A Literary Analysis of the Letter to the (2) Corinthians

by PammyMcB

Each of Paul’s letters serves a specific purpose. In my exploration of Paul’s purpose for 2 Corinthians, I will give a brief history, give a summary to the letter, share what I took the message to be, compare my understanding with other understandings, look at the structure that Paul uses, and examine how this letter fits into the formation of ministry. First, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to the church in Corinth and the Christians throughout Achaia in 55 A.D. Paul wrote this letter because he felt that his first letter did not accomplish its purpose, which was to explain what it means to be a Christian. Paul was concerned because the Corinthians had still not completely given up their pagan lifestyles, and there were many that opposed Paul. Therefore, he wrote the letter.

In the first section of the letter, Paul greets the church and the Christians in Achaia. He praises God and asks for comfort for himself and his brethren. Next, Paul tells of his trouble in Asia. He said they almost perished, but God spared them from such a fate. Next, Paul shares with the readers his change in travel plans. He states it would be too painful to make the trip at the moment, and he wishes to spare the Christians in Corinth from this pain. Paul then begins to speak to them of forgiveness at this point.

In the next section, Paul now goes into the apostolic ministry part of his letter. He tells the Corinthians it is because he is a believer in God that he does not preach his message for profit. Paul now tells the Corinthians only through Christ will they find the full glory or “radiance” of God. Paul goes on to explain the reason he preaches is not for what we all see before us, but for what we cannot see, our eternal reward. In chapter 5, Paul explains this reward as a heavenly home. He then reminds the Corinthians that we all must face judgment. Next, Paul tells them he is not trying to force them to follow God, but he is giving them a choice or “opportunity.” Paul then goes on to explain Christianity as rebirth, and as Christians, we all have a responsibility as “ambassadors” for Christ. Paul then states in 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.” Paul follows this by explaining the trouble he has endured in the name of Christ and asking the Corinthians to open their hearts to him. Paul now reaffirms that we are all a part of one God. Paul explains though he did regret hurting the Corinthians by his first letter, he no longer regrets sending it, because the letter made them repent. He explains that Godly sorrow leads to salvation, while worldly sorrow only leads to death.

The next section of Paul’s letter is the collection or hortatory section. Paul commends the Macedonians for being so generous, and he then asks the Corinthians to be as generous. Paul now tells the Corinthians that he is sending Titus of his own free will and asks that they accept him as their brother. Paul tells them he has been proud of them for wanting to help those in Jerusalem, and they should live up to their “eagerness” to help. He says, “each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give” (9:7). Paul tells them that their action of giving will bring the church together and help it to grow.

The final section of Paul’s letter changes gears a bit. At this point (ch. 10), Paul feels he must defend his ministry more fully. He explains that he only lives in the world, but he does not live of the world. He says his authority comes from God in order to build Christians up not to pull them down (10:8). Paul explains he is the same in person as he is in his letters. He reaffirms his authority by explaining he boasts of the Lord, not of himself. Next, Paul explains what makes those against Paul false prophets. One main point is that false prophets charge for their sermons, another is that they are a burden to those they preach to, and finally a true preacher loves his congregation. Paul drives home his message at this point. He explains the hardships he has endured in the name of Christianity. He then explains that through complete weakness and suffering, we find the grace of God. He says, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10). Paul then explains that he wants nothing of the Corinthians but their faith. He shares his love with them and he will be grieved for those who have not repented. Paul warns the Corinthians that on his return he will not spare any that have sinned and not repented. He asks them to look inside themselves and see if Christ is with them. Paul now closes the letter by telling his brothers to “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace” (13:11).

I feel that Paul’s overall message is quite simple, he wants the people to truly accept God into their hearts the way that he has and to understand what it means to be a Christian. I feel the central point of the letter is the focus of the entire letter. I feel Paul purposefully put his break in thought in 6:3-7:1 to draw our attention to this message. He feels that the Corinthians have not seen the grace of God, because they do not show love and forgiveness to their brothers. They do not show a sense of pride in their Lord. Paul feels they have not realized that they will find God only if they live through hardship in the manner that he has. He grieves for them because they still allow fleshly desires control their lives. Paul wants to help them by getting them to give up their fleshly possessions in order to give to the church in Jerusalem. Paul lets them know that he has suffered greatly for his brothers, and he reminds his brothers that they will only find God’s grace in their weaknesses.

My understanding of Paul’s message differs greatly from DeSilva’s, because he focuses more on “What makes a person a worthy Christian leader?” (586). DeSilva feels this was the most important part of Paul’s final letter to the Corinthians. I, on the other hand, feel that Paul touched on this greatly, but it was not his central message. To me his central message is what makes a Christian a good Christian. The two concepts are closely interrelated, but not all Christians are born leaders. Perhaps though DeSilva is trying to say role model instead, which I feel would have been a more appropriate term. DeSilva also focuses more on allowing “God’s presence to shine through” (586-7). I agree with DeSilva when he states that “for in his [Paul’s] weakness God’s strength is known” (587) is part of Paul’s message. This, to me, is when God’s presence shines through. Throughout the entire letter, the line that stands out the most to me is “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10). Next DeSilva and I both added giving to the poor as part of the central message of Paul. However, the New International Commentary focuses more on generosity as being key than just adding it to something else. DeSilva added the sense of community where I did not. I failed to add this, because the idea of community is still new to me. I have only just begun to understand what community truly means in the last couple of months. Therefore, it did not jump out to me; though, I can certainly see it now. Furthermore, Tenney agrees with DeSilva on the picture of the ministry being important as well as the teaching on giving. However, he also focuses on the “prospects beyond death” as being significant to Paul’s message.

The structure Paul uses for 2 Corinthians is of great interest to me. Paul starts out his message slow and sincere. He voices his concern. Then he becomes very harsh as if he is punishing a child. He ends the letter again, slow and sincere. The letter reminds me of a symphony it gradually crescendos and ends in peaceful harmony. Maybe we should use this as a metaphor for Paul’s message. Being a Christian is a difficult task in which we must loudly boast our praises unto the Lord, but its goal is peaceful unity and harmony. Paul has two main breaks in thought to help get this message across according to the New International Commentary.

These are as follows:

thought a (1:1-2:13)

thought b (2:14-6:2)

thought c (6:3-7:1)

thought b1 (7:2-7:4)

thought a1 (7:5-13:14)

From what I have learned on chiasms, I feel that 6:3-7:1 is where Paul’s main point/message lies. Which, as I have said before is, what it means to be a Christian, and to fully accept God into your heart.

Finally, DeSilva states, “Each text was written to serve some specific pastoral needs and answer a range of important questions arising out of the life of the church.” To DeSilva, 2nd Corinthians is Paul’s guidebook for the minister. He puts great emphasis on making sure you are ready to truly be a minister before you try. Do not go into ministry for financial or economical gain. Sincerity is the most important trait of a minister. Do not take from the poor, or as Paul would put it, be a “burden” to others for your own personal gain. Finally, make sure your congregation upholds the laws of God by helping them to recognize their sin and encouraging them to repent. I think overall, Paul is trying to build a church that is unified and loving he wants nothing, but faith in God from his congregation. Paul wants his people to understand it is not easy to be a Christian. The work is tedious and tiresome, but the rewards are immense.