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

Monday, July 26, 2010

The sequence of Paul's interactions with the Corinthians

The Corinthian correspondence contains data about the Paul's travels, his travel plans, the movements of Titus and "Timothy", changes in Paul's relationship to the Corinthian church, and the progress of the collection. Commentators, who suffer from the double-vision of seeing Titus and Timothy as different people, have not been able to explain these data, except by constructing implausibly complicated sequences of events involving a lot of repetition. However, when we recognize that Titus was Timothy, an elegantly simple sequence comes into focus:

1. Paul returned to Corinth from Ephesus and, having found sexual immorality among the Corinthian believers, he warned them that he would not be lenient with them when he came back (2 Cor 12:21-13:2).
2. Paul returned to Ephesus.
3. Paul wrote a letter to Corinth, telling them not to mix with sexually immoral people in the church (1 Cor 5:9). This letter may have been delivered by Chloe's people. Paul may have indicated in this letter that he would visit Corinth soon.
4. Paul received news (probably from Chloe's people when they returned) that many of the Corinthian believers were rejecting Paul and his ethos (1 Cor 4), and that they had misinterpreted his letter (1 Cor 5:9-10).
5. Instead of visiting Corinth at the planned time, Paul decided to send Titus-Timothy, with  Erastus and a severe letter, to Corinth (via Macedonia) to give them zeal for Paul and his teaching so that he would not have to be harsh with them when he next visited (1 Cor 4:17-21; 2 Cor 7:12; 2 Cor 1:14; 2 Cor 1:23-2:3). Paul was confident that Titus-Timothy's mission and the severe letter would bring about the desired reconciliation (2 Cor 1:14-15; 2:3; 7:14), so he planned to visit Corinth soon after. Paul planned to make this visit to Corinth and then to proceed to Macedonia before returning to Corinth (2 Cor 1:15-16).
6. Meanwhile those in Corinth who rejected Paul became arrogant and defiant at Paul's failure to arrive at the originally appointed time (1 Cor 4:18-21).
7. Stephanas et al arrived from Corinth in the spring and refreshed Paul's spirit (1 Cor 16:17-18). Titus-Timothy had been delayed and had not yet arrived in Corinth. There was no longer sufficient time for Paul to make a proper visit to Corinth on his way to Macedonia (1 Cor 16:7).
8. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, apologetically explaining that he would not be visiting them before Macedonia (1 Cor 16:5-8). As in the severe letter, he corrected the misunderstanding of his former letter (1 Cor 5:9-10), and urged them to recognize him (1 Cor 4). Paul commended Titus-Timothy's mission (1 Cor 4:17; 16:10-11) and instructed the Corinthians to start the collection soon (1 Cor 16:1-2). He told them that he would leave Ephesus soon (at Pentecost) (1 Cor 16:8).
9. Titus-Timothy finally arrived in Corinth, where he was received well (2 Cor 7:15), in obedience to Paul's earlier instructions (1 Cor 16:10-11). The severe letter brought the Corinthians to repentance. They turned on one prominent offender and punished him (2 Cor 2:4-8; 7:7-11). Titus-Timothy started the collection in Corinth (2 Cor 8:6). However, the Corinthians did not understand why Paul had cancelled his visit (2 Cor 1:17). The 'super-apostles' probably arrived in Corinth at about that time.
10. Titus-Timothy's delay made it impossible for him to meet up with Paul in Ephesus, or even to intercept him in the Troad (2 Cor 2:12-13). So Titus-Timothy travelled directly to Macedonia and met Paul there (2 Cor 7:5-6).
11. Paul wrote 2 Corinthians.

In short:
The news from Chloe's people caused Paul to delay his announced visit to Corinth until after Titus-Timothy's mission. Titus-Timothy was delayed and, at the time of 1 Corinthians, Paul abandoned the visit completely because time no longer allowed it. Titus-Timothy eventually arrived in Corinth with the severe letter and met Paul in Macedonia.

For detailed arguments in support of many of the elements of this sequence, see R. Fellows "Was Titus Timothy?", JSNT 81 (2001) 33-58.

Notice how most of the events recorded in 2 Corinthians are, with this reconstruction, either reported or anticipated in 1 Corinthians. However, those who see Titus and Timothy as different people, place all the events recorded in 2 Corinthians after the writing of 1 Corinthians, creating intolerable deja vu.

This is the eleventh post in the series on Titus-Timothy.


  1. Hi Richard:

    Perhaps this Doctoral Thesis could be interesting for you: (without www)

    I think it would be interesting a post about prison of Paul in Ephesus and its chronology.



  2. Hi Xabier. Thanks for reminding me about this dissertation. I corresponded with Paul Toseland about his work at the time and remember that he makes some good points.