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ESV Global Study Bible :: new testament introductions :: Introduction to 2 Corinthians

ESV Global Study Bible :: Introduction to 2 Corinthians

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Author, Date, and Recipients

The apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians from Macedonia around a.d. 55/56. This was approximately a year after he wrote 1 Corinthians and a year before he wrote his letter to the Romans. This is the fourth letter he had written to the Corinthian church (in addition to 1 Corinthians, see the letters mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:9 and 2 Cor. 2:3-4).


The central theme of 2 Corinthians is the relationship between suffering and the power of the Spirit in Paul's apostolic life, ministry, and message. Paul's opponents had questioned his motives and his personal courage. They argued that he had suffered too much to be a Spirit-filled apostle of the risen Christ. But Paul argues that his suffering is the means God uses to reveal his glory (1:3-4, 11, 20).


Paul vindicates his apostolic ministry in order to (1) strengthen the faithful majority in Corinth (primarily chs. 1-7); (2) encourage them to contribute to the financial needs of other believers, as an expression of their repentance (primarily chs. 8-9); and (3) offer the rebellious minority in Corinth another chance to repent before he returns to judge those still rejecting him and his message (primarily chs. 10-13).

Key Themes

  1. Paul's suffering imitates the cross of Christ. Those who reject him because he suffers are "false apostles" and "servants of Satan" (11:13-15).
  2. Paul is a servant of the new covenant (3:6). His ministry and message of the cross mediates the Spirit of the living God and God's righteousness to believers (3:3; 6-9; 5:14-15; 21).
  3. Endurance through difficulty and Christlike behavior are made possible by the grace of God and are modeled by Paul himself. These qualities are the greatest display of God's presence, power, and glory in this fallen world (1:12-14; 6:14-7:1; 12:7-10; 13:4).
  4. The Spirit transforms believers into the image of God, which is seen in Christ. This new creation is characterized by God's righteousness. Believers therefore embody the new creation of the new covenant by living for the sake of others. This is made possible because believers are reconciled with God through the cross (3:18; 5:15; 17-21).
  5. Repentance expresses itself in holiness. This is a purity-producing love for God and his church and a unity-creating love for one's neighbor (6:14-7:1; chs. 8-9).
  6. Christ, as Savior, is also the universal Judge. He will judge all people according to their deeds. The Spirit transforms those in whom he dwells as a guarantee of the "eternal weight of glory" to come for believers at the resurrection (1:22; 3:18; 5:5; 9-11).


  1. Paul's Defense of His Ministry as an Apostle (1:1-7:16)
  2. Paul's Appeal to the Repentant Church Regarding the Collection (8:1-9:15)
  3. Paul's Appeal to the Rebellious Minority in Corinth (10:1-13:10)
  4. Closing Greetings (13:11-14)

The Setting of 2 Corinthians

c. a.d. 55-56

Paul wrote 2 Corinthians from Macedonia a year or so after writing 1 Corinthians, during his third missionary journey. He had just finished his three-year ministry in Ephesus and was visiting the churches in Macedonia as he made his way to Corinth. In Macedonia he met Titus, who had returned from Corinth with news about the church there.

The Setting of 2 Corinthians


The ESV Global Study Bible
Copyright © 2012 by Crossway.
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Used by permission.

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