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Paul and Corinth (2)

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On the previous page, Paul and Corinth (1), we have tried to bring together in a comprehensive chart all we know about Paul’s relationships with the congregation at Corinth. We now proceed to a discussion of several elements in the chart: the collection, the rôle of Titus, and the incident of the offender. The position taken here is that the results of this investigation will tend to confirm the composition of Letter H (2 Corinthians 10–13) before Letter R (2 Corinthians 1–9).

The Collection

It is well known that references to the collection provide a major element of continuity not only for the Corinthian correspondence but also for the closing years of Paul’s apostolic career, in the time from the Jerusalem conference to the delivery of the collection in Jerusalem several years later. 

     Overview. At the conference, Paul evidently agreed to help raise funds to relieve the needs of the poor in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:10). So far as our evidence carries us, he invited participation in the project from the gentile churches which he had founded prior to the second Jerusalem visit, namely, those in Galatia, Macedonia and Achaia. By the time of Letter L (1 Corinthians), the collection was already under way in Corinth and Galatia. By the time of Romans, written on the eve of his last Jerusalem visit, the collection had been completed in Macedonia and Achaia (Romans 15:26). What had been happening in between? Let us review collection activity in the three major areas of Paul’s work which had been founded prior to the conference: Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia.1

     Galatia. Paul’s earliest work on the collection had probably started among the churches of Galatia (1 Corinthians 16:1). It is plausible that Paul had begun the collection in Galatia on his “latter” visit. Galatia, beset by controversy, probably faltered and ultimately defected from its commitment.2

     Macedonia. We know nothing of the beginnings of the collection in Thessalonica or Philippi. We do not know how they heard of the project.3 Neither 1 Thessalonians nor Philippians mentions the collection. The silence in 1 Thessalonians is not surprising, since it was written before the Jerusalem conference. The silence in Philippians likely had something to do with the special financial relationship which Paul had with the congregation; they alone of his churches had been contributing to his support, and he may have thought it inappropriate to ask them at the same time to support the poor in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Macedonia participated in the collection spontaneously, generously, and sacrificially, as Paul makes clear: “For during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (2 Corinthians 8:2; compare the whole section, 8:1-5).

    1Asia/Ephesus is never mentioned by Paul in connection with the collection. A possible explanation is that the collection was binding only upon those churches which had been founded when Paul agreed to the collection at the Jerusalem conference; but if Paul had not yet begun his work in Asia/Ephesus, we would not expect him retroactively to request his converts there to participate in the collection. Alternatively, if the work in Asia/Ephesus was already established before the conference, as Knox suggests, the nonparticipation of Asia/Ephesus might be explained on the basis of problems within the Ephesian community, of which there are possible hints in Philippians 1:15-18; Romans 16:17-20; 1 Corinthians 15:32; 16:8-9. One may consult John Knox, “Chapters in a Life of Paul—A Response to Robert Jewett and Gerd Luedemann,” in B. C. Corley, ed., Colloquy on New Testament Studies (Macon, GA: Mercer, 1983) 351, 353; and A. J. Malherbe, “The Beasts at Ephesus” JBL 87 (1968) 71-80.
  2H. Windisch, Der zweite Korintherbrief, KEK 6. Abt. (Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1924) 242, “. . . No more mention is made of Galatia.” Click on Galatian Collection.
  3Macedonia’s participation was perhaps not unrelated to a visit of Timothy (Philippians 2:19-23; possibly 1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10-11), who may well have informed them of the results of the Jerusalem conference. However, Paul himself may have made the disclosure about the collection during his final visit to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:5; cp. Philippians 2:24), perhaps in the course of his boasting about the Corinthians, to the effect that they had been ready since the previous year (2 Corinthians 9:2)! 

     Corinth. Some time before the composition of Letter L (1 Corinthians), Paul had announced the collection to the Corinthians, perhaps in Letter P (the Previous Letter), or orally through Titus, or both. In their letter to Paul, they had requested directions on the organization of the collection, and Paul, in Letter L, responded with instructions similar to what he had earlier given to the Galatians: to set funds aside weekly in proportion to their ability to give (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).

 Then controversy with Corinth erupted, and probably from that time, i.e. the period of the painful visit and of the Harsh Letter (Letter H), work on the collection lapsed. This conclusion is supported by 2 Corinthians 8, which is evidently a plea to reactivate the collection and bring it to a successful conclusion. On almost any hypothesis, this period of the second visit and the harsh letter was a time of considerable tension between Paul and Corinth, and it seems more reasonable to suppose that the collection was allowed to lapse, than that precisely at this time, as Barrett and Furnish argue, Paul commissioned Titus to initiate and organize the work on the collection!4

When word reached Paul of reconciliation with Corinth, he seized on the opportunity in Letter R (the Letter of Reconciliation) to reactivate the collection, which had started the year before (apo perusi, 2 Corinthians 8:6, 10; cp. 9:2; this phrase implies an interval of six to eighteen months). Titus was sent to Corinth, in company with two brothers (2 Corinthians 8:16-23). Because charges of pleonexia (avarice or fraud) had earlier been made (2 Corinthians 12:17-18), the delegation functioned as a defense against charges of fraud (2 Corinthians 8:20-21).

If 2 Corinthians 9 is a separate letter from Letter R, it would be dated from a time after the delegation was dispatched, as a follow-up letter to ensure that the project would be successful.

It is difficult to believe, as Barrett and Furnish argue, that at this advanced stage of the collection word reached Paul of new troubles in Corinth, with the consequent lapse again of the collection, and that the project had to be resuscitated once more, at the time of Paul’s final visit to Corinth. Nothing in 2 Corinthians 10–13 suggests that things had suddenly taken a turn for the worse after a period of reconciliation.5

  4Furnish 1984, 397; C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1973) 215.
  5One may consult Francis Watson, “2 Cor. X-XIII and Paul’s Painful Letter to the Corinthians,” JTS 35 (1984) 332; J. H. Kennedy, The Second and Third Epistles of St. Paul to the Corinthians (London: Methuen, 1900) xxiv, 111, 138; compare H. D. Betz, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985) 18, “Of course, this new outbreak in the crisis [required by the Semler hypothesis] is entirely hypothetical and has no direct support in the sources.”

Titus as Partner

Titus emerges in the Corinthian letters as an indispensable apostolic alter ego, whom Paul refers to as his koinônos (2 Corinthians 8:23), his partner, or apostolic representative.6 Titus had been with Paul at Jerusalem and was acquainted firsthand with the issues discussed and decided there, issues which directly or indirectly would affect developments at Corinth; thus Titus would have been especially useful to Paul in his relations with Corinth.7

Titus functioned in various rôles, which to some extent overlapped.


Titus was Paul’s principal agent in the work on the collection at Corinth. He had begun work on the collection beforehand (proenarcheisthai, 2 Corinthians 8:6; cp. 8:10; 12:18).8 It was also Titus who, at the writing of Letter R, was to bring the collection to completion (epitelein, 2 Corinthians 8:6, 11).


Titus also delivered several of Paul’s letters to Corinth: possibly, Letter P, probably Letter H, and certainly Letter R. But


Titus was also a kind of surrogate apostolic presence, not only carrying letters but as Paul’s advocate possibly interpreting the letter, assessing the reaction, and reporting to Paul. The allegation that he might have misinterpreted the situation to Paul, giving an overly optimistic report in the wake of the tearful letter,9 is based upon a kind of worst-possible-scenario reading of the text; see further on this point, Titus’ Information.

  7The approval by the Jerusalem conference of the mission to the gentiles without the requirement of the law, for which Titus was “Exhibit A,” was a victory for Pauline Christianity at Corinth, as for his other foundations. This is true even if the opponents in 2 Corinthians were not Judaizers. The acknowledgement of apostolic parity surely strengthened the hand of Paul in his disputes with the opponents, whether or not they were apostolic delegates from Jerusalem. The working out of the principle of apostolic division of labor, according to which the gentile world, including Corinth, was recognized as Paul’s (and Barnabas’) area of responsibility, would also reinforce Paul’s authority. Of more direct influence on the tasks to which Titus was assigned was the request made at the council for Paul and Barnabas to gather a collection for the poor in Jerusalem; Titus could perhaps have described from firsthand acquaintance the poverty of the Jerusalem saints.
  8Proenarcheisthai finds its explanation in the beginning “a year ago” (Betz, 2 Cor 8 and 9, 54), and is thus a recollection of previous work on the collection which had been suspended by controversy.
  9Furnish 1984, 397. 

Two other issues involving Titus remain to be discussed, in response to the supporters of the Semler hypothesis, which places Letter H (2 Corinthians 10–13) after Letter R (2 Corinthians 1–9): the number of visits which Titus made to Corinth; and Paul’s boasting to Titus (2 Corinthians 7:14).

The Semler Hypothesis. While there is currently wide agreement that chapters 10–13 do not belong to the same letter as chapters 1–9, opinion is sharply divided on whether chapters 10–13 (Letter H) were written after chapters 1–9 (Semler, Windisch, Barrett, Furnish) or before chapters 1–9 (Hausrath, J. H. Kennedy, Strachan, Filson). This article favors the latter hypothesis, as noted in Paul and Corinth (1). References: J. S. Semler, Paraphrasis II, epistolae ad Corinthios (Halae Magdeburgicae: Hemmerde, 1776); H. Windisch, Der zweite Korintherbrief, KEK 6, Abt. (Goettingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1924); C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1973);V. P. Furnish, II Corinthians (Garden City: Doubleday, 1984); A. Hausrath, Der Vier-Capitelbrief des Paulus an die Korinther (Heidelberg: Bassermann, 1870); J. H. Kennedy, The Second and Third Epistles of St. Paul to the Corinthians (London: Methuen, 1900); R. H. Strachan, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (New York: Harper, 1935); F. V. Filson, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: Introduction and Exegesis, IB 10 (Nashville:  Abingdon, 1953).

     Titus’ Visits to Corinth. On the former point, supporters of Semler claim that Titus made only two visits, i.e. the one in which Titus is sent to report on the outcome of the affair of the offender (ho adikęsas), to observe the effects of the allegedly lost tearful letter; and to initiate the collection (!); and the visit in which Titus bears the letter of reconciliation (R) and aims to finish the collection.10 This position, which limits Titus to two visits, runs into difficulty at two points:

As we have already seen, Titus had already begun the collection beforehand (2 Corinthians 8:6); but the collection was surely under way before Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (L); hence Titus’ involvement in the collection must be from an earlier stage than his recent trip to report on the affair of the offender. Thus it is not unreasonable to connect Titus’ first visit with the beginnings of the collection in Corinth, the previous year (apo perusi, 2 Corinthians 8:10).


But there is a further difficulty with the two visit view: 2 Corinthians 12:18 speaks of Titus’ appointment, with the brother (singular), to go to Corinth, whereas 2 Corinthians 8:16-23 speaks of Titus’ being sent with two brother; hence we may suppose that 12:18 is referring to some visit prior to that mentioned in 8:16-23.

     Paul’s Boasting to Titus. The two visit hypothesis also rests upon 2 Corinthians 7:14, where Paul reports having boasted to Titus about the Corinthians, when he sent him off to Corinth; this text is taken to mean that Titus did not yet know the Corinthians and needed to be told what kind of people they were (as if flattery would be helpful!).11 On the contrary, the problem of Paul’s boasting of the Corinthians is not whether Titus had previous acquaintance with them, but rather how, in such circumstances as Paul had been left by his second (painful) visit he should have had the grace to say anything complimentary about them at all. This boasting reflects Paul’s incurable habit of praising his churches (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 9:2), and praising his companions (Philippians 2:20-22; 2 Corinthians 8:16-23). Rather than arguing that Paul’s boastfulness rules out a previous visit of Titus to Corinth, we might better argue that Paul was trying to give Titus encouragement on the eve of a critical mission by assuring him that the Corinthians were basically sound and would be brought to their senses by his severe letter. Further, it is intrinsically more likely, as Watson observes, that Paul would have entrusted this mission to one whom the Corinthians already knew and respected.12 

We may conclude then that Titus made three trips to Corinth, not two.

  10Barrett, II Cor 20-21, 25; Furnish 1984, 38, 45-46, 397.
  11Even Windisch (Der zw. Kor. 240) concedes that such overly acute interpretation is unnecessary.
  12Watson, “II Cor X-XIII,” 333-4; cp. Kennedy (II-III Cor xxv); F. V. Filson, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: Introduction and Exegesis, IB 10 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1953) 362; A. Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1915) 227.

The Affair of the Offender

As we consider the offense against Paul, we approach the crux of the difference between those who follow Semler in locating 2 Corinthians 10–13 after 1–9, and those who follow Hausrath in locating these chapters before 1–9. Windisch claims that the weightiest argument against Hausrath is that there is no connection between the contents of 2 Corinthians 10–13 and the episode mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2 and 7.13 As Watson notes, this objection is conceded by Hausrath and his defenders, down to Bornkamm, by the explanation that the reference to the adikęsas (the offender) has been lost or deleted from the Harsh Letter (H);14 but, as Watson also says, this point is conceded unnecessarily.

What then can we learn about the offense against Paul? From 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 and 7:5-16 it may be said that an unnamed person at Corinth, probably a member of the community,15 the offender, ho adikęsas, had committed a grievous wrong against another person, ho adikętheis, probably on the occasion of the intermediate visit. The person offended is probably to be identified as Paul, though Timothy has been considered, and even Titus could be named. As a result of a letter of Paul, the church, or at least a majority, has disciplined the offender, and Paul feels inclined not to aggravate the punishment but to seek reconciliation and forgiveness (2 Corinthians 2:5-11). Although an individual offender is assumed, we learn from 2 Corinthians 7:5-16  that the church as a whole has been implicated too, and now duly exhibits repentance (metanoia) and obedience (hypakoę).

Unless we are to trivialize the whole episode by supposing that it was only a question of a personal insult, then we need to consider at least two substantial issues on which Paul had been unfairly accused: his apostolic office, and his integrity.

     The Question of Paul’s Apostolic Office. His apostolic authority had probably been challenged. As Watson reconstructs the situation,16 Paul in Letter L (1 Corinthians 4:18-21) had threatened to punish offenders with a rod. But on his second visit, in the face of the sins he finds there (implied in 2 Corinthians 12:19-21), he only warns them instead of imposing punishment. Thus Paul appeared to lack credibility. A member of the congregation, the offender (ho adikęsas), perhaps the leader of a group of dissidents, then “claims that Paul’s failure to carry out his threat is due to the fact that he does not have the power to do so, and that he is therefore no true apostle.”17 

At this point, the Corinthians take no action against the offender. In the Harsh Letter (H), which Watson identifies with 2 Corinthians 10–13, Paul tries to evoke the loyalty which had not been forthcoming during the second visit (2 Corinthians 7:12), and pointedly defends his power to impose punishment (2 Corinthians 10:1-11). Rebellion against his authority finally gives way to obedience, as the Letter of Reconciliation (R, 2 Corinthians 7:15) shows. If Watson’s argument can be sustained, then one of the most damaging objections to Hausrath’s hypothesis will have been answered.

     The Question of Paul’s Integrity. The offender had also unfairly accused Paul of trying to enrich himself through the collection. This is the view championed by H. D. Betz:18 someone in Corinth, probably ho adikęsas (the offender), had formally made a charge that Paul initiated the collection for Jerusalem to line his own pockets. Paul’s mention of the charge in 2 Corinthians 12:18-19 was thus not mere rhetoric, as is shown by the recurrence of the the issue of greed (pleonexia) in successive letter fragments and by the apostle’s repeated denials (e.g., 2 Corinthians 7:2). One may also observe that suspicions of avarice may have been complicated not only by Paul’s work on the collection, but also indirectly and ironically by his policy of self-support.

Betz believes that the long-standing problem as to the nature of the offense has been solved.19 There does seem to be a kind of trajectory discernible as we move from Letter L (1 Corinthians) to Letter H (2 Corinthians 10–13) to Letter R (2 Corinthians 1–9), with increasingly aggravated dispute, and then resolution. This movement is discernible relative to the two issues which we have identified: challenges to Paul’s apostolic authority, and to his integrity.

  13Windisch, Der zw. Kor. 14.
  14Watson, “II Cor X-XIII,” 324-5; Bornkamm, “Vorgeschichte,” 174.
  15Barrett’s view, II Cor 6-7, that this was one of the pseudo-apostles has not generally commended itself.
  16Watson, “II Cor X-XIII,” 340-3.
  17Watson, “II Cor X-XIII,” 343.
  18Betz, 2 Cor 8 and 9, 97. 
  19Betz makes clear that this was not the only accusation against Paul (2 Cor 8 and 9, 143). Watson connects the two issues by suggesting, “The further charge that he was intending to misappropriate the money which they were contributing to the collection for the Jerusalem Christians (xii.16-18) perhaps derives from the initial accusation: Paul has been exposed as a false apostle, and his motive must have been to make money by deceiving his converts” (“II Cor X-XIII,” 345).

Conclusion: Letter H Was Composed Before Letter R

We are now in a position to offer some concluding observations about the order of Letter H (2 Corinthians 10–13) among the surviving letters and letter fragments. A stronger case can now be made that these chapters, the Harsh Letter, precede Letter R, the Letter of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 1–9). In support of this position, I have tried to show that the contrary view, following Semler, which places Letter H after Letter R, has difficulty making sense of the collection, and difficulty making sense of the movements of Titus. Further, I have argued that there is a good match between Letter H and the letter referred to in 2 Corinthians 2 and 7, often called the Letter of Tears. Thus the Letter of Tears is not lost, as the advocates of Semler claim, but is really to be found in 2 Corinthians 10–13, the Harsh Letter. The well-known advantages of the Hausrath position still stand,20 and proponents of this position do not have to concede the major point of their opponents, i.e. that the offense of 2 Corinthians 2:11 and 7:12 is not mentioned in 2 Corinthians 10–13.21

  20The classic argument is to be found in Kennedy, II-III Cor, followed by Plummer, II Cor; K. Lake, The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul (London: Rivingtrons, 1911); J. Moffatt, An Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1918); R. H. Strachan, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1935); Marxsen, Introduction 77-82; and Watson, “II Cor X-XIII,” 324-32.
  21In The X-Letter in 2 Corinthians (a), (b), (c), we make a fuller survey of the objections which have been brought against the hypothesis which identifies Letter H with the tearful letter. By way of anticipation we allude briefly to an objection raised by Furnish, i.e. that “the ‘tearful letter’ had been written in place of a visit, to spare the Corinthians Paul’s coming (1:23–2:4); but chaps. 10–13 are written in anticipation of an impending visit by the apostle (10:2; 12:14, 20-21; 13:1-2, 10)” (II Cor 38; cp. 44). It would be more accurate to say that the tearful letter was written to avoid another painful visit (see Kennedy, II-III Cor xxi)—in Greek, to mę palin en lupę pros humas elthein (2 Corinthians 2:1; cp. 2:3); as a matter of fact, Letter H was written in place of an immediate visit, to remedy the situation in Corinth, to restore order, in anticipation of his coming. In 2 Corinthians 1:23–2:4, Paul does not say that he will never make another visit, but that the letter was to spare himself as well as the Corinthians a second painful visit.

Unfinished Business

Other issues remaining to be discussed include the following: 


The curious tangle of Paul’s travel plans; 


Further challenges to Hausrath’s hypothesis, identifying the “tearful letter” with 2 Corinthians 10–13, and especially whether in the tearful letter Paul had cancelled a planned return visit to Corinth; and


Whether in the tearful letter Paul had demanded the punishment of the offender. 

Click on Next, for consideration of these questions.


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