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Paul wrote three letters to the Corinthians. The first has been lost, apparently because Paul did not to want it to be included when John was entrusted with canonizing the New Testament. The letter we now call First Corinthians was, in fact, Paul’s second letter to that church. His 2 Corinthians letter, written shortly afterward, was Paul’s third.
Recall that Paul had spent 18 months in Corinth on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:11), establishing the church and ordaining elders with responsibility to carry on the work in his absence. From there, Paul sailed to Ephesus, accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla, then to Caesarea on the Palestine coast, and finally to Antioch, his home church which had sent the apostle on his missions. There Paul reported on the success of his journey.
Paul spent most of the year 54 A.D. on furlough in Antioch. Paul then began his third missionary journey by visiting the churches in “the Galatian region and Phrygia” of Asia (Acts 18:23). He spent most of his time in Ephesus, beginning in late 54 or early 55 A.D. He spent a little over two years there (Acts 19:10), “performing extraordinary miracles,” healings, and deliverances from evil spirits.
During this time, he received a distressing letter from Chloe about the deteriorating condition of the church in Corinth. Paul then sent a reply in what we now recognize as First Corinthians, written in 55 or 56 A.D. His letter was only partially successful. The man guilty of incest with his “mother” (probably stepmother) was dealt with “by the majority” (2 Cor. 2:6), but some still did not accept the elders’ verdict, nor did they accept Paul’s apostolic authority. Hence, Paul’s final letter focused largely on those issues.
But before Paul wrote his final letter to Corinth, he made a quick boat trip first to Troas, then to Macedonia. The immediate reason for this trip was to escape arrest for wrecking the “prosperity” (Acts 19:25) of the local idol makers in Ephesus. Gaius and Aristarchus were dragged to the magistrate along with Paul himself. Paul wanted to go to the hearing to explain his position, but “the disciples would not let him” (Acts 19:30).
The “disorderly gathering” nearly created a riot (Acts 19:40), but the magistrate saw that no laws had been broken and issued a warning to Paul’s accuser before dismissing the case. Paul then went to Troas (i.e., Troy). In 2 Cor. 2:12 Paul mentioned his trip to Troas, saying,
12 Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ, and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia.
Paul spent three months in Macedonia and Greece. Then he learned of a plot against his life (Acts 20:2, 3), which caused him to change his plans. Instead of taking the boat to Syria, he walked to Philippi, and from there sailed back to Troas after the feast of Passover (Acts 20:6).
In Troas, Paul raised Eutychus from the dead, a boy who had fallen out of the window, having fallen asleep during Paul’s teaching (Acts 20:9-12). This miracle apparently had a powerful effect upon the boy’s parents, for we learn later in 2 Tim. 4:13 that Paul entrusted them with “the parchments,” that is, copies of Paul’s letters, some of which were to be sent to John later for inclusion in the New Testament canon.
Paul’s reference to his trip to Troas in 2 Cor. 2:12 helps us date this letter, for it is certain that he wrote it shortly afterward, though not from Troas itself. It is likely that he wrote this letter after sailing to Miletus (near Ephesus) in early 58 A.D., where he met with the Ephesian church elders. Being in a hurry to go to Jerusalem for Pentecost, he did not want to spend time in Ephesus (Acts 20:16).
Perhaps Paul wrote his second Corinthian letter while sailing to Miletus. We only know that by the time he wrote it, he had already decided to go to Judea (2 Cor. 1:16).
The plots against Paul’s life, along with other tribulations, often caused Paul to change his plans abruptly. Some criticized him for doing so, perhaps claiming that he lacked faith in the promises of God. Paul therefore wrote in 2 Cor. 1:17, “Therefore, I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I?” Paul had confidence in the promises of God (2 Cor. 1:20), but when God revealed the plot to him, he knew that God was telling him to go a different route to avoid danger.
Paul never returned to Corinth, as we will see, for Paul explains his reasons for this in chapter 2 of his letter.