In his previous letter Paul had spoken of his plans to move from Ephesus north to Macedonia and then down to Corinth (1 Cor 16:5-7; cf. Acts 19:21). However, when Timothy returned from Corinth to Ephesus (cf. 1 Cor 16:10-11), the news that he brought was so disturbing that Paul changed his plans. The New Testament does not record Paul’s travels of this period in any detail, but occasional references to them give us at least some understanding of events.
A painful visit and a severe letter
When Paul learnt that neither his lengthy letter nor Timothy’s recent visit had brought any improvement in the Corinthian church, he made a trip to Corinth direct by boat. He had already warned that he would come and deal with the trouble-makers if they did not change their ways (1 Cor 4:19-21), and now he did as he had said. This was only Paul’s second visit to Corinth. It gave him such distress that when he looked back on it later he referred to it as a painful visit (2 Cor 2:1; 13:2).
Though painful, the visit was only brief, but Paul hoped to visit the church again soon (2 Cor 1:15- 16). Within a short while news reached him in Ephesus that nothing had improved in Corinth. In fact, his recent visit only made his opponents more rebellious. Paul’s immediate thought was to rush back to Corinth and deal with the rebels, but upon consideration he thought it better not to. He did not want to act hastily or do anything that he might later regret (2 Cor 1:23).
Instead Paul wrote a letter. It was a very severe letter, which challenged the church to deal with those who opposed his apostolic authority. The letter was taken to the Corinthian church by Titus, but it seems not to have been preserved (2 Cor 2:3-4; 7:8; 12:18).
Titus took the letter to Corinth direct, but he was to return via Macedonia and meet Paul in Troas. Paul meanwhile finished his work in Ephesus and moved north to Troas, but he was so anxious to get news of the Corinthians’ response to his letter, that he could not bear waiting for Titus. So he left Troas and went looking for him in Macedonia (2 Cor 2:12-13; cf. Acts 20:1). Paul met Titus in Macedonia and was overjoyed at the good news Titus brought. As a result of the severe letter, the trouble-makers in Corinth had realized their error and stopped opposing Paul (2 Cor 7:5-6).
With much relief, Paul wrote yet another letter (known to us as 2 Corinthians) and sent it to Corinth with Titus and two others (2 Cor 8:16-18,22-23). In view of the recent troubles, Paul wrote at length concerning various aspects of Christian service. The final section of the letter, Chapters 10-13, is such a strong defence of Paul’s apostolic authority, that some Bible scholars believe it is the severe letter that he wrote previously.