This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology. You can visit my web pages here, but note that they are not kept up-to-date.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Titus-Timothy and the unity of 2 Corinthians and Philippians

This post continues the series on the Titus-Timothy hypothesis and explains why Paul's tone in 2 Cor 10-13 and Phil 3-4 is much harsher than in 2 Cor 1-9 and Phil 1-2 respectively.

In 2 Cor 10-13 Paul is deeply troubled about the church of Corinth. This contrasts particularly with 2 Cor 7:6-15 where Paul describes Titus's encouraging report. Many feel that these two sections cannot have belonged to the same letter and they propose that 2 Corinthians has been formed by joining more than one letter together. However, there is not a single example of a letter that has been formed in this way.

In 2 Corinthians Paul sends Titus back to Corinth to organize the collection (2 Cor 8:6, 16-24). This was a delicate mission that required that Titus be on good terms with the Corinthians. It was therefore important for Paul to show that Titus was loyal to the Corinthians. For the sake of the collection Paul had to be careful not to suggest that Titus was taking sides in any dispute between Paul and certain Corinthians. Titus's sole mission was to organize the collection and he had to remain (or at least appear to be) strictly neutral on Paul's dispute with the "super-apostles".

2 Cor 7:6-15
Titus had been Paul's envoy to the Corinthians, but, when returning to Paul, he was the Corinthians' envoy to Paul. As such, his duty was to present the Corinthians in the best possible light, and in 2 Cor 7:6-15 Paul reports that Titus had fulfilled that duty. Paul records his very positive reaction to the news that Titus brought. This is fully to be expected. Titus's relationship with the Corinthians would have been jeopardized if Paul had hinted that Titus had said anything bad about the Corinthians. 2 Cor 7:6-15 helps to preserve the positive relationship between Titus and the Corinthians and this will allow him to collect money from them.

2 Cor 10-13
Timothy was the co-sender of 2 Corinthians (2 Cor 1:1), and the Corinthians would have taken this to mean that he endorsed the contents of the letter, at least as far as the end of chapter 9. At 2 Cor 10:1, however, Paul detaches himself from Timothy be writing "I myself, Paul ...". Paul may well have picked up the pen himself at this point and written the remaining chapters in his own hand. It seems unlikely that the Corinthians would not have held Timothy accountable for the contents of 2 Cor 10-13.
We can now bring in the Titus-Timothy hypothesis to explain why Paul reserves his severest words for the subscription (2 Cor 10-13). Any criticism of the Corinthians in 2 Cor 1-9 could have induced a back-lash against Titus-Timothy, the co-sender of the letter, and this would have jeopardized the collection that Titus-Timothy was to complete. Paul therefore segregated his harshest comments to the final chapters, from which he detached Titus-Timothy.

Other than 2 Corinthians, there is one other letter that oddly switches to an extended severe section at the end: Philippians. The letter sounds as though it is coming to an end at Phil 2:30 or Phil 3:1a, but from Phil 3:1b the tone becomes more harsh and Paul writes a further two chapters. Why the change of tone? Well, Phil 3:1b, like 2 Cor 10:1 shows signs of being the point at which Paul started writing in his own hand. The letters subscription (Phil 3:1b-4:23) is a kind of a re-writing of the main body of the letter. It would have been more time consuming for Paul to write with his own hand rather than dictate to a professional scribe. All this explains Phil 3:1b. Here Paul states that he does not consider it troublesome to write the same things again, this time in his own hand.
But why is the subscription (Phil 3:1b-4:23) more severe than the main body of the letter)? Well, Timothy, Paul's co-sender (Phil 1:1) was about to visit Philippi (perhaps to start the collection) ahead of Paul (Phil 2:19-24), so it was important that Timothy stay on good terms with the Philippians. Again, the change of tone from Phil 3:1b is explicable if, as seems likely, Timothy's endorsement of the letter (implied by Phil 1:1) would not have applied to the subscription, written in Paul's own hand. By restricting his harsh words to the subscription, Paul shelters Timothy from any backlash from the Philippians.

2 Corinthians and Philippians are, I think, the only two letters from antiquity that have an extended subscription that is harsher in tone than the letter body. It is no coincidence that they are also the only two letters that have a co-sender who will visit the addressees before the author will do so. In both letters Paul saves his harshest words for the subscription (2 Cor 10-13 and Phil 3-4) so that any backlash from the recipients would not be directed against his co-sender, Titus-Timothy, who was about to visit them.

In a future post I will argue that the other fractures in 2 Corinthians are also mended when we see Titus and Timothy as the same person.


  1. This is very interesting - it makes me curious about the extent to which other letters of the period evidence similar differently-toned subscriptions - do you have any thoughts?

  2. Matt, I suspect there are very few, if any, ancient letters with differently-toned endings (apart from 2 Cor and Phil). The special circumstances that I think led to the change of tone at 2 Cor 10:1 and Phil 3:1 (a co-sender who needed to stay on good terms with the recipients) would be quite rare. Indeed, I think there are only about 80 ancient letters that have co-senders at all. Karen Fulton is doing a PhD on co-senders and it will be interesting to see what she finds.

    On subscriptions, I am impressed by Gordon Bahr ("The subscriptions in the Pauline letters" JBL 87 (1968)).

  3. Note to self: 2 Cor 8:17 confirms that Paul was keen to express to the Corinthians that Titus viewed them favorably.

  4. Very interesting, and it seems to make sense.