July 20, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Start of the Second Letter to the Corinthians

John F. FinkAfter eight weeks of readings from the Old Testament, for the next two weeks the biblical readings in the Office of Readings will be from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. They will cover the first six chapters next week, and the rest of the book the following week.

Paul established his Christian community in Corinth, on the western coast of Greece, around the year 51, after having limited success in Athens. His relationship with the Corinthians was both his most difficult and most consistent.

After he left there for Ephesus, in modern Turkey, he wrote his first letter back to the Corinthians, which we will read at the end of September.

The second letter was sent around the year 57. It might be a composite of more than one letter because he first expresses disappointment at not hearing from Titus about the situation in Corinth, and later says that he was happy to receive a good report from Titus. However, perhaps he heard from Titus while he was composing the letter.

There seems to have been a definite crisis between Paul and the Corinthians, but we are not sure what it was. It might have had something to do with the fact that Paul promised to visit Corinth, but then changed his mind.

He apparently sent another letter instead of visiting “for I decided not to come to you again in painful circumstances” (2 Cor 2:1). He mentions that letter, but doesn’t go into detail since the recipients of both letters would have known about the circumstances. Experts have theorized about the nature of the problem, but we don’t know.

In this letter, Paul asks the community to forgive and encourage the man who caused pain, and to reaffirm their love for him. He is not referring to himself, but to someone that the community punished.

Chapter 2:14 through Chapter 6 seems to be a long digression. Paul describes his ministry and his qualifications for it. He does it again later in the letter, and we will write about that in more detail next week.

Paul says that God himself qualified him and the Corinthians to be ministers of a “new covenant” as contrasted with the “old covenant” that God made with Moses. This is the only place that “old covenant” appears in Scripture. That old covenant, Paul says, was transitory while the new covenant, administered by Paul, lasts forever.

The difference between the covenants shows the contrast between Moses and Christ, Paul says. The covenant made with Moses, therefore, is inferior, he says.

It would seem that the forces hostile to Christianity would quickly overcome the young Church. However, despite all the obstacles Paul has met in his ministry, he says—twice—that he is not discouraged.

“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,” he writes, “so that each one may receive recompense according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10). This is a basis for the Catholic doctrine of the particular judgment after death when we will be judged by our deeds. †

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