1. Recipients, Author and Time of Writing
The church in Corinth began as a result of the apostle Paul's activities during his second missionary journey (c. 51 – 54 AD; 2 Corinthians 1:19; see comments on 1 Corinthians). The spiritual state of the Corinthians was so bad that Paul had to write a further letter following his first, very stern one. The first letter is addressed to all Christians in every place, but the second one Paul addresses to the assembly of God which is in Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia, the Greek area in the northern part of the Peloponnesus. Thus the salutation already signals the different character of these two epistles.
Paul mentions his own name eight times in his first epistle to the Corinthians but only twice in the second one (1:1; 10:1). Paul's authorship of both letters has been and still is nearly unanimously accepted even by critical researchers but some think that 2 Corinthians 6:14 to 7:1 and chapters 10 to 13 (the “four-chapter-letter”) have been written by Paul at different points of time and then later inserted. Allusion to this letter is made early on by Polycarp (c. 70 – 155); in the second half of the second century Athenagoras cites the letter as being apostolic; amongst others Irenaeus (c. 140 – 202) and Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – 215) quote the letter by name.
It had been Paul's intention to visit Corinth himself (1 Corinthians 16:5, 6; 2 Corinthians 1:15) during his third missionary journey (about 54 – 58 AD) as soon as possible after sending the first letter. However, possibly due to Timothy having by then returned to Paul (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10; 2 Cor. 1;1) after delivering the letter and bringing sad news from Corinth Paul decided to give up his plan and instead sent Titus to Corinth first. Titus was to check the further development of the assembly in Corinth as well as to prepare the collection for the poor brethren in Judaea and Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:6; already mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4).
In the meantime Paul had left Ephesus (possibly because of the tumult described in Acts 19:23-41; see also 2 Corinthians 1:8). First he preached the gospel in Troas, then, not having had peace of mind to stay in Troas, he moved on to Macedonia where he met with Titus (2 Cor. 2:12-13; 7:6). Following his partly good, partly not so good reports Paul then wrote the second letter to the Corinthians from Macedonia (2 Corinthians 9:2-4) which was then probably taken by Titus to Corinth (2 Cor. 8:16-18). It is estimated this second letter was written at the end of the same year the first letter to the Corinthians had been written, i.e. 57 AD.
2. Subject and purpose of writing
The Second Epistle to the Corinthians is considered one of the most difficult letters of the New Testament. It is one of the most personal testimonies of the Apostle Paul in conjunction with the Epistle to the Philippians. Unlike the First Epistle to the Corinthians it contains next to no instructive passages but many expressing the personal feelings of Paul. While the first letter is characterised by authority and doctrine the second letter shows much more the inner motives of Paul's service for the Lord (e.g. 2 Cor. 1:12ff; 5:14; 12:19) and his deep desire to have this oneness in spirit with the Corinthians restored (e.g. 2 Corinthians 2:1ff; 6:1ff; 7:2ff). The word “service” therefore is to be found twelve times in this letter, the words “encourage” and “encouragement” 16 times together — much more frequently than in Paul's other epistles.
When Paul met Titus he learned that many things had changed for the better in Corinth since his first letter (2 Cor. 7:6-16). The meeting had grievingly excluded the sinner mentioned in 1 Cor. 5 (2 Cor. 7:8-12). Paul therefore exhorted them to show him grace as he had now come to repentance (2 Corinthians 2:5-11). In the first seven chapters he writes much on the motives of his actions of which the Lord Jesus Christ was the source of strength (2 Cor. 1:20-22; 2:14-17; 3:18; 4:4-18; 5:7-21).
In the second part of the letter (2 Cor. 8-9) Paul deals at length with the collection for poor brethren in Judaea already mentioned in 1 Cor. 16 which was an important concern for him (see also Galatians 2:10 and Romans 15:25-28). Here also he continues in his endeavour to reach the hearts and feelings of the Corinthians.
In the third part (chapters 10 to 13:10) Paul has to deal with another negative topic already alluded to in the first letter: his mission and service as apostle of Jesus Christ (compare 1 Corinthians 9:1ff). Then there had been doubts in relation to his apostolic authority but now he has to deal with the strong resistance of a party, i.e. a group of people in Corinth styling themselves “super apostles” and challenging his apostleship. They requested that Paul identify himself in writing as apostle and servant of Christ (3:1ff; 13:3), they assumed apostolic authority (10:10; 10:18; 11:5; 11:13-15; 12:10), they insisted on their Jewish ancestry (11:22), and they taught false teachings (10:2-5; 11:2-4). Paul does not discuss his apostleship based on visible proof but rather tries again to reach the hearts of these badly influenced Corinthians by telling them about his life and his service for his beloved Lord (11:2; 11:7; 11:23-33; 12:1-10; 12:14-15; 12:19). Therefore this part of the letter is written in a much more severe and harder style than the other parts. The general subject of the second epistle to the Corinthians is therefore the service and the authority of the apostle Paul in relation to the Corinthians.
The apostle Paul calls Titus “my own child according to the faith common to us” (Titus 1:4), i.e. Titus would have found faith in the Lord Jesus through Paul. He became a close co-worker of the apostle. However, it is peculiar that Luke does not mention his name in Acts at all. But nine times out of thirteen the name Titus is found in the New Testament occur in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (2:13; 7:6; 7:13; 7:14; 8:6; 8:16; 8:23; 12:18 twice).
Titus is first mentioned in Galatians 2:1-3. Paul and Barnabas took Titus with them from Antioch to Jerusalem when they met there with the other apostles and elders for discussions concerning the law. Here we learn that Titus was of Greek origin. After the first letter was sent to the Corinthians from Ephesus Paul sent Titus to Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:18) to look into things. Shortly after they meet again in Macedonia after Paul had waited in vain for Titus at Troas (2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:6; 7:13-14). Then Titus with two other brothers travelled once more to Corinth bringing them the second letter (2 Cor. 8:6; 8:16; 8:23).
A few years later Paul wrote a letter to Titus which bears Titus' name. At that time Titus dwelled in Crete and he received several instructions concerning the order in those local assemblies.
Finally, Titus is mentioned once more in Paul's last letter (2 Timothy 4:10). Titus had by then gone to Dalmatia. Until the end he was a faithful servant of the apostle Paul.
See elaboration on First Epistle to Corinthians, chapter 3 “Peculiarities”.
4. Overview of Contents
I. 2 Corinthians 1 - 7: Paul explains his service for the Lord
II. 2 Corinthians 8 - 9: Collection for believers in Judaea
III. 2 Corinthians 10 - 13: Paul advocates his apostleship