Barnes' Book Notes
Introduction to 2 Corinthians
Section 1. The Design of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians
In the Introduction to the First Epistle to the Corinthians, the situation and character of the city of Corinth, the history of the church there, and the design which Paul had in view in writing to them at first, have been fully stated. In order to a full understanding of the design of this Epistle, those facts should be borne in distinct remembrance, and the reader is referred to the statement there made as material to a correct understanding of this Epistle. It was shown there that an important part of Paul' s design at that time was to reprove the irregularities which existed in the church at Corinth. This he had done with great fidelity. He had not only answered the inquiries which they proposed to him, but he had gone with great particularity into an examination of the gross disorders of which he had learned by some members of the family of Chloe. A large part of the Epistle, therefore, was the language of severe reproof. Paul felt its necessity; and he had employed that language with unwavering fidelity to his Master.
Yet it was natural that he should feel great solicitude in regard to the reception of that letter, and to its influence in accomplishing what he wished. That letter had been sent from Ephesus, where Paul proposed to remain until after the succeeding Pentecost I Corinthians 16:8; evidently hoping by that time to hear from them, and to learn what had been the manner of the reception of his Epistle. He proposed then to go to Macedonia, and from that place to go again to Corinth I Corinthians 16:5-7; but he was evidently desirous to learn in what manner his First Epistle had been received, and what was its effect, before he visited them. He sent Timothy and Erastus before him to Macedonia and Achaia Acts 19:22; I Corinthians 16:10, intending that they should visit Corinth, and commissioned Timothy to regulate the disordered affairs in the church there. It would appear also that he sent Titus to the church there in order to observe the effect which his Epistle would produce, and to return and report to him, II Corinthians 2:13; II Corinthians 7:6-16.
Evidently, Paul felt much solicitude on the subject; and the manner in which they received his admonitions would do much to regulate his own future movements. An important case of discipline; his authority as an apostle; and the interests of religion in an important city, and in a church which he had himself founded, were all at stake. In this state of mind he himself left Ephesus, and went to Troas on his way to Macedonia, where it appears he had appointed Titus to meet him, and to report to him the manner in which his First Epistle had been received; see the note at II Corinthians 2:13. Then his mind was greatly agitated and distressed because he did not meet Titus as he had expected, and in this state of mind he went forward to Macedonia. There he had a direct interview with Titus II Corinthians 7:5-6, and learned from him that his First Epistle had accomplished all which he had desired, II Corinthians 7:7-16. The act of discipline which he had directed had been performed; the abuses had been in a great measure corrected, and the Corinthians had been brought to a state of true repentance for their former irregularities and disorders. The heart of Paul was greatly comforted by this intelligence, and by the signal success which had attended this effort to produce reform. In this state of mind, he wrote to them this second letter.
Titus had spent some time in Corinth. He had had an opportunity of learning the views of the parties, and of ascertaining the true condition of the church. This Epistle is designed to meet some of the prevailing views of the party which was opposed to him there, and to refute some of the prevailing slanders in regard to himself. The Epistle, therefore, is occupied to a considerable extent in refuting the slanders which bad been heaped upon him, and in vindicating his own character. This letter also he sent by the hands of Titus, by whom the former had been sent, and he designed doubtless that the presence of Titus should aid in accomplishing the objects which he had in view in the Epistle; see II Corinthians 8:17-18.
Section 2. The Subjects Treated in this Epistle
It has been generally admitted that this Epistle is written without much definite arrangement or plan. It treats on a variety of topics mainly as they occurred to the mind of the apostle at the time, and perhaps without having formed any definite arrangement before he commenced writing it. Those subjects are all important, and are all treated in the usual manner of Paul, and are all useful and interesting to the church at large; but we shall not find in this Epistle the same systematic arrangement which is apparent in the Epistle to the Romans, or which occurs in the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Some of the subjects of which it treats are the following:
(1) He mentions his own sufferings, and particularly his late trials in Asia. For deliverance from these trials, he expresses his gratitude to God; and states the design for which God called him to endure such trials to have been, that he might be better qualified to comfort others who might be afflicted in a similar manner. II Corinthians 1:1-12.
(2) He vindicates himself from one of the accusations which his enemies had brought against him, that he was unstable and fickle-minded. He had promised to visit them; and he had not yet fulfilled his promise. They took occasion, therefore, to say that he was unstable, and that he was afraid to visit them. He shows to them, in reply, the true reason why he had not come to them, and that his real object; in not doing it, had been "to spare" them, II Corinthians 1:13-24.
(3) The case of the unhappy individual who had been guilty of incest, had deeply affected his mind. In the First Epistle, he had treated of this case at large, and had directed that discipline should be exercised. He had felt deep solicitude in regard to the manner in which his commands on that subject should be received, and had judged it best not to visit them until he should be informed of the manner in which they had complied with his directions. Since they had obeyed him, and had inflicted discipline on him, he now exhorts them to forgive the unhappy man, and to receive him again to their fellowship, II Corinthians 2:1-11.
(4) He mentions the deep solicitude which he had on this subject, and his disappointment when he came to Troas and did not meet with Titus as he had expected, and had not been informed as he hoped to have been of the manner in which his former Epistle had been received, II Corinthians 2:12-17. In view of the manner in which they had received his former Epistle, and of the success of his efforts, which he learned when he reached Macedonia, he gives thanks to God that all his efforts to promote the welfare of the church had been successful, II Corinthians 2:14-17.
(5) Paul vindicates his character, and his claims to be regarded as an apostle. he assures them that he does not need letters of commendation to them, since they were fully acquainted with his character, II Corinthians 3:1-6. This subject leads him into an examination of the nature of the ministry and its importance, which he illustrates by showing the comparative obscurity of the Mosaic ministrations, and the greater dignity, and permanency of the gospel, II Corinthians 3:7-18.
(6) In 2 Cor. 4; 5 he states the principles by which he was actuated in the ministry. He and the other apostles were greatly afflicted, and were subjected to great and special trials, but they had also great and unusual consolations. They were sustained with the hope of heaven, and with the assurance that there was a world of glory. They acted in view of that world. and had gone forth in view of it to entreat people to be reconciled to God.
(7) Having referred in 2 Cor. 5 to the nature and objects of the Christian ministry, he expatiates with great beauty on the temper with which he and his brethren, in the midst of great trials and afflictions, executed this important work; II Corinthians 6:1-10.
(8) Having in this manner pursued a course of remark that was calculated to conciliate their regard, and to show his affection for them, he exhorts them II Corinthians 6:11-18, to avoid those connections which would injure their piety, and which were inconsistent with the gospel which they professed to love. The connections to which he particularly referred were, improper marriages and ruinous alliances with idolaters, to which they were particularly exposed.
(9) In 2 Cor. 7 he again makes a transition to Titus, and to the joy which he had brought him in the intelligence which he gave of the manner in which the commands of Paul in the First Epistle had been received, and of its happy effect on the minds of the Corinthians.
(10) in 2 Cor. 8-9 Paul refers to, and discusses the subject on which his heart was so much set - the collection for the poor and afflicted Christians in Judea. He had commenced the collection in Macedonia, and had boasted to them that the Corinthians would aid largely in that benevolent work, and he now sent Titus to complete it in Corinth.
(11) in 2 Cor. 10 he enters upon a vindication of himself, and of his apostolic authority against the accusation of his enemies; and pursues the subject through 2 Cor. 11 by a comparison of himself with others, and in 2 Cor. 12 by an argument directly in favour of his apostolic authority from the favours which God had bestowed on him, and the evidence which he had given of his having been commissioned by God. This subject he pursues also in various illustrations to the end of the Epistle.
The objects of this Epistle, therefore, and subjects discussed, are various. They are, to show his deep interest in their welfare - to express his gratitude that his former letter had been so well received, and had so effectually accomplished what he wished to accomplish - to carry forward the work of reformation among them which had been so auspiciously commenced - to vindicate his authority as an apostle from the objections which he had learned through Titus they had continued to make - to secure the collection for the poor saints in Judea, on which his heart had been so much set - and to assure them of his intention to come and visit them according to his repeated promises. The Epistle is substantially of the same character as the first. It was written to a church where great dissensions and other evils prevailed; it was designed to promote a reformation; and is a model of the manner m which evils are to be corrected in a church. In connection with the First Epistle. it shows the manner in which offenders in the church are to be dealt with, and the spirit and design with which the work of discipline should be entered on and pursued. Though these were local evils, yet great principles are involved here, of use to the church in all ages; and to these Epistles the church must refer at all times, as an illustration of the proper manner of administering discipline, and of silencing the calumnies of enemies.
Section 3. The Time and Place in which the Epistle Was Written
It is manifest that this Epistle was written from Macedonia (see II Corinthians 8:1-14; II Corinthians 9:2), and was sent by Titus to the church at Corinth. If so, it was written probably about a year after the former Epistle. Paul was on his way to Corinth, and was expecting to go there soon. He had left Ephesus, where he was when he wrote the First Epistle, and had gone to Troas, and from thence to Macedonia, where he had met with Titus, and had from him learned what was the effect of his First Epistle. In the overflowing of his heart with gratitude for the success of that letter, and with a desire to carry forward the work of reformation in the church, and completely to remove all the objections which had been made to his apostolic authority, and to prepare for his own welcome reception when he went there, he wrote this letter - a letter which we cannot doubt was as kindly received as the former, and which Like that accomplished the objects which he had in view.