Chapter 1.
I. The Letter Opening and Prologue (1:1-11)

The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote, “Letters are among the most significant memorial[s] a person can leave behind them,” and the statement certainly rings true in the case of the apostle Paul. The apostle’s ministry ranged over a vast geographical area, and long-distance communication played a vital role in his work. No medium for that communication has had a more lasting impact than that of the apostle’s letters, and his letters present certain patterns in terms of form.

In the Greco-Roman world, letters often were papyrus scrolls—though brief notes were scribbled on a variety of materials—with an outside address to which the letter was to be sent. The text on the “inside” of the letter often started with a “prescript,” or letter opening; just as today we may open a letter with “Dear ______________,” letters of Paul’s day also often followed a standard format of a superscriptio (the sender’s name in the nominative form), an adscriptio (the name of the addressee in the dative), and finally a salutatio (a greeting in the infinitive) (Klauck and Bailey 2006: 17-18). The apostle follows this pattern as he opens 2 Corinthians:

superscriptio

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and our brother Timothy,

adscriptio

to God’s church in Corinth, along with all God’s holy people throughout Achaia:

salutatio

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Notice the rhythmical balance of this brief opening, in which we are presented with four pairs: Paul and Timothy; the church in Corinth and God’s holy people throughout Achaia; grace and peace; and finally, God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the first century the letter opening often was followed by a proem, or prologue, which served to make a transition to the letter body. Paul’s prologue has two movements, a benediction praising God for encouragement (1:3-7), followed by an account of a recent, harrowing brush with death and the celebration of God’s deliverance of the apostle and his coworkers (1:8-11). Early in the development of the use of epistolary prologues, we find the formula valetudinis, which Seneca the Younger (Ep. 15.1) described as “a custom which survived even into my lifetime. They would add to the opening words of a letter, ‘If you are well, it is well; I also am well’” (as quoted in Klauck and Bailey 2006: 21). So, fundamental to the prologue was a statement of how things were going in the life of the writer, and this constitutes part of the content of Paul’s prologue in 2 Corinthians, since he informs the Achaians about tribulations that have affected his life and ministry.

The prologue also could include expressions of thanksgiving and references to prayer (Klauck and Bailey 2006: 42), both of which are also included in 2 Cor. 1:3-11. Paul expresses thanks in the form of his benediction (1:3-5) and mentions the thanks that will be given as a result of the Corinthians’ answered prayers (1:11). It may also be that the element of “remembrance” of someone before the gods lies behind Paul wanting the Corinthians to not “be unaware of,” or perhaps “take lightly,” the apostle’s great affliction experienced in Asia (1:8).

A. Letter Opening (1:1-2)


Paul crafts the opening we have in 2 Cor. 1:1-2 in line with a pattern commonly used for letter prescripts in the first century, but the demands of his ministry, as well as his theological convictions, have shaped that formal pattern in nuanced ways (O’Brien, DPL 553; Stirewalt 2003: 25). The letter opening in 1:1-2 marks 2 Corinthians as an official letter sent by a person in an official capacity to a group of people under that person’s authority (Stirewalt 2003: 3, 9, 33-34). In an official letter, a writer of the period would normally self-identify, naming rank or position, the addressee(s), and perhaps a cosender. An opening also expressed greetings (χαίρειν, chairein). Here Paul, who identifies his role as an apostle of Christ Jesus, with Timothy as cosender of the letter, writes to the believers in Achaia, addressing them with “grace and peace,” which come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus.

Exegesis and Exposition

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and our brother Timothy, to God’s church in Corinth, along with all God’s holy people throughout Achaia. 2Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

1:1 As in his normal pattern of letter writing, Paul begins his salutation by identifying himself as the sender, and this is the only time in the book, other than at 10:1, that he mentions himself by name. Παῦλος (Paulos), of course, is the Greek rendering of his Hebrew name “Saul” (שָׁאוּל, šāʾûl), given him at birth (Acts 13:9). To make his identity more specific, Paul adds, “an apostle of Christ Jesus,” a designation he uses in the salutations of seven other letters (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1).

Paul seems to have used the term ἀπόστολος (apostolos) in at least three ways. In line with the broad use of the cognate verb form in the Greek OT, it could refer to one sent as a messenger or a representative to carry out a task. For example, 2 Cor. 8:23 speaks of the brothers with Titus, to whom Paul refers as “messengers of the churches” (ἀπόστολοι ἐκκλησιῶν, apostoloi ekklēsiōn). Second, the term seems to be used in a semitechnical sense of those directly associated with the Twelve or Paul, who also carried out a significant ministry in the church. Here we can name Barnabas (1 Cor. 9:5-6), Andronicus and Junia[s] (Rom. 16:7), James brother of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19), and perhaps Apollos (1 Cor. 4:6-9). Finally, as here in 2 Cor. 1:1, ἀπόστολος seems to be used in a distinct sense of the Twelve and Paul, as those directly commissioned by the Lord for a unique, authoritative role in the early church (Harris 2005: 128; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:3-9; Gal. 1:17). In this vein Paul writes 2 Corinthians as an “apostle” of Christ, and his role as an apostle serves as one very large foundation stone in his rhetorical strategy embodied in this letter, since the Corinthians need to respond well to his apostolic leadership.

That he is an apostle “of Christ Jesus” (Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, Christou Iēsou) can be taken as a genitive of relationship or perhaps source (“from Christ Jesus”), that is, Paul is sent from Messiah Jesus as his official representative. Yet Paul also adds to his salutation the phrase “by God’s will” (διὰ θελήματος θεοῦ, dia thelēmatos theou), a favorite expression for describing the nature of his apostleship (1 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1). When διά (dia) is used with the genitive, as here, it can communicate the “circumstance by which something is accomplished” (BDAG 224). So it is “by God’s will,” that is, at the initiative of God himself, that Paul is an apostle. Since this phrase is used in tandem with Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, Paul actually points to a joint commissioning in which both Jesus and God the Father are involved. Elsewhere in 2 Corinthians, of course, the apostle also emphasizes his work as by the power of the Spirit (3:3, 6, 8; 6:6; 13:13), and he ends the letter with a beautiful, three-part blessing invoking the work of Jesus the Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit (13:13). Thus the triune God’s sovereign will forms the basis and context for Paul’s work as an apostle.

Further, Paul writes with “our brother Timothy” (Τιμόθεος ὁ ἀδελφός, Timotheos ho adelphos) as his cosender. Although elaborate speculation has been offered concerning Timothy being named here, that he also is so named in five other Pauline letters (1 and 2 Thessalonians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians) again suggests that this has more to do with a general practice of Paul than an attempt specifically to bolster Timothy’s status before the Corinthians, though the young man has suffered some difficulty in ministry to this church (1 Cor. 16:10-11). Against those who suggest that Timothy’s image needed rehabilitating with the Corinthians, Furnish (1984: 104-5) suggests that his inclusion as cosender actually demonstrates the opposite—that he still has standing with that church. Keener (2005: 20-21) notes, moreover, that mention of composite authorship could simply serve as a means of special greetings in ancient letters (see also Thrall 1994: 82), and in this vein the mention of Paul’s younger protégé served as a natural reminder to the congregation of Timothy’s ministry to them.

With the adscriptio Paul addresses 2 Corinthians “to God’s church in Corinth, along with all God’s holy people throughout Achaia.” He uses the phrase “God’s church” (τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ, tē ekklēsia tou theou) nine times in his writings (1 Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:16, 22; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:4). The term ἐκκλησία is used some one hundred times in the Greek OT and translates קָהָל (qāhāl), often referring to the assembly of the Lord, but the phrase “assembly of God” seems to occur only at Neh. 13:1, although the LXX translation there reads ἐκκλησίᾳ θεοῦ (ekklēsia theou), not using the articles commonly found in Paul’s construction (the exceptions in Paul occur at 1 Tim. 3:5, 15). Nevertheless, Paul seems to equate the church with eschatological Israel, the people of God in whom the promises of old find their fulfillment through Messiah Jesus. The church is the new-covenant assembly of the Lord (P. T. O’Brien, DPL 126; e.g., Deut. 23:1-3; 1 Chron. 28:8; Mic. 2:5), and here, the church of God as it finds expression at Corinth.

With reference to his addressees, the apostle also adds “along with all God’s holy people throughout Achaia” (σὺν τοῖς ἁγίοις πᾶσιν τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ἀχαΐᾳ, syn tois hagiois pasin tois ousin en holē tē Achaia). The word rendered “God’s holy people” has often been translated “saints.” Yet the term does not refer to a superspiritual group, as the word “saints” has been used at times both in Roman Catholic ecclesiology and in a different way in popular English parlance. Rather, this Greek term refers to “those who, by their commitment to Christ, are set apart for the service of God” (Furnish 1984: 100). The term, used with reference to God’s people, derives from LXX usage of the adjectival noun ἅγιος (hagios), which renders קָדוֹשׁ (qādôš), having to do with being set apart, or holy. In its use for Christian believers, it is associated with God’s election of his people, his setting them apart as a distinct community for himself, their separation from sin, and thus their holiness (Harris 2005: 134).

The phrase ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ ἀχαΐᾳ (en holē tē Achaia, throughout Achaia) suggests to Witherington (1995: 354) that 2 Corinthians was intended to serve as a circular letter, and the lack of personal greetings at the end of the letter would seem to support this. Yet it may be simply that the city of Corinth, as capital of the province, would see a constant interaction between the believers in the city proper and those from towns throughout the immediate area. In fact, J. Wiseman (ANRW 446) notes that “Citizens of all the towns of the Corinthia evidently considered themselves, throughout most of antiquity, citizens of Corinth.” Knowing this, and perhaps mindful of other congregations such as the one in Cenchreae, Paul may have addressed his letter accordingly. The apostle’s use of πᾶσιν and ὅλῃ certainly suggests an awareness of a number of Christ-followers outside of Corinth, but we know specifically only that there were Phoebe and the church at Corinth’s eastern port, Cenchreae (Rom. 16:1), and some, including Dionysius the Areopagite and Damaris, at Athens (Acts 17:34). Beyond these locations, there may have been churches at Lechaeum, the western port of the isthmus, only about two miles to the north of ancient Corinth’s center. But there were other towns nearby as well, including Sicyon, Isthmia, Crommyon, Schoenus, Cleonae, and Tenea (Murphy-O’Connor 1983: 7).

Paul’s use of this broad address may suggest that the problems plaguing the church in Corinth have spread beyond the city’s boundaries, the influence of his opponents having a more regional effect. Indeed, in answer to the question “Why address the entire region?” John Chrysostom (Hom 2 Cor. 1.2) suggests, “The reason, I think, is that they were all involved in a single, common problem and were therefore all in need of the same remedy” (Bray 1999: 194). As today, church scandals or conflicts need little publicity to spread far and wide. The “geography” of the challenges to the apostle’s ministry at Corinth would have made his task of unifying the church that much more difficult.

1:2 Paul greets this body of believers with “grace and peace.” The whole of verse 2 forms a balanced structure, with four words per line:

χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη

charis hymin kai eirēnē

grace to you and peace

ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν

apo theou patros hēmōn

from God our Father

καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

kai kyriou Iēsou Christou

and the Lord Jesus Christ

“Grace and peace” are directed to the Corinthians and expressed as coming from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses the highly stylized wording “grace to you and peace” in the salutations of Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:2; Philem. 3). This “wish” is also used in the salutations of 1 and 2 Peter as well as John’s greeting to the churches in Rev. 1:4, indicating that the phrase was broadly used in Christian circles.

Hellenistic letters commonly opened with “greetings” (χαίρειν, chairein; cf. Acts 15:23; 23:26; James 1:1). In Christian letters the standard χαίρειν changes to the term χάρις and combines with the common Jewish greeting of “peace” (shālôm), reflecting Christianity’s deep roots both in its experience of God’s grace through the person of Jesus Christ and its Jewish sociocultural context and heritage. Used as it is here in 2 Corinthians, this expression of grace and peace reflects God’s gift of well-being promised in the gospel, which is the true peace conveyed graciously by God through Christ.

These spiritual blessings can come only “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It seems clear grammatically and contextually that “God our Father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” are coordinate and that the single use of the preposition ἀπό extends to both, indicating Father and Son as together the source of grace and peace (on the grammar, see Harris 2005: 135-36). The confession of God as “our Father” may go back to Jesus’s crafting of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) and, in any case, participates in a rich early Christian heritage of reference to the fatherhood of God in relationship to his children (e.g., 1 Cor. 8:6; 15:24; Gal. 1:4; 4:6; Eph. 1:3, 17; 4:6; Phil. 2:11; Col. 3:17; James 1:27; 1 John 2:14). Paul mentions God as Father four additional times in this letter (2 Cor. 1:3 [2x]; 6:18; 11:31).

The title κύριος (kyrios), used of Yahweh in the Greek OT, is Paul’s favorite title for Jesus and stems not only from the very earliest Christian communities but also reaches back into the life and ministry of Jesus himself. As Barnett (1997: 62-63) points out, this claim of Jesus as the source of “grace and peace” would have been shocking in a first-century Jewish context. Such radical association of the covenant God of the Jewish Scriptures with “the Lord Jesus Christ” bears witness to how dramatic a shift in worldview Paul received in his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road (Barnett 1997: 62). Paul understands Jesus to be directly associated with God the Father, so, as elsewhere in Paul, grace and peace come from the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 16:23; 2 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 6:18; Phil. 4:23; 1 Thess. 5:28) as well as from God the Father.


Reflection

The elements that shape the letter opening reveal a man who understands his primary orientation and loyalties to be otherworldly. George MacDonald (1867: 61) once wrote, “We are dwellers in a divine universe where no desires are in vain, if only they be large enough.” Paul writes as a man of great “desire,” great commitment to the ministry God has assigned to him. Thus he lives under the highest possible commission, a commission from the Lord of the universe, Jesus, by virtue of the very will of God. God’s will gives the impetus for Paul communicating to God’s church, and he communicates “grace and peace” that originate with God, divine gifts of which we all stand in need. So the letter opening communicates a thorough God-centeredness for Paul—he understands himself to be part of God’s plan, writing to God’s people on the basis of God’s work of grace and peace. Therefore, he also writes as a person of profound relationships, his unique relationship with God through Christ Jesus forming the basis for his relationship with Timothy as his partner in ministry and the Achaians as a part of God’s church.