After Paul wrote his 1 Corinthians we don’t know exactly what happened. In Paul: A Critical Life, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor helpfully tabulated the clues we have to go on from passages in 2 Corinthians:
(1) A single Christian (2:6, 7:12) made a serious attack (2:1, 3, 4) on Paul personally (2:5, 10); (2) the members of the church did not manifest the personal loyalty and enthusiasm Paul had expected (7:12). They were sufficiently at fault to experience the need for repentance (7:9). Yet they managed to convince Titus of their innocence in the matter (7:11). (p. 293)
I am not going to go into the array of issues with interpreting 2 Corinthians. I will just give you an idea of what Murphy-O’Connor thought about the opponents Paul faced in Corinth.
Many interpreters see the man who offended Paul as a member of the community at Corinth. But it may make more sense to see him as an intruder. The objection that the community would not have had the authority to discipline and outsider goes away if we think in terms of withholding hospitality, perhaps the reverse of the situation in 3 John 10.
For Murphy-O’Connor he must have been sent by the church at Antioch. Remember that Murphy-O’Connor thought the church there had sent Judaizing missionaries to undermine Paul’s communities at Galatia and Philippi. The church at Antioch had originally commissioned Paul, but he had declared his independence. The church did not just let him go. It considered his congregations under their authority still. So the church sent people to warn Paul’s churches that he had gone rogue.
Remember also that Murphy-O’Connor thought there was already opposition to Paul among a group of “spirit-people” at Corinth. These were converts of Apollos who had gotten from him a world view similar to that of Philo of Alexandria, the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher. Paul had been very sarcastic in his critique of the spirit-people in 1 Corinthians. Murphy-O’Connor thought this had further alienated them from Paul.
Timothy had delivered 1 Corinthians and had a mission to Philippi as well (Philippians 2:19) At some point, when Timothy was representing Paul at Corinth, they treated him badly. Paul made a surprise visit, a very unpleasant visit to Corinth. It was then he was insulted by the intruder.
Paul soon wrote the lost letter described in 2 Corinthians 2:4. It called for shunning the intruder from Antioch.
He sent it by Titus. Murphy-O’Connor thought Titus, having been at the Jerusalem conference, was chosen by Paul to set the Antioch Judaizer straight.
Paul gives the impression that he moved to Troas to anxiously await word of the Titus mission. However, Murphy-O’Connor sees in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 and the indications from Acts 18:23 ff. that Paul left Ephesus under duress.
He opened a new mission at Troas, but because he had not heard from Titus, he traveled on to Philippi and beyond. Perhaps he finally met Titus at Thessalonca.
Paul got good news from Titus. The Corinthians as dealt with the intruder. Murphy-O’Connor thought that this meant that Paul had misunderstood the situation at Corinth in the first place. The intruder had been disciplined. His Judaizing message had never had much appeal in Corinth.
So Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 1-9. It had two objectives. First, Paul meant to drive a wedge between the Judaizers and the spirit-people. Second, he meant to undo the alienation of the spirit-people and bring them back to his side.
But the Antioch party did not give up. Having failed to bring Corinth over to their side, Antioch sent “super apostles” (Paul’s sarcasm in 2 Corinthians 11:5) to just go negative on Paul. They appealed to the spirit-people’s valuation of spiritual gifts to attack Paul as someone who did not have those gifts. Also they seem to have accused Paul of misappropriating the money he was raising for the Jerusalem collection. 2 Corinthians 10-12 is Paul’s letter of response.
With this point of view Murphy-O’Connor was able to give a vivid portrayal of Paul’s relations with the Corinthians. I appreciate that. I don’t agree with his reconstruction of who Paul’s opponents were. But for now, I will just point out that a shortage of information leaves us with several possible scenarios. Murphy-O’Connor has made educated (very educated!) guesses about this and given us a valuable point of view.
But it is all very tenuous.