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Uncover the robust evidence confirming Paul the Apostle as the true author of 2 Corinthians. This article examines the internal, external, and contextual proofs from early church testimony to linguistic style, solidifying Paul’s authorship with convincing clarity.
What Convincing Evidence Affirms Paul’s Authorship of 2 Corinthians?
The question of authorship concerning the Pauline epistles often surfaces in biblical scholarship. When it comes to 2 Corinthians, a thorough examination of historical, textual, and linguistic evidence overwhelmingly supports the view that Paul the Apostle is indeed the author. The internal and external corroborations provide a strong case that warrants confidence in attributing this epistle to Paul.
Pauline Greetings and Self-Identification
Right from the outset, 2 Corinthians bears the unmistakable hallmark of Paul’s authorship. The letter opens with the characteristic Pauline greeting, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother” (2 Cor. 1:1). This self-identification is not merely a formality; it’s a claim of authority, rooted in a divine calling, that is consistent across Paul’s letters.
Theological Consistency with Paul’s Other Letters
The theological themes presented in 2 Corinthians resonate closely with those in Paul’s uncontested letters. The emphasis on reconciliation, the ministry of the new covenant, and the transformation through Christ aligns with the theological framework Paul establishes in his other writings. These are not the echoes of a different mind but the distinct voice of the Apostle to the Gentiles.
There are clear thematic and theological consistencies between 2 Corinthians and Paul’s other letters. Here are some examples:
Ministry of Reconciliation: In 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, Paul discusses the ministry of reconciliation, which is entrusted to us by Christ, a theme echoed in Ephesians 2:16, where Paul speaks of Christ reconciling both Jew and Gentile to God in one body through the cross.
Transformation in Christ: The transformative power of being ‘in Christ’ is a frequent Pauline theme. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” This idea is similarly conveyed in Romans 6:4, where Paul talks about walking in the newness of life after being buried with Christ through baptism.
Suffering and Comfort: Paul’s reflections on suffering and God’s comfort in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 parallel his thoughts in Romans 5:3-5, where suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope.
New Covenant: The concept of the new covenant, mentioned in 2 Corinthians 3:6, where Paul considers himself a servant of the new covenant, aligns with his discussions in Romans 11:27 and his allusion to Jeremiah 31:31, showing his consistent engagement with this pivotal eschatological theme.
Giving and Generosity: Paul’s instructions on generosity in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 have parallels in his discussion of the collection for the saints in Romans 15:26-27, highlighting his ongoing concern for the poor among God’s people and the unity of the church.
The Resurrection: Although not as prominently featured as in 1 Corinthians 15, the theme of resurrection appears in 2 Corinthians 4:14, where Paul asserts that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus. This reflects the same hope he articulates in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16, regarding the resurrection of believers.
Weakness and Power: The concept of power in weakness, which is a prominent theme in 2 Corinthians (particularly in 12:9-10), can be traced in other Pauline writings, such as 1 Corinthians 2:3-5, where Paul describes his approach to ministry in weakness and fear so that the power of God may be seen.
These examples of theological consistency support the view that 2 Corinthians shares the same author as the other letters attributed to Paul. The coherence of doctrine and practice throughout these epistles strongly suggests a single mind behind them, reinforcing the traditional attribution to Paul.
Linguistic Style and Vocabulary
Paul’s unique style—marked by his use of diatribes, rhetorical questions, and a deeply personal tone—is evident throughout 2 Corinthians. The Greek used in this epistle shares the same syntax and vocabulary found in Paul’s other letters. The employment of specific terms, such as καινή διαθήκη (kainē diathēkē, “new covenant”), and personal expressions of emotion confirm the consistency of authorship.
Here are some additional examples that highlight the Pauline characteristics within 2 Corinthians, lending credence to his authorship:
Theological Content: Paul’s theology, especially his teachings on the ministry of reconciliation and the transformation through the Spirit, is central to 2 Corinthians (e.g., 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). These themes align with those in other undisputed Pauline epistles.
Apostolic Authority: In 2 Corinthians, the author defends his apostolic authority, especially in chapters 10-13, which is consistent with Paul’s self-defense in Galatians and his assertive tone in 1 Corinthians.
Personal References: The letter contains personal references to Paul’s experiences, such as his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) and his “shipwreck” (2 Corinthians 11:25), which parallel his accounts in other letters and in the Acts of the Apostles.
Literary Style: Paul’s writing style, noted for its emotional intensity and digressions, is evident in 2 Corinthians. The abrupt change of tone from chapters 1-9 to 10-13 suggests a genuine Pauline response to varying circumstances during the letter’s composition.
Historical Details: The letter reflects historical details that fit within the framework of Paul’s life and missionary journeys, as documented in Acts and his other letters, such as his interactions with the church in Corinth and his plans for collecting charity for the Jerusalem church (2 Corinthians 8-9).
Use of Greek: The Greek language in 2 Corinthians demonstrates a high level of Hellenistic rhetoric and skill, characteristic of Paul’s education and consistent with the sophisticated Greek found in his other letters.
Connections with 1 Corinthians: There are thematic and verbal parallels between 1 and 2 Corinthians that suggest the same authorship. For example, Paul’s discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 can be linked with his discussion of the earthly and heavenly dwellings in 2 Corinthians 5.
These elements collectively form a compelling case for Pauline authorship of 2 Corinthians, fitting the pattern expected from the apostle based on his other recognized writings.
Early Church Testimony
The early church’s testimony is significant in validating Paul’s authorship. Church fathers such as Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Irenaeus attribute 2 Corinthians to Paul without hesitation. These early endorsements carry considerable weight, as they are proximate in time to the actual composition of the texts.
While we do not have direct quotes from early church fathers that specifically attribute 2 Corinthians to Paul within their surviving works, their general affirmation of Pauline authorship for the corpus of his letters extends to this epistle as well. Their recognition of Paul’s distinct voice and theology is evident in the way they cite his letters or refer to his teachings.
Clement of Rome, in his own epistle to the Corinthians (1 Clement), written in the late 1st century C.E., shows familiarity with Paul’s letters and even refers to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, demonstrating early acknowledgment of Pauline writings. However, Clement does not explicitly mention 2 Corinthians by name.
Polycarp, in his Epistle to the Philippians, exhibits reliance on Pauline themes and language, mirroring what is found in the Pauline corpus. He refers to the letters of Paul in a way that indicates acceptance of their authoritative status within the church.
Irenaeus, in his work “Against Heresies,” makes extensive use of Pauline theology, which also indicates his acceptance of the letters attributed to Paul.
The early church’s general recognition of Paul’s letters, which would include 2 Corinthians by association, and their widespread use in liturgy and teaching, reflect an implicit endorsement of Pauline authorship. However, specific direct quotes affirming the authorship of 2 Corinthians from these early church fathers do not appear to be part of their extant writings.
The early church’s recognition of 2 Corinthians as part of the Pauline corpus, evidenced by its inclusion in Marcion’s canon and the Muratorian fragment, underlines its authenticity. The community of believers who were closer in time to the apostolic age accepted this letter as authentically Pauline, which speaks volumes about its credibility.
Literary and Historical Context
Paul’s Circumstances and Travel Log
2 Corinthians reveals details about Paul’s circumstances, his travels, and his interactions with the Corinthian church that are consistent with the narrative found in the book of Acts and his other letters. Paul references his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7), his collection for the saints in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8-9), and his change of travel plans (2 Cor. 1:15-16), all of which correspond to the life and ministry of the historical Paul.
Cohesion with 1 Corinthians
There is a clear narrative and thematic progression from 1 Corinthians to 2 Corinthians, indicating a continuation of correspondence that would be unnatural if different authors were involved. The issues addressed, the challenges faced, and the resolution offered in 2 Corinthians are directly linked to the concerns raised in the former epistle, pointing to a singular author grappling with ongoing pastoral matters in a specific community.
Early Manuscript Evidence
Papyrus 46 (commonly referred to as P46) is one of the oldest New Testament manuscripts in Greek, and it does include many of Paul’s letters. It is dated between 110 and 150 C.E. due to its script style and other historical factors.
P46 contains the majority of the Pauline epistles, though with some portions missing due to damage. It includes the last eight chapters of Romans, Hebrews, almost all of 1 Corinthians, all of 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and two chapters of 1 Thessalonians. Portions of the manuscript have been lost, so not all of the texts are complete.
The inclusion of Hebrews in P46 right after Romans and before 1 Corinthians is significant because it suggests that early Christians may have associated this text with Paul’s writings, even though its Pauline authorship has been debated historically and is not widely accepted today. The presence of 2 Corinthians in this collection further confirms its importance and recognition as an authoritative letter of Paul in the early Christian communities.
Refuting the Bible Critic Who Lacks Knowledge
He says, “You will be hard-pressed to find an NT scholar (even Christian) who does not believe that 2 Corinthians is not a single letter from Paul, but 3-5 that was edited and spliced together. However, we do not have one single manuscript that doesn’t show 2 Corinthians in its current form.
Responding to the Critic
This critic’s claim that 2 Corinthians is a composite work of 3-5 letters spliced together, while a hypothesis entertained by some scholars, does not necessarily detract from Pauline authorship of the letter as we have it. The argument hinges on the assumption that variations in style, tone, and subject within 2 Corinthians indicate multiple letters. However, this is not an unassailable argument for a few reasons:
Literary Style Variations: It is not unusual for a single author to exhibit variations in style and tone within the same work, especially in response to different circumstances or to address different issues. Paul was dealing with a complex, evolving situation in Corinth, which would naturally lead to shifts in his rhetorical approach throughout his correspondence.
Ancient Letter Writing Conventions: The epistolary practices of the ancient world allowed for composite letters. Even if 2 Corinthians were a compilation of several letters, this would not invalidate Paul’s authorship of the components. The ancient authors often compiled and edited materials for various purposes, including rhetorical effect and situational relevance.
Manuscript Evidence: The extant manuscript tradition, from P46 onward, consistently presents 2 Corinthians as a single, unified letter. If 2 Corinthians were known in the early church as a collection of separate letters, some trace of that tradition would be likely to appear in the manuscript evidence, yet it does not.
Patristic Testimony: Early church fathers like Clement of Rome and others who quote from 2 Corinthians refer to it as Paul’s work without suggesting it is anything but a unified letter. This early attestation supports the integrity of the text as it has been received.
Internal Coherence: Despite the apparent disjunctions, scholars who support the unity of 2 Corinthians argue that the letter has a discernible and coherent structure when understood in the context of Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church. The letter follows a logical progression from Paul’s defense of his actions and apostolic authority, to instructions on reconciliation and collection for the Jerusalem church, and finally to a reaffirmation of his commitment to the Corinthians in Christ.
Hypothesis vs. Evidence: While the hypothesis of multiple letters may offer an explanatory model for the shifts within the text, it remains a hypothesis. It should not be granted more authority than the manuscript evidence itself, which consistently presents 2 Corinthians as a single document.
In summary, while it’s a legitimate academic pursuit to explore the origins and composition of biblical texts, the evidence we have supports the traditional view of 2 Corinthians as a unified letter written by Paul. The manuscript tradition, the early church’s reception of the letter, the internal coherence of the document, and the understanding of ancient letter-writing conventions all bolster the argument against the critic’s claim.
The evidence for Pauline authorship of 2 Corinthians is both rich and compelling. The internal indicators, external affirmations, and the contextual coherence together build a formidable case that stands firmly against the tide of skepticism. One must conclude, based on a cumulative case approach, that the Apostle Paul indeed penned 2 Corinthians, a letter that continues to speak to the church with authority and pastoral wisdom.
When one approaches the text with an objective lens, free from unwarranted presuppositions, the logical and reasonable conclusion aligns with the traditional and historical understanding. The textual legacy left by Paul is one of immense value, not merely as a theological treatise but as a testament to the enduring and personal nature of apostolic ministry. In affirming Pauline authorship of 2 Corinthians, we affirm the letter’s integrity and its rightful place within the corpus of Scripture that guides the faith and practice of the church.
There is a universal consensus among scholars and historians regarding the authenticity of both First and Second Corinthians. These epistles were attributed to Paul and deemed canonical by the early Christian church, who incorporated them into their religious compilations. It’s worth mentioning that First Corinthians is believed to be referenced and quoted a minimum of six times in a correspondence known as First Clement, penned from Rome to Corinth around 95 CE.
The author of First Clement explicitly prompts the readers to consult “the epistle of the blessed Paul the apostle,” which is widely interpreted as an allusion to First Corinthians. Furthermore, First Corinthians found its way into the works of key historical figures such as Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Irenaeus, and Tertullian.
Moreover, there’s compelling evidence to suggest that a collection, or corpus, of Paul’s letters – which comprised First and Second Corinthians – was consolidated and circulated during the final years of the first century. This corpus stands as a testament to the profound influence and enduring legacy of Paul’s teachings within the Christian faith.
About the Author
Christian Apologist Norman L. Geisler Wrote
Who Wrote It?
Like 1 Corinthians, Romans, and Galatians, the evidence is very strong that 2 Corinthians was written by the apostle Paul. This is true both of internal and external evidence. We will consider the internal evidence first.
Paul claims in 1:1 to be the author when he writes, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (1:1). Later, he says, “I, Paul” (10:1). Also the book has the typical “in Christ” key to its theme of the book (2:14). Indeed, the character of the book is Pauline from beginning to end. Finally, its connection with 1 Corinthians is clear, for the wayward member excommunicated in his first letter (1 Cor. 5:5) is restored after repenting in this book (2 Cor. 2:6–7). The style, vocabulary, and doctrinal content are also that of Paul.
From the earliest times the existing manuscripts have had Paul’s name on them (1:1; 10:1). Further, the early Fathers, including Irenaeus and the Muratorian canon, attributed the book to Paul. It is cited by Polycarp (the disciple of the apostle John) and by the Shepherd of Hermas, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, Eusebius, Jerome, and Augustine. Even most critical scholars hold to Paul’s authorship. – Norman L. Geisler, A Popular Survey of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 156.