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Bible Study Helps: Corinthians

Nov 15, 2018

The two lengthy letters Paul wrote to the believers at Corinth are very important parts of our New Testament. Both letters were likely penned in the mid-50s by Paul. They stem from his earlier time of ministry with them – an 18-month visit which was part of his second missionary journey (see Acts 18:1-18).

We of course have two letters of his in our New Testament. But we are aware of four, and possibly five, letters written by Paul to the church at Corinth. They are:

One) The first letter we know of from Paul is mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:9 (“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men”).
Two) 1 Corinthians, written perhaps in 54 or 55.
Three) A “sorrowful letter” Paul refers to in 2 Cor. 2:4 and 7:8.
Four) 2 Corinthians, perhaps penned in 55 or 56.
Five) Some think that 2 Cor. 10-13 was originally a separate letter, later combined with 2 Cor. 1-9. This theory is mainly offered due to the radical change of tone between the two portions.

As to the structure of the letters, or an outline of them, Fee and Stuart say this about 1 Cor.: “First Corinthians is the most difficult of the New Testament letters to summarize, because Paul deals in turn with no less than eleven different issues, sometimes in a length similar to some of his shorter letters (2 Thessalonians, Titus).”

In his new commentary on 1 Corinthians, Thomas Schreiner offers a brief assessment of the worrying matters Paul had to address: “The best explanation for the problems in Corinth is that the church was affected by the secular world, by the paganism and worldliness that was endemic in Corinth.”

And he shows believers today the relevance of this: “The fundamental problem with the congregation was pride and worldliness. We can think of churches today that assess speakers in terms of their ability to excite and entertain people and draw a crowd, instead of focusing on the content of what is said.”

Some of the other issues and chief topics found in the book would include Paul’s thoughts on marriage and singleness (1 Cor. 7); spiritual gifts, with the “love chapter” sandwiched in between (1 Cor. 12-14); and the importance of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15).

The second letter to the church at Corinth is in many ways the most personal letter of Paul. And the most painful. As Sam Storms puts it:

Unlike any of his other letters, in 2 Corinthians we hear his heart beat, we feel his passions, we are put in touch with his deepest fears and longings and loves. . . . There’s more to learn of him as a person in his two letters to Timothy, which were most likely written within months of Paul’s martyrdom in Rome. But nowhere does Paul pull back the curtain on his life and expose his inner self to such a degree and with such brutal honesty as he does in 2 Corinthians.

As to the book’s main message, Linda Belleville says this:

The central theme of 2 Corinthians is divine power in weakness. It is a theme that the church in the West has tended to shrug off as appropriate only for Christians living under oppressive political regimes. Health, wealth and prosperity is a message often presented in the media and preached from the pulpit in the West. Not so with Paul. He defines the role of the gospel preacher in terms of the trials and hardships through which God’s power is seen and appropriated. It is the same for the church…. Every chapter echoes this theme.

Or as Colin Kruse wrote:

Paul rejects this whole approach to evaluating claims to apostleship, and the triumphalist criteria involved. For Paul the marks of true apostolic ministry are its fruit (3:2-3), the character in which it is carried out (i.e. in accordance with the meekness and gentleness of Christ) (10:1-2), and the sharing of Christ’s sufferings (4:8-12; 11:23-28). He who preaches the gospel of Christ crucified as Lord will exemplify in his ministry both the weakness in which Christ was crucified and the power exercised by Christ as the risen Lord (4:7-12; 12:9-10; 13:3-4).

We have here, then, two quite different ways of evaluating authentic ministry. The one is triumphalist and stresses only the manifestations of power and authority without any place for weakness and suffering. The other, while also affirming the importance of power and authority, insists that these do not belong to the apostle himself but depend wholly upon the activity of God who chooses to let his power rest upon his servants in their weakness and to manifest his power through the folly of gospel preaching (12:9-10; 1 Cor. 17-2:5).

See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/02/18/2-corinthians-heart-christian-life-ministry/

1 Corinthians expository commentaries

Carson, D. A., The Cross and Christian Ministry: An Exposition of Passages From 1 Corinthians (Baker, 1993)
Carson, D. A., Showing the Spirit (1 Cor. 12-14) (Paternoster, 1987)

1 Corinthians critical commentaries

Barrett, C. K., A Commentary On the First Epistle to the Corinthians (BNTC, 1968)
Blomberg, Craig, 1 Corinthians (NIVAC, 1994)
Ciampa, Roy and Brian Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (PNTC, 2010)
Fee, Gordon, First Letter to Corinthians (NICNT, 1987)
Gardner, Paul, 1 Corinthians (ZECNT, 2018)
Garland, David, 1 Corinthians (BECNT, 2003)
Grosheide, F. W., First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT, 1953)
Mare, W. Harold, 1 Corinthians (EBC, 1976)
Morris, Leon, First Epistle to Corinthians (TNTC, 1958)
Prior, David, The Message of 1 Corinthians (BST, 1985)
Soards, Marion, 1 Corinthians (NIBC, 1999)
Taylor, Mark, 1 Corinthians (NAC, 2014)
Thiselton, Anthony, 1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary (Eerdmans, 2006)
Thiselton, Anthony, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGTC, 2000)
Witherington, Ben, Conflict and Community in Corinth (Eerdmans, 1995)
Wright, N. T., Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (WJK, 2003, 2004)

2 Corinthians expository commentaries

Carson, D. A., From Triumphalism to Maturity (2 Cor. 10-13) (IVP, 1984)
Hughes, R. Kent, 2 Corinthians (PTW, 2006)
Storms, Sam, A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ, 2 vols. (Crossway, 2010)

2 Corinthians critical commentaries

Barnett, Paul, The Message of 2 Corinthians (BST, 1988)
Barnett, Paul, Second Epistle to Corinthians (NICNT, 1997)
Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (BNTC, 1973)
Belleville, Linda, 2 Corinthians (IVPNTC, 1996)
Garland, David, 2 Corinthians (NAC, 1999)
Guthrie, George, 2 Corinthians (BECNT, 2015)
Hafemann, Scott, 2 Corinthians (NIVAC, 2000)
Harris, Murray, 2 Corinthians (EBC, 1976)
Harris, Murray, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGTC, 2005)
Hughes, Philip Edgcumbe, 2nd Corinthians (NICNT, 1962)
Kistemaker, Simon, 2 Corinthians (NTC, 1997)
Kruse, Colin, 2 Corinthians (TNTC, 1987)
Martin, Ralph, Second Corinthians (WBC, 1986)
Matera, Frank, II Corinthians (NTL, 2003)
Scott, James, 2 Corinthians (NIBC, 1998)
Seifrid, Mark, The Second Letter to the Corinthians (PNTC, 2014)
Tasker, R.V.G., Second Corinthians (TNTC, 1958)
Witherington, Ben, Conflict and Community in Corinth (Eerdmans, 1995)
Wright, N. T., Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians (SPCK, 2003)

Other Studies

Bailey, Kenneth, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (IVP, 2011)
Barnett, Paul, The Corinthian Question (Apollos, 2011)
Fitzgerald, John, Cracks in an Earthen Vessel (Scholars Press, 1988)
Rosner, Brian, Paul, Scripture, and Ethics: A Study of 1 Corinthians 5-7,  (Baker, 1994)

Rosner, Brian, ed., The Wisdom of the Cross: Exploring 1 Corinthians (Apollos, 2011)

As to my preferred commentaries, this is always difficult. Most of the ones I mentioned above are well worth getting. But if pressed, I guess for 1 Corinthians I would especially promote Ciampa and Rosner, Fee, and Thiselton (2000). As to 2 Corinthians, some of my favourites would be Barnett (1997), Garland, Hafemann, and Seifrid.

Happy reading and study.

[1275 words]

4 Responses to Bible Study Helps: Corinthians

  • Hi Bill,
    Interesting list of recommendations there, especially for 2 Corinthians.

    Tell me, why did you leave out Harris and Guthrie or why those and not these?

  • Thanks Emmanuel. Such selections are always a bit subjective and arbitrary, especially if there are so many good ones to choose from. All 19 of the critical commentaries I recommended for 2 Corinthians are useful and worth getting for various reasons, but I can’t list them all as my preferred volumes! The ones I mentioned I perhaps have used the most. And those without Greek might find the NIGTC series a bit too difficult for them.

    However, if a person were to only purchase Harris and Guthrie they would still be very well-placed indeed in their study of 2 Corinthians. Just as they would be well-placed if they only bought the four I mentioned. But if folks have the time, money and shelf space, they can grab all 19 commentaries!

  • Thanks Bill,

    Indeed commentaries are subjective. But I thought those without Greek would struggle with Thiselton (2000) as well and it’s length would be a second challenge. Though obviously it’s really a brilliant commentary.

    But totally understand what you’re saying. Thanks

  • Yes Emmanuel, Thiselton is also in the NIGTC series, and is a massive 1450-page commentary. But it is so good I just had to include it, even though it may be far too daunting for many.

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