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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 11

 

 

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Verse 1

1.Would that ye did bear with me. As he saw that the ears of the Corinthians were still in part pre-engaged, (793) he has recourse to another contrivance, for he turns to express a wish, as persons do when they do not venture openly to entreat. (794) Immediately afterwards, however, as if gathering confidence, he nevertheless entreats the Corinthians to bear with hisfolly. He gives the name of folly to that splendid proclamation of his praises, which afterwards follows. Not as if he were a fool in glorying; for he was constrained to it by necessity, and besides, he restrained himself in such a manner, that no one could justly regard him as going beyond bounds; but as it is an unseemly thing to herald one’s own praises, and a thing that is foreign to the inclinations of a modest man, he speaks by way of concession.

What I have rendered in the imperative — bear with me, Chrysostom interprets as an affirmation, and certainly the Greek word is ambiguous, and either sense suits sufficiently well. As, however, the reasons that the Apostle subjoins are designed to induce the Corinthians to bear with him, and as we will find him afterwards expostulating with them again on the ground of their not conceding anything to him, I have followed the Old Interpreter. (795) By saying, Would that, etc., he had seemed to be distrustful; now, as if correcting that hesitation, he openly and freely commands.


Verse 2

2.For I am jealous Mark why it is that he acts the fool, for jealousy hurries a man as it were headlong. “Do not demand that I should show the equable temper (796) of a man that is at ease, and not excited by any emotion, for that vehemence of vehemence of jealousy, with which I am inflamed towards you, does not suffer me to be at ease.” As, however, there are two kinds of jealousy — the one springs from self love, and of a wicked and perverse nature, while the other is cherished by us on God’s account, (797) he intimates of what sort his zeal is. For many are zealous — for themselves, not for God. That on the other hand, is the only pious and right zeal, that has an eye to God, that he may not be defrauded of the honors that of right belong to him.

For I have united you to one man. That his zeal was of such a nature, he proves from the design of his preaching, for its tendency was to join them to Christ in marriage, and retain them in connection with him. (798) Here, however, he gives us in his own person a lively picture of a good minister; for One alone is the Bridegroom of the Church — the Son of God. All ministers are the friends of the Bridegroom, as the Baptist declares respecting himself. (John 3:29.) Hence all ought to be concerned, that the fidelity of this sacred marriage remain unimpaired and inviolable. This they cannot do, unless they are actuated by the dispositions of the Bridegroom, so that every one of them may be as much concerned for the purity of the Church, as a husband is for the chastity of his wife. Away then with coldness and indolence in this matter, for one that is cold (799) will never be qualified for this office. Let them, however, in the mean time, take care, not to pursue their own interest rather than that of Christ, that they may not intrude themselves into his place, lest while they give themselves out as his paranymphs, (800) they turn out to be in reality adulterers, by alluring the bride to love themselves.

To present you as a chaste virgin. We are married to Christ, on no other condition than that we bring virginity as our dowry, and preserve it entire, so as to be free from all corruption. Hence it is the duty of ministers of the gospel to purify our souls, that they may be chaste virgins to Christ; otherwise they accomplish nothing. Now we may understand it as meaning, that they individually present themselves aschaste virgins to Christ, or that the minister presents the whole of the people, and brings them forward into Christ’s presence. I approve rather of the second interpretation. Hence I have given a different rendering from Erasmus. (801)


Verse 3

3.But I fear He begins to explain, what is the nature of that virginity of which he has made mention — our cleaving to Christ alone, sincerely, with our whole heart. God, indeed, everywhere requires from us, that we be joined with him in body and in spirit, and he warns us that he is a jealous God, (Exodus 20:5,) to avenge with the utmost severity the wrong done to him, in the event of any one’s drawing back from him. This connection, however, is accomplished in Christ, as Paul teaches in Ephesians, (Ephesians 5:25.) He points out, however, at present the means of it — when we remain in the pure simplicity of the gospel, for, as in contracting marriages among men, there are written contracts (802) drawn out, so the spiritual connection between us and the Son of God is confirmed by the gospel, as a kind of written contract. (803) Let us maintain the fidelity, love, and obedience, that have been there promised by us; he will be faithful to us on his part.

Now Paul says that he is concerned, that the minds of the Corinthians may not be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ Paul, it is true, says in Greek εἰς Χριστόν , which Erasmus renders towards Christ, (804) but the Old Interpreter has come nearer, in my opinion, to Paul’s intention, (805) because by the simplicity that is in Christ is meant, that which keeps us in the unadulterated and pure doctrine of the gospel, and admits of no foreign admixtures (806) By this he intimates that men’s minds are adulterated, (807) whenever they turn aside, even in the least degree, to the one side or to the other, from the pure doctrine of Christ. Nor is it without good reason, for who would not condemn a matron as guilty of unchastity, so soon as she lends an ear to a seducer? So in like manner we, when we admit wicked and false teachers, who are Satan’s vile agents, show but too clearly, that we do not maintain conjugal fidelity towards Christ. We must also take notice of the term simplicity, for Paul’s fear was not, lest the Corinthians should all at once openly draw back altogether from Christ, but lest, by turning aside, by little and little, from the simplicity which they had learned, so as to go after profane and foreign contrivances, they should at length become adulterated.

He brings forward a comparison as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty For if false teachers have a show of wisdom, if they have any power of eloquence for persuading, if they plausibly insinuate themselves into the minds of their hearers, and instill their poison by fawning artifices, it was in a similar way that Satan also beguiled Eve, as he did not openly declare himself to be an enemy, but crept in privily under a specious pretext.


Verse 4

4.For if he that cometh. He now reproves the Corinthians for the excessive readiness, which they showed to receive the false apostles. For while they were towards Paul himself excessively morose and irritable, (808) so that on any, even the least occasion, they were offended if he gave them even the slightest reproof, there was, on the other hand, nothing that they did not bear with, on the part of the false Apostles. They willingly endured their pride, haughtiness, and unreasonableness. An absurd reverence of this nature he condemns, because in the mean time they showed no discrimination or judgment. “How is it that they take (809) so much liberty with you, and you submit patiently to their control? Had they brought you another Christ, or another gospel, or another Spirit, different from what you received through my hands, I would assuredly approve of your regard for them, for they would be deserving of such honor. But as they have conferred upon you nothing, that I had not given you previously, what sort of gratitude do you show in all but adoring those, to whom you are indebted for nothing, while you despise me, through whom God has bestowed upon you so many and so distinguished benefits?” Such is the reverence that is shown even at this day by Papists towards their pretended Bishops. For while they are oppressed by their excessively harsh tyranny, (810) they submit to it without difficulty; but, at the same time, do not hesitate to treat Christ himself with contempt. (811)

The expressions — another Christ, and another gospel, are made use of here in a different sense from what they bear in Galatians 1:8. For another is used there in opposition to what is true and genuine, and hence it means false and counterfeit. Here, on the other hand, he means to say — “If the gospel had come to you through their ministry, and not through mine.”


Verse 5

5.For I reckon that I am. He now convicts them of ingratitude, by removing the only thing that could serve as an excuse for them, for he shows that he is on a level, even with the chief of the Apostles. The Corinthians, therefore, were ungrateful (812) in not esteeming him more highly, after having found him, by experience, to be such; while, on the other hand, the authority that was justly due to him, they transferred to persons of no value. For the sake of modesty, however, he says that he reckons so, while the thing was known and manifest to all. His meaning, however, is, that God had honored his Apostleship with no less distinguished marks of favor, than that of John or Peter. Now the man that despises the gifts of God, which he himself recognizes, cannot clear himself from the charge of being spiteful and ungrateful. Hence, wherever you see the gifts of God, you must there reverence God himself: (813) I mean, that every one is worthy of honor, in so far as he is distinguished by graces received from God, and especially if any advantage has redounded to thee from them.


Verse 6

6.But though I am rude There was one thing (814) in which he might appear, at first view, to be inferior — that he was devoid of eloquence. This judgment, (815) therefore, he anticipates and corrects, while he acknowledges himself, indeed, to be rude and unpolished in speech, while at the same time he maintains that he has knowledge By speech here he means, elegance of expression; and by knowledge he means, the very substance of doctrine. For as man has both a soul and a body, so also in doctrine, there is the thing itself that is taught, and the ornament of expression with which it is clothed. Paul, therefore, maintains that he understands, what should be taught, and what is necessary to be known, though he is not an eloquent orator, so as to know how to set off his doctrine by a polished and eloquent manner of expression.

It is asked, however, whether elegance of speech (816) is not also necessary for Apostles; for how will they otherwise be prepared for teaching? Knowledge might perhaps suffice for others, but how could a teacher be dumb? I answer, that, while Paul acknowledges himself to be rude in speech, it is not as though he were a mere infant, but as meaning, that he was not distinguished by such splendid eloquence as others, to whom he yields the palm as to this, retaining for himself what was the principal thing — the reality itself, (817) while he leaves them talkativeness without gravity. If, however, any one should inquire, why it is that the Lord, who made men’s tongues, (Exodus 4:11,) did not also endow so eminent an apostle with eloquence, that nothing might be wanting to him, I answer, that he was furnished with a sufficiency for supplying the want of eloquence. For we see and feel, what majesty there is in his writings, what elevation appears in them, what a weight of meaning is couched under them, what power is discovered in them. In fine, they are thunderbolts, not mere words. Does not the efficacy of the Spirit appear more clearly in a naked rusticity of words, (so to speak,) than under the disguise of elegance and ornament? Of this matter, however, we have treated more largely in the former Epistle. (818) In short, he admits, as far as words are concerned, what his adversaries allege by way of objection, while he denies in reality what they hold forth. Let us also learn, from his example, to prefer deeds to words, and, to use a barbarous but common proverb — “Teneant alii quid nominis, nos autem quid rei ;” — “Let others know something of the name, but let us know something of the reality. (819) If eloquence is superadded, let it be regarded by us as something over and above; and farther, let it not be made use of for disguising doctrine, or adulterating it, but for unfolding it in its genuine simplicity.

But everywhere. As there was something magnificent in placing himself on a level with the chief Apostles, that this may not be ascribed to arrogance, he makes the Corinthians judges, provided they judge from what they have themselves experienced; for they had known sufficiently well, from many proofs, that he did not boast needlessly, or without good reason. He means, therefore, that he needs not make use of words, inasmuch as reality and experience afford clear evidence of every thing that he was about to say (820)


Verse 7

7.Have I committed an offense? His humility was cast up to him by way of reproach, while it was an excellence that was deserving of no ordinary commendation. Humility here means — voluntary abasement; for in conducting himself modestly, as if he had nothing in him that was particularly excellent, so that many looked upon him as one of the common people, he had done that for the advantage of the Corinthians. For the man was inflamed with so great a desire, (823) and so great an anxiety for their salvation, that he made a regard to himself a secondary consideration. Hence he says, that he had of his own accord made a surrender of his own greatness, that they might become great through his abasement. For his design was, that he might promote their salvation. He now indirectly charges them with ingratitude, in imputing to him as a fault so pious a disposition — not indeed for the purpose of reproaching him, but with the view of restoring them so much the better to a sound mind. And certainly, he wounded them more severely by speaking ironically, than if he had spoken in a simple way, and without a figure. He might have said, “What is this? Am I despised by you, because I have lowered myself for your advantage?” The questioning, however, which he makes use of, was more forcible for putting them to shame.

Because I preached freely This is a part of his abasement. For he had given up his own right, as though his condition had been inferior to that of others; but such was the unreasonableness of some of them, that they esteemed him the less on that account, as if he had been undeserving of remuneration. The reason, why he had given his services to the Corinthians gratuitously, is immediately subjoined — for he did not act in this manner everywhere, but, as we have seen in the former Epistle, (824) there was a danger of his furnishing the false Apostles with a handle against him.


Verse 8

8.I robbed other churches He has intentionally, in my opinion, made use of an offensive term, that he might the more forcibly express the unreasonableness of the matter — in respect of his being despised by the Corinthians. “I have,” says he, “procured pay for myself from the spoils of others, that I might serve you. While I have thus spared you, how unreasonable it is to make me so poor a return!” It is, however, a metaphor, that is taken from what is customary among soldiers; for as conquerors take spoils from the nations that they have conquered, so every thing that Paul took from the Churches that he had gained to Christ was, in a manner, the spoils of his victories, though, at the same time, he never would have taken it from persons against their will, but what they contributed gratuitously was, in a manner, due by right of spiritual warfare. (825)


Verse 9

Observe, however, that he says that he had been in want, for he would never have been a burden to them, had he not been constrained by necessity. He, nevertheless, in the mean time, labored with his hands, as we have seen before, (1 Corinthians 4:12,) but, as the labor of his hands was not sufficient for sustaining life, something additional was contributed by the Macedonians. Accordingly he does not say, that his living had been furnished to him by the Macedonians, (826) but merely that they had supplied what was wanting. We have spoken elsewhere of the Apostle’s holy prudence and diligence in providing against dangers. Here we must take notice of the pious zeal of the Macedonians, who did not hesitate to contribute of their substance for his pay, that the gospel might be proclaimed to others, and those, too, that were wealthier than themselves. Ah! how few Macedonians are there in the present day, and on the other hand how many Corinthians you may find everywhere!


Verse 10

10.The truth of Christ is in me. Lest any one should suspect, that Paul’s words were designed to induce the Corinthians to be more liberal to him in future, and endeavor to make amends for their error in the past, he affirms with an oath, that he would take nothing from them, or from others in Achaia, though it were offered to him. For this manner of expression — the truth of Christ is in me, is in the form of oath. Let me not be thought to have the truth of Christ in me if I do not retain this glorying among the inhabitants of Achaia. Now Corinth was in Achaia. (827)


Verse 11

11.Is it because I love you not? Those that we love, we treat with greater familiarity. Lest the Corinthians, therefore, should take it amiss, that he refused their liberality, while he allowed himself to be assisted by the Macedonians, and even declared with an oath that he would do so still, he anticipates that suspicion also. And by the figure termed anthypophora, (828) he asks, as it were in their name, whether this is a token of a malevolent mind? He does not return a direct answer to the question, but the indirect answer that he returns has much more weight, inasmuch as he calls God to be a witness of his good disposition towards them. You see here, that in the course of three verses (829) there are two oaths, but they are lawful and holy, because they have a good design in view, and a legitimate reason is involved. Hence to condemn indiscriminately all oaths is to act the part of fanatics, who make no distinction between white and black. (830)


Verse 12

12.But what I do. He again explains the reason of his intention. (831) The false Apostles, with the view of alluring to themselves ignorant persons, took no pay. Their serving gratuitously was a show of uncommon zeal. (832) If Paul had availed himself of his right, he would have given them occasion to raise their crest, as if they had been greatly superior to him. Paul, accordingly, that he might give them no occasion of doing injury, did himself, also, preach the Gospel, free of charge, and this is what he adds — that he is desirous to cut off occasion from those that desire occasion For the false Apostles were desirous to insinuate themselves by this artifice, and to detract, in proportion to this, from Paul’s credit, if they were superior to him in any respect. He says, that he will not give them this advantage. “They will be found,” says he, “on a level with us in that glorying which they would wish to have for themselves exclusively.” This, however, is a useful admonition in connection with cutting off occasion from the wicked, as often as they desire one. For this is the only way to overcome them — not in the way of furnishing them with arms through our imprudence. (833)


Verse 13

13.For such are false Apostles While he has already taken away from them what they chiefly desired, yet, not contented with having put himself on a level with them with respect to that in which they were desirous to excel, he leaves them nothing for which they deserve any commendation. It was apparently a laudable thing to despise money, but he says, that they make use of a pretense for the purpose of deceiving, exactly as if a harlot were to borrow the apparel of a decent matron. For it was necessary to pull off the mask, which obscured the glory of God.

They are deceitful workers, says he, that is — they do not discover their wickedness at first view, but artfully insinuate themselves under some fair pretext. (834) Hence they require to be carefully and thoroughly sifted, lest we should receive persons as servants of Christ, as soon as any appearance of excellence is discovered. Nor does Paul in malice and envy put an unfavorable construction upon what might be looked upon as an excellence, but, constrained by their dishonesty, he unfolds to view the evil that lay hid, because there was a dangerous profanation of virtue in pretending to burn with greater zeal than all the servants of Christ.


Verse 14

14.And no marvel It is an argument from the greater to the less. “If Satan, who is the basest of all beings, nay, the head and chief of all wicked persons, transforms himself, what will his ministers do?We have experience of both every day, for when Satan tempts us to evil, he does not profess to be what he really is. For he would lose his object, if we were made aware of his being a mortal enemy, and opposer of our salvation. Hence he always makes use of some cloak for the purpose of insnaring us, and does not immediately show his horns, (as the common expression is,) but rather makes it his endeavor to appear as anangel Even when he tempts us to gross crimes, he makes use, nevertheless, of some pretext that he may draw us, when we are off our guard, into his nets. What then, if he attacks us under the appearance of good, nay, under the very title of God? His life-guards imitate, as I have said, the same artifice. These are golden preambles — “Vicar of Christ” — “Successor of Peter” — “Servant of God’s servants,” but let the masks be pulled off, and who and what will the Pope be discovered to be? Scarcely will Satan himself, his master, surpass so accomplished a scholar in any kind of abomination. It is a well known saying as to Babylon, that she gives poison to drink in a golden cup. (Jeremiah 51:7.) Hence we must be on our guard against masks.

Should any one now ask, “Shall we then regard all with suspicion?” I answer, that the Apostle did not by any means intend this; for there are marks of discrimination, which it were the part of stupidity, not of prudence, to overlook. He was simply desirous to arouse our attention, that we may not straightway judge of the lion from the skin (835) For if we are not hasty in forming a judgment, the Lord will order it so that the ears of the animal will be discovered ere long. Farther, he was desirous in like manner to admonish us, in forming an estimate of Christ’s servants, not to regard masks, but to seek after what is of more importance. Ministers of righteousness is a Hebraism for faithful and upright persons. (836)


Verse 15

15.Whose end shall be. He adds this for the consolation of the pious. For it is the statement of a courageous man, who despises the foolish judgments of men, and patiently waits for the day of the Lord. In the mean time, he shows a singular boldness of conscience, which does not dread the judgment of God.


Verse 16

16.I say again The Apostle has a twofold design. He has it partly in view to expose the disgusting vanity of the false Apostles, inasmuch as they were such extravagant trumpeters of their own praises; and farther, to expostulate with the Corinthians, because they shut him up to the necessity of glorying, contrary to the inclinations of his own mind. “I say again,” says he. For he had abundantly shown previously, that there was no reason, why he should be despised. He had also shown at the same time, that he was very unlike others, and therefore ought not to have his grounds of glorying estimated according to the rule of their measure. Thus he again shows, for what purpose he had hitherto gloried — that he might clear his apostleship from contempt; for if the Corinthians had done their duty, he would not have said one word as to this matter.

Otherwise now as a fool “If I am reckoned by you a fool, allow me at least to make use of my right and liberty — that is, to speak foolishly after the manner of fools.” Thus he reproves the false Apostles, who, while they were exceedingly silly in this respect,were not merely borne with by the Corinthians, but were received with great applause. He afterwards explains what kind of folly it is — the publishing of his own praises. While they did so without end and without measure, he intimates that it was a thing to which he was unaccustomed; for he says, for a little while For I take this clause as referring to time, so that the meaning is, that Paul did not wish to continue it long, but assumed, as it were, for the moment, the person of another, and immediately thereafter laid it aside, as we are accustomed to pass over lightly those things that are foreign to our object, while fools occupy themselves constantly ( ἐν παρέργοις) (837) in matters of inferior moment.


Verse 17

17.What I speak, I speak not after the Lord His disposition, it is true, had an eye to God, but the outward appearance (838) might seem unsuitable to a servant of the Lord. At the same time, the things that Paul confesses respecting himself, he, on the other hand, condemns in the false Apostles. (839) For it was not his intention to praise himself, but simply to contrast himself with them, with the view of humbling them. (840) Hence he transfers to his own person what belonged to them, that he may thus open the eyes of the Corinthians. What I have rendered boldness, is in the Greek ὑπόστασις , as to the meaning of which term we have spoken in the ninth chapter. (2 Corinthians 9:4.) Subject-matter (841) or substance, unquestionably, would not be at all suitable here. (842)


Verse 18

18.Since many glory. The meaning is — Should any one say to me, by way of objection, that what I do is faulty, what then as to others? Are not they my leaders? Am I alone, or am I the first, in glorying according to the flesh? Why should that be reckoned praiseworthy in them, that is imputed to me as a fault?” So far then is Paul from ambition in recounting his own praises, that he is contented to be blamed on that account, provided he exposes the vanity of the false apostles.

To glory after the flesh, is to boast one’s self, rather in what has a tendency towards show, than in a good conscience. For the term flesh, here, has a reference to the world — when we seek after praise from outward masks, which have a showy appearance before the world, and are regarded as excellent. In place of this term he had a little before made use of the expression — in appearance. (2 Corinthians 10:7.)


Verse 19

19.For ye bear with fools willingly. He calls them wise — in my opinion, ironically. He was despised by them, which could not have been, had they not been puffed up with the greatest arrogance (843) He says, therefore — “Since you are so wise, act the part of wise men in bearing with me, whom you treat with contempt, as you would a fool.” Hence I infer, that this discourse is not addressed to all indiscriminately, but some particular persons are reproved, who conducted themselves in an unkind manner. (844)


Verse 20

20.For ye bear with it, if any one. There are three ways in which this may be understood. He may be understood as reproving the Corinthians in irony, because they could not endure any thing, as is usually the case with effeminate persons; or he charges them with indolence, because they had given themselves up to the false Apostles in a disgraceful bondage; or he repeats, as it were, in the person of another, what was spitefully affirmed respecting himself, (845) as if he claimed for himself a tyrannical authority over them. The second meaning is approved by Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Augustine, and hence it is commonly received; and, indeed, it corresponds best with the context, although the third is not less in accordance with my views. For we see, how he was calumniated from time to time by the malevolent, as if he domineered tyrannically, while he was very far from doing so. As, however, the other meaning is more generally received, I have no objection, that it should be held as the true one.

Now this statement will correspond with the preceding one in this way: “You bear with every thing from others, if they oppress you, if they demand what belongs to you, if they treat you disdainfully. Why then will you not bear with me, as they are in no respect superior to me?” For as to his saying that he is not weak, he means that he had been endowed by God with such excellent graces, that he ought not to be looked upon as of the common order. For the word weak has a more extensive signification, as we shall see again ere long.

It has been the invariable custom, and will be so to the end, to resist contumaciously (846) the servants of God, to get enraged on the least occasion, (847) to grumble and murmur incessantly, to complain of even a moderate strictness, (848) to hold all discipline in abhorrence; while, on the other hand, they put themselves under servile subjection to false apostles, impostors, or mere worthless pretenders, give them liberty to do any thing whatever, and patiently submit to and endure, whatever burden they may choose to impose upon them. Thus, at the present day, you will scarcely find one in thirty, who will put his neck willingly under Christ’s yoke, while all have endured with patience a tyranny so severe as that of the Pope. Those very persons are all at once in an uproar, (849) in opposition to the fatherly and truly salutary reproofs of their pastors, who, on the other hand, had formerly swallowed down quietly every kind of insult, even the most atrocious, from the monks. (850) Are not those worthy of Antichrist’s torturing rack, rather than of Christ’s mild sway, who have ears so tender and backward to listen to the truth? But thus it has been from the beginning.


Verse 21

21.Nay, in whatsoever. Paul had asked, why the Corinthians showed more respect to others than to him, while he had not been by any means weak, that is, contemptible. He now confirms this, because, if a comparison had been entered upon, he would not have been inferior to any one in any department of honor.


Verse 22

22.He now, by enumerating particular instances, lets them see more distinctly, that he would not by any means be found inferior, if matters came to a contest. And in the first place, he makes mention of the glory of his descent, of which his rivals chiefly vaunted. “If,” says he, “they boast of illustrious descent, I shall be on a level with them, for I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham.” This is a silly and empty boast, and yet Paul makes use of three terms to express it; nay more, he specifies, as it were, three different marks of excellence. By this repetition, in my opinion, he indirectly reproves their folly, inasmuch as they placed the sum-total (852) of their excellence in a thing that was so trivial, (853) and this boasting was incessantly in their mouth, so as to be absolutely disgusting, as vain men are accustomed to pour forth empty bravadoes as to a mere nothing.

As to the term Hebrews, it appears from Genesis 11:15, that it denotes descent, and is derived from Heber; and farther, it is probable, that Abraham himself is so called in Genesis 14:13, in no other sense than this — that he was descended from that ancestor. (854) Not altogether without some appearance of truth is the conjecture of those, who explain the term to mean those dwelling beyond the river. (855) We do not read, it is true, that any one was called so before Abraham, who had passed over the river, when he quitted his native country, and afterwards the appellation came to be a customary one among his posterity, as appears from the history of Joseph. The termination, however, shows that it is expressive of descent, and the passage, that I have quoted, abundantly confirms it. (856)


Verse 23

23.Are they ministers of Christ? Now when he is treating of matters truly praiseworthy, he is no longer satisfied with being on an equality with them, but exalts himself above them. For their carnal glories he has previously been scattering like smoke by a breath of wind, (857) by placing in opposition to them those which he had of a similar kind; but as they had nothing of solid worth, he on good grounds separates himself from their society, when he has occasion to glory in good earnest. For to be a servant of Christ is a thing that is much more honorable and illustrious, than to be the first-born among all the first-born of Abraham’s posterity. Again, however, with the view of providing against calumnies, he premises that he speaks as a fool “Imagine this,” says he, “to be foolish boasting: it is, nevertheless, true.”

In labors. By these things he proves that he is a more eminent servant of Christ, and then truly we have a proof that may be relied upon, when deeds instead of words are brought forward. He uses the term labors here in the plural number, and afterwards labor What difference there is between the former and the latter I do not see, unless perhaps it be, that he speaks here in a more general way, including those things that he afterwards enumerates in detail. In the same way we may also understand the term deaths to mean any kind of perils that in a manner threatened present death, instances of which he afterwards specifies. “I have given proof of myself in deaths often, in labors oftener still.” He had made use of the term deaths in the same sense in the first chapter. (2 Corinthians 1:10.)


Verse 24

24.From the Jews. It is certain that the Jews had at that time been deprived of jurisdiction, but as this was a kind of moderate punishment (as they termed it) it is probable that it was allowed them. Now the law of God was to this effect, that those who did not deserve capital punishment should be beaten in the presence of a judge, (Deuteronomy 25:2,) provided not more than forty stripes were inflicted, lest the body should be disfigured or mutilated by cruelty. Now it is probable, that in process of time it became customary to stop at the thirty-ninth lash, (858) lest perhaps they should on any occasion, from undue warmth, exceed the number prescribed by God. Many such precautions, (859) prescribed by the Rabbins, (860) are to be found among the Jews, which make some restriction upon the permission that the Lord had given. Hence, perhaps, in process of time, (as things generally deteriorate,) they came to think, that all criminals should be beaten with stripes to that number, though the Lord did not prescribe, how far severity should go, but where it was to stop; unless perhaps you prefer to receive what is stated by others, that they exercised greater cruelty upon Paul. This is not at all improbable, for if they had been accustomed ordinarily to practice this severity upon all, he might have said that he was beaten according to custom. Hence the statement of the number is expressive of extreme severity.


Verse 25

25.Thrice was I beaten with rods Hence it appears, that the Apostle suffered many things, of which no mention is made by Luke; for he makes mention of only one stoning, (861) one scourging, and one shipwreck. We have not, however, a complete narrative, nor is there mention made in it of every particular that occurred, but only of the principal things.


Verse 26

By perils from the nation he means those that befell him from his own nation, in consequence of the hatred, that was kindled against him among all the Jews. On the other hand, he had the Gentiles as his adversaries; and in the third place snares were laid for him by false brethren. Thus it happened, that

for Christ’s name’s sake he was hated by all.
(
Matthew 10:22.)


Verse 27

By fastings I understand those that are voluntary, as he has spoken previously of hunger and want. Such were the tokens by which he showed himself, and on good grounds, to be an eminent servant of Christ. For how may we better distinguish Christ’s servants than by proofs so numerous, so various, and so important? On the other hand, while those effeminate boasters (862) had done nothing for Christ, and had suffered nothing for him, they, nevertheless, impudently vaunted.

It is asked, however, whether any one can be a servant of Christ, that has not been tried with so many evils, perils, and vexations? I answer, that all these things are not indispensably requisite on the part of all; (863) but where these things are seen, there is, undoubtedly, a greater and more illustrious testimony afforded. That man, therefore, who will be signalized by so many marks of distinction, will not despise those that are less illustrious, and less thoroughly tried, nor will he on that account be elated with pride; but still, whenever there is occasion for it, he will be prepared, after Paul’s example, to exult with a holy triumph, in opposition to pretenders (864) and worthless persons, provided he has an eye to Christ, not to himself — for nothing but pride or ambition could corrupt and tarnish all these praises. For the main thing is — that we serve Christ with a pure conscience. All other things are, as it were, additional.


Verse 28

28.Besides those things that are without Besides those things, ” says he, “which come upon me from all sides, and are as it were extraordinary, what estimate must be formed of that ordinary burden that constantly presses upon me — the care that I have of all the Churches.” The care of all the Churches he appropriately calls his ordinary burden. For I have taken the liberty of rendering ἐπισύστασιν in this way, as it sometimes means — whatever presses upon us. (865)

Whoever is concerned in good earnest as to the Church of God, stirs up himself and bears a heavy burden, which presses upon his shoulders. What a picture we have here of a complete minister, embracing in his anxieties and aims not one Church merely, or ten, or thirty, but all of them together, so that he instructs some, confirms others, exhorts others, gives counsel to some, and applies a remedy to the diseases of others! Now from Paul’s words we may infer, that no one can have a heartfelt concern for the Churches, without being harassed with many difficulties; for the government of the Church is no pleasant occupation, in which we may exercise ourselves agreeably and with delight of heart, (866) but a hard and severe warfare, as has been previously mentioned, (2 Corinthians 10:4,) — Satan from time to time giving us as much trouble as he can, and leaving no stone unturned to annoy us.


Verse 29

29.Who is weak. How many there are that allow all offenses to pass by unheeded — who either despise the infirmities of brethren, or trample them under foot! This, however, arises from their having no concern for the Church. For concern, undoubtedly, produces συμπάθειαν (sympathy,) (867) which leads the Minister of Christ to participate in the feelings of all, (868) and put himself in the place of all, that he may suit himself to all.


Verse 30

30.If he must glory. Here we have the conclusion, drawn from all that has gone before — that Paul is more inclined to boast of those things that are connected with his infirmity, that is, those things which might, in the view of the world, bring him contempt, rather than glory, as, for example, hunger, thirst, imprisonments, stonings, stripes, and the like — those things, in truth, that we are usually as much ashamed of, as of things that incur great dishonor. (869)


Verse 31

31.The God and Father As he was about to relate a singular feat, (870) which, at the same time, was not well known, he confirms it by making use of an oath. Observe, however, what is the form of a pious oath, (871) — when, for the purpose of declaring the truth, we reverently call God as our witness. Now this persecution was, as it were, Paul’s first apprenticeship, (872) as appears from Luke, (Acts 9:23); but if, while yet a raw recruit, he was exercised in such beginnings, what shall we think of him, when a veteran soldier? As, however, flight gives no evidence of a valiant spirit, it may be asked, why it is that he makes mention of his flight? I answer, that the gates of the royal city having been closed, clearly showed with what rage the wicked were inflamed against him; and it was on no light grounds that they had been led to entertain such a feeling, (873) for if Paul had not fought for Christ with a new and unusual activity, the wicked would never have been thrown into such a commotion. His singular perseverance, however, shone forth chiefly in this — that, after escaping from so severe a persecution, he did not cease to stir up the whole world against him, by prosecuting fearlessly the Lord’s work.

It may be, however, that he proceeds to mock those ambitious men, who, while they had never had experience of any thing but applauses, favors, honorable salutations, and agreeable lodgings, wished to be held in the highest esteem. For, in opposition to this, he relates, that he was shut in, so that he could with difficulty save his life by a miserable and ignominious flight.

Some, however, ask, whether it was lawful for Paul to leap over the walls, inasmuch as it was a capital crime to do so? I answer, in the first place, that it is not certain, whether that punishment was sanctioned by law in the East; and farther, that even if it was so, Paul, nevertheless, was guilty of no crime, because he did not do this as an enemy, or for sport, but from necessity. For the law would not punish a man, that would throw himself down from the walls to save his life from the flames; and what difference is there between a fire, and a fierce attack from robbers? We must always, in connection with laws, have an eye to reason and equity. (874) This consideration will exempt Paul entirely from blame.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/2-corinthians-11.html. 1840-57.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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