How many letters did Paul write to the church in Corinth?
@121357 What prompted your question? Paul wrote 4 letters that we know about from 1 and 2 Corinthians.
- First visit to Corinth lasting 18 months (c. AD 51)
- Goes to Jerusalem, then travels to Ephesus to begin a three-year stay (c. AD 53-55)
- Writes the “previous letter” [Corinthians A] (c. AD 53-54)
- Hears of reports from the Corinthians
- Writes “1 Corinthians” [Corinthians B] (c. AD 54-55)
- Deployes Timothy to Corinth
- The “painful visit” (Second visit)
- The “severe letter” [Corinthians C]
- Leaves Ephesus and meets Titus in Macedonia
- Writes “2 Corinthians” [Corinthians D] (c. AD 56)
- Visits Corinth a third time
For those interested in the minute details (which I guess includes me), the literary unity of 2 Corinthians is debated among scholars, which means 2 Corinthians could potentially be a composite of several letters. Paul Gorman, in his insightful book published in 2017 called Apostle of the Crucified Lord, lays it out this way, which lines up with Sean’s list, with the exception of the potential for multiple letters making up 2 Corinthians.
Letter A: the letter mentioned in 1 Cor 5:9
Letter B: 1 Corinthians
Letter C: the tearful letter mentioned in 2 Cor 2:3-4 and 7:8 (sometimes identified with 1 Corinthians or 2 Cor 10-13)
Letter D: 2 Corinthians in its entirety, if it is one unified letter, or 2 Corinthians chapter 1-7 (or 1-8 or 1-9)
Letter E: 2 Corinthians chapters 10-13
@srh4141 I remember discussing the unity of 2 Corinthians in my college NT class on Paul. I agree with the following assessment that the argument based on the tone of the two sections is an invalid reason, by itself, to conclude that the two sections are two different letters.
As indicated above, some scholars have suggested that 2 Corinthians was not originally a single letter. They most frequently claim that 2 Corinthians 10-13 constitute a separate epistle written on a different occasion and later appended to 2 Corinthians 1-9. The primary reason for thinking of 2 Corinthians 10-13 as a distinct communication is that Paul’s tone and attitude toward the Church at Corinth seem positive and affirming in 2 Corinthians 1-9, but severe and threatening in 2 Corinthians 10-13. Could both sections have been written on the same occasion, and could the two be addressing the same circumstances in the same Church?
The change of tone at 2 Corinthians 10:1 may be accounted for by the change of subject matter. In the earlier part of the epistle, Paul was primarily concerned with sharing his joy and thanksgiving at the repentance of the Corinthians. He also wanted to give an extensive and positive description of his own ministry of the gospel. Having accomplished that, he appealed to the Corinthians to complete the collection for the Jerusalem Christians (2 Cor. 8-9). Finally, leaving the most distasteful task until the end, he attacked the problem of the false apostles and their accusations against him (2 Cor. 10-13). In light of the circumstances, such a change in tone is understandable. Moreover, it is significant that from the earliest times in the history of the church there has been no indication of division in this epistle, either in the manuscript tradition or in the earliest historical writings of the church. It has been read and understood as a unified epistle, and this still seems to be the best explanation.
I agree with you. I don’t see distinct agendas and tones in different parts of the letter as proof that it can’t be one complete letter. And to be honest, I feel it makes little difference one way or the other for those of us reading it now. I just thought Vivian might find it interesting if she is digging deeper into Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.