Why are there two books for the Corinthians?
Paul wrote the two books or letters of Corinthians to the Corinthian church. The first book is actually in response to a letter from the Corinthians that we do not have preserved in history. This letter they sent asked Paul multiple questions on multiple fronts that the church was dealing with in the city of Corinth.
We know this is a letter in response, answering these questions, because every so often, sometimes at the beginning of the chapter, sometimes in the middle, Paul will say things like, “Now about this matter of…”
He is answering a question that they posed in the letter they said to him before he wrote 1 Corinthians. He deals with multiple subjects from divisions in the church, sexual morality in the church, judgments and lawsuits in the church, marriage, meat sacrificed idols, worship, spiritual gifts, and resurrection of the dead.
Much of 1 Corinthians is so important to us today because it answer so many questions and sets the standard for theology and practice in the church. It is an extremely important letter that gives us great insight into both practice and theology.
In the letter, Paul addresses a specific issue among the Corinthians, sexual morality in the church (1 Corinthians 5). Apparently, there was a certain member of the church who was having sexual relations with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). It’s most likely that this was probably his stepmother.
Paul passes judgment as an apostle of Christ on the man. He tells the church to expel him, kick him out, until he repents. Kicking him out might serve the purpose of bringing him to repentance and returning to the church.
But Paul’s harshness in the way that he writes in dealing with this matter, and perhaps some of his answers to their questions, bring them to question his authority as an apostle of Christ. It may be that they sent a letter back challenging his apostleship and authority between 1 and 2 Corinthians.
This brought the need for another letter, 2 Corinthians. Paul set out to defend his ministry and authority as an apostle. It is probably the most personal letter we have of Paul in the New Testament. It tells us much about the apostle and the man.
He defends himself and his ministry, his authority as an apostle. This is where we learn about “super-apostles” that were running around the churches claiming that Paul was not a legitimate apostle. Remember that there were 11 apostles after Judas’ death. In Acts 1, Judas’ place as an apostle is replaced with another.
This brings the number up to 12, the same number that Jesus had during his earthly ministry. But Paul came as an apostle much later, in Acts 9. It may be a misrepresentation that there have to be 12 apostles. There are 12 foundational apostles, but there were many other apostles throughout the church in that day and today.
The difference is that only the 12 apostles and Paul were the ones who use their authority to write Scripture that we have today. By the way, apostles of today do not write Scripture.
The Canon has been closed since about 95-96 AD with the completion of Revelation. Today’s apostles are the missionaries who, like the apostles of the New Testament, found new Christian works in places that have not heard the gospel before.
But as Paul defends himself and his ministry, showing them that he is a true apostle by the way he acted and the words he spoke while he was among them, we see a man and not just a minister. We get to know Paul, his sufferings, and the many things that he has endured to preach the gospel. And this is a man who began as a persecutor of the church.
He also deals once again with this man who has been involved in sexual morality with his father’s wife. From what has been told to him, either from his missionary contacts and companions, or from the letter we don’t have between these two, he has been informed that this man is repentant and wants to return to the church. In grace, he tells them to once again have fellowship with the man and invite him back in (2 Corinthians 2:5-11).
These are two unique and important books of the Bible. The first reveals to us the answers to questions about theology and practice that help us today. The second book of Corinthians gives us a rare look into the life and ministry of Paul as a person, provides further understanding of Christian ministry, and helps us not only see the judgment of God but also God’s grace.