2 Corinthians Study – Introduction

2One of the freedoms I have been enjoying is the new-found freedom to work out my personal belief system as a bible learner. I started by believing only one thing: grace. My personal bible study continues with 2 Corinthians, the next book on my study journey. Perhaps you would share this study with me? Your input would be much appreciated. I think together we can reach much deeper and more accurate pictures of what God is communicating through the bible as we check each other’s blind spots, share our stories and explore the Holy Scriptures.


I have come to appreciate a multi-faceted approach to the bible text. What I mean is to learn from a high level overview of the whole book, topical summaries from various viewpoints and verse-by-verse exposition. So I begin this study with some observations others have made about the book (more rightly called a letter) of 2 Corinthians. Two main sources are bible.org study on 2 Corinthians and executable outlines from Mark Copeland.


This section of Scripture has always been attributed to the Apostle Paul. It reads more like correspondence than most of Paul’s writings, because in it he reacts to specific needs and issues rather than making theological dissertations. It is claimed that there are fewer commentaries on 2 Corinthians than any other book in the bible.


In this 13 chapter letter, Paul the Apostle addresses a community fractured by at least four groups of people. One group of believers supported traditional Roman culture and customs. Another a group of believers supported traditional Greek rhetorical training. A third group of believers supported traditional Jewish culture and customs. And yet another group of believers from the powerless and the disenfranchised people of society supported social reforms.

Paul had been criticized with regard to his person, motives, authority, delivery style and gospel message.


So many problems had arisen that we find it difficult to outline or summarize 2 Corinthians. Paul displays his human side, sharing his mood swings, writing on a variety of subjects, using broad stroke thinking and leaving out many details about the local situation that make it difficult for us to know what or who Paul was reacting to.

Still, three big messages can be seen at a high-level:

1. Reactions and reflections on his ministry (ch. 1 to 7)

2. Encouragement to complete the Jerusalem offering (ch. 8 to 9)

3. Defense of his leadership (ch. 10 to 13)


This letter has been called the most biographical of Paul’s writings. Instead of learning theological constructs and doctrine, we get to see more of the person named Paul the Apostle. Paul seems to be writing in order to address the questions raised about his authority and ministry. In light of heavy criticism, Paul did not remain silent. He responded with one of the most insightful and Spirit-led writings of the bible texts.


What resources do you have about 2 Corinthians? What have you learned from this letter? What are your initial thoughts on how someone should respond to challenges and criticism? What reactions does this introduction prompt in your mind and heart?


  1. Thanks for pointing to 2 Cor, Brian. In my 10 years of UBF, we never studied that epistle.

    After leaving UBF, I found that chapters 10-11 not only talk about the “defense of his leadership” as you summarized the last part, but also include a very good description of spiritual abusive leaders aka “power mongers in the church” aka “super apostles”. I found it pretty amazing that such extreme spiritual abuse could already been found in the early church amentioned in the Bible and not only a sad phenomenon on the fringes of modern evangelical-fundamentalist Christianity.

    Please have a look at Paul’s complaint in 2 Cor 11:20: “You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face.”

    Isn’t that what Samuel Lee in Chicago and earlier in Korea did to people, and Peter Chang in Bonn and others copied?

    Also read other translations of this verse, like the NET Bible:

    “For you put up with it if someone makes slaves of you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone behaves arrogantly toward you, if someone strikes you in the face.”

    Paul clearly says that this is behavior that must not be tolerated. Why is UBF so shy to denounce this behavior and call “super-apostles” out? Was only Paul allowed to speak so clearly?

    What do you think Paul would have said to people using titles such as “general directors”, or people ordering inhumane trainings and beatings in the name of mission, or people demanding “absolute obedience”? And what would he have said to people who tolerate all of this for decades and silence those who tried to change it?

    • Chris, as much as SL did “bad things” which I do not dispute, I also know of countless people who experienced goodness, kindness and generosity through him. I know you say that he did such good things with “bad ulterior motives” to make them UBF loyalists. Nonetheless, that’s what many people will testify. Through SL they experienced the Spirit of God, the grace of Jesus and the love and goodness of God.

  2. From my sporadic reading, I remember the overall of theme of 2 Corinthians to be “Power Trough Weakness.” This is perhaps best expressed in 2 Cor 4:7-18; 12:9-10.

  3. “Thanks for pointing to 2 Cor, Brian. In my 10 years of UBF, we never studied that epistle. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2014/07/07/2-corinthians-study-introduction/#comment-14383

    Yes, Chris, I am so excited to explore the whole bible now! I counted 29 out of 66 books in my ubf bible study notes. Only about 10 of those 29 books were complete studies. The rest were just partial studies or special conference studies. We just kept repeating the same books over and over. No wonder my theology is so shallow.

    I found one time where our chapter studied 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 for an Easter conference. But that was it. In fact I gave a message on 2 Cor 5 back on 4/22/2000… which brings back PTSD memories of the horrible message training experiences at ubf….As I read that message again I can clearly see my escapist/ticket to heaven mentality. I recall my confusion over the question “What is the gospel?” I just really didn’t know. I also see my Christianized-Confucian value system loud and clear:

    “What pleases God? God is pleased when we obey his commands. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23) Obedience requires hard work and discipline. It goes against our nature. Pleasing God requires dying to our own will and desires. Pleasing God requires sacrifice. But in this earthly tent we have only a short time to do so many things.”

    I am finding my renewed passion for bible study that I had back in 1987 when I wanted to become a Catholic priest. I can’t wait to see what is uncovered in 2 Corinthians! I am reading all 13 chapters and several sermons to prepare.

  4. Thanks Ben and Chris. Those are great points to ponder. I am finding 2 Corinthians has fewer commentaries than other books but is often quoted. Some amazing verses are in this part of Scripture!

  5. Joe Schafer

    2 Corinthians was the last book that I tried preached through at our Sunday worship service. I only made it partway through the book, but it was very interesting and eye opening. More than any other epsitle, it provides a window into the personal life and struggles of the Apostle Paul. In the midst of his faith, he also exhibited times of weakness, doubt, even symptoms of depression. Paul was honest and real. He didn’t minimize his emotions or spiritualize his problems away. Before I studied 2 Corinthians, I already knew that the way Paul is usually depicted in ubf messages — as a soldierlike tough guy, a superhero who never showed doubt and never stopped working and never wavered in his mission — was a fictional character spawned by ubf ideology. Studying 2 Corinthians dispelled the last remmnants of those silly ideas.

    • +1. In UBF our dichotomies are endless. Abraham is good, Lot is bad. Jacob is good, Esau is bad. Joseph is good, Joseph’s brothers are bad. David is good, Saul is bad. Those who don’t read UBFriends are good, those who do are ALL bad. The apostle Paul is a spiritual superhero soldier of Christ, and we UBFers must all be like him, and not like the money crazy, sports and movie worshiping, family centered, cultural and nominal selfish American Christians who have no mission and no absolute attitude!

  6. forestsfailyou

    This really encourages me to read though this book. I stopped reading though the bible in 1 Corinthians and havn’t went farther. Now I want to. Thanks!

    • Joe Schafer

      A word of caution: 2 Corinthians is full of imagery and cultural references that made sense to first-century Jews but are unfamiliar to us today. To understand what Paul is talking about, you will need a good commentary that explains these cultural references. I like N.T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone series.

  7. Yes, N.T. Wright is a rich source for these kinds of studies!

    I will be blogging my way through 2 Corinthians using N. T. Wright for Everyone Bible Study Guides for 2 Corinthians.

    Typically this will be my Sunday morning personal study and blog time, starting tomorrow.