Introduction: 2 Corinthians is a complex letter that changes in tone and subject very quickly. For this reason, many scholars posit that it is a combination of at least two letters: 10-13 is part of a “painful letter”, which is an acerbic letter of attack against the Corinthians, while 1-9 is part of a fourth letter of reconciliation and warmth. Both letters were written after 1 Corinthians. Some scholars believe 2 Corinthians contain fragments of as many as five letters, due to literary seams and abrupt changes in subject matter. Generally, 2 Corinthians deals with monetary disputes, the arrival of missionaries hostile to Paul, and other problems within the church.
2 Corinthians 1-4: Greetings from Paul and Timothy. During our affliction in Asia, we feared for our lives, but God rescued us and he will rescue us again. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and on my way back, but my change of plans doesn’t mean I wasn’t sincere. Rather, it was to spare you pain, since I caused you pain during my previous visit and didn’t want to do it again. But the punishment you gave to the one who hurt me is enough; forgive him and reaffirm your love for him.
Thanks be to God, for whom we are captive slaves. We are not peddlers of God’s word, but people who speak in Christ sincerely. Surely we don’t need letters of recommendations–you yourselves are our letter, are you not? If the ministry of death (the Law of Moses) came in glory, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? But the glory of the Law faded, whereas we see the glory of the Lord and are being transformed by it. Do not lose heart! We have afflictions, but our overcoming of adversity demonstrates God’s power. This momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.
Paul has an interesting interpretation of Exodus 34:29-35, which read:
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
In Exodus, Moses veils his face because the Israelites were afraid of seeing his shining face. Paul believes Moses veils his face to hide the decline of its glory (3:14). For Paul, the decline of this glory represents the decline of the Law’s importance.