New Testament Lesson 35 (2 Corinthians)
PAUL’S 2ND CORINTHIAN EPISTLE
When and Where Paul Wrote 2nd Corinthians
● Paul wrote at least three letters to the Corinthian Saints. The first apparently has been lost to us, but we have copies of the second and third letters—known as First Corinthians and Second Corinthians, respectively. Second Corinthians is a follow-up letter to First Corinthians.
— Evidence within the epistle itself suggests that Paul wrote 2 Corinthians from Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:5–7; 9:2–4).
— Since Luke places Paul’s visit to Macedonia near the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, the letter was likely written in AD 57, a few months after 1st Corinthians.
— There is good evidence to suggest that it was written in haste.
— He wrote tenderly and kindly, explaining his delay and telling them that God would comfort them in tribulation.
Why Paul Wrote 2nd Corinthians
● Paul wrote 2nd Corinthians for at least four reasons:
— To counsel the Corinthians.
— To defend himself against the accusations of his enemies (1:12–7:16; 10:1–13:10).
— To collect money for the Judean poor (8:1–9:15).
— To prepare the Corinthians for his next visit (12:20–21; 13:7–10).
— His powerful message included counsel to repent, turn to Jesus Christ, gain true wisdom from inspiration, be reconciled to God, and do what is right.
● Paul also wrote to counter rising apostasy (2 Cor. 2:17). The word “corrupt” is taken from the Greek word for a “peddler,” with whom cheating was common. False teachers in the Church were watering down or changing the word of God to further their own selfish ends.
● Of all of Paul’s writings, 2nd Corinthians and Philemon are acknowledged as the most personal.
— We gain insight into Paul’s sensitive nature—how it hurt him to be falsely accused by fair-weather Saints who had not borne the burden of the ministry as he had.
— Paul vigorously defended his personal character and his conduct as an Apostle of Jesus Christ.
— Although Paul had much to discourage him when he wrote 2 Corinthians, he was buoyed up by the news that most members of the Church at Corinth were faithful disciples of Christ.
● To those who criticized him for not yet coming to Corinth, he tempered what wrote, saying if he were there in person he “would use sharpness” (2 Cor. 1:23–24).
PAUL’S COUNSEL TO CORINTH
The Need for Love and Forgiveness
● Paul expressed his great love for the Saints at Corinth (2 Cor. 2:1–5).
● He counseled them to continue to love a person who had been disciplined for transgression, so that he would not be lost from fellowship (2 Cor. 2:5–8).
Faith in Tribulation
● Paul’s introduction spoke of some of his personal adversities (2 Cor. 1:1–11).
— Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are separate and distinct beings (vv. 1–3).
— Paul desired others to receive the same comfort he had received from God (v. 4).
— In Asia, probably in Ephesus, he appeared to have suffered some unknown trouble that was so serious that he “despaired even of life” (vv. 5–8).
— Paul thanked Saints who had prayed for him and for Timothy in their time of adversity (v. 11).
● “Earnest” is a technical term which came from the ancient world of finance and means “a guarantee or “caution money”—similar to “earnest money” in our own day. Paul said we have been given the Holy Ghost as an initial payment of blessedness and a guarantee of a much fuller payment in the future (2 Cor. 1:22).
● Paul’s faith in the face of serious difficulties (2 Cor. 4:7–9). This kind of faith in God provides mental stability, knowing that God is ultimately in charge.
● The source of all comfort is Christ’s atonement (2 Cor. 4:14–18).
— Trials are for our benefit and for those who see our faith (v. 15; D&C 121:7–8).
— We must keep an eternal perspective while enduring difficulties (vv. 17–18).
● Paul encouraged the Corinthians to remain faithful in the face of affliction (2 Cor. 6:1, 3–10).
— Paul recounted the trials that he and many of the Saints have endured (vv. 4–5).
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “ . . . God hath said that He would have a tried people, that He would purge them as gold. . . .”1 “You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God. . . God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial kingdom of God.”2
— President Brigham Young said the Prophet Joseph Smith was perfected by his afflictions: “Joseph could not have been perfected, though he had lived a thousand years, if he had received no persecution. If he had lived a thousand years, and led this people, and preached the Gospel without persecution, he would not have been perfected as well as he was at the age of thirty-nine years. You may calculate, when this people are called to go through scenes of affliction and suffering, are driven from their homes, and cast down, and scattered, and smitten, and peeled, the Almighty is rolling on his work with greater rapidity.”3
— President John Taylor said: “It is necessary that we pass through certain ordeals in order that we may be purified. People sometimes do not comprehend these things . . . We have learned many things through suffering, we call it suffering; I call it a school of experience. . . .What are these things for? Why is it that good men should be tried? . . . that we may learn to place our dependence upon God, and trust in Him, and to observe his laws and keep his commandments. . . .I have never looked at these things in any other light than trials for the purpose of purifying the Saints of God, that they may be, as the Scriptures say, as gold that has been seven times purified by the fire. [See Psalms 12:6.]”4
Becoming Reconciled to God
● Mortality is a time of testing and trials, and God requires us to have faith (2 Cor. 5:1–7).
● We will be judged according to our deeds while in the flesh (2 Cor. 5:9–10).
— The word “wit” is an old English verb which literally means “to know” or “to find out” (v. 19). The expression in 2 Cor. 8:1 “we do you to wit of the grace of God,” means “we want you to know of the grace of God.”
— The Greek term from which “reconcile” and “reconciliation” are translated means being restored to God’s favor (vv. 18–20).
— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “Reconciliation is the process of ransoming man from his state of sin and spiritual darkness and of restoring him to a state of harmony and unity with Deity. . . . Man, who was once carnal and evil, who lived after the manner of the flesh, becomes a new creature of the Holy Ghost; he is born again; and, even as a little child, he is alive in Christ.”5
Godly Sorrow for Sin
● Hearing that one of his epistles had “made [the Corinthians] sorry,” Paul rejoiced because it was the kind of sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:8–10). Alma taught the same thing to his son (Alma 42:29–30).
— President Spencer W. Kimball explained: “Often people indicate that they have repented when all they have done is to express regret for a wrong act. But true repentance is marked by that godly sorrow that changes, transforms, and saves. To be sorry is not enough. Perhaps the felon in the penitentiary, coming to realize the high price he must pay for his folly, may wish he had not committed the crime. That is not repentance. The vicious man who is serving a stiff sentence for rape may be very sorry he did the deed, but he is not repentant if his heavy sentence is the only reason for his sorrow. That is the sorrow of the world. The truly repentant man is sorry before he is apprehended. He is sorry even if his secret is never known. . . .Repentance of the godly type means that one comes to recognize the sin and voluntarily and without pressure from outside sources begins his transformation.”6
— “If one is sorry only because someone found out about his sin, his repentance is not complete. Godly sorrow causes one to want to repent, even though he has not been caught by others, and makes him determined to do right no matter what happens. This kind of sorrow brings righteousness and will work toward forgiveness.”7
PAUL DEFENDS HIS MINISTRY
Paul Acknowledges His Weaknesses
● Paul described himself as “base,” which meant “lowly, humble” (2 Cor. 10:1).
● Paul “boasts” of his authority (2 Cor. 10:8, 17–18). “Boast” means “to glory,” as defined in verses 17 and 18. By this he means he will give glory to the Lord, not himself.
● Paul’s antagonists in Corinth were ridiculing him. Though they conceded that his letters are “weighty and powerful,” they mock his physical weaknesses and his “contemptible” voice (2 Cor. 10:10–12).
● Paul is characterized by his enemies as “rude in speech” (2 Cor. 11:6).
● Paul ridiculed false teachers (“fools”) by matching ridicule with ridicule, speaking as foolishly as some had been doing (2 Cor. 11:22–23).
● A summary of the sacrifices he has made in testifying of Christ (2 Cor. 11:23–33).
— The forty stripes were administered with a scourge, just as with Christ (v. 24).
— Beating with rods was a Roman punishment (v. 25).
— Paul could have claimed Roman citizenship and escaped the scourging and beatings, but that would have meant excommunication and being cut off from the synagogues. Since going into the synagogues to teach was his primary missionary approach, he willingly submitted to these shameful punishments in order to continue teaching his own people.
● Paul’s described his vision of the three heavens (2 Cor. 12:1–4), which was probably the source of his earlier teaching on three degrees of glory after the resurrection (1 Cor.15:35, 40–42).
— The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Paul ascended into the third heavens, and he could understand the three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder—the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms, where Paul saw and heard things which were not lawful for him to utter.”8
Paul’s “Thorn in the Flesh”
● Paul mentioned a “thorn in the flesh,” which kept him humble. On three separate occasions he pleaded with the Lord to take it away, but the Lord declined, saying that “strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:7–10).
— The word Paul used here literally means “a pale” (as in impaled) or “a stake.” It was used to refer to sharpened stakes, to surgical instruments, or to fishhooks. The term suggests something that was extremely painful and troublesome to Paul. There have been endless debates on what his infirmity was, and the suggestions have included a bitter and shrewish wife, epilepsy, a serious eye affliction, malaria, and a painful hip condition that caused pain with every step.
— President Harold B. Lee said: “The Lord has told us in the scriptures that Satan is an enemy of all righteousness; because of that fact, those who are standing in high places in our Father’s kingdom will become the objects of his attacks. You may well expect, as the Apostle Paul understood, that you who preside in the various places in our Father’s kingdom will be subject to the devil’s onslaughts. . . . Sometimes there is given infirmity, difficulty, hardship upon you to try your souls; and the powers of Satan seem to be enrolled against you, watching and trying to break down your powers of resistance; but your weakness, through those infirmities, will give you the power of God that shall rest upon you even as the Apostle Paul was reconciled and comforted by the thought that through his trials the power of God might rest upon him.”9
● Christ’s grace will cover (make up for) all of our weaknesses, if we are humble (Ether 12:27).
Preparing the Corinthians for His Visit
● Paul said, “I have opened my heart freely to you; open yours to me” (2 Cor. 6:1–13).
● Paul had credentials as impressive as those of any others, and therefore, what he had to say to them was important (2 Cor. 11:21–33; 12:1–10).
● They would not have to (temporally) support him (2 Cor. 12:14–15).
● Paul said, “All that we say, we say in love, for your good; Be what I know you can be, and each one of you repent” (2 Cor. 12:19–21).
● God will give them the power to be righteous if they really want to be (2 Cor. 13:1–19).
1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 135.
2. As reported by President John Taylor in Journal of Discourses, 24:197.
3. Discourses of President Brigham Young, sel. Elder John A. Widtsoe , 351.
4. In Journal of Discourses, 23:334–336.
5. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 2:422–423.
6. The Miracle of Forgiveness, 153
7. Repentance Brings Forgiveness [pamphlet, 1984], 8.
8. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 304–305.
9. In Conference Report, Oct. 1949, 57.