The Second Letter to the Corinthians

Mark A. Seifrid

Other than Jesus himself, there is perhaps no more important figure in Christian history than the Apostle Paul. As the one given as a “light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47), Paul embodies a unique role as Christ’s instrument for a massive shift in redemptive history. While the gospel message itself is timeless and transcendent, it also can’t be divorced from the character of its greatest messenger.

In his new commentary on 2 Corinthians, Mark A. Seifrid, Mildred and Ernest Hogan Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Seminary, presents Paul as the unimpressive minister of an infinitely powerful gospel. The message of 2 Corinthians lies in its paradox: Paul is forced to legitimize his own apostolic ministry as superior to other, “super-apostle” claimants, but instead of drawing on impressive physical presence or rhetorical flair, he appeals to his own hardship and frailty. He is the suffering apostle of the crucified and resurrected Christ. Seifrid interprets Paul’s thanksgiving to God, who “in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession” in 2 Corinthians 2:14, as Paul’s participation in the suffering and shame of the crucified Christ. Paul is “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” (2 Cor. 4:10-11) in his own life, and even in his boasting, he boasts in the midst of weakness and in the power of Christ expressed through him (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

The life of Paul is also the life of the believer, Seifrid argues, for the apostolic experience is the Christian experience “written large” and in “large-screen display.” Paul not only begs us to understand his apostolic purpose but invites us to participate in the life of Christ in suffering just as he does, Seifrid writes. Salvation itself is the expression of God’s power working through human weakness, and the entirety of the Christian life is not only the proclamation of the way of the cross, but the personal experience of it.

For Seifrid, the nature of both Paul’s apostolic ministry and our experience as believers is counterintuitive: it’s not judged by the outward appearance or by postures of power, it is legitimized by trials and built on an eschatological hope yet to be fully realized. Seifrid argues that suffering and hope are unquestionably bound together for Paul (2 Cor. 4:17).

Seifrid interprets 2 Corinthians in a distinctly evangelical and fully unified manner, unlike the majority of scholarship on the letter. Many interpreters argue that 2 Corinthians is a compilation of separate letters — the apparent shift in tone between chapters 1-7 and chapters 10-13 indicates two different letters, and other possible insertions suggest as many as five disparate fragments. Seifrid dismisses these arguments and reads the letter as a unified whole, resisting the common maximalist “mirror-reading” of the Corinthian background and the precise theology of his  opponents.

His interaction with 2 Corinthians is thoroughly exegetical, deeply theological, and often pastoral in tone. He refreshingly avoids getting caught up in overly technical, intramural debates between competing scholars, but focuses heavily on the text itself and its implications on the lives of believers.

(Eerdmans 2014, $50)