2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians

by Scott J. Hafemann, David W. Baker, Bill T. Arnold
Most Bible commentaries take us on a one-way trip from our world to the world of the Bible. But they leave us there, assuming that we can somehow make the return journey one our own. In other words, they focus on the original meaning of the passage but don't discuss its contemporary applications. The information they offer is valuable -- but the job is only half done!


Most Bible commentaries take us on a one-way trip from our world to the world of the Bible. But they leave us there, assuming that we can somehow make the return journey one our own. In other words, they focus on the original meaning of the passage but don't discuss its contemporary applications. The information they offer is valuable -- but the job is only half done! The NIV Application Commentary Series helps us with both halves of the interpretive task. This new and unique series shows readers how to bring an ancient message into modern context. It explains not only what the Bible meant but also how it can speak powerfully today.

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2 Corinthians

By Scott J. Hafemann


Copyright © 2000 Zondervan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-310-49420-6

Chapter One

2 Corinthians 1:1-2

* * *

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia:

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Original Meaning

Letter openings in the first century followed the typical pattern, "(Sender) to (recipient): Greetings!" Paul customarily followed this form, but expanded these standard elements in order to indicate his own authority for writing, the recipient's qualification(s) for receiving what is written, and the Christian perspective on what we desire for one another. In 2 Corinthians, however, Paul foregoes a detailed elaboration of his own authority and the status of the believers in Corinth (cf. 1 Cor. 1:1-3) in favor of a nearly standard salutation. His only expansions are the reminders that he is "an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God" and that the Corinthians are the "church of God," who exist "together with all the saints throughout Achaia."

This unusual simplicity serves to emphasize that Paul is an "apostle" (Gk. apostolos) and that he owes his calling as an apostle to the "will of God." An apostolos is an emissary who is authorized and commissioned to carry out a personal mission on someone else's behalf. Paul's use of the genitive, "an apostle of Christ Jesus," indicates that Christ is the one who has directly and ultimately sent him, while the reference "by the will of God" asserts that God is the intermediate agent of Paul's apostleship. Christ is the one responsible for sending Paul, but God is the one who has made this sending possible. In other words, Christ sends Paul in accordance with God's will.

Separated from Paul's tradition and culture, it is easy to miss the significance of Paul's self-designation. There is no parallel in the Greco-Roman world for the use of the noun "apostle" to refer to an emissary who carried an authorized commission as a matter of sovereign appointment. Rather, the New Testament concept derives from the Old Testament, where the verb apostello occurs approximately 696 times in the LXX to refer to sending someone out on a mission or special task (the noun apostolos occurs only once in the LXX in 1 Kings 14:6). In all but twelve of these passages it renders the Hebrew verb salab (= "to commission with a mission or a task"; cf. Gen. 32:4; Num. 20:14; Josh. 7:22; Judg. 6:35; 2 Chron. 36:15; Mal. 3:1).

Although apostello is not a specifically religious term, in the LXX it becomes a technical designation for "the sending of a messenger with a special task" in which "the one who is sent is of interest only to the degree that in some measure he embodies in his existence as such the one who sends him." This meaning anticipates a later rabbinic aphorism, that "the one sent by a man is as the man himself" (m. Ber. 5:5). Rengstorf consequently concludes that in contexts where sending with a religious purpose is in view, apostello begins to become "a theological term meaning 'to send forth to service in the kingdom of God with full authority (grounded in God).'"

In line with this development, Paul's own use of the term corresponds most closely to the use of apostello in regard to Moses and the prophets, where it signifies that they had been sent with an official commission as a representative of Yahweh and were thus unconditionally subordinate to God's will (cf. Ex. 3:10; Judg. 6:8, 14; Isa. 6:8; Jer. 1:7; Ezek. 2:3; Hag. 1:12; Zech. 2:8-9; 4:9; Mal. 3:1; 4:5). This is confirmed by the use of the verb in the New Testament as a whole, where it occurs 135 times, only twelve of which are found outside of the Gospels and Acts. Whereas in secular literature there is no essential distinction between pempo (to send) and apostello, in the NT pempo usually occurs when the emphasis is on the sending as such (cf. Rom. 8:3; 2 Thess. 2:11), whereas apostello carries the nuance of a commission.

This same emphasis on being sent with a commission is found in the seventy-nine uncontested uses in the New Testament of the corresponding noun, "apostle" (apostolos), where all ten of its occurrences in the Gospels refer to the twelve "apostles" who were commissioned and sent out by Christ. Hence, although Paul's letters are the earliest writings of the New Testament, and although he uses the word apostolos more than any other New Testament writer, the origin of its specific use for Christian emissaries almost certainly goes back to Jesus, who himself was "sent" (apostello) by the Father (cf. Mark 9:37; Luke 4:43; John 5:36) and can therefore also be called an "apostle" (Heb. 3:1).

Moreover, the transition from the ministry of Jesus to that of the apostles is reflected in the fact that in the Gospels and Acts the action of "sending" (apostello) is emphasized, whereas in the letters the emphasis is on the one sent (apostolos). These statistics point to the unique meaning of "apostle" within early Christianity as a designation of those commissioned to preach and act in the authority of Christ's name (cf. Matt. 10:1, 7-8; Mark 3:14; 6:30; Luke 9:1-2). Paul's point in 2 Corinthians 1:1 is that the will of God that sent Jesus is the same will that Christ enacts in sending Paul to represent him as his "apostle."

The simple declaration in 1:1 thus reminds Paul's readers of his divinely appointed role and authority among God's people, thereby opening the way for the defense of his apostolic ministry that will be the focus of so much of 2 Corinthians (see Introduction). Indeed, Paul's self-designation in 1:1 is the first salvo in the battle to reaffirm his apostolic legitimacy (cf. 10:1-6). There can be no compromise between Paul's claim here and the claims of those whom Paul will unmask as "pseudo-apostles," "deceitful workmen," and "servants" of Satan (cf. 11:13-15). This affirmation of Paul's own authority as an apostle is most likely the reason why he also mentions Timothy, his "brother," as a cosender of the letter. By associating Timothy with himself in this way, Paul reaffirms the legitimacy of Timothy's ministry among them, both in his helping Paul to establish the church (cf. Acts 18:5) and in his recent visits on Paul's behalf (cf. 1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10). This too underscores the validity of the gospel the Corinthians have received through Paul's coworkers (cf. 2 Cor. 1:19).

Having asserted his own authority and the validity of Timothy's earlier ministry among them, Paul turns to the Corinthians as his addressees (v. 1b). His warrant for writing (i.e., he is "an apostle of Christ Jesus") is matched by their reason for receiving it (i.e., they are the "church of God"). Despite their past problems and recent rebellion, the repentance of the majority of the Corinthians (cf. 2:6; 7:2-16) has demonstrated that they continue to be God's people (cf. 7:2-16). The designation "church" (ekklesia) is one of two terms used in the LXX to define the local gathering of God's chosen people (cf., e.g., Deut. 9:10; Judg. 20:1-2; 1 Kings 8:14; Ps. 22:22; 26:5; 35:18; 40:9). Thus, just as Paul owed his life as an apostle to the same will of God that had called Moses and the prophets (cf. 2 Cor. 2:16b; 3:4-5), so too the Corinthians owed their existence as Christians to the same mercy of God that had chosen Israel.

Hence, these twin designations, "apostle ... by the will of God" and "church of God," connote a continuity with the people of God and her leaders under the old covenant. At the same time, they also underscore the reality of the new covenant, since Paul is an apostle "of Christ [i.e., Messiah] Jesus," and they are the church of God, not the synagogue (cf. 3:14-18). Moreover, the Corinthians are part of a larger gathering of "all the saints" (bagioi; i.e., "holy ones") scattered throughout the Roman province of Achaia, an area roughly equivalent with modern-day Greece. Corinth was the capital of Achaia and the home of the first of the interrelated churches in the region (cf. Acts 18:1-11; 1 Cor. 16:15).


Excerpted from 2 Corinthians by Scott J. Hafemann Copyright © 2000 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Scott J. Hafemann, PhD, serves on the Gordon-Conwell faculty as the Mary French Rockefeller Professor of New Testament. Previously he was the Gerald F. Hawthorne Professor of New Testament Greek and Exegesis at Wheaton College.

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