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The X-Letter in 2 Corinthians (c)

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The X-Letter and 2 Corinthians 12:16-18

A particularly crucial issue is the treatment of this text in arguments for X=Lost, as represented in the now classic commentary of Prof. Furnish on 2 Corinthians. It is therefore worthwhile to offer an analysis of the text, assuming either (i) that the X-Letter is lost, or (ii) that the X-Letter is to be identified with H/10–13.

  2 Corinthians 12:16-18   16Let it be assumed that I did not burden you. Nevertheless (you say) since I was crafty, I took you in by deceit. 17Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Titus did not take advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves with the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?

(i) Assuming X=Lost

(ii) Assuming X=H/10-13

Rumors of fraud, as early as intermediate visit
Rumors of fraud, as early as intermediate visit
Composition of the X-Letter (now lost), which so far as we know does not respond to the rumors       
  Paul responds in H/10-13 (2 Cor 12:16-18), challenging them to bring forward any evidence of fraud
Composition of R/1-9; Paul denies the rumors (2 Cor 7:2)


Composition of R/1-9; to quiet any lingering rumors, Paul denies that there has been any attempt to take advantage of them (2 Cor 7:2 = part of post-reconciliation “setting the record straight” defense)
Paul sends Titus with two brothers (2 Cor 8:16-24) to revive the collection; the three person delegation will put to rest any remaining doubts about the integrity of the process Paul sends Titus with two brothers (2 Cor 8:16-24) to revive the collection; the three person delegation will put to rest any remaining doubts about the integrity of the process
  Titus’ mission is evidently successful; work on the collection is resumed
The situation in Corinth turns ugly again (or turns uglier than before); rumors and charges still persist, probably suggesting that the collection is still in trouble, that Titus’ mission has failed, and that the delegation has been ineffectual in quieting the rumors  
Paul responds again to the charges, in H/10-13 (2 Cor 12:16-18), challenging them to bring forward any evidence of fraud  
The next we hear, Paul is in Corinth, the collection is completed, Paul is writing Romans, and he is soon on his way to Jerusalem and Rome The next we hear, Paul is in Corinth, the collection is completed, Paul is writing Romans, and he is soon on his way to Jerusalem and Rome

Summary observations on the chart: If we assume (i) X=Lost, several problems emerge:


Paul delays responding to the rumors, without denying them in X=Lost;


Paul plays his trump card to no effect: the obdurate Corinthians continue in their suspicions despite the watchful eye of the auditing committee;


The success of the collection in Corinth following upon the failure of Titus to revive the collection is unconvincing; and


We would expect Paul to have asked in 2 Corinthians 12:16-18, “Did the brothers (plural instead of singular) accompanying Titus discover any evidence of fraud?”—or are we to multiply assumptions, not only that there is a second cycle of controversy, but that one of the brothers fell sick and could not make the trip with Titus?

On the other hand, if we assume (ii) X=H/10-13, there are few if any problems. Clearly then it is X=Lost that has problems with 2 Corinthians 12:16-18, not X=H/10-13. 

Contrary Indicators?

The hypothesis that the X-Letter is lost (X=Lost) would gain in credibility if X=H/10-13 might be shown to have failed. We therefore identify those points at which supporters of X=Lost have generally sought to refute X=H/10-13 (the hypothesis which identifies H/10–13 as the X-Letter).

     1. In the X-Letter, did Paul not cancel his proposed visit to Corinth? It is doubtful that he did so, as we have already tried to show (click on Next Visit ). At the conclusion of the intermediate visit, the Corinthians probably knew already that Paul had discarded the double visit plan, i.e. Corinth/ Macedonia/ Corinth/ Jerusalem, and that on his return to Ephesus the plan would be Ephesus/ Macedonia/ Corinth. Further, his purpose in writing the X-Letter was to avoid making his next visit a painful one, not the canceling of a visit. The touto auto of 2 Corinthians 2:3 is most likely referring back to the touto, to of 2:1, a verse in which he is trying to make it clear that he wished to avoid unpleasantness on his next visit.

     2. Did the X-Letter not contain a demand for the punishment of the offender? As we discussed earlier (click on Affair of the Offender), it is not clear why Paul would need to have mentioned this obligation in the letter; it would be sufficient to put in place procedures for due process, as he in fact did, in H/10–13 (2 Corinthians 13:1). There were other means besides a letter to remind them of their duty.

The disciplinary procedures announced in 2 Corinthians 13:1 have perhaps been underestimated as an authoritative gesture demanding action in the affair of the offender. What blatant offense required punishment, if not that of the offender? Who was to weigh the evidence and calibrate the punishment, if not the community? Who would administer justice as the court of last resort in case the community did not act, if not Paul—“. . . if I come again, I will not be lenient [ou pheisomai]” (2 Corinthians 13:2)? As it was, the community did take action, and Paul could be lenient!

     3. Does Paul’s boasting to Titus (2 Corinthians 7:14) not require us to believe that Titus had not previously been in Corinth? Not so. Such a claim comes into direct collision with the proenêrxato of 2 Corinthians 8:6. One might more likely conclude that, given the difficulties which Titus would be facing in Corinth, Paul was boasting about the Corinthians to give him encouragement.23 It was what Titus knew, not how he knew it, that counted. Whether or not he had previously been in Corinth is immaterial: either way, he was by no means shielded from information about the congregation and its problems.

     4. Are we not to conclude that the X-Letter was delivered by some else than Titus, so that by the time Titus arrived the Corinthians had experienced a change of heart and received him with fear and trembling (2 Corinthians 7:15)? Such an inference is possible, but the text by no means excludes Titus’ delivering and even interpreting the letter himself, and thus assisting in their change of attitude towards Paul.

     5. Does not Paul’s sending of Titus and the brother (2 Corinthians 12:16-18) refer back to a previous letter, R/1-9, in which Paul is sending Titus and the two brothers (2 Corinthians 8:16-24)? There are two problems with this proposal.
bulletIt rests on an improbable reading of 2 Corinthians 7:14, as previously noted.
bulletOur confidence in the proposed order of events is not enhanced by the fact that 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 mentions Titus and two brothers, while 2 Corinthians 12:18 refers to Titus and one brother. This inconsistency then calls for further hypotheses or assumptions, none of which is convincing, especially when we consider that both brothers are messengers, or apostoloi, of the churches, and that Paul sends both of them (2 Corinthians 8:22-23).

In the case of Titus’ visit in 12:16-18, it is probably to be identified instead with the visit he made to begin the collection in Corinth (proenêrxato, 8:6; i.e. visit #1 of 3).24 Thus it appears that 2 Corinthians 12:16-18 is quite compatible indeed with the hypothesis which identifies the X-Letter with H/10-13 (click on The X-Letter and 2 Corinthians 12:16-18 ).

Found, not Lost

One could wish for better data in deciding between the two hypotheses: X=H/10-13 (that the X-Letter is to be identified with H/10-13); and X=Lost (that the X-Letter is lost). We have only fragmentary retrospective allusions for reconstructing the X-Letter (click here). As a practical consequence, we will need to exercise caution, however we decide between these alternatives, and make the best of the data which we do have. This much can be said:

     1. We are entitled to give due weight to the common pattern of concerns which is evident between the X-Letter and H/10-13, a pattern which is not shared with Letter L (1 Corinthians) or with R/1-9. The similarities do count for something—how else would one establish or refute X=H/10-13? Windisch (93) is quite straightforward in acknowledging these similarities, even if he leaves them unaccounted for. So long as this pattern of similarities is not otherwise accounted for, the risk of redundancy between the two letters persists (click on note 10).
     2. Having reviewed claims of discrepancies between the X-Letter and H/10-13, we have concluded that these discrepancies have not been convincingly demonstrated, and hence that the weightiest arguments for X=Lost are refuted. In particular:
bulletIt is doubtful whether the X-Letter mentioned the cancellation of a visit. Instead, Paul in the X-Letter was preparing for his next visit, to ensure that it was joyful and not painful. In any case, the Corinthians probably already knew that he would not make the double visit.
bulletIt is also doubtful that the offender was mentioned in the X-Letter, much less that the letter contained an explicit demand for his punishment.

     3. The claim that 2 Corinthians 12:16-18 is a retrospective reference to the sending of Titus in 8:16-24 is shown to be possible, but to be no more plausible than the alternative, which is to read 12:16-18 as a reference to Titus’ beginning work on the collection (his first visit) as mentioned in 8:6.25  

     4. Having placed the controversy letter after the resolution letter, the proponents of X=Lost are dependent upon speculative explanations for the controversial tone of H/10-13: was it mis-reporting by Titus, or the over-optimism of Paul, or a recent flare-up of controversy?26

     5. On the other hand, the case for X=H/10-13 is supported not only by the impressive match between the X-Letter and H/10-13, but by the coherent scenario which it provides of Paul’s sometimes troubled relationships with Corinth during the last months of his apostolic labors, especially in that:

bulletThe scenario offers a plausible explanation for Paul’s changes of travel plans, notably in the reasons for making the intermediate visit, and thus relieves him of the suspicion of acting arbitrarily or capriciously; and
bulletIt brings the Jerusalem collection to completion on the heels of Titus’ renewal of work on the collection in Corinth, in the company of the two brothers, instead of the completion of the collection following in the wake of their failed work on the collection.

In brief, with a good match between the X-Letter and H/10–13, with freedom from discrepancies between them, and with a credible scenario for X=H/10–13, it seems unnecessary to resort to the hypothesis that the X-Letter is lost. We conclude that a substantial part of the X-Letter is to be found in the Harsh Letter of 2 Corinthians 10–13.

  23There is evidence of quite a bit of boasting going on: boasting to Titus about Corinth, to Corinth about Macedonia, to Macedonia about Corinth, not to mention his boasting about himself. His confidence in Corinth (at precisely the time he was boasting to Titus and dispatching the X-Letter in his care) is clear from 2 Corinthians 2:3, “And I wrote as I did [kai egrapsa touto auto], so that when I came, I might not suffer pain [hina m] from those who should have made me rejoice; for I am confident about all of you [pepoithôs epi pantas humas], that my joy would be the joy of all of you.”
  24There is a certain symmetry in Paul’s appointing the one who initiated the collection to bring it to completion, epitelesêi (8:6).
  25We might wish that Paul had taken the trouble to mention Titus’ companion on this first visit, but it is questionable to build too much upon his silence here. By the same token, the mention of two companions of Titus in 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 surely counts against declaring the X-Letter lost.
  26It is also conjectural to declare that a letter has been lost. We wonder that Windisch (93) is prepared to accept the idea of a lost letter in preference to the hypothesis of a lost part of a letter, i.e. the hypothesis offered by certain proponents of X=H/10-13 that the part of the Harsh Letter which referred specifically to the offender was excised or is lost (“Damit erledigt sich auch die Auskunft, dass der Teil des Briefs, auf den P. in K. 2 und 7 anspiele, verloren gegangen sei (Hausr[ath]., Schm[iedel], u. a.). Ergebnis: der Zwbrf. [i.e. the X-Letter] ist ohne Zweifel verloren gegangen.”). The rejection of a lost part of a letter seems somewhat odd, since ex hypothesi those who adopt the notion that we have two letter fragments in 2 Corinthians acknowledge that H/10–13 is already diminished by the excision of its letter opening lines. Therefore one wonders why a lost letter is less conjectural than a lost part of a letter.


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