Class, Week 6: What Is Wrong With 2 Corinthians?

Ruins of the Temple of Apollo in Corinth

I don’t have much time for blogging this morning, so you get a copy-and-paste job. Each week, our assignment for class is to read the assigned book(s) of the New Testament and write 200 words on the authorship, setting, content and structure. The trick is we’re supposed to read these books as if we’ve never heard anything about them before – which is tough.

We’re moving in roughly chronological order – that is, the order in which the New Testament was written, except to cover the Gospels first. Mark is believed to be the first gospel written, but it still came after most, if not all, of Paul’s letters. Nevertheless, we started with Mark, then Matthew, then Luke-Acts, then we moved to the letters – 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and now 1 and 2 Corinthians.

Below is what I wrote for the two books; note the inconsistency between the two I point out:

1 and 2 Corinthians both claim to be written by Paul, first with Sosthenes, then with Timothy.

Paul’s repetition in the first letter of the quoted argument, “Everything is permissible” (6:12 and 10:23) indicates the Corinthian church was dealing primarily with an attitude that freedom in Christ allowed them the license to act irresponsibly or immorally.

In the second letter, Paul seems to be defending himself on three fronts: First, why he didn’t come see them as promised. Second, why his first letter was so harsh. Third, countering the arguments of false teachers who had arrived in Corinth to discredit him.

An interesting contradiction between the two letters could throw the authorship of the second into question. In 1 Cor. 15, Paul emphasizes the resurrection of our physical bodies and argues the body is a temple for the Holy Spirit. In 2 Cor. 5, he sets up a dichotomy between “being at home in the body” and “at home with the Lord” and speaks of the destruction of our “earthly tent.”

The first letter follows a pretty basic structure … [but] the second letter is more difficult, as Paul has three separate defenses of his ministry chopped up by seemingly unrelated teachings on purity and generosity.

Our preacher in church on Sunday spent a lot of time in 1 Corinthians because he’s preaching on the new heaven and the new earth and making an argument about the end of the world that counters much of popular evangelical Christianity’s obsession with the rapture. He argues against the idea that when Jesus returns, we’ll all be leaving this place for something better – rather, he argues, God will restore his creation, not destroy it.

So 1 Corinthians has a lot to say about that, what with Paul’s description of our resurrected bodies being the flower to our current bodies being the seed in chapter 15, and our bodies being described as temples of God and members of Christ’s body in chapter 6. But 2 Corinthians seems to say something else. Rather than seeds or temples, our bodies are “earthly tents” that will be destroyed. Further, Paul argues we cannot be at home in our bodies and at home with Christ, especially in 5:8: “We are confident, and we would prefer to leave the body and to be at home with the Lord.” Which seems hard to square with the ideas expressed in 1 Corinthians.

There’s another thing with 2 Corinthians. Whereas Paul’s first letter to Corinth follows his typical epistolary structure (Intro-Thanksgiving-Exhortation-Teaching-Conclusion), the second letter jumps all over the place, consisting mainly of a lengthy self-defense, but jumping in chapter 6 unannounced into exhortation that two believers cannot be unequally yoked (despite his stated belief in 1 Corinthians that a believing Christian provides sanctification for his or her unbelieving spouse and children) and later, in chapters 8 and 9, almost as randomly into a discussion of his collection for Jerusalem and exhortation to be generous in all things.

This is why many scholars have argued 2 Corinthians is actually two or more letters mashed together. I’d take it further and question whether some of those letters were not written by Paul, but I haven’t studied it close enough to say definitively one way or the other.

Nevertheless, that’s what we’re studying this week. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, and I’ll try to follow up after this afternoon’s class.

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One comment on “Class, Week 6: What Is Wrong With 2 Corinthians?

  1. Aaron G. says:

    Hey Paul, I have very much enjoyed reading your blog and I feel at home here. I was wondering what kind of church do you go to or I should say, what denomination or tradition is your church apart of? I could only wish my pastor would preach about the resurrection and the hope of a new heavens and new earth as opposed to a platonic out of body eternity. And to be reading The Bible Made Impossible at church is awesome! I would love to do that. I have been prayerfully struggling about whether or not I should leave my ultraconservative church in order to attend one that is more progressive or liberal. A church that matches the views that I share a long the same lines as you. The only problem is that I don’t live in a large city and don’t have too many choices. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

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