Paul used the same form for his letters as everyone else in the ancient world, and so he begins by identifying himself as the writer and the Corinthians as the recipients. He then greets them (1:1–2) and follows this with a thanksgiving or blessing (1:3–11) which leads into the main section of the letter. The length of none of these items in letters was fixed, and Paul is never content with the barest minimum. A glance at his other letters shows the elements which are common to all and those which are peculiar to each. The variations arise out of the particular circumstances of each church. One difficulty in understanding the address and blessing of Second Corinthians comes because this letter may be a combination of several letters, but the address and blessing will have applied to only one of them. (On the possibility of the combination of several letters in our letter see Introduction.)
In identifying himself Paul says he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” He had not appointed himself to be an apostle (see Gal. 1:1, 11–17). God had chosen him and revealed Christ to him as he traveled to Damascus (Acts 9:1–9). Because of this he regards himself as an apostle on a par with those like Peter, whom Jesus chose while on earth. Like them he had seen the Lord (I Cor. 9:1). On the meaning of “apostle” see further on 11:5,13; 12:11–12. As an apostle Paul has been given a special commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13), and what he says, writes, and does carries the authority of Jesus who appointed him. Second Corinthians is not then the letter of a private individual to a group of friends but a letter carrying divine authority. In his writing as in all he did Paul was given tremendous confidence by his belief that he had been appointed to act in the name of Christ. But, as he writes, the situation in Corinth had become difficult. His position as an apostle had been challenged. This begins to appear in 2:1–11; 7:2–13 and becomes a main theme in chapters 10–13. So at the outset he reminds them of his apostleship.
In the address he associates with himself Timothy who was one of his regular helpers and who was known to the Corinthians. Timothy had been with Paul during part of Paul’s initial mission (Acts 18:5; II Cor. 1:19) and had returned since then at least once to Corinth (I Cor. 4:17; 16:10–11).
Paul addresses both the church which he had founded in Corinth and “all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia” (see a map). Corinth was the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. Achaia contained Athens but not Beroea, Thessalonica and Philippi, which were in Macedonia. Though Athens was the more renowned city in Achaia, Corinth contained the chief church. There would probably also have been pockets of Christians in other towns in the area (e.g., Cenchreae, see Rom. 16:1). These would have been evangelized from Corinth. Since Paul speaks of “saints” and not of “churches,” they may not have been organized into regular congregations. Paul invariably uses “saints” in the plural, for Christians are never isolated individuals but always part of a community, the church. “Saints” are not Christians who are especially good; all Christians are saints, that is, “holy” (the Greek is the same), because God has brought them into his holy people. They belong to God. This should give them the same confidence in all that they do as Paul had from his belief that God had appointed him.
The address ends with a greeting. The normal greeting of one Jew for another is shalom or “peace.” It refers not to inner serenity but to the relation of a person to God. Christ’s death created peace between Christians and God. Paul prays that it continue. The normal Greek greeting was chairein. It means little more than “good luck.” Instead of using it Paul chooses a word drawn from the same Greek root but which is heavy with theological overtones: “grace.” The similarity and the change would be obvious to a Greek and would come as a shock when first heard. All Christian existence depends on God’s grace. It denotes both the favor with which God looks on people (and why should he? they continually disappoint him) and the power he gives them to serve him. Both the peace and the grace of God are seen above all in Jesus and in the love with which he served us and died for us. Without him we would not know the full depth of God’s peace and grace.