2 Corinthians: The Three Chiastic Units and Their Significance

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You may wish to read Chiastic Structuring: An Introduction first.


First chiastic unit
Second chiastic unit
Third chiastic unit
Further comments

    Gunther Bornkamm, Die Vorgeschicte des sogennten Zweiten Korinthersbriefes (1961), argued that 6.14-7.1 is non-Pauline and its exclusionist outlook shows affinities to the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He broke down the letter into four parts as follows:
    1.) 2.14-7.4 (excluding 6.14-7.1), an earlier letter of defense,
    2.) 8, a letter concerning the collection for the saints,
    3.) 9, a second letter concerning the collection,
    4.) 10-13, a later letter of defence.
The study below, on the other hand, suggests that there are emendations to be made to Bornkamm's schema.

2 Corinthians' Chiastic units   Bornkamm's breakdown 
1.23-5.1a x 5.1b-7.16 (excluding 6.14-7.1) 2.14-7.4 (excluding 6.14-7.1)
8.1-22a x 8.22b-9.15 8 and 9 as separate letters
10.1-11.31a x 11.31b-13.10 (omit 13.11-13)  10-13




2. The First Chiastic Unit: 1.23-5.1a x 5.1b-7.16

1.23-24 We work for your joy for you stand firm in your faith 7.16
I rejoice because ... confidence in you
your obedience ... fear and trembling
2.1  not to make you another painful  visit 7.13b-15 [Titus' joyful visit] ... you received him
2.3 my joy ... joy of you all 7.13 We rejoiced at joy of Titus
2.4 I wrote to you ... abundant love I have for you   7.12 I wrote to you ... your zeal for me

pain, punishment, forgive,

7.8-11 11: indignation, alarm, longing, zeal, comfort, sorrow [punishment]
7.9-11a: grieved to repentance -- godly grief
2.9 For this is why I wrote that I might test you and know  7.8 For even if I made you sorry with my letter
whether you are obedient in everything  7.4b At every point you have proved yourselves guiltless in the matter.
2.13a   I found not Titus    7.6-7 Coming of Titus
2.13b I went into Macedonia    7.5  We came into Macedonia
2.14-17 God leads us in triumph  in Christ in affliction 7.2-4 In affliction overjoyed -- wronged no one
2.16  death to death, life to life  7.3  [with you] to die together, to live together
2.17 We are men of sincerity 7.2  Open your hearts to us: we have wronged no one.
3.1-3  Do we commend ourselves? You: a letter from Christ ... written on tablets of human hearts   6.11-13 Widen your hearts; children ... you are restricted; our heart is wide
3.2 You are our letter Corinthians ...  our mouth is open
3.4 such confidence have we through Christ to God-ward 6.10f yet possessing all things
3.5a   not sufficient of ourselves  6.10e as having nothing and
3.5c   our sufficiency is from God 6.7 in the power of God
3.6  ministers of a new covenant   6.3-4 ministration ... ministers of God
3.7-8 ministration of death ... ministration of glory 5.20  ambassadors on behalf of Christ
3.9  ministry of condemnation     5.19 not reckoning ... trespasses
3.13 [Moses' glory] passing away  5.17b all things are passed away
3.14  old covenant ... veil done away in Christ 5.17a   any man in Christ: a new creature
3.15  When Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart  5.16b We have known Christ after the flesh, yet now know no more
3.16  When one turns to the Lord,  veil taken away 5.16a   Henceforth we know no man after the flesh
3.17 The Lord is the Spirit  5.15  He died for all that they which live ... should live to him
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom 5.14  The love of Christ constrains us
3.18 We all, with unveiled face; glory of the Lord ... from glory  to glory 5.12c  
Those that boast in face; boasting
4.2e in the sight of God  5.11d manifest unto God

We have this treasure in earthen vessels
Bearing about in the body  the dying of Jesus
5.10b things done in the body
4.14 He ... shall present us with you  5.10a We must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ
4.16 Our outward man ... decaying, yet our inward man is renewed  day by day 5.4c that which is mortal may be swallowed up of life
4.17a Our light affliction  5.4 We do groan, being burdened
an eternal weight of glory; the things which are not seen are eternal 5.2c eternal, in the heavens,
5.1a For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, 5.2b we have a building from God, a house not made with hands,

This centring on the resurrection body in this 'mild' defence of Paul's apostleship would appear, perhaps, to be an answer to those who claim that he is mighty in word but puny in body and appearance - cf. 10.10.  As we shall see, 10.l-13.10 also centres on his physical weakness as a 'basket-case', 11.29-33, since God's strength is perfected in human weakness.


3. The Second Chiastic Unit: 8.1-22a x 8.22b-9.15

8.1 The grace (charis) of God given 9.15  Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift (charis)
in the churches of Macedonia  9.14 ... exceeding grace (charis) of God in you
8.2 Their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality 9.13
Liberality of your contribution
You, being enriched in everything unto all liberality
8.4 Fellowship in the ministering  of the saints 9.12  Fill up the measure of the saints Ministration of this service
8.6b He would complete in you this grace also 9.8 and God is able to make all grace abound in you
8.7  You abound in everything ... abound in this grace also
8.8 Proving ... the sincerity  of your love 9.7 Each man as he has purposed in his heart
8.9 You know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ: for your  sakes he became poor. 9.6 But this: ... he that sows bountifully shall reap bountifully

 I give judgement: you were first to make a beginning  
Now complete the doing
9.5 I thought it necessary ... your aforepromised 'blessing' that the same might be ready
8.13 For not ... that you be distressed 9.4b Lest ... we (that we say not you) should be put to shame
8.14 that your abundance at this present time  9.4a lest ... there come any with me from Macedonia and find you unprepared
8.15 As it is written: he that [gathered] much had nothing over 9.3d that, even as I said, you may be prepared
8.16 earnest care for you into the heart of Titus 9.3b our boasting on your behalf
8.17 He went forth to you of his own accord
8.18 and now we have sent with him the brother  9.3a I have sent the brethren
whose praise in the gospel [is] through all the churches 9.2c Your zeal has stirred up very many of them
8.19a who was appointed by the churches to travel with us 9.2b
those of Macedonia and Achaia ... in the face of the churches
8.19b to the glory of the Lord 8.23e the glory of Christ

(8.19c-23d: Paul's apostleship needing vindication by Corinthians' generosity)

8.19c   our readiness
8.20 avoiding this, that any man should blame us in this bounty ministered by us 8.23d   the apostles of the churches [i.e., gift of Paul's church at Corinth places him in comparison with the apostles of other churches]
8.21  For we take thought for things honourable not only in the sight of the Lord but also in the sight of men 8.23c of our brethren,
8.22a  And we have sent with them 8.23b to you-ward
8.22b our brother  8.23a [namely] about Titus, my partner and fellow-worker
8.22c whom we have many times proved earnest in many things 8.22e  
by reason of the great confidence ... in you | but how much more earnest

Since 8.19-23 is the centre of this chiasm, and a very crucial point for Paul regarding his standing with all the churches, it seems very unlikely that chapters 8 and 9 were ever two separate letters.


4. The Third Chiastic Unit: 10.1-11.31a x 11.31b-13.10

10.1a I, myself, Paul, entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ 13.10b authority the Lord gave me for building up and not for casting down
10.1b   being absent  13.10a while absent
10.5b bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ 13.5b Know you not ... that Jesus Christ is in you?
10.7 You look at the things that are before your face. If any man trust in himself that he is Christ's, let him consider this again with himself. 13.5a Try your own selves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves.
10.7d   even as he is Christ's, so are we 13.4c We are weak in him, but we shall live with him through the power of God toward you.
10.11b   absent 13.2d   absent
10.11c present 13.2c present
10.15 Not glorying in other men's labours 12.11c  For in nothing was I behind the very chiefest apostles
10.18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends 12.11b For I ought to have been commended of you.
11.1 Bear with me in a little foolishness  12.11c   I am become foolish; you compelled me.
11.5 For I reckon that I am not a whit behind the chiefest apostles 12.9b  I rather boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
11.14 Satan fashions himself into an angel of light 12.7  Angel of Satan
11.16  Let no man think me foolish  12.6b   I shall not be foolish
11.16b   I may boast a little 12.6a   For if I should desire to boast
11.21 As though we had been weak  12.5 In my own behalf I will not boast save in weakness
11.21b-28 speaking in foolishness as Hebrew, Israelite, Seed of Abraham ... anxiety for all the churches 12.1-5a Inexpedient boasting of [Paul's] visions and revelations of the Lord
11.29 Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble and I burn not? 11.32-33 [Paul let down in a basket at Damascus]
11.30 If I must needs boast, I will boast of the things that concern my weakness. 11.31c knows that I lie not.
11.31a The God and Father of the Lord Jesus 11.31b   he who is blessed unto the ages,

Notice that the centre of this chiasm is a sworn oath: what Paul will boast of is ignominious weakness. It is possible that at least part of what Paul is combating is the concept of the apostles, of Christ, and of the Christians as being Hellenistic 'divine men', theioi andres, men of autonomous power and stupendous miracles. Paul's answer is to show that the true and proper apostle of Christ is a man whose whole sufficiency is only from God, and that he has nothing of his own to boast about -- except his weakness, for it is in his acknowledged weakness (and that of all people) that God's power is perfected. Above all, he is a 'man for others'.

Thus all three major sections of 2 Corinthians are concerned with the vindication of Paul's apostleship.


5. Further Comments

On the basis of the foregoing we may set forth the structure of the letter as follows:

These structures would appear to vindicate the majority of scholars who have held that 2 Corinthians is composed of parts of several letters by Paul.