This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A free commentary offer, and Barnett's 2 Cor sequence

All the major commentaries on 2 Corinthians suggest a sequence of events in Paul's interactions with that church. If you can see an aspect in which a published sequence is more convincing than mine, please  explain it in the comments. I will then send you a free 2 Corinthians commentary of your choice if yours is the best (or only) comment!

The sequence in Paul Barnett's NICNT 2 Corinthians commentary is fairly typical (p11-15). I lay out his sequence below, starting just before 1 Corinthians, and giving my own comments in red font.

"Paul sent Titus to Corinth to establish the collection for the Judaean churches" (8:6, 10; 9:2; cf. 1 Cor 16:12)" This is duplication, since we already know from 1 Cor 4:17; 16:10 that Titus-Timothy was sent to Corinth at that time.

... Paul sends 1 Corinthians

"he planned to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, travel through macedonia ..., and spend the winter in Corinth...  Before he could leave Ephesus for Macedonia, however, more bad news arrived, almost certainly brought by Timothy on his return from Corinth after the delivery of 1 Corinthians. So serious was the news that Paul himself now had to go immediately to Corinth, almost a year earlier than he had planned" There is no evidence for this change of plan. It is an unsupported assumption contrived to make the sequence fit. We have no evidence that Timothy returned to Paul in Ephesus.

"Evidently there had been a significant falling away into "impurity, sexual sin and debauchery" (12:21; cf. 13:2). When Paul sought to rectify the situation, this led to "quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder" (12:20)" This creates a duplication because this situation had occurred before 1 Corinthians. As e.g. Harris points out, most or all of the 8 vices of 2 Cor 12:20 are addressed in 1 Corinthians. There had been sexual sin (1 Cor 5:9), and after Paul had sought to correct it the vices had arisen.

"While present in Corinth at that time, Paul disclosed a change of plans (cf. 1  Cor 16:5-7). Doubtless due to his perception of the deterioration in the church as he found it, he felt he had to return to the Corinthians directly, then travel to Macedonia, and come to them again before making his final withdrawal from the Aegean region. ... Upon his return to Ephesus, however, Paul decided to abandon that plan and revert to the original itinerary, which would take him from Ephesus through Macedonia to Corinth."  This is a duplication in that 1 Corinthians also shows Paul failing to travel to Corinth (1 Cor 4:18) and instead deciding to go to Macedonia first. Moreover, it is not clear what could have caused Paul to change his mind like this, on Barnett's scheme. He suggests lamely that Paul changed his mind "upon reflection". This is problematic because it would make Paul fickle indeed, and his defense in 2 Cor 1:14-2:3 would be hopelessly inadequate.

"Rather, he chose to write ... the "Severe Letter." This is problematic because of the indications that Paul held the plan of 2 Cor 15-16 when he wrote the Severe Letter (see 2 Cor 1:13-15).

"When Titus did not arrive at Troas..." This is a duplication, since we know from 1 Cor 16:10 that the timing of Timothy's return to Paul was uncertain.

"Titus brought the goood news ...." This creates another problem. How could Titus resolve a problem in Corinth that Paul himself had failed to resolve during Paul's visit?

Thus, after 1 Corinthians, Barnett has:
1. Timothy returns to Paul in Ephesus
2. Paul changes his mind and visits Corinth
3. Paul conceives the plan of 2 Cor 1:15-16
4. Paul returns to Ephesus
5. Paul changes his mind again back to the original plan
6. Paul writes the severe letter
7. Paul sends Titus

I place none of these events after 1 Corinthians.


  1. Could 2nd Cor. be a composite of several letters by Paul before and after 1st Cor?

  2. It is interesting that you ask that. In my JSNT paper I suggested, tentatively, that 2 Cor 10-13 was the tearful letter, and was written before 1 Corinthians (but arrived in Corinth after 1 Corinthians). However, I have now firmly abandoned that view, and have recently argued on this blog that Titus-Timothy demonstrates the unity of 2 Corinthians.

    It used to be popular to believe that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 was part of the "former letter" (1 Cor 5:9), but, again, I have argued against this.

    As far as my proposed sequence is concerned, the only counter-arguments that come to mind right now are (weak) arguments from silence, such as the silence of 1 Corinthians concerning Paul's second visit to Corinth.

  3. I've looked and cannot find a reference to Paul's letter(s) in 1st Clement, but not sure if that really matters....

    Could the Corinthian Church have been that bad that Paul had to duplicate man of his responses?

    Or could 1st Corinthians be out of order?

  4. Clement mentions 1 Corinthians, but probably not 2 Corinthians.

    I have argued against the duplications that commentators routinely hypothesize. Life is so much simpler when we accept that Titus was Timothy.

    I don't understand what you mean by 1st Corinthians being out of order. The order of the writing of the letters was "former letter", "tearful letter", the Corinthians' letter to Paul, 1 Cor, 2 Cor. The order of the arrival of the letters was "former letter", the Corinthians' letter to Paul, 1 Cor, "Tearful letter", 2 Cor.

  5. Still trying to figure this order out.

    You said that you argued for the unity of 2nd Cor. Does the same hold true to 1st Co?

  6. Hi Richard:

    Many authors, theologians and philologists, think that 1 Corinthians is a combination of 2 letters (Corinthians A and Corinthians B). I know you desagree, but if they are certain, a possible sequence could be:

    1. Previous letter.

    2. Paul sends Corinthians A (possibly, 1 Cor 1-5; 6,12-9,27; 10,23-11,1; 12,1-14,40; 16,1-12.19-24) and Titus/Timothy goes to Corinth through Macedonia. Paul expect him with the broters (I think that in Ephesus)

    3. Titus/Timothy returns to Ephesus and give Paul a very negative report.

    4. Paul travels to Corinth and he warned them that he would not be lenient with them when he came back. Paul planned to make this visit to Corinth and then to proceed to Macedonia before returning to Corinth.

    5. Paul writes Corinthians B (possibly, (1 Cor 6,1-11; 10,1-22; 11,2-34; 15; 16,13-18). Change of plans: he explains that he would visit first Macedonia and then Corinth.

    6. Crisis in Corinth. Paul writes the teerful letter (lost) carried by Titus/Timothy.

    7. Paul leaves Ephesus and Titus/Timothy leaves Corinth.

    Greetings from Spain (Basque Country)


  7. Hi Xabier,

    I don't know of anyone who partitions 1 Corinthians any more. I get the impression that it is only partition theories of 2 Corinthians that encouraged some scholars to partition 1 Corinthians. If the evidence for partitioning 2 Corinthians is removed, the partition theories of 1 Corinthians become moot.

    Your sequence is quite complicated, in that it requires multiple changes in travel plans and duplications.

    A further problem is that your "Corinthians B" makes not mention of the change of travel plans that you propose, or of the sexual immorality that Paul discovered on his second visit to Corinth.

    Also, people whose schemes are similar at this point offer no explanation for why Paul changed his travel plan here.

    Also, there is no real evidence that there ever was a 'crisis' in Corinth. The tearful letter was written in confidence.

    Also, it it likely that the change in travel plans was communicated to the Corinthians in the last letter before 2 Corinthians, because 2 Corinthians discusses the Corinthians' first reaction to the change of travel plans.

  8. Hi again Richard:

    I am not philologist and I don't know if 1 Corinthians is only one letter or several letters, but many authors think that is not a unity but a compilation.

    "Since Weiss' original theory that 1 Corinthians is a composite of two letters, numerous studies have tried to prove that 1 Corinthians is the editorial composite of two or more letters to the Corinthians"

    I don't know it the partitionists are right or wrong, but it es a possibility.