Paul’s Letters

There is treasure hidden in Paul’s thirteen letters, but the path to find it is not obvious. Here is a tip: in the Bible, Paul’s letters are not sequenced in chronological order.

The Bible rarely gives us specific dates about events it addresses, which can be frustrating for modern readers. As an example, this is a very brief timeline of the first four decades of Christianity that is probably correct to within a few years:

27 AD to 30 AD           Ministry of Jesus

30 AD to 39 AD           Death, resurrection of Jesus; Christianity spreads among the Jews

40 AD to 48 AD           Christianity spreads increasingly to non-Jews

48 AD to 57 AD           Paul’s three missionary journeys

58 AD to 70 AD           Paul’s imprisonment; Paul’s death; Temple destroyed

Paul wrote his letters within the two decades of 48 AD to 68 AD. His thirteen generally accepted letters are arranged in the New Testament in two blocks: the nine written to churches, then the four written to individuals. The nine written to churches are generally placed in order by length. (This also assumes Hebrews was not written by Paul.)

Second Corinthians

In Second Corinthians, Paul seemingly jumps from topic to topic, but there are three main themes. First, Paul defends his apostleship and his authority. In this letter, Paul also makes a passionate plea for the Corinthians to commit to their relationship with him. Their relationship was strained by his previous letters criticizing their behavior, and possibly by a previous visit that didn’t go well.

Next, Paul calls on them to be generous, especially in their giving toward the big relief fund Paul is raising for the Jerusalem church. In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul lays out many valuable principles about giving, especially giving to other churches and Christians in need.

Third, much of the letter is about reconciliation, especially in two areas: among the Corinthians themselves, and between God and mankind. First Corinthiansexposed many of the problems of the Corinthian church. Although some of those were corrected by the time of Second Corinthians, they still had a list of improvements they needed to make.

In 2 Corinthians 4-5, Paul gives tantalizing information about the eternal rewards of being faithful to God. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, he makes it clear that eternal rewards are far more valuable and important than the rewards of this world, that heavenly homes are eternal.

If you go to Corinth today, there is a famous platform in the middle of the city. It is known as the Bema, or judgment seat. It was where official proclamations were made, or where citizens stood to be judged by officials. Several of these Bemaseats are mentioned in the Bible: when Pilate tried Jesus in Jerusalem; when Agrippa made a speech before it in Caesarea before being struck down with worms and where Paul was tried before Festus; and this one in Corinth where Paul was tried before Gallio. This is possibly what Paul had in mind when he cautioned the Corinthians: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10)

Primary Scriptures:
Second Corinthians
Story Summary:
Paul’s second New Testament letter to the church in Corinth
Roman Empire; Greece, Corinth
AD 30 Jesus crucified and resurrected; Pentecost; Holy Spirit arrives AD 48 Paul’s “famine visit” to Jerusalem; First Missionary Journey starts AD 50 Council at Jerusalem; Start of Second Missionary Journey. AD 53 Start of Third Missionary Journey AD 56 Paul writes 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians