In recent posts I’ve been talking about 1 Corinthians and its understanding of the Christian community in the important city of Corinth. We know about the community because of Paul’s letters written to it. In the New Testament of course, we have 1 and 2 Corinthians. (OUTSIDE the New Testament we have 3 Corinthians! It also claims to be written by Paul, but is a forgery; I’ll talk about it in a later blog post). They are both pretty long letters, and give us a lot of information.
That’s especially true for a reason most Bible readers don’t know, and would have no way of knowing. Scholars have long argued that 2 Corinthians is not just a single letter. Almost all critical scholars think it is two letters that have been cut and pasted together; and some scholars (including me) think it is actually five letters combined — all written at different times for different occasions. That may really matter, because it means we can trace a bit of the *history* of the community’s relationship with Paul by putting these letters in chronological sequence.
Here’s how I discuss the situation in my book The New Testament: A Historical Introduction (Oxford University Press).
(Right before this in my book I explain that Paul’s “tone” and attitude toward the Corinthians seems *very* different in 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians; now I continue that theme)
The Unity of the Letter
Paul’s tone changes even within his second letter, and rather severely. Indeed, many scholars are convinced that 2 Corinthians does not represent a solitary letter that Paul sat down one day and wrote but a combination of two or more letters that he penned at different times for different occasions. According to this theory, someone else, possibly a member of the Corinthian congregation itself, later edited these letters with “scissors and paste.” The result was one longer letter, possibly designed for broader circulation among Paul’s churches.
When you read through the letter carefully yourself, you may be struck by
A careful reading of this letter of Paul’s reveals things that almost no one would expect on a quick reading. Want to see how it works? Join the blog! It costs very little, gives very much, and every penny from membership fees goes to help those in need! Click here for membership options