2 Corinthians: Summary and Key Verse for All 13 Chapters!


Marko Marina Author Bart Ehrman

Written by Marko Marina, Ph.D.

Author |  Historian

Author |  Historian |  BE Contributor

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Date written: June 20th, 2024

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

Without a doubt, the apostle Paul is the most important missionary of the first century. His work in establishing new communities and connecting them with old ones proved to be of profound importance for the development of Christianity.

Paul’s missionary journeys took him across the Roman Empire, where he founded numerous churches and maintained close relationships with them through his letters. These epistles are not only crucial historical documents but also form a significant part of the New Testament. One such letter is the Second Epistle to the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians is a rich and complex letter that provides deep insights into Paul's ministry and his relationship with the Corinthian church. Written in response to various challenges and issues faced by the community in Corinth, this epistle addresses themes of reconciliation, the nature of the new covenant, and Paul's suffering and apostolic authority.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive summary of 2 Corinthians, chapter by chapter, highlighting key verses that capture the essence of each section. By breaking down the letter in this manner, we hope to make the complex and sometimes challenging content of 2 Corinthians more accessible to readers.

Our goal is to present a scholarly yet friendly overview that helps you understand the historical context, main themes, and significant passages of this important epistle. 

For those interested in exploring the historical perspectives on other foundational Christian texts, consider Dr. Bart D. Ehrman's online course,The Unknown Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John”, where he distinguishes between history and myth in the canonical gospels and presents what the contemporary scholarship reveals about these profound historical sources.

2 Corinthians

Summary of 2 Corinthians: A General Overview

Who wrote 2 Corinthians? The letter begins with a clear attribution: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother; To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia (1:1).”

The early Church accepted this attribution, asserting that Paul was the main author and that Timothy served as a co-author. St. Jerome, for instance, argued that Timothy acted as an amanuensis or secretary, writing the letter based on Paul’s dictation. 

This practice was common for Paul, as we know from other sources like Romans, where he utilized secretaries in composing his letters. Furthermore, other Greco-Roman figures, such as Cicero, also relied on secretaries, as E. Randolph Richards elaborated in his book Paul and First-Century Letter Writing. (Affiliate Disclaimer: We may earn commissions on products you purchase through this page at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting our site!)

Based on various arguments, including internal evidence and external attestation, virtually all contemporary scholars agree that Paul indeed wrote 2 Corinthians. However, there is ongoing debate (see below) about whether the letter as we know it today was originally a single document or a compilation of two or more letters.

As Raymond E. Brown notes in his Introduction to the New Testament: “Although there is no doubt that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, transitions from one part of the letter to the other have been judged so abrupt that many scholars would chop it up into once-independent pieces.” However, we’ll explore these issues in more detail in a future article.

Why Did Paul Write 2 Corinthians? A Brief Look at the Historical Context

Christian communities in Corinth (modern-day Greece) were in a constant internal struggle, marked by divisions and conflicts arising from religious, social, and cultural differences. As discussed in an earlier article, these issues were the primary reasons Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. However, the struggles continued unabated.

In The New Testament: A Historical Introduction, Bart Ehrman explains: "The church in Corinth appears not to have been a happy place. Paul saw a community that was divided against itself and that tolerated immoral and scandalous behavior while claiming (ironically, in Paul’s eyes) to enjoy an exalted standing with Christ."

One of the most significant issues was the emergence of the so-called "super-apostles" (2 Cor 11:5) in Corinth, who challenged Paul's message and authority. It’s Paul who calls these people "super-apostles" in a sarcastic way to minimize their importance, as it wasn’t a cultural norm of that time to be referred to that way. These controversies form the basic framework and historical context behind the writing of 2 Corinthians.

What further complicates the matter is the structure of II Corinthians itself. Most scholars assert that the letter we have today was compiled from several different works Paul wrote. 

This "copy-paste method" has led some scholars to argue that 2 Corinthians 1-9 was originally composed of five letters Paul sent to address various issues, including his relationship with the Corinthian community.

Despite these complexities, the overarching theme of 2 Corinthians remains clear: Paul is fervently defending his apostleship and addressing the ongoing internal issues within the Corinthian church.

When did Paul Write 2 Corinthians? The Issue of Dating and Compilation

The exact dating of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians presents a challenge due to questions about its internal integrity. Since many scholars believe that what we now know as 2 Corinthians was originally a collection of different letters written by Paul, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact dates for each part. 

However, there are still some scholars who argue for the original unity of 2 Corinthians. Raymond E. Brown, for instance, is more cautious, asserting that “from the earliest times 2 Corinthians has been presented in its present format.”

 Regarding the possible date of this letter, Brown suggests that Paul wrote it "in late summer or early autumn of 57 C.E." from Macedonia. If 2 Corinthians originally circulated as a set of different letters, the question arises: When did the "copy and paste" process occur? 

In his Commentary, Victor P. Furnish provides a possible answer: “It would appear that 2 Cor was given its present form sometime during the period 96-125 C.E. since it was probably not known to the author(s) of 1 Clem but was certainly being circulated with other Pauline letters by the time of Marcion. It’s not unreasonable to suppose that the editing of 2 Cor occurred shortly after 1 Clem, a letter from the Roman Christians to the troubled Corinthian congregation, had been received in Corinth about the year 96.”

Having provided a general overview of the key historical issues surrounding 2 Corinthians, we are now well-positioned to delve into a more detailed analysis of its content. Let's proceed with a chapter-by-chapter summary, highlighting key verses that encapsulate the core messages of each section.

A Summary of 2 Corinthians

What is 2 Corinthians about? Before exploring that question, we decided to create a clear table with the most important themes (chapter by chapter) and key verses from the NIV translation of the Bible. 

Chapter

Theme

Key Verse

1

Paul’s Comfort in Affliction

“Praise to be the God and of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (2 Cor 1:3-4)

2

Forgiveness for the Offender

“Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven…” (2 Cor 2:10)

3

The Glory of the New Covenant

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is…” (2 Cor 3:17-18)

4

Treasures in Jars of Clay

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away…” (2 Cor 4:16-18)

5

The Ministry of Reconciliation

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come…” (2 Cor 5:17-21)

6

Paul’s Appeal for Holiness

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers… (2 Cor 6:14)

7

Paul’s Joy at the Corinthians’ Repentance

“Yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry…” (2 Cor 7:9-10)

8

Encouragement to Give Generously

“But since you excel in everything - in faith, in speech…” (2 Cor 8:7)

9

The Cheerful Giver

“And God is able to bless you abundantly…” (2 Cor 9:8)

10

Paul’s Defense of His Ministry

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world…” (2 Cor 10:4-5)

11

Paul and the False Apostles

“And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Cor 11:14)

12

Paul’s Vision and His Thorn

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’...” (2 Cor 12:9-10)

13

Final Warnings and Exhortations

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith…” (2 Cor 13:5).

How many chapters are in 2 Corinthians? As we see from the table above, the right answer is 13! Each provides a valuable insight into the world of the apostle Paul and the origin of Christianity in Corinth. Let’s turn our focus now to a chapter-by-chapter summary.

2 Corinthians 1: Summary

As is the case with some other Pauline epistles, in chapter 1, the apostle provides the so-called “opening formula” where he introduces himself and Timothy and expresses gratitude for God’s comfort in affliction. However, there is one striking difference when compared with the introduction of the II Corinthians. 

In his Commentary, Scott J. Hafemann notes: “In 2 Corinthians Paul foregoes a detailed elaboration of his authority and the status of the believers in Corinth in favor of a nearly standard salutation. (Affiliate Disclaimer: We may earn commissions on products you purchase through this page at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting our site!) His only expansions are the reminders that he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” and that the Corinthians are the “church of God,” who exist “together with all the saints throughout Achaia.”

Moreover, in the first chapter, Paul discusses his recent problems in Asia and emphasizes the importance of mutual support and prayer among believers. He reassures the Corinthians of his continued faith and reliance on God’s deliverance despite all challenges. 

2 Corinthians 2: Summary

In the next chapter, Paul urges the Corinthians to forgive and comfort a repentant individual who had previously caused distress. He explains the need for reconciliation and affirms his sincerity and motives in writing to them.

Although Paul doesn’t specify the offense, it’s probably a slander against him and his apostolic authority. The perpetrator, possibly an influential person, had sided with Paul’s opponents and led the opposition against him. Initially, most of the Corinthians sided with this person, but they later repented after Paul's "tearful letter" (2:4; 7:8-13).

2 Corinthians 3: Summary

In the third chapter, Paul contrasts the old covenant, represented by Mosaic Law, with the new covenant of the Spirit. In this case, he echoes theology founded in his other undisputed letters. We should, however, remember that, for Paul, the new covenant is still firmly set within Judaism. He never thought of the good news as belonging to some other (new) religion.  

In any case, Paul highlights the greater glory and freedom found in the new covenant through Christ. This new covenant brings transformation and righteousness that the old covenant could not achieve.

Raymond E. Brown notes: “Paul launches into the superiority of a ministry involving the Spirit over a ministry engraved on the stone that brought death (3:4-11 ). Moses put a veil over his face in dealing with Israel, and it remains when Israelites read the old covenant. However, when one turns to Christ, the veil is taken away because the Lord who spoke to Moses is now present in the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 4: Summary

The fourth chapter is dedicated to Paul’s description of the fragility of human existence compared to the eternal nature of the good news. He emphasizes the resilience and hope found in faith despite physical suffering and challenges.

Paul assures his fellow believers that the sufferings they are going through are necessary steps before achieving eternal glory. He also believed that this eternal glory would come swiftly, as he expected Jesus to return within the lifetime of the first believers (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 4:17).

This apocalyptic message underscored Paul's ideology that the present sufferings were insignificant in light of the imminent and glorious return of Christ, which would bring ultimate redemption and transformation for the faithful.

2 Corinthians 5: Summary

In the fifth chapter, Paul speaks about the transformation believers undergo in Christ, thus becoming new creations. He underscores the ministry of reconciliation, where believers are called to reconcile others to God through Christ. 

Moreover, Paul explains that God has entrusted this ministry to them which made them ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20). In Paul’s view, “The love of Christ” compels all the followers to become ambassadors.

Despite, or as Bart D. Ehrman has shown in his book The Triumph of Christianity, precisely because of his strong apocalyptic attitude, Paul preached and affirmed the necessity of missionary work so that the "good news" could spread to the ends of the earth.

2 Corinthians 6: Summary

In the next chapter, Paul appeals to the Corinthians to live holy lives, separate from non-believers. In this way, he echoes his assertion in 1 Corinthians 10:21: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”

Furthermore, Paul stresses the importance of purity and dedication to God’s work, warning against forming mismatched alliances. He urges the community to cleanse themselves from impurities to perfect holiness. 

Additionally, these instructions and notes serve as an indicator that all problems haven’t been healed at Corinth. In other words, the struggles and divisions were still alive. If that wasn’t the case, why would Paul emphasize holiness and the danger of colluding with pagan beliefs and practices? 

So, who are these “unbelievers” and what kind of idolatry was the problem in Corinth? Opinions differ.

On one side are scholars who believe that Paul here uses the terms "unbelievers" and "idols" generically, while on the other side, there are those who claim Paul refers here to the specific problem of consuming meat sacrificed to pagan gods — a problem he talked about in 1 Corinthians 8-10.

What is 2 Corinthians About

2 Corinthians 7: Summary

In the seventh chapter, Paul expresses relief and joy upon hearing of the Corinthians’ repentance from Titus. He reassures them of his deep care and commitment, highlighting the positive effects of their genuine sorrow leading to repentance. As it turns out, Titus had brought back good news of the Corinthians' heartfelt change and renewed loyalty to Paul.

Moreover, Paul emphasizes the importance of “godly sorrow” (2 Cor 7:10), which leads to repentance and salvation, thus contrasting it with worldly sorrow that leads to death. This repentance has brought mutual comfort and strengthened their relationship, reaffirming their bond and unity in the faith.

2 Corinthians 8: Summary

Here, Paul encourages the Corinthians to be generous in their giving, using the Macedonians as an example. He discusses the principles of giving, emphasizing willingness and equality in supporting those in need. Moreover, Paul appeals to their sense of fairness and their previous commitment to generosity.

In this respect, Paul continues his overall theme present in other epistles where he emphasizes the importance of charity among Jesus’ followers (e.g. Romans 15:26). In 2 Corinthians, Paul went further, developing the idea of a “cheerful giver” whom God loves and who is ready to sacrifice himself for the good of the community.

To be more precise, Paul speaks about the collection for the church in Jerusalem asking the community in Corinth to “chip in”. To make sure everything goes smoothly, Paul first argued for the necessity of the collection (2 Cor 8:1-15) and then sent a three-man delegation to collect it (2 Cor 8:16-24). 

Without a doubt, Paul’s emphasis on “giving to others” set the model for later Christians who would change the whole conception regarding the recipients of charity. As Peter Brown has shown in his excellent study Through the Eye of a Needle, the idea of helping the poor because of their economic status was unheard of in the Greco-Roman world. 

Relying on the Judaic tradition, Christianity brought forward “institutionalized charity” aiming, first and foremost, at the destitute members of society. And,  certainly, Paul had a big influence in that development. 

2 Corinthians 9: Summary

Paul continues to discuss the blessings of generous giving. He assures the Corinthians that God will provide abundantly for those who give cheerfully, enabling them to continue good works. This generosity not only supplies needs but also results in thanksgiving to God.

2 Corinthians 10: Summary

With chapter 10, everything changes! The tone of Paul’s writing significantly differs from the previous chapters! As Bart Ehrman notes in The New Testament: A Historical Introduction: “No longer is Paul joyful in this congregation that has returned to him. Now he is bitter and incensed that they have come to question his authority and to bad-mouth his person.”

Paul defends his ministry against critics and emphasizes his authority and the divine power behind his work, thus echoing arguments he laid out in Galatians. Moreover, Paul contrasts his genuine approach to the “good news” with the deceptive tactics of his opponents, asserting that his authority is for building them up and strengthening their community. 

2 Corinthians 11: Summary

In this chapter, Paul continues his defense of his apostolic authority and directly addresses the influence of his opponents, whom he sarcastically refers to as "super-apostles" (ὑπερλίαν ἀπόστολοι). 

Paul describes how the so-called super-apostles accused him of being meek and unassertive when present among the Corinthians, but audacious and domineering in his letters from afar. 

Essentially, they portrayed Paul as weak, lacking eloquence, and unimpressive in person, suggesting that he compensated for these perceived shortcomings by adopting a forceful tone in his written communications.

To further establish his credentials, Paul recounts his sacrifices and sufferings for the sake of the gospel. He writes: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again” (11:23). Paul lists numerous hardships he has endured, including beatings and shipwrecks.

Throughout this chapter, Paul emphasizes that true apostleship is characterized by humility, sacrifice, and fidelity to the gospel message. He warns the Corinthians against being deceived by outward appearances and eloquent speeches.

2 Corinthians 12: Summary

In this chapter, Paul shares a vision of heaven and speaks about a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7) given to him to prevent pride. He highlights the sufficiency of God’s grace and the strength found in weakness. Paul boasts about his weaknesses, knowing that Christ’s power is made perfect in them.

It should be noted that Paul doesn’t talk often about personal visions in his letters. According to Scott J. Haffemann: “The striking absence of references to visions and revelations in Paul’s letters demonstrates his lack of interest in sharing such private, spiritual experiences. He viewed them as without benefit either for establishing his authority as an apostle or for building up the church.”

In any case, Paul’s main emphasis in this chapter is on the idea of strengths in weaknesses. He declares, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong"

Finally, Paul continues to address the criticisms and comparisons made by the super-apostles. He contrasts his selfless service and willingness to endure suffering for the sake of the gospel with the boastful and self-promoting nature of his rivals.

2 Corinthians 13: Summary

Paul concludes with warnings and exhortations thus urging the Corinthians to examine themselves and ensure their faith is genuine. He expresses his hope for their spiritual growth and unity, ending with a benediction.

In his concluding formula, Paul notes: “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, and live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor 13:11-14).

“No matter how the Corinthians reacted”, Raymond E. Brown notes, “Paul's triadic blessing on them in including God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit (the fullest benediction that Paul composed) has served Christians in liturgy even to this day as a model invocation.”

Conclusion

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians is a multifaceted document that offers profound insights into the ministry and challenges of the apostle Paul. Through this letter, Paul addresses numerous issues within the Corinthian church, from internal divisions and moral lapses to the influence of rival leaders he sarcastically labels as "super-apostles."

Perhaps, the best way to conclude this article is by quoting Victor P. Furnish who captivatingly summarizes the importance and internal quality of 2 Corinthians

He notes:

“Here one finds Paul writing quite candidly of his sorrows and joys, of his fears and hopes, of his uncertainties and convictions, of his weaknesses and strengths. Here one catches a glimpse of him in Corinth on a short, painful visit; of a tearful letter written soon thereafter; of the dispatch of Titus to the congregation and of Titus' return; of a financial contribution solicited and pledged but not yet made; and of the apostle’s expectations about his impending third visit. Here, more than in any other letter, Paul offers specific comments on the meaning of apostleship and reflects on its distinctive character and responsibilities.”

Marko Marina

About the author

Marko Marina is a historian with a Ph.D. in ancient history from the University of Zagreb (Croatia). He is the author of dozens of articles about early Christianity's history. He works as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Zagreb where he teaches courses on the history of Christianity and the Roman Empire. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball and spending quality time with his family and friends.

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