: (2 Cor 10:1)
    • Walking in the flesh: (2 Cor 10:2)
    • Being unimpressive in appearance and speech: (2 Cor 10:10)
    • Not loving them because he didn’t accept support from them for his services: (2 Cor 11:7-11)(2 Cor 12:13)
    • Not being an apostle: (2 Cor 13:3)
  • In return, he accused them of:
    • Corrupting the word of God: (2 Cor 2:17)
    • Being false apostles, deceitful workers, and disguising themselves as apostles of Christ: (2 Cor 11:13)
    • Enslaving and taking advantage of people, and exalting themselves: (2 Cor 11:20)

Special Emphasis:

  • At least seven key words are found more in 2nd Corinthians than any other book in the New Testament:

Comfort/Beseech: (Gr: “parakaleo“) 16 times || Consolation/Exhortation: (Gr: “paraklesis“) 11 times) || Boast/Glory: (Gr: “kauchaomai“) 16 times || Affliction/Tribulation: (Gr: “thlipsis“) 9 times || Groan: (Gr: “stenazo“) 2 times || Suffer/Endure: (Gr: “anechomai“) 5 times || Bold/Confident (Gr: “tharrheo“) 5 times

Paul’s Trials:

  • Paul gives us a list of some of the trials he went through in (2 Cor 11:23-28).
    • Put in prison over and over.
    • Flogged an uncounted number of times.
    • Received 39 lashes from the Jews 5 times.
    • Beaten with rods 3 times.
    • Stoned one time.
    • Shipwrecked 3 times.
    • Spent a day and night in the sea.
    • In continual danger from rivers, robbers, his own people, and Gentiles.
    • In danger in the city, in the country, at sea, and from false brothers.
    • Weary and in pain often, without sleep.
    • Often hungry and thirsty, cold and naked.
    • Continually concerned about the health of all the churches.

** When you are facing problems, taking a look at these trials Paul faced can put things in perspective.

  • Paul continues in (2 Cor 12:1-10) by talking about another big trial he faced, and that was a “thorn in the flesh.” What was this thorn? Let’s look at that next.

Excursus On Paul’s “Thorn In The Flesh:”

  • This “thorn” is mentioned in (2 Cor 12:7) when Paul says, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.”
  • The preceding verses tell us that 14 years earlier, Paul had been caught up to the third heaven (more on this next) or Paradise, and heard things he was not even allowed to discuss.

***Note: I explain “when” Paul received his “thorn” here:

  • In order to keep Paul from being proud of these revelations, he was given this “thorn.” Paul asked the Lord to remove it three times, and the Lord replied, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:8-9).
  • We cannot know for certain what this “thorn” was, but we know that the Greek word used for “thorn” was “skolops,” which means a “bodily annoyance or disability” (Strong’s). I believe that this physical (“bodily”) disability was an affliction of the eyes. Following are 5 reasons why:

#1. (Gal 4:13-15) Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel to you at first. (14) And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but ye received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. (15) Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? For I bear record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and given them to me.

#2. Paul apparently had others writing for him at times, signing the end of the letter with his own hand to show that he had dictated it (1 Cor 16:21)(2 Th 3:17)(Col 4:18). When he did write, he used large letters (Gal 6:11).

#3. (Acts 23:1-5) The High Priest ordered that Paul be slapped while he was speaking, and Paul condemned him for ordering it. When Paul was told that he had spoken out against the High Priest, he apologized saying he didn’t know it was the High Priest. The High Priest dressed in very distinctive clothing that was easily recognizable.

#4. In (Acts 28:1-5), Paul was gathering sticks to lay on a fire, and apparently grabbed a snake thinking it was a stick. When he laid the sticks on the fire, the snake bit him. (It was poisonous, but amazingly, Paul was not hurt.)

#5. History tells us that the region of Laodicea was known for advancements in medicine, and one of the things it was most famous for was creating collyrium (an eye salve lotion which was applied to the eyes). It is interesting to note that Paul made a circular trip to go through Laodicea. It is also fascinating to see in (Rev 3:18), when the Lord is speaking to the church of Laodicea, He says, “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see).

  • While these things seem to show that Paul’s “thorn” was indeed an affliction of the eyes, others suggest it could have been malaria, epilepsy, or migraines.
  • Whatever it was, the verses which follow (2 Cor 12:7) also bolster the theory that the “thorn” was a “physical disability.”
  • In (2 Cor 12:9), Paul says, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities,” and in (2 Cor 12:10) he follows with, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities.” The Greek word used for “infirmities” is “astheneia.” It means “feebleness (of body or mind); by impl. malady” (Strong’s). It is translated 24 times in the New Testament as either “infirmity, weakness, diseases, or sickness.” In other words, because God would not take away the “thorn” (after Paul asked 3 different times), Paul decided he would “glory in his sickness / disease / infirmity” (“infirmity” is tied to sickness in verses like: Lk 5:15, Lk 7:21, Lk 13:11-12, 1 Tim 5:23).
  • Some believe Paul’s “thorn” could have been suffering over his past persecution of Christians, or possibly he struggled with emotional pain because of attacks against the “church” he helped to build. Based on what we have said above though, this seems very unlikely.

Excursus On The “Third Heaven:”

  • The “Third Heaven” mentioned by Paul in (2 Cor 12:2), is also called Paradise two verses later in (2 Cor 12:4). This is the place where the Lord, and all believers who have died are residing. If there is a third Heaven, then there must also be a first and second heaven, right? Yes, but this does NOT mean that there are “levels” in Heaven. The “first heaven” is simply the atmosphere surrounding the Earth, and the “second heaven” is outer space and the stars.
  • We don’t know exactly how it works, but the Heaven in which believers and the Lord reside is beyond our atmosphere and outer space. The Bible mentions that Jesus passed through the “heavens” (Heb 4:14), which was likely His ascension (Lk 24:51)(Acts 1:9-11). Stephen saw the “heavens” open up to reveal the “Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).
  • In (1 Pet 5:8), it says that the “devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Jesus called Satan “the ruler (Gr: “archon“) of this world” (Jn 12:31)(Jn 14:30)(Jn 16:11). Paul called him the “ruler of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2), and the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4). The “first” and “second” heavens are where Satan is “walking about” as “ruler (“prince” some versions) and god.”
  • Satan offered Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world if He would worship him (Mt 4:8-9). Jesus never disputed that Satan could do so. Right now, Satan has the God-given ability to rule in the first and second heavens, but there will come a time when the Lord returns, and this will no longer occur.


  • The Epistle is in three parts:

1. Paul’s principles of action, 1:1-7:16.

2. The collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem, 8:1-9:15.

3. Paul’s defense of his apostolic authority, 10:1-13:14.

(Survey from Scofield Reference Notes [1917 ed.]: Public Domain)

Copyright: © Steve Shirley