Paul’s first visit to Corinth was in AD50 and is covered by Acts 18:1-18. Some believe that Paul made a second visit to Corinth around AD55 described in 1 Corinthians 4:19 and 1 Corinthians 16:5-8.
But I will come—and soon—if the Lord lets me, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people just give pretentious speeches or whether they really have God’s power.1 Corinthians 4:19
I am coming to visit you after I have been to Macedonia, for I am planning to travel through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay awhile with you, possibly all winter, and then you can send me on my way to my next destination. This time I don’t want to make just a short visit and then go right on. I want to come and stay awhile, if the Lord will let me. In the meantime, I will be staying here at Ephesus until the Festival of Pentecost.1 Corinthians 16:5-8
This is called his “painful visit” because of Paul’s comment in 2 Corinthians 2:1. But reading the context surrounding 2 Cor 2:1 I gain a different perspective.
So I decided that I would not bring you grief with another painful visit. For if I cause you grief, who will make me glad? Certainly not someone I have grieved. That is why I wrote to you as I did, so that when I do come, I won’t be grieved by the very ones who ought to give me the greatest joy. Surely you all know that my joy comes from your being joyful.2 Corinthians 2:1-3
Paul’s third visit supposedly takes place around AD 57 and is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:14 and 13:1 and some think is described in Acts 20:2-3.
Now I am coming to you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you. I don’t want what you have—I want you. After all, children don’t provide for their parents. Rather, parents provide for their children.2 Corinthians 12:14
There are other Bible scholars who feel Paul likely returned to Corinth a fourth time, after being released from prison in Rome in about AD 63. The question for us is where all this action fits in the book of Acts because it is not a clear where to fit three visits into Luke’s text in the book of Acts. The standard chronology of Paul’s missionary journeys are:
- The First Journey – 45-47 AD
- The Second Journey – 51-53 AD
- The Third Journey – 54-58 AD
Paul is supposed to have written both Corinthian letters in 56/57 AD while in Ephesus. Paul supposedly revisits the Corinth in 58 A.D. during his third missionary journey (Acts 20:1 – 3). He writes at least two letters to the church in Corinth in the late winter of 56 and the summer of 57. Our difficulty with harmonizing all of this is that Luke makes no specific comment of any other visit to Corinth following Paul’s departure after his first visit.
When the uproar was over, Paul sent for the believers and encouraged them. Then he said good-bye and left for Macedonia. While there, he encouraged the believers in all the towns he passed through. Then he traveled down to Greece, where he stayed for three months. He was preparing to sail back to Syria when he discovered a plot by some Jews against his life, so he decided to return through Macedonia.Acts 20:1-3
Given this account by Luke we have to assume Paul revisited Corinth when he travelled down to Greece. Macedonia was clearly distinguished from Greece (Achaia) in these times. From Acts 18 we know that Paul left Corinth to head back to Antioch, returning from his second journey. Coming back again in Acts 19.
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus, on the coast, where he found several believers.Acts 19:1
Here Luke tells us Apollos is in Corinth while Paul returned to Ephesus. It is not until Acts 19:21 that we are told Paul felt compelled to go back to Achaia (and therefore likely Corinth).
Afterward Paul felt compelled by the Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. “And after that,” he said, “I must go on to Rome!”Acts 19:21
But the question is did he go on at that time or not?
He sent his two assistants, Timothy and Erastus, ahead to Macedonia while he stayed awhile longer in the province of Asia. About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way.Acts 19:22-23
Thus Paul stayed on in Ephesus. It is not until Acts 20 that Paul has a chance to get down to Achaia and Corinth. Therefore, given the above evidence it is hard to say from Luke’s evidence that Paul actually made three visits to Corinth because Luke only definitely records two visits. In my opinion the description in 1 Corinthians 16:5-8 and 2 Corinthians 2:1 is describing the intention of a visit rather than an actual visit. Luke appears to only tell of two occasions on which Paul visited Corinth. Just saying – that’s my summation of the contact process. I suspect Paul intended to make the “painful visit” which Paul hints at, at the end of 1 Corinthians and then refers to in 2 Cor 2:1, but to my mind this verse suggest Paul decided not to go.
“So I decided that I would not bring you grief with another painful visit.”
On that basis I don’t see that there is strong evidence for a second “painful visit”, especially when Paul was delayed getting to Corinth when he felt compelled by the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:21) because of the disturbance in Ephesus. Therefore, it seems to me that the visit described in Acts 20 is actually the second visit and not the third. Yet Paul clearly states he made a third visit to Corinth. The difficulty is finding where that happened in Luke’s account.
Now that I have laid out my thoughts on the matter, which disagrees with the experts, I will leave you to pick it all apart and see what you think about the match between visits and letters as your leisure. I would be interested in your conclusions when you have made them. For me it is sits in the too hard basket in terms of harmonizing Acts with Paul’s letters to determine exactly when Paul made three visits to Corinth.
We will rejoin Paul in the next Gem.
A man’s greatest glory doesn’t consist in never falling, but rather in rising every time he falls.Ian Vail
We are more blessed when we produce than when we consume.Ian Vail
When we were at our worst God gave His best.Ian Vail
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.Marcus Tullius Cicero