In 500 pages Welborn teases out what can be known about the offender from the key passages 2 Cor 2:5-11 and 2 Cor 7:7-15. He then argues that the conflict between Paul and the offender looms large in almost every section of 2 Corinthians and parts of 1 Corinthians. The offender, he suggests, was the host of the church, Gaius (Rom 16:23), who accused Paul of embezzling money set aside for the poor in Judea.
The book contains a wealth of information on conventions of friendship and enmity in the ancient world, as well as a survey of archaeological data for envisaging Gaius's house. Whether or not readers are convinced by Welborn's overall thesis, I think they will find the book contains much intriguing out-of-the-box thinking on several passages. I'll mention three examples.
1. He plausibly argues that when Paul writes "Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses" he means that it is not acceptable for the Corinthians to accept uncorroborated accusations by a single person against Paul. See my review of Welborn's earlier paper here.
2. He presents a good case that Paul chose that name, meaning "small", out of humility (p294-297).
3. He interprets the affliction of 2 Cor 1:8 as Paul's spiritual anguish rather than persecution (p435).
His conclusion that the offender was rich seems reasonable. I also appreciated his arguments that the offense concerned money and had a legal aspect, but it is unfortunate that he does not go on to explore the possibility that the offense is alluded to in 1 Cor 4:1-5. This is perhaps because he assumes from the start that Paul's second visit to Corinth was after 1 Corinthians and that the offense took place on that occasion. He divides 1 Corinthians into 3 letters and 2 Corinthians into 5 letters. Readers who do not share these pre-suppositions will find little to persuade them. Much of his reconstruction is dependent on, for example, the assumption that 2 Cor 10-13 is the tearful letter.
He quickly dismisses the theory that Gaius was Titius Justus (p299-300), but elsewhere presents very similar pictures of Gaius and Titius Justus. He agrees that 1 Cor 1:14 implies that Gaius was "among the first converts to Christianity at Corinth (p288) and that he had a close relationship to Crispus. All this fits Titius Justus nicely. He agrees that Titius Justus hosted Paul's preaching (p93) and that "Gaius placed his own house at the disposal of the Christian community" (p321). He also identifies Gaius, like Titius Justus, as a God-fearer (p370). Then he writes "The fact that Titius Justus is absent from Paul's Corinthian correspondence, even in its earliest stages, permits, and perhaps requires, the inference that the Corinthian Christians had found another place for their assembly" (p249).
In 1 Cor 1:14-15 Paul implies that it is ironic or fortuitous that the only people whom he baptized in Corinth were Crispus and Gaius. What, then was special about Crispus and Gaius that made this fact ironic/fortuitous. Welborn believes that Crispus and Gaius were leaders of the factions. However, Crispus had been given the name "Sosthenes" and had moved to Ephesus (1 Cor 1:1), and Gaius-Stephanas too was with Paul. The fortuitous fact, to which Paul alludes, is that two people whom he had baptized were no longer in Corinth. Also, if Crispus and Gaius were opponents of Paul, as Welborn supposes, it is doubtful that Paul would have named them. Paul never names his opponents, as Welborn acknowledges.
He considers 1 Cor 11:17-34 as a reproof against Gaius, the host of the church (p402). However there is no suggestion that Gaius was at fault. Indeed, it is precisely because the Corinthian believers were abusing Gaius's hospitality, that Paul urges them to show Gaius Titius Justus Stephanas's household a little respect (1 Cor 16:15-16).
Welborn writes, "Paul's demand that the Corinthians "submit" or "be subject" to Stephanas and his household is surprising, if not to say stunning, in context. Why should the other Corinthian Christians, and especially the leaders of other house-churches, men of substance such as Crispus and Gaius, subordinate themselves to Stephanas?" (p254). But Gaius was Stephanas and Crispus was Sosthenes, who was in Ephesus with Paul.
He assumes that the wrong-doer must be mentioned in Paul's letters, but why? (p233)
He takes "ministry to the saints" in 1 Cor 16:15 to be a reference to the collection because almost the same phrase refers to the collection in 2 Cor 8:4; 9:1 (p256). However, this argument is weakened when we realize that in 2 Cor 8,9 Paul is deliberately vague about the collection (for protective reasons). If the Roman authorities had got their hands on 2 Corinthians they would not be able to determine that Paul was urging a collection for Judea or who his helpers were. Paul uses the phrase "ministry to the saints" in 8:4 and 9:1 precisely because it did not unambiguously indicate a collection of money.
He says that when enemies reconciled they often shared hospitality and he suggest that this is evidence that Gaius, Paul's host, was his former enemy (p287). However, the reconciliation was months earlier than the time of writing of Romans. Surely the convention did not require that Paul stay with his former enemy for the whole winter? Doing so would have alienated others wouldn't it?
This book raises all sorts of issues that are not normally considered in the commentaries and for this reason will be helpful to those with a keen interest in the Corinthian correspondence, even if, like me, they conclude that the central thesis is wrong.