Second Corinthians is one of Paul’s most complex letters. Biblical interpreters may need to consult good commentaries to help navigate through its dense 13 chapters.
Questions related to the letter as a whole include these: Why is it that, in the earliest chapters, Paul writes amiably to the Corinthians, but in the later chapters he seems to be almost throwing stones at them? Who are his opponents in this letter? What is he defending himself against? Why do lists of Paul’s sufferings inundate this letter?
More specific questions include these: Who is the offender in Corinth that Paul mentions (2 Cor 2 and 7)? Are the Ten Commandments nullified for believers in Christ (2 Cor 3)? Is Paul referring to bodily resurrection or some sort of out of body experience after death (2 Cor 5:1–8)? How is it that believers who walk by faith (2 Cor 5:7) will be judged according to their works on judgment day (2 Cor 5:10)? Why is Paul encouraging the Corinthians to give money in 2 Cor 8–9, and yet he refuses to receive financial support from them in 2 Cor 10–11? And of course, what exactly is Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:1–9)?
Such questions are not easy to answer, but good commentaries will provide helpful options and solutions to these and other relevant questions. Here are my top picks for recent commentaries on 2 Corinthians.
Top Ten Commentaries
Craig S. Keener, 1–2 Corinthians. New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
Any commentary Keener writes is worth getting. Keener is gifted at writing in a user-friendly way, amiable, scholarly, and always providing many cross references to Jewish and Greco-Roman sources. However, due to this particular volume’s slender size (312 pages, and half the book is on 1 Corinthians), Keener fans might notice this one is not quite as thorough as most of his other commentaries.
Raymond F. Collins, Second Corinthians. Paideia (Baker, 2013).
This commentary aims to instruct contemporary student readers with “basic grounding in academic New Testament” (p. x). Literary, rhetorical, moral, and theological features are prominent. Collins’s work contains many useful information boxes that comment on the structure of the text, relevant topics, word translations, and rhetorical features Paul may be using. The downside is that at 320 pages, it is not as thorough as most others on this list.
Antoinette Clark Wire, 2 Corinthians. Wisdom Commentary series (Liturgical Press, 2019).
Wire’s commentary continues on from her earlier work, The Corinthian Women Prophets (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991). It argues that the Corinthian women prophets were disruptive in worship meetings, and so Paul attempted to control their behavior. These women, she argues, did not submit to Paul’s earlier decisions for them. The commentary has a broad focus centering on bodies in tensions related to the eco-system, political and socio-economic realms, and a particular focus on Paul’s argument and rhetoric. It is 400 pages in length.
Frank Matera, II Corinthians. Library of the New Testament (John Knox Press, 2003).
This is a no-nonsense commentary by a prominent Roman Catholic scholar. It is technical and yet not difficult to read. Matera has a way of presenting all the basic facts one needs to know about any given passage in a succinct manner (368 pages). It’s a great “go to” commentary to find quick, reliable answers, if that’s even possible in 2 Corinthians!
Scott J. Hafemann, 2 Corinthians. NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 2000).
Hafemann is one of the foremost respected and consulted scholars when it comes to 2 Corinthians. His learned conclusions from his weighty monographs and articles are reflected here. Ministers and laity will also appreciate the application sections of this work, which beef up its total length at 544 pages. The only down side is that this book does not have the scholar in mind as the audience. That’s a plus for most people, but not me.
George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians. Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament (Baker, 2015)
Guthrie’s commentary is relatively up to date in its engagement with scholarship. It is also very useful when it comes to Scripture cross-referencing and exegetical issues. At 704 pages, you will almost surely find what you are looking for in this commentary.
David Garland, Second Corinthians. Christian Standard Commentary (Broadman & Holman, 2021).
This commentary has perhaps the best balance of engagement with scholarly sources while still being user-friendly. The other plus is that Garland’s commentary has just been updated, replacing his first edition that was published in 1999 under the New American Commentary series. It’s the same publisher, though new commentary series and second edition of his earlier work (this one is a bit longer at 707 pages). Buyer beware: if you already own the first edition, compare it with the second to decide whether the difference between them makes it worth your purchase. If you already have the first edition, you may decide to purchase something else first among the top five.
B. J. Oropeza, Exploring Second Corinthians: Death and Life, Hardships and Rivalry. Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity 3 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016).
In terms of cutting-edge insights, multiple cross-references, and up-to-date engagement with other scholars, this is perhaps the best commentary on the list (of course, I’m biased!). Oropeza uses different layers of interpretation to arrive at a fully-orbed perspective. His commentary focuses on four major features:
- Inner texture: which explores exegesis and literary aspects in the text.
- Intertexture: which looks for quotes, echoes, or parallel references in Jewish, Greco-Roman, and early Christian sources.
- Social and cultural texture: which searches for motifs like family and kinship relations, patron-client relations, honor and shame, etc., in the text.
- Ideological-sacred textures: which focus on theological and ethical issues in the text, among other things.
These he combines with a new translation and visual exegesis (rhetography) to arrive at fresh insights for each passage. But don’t let the terminology frighten you! Despite the novel approach, this commentary is surprisingly readable. It includes a helpful glossary on the terms as well. There is nothing like it on the market, except for other RRA commentaries that are just beginning to come out. It weighs in at a hefty 912 pages (if including front matter).
Ralph P. Martin, Second Corinthians. Word Biblical Commentary. Second edition (Word, 2014).
The 1986 edition of this commentary was a gem already, but this second edition provides a much-needed update. An added perk is that other contributors—David Downs, Carl Toney, Mark Linder, and Benjamin Schliesser—now add their insights to it. The late Martin unfortunately did not live long enough to see the end product. Given the excurses these scholars bring to the table, the second edition outshines the first, and it is a bit lengthier at 752 pages. The only set-back for the non-specialist is that the Greek is not transliterated. Buyer beware: if you already own the first edition, compare it with the second to decide whether the difference between them makes it worth your purchase. If you have the first edition, you may decide to purchase something else first among the top five before getting this one.
Murray J. Harris, 2 Corinthians. New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2005).
This is the best commentary when it comes to exegesis and technical points on Greek grammar and syntax. It is also very thorough at 1,117 pages. The one downside is that it may be challenging for a person not familiar with Greek. Among the top five picks, readers uninformed with Greek will probably find Oropeza and Garland’s commentaries to be the more readable.
More Commentaries on 2 Corinthians
If I were to include commentaries from the 20th century, some of my picks would be Victor Paul Furnish’s II Corinthians (Anchor Bible Commentary), Ben Witherington’s Conflict and Community in Corinth (Socio-Rhetorical commentary), and C. K. Barrett’s Second Corinthians (Black’s New Testament Commentary). But the best English commentary is Margaret Thrall’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians for the International Critical Commentary series (ICC; Bloomsbury/T. & T. Clark). This two-volume set is even better than Harris’s commentary in my opinion (though also more technical). I should also mention there’s a classic commentary by Rudolph Bultmann on Second Corinthians.
If I were to include non-English commentaries, I would add the recent German commentary by Peter Arzt-Grabner and his team that focuses on parallel Greek words with ancient papyri documents (2. Korinther. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014). Other good and fairly recent German commentaries are from Thomas Schmeller and Erich Grasser. But the best work on 2 Corinthians in any language is Hans Windisch’s nearly 100-year-old Der Zweite Korintherbrief (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1924). In French, J. F. Collange’s Enigmes de la Deuxieme Epitre de Paul aux Corinthiens, along with the commentary by E. B. Allo, are noteworthy.
For more commentaries and hundreds of studies on 2 Corinthians, the specialist may wish to consult Reimund Bieringer, Emmanuel Nathan, Dominika Kurek-Chomycz, 2 Corinthians: A Bibliography (Leuven: Peeters, 2008), especially pages 1–11.
I write this list as a biblical scholar rather than a minister, student, or lay person. My bottom line is this—purchase commentaries to read as reference tools. They are not novels that you have to read cover to cover. You read them one verse or passage at a time to help you understand better the biblical text you happen to be reading or studying.
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