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This chapter 2 Corinthians 11:0 is connected in its general design with the preceding. The object of Paul is to vindicate himself from the charges which had been brought against him, and especially to vindicate his claims to the apostolic office. It is ironical in its character, and is of course severe upon the false teachers who had accused him in Corinth. The main purpose is to state his claims to the office of an apostle, and especially to show that when he mentioned those claims, or even boasted of his labors, he had ground for doing so. It would seem that they had charged him with “folly” in boasting as he had done. Probably the false teachers were loud in proclaiming their own praise, but represented Paul as guilty of folly in praising himself. He therefore 2 Corinthians 11:1 asks them if they could bear with him a little further in his folly, and entreats them to do it. This verse contains the scope of the chapter; and the remainder of the chapter is an enumeration of the causes which he had for his boasting, though probably each reason is adapted to some form of accusation brought against him.
Having entreated them to bear with him a little further, he states the reasons why he was disposed to go into this subject at all; 2 Corinthians 11:2-4. It was not because he was disposed to sound his own praise, but it was from love to them. He had espoused them as a chaste virgin to Christ. He was afraid that their affections would be alienated from the Redeemer. He reminded them of the manner in which Eve was tempted; and he reminded them that by the same smooth and plausible arts their affections might also be stolen away, and that they might be led into sin. He reminds them that there was danger of their receiving another gospel, and expresses the apprehension that they had done it, and that they had embraced a deceiver; 2 Corinthians 11:4.
Having made this general statement of his design, Paul now goes more into detail in answering the objections against him, and in showing the reasons which he had for boasting as he had done. The statement in answer to their objections relates to the following points:
(1) He had supposed that he was not behind the chiefest of the apostles. He had supposed that he had claims to the apostolic office of as high an order as any of them. Called to the work as he had been, and laboring as he had done, he had regarded himself as having an indisputable claim to the office of an apostle. True, they had charged him with being rude in speech, a charge which he was not disposed to deny, but in a far more important point than that he had showed that he was not disqualified for the apostolic office. In knowledge, the main qualification, he had not been deficient, as probably even his opponents were disposed to admit 2 Corinthians 11:5-6.
(2) He had not deprived himself of the claims to the office and honors of an apostle by declining to receive from them a compensation, and by preaching the gospel without charge; 2 Corinthians 11:7-9. Probably they had alleged that this was a proof that he knew that he had no claim to the honors of an apostle. He, therefore, states exactly how this was. He had” received” a support, but he had robbed other churches to do it. And even when he was with them, he had received supplies from a distant church in order that he might not be burdensome to them. The charge was therefore groundless, that he knew that he had no right to the support due to an apostle.
(3) He declares it to be his fixed purpose that no one should prevent his boasting in that manner. And this he did because he loved them, and because he would save them from the snares of those who would destroy them. He therefore stated the true character of those who attempted to deceive them. They were the ministers of Satan, appearing as the ministers of righteousness, as Satan himself was transformed into an angel of light; 2 Corinthians 11:10.
(4) Paul claims the privilege of boasting as a fool a little further; 2 Corinthians 11:16. And he claims that as others boasted, and as they were allowed to do so by the Corinthians, he had also a right to do the same thing. They suffered them to boast; they allowed them to do it even if they devoured them, and smote them, and took their property. It was but fair, therefore, that he should be allowed to boast a little of what he was and of what he had done; 2 Corinthians 11:17-20.
(5) He goes, therefore, into an extended and most tender description of what he had suffered, and of his claims to their favorable regard. He had all the personal advantages arising from birth which they could pretend to. He was a Hebrew, of the seed of Abraham, and a minister of Christ; 2 Corinthians 11:21-23. He had endured far more labors and dangers than they had done; and in order to set this before them he enumerates the trials through which he had passed, and states the labors which constantly came upon him; 2 Corinthians 11:23-30. Of these things, of his sufferings, and trials, and infirmities, he felt that he had a right to speak, and these constituted a far higher claim to the confidence of the Christian church than the endowments of which his adversaries boasted.
(6) As another instance of peril and suffering, he refers to the fact that his life was endangered when he was in Damascus, and that he barely escaped by being lowered down from the wall of the city, 2 Corinthians 11:31-33. The conclusion which Paul doubtless intends should be derived from all this is, that he had far higher grounds of claim to the office of an apostle than his adversaries would admit, or than they could furnish themselves. He admitted that he was weak and subject to infirmities; he did not lay claim to the graces of a polished elocution, as they did; but if a life of self-denial and toil, of an honest devotion to the cause of truth at imminent and frequent hazard of life, constituted an evidence that he was an apostle, he had that evidence. They appealed to their birth, their rank, their endowments as public speakers. In the quiet and comfort of a congregation and church established to their hands; in reaping the avails of the labors of others; and in the midst of enjoyments, they coolly laid claims to the honors of the ministerial office, and denied his claims. In trial, and peril, and labor, and poverty; in scourges, and imprisonments, and shipwrecks; in hunger and thirst; in unwearied traveling from place to place: and in the care of all the congregations, were his claims to their respect and confidence, and he was willing that anyone that chose should make the comparison between them. Such was his “foolish” boasting; such his claims to their confidence and regard.
Would to God - Greek, “I would” (Ὄφελον Ophelon). This expresses earnest desire, but in the Greek there is no appeal to God. The sense would be well expressed by “O that,” or “I earnestly wish.”
Ye could bear with me - That you would bear patiently with me; that you would hear me patiently, and suffer me to speak of myself.
In my folly - Folly in boasting. The idea seems to be, “I know that boasting is generally foolish, and that it is not to be indulged in. But though it is to be generally regarded as folly, yet circumstances compel me to it, and I ask your indulgence in it.” It is possible also that his opponents accused him of folly in boasting so much of himself.
And indeed bear with me - Margin, “Ye do bear.” But the text has probably the correct rendering. It is the expression of an earnest wish that they would tolerate him a little in this. He entreats them to bear with him because he was constrained to it.
For I am jealous over you - This verse expresses the reason why he was disposed to speak of his attainments, and of what he had done. It was because he loved them, and because he feared that they were in danger of being seduced from the simplicity of the gospel. The phrase “I am jealous” (Ζηλῶ Zēlō) means properly, I ardently love you; I am full of tender attachment to you. The word was usual among the Greeks to denote an ardent affection of any kind (from ζέω zeō, to boil, to be fervid or fervent). The precise meaning is to be determined by the connection; see the note on 1 Corinthians 12:31. The word may denote the jealousy which is felt by an apprehension of departure from fidelity on the part of those whom we love; or it may denote a fervid and glowing attachment. The meaning here probably is, that Paul had a strong attachment to them.
With godly jealousy - Greek, “with the zeal of God” Θεοῦ ζήλῳ Theou zēlō). That is, with very great or vehement zeal - in accordance with the Hebrew custom when the name God is used to denote any thing signally great, as the phrase “mountains of God,” meaning very elevated or lofty mountains. The mention of this ardent attachment suggested what follows. His mind reverted to the tenderness of the marriage relation, and to the possibility that in that relation the affections might be estranged. He makes use of this figure, therefore, to apprize them of the change which he apprehended.
For I have espoused you ... - The word used here (ἁρμόζω harmozō) means properly “to adapt, to fit, to join together.” Hence, “to join in wedlock, to marry.” Here it means to marry to another; and the idea is, that Paul had been the agent employed in forming a connection, similar to the marriage connection. between them and the Saviour. The allusion here is not certain. It may refer to the custom which prevailed when friends made and procured the marriage for the bridegroom; or it may refer to some custom like that which prevailed among the Lacedemonians where persons were employed to form the lives and manners of virgins and prepare them for the duties of the married life. The sense is clear. Paul claims that it was by his instrumentality that they had been united to the Redeemer. Under him they had been brought into a relation to the Saviour similar to that sustained by the bride to her husband; and he felt all the interest in them which naturally grew out of that fact and from a desire to present them blameless to the pure Redeemer. The relation of the Church to Christ is often represented by marriage; see Ephesians 5:23-33; Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:9.
To one husband - To the Redeemer.
That I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ - The allusion here, according to Doddridge, is, to the custom among the Greeks “of having an officer whose business it was to educate and form young women, especially those of rank and figure, designed for marriage, and then to present them to those who were to be their husbands, and if this officer through negligence permitted them to be corrupted between the espousals and the consummation of the marriage, great blame would fall upon him.” Such a responsibility Paul felt. So anxious was he for the entire purity of that church which was to constitute “the bride, the Lamb’s wife;” so anxious that all who were connected with that church should be presented pure in heaven.
But I fear - Paul had just compared the church to a virgin, soon to be presented as a bride to the Redeemer. The mention of this seems to have suggested to him the fact that the first woman was deceived and led astray by the tempter, and that the same thing might occur in regard to the church which he was so desirous should be preserved pure. The grounds of his fear were:
- That Satan had seduced the first woman, thus demonstrating that the most holy ones were in danger of being led astray by temptation; and,
- That special efforts were made to seduce them from the faith. The persuasive arts of the false teachers; the power of philosophy; and the attractive and corrupting influences of the world, he had reason to suppose might be employed to seduce them from simple attachment to Christ.
Lest by any means - Lest somehow (μήπως mēpōs). It is implied that many means would be used; that all arts would be tried; and that in some way, which perhaps they little suspected, these arts would be successful, unless they were constantly put upon their guard.
As the serpent beguiled Eve - see Genesis 3:1-11. The word “serpent” here refers doubtless to Satan, who was the agent by whom Eve was beguiled see John 8:44; 1 John 3:8; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2. Paul did not mean that they were in danger of being corrupted in the same way, but that similar efforts would be made to seduce them. Satan adapts his temptations to the character and circumstances of the tempted. He varies them from age to age, and applies them in such a way as best to secure his object. Hence, all should be on their guard. No one knows the mode in which he will approach him, but all may know that he will approach them in some way.
Through his subtilty - see Genesis 3:1. By his craft, art, wiles (ἐν τῇ πανουργίᾳ en tē panourgia). The word implies that shrewdness, cunning, craft was employed. A tempter always employs cunning and art to accomplish his object. The precise mode in which Satan accomplished his object is not certainly known. Perhaps the cunning consisted in assuming an attractive form - a fascinating manner - a manner suited to charm; perhaps in the idea that the eating of the forbidden fruit had endowed a serpent with the power of reason and speech above all other animals, and that it might be expected to produce a similar transformation in Eve. At all events there were false pretences and appearances, and such Paul apprehended would be employed by the false teachers to seduce and allure them; see on 2 Corinthians 11:13-14.
So your minds should be corrupted - So your thoughts should be perverted. So your hearts should be alienated. The mind is corrupted when the affections are alienated from the proper object, and when the soul is filled with unholy plans, and purposes, and desires.
From the simplicity that is in Christ -
(1) From simple and single-hearted devotedness to him - from pure and unmixed attachment to him. The fear was that their affections would be fixed on other objects, and that the singleness and unity of their devotedness to him would be destroyed.
(2) From his pure doctrines. By the admixture of philosophy; by the opinions of the world there was danger that their minds should be turned away from their hold on the simple truths which Christ had taught.
(3) From that simplicity of mind and heart; that childlike candor and docility; that freedom from all guile, dishonesty, and deception which so eminently characterized the Redeemer. Christ had a single aim; was free from all guile; was purely honest; never made use of any improper arts; never resorted to false appearances; and never deceived. His followers should in like manner be artless and guileless. There should be no mere cunning, no trick, no craft in advancing their purposes. There should be nothing but honesty and truth in all that they say. Paul was afraid that they would lose this beautiful simplicity and artlessness of character and manner; and that they would insensibly be led to adopt the maxims of mere cunning, of policy, of expediency, of seductive arts which prevailed so much in the world - a danger which was imminent among the shrewd and cunning people of Greece; but which is confined to no time and no place. Christians should be more guileless than even children are; as pure and free from trick, and from art and cunning as was the Redeemer himself.
(4) From the simplicity in worship which the Lord Jesus commended and required. The worship which the Redeemer designed to establish was simple, unostentatious, and pure - strongly in contrast with the gorgeousness and corruption of the pagan worship, and even with the imposing splendor of the Jewish temple service. He intended that it should be adapted to all lands, and such as could be offered by all classes of people - a pure worship, claiming first the homage of the heart, and then such simple external expressions as should best exhibit the homage of the heart. How easily might this be corrupted! What temptations were there to attempt to corrupt it by those who had been accustomed to the magnificence of the temple service, and who would suppose that the religion of the Messiah could not be less gorgeous than that which was designed to shadow forth his coming; and by those who had been accustomed to the splendid rites of the pagan worship, and who would suppose that the true religion ought not to be less costly and splendid than the false religion had been. If so much expense had been lavished on false religions, how natural to suppose that equal costliness at least should be bestowed on the true religion. Accordingly the history of the church for a considerable part of its existence has been little more than a record of the various forms in which the simple worship instituted by the Redeemer has been corrupted, until all that was gorgeous in pagan ceremonies and splendid in the Jewish ritual has been introduced as a part of Christian worship.
(5) From simplicity in dress and manner of living. The Redeemer’s dress was simple. His manner of living was simple. His requirements demand great simplicity and plainness of apparel and manner of life; 1 Peter 3:3-6; 1 Timothy 2:9-10. Yet how much proneness is there at all times to depart from this! What a besetting sin has it been in all ages to the church of Christ! And how much pains should there be that the very simplicity that is in Christ should be observed by all who bear the Christian name!
For if he that cometh ... - There is much difficulty in this verse in ascertaining the true sense, and expositors have been greatly perplexed and divided in opinion, especially with regard to the true sense of the last clause, “ye might well bear with him.” It is difficult to ascertain whether Paul meant to speak ironically or seriously; and different views will prevail as different views are taken of the design. If it be supposed that he meant to speak seriously, the sense will be, “If the false teacher could recommend a better Saviour than I have done, or a Spirit better able to sanctify and save, then there would be a propriety in your receiving him and tolerating his doctrines.” If the former, then the sense will be, “You cannot well bear with me; but if a man comes among you preaching a false Saviour, and a false Spirit, and a false doctrine. then you bear with him without any difficulty.”
Another interpretation still has been proposed, by supposing that the word “me” is to be supplied at the close of the verse instead of “him,” and then the sense would be, “If you receive so readily one who preaches another gospel, one who comes with far less evidence that he is sent from God than I have, and if you show yourselves thus ready to fall in with any kind of teaching that may be brought to you, you might at least bear with me also.” Amidst this variety it is not easy to ascertain the true sense. To me it seems probable, however, that Paul spoke seriously, and that our translation has expressed the true sense. The main idea doubtless is, that Paul felt that there was danger that they would be corrupted. If they could bring a better gospel, a more perfect system, and proclaim a more perfect Saviour, there would be no such change. But that could not be expected. It could not be done.
If therefore they preached any other Saviour or any other gospel; if they departed from the truths which he had taught them, it would be for the worse. It could not be otherwise. The Saviour whom he preached was perfect, and was able to save. The Spirit which he preached was perfect, and able to sanctify. The gospel which he preached was perfect, and there was no hope that it could be improved. Any change must be for the worse; and as the false teachers varied from his instructions, there was every reason to apprehend that their minds would be corrupted from the simplicity that was in Christ. The principal idea, therefore, is, that the gospel which he preached was as perfect as it could be, and that any change would be for the worse. No doctrine which others brought could be recommended because it was better. By the phrase “he that cometh” is meant doubtless the false teacher in Corinth.
Preacheth another Jesus - Proclaims one who is more worthy of your love and more able to save. If he that comes among you and claims your affections can point out another Christ who is more worthy of your confidence, then I admit that you do well to receive him. It is implied here that this could not be done. The Lord Jesus in his character and work is perfect. No Saviour superior to him has been provided; none but he is necessary.
Whom we have not preached - Let them show, if they can, that they have any Saviour to tell of whom we have not preached. We have given all the evidence that we are sent by God, and have laid all the claim to your confidence, which they can do for having made known the Saviour. They with all their pretensions have no Saviour to tell you of with whom we have not already made you acquainted. They have no claims, therefore, from this quarter which we have not also.
Or if ye receive another spirit ... - If they can preach to you another Sanctifier and Comforter; or if under their ministry you have received higher proofs of the power of the Spirit in performing miracles; in the gift of tongues; in renewing sinners and in comforting your hearts. The idea is, that Paul had proclaimed the existence and agency of the same Holy Spirit which they did; that his preaching had been attended with as striking proofs of the presence and power of that Spirit; that he had all the evidence of a divine commission from such an influence attending his labors which they could possibly have. They could reveal no spirit better able to sanctify and save; none who had more power than the Holy Spirit which they had received under the preaching of Paul, and there was therefore no reason why they should be “corrupted” or seduced from the simple doctrines which they had received and follow others.
Or another gospel ... - A gospel more worthy of your acceptance - one more free, more full, more rich in promises; one that revealed a better plan of salvation, or that was more full of comfort and peace.
Ye might well bear with him - Margin, “with me.” The word “him” is not in the Greek; but is probably to be supplied. The sense is, there would then be some excuse for your conduct. There would be some reason why you should welcome such teachers. But if this cannot be done; if they can preach no other and no better gospel and Saviour than I have done, then there is no excuse. There is no reason why you should follow such teachers and forsake those who were your earliest guides in religion. - Let us never forsake the gospel which we have until we are sure we can get a better. Let us adhere to the simple doctrines of the New Testament until some one can furnish better and clearer doctrines. Let us follow the rules of Christ in our opinions and our conduct; our plans, our mode of worship, our dress, and our amusements, engagements, and company, until we can certainly ascertain that there are better rules. A man is foolish for making any change until he has evidence that he is likely to better himself; and it remains yet to be proved that anyone has ever bettered himself or his family by forsaking the simple doctrines of the Bible, and embracing a philosophical speculation; by forsaking the scriptural views of the Saviour as the incarnate God, and embracing the views which represent him as a mere man; by forsaking the simple and plain rules of Christ about our manner of life, our dress, and our words and actions, and embracing those which are recommended by mere fashion and by the customs of a frivolous world.
For I suppose ... - I think that I gave as good evidence that I was commissioned by God as the most eminent of the apostles. In the miracles which I performed; in the abundance of my labors, and in my success, I suppose that I did not fall behind any of them. If so, I ought to be regarded and treated as an apostle; and if so, then the false teachers should not be allowed to supplant me in your affections, or to seduce you from the doctrines which I have taught. On the evidence that Paul was equal to others in the proper proof of a commission from God; see notes on 2 Corinthians 11:21-30.
But though I be rude in speech - see the note, 2 Corinthians 10:10. The word rendered “rude” here (ἰδιώτης idiōtēs) means properly a private citizen, in opposition to one in a public station; then a plebeian, or one unlettered or unlearned, in opposition to one of more elevated rank, or one who is learned; see the Acts 4:13 note; 1 Corinthians 14:16 note. The idea is, my language is that of a plain unlettered person. This was doubtless charged upon him by his enemies, and it may be that he designed in part to admit the truth of the charge.
Yet not in knowledge - I do not admit that I am ignorant of the religion which I profess to teach. I claim to be acquainted with the doctrines of Christianity. It does not appear that they charged him with ignorance. If it be asked how the admission that he was rude in speech consists with the fact that he was endowed by the Holy Spirit. with the power of speaking languages, we may observe that Paul had undoubtedly learned to speak Greek in his native place (Tarsus in Cilicia). and that the Greek which he had learned there was probably a corrupt kind, such as was spoken in that place. It was this Greek which he probably continued to speak; for there is no more reason to suppose that the Holy Spirit would aid him in speaking language which he had thus early learned than he would in speaking Hebrew. The endowments of the Holy Spirit were conferred to enable the apostles to speak languages which they had never learned, not in perfecting them in languages with which they were before acquainted. It may have been true, therefore, that Paul may have spoken some languages which he never learned with more fluency and perfection than he did those which he had learned to speak when he was young. See the remarks of the Archbishop of Cambray, as quoted by Doddridge in loc. It may be remarked. also, that some estimate of the manner of Paul on this point may be formed from his writings. Critics profoundly acquainted with the Greek language remark, that while there is great energy of thought and of diction in the writings of Paul; while he chooses or coins most expressive words, yet that there is everywhere a lack of Attic elegance of manner, and of the smoothness and beauty which were so grateful to a Grecian ear.
But we have been thoroughly made manifest ... - You have known all about me. I have concealed nothing from you, and you have had ample oppotunity to become thoroughly acquainted with me. The meaning is, “I need not dwell on this. I need speak no more of my manner of speech or knowledge. With all that you are well acquainted.”
Have I committed an offence - Have I done wrong. Greek, “Have I committed a sin.” There is here a somewhat abrupt transition from the previous verse; and the connection is not very apparent. Perhaps the connection is this. “I admit my inferiority in regard to my manner of speaking. But this does not interfere with my full understanding of the doctrines which I preach, nor does it interfere with the numerous evidences which I have furnished that I am called to the office of an apostle. What then is the ground of offence? In what have I erred? Wherein have I shown that I was not qualified to be an apostle? Is it in the fact that I have not chosen to press my claim to a support, but have preached the gospel without charge?” There can be no doubt that they urged this as an objection to him, and as a proof that he was conscious that he had no claim to the office of an apostle; see the notes on 1 Corinthians 9:3-18. Paul here answers this charge; and the sum of his reply is, that he had received a support, but that it had come from others, a support which they had furnished because the Corinthians had neglected to do it.
In abasing myself - By laboring with my own hands; by submitting to voluntary poverty, and by neglecting to urge my reasonable claims for a support.
That ye might be exalted - In spiritual blessings and comforts. I did it because I could thus better promote religion among you. I could thus avoid the charge of aiming at the acquisition of wealth; could shut the mouths of gainsayers, and could more easily secure access to you. Is it now to be seriously urged as a fault that I have sought your welfare, and that in doing it I have submitted to great self-denial and to many hardships? See notes on 1 Corinthians 9:18 ff.
I robbed other churches - The churches of Macedonia and elsewhere, which had ministered to his needs. Probably he refers especially to the church at Philippi (see Philippians 4:15-16), which seems to have done more than almost any other church for his support. By the use of the word “robbed” here Paul does not mean that he had obtained anything from them in a violent or unlawful manner, or anything which they did not give voluntarily. The word (ἐσύλησα esulēsa) means properly, “I spoiled, plundered, robbed,” but the idea of Paul here is, that he, as it were, robbed them, because he did not render an equivalent for what they gave him. They supported him when he was laboring for another people. A conqueror who plunders a country gives no equivalent for what he takes. In this sense only could Paul say that he had plundered the church at Philippi. His general principle was, that “the laborer was worthy of his hire,” and that a man was to receive his support from the people for whom he labored (see 1 Corinthians 9:7-14), but this rule he had not observed in this case.
Taking wages of them - Receiving a support from them. They bore my expenses.
To do you service - That I might labor among you without being supposed to be striving to obtain your property, and that I might not be compelled to labor with my own hands, and thus to prevent my preaching the gospel as I could otherwise do. The supply from other churches rendered it unnecessary in a great measure that his time should be taken off from the ministry in order to obtain a support.
And when I was present with you - When I was laboring in order to build up the church in Corinth.
I was chargeable to no man - I was burdensome to no one; or more liter ally,” I did not lie as a dead weight upon you.” The word used here, which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament (κατενάρκησα katenarkēsa), means, literally, to become torpid against, that is, to the detriment of anyone; and hence, to be burdensome. According to Jerome, its use here is a Cilicism of Paul. The idea is that he did not lead a torpid, inactive life at the expense of others. He did not expect a support from them when he was doing nothing; nor did he demand support which would in any sense be a burden to them. By his own hands Acts 18:3, and by the aid which he received from abroad, he was supported without deriving aid from the people of Corinth.
And in all things ... - In all respects I have carefully kept myself from being a burden on the church. Paul had no idea of living at other people’s expense when he was doing nothing. He did not, as a general thing, mean to receive anything for which he had not rendered a fair equivalent; a just principle for ministers and for all other people; see 2 Corinthians 12:13.
As the truth of Christ is in me - That is, I solemnly declare this as in the presence of Christ. As I am a Christian man; as I feel bound to declare the truth, and as I must answer to Christ. It is a solemn form of asseveration, equal to an oath; see the note on Romans 9:1; compare 1 Timothy 2:7.
No man shall stop me ... - Margin, “This boasting shall not be stopped in me;” see the note on 1 Corinthians 9:15. The idea here is, that Paul was solemnly determined that the same thing should continue. He had not been burdensome to any, and he was resolved that he would not be. Rather than be burdensome he had labored with his own hands, and he meant to do it still. No man in all Achaia should ever have reason to say that he had been an idler, and had been supported by the churches when he was doing nothing. It was the fixed and settled purpose of his life never to be burdensome to any man. What a noble resolution! How fixed were the principles of his life! And what an instance of magnanimous self-denial and of elevated purpose! Every man, minister or otherwise, should adopt a similar resolution. He should resolve to receive nothing for which he has not rendered a fair equivalent, and resolve if he has health never to be a burden to his friends or to the church of God. And even if sick he may yet feel that he is not burdensome to others. If he is gentle and grateful; if he makes no unnecessary care; and especially if he furnishes an example of patience and piety, and seeks the blessing of God on his benefactors, he furnishes them what they will usually esteem an ample equivalent. No man need be burdensome to his friends; and all should resolve that by the grace of God they never will be. There is considerable variety in the mss. here (see Mill on the place), but in regard to the general sense there can be no doubt. Nothing should ever hinder this boasting; nothing should deprive him of the privilege of saying that he had not been a burden.
In the regions of Achaia - Achaia was that part of Greece of which Corinth was the capital; see the note on Acts 18:12.
Wherefore ... - It is not because I do not love you. It is not from pride, or because I would not as willingly receive aid from you as from any other. It is not because I am more unwilling to be under obligation to you than to others. I have a deep and tender attachment to you; but it is because I can thus best promote the gospel and advance the kingdom of the Redeemer. Possibly it might have been thought that his unwillingness to receive aid from them was some proof of reserve toward them or lack of affection, and this may have been urged against him. This he solemnly denies.
But what I do - The course of life which I have been pursuing I will continue to pursue. That is, I will continue to preach as I have done without demanding a support. I will labor with my own hands if necessary; I will preach without demanding rigidly what I might be entitled to.
That I may cut off occasion - That I might give them no opportunity of accusing me of desiring to grow rich, and of calumniating me. Paul meant that they should have no plausible pretext even for accusing him; that no man should be able to say that he was preaching merely for the hire.
Which desire occasion - No doubt his enemies eagerly sought opportunities of accusing him, and greatly wished for some plausible reason for charging him with that which would be disgraceful and ruinous to his character. Or it may mean that they desired opportunity from the example of Paul to justify themselves in their course; that they took wages from the church at Corinth largely, and desired to be able to say that they had his example.
That wherein they glory - Probably meaning that they boasted that they preached the gospel for free (gratis); that they received nothing for their labors. Yet while they did this, it is not improbable that they received presents of the Corinthians, and under various pretences contrived to get from them an ample support, perhaps much more than would have been a reasonable compensation. People who profess to preach the gospel gratis, usually contrive in various ways to get more from the people than those who receive a regular and stipulated compensation. By taxing pretty liberally their hospitality; by accepting liberal presents; by frequent proclamation of their self-denial and their poverty, they usually filch large amounts from the people. No people were ever louder in praise of poverty, or in proclamation of their own self-denials than some orders of monks, and that when it might be said almost that the richest possessions of Europe were passing into their hands. At all events, Paul meant that these people should have no opportunity from his course to take any such advantage. He knew what he had a right to 1 Corinthians 9:0, but he had not urged the right. He had received nothing from the church at Corinth, and he meant to receive nothing. He had honestly preached the gospel to them without charge, and he meant still to do it, 1 Corinthians 9:18. They should, therefore, have no opportunity from his conduct either to accuse him of preaching for money, or of sheltering themselves under his example in pretending to preach for nothing when they were in fact obtaining large sums from the people.
They may be found even as we - That they may be compelled honestly to pursue such a course as I do, and be found to be in fact what they pretend to be. The sense is, “I mean so to act that if they follow my example, or plead my authority, they may be found to lead an honest life; and that if they boast on this subject, they shall boast strictly according to truth. There shall be no trick; nothing underhanded or deceptive in what they do so far as my example can prevent it.”
For such are false apostles - They have no claim to the apostolic office. They are deceivers. They pretend to be apostles; but they have no divine commission from the Redeemer. Paul had thus far argued the case without giving them an explicit designation as deceivers. But here he says that people who had conducted thus; who attempted to impose on the people; who had brought another gospel, whatever pretences they might have - and he was not disposed to deny that there was much that was plausible - were really impostors and the enemies of Christ. It is morally certain, from 2 Corinthians 11:22, that these people were Jews; but why they had engaged in the work of preaching, or why they had gone to Corinth, cannot with certainty be determined.
Deceitful workers - Impostors. People who practice various arts to impose on others. They were crafty, and fraudulent, and hypocritical. It is probable that they were people who saw that great advantage might be taken of the new religion; people who saw the power which it had over the people, and who saw the confidence which the new converts were inclined to repose in their teachers; perhaps people who had seen the disciples to the Christian faith commit all their property to the hands of the apostles, or who had heard of their doing it (compare Acts 4:34-35), and who supposed that by pretending to be apostles also they might come in for a share of this confidence, and avail themselves of this disposition to commit their property to their spiritual guides. To succeed, it was needful as far as possible to undermine the influence of the true apostles, and take their place in the confidence of the people. Thence they were “deceitful (δόλιοι dolioi) workers,” full of trick, and cunning, and of plausible arts to impose on others.
Transforming themselves ... - Pretending to be apostles. Hypocritical and deceitful, they yet pretended to have been sent by Christ. This is a direct charge of hypocrisy. They knew they were deceivers; and yet they assumed the high claims of apostles of the Son of God.
And no marvel - And it is not wonderful, 2 Corinthians 11:15. Since Satan himself is capable of appearing to be an angel of light, it is not to be deemed strange that those who are in his service also should resemble him.
For Satan himself is transformed ... - That is, he who is an apostate angel; who is malignant and wicked; who is the prince of evil, assumes the appearance of a holy angel. Paul assumes this as an indisputable and admitted truth, without attempting to prove it, and without referring to any particular instances. Probably he had in his eye cases where Satan put on false and delusive appearances for the purpose of deceiving, or where he assumed the appearance of great sanctity and reverence for the authority of God. Such instances occurred in the temptation of our first parents Genesis 3:1-6, and in the temptation of the Saviour, Matthew 4:0. The phrase “an angel of light,” means a pure and holy angel, light being the emblem of purity and holiness. Such are all the angels that dwell in heaven; and the idea is, that Satan assumes such a form as to appear to be such an angel. Learn here:
(1) His power. He can assume such an aspect as he pleases. He can dissemble and appear to be eminently pious. He is the prince of duplicity as well as of wickedness; and it is the consummation of bad power for an individual to be able to assume any character which he pleases.
(2) His art. he is long practiced in deceitful arts. For six thousand years he has been practicing the art of delusion. And with him it is perfect.
(3) We are not to sup pose that all that appears to be piety is piety. Some of the most plausible appearances of piety are assumed by Satan and his ministers. None ever professed a profounder regard for the authority of God than Satan did when he tempted the Saviour. And if the prince of wickedness can appear to be an angel of light, we are not to be surprised if those who have the blackest hearts appear to be people of most eminent piety.
(4) We should be on our guard. We should not listen to suggestions merely because they appear to come from a pious man, nor because they seem to be prompted by a regard to the will of God. We may be always sure that, if we are to be tempted, it will be by some one having a great appearance of virtue and religion.
(5) We are not to expect that Satan will appear to man to be as bad as he is. He never shows himself openly to be a spirit of pure wickedness; or black and abominable in his character; or full of evil and hateful. He would thus defeat himself. It is for this reason that wicked people do not believe that there is such a being as Satan. Though continually under his influence and “led captive by him at his will,” yet they neither see him nor the chains which lead them, nor are they willing to believe in the existence of the one or the other.
Therefore it is no great thing ... - It is not to be deemed surprising. You are not to wonder if people of the basest, blackest character put on the appearance of the greatest sanctity, and even become eminent as professed preachers of righteousness.
Whose end shall be ... - Whose final destiny. Their doom in eternity shall not be according to their fair professions and plausible pretences, for they cannot deceive God; but shall be according to their real character, and their works. Their work is a work of deception, and they shall be judged according to that. What revelations there will be in the day of judgment, when all impostors shall be unmasked, and when all hypocrites and deceivers shall be seen in their true colors! And how desirable is it that there should be such a day to disclose all beings in their true character, and forever to remove imposture and delusion from the universe!
I say again - I repeat it. He refers to what he had said in 2 Corinthians 11:1. The sense is, “I have said much respecting myself which may seem to be foolish. I admit that to boast in this manner of one’s own self in general is folly. But circumstances compel me to it. And I entreat you to look at those circumstances and not regard me as a fool for doing it.”
If otherwise - If you think otherwise. If I cannot obtain this of you that you will not regard me as acting prudently and wisely. If you will think me foolish, still I am constrained to make these remarks in vindication of myself.
Yet as a fool receive me - Margin, “Suffer;” see 2 Corinthians 11:1. Bear with me as you do with others. Consider how much I have been provoked to this; how necessary it is to my character; and do not reject and despise me because I am constrained to say that of myself which is usually regarded as foolish boasting.
That I may boast myself a little - Since others do it and are not rebuked, may I be permitted to do it also; see 2 Corinthians 11:18-19. There is something sarcastic in the words “a little.” The sense is, “Others are allowed to boast a great deal. Assuredly I may be allowed to boast a little of what I have done.”
That which I speak - In praise of myself.
I speak it not after the Lord - see the note on 1 Corinthians 7:12. The phrase here may mean either, I do not speak this by inspiration or claiming to be inspired by the Lord; or more probably it may mean, I do not speak this imitating the example of the Lord Jesus or strictly as becomes his follower. He was eminently modest, and never vaunted or boasted. And Paul probably means to say, “I do not in this profess to follow him entirely. I admit that it is a departure from his pure example in this respect. But circumstances have compelled me and much as I would prefer another strain at remark, and sensible as I am in general of the folly of boasting, yet a regard to my apostolic office and authority urges me to this course.” Bloomfield supposes that the apostle is not speaking seriously, but that he has an allusion to their view of what he was saying. “Be it so, if you think that what I speak, I speak not as I profess to do according to the Lord, or with a view to subserve the purposes of his religion, but as it were in folly, in the confidence of boasting, yet permit me to do it notwithstanding, since you allow others to do it.” It is not easy to settle which is the true sense of the passage. I see no conclusive evidence against either. But the former seems to me to be most in accordance with the scope of the whole. Paul admitted that what he said was not in exact accordance with the spirit of the Lord Jesus; and in admitting this he designed probably to administer a delicate hint that all their boasting was a wide departure from that spirit.
As it were foolishly - As in folly. It is to be admitted that to boast is in general foolish; and I admit that my language is open to this general charge.
In this confidence of boasting - In confident boasting. I speak confidently and I admit in the spirit of boasting.
Seeing that many glory ... - The false teachers in Corinth. They boasted of their birth, rank, natural endowments, eloquence, etc.; see 2 Corinthians 11:22. Compare Philippians 3:3-4.
I will glory also - I also will boast of my endowments, which though somewhat different yet pertain in the main to the “flesh” also; see 2 Corinthians 11:23 ff. His endowments “in the flesh,” or what he had to boast of pertaining to the flesh, related not so much to birth and rank, though not inferior to them in these, but to what the flesh had endured - to stripes and imprisonments, and hunger and peril. This is an exceedingly delicate and happy turn given to the whole subject.
For ye suffer fools gladly - You tolerate or endure those who are really fools. This is perhaps, says Dr. Bloomfield, the most sarcastic sentence ever penned by the apostle Paul. Its sense is, “You profess to be wondrous wise. And yet you who are so wise a people, freely tolerate those who are foolish in their boasting; who proclaim their own merits and attainments. You may allow me, therefore, to come in for my share, and boast also, and thus obtain your favor.” Or it may mean, “You are so profoundly wise as easily to see who are fools. You have great power of discernment in this, and have found out that I am a fool, and also that other boasters are fools. Yet knowing this, you bear patiently with such fools; have admitted them to your favor and friendship, and I may come in among the rest of the fools, and partake also of your favors.” They had borne with the false apostles who had boasted of their endowments, and yet they claimed to be eminent for wisdom and discernment.
For ye suffer ... - You bear patiently with people who impose on you in every way, and who are constantly defrauding you, though you profess to be so wise, and you may bear with me a little, though I have no such intention. Seriously, if you bear with boasters who intend to delude and deceive you in various ways, you may bear with one who comes to you with no such intention, but with an honest purpose to do good.
If a man bring you into bondage - (καταδουλοῖ katadouloi). If a man, or if anyone (εἴ τις ei tis) “make a slave of you,” or reduce you to servitude. The idea is, doubtless, that the false teachers set up a lordship over their consciences; destroyed their freedom of opinion; and made them subservient to their will. They really took away their Christian freedom as much as if they had been slaves. In what way this was done is unknown. It may be that they imposed on them rites and forms, commanded expensive and inconvenient ceremonies, and required arduous services merely at their own will. A false religion always makes slaves. It is only true Christianity that leaves perfect freedom. All pagans are slaves to their priests; all fanatics are slaves to some fanatical leader; all those who embrace error are slaves to those who claim to be their guides. The papist everywhere is the slave of the priest, and the despotism there is as great as in any region of servitude whatever.
If a man devour you - This is exceedingly sarcastic. The idea is, “Though you are so wise, yet you in fact tolerate people who impose on you - no matter though they eat you up, or consume all that you have. By their exorbitant demands they would consume all you have - or, as we would say, eat you out of house and home.” All this they took patiently; and freely gave all that they demanded. False teachers are always rapacious. They seek the property, not the souls of those to whom they minister. Not satisfied with a maintenance, they aim to obtain all, and their plans are formed to secure as much as possible of those to whom they minister.
If a man take of you - If he take and seize upon your possessions. If he comes and takes what he pleases and bears it away as his own.
If a man exalt himself - If he set himself up as a ruler and claim submission. No matter how arrogant his claims, yet you are ready to bear with him. You might then bear with me in the very moderate demands which I make on your obedience and confidence.
If a man smite you on the face - The word rendered here as “smite” (δέρω derō) means properly “to skin, to flay”; but in the New Testament it means “to beat, to scourge” - especially so as “to take off the skin”; Matthew 21:35; Mark 12:3, Mark 12:5. The idea here is, if anyone treats you with contumely and scorn - since there can be no higher expression of it than to strike a man on the face; Matthew 26:67. It is not to be supposed that this occurred literally among the Corinthians; but the idea is, that the false teachers really treated them with as little respect as if they smote them on the face. In what way this was done is unknown; but probably it was by their domineering manners, and the little respect which they showed for the opinions and feelings of the Corinthian Christians. Paul says that as they bore this very patiently, they might allow him to make some remarks about himself in self-commendation.
I speak as concerning reproach - I speak of disgrace. That is, says Rosenmuller, “I speak of your disgrace, or, as others prefer it, of the disgrace of the false apostles.” Doddridge regards it as a question. “Do I speak this by way of dishonor, from an envious desire to derogate from my superiors so as to bring them down to my own level?” But to me it seems that Paul refers to what he had been admitting respecting himself - to what he had evinced in rudeness of speech 2 Corinthians 11:6, and to his not having urged his claims to the support which an apostle had a right to receive - to things, in short, which they esteemed to be disgraceful or reproachful. And his idea, it seems to me, is this: “I have been speaking of reproach or disgrace as if I was weak, that is, as if I was disposed to admit as true all that has been said of me as reproachful or disgraceful; all that has been said of my lack of qualifications for the office, of my lack of talent, or elevated rank, or honorable birth, etc. I have not pressed my claims, but have been reasoning as if all this were true - as if all that was honorable in birth and elevated in rank belonged to them - all that is mean and unworthy pertained to me. But it is not so. Whatever they have I have. Whatever they can boast of, I can boast of in a more eminent degree. Whatever advantage there is in birth is mine; and I can tell of toils, and trials, and sufferings in the apostolic office which far surpass theirs.” Paul proceeds, therefore, to a full statement of his advantages of birth and of his labors in the cause of the Redeemer.
As though we had been weak - As if I had no claims to urge; as if I had no just cause of boldness, but must submit to this reproach.
Howbeit - (δέ de). But. The sense is, if anyone is disposed to boast, I am ready for him. I can tell also of things that have as high claims to confidence as they can. If they are disposed to go into a comparison on the points which qualify a man for the office of an apostle, I am ready to compare myself with them.
Whereinsoever - (ἐν ᾧ en hō. In what. Whatever they have to boast of I am prepared also to show that I am equal to them. Be it pertaining to birth, rank, education, labors, they will find that I do not shrink from the comparison.
Any is bold - (τις τολμᾷ tis tolma). Anyone who dares to boast; anyone who is bold.
I speak foolishly - Remember now that I speak as a fool. I have been charged with this folly. Just now keep that in mind; and do not forget that it is only a fool who is speaking. Just recollect that I have no claims to public confidence; that I am destitute of all pretensions to the apostolic office; that I am given to a vain parade and ostentation, and to boasting of what does not belong to me, and when you recollect this let me tell my story. The whole passage is ironical in the highest degree. The sense is, “It is doubtless all nonsense and folly for a man to boast who has only the qualifications which I have. But there is a great deal of wisdom in their boasting who have so much more elevated endowments for the apostolic office.”
I am bold also - I can meet them on their own ground, and speak of qualifications not inferior to theirs.
Are they Hebrews? - This proves that the persons who had made the difficulty in Corinth were those who were of Hebrew extraction though it may be that they had been born in Greece and had been educated in the Grecian philosophy and art of rhetoric. It is also clear that they prided themselves on being Jews - on having a connection with the people and land from whence the religion which the Corinthian church now professed had emanated. Indications are apparent everywhere in the New Testament of the superiority which the Jewish converts to Christianity claimed over those converted from among the pagan. Their boast would probably be that they were the descendants of the patriarchs; that the land of the prophets was theirs; that they spake the language in which the oracles of God were given; that the true religion had proceeded from them, etc.
So am I - I have as high claims as any of them to distinction on this head. Paul had all their advantages of birth. He was an Israelite; of rite honored tribe of Benjamin; a Pharisee, circumcised at the usual time Philippians 3:5, and educated in the best manner at the feet of one of their most eminent teachers; Acts 22:3.
Are they Israelites? - Another name, signifying substantially the same thing. The only difference is, that the word “Hebrew” signified properly one who was from beyond (צברי ‛Ibriy from צבר ‘aabar, to pass, to pass over - hence, applied to Abraham, because he had come from a foreign land; and the word denoted properly a foreigner - a man from the land or country beyond, צבר ‘aabar the Euphrates. The name Israelite denoted properly one descended from Israel or Jacob, and the difference between them was, that the name Israelite, being a patronymic derived from one of the founders of their nation, was in use among themselves; the name Hebrew was applied by the Canaanite to them as having come from beyond the river, and was the current name among foreign tribes and nations. See Gesenius’ Lexicon on the word צברי ‛Ibriy Hebrew. Paul in the passage before us means to say that he had as good a claim to the honor of being a native born descendant of Israel as could be urged by any of them.
Are they the seed of Abraham? - Do they boast that they are descended from Abraham? This with all the Jews was regarded as a distinguished honor (see Matthew 3:9; John 8:39), and no doubt the false teachers in Corinth boasted of it as eminently qualifying them to engage in the work of the ministry.
So am I - Paul had the same qualification. He was a Jew also by birth. He was of the tribe of Benjamin; Philippians 3:5.
Are they ministers of Christ? - Though Jews by birth yet they claimed to be the ministers of the Messiah.
I speak as a fool - As if he had said, “Bear in mind, in what I am now about to say, that he who speaks is accused of being a fool in boasting. Let it not be deemed improper that I should act in this character, and since you regard me as such, let me speak like a fool.” His frequent reminding them of this charge was eminently suited to humble them that they had ever made it, especially when they were reminded by an enumeration of his trials, of the character of the man against whom the charge was brought.
I am more - Paul was not disposed to deny that they were true ministers of Christ. But he had higher claims to the office than they had. He had been called to it in a more remarkable manner, and he had shown by his labors and trials that he had more of the true spirit of a minister of the Lord Jesus than they had. He therefore goes into detail to show what he had endured in endeavoring to diffuse the knowledge of the Saviour; trials which the had borne probably while they had been dwelling in comparative ease, and in a comfortable manner, free from suffering and persecution.
In labors more abundant - In the kind of labor necessary in propagating the gospel. Probably he had now been engaged in the work a much longer time than they had, and had been far more indefatigable in it.
In stripes - In receiving stripes; that is, I have been more frequently scourged; 2 Corinthians 11:24. This was a proof of his being a minister of Christ, because eminent devotedness to him at that time, of necessity subjected a man to frequent scourging. The ministry is one of the very few places, perhaps it stands alone in this, where it is proof of special qualification for office that a man has been treated with all manner of contumely, and has even been often publicly whipped. What other office admits such a qualification as this?
Above measure - Exceedingly; far exceeding them. He had received far more than they had, and he judged, therefore, that this was one evidence that he had been called to the ministry.
In prisons more frequent - In the Book of Acts , Luke mentions only one imprisonment of Paul before the time when this Epistle was written. That was at Philippi with Silas, Acts 16:23 ff. But we are to remember that many things were omitted by Luke. He does not profess to give an account of all that happened to Paul; and an omission is not a contradiction. For anything that Luke says, Paul may have been imprisoned often. He mentions his having been in prison once; he does not deny that he had been in prison many times besides; see on Acts 16:24.
In deaths oft - This is, exposed to death; or suffering pain equal to death; see on 2 Corinthians 1:9. No one familiar with the history of Paul can doubt that he was often in danger of death.
Of the Jews ... - On this verse and the following verse it is of importance to make a few remarks preliminary to the explanation of the phrases:
(1) It is admitted that the particulars here referred to cannot be extracted out of the Acts of the Apostles. A few can be identified, but there are many more trials referred to here than are specified there.
(2) This proves that this Epistle was not framed from the history, but that they are written independently of one another - Paley.
(3) Yet they are not inconsistent one with the other. For there is no article in the enumeration here which is contradicted by the history, and the history, though silent with respect to many of these transactions, has left space enough to suppose that they may have occurred.
(a) There is no contradiction between the accounts. Where it is said by Paul that he was thrice beaten with rods, though in the Acts but one beating is mentioned, yet there is no contradiction. It is only the omission to record all that occurred to Paul. But had the history, says Paley, contained an account of four beatings with rods, while Paul mentions here but three, there would have been a contradiction. And so of the other particulars.
(b) Though the Acts of the Apostles be silent concerning many of the instances referred to, yet that silence may be accounted for on the plan and design of the history. The date of the Epistle synchronizes with the beginning of Acts 20:0. The part, therefore, which precedes the twentieth chapter is the only place in which can be found any notice of the transactions to which Paul here refers. And it is evident from the Acts that the author of that history was not with Paul until his departure from Troas, as related in 1 Corinthians 16:10; see the note on that place. From that time Luke attended Paul in his travels. From that period to the time when this Epistle was written occupies but four chapters of the history, and it is here if anywhere that we are to look for the minute account of the life of Paul. But here much may have occurred to Paul before Luke joined him. And as it was the design of Luke to give an account of Paul mainly after he had joined him, it is not to be wondered at that many things may have been omitted of his previous life.
(c) The period of time after the conversion of Paul to the time when Luke joined him at Troas is very succinctly given. That period embraced 16 years, and is comprised in a few chapters. Yet in that time Paul was constantly traveling. He went to Arabia, returned to Damascus, went to Jerusalem, and then to Tarsus, and from Tarsus to Antioch, and thence to Cyprus, and then through Asia Minor, etc. In this time he must have made many voyages, and been exposed to many perils. Yet all this is comprised in a few chapters, and a considerable portion of them is occupied with an account of public discourses. In that period of sixteen years, therefore, there was ample opportunity for all the occurrences which are here referred to by Paul; see Paley’s Horse Paulinae on 2 Corinthians, No. 9:
(d) I may add, that from the account which follows the time when Luke joined him at Troas (from Acts 16:10), it is altogether probable that he had endured much before. After that time there is mention of just such transactions of scourging, stoning, etc., as are here specified, and it is altogether probable that he had been called to suffer them before. When Paul says “of the Jews,” etc., he refers to this because this was a Jewish mode of punishment. It was usual with them to inflict but 39 blows. The Gentiles were not limited by law in the number which they inflicted.
Five times - This was doubtless in their synagogues and before their courts of justice. They had not the power of capital punishment, but they had the power of inflicting minor punishments. And though the instances are not specified by Luke in the Acts , yet the statement here by Paul has every degree of probability. We know that he often preached in their synagogues Acts 9:20; Acts 13:5, Acts 13:14-15; Acts 14:1; Acts 17:17; Acts 18:4; and nothing is more probable than that they would be enraged against him, and would vent their malice in every way possible. They regarded him as an apostate, and a ringleader of the Nazarenes, and they would not fail to inflict on him the severest punishment which they were permitted to inflict.
Forty stripes save one - The word “stripes” does not occur in the original, but is necessarily understood. The Law of Moses Deuteronomy 25:3 expressly limited the number of stripes that might be inflicted to 40. In no case might this number be exceeded. This was a humane provision, and one that was not found among the pagan, who inflicted any number of blows at discretion. Unhappily it is not observed among professedly Christian nations where the practice of whipping prevails, and particularly in slave countries, where the master inflicts any number of blows at his pleasure. In practice among the Hebrews, the number of blows inflicted was in fact limited to 39, lest by any accident in counting, the criminal should receive more than the number prescribed in the Law. There was another reason still for limiting it to 39. They usually made use of a scourge with three thongs, and this was struck 13 times. That it was usual to inflict but 39 lashes is apparent from Josephus, Ant. 4. viii, section 21.
Thrice was I beaten with rods - In the Acts of the Apostles there is mention made of his being beaten in this manner but once before the time when this Epistle was written. That occurred at Philippi; Acts 16:22-23. But there is no reason to doubt that it was more frequently done. This was a frequent mode of punishment among the ancient nations, and as Paul was often persecuted, he would be naturally subjected to this shameful punishment.
Once I was stoned - This was the usual mode of punishment among the Jews for blasphemy. The instance referred to here occurred at Lystra; Acts 14:19. Paley (Horae Paulinae) has remarked that this, when confronted with the history, furnished the nearest approach to a contradiction without a contradiction being actually incurred, that he ever had met with. The history Acts 14:19 contains but one account of his being actually stoned. But prior to this Acts 14:5, it mentions that “an assault was made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully and to stone them, but they were aware of it, and fled to Lystra and Derbe.” “Now,” Paley remarks, “had the assault been completed; had the history related that a stone was thrown, as it relates that preparations were made both by Jews and Gentiles to stone Paul and his companions; or even had the account of this transaction stopped without going on to inform us that Paul and his companions were aware of their danger and fled, a contradiction between the history and the Epistle would have ensued. Truth is necessarily consistent; but it is scarcely possible that independent accounts, not having truth to guide them, should thus advance to the very brink of contradiction without falling into it.”
Thrice I suffered shipwreck - On what occasions, or where, is now unknown, as these instances are not referred to in the Acts of the Apostles. The instance of shipwreck recorded there Acts 27:0, which occurred when on his way to Rome, happened after this Epistle was written, and should not be supposed to be one of the instances referred to here. Paul made many voyages in going from Jerusalem to Tarsus, and to Antioch, and to various parts of Asia Minor, and to Cyprus; and shipwrecks in those seas were by no means such unusual occurrences as to render this account improbable.
A night and a day ... - The word used here (νυχθήμερον nuchthēmeron) denotes a complete natural day, or 24 hours.
In the deep - To what this refers we do not now certainly know. It is probable, however, that Paul refers to some period when, having been shipwrecked, he was saved by supporting himself on a plank or fragment of the vessel until he obtained relief. Such a situation is one of great peril, and he mentions it, therefore, among the trials which he had endured. The supposition of some commentators that he spent his time on some rock in the deep; or of others that this means some deep dungeon; or of others that he was swallowed by a whale (that is, a big fish), like Jonah, shows the extent to which the fancy is often indulged in interpreting the Bible.
In journeyings often - Of course subject to the fatigue, toil, and danger which such a mode of life involves.
In perils of waters - In danger of losing my life at sea, or by floods, or by crossing streams.
Of robbers - Many of the countries, especially Arabia, through which he traveled, were then infested, as they are now, with robbers. It is not impossible or improbable that he was often attacked and his life endangered. It is still unsafe to travel in many of the places through which he traveled.
By mine own countrymen - The Jews. They often scourged him; laid wait for him and were ready to put him to death. They had deep enmity against him as an apostate, and he was in constant danger of being put to death by them.
By the pagan - By those who had not the true religion. Several instances of his danger from this quarter are mentioned in the Acts .
In the city - In cities, as in Derbe. Lystra, Philippi, Jerusalem, Ephesus, etc.
In the wilderness - In the desert, where he would be exposed to ambushes, or to wild beasts, or to hunger and want. Instances of this are not recorded in the Acts , but no one can doubt that they occurred, The idea here is, that he had met with constant danger wherever he was, whether in the busy haunts of people or in the solitude and loneliness of the desert.
In the sea - see 2 Corinthians 11:25.
Among false brethren - This was the crowning danger and trial to Paul, as it is to all others. A man can better bear danger by land and water, among robbers and in deserts, than he can bear to have his confidence abused, and to be subjected to the action and the arts of spies upon his conduct. Who these were he has not informed us. He mentions it as the chief trial to which he had been exposed, that he had met those who pretended to be his friends, and who yet had sought every possible opportunity to expose and destroy him. Perhaps he has here a delicate reference to the danger which he apprehended from the false brethren in the church at Corinth.
In weariness - Resulting from traveling, exposure, labor, and want. The word κόπος kopos (from κόπτω koptō, “to beat, to cut”) means, properly, “wailing and grief,” accompanied with beating the breast. Hence, the word means “toil, labor, wearisome effort.”
And painfulness - This word (μόχθος mochthos) is a stronger term than the former. It implies painful effort; labor producing sorrow, and in the New Testament is uniformly connected with the word rendered “weariness” (1 Thess, 2 Corinthians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8), rendered in both those places “travail.”
In watchings often - In loss of sleep, arising from abundant toils and from danger; see the note on 2 Corinthians 6:5.
In hunger and thirst - From traveling among strangers, and being dependent on them and on his own personal labors; see the note, 1 Corinthians 4:11.
In fastings often - Either voluntary or involuntary; see the note on 2 Corinthians 6:5.
In cold and nakedness - see the note, 1 Corinthians 4:11.
Besides those things that are without - In addition to these external trials, these trials pertaining to the body, I have mental trials and anxieties resulting from the necessary care of all the churches, But on the meaning of these words commentators are not agreed. Rosenmuller supposes that the phrase means “besides those things that come from other sources,” “that I may omit other things.” Beza, Erasmus, Bloomfield, and some others suppose that the passage means those things out of the regular routine of his office. Doddridge, “besides foreign affairs.” Probably the sense is, “Apart from the things beside” (Χωρὶς τῶν παρεκτὸς Chōris tōn parektos); “not to mention other matters; or if other matters should be laid aside, there is this continually rushing anxiety arising from the care of all the churches.” That is, this would be enough in itself. Laying aside all that arises from hunger, thirst, cold, etc., this continual care occupies my mind and weighs upon my heart.
That which cometh upon me daily - There is great force in the original here. The phrase rendered “that which cometh upon me” means properly, “that which rushes upon me.” The word (ἐπισύστασις episustasis) means properly a concourse, a crowd, hence, a tumult; and the idea here is, that these cares rushed upon him, or pressed upon him like a crowd of people or a mob that bore all before it. This is one of Paul’s most energetic expressions, and denotes the incessant anxiety of mind to which he was subject.
The care of all the churches - The care of the numerous churches which he had established, and which needed his constant supervision. They were young; many of them were feeble; many were made up of heterogeneous materials; many composed of Jews and Gentiles mingled together, with conflicting prejudices, habits, preferences; many of them were composed of those who had been gathered from the lowest ranks of life; and questions would be constantly occurring relating to their order and discipline in which Paul would feel a deep interest, and which would naturally be referred to him for decision. Besides this, they had many trials. They were persecuted, and would suffer much. In their sufferings Paul would feel deep sympathy, and would desire, as far as possible, to afford them relief. In addition to the churches which he had planted, he would feel an interest in all others, and doubtless many cases would be refered to him as an eminent apostle for counsel and advice. No wonder that all this came rushing on him like a tumultuous assembly ready to overpower him.
Who is weak ... - I sympathize with all. I feel where others feel, and their sorrows excite deep sympathetic emotions in my bosom. Like a tender and compassionate friend I am affected when I see others in circumstances of distress. The word “weak” here may refer to any lack of strength, any infirmity or feebleness arising either from body or mind. It may include all who were feeble by persecution or by disease; or it may refer to the weak in faith and doubtful about their duty (see 1 Corinthians 9:22), and to those who were burdened with mental sorrows. The idea is, that Paul had a deep sympathy in all who needed such sympathy from any cause. And the statement here shows the depth of feeling of this great apostle; and shows what should be the feeling of every pastor; see the note on Romans 12:15.
And I am not weak? - I share his feelings and sympathize with him. If he suffers, I suffer. Bloomfield supposes that Paul means that in the case of those who were weak in the faith he accommodated himself to their weakness and thus became all things to all people; see my note on 1 Corinthians 9:22. But it seems to me probable that he uses the phrase here in a more general sense, as denoting that he sympathized with those who were weak and feeble in all their circumstances.
Who is offended - (σκανδαλίζεται skandalizetai). Who is “scandalized.” The word means properly to cause to stumble and fall; hence, to be a stumbling-block to any one; to give or cause offence to anyone. The idea here seems to be, “who is liable to be led astray; who has temptations and trials that are likely to lead him to sin or to cause him to fall, and I do not burn with impatience to restore him, or with indignation against the tempter?” In all such cases Paul deeply sympathized with them, and was prompt to aid them.
And I burn not? - That is, with anger or with great agitation of mind at learning that anyone had fallen into sin. This may either mean that he would burn with indignation against those who had led them into sin, or be deeply excited in view of the disgrace which would be thus brought on the Christian cause. In either case it means that his mind would be in a glow of emotion; he would feel deeply; he could not look upon such things with indifference or without being deeply agitated. With all he sympathized; and the condition of all, whether in a state of feeble faith, or feeble body, or falling into sin, excited the deepest emotions in his mind. The truth here taught is, that Paul felt a deep sympathy for all others who bore the Christian name, and this sympathy for others greatly increased the cares and toils of the apostolic office which he sustained. But having given this exposition, candor compels me to acknowledge that the whole verse may mean, “Who is feeble in the faith in regard to certain observances and rites and customs 1 Corinthians 9:22, and I do not also evince the same? I do not rouse their prejudices, or wound their feelings, or alarm them. On the other hand, who is scandalized, or led into sin by the example of others in regard to such custom; who is led by the example of others into transgression, and I do not burn with indignation?” In either case, however, the general sense is, that he sympathized with all others.
If I must needs glory - It is unpleasant for me to boast, but circumstances have compelled me. But since I am compelled, I will not boast of my rank, or talents, but of that which is regarded by some as an infirmity.
Mine infirmities - Greek, “The things of my weakness.” The word here used is derived from the same word which is rendered weak,” in 2 Corinthians 11:29. He intends doubtless to refer here to what had preceded in his enumeration of the trials which he had endured. He had spoken of sufferings. He had endured much. He had also spoken of that tenderness of feeling which prompted him to sympathize so deeply when others suffered. He admitted that he often wept, and trembled, and glowed with strong feelings on occasions which perhaps to many would not seem to call for such strong emotions, and which they might be disposed to set down as a weakness or infirmity. This might especially be the case among the Greeks, where many philosophers, as the Stoics, were disposed to regard all sympathetic feeling, and all sensitiveness to suffering as an infirmity. But Paul admitted that he was disposed to glory in this alone. He gloried that he had sneered so much; that he had endured so many trials on account of Christianity, and that he had a mind that was capable of feeling for others and of entering into their, sorrows and trials. Well might he do this, for there is no more lovely feature in the mind of a virtuous man, and there is no more lovely influence of Christianity than this, that it teaches us to “bear a brother’s woes,” and to sympathize in all the sorrows and joys of others. Philosophy and infidelity may be dissocial, cheerless, cold; but it is not so with Christianity. Philosophy may snap asunder all the cords which bind us to the living world, but Christianity strengthens these cords; cold and cheerless atheism and scepticism may teach us to look with unconcern on a suffering world, but it is the glory of Christianity that it teaches us to feel an interest in the weal or woe of the obscurest man that lives, to rejoice in his joy, and to weep in his sorrows.
The God and Father ... - Paul was accustomed to make solemn appeals to God for the truth of what he said, especially when it was likely to be called in question; see 2 Corinthians 11:10; compare Romans 9:1. The solemn appeal which he here makes to God is made in view of what he had just said of his sufferings, not of what follows - for there was nothing in the occurrence at Damascus that demanded so solemn an appeal to God. The reason of this asseveration is probably that the transactions to which he had referred were known to but few, and perhaps not all of them to even his best friends; that his trials and calamities had been so numerous and extraordinary that his enemies would say that they were improbable, and that all this had been the mere fruit of exaggeration; and as he had no witnesses to appeal to for the truth of what he said, he makes a solemn appeal to the ever-blessed God. This appeal is made with great reverence. It is not rash, or bold, and is by no means irreverent or profane. He appeals to God as the Father of the Redeemer whom he so much venerated and loved, and as himself blessed for evermore. If all appeals to God were made on as important occasions as this, and with the same profound veneration and reverence, such appeals would never be improper, and we should never be shocked as we are often now when people appeal to God. This passage proves that an appeal to God on great occasions is not improper; it proves also that it should be done with profound veneration.
In Damascus - This circumstance is mentioned as an additional trial. It is evidently mentioned as an instance of peril which had escaped his recollection in the rapid account of his dangers enumerated in the previous verses. It is designed to show what imminent danger he was in, and how narrowly he escaped with his life. On the situation of Damascus, see the note, Acts 9:2. The transaction here referred to is also related by Luke Acts 9:24-25, though without mentioning the name of the king, or referring to the fact that the governor kept the city with a garrison.
The governor - Greek, ὁ ἐθνάρχης ho ethnarchēs, “The ethnarch;” properly a ruler of the people, a prefect, a ruler, a chief. Who he was is unknown, though he was evidently some officer under the king. It is not improbable that he was a Jew, or at any rate he was one who could be influenced by the Jews, and he was doubtless excited by the Jews to guard the city, and if possible to take Paul as a malefactor. Luke informs us Acts 9:23-24 that the Jews took counsel against Paul to kill him, and that they watched the gates night and day to effect their object. They doubtless represented Paul as an apostate, and as aiming to overthrow their religion. He had come with an important commission to Damascus and had failed to execute it; he had become the open friend of those whom he came to destroy; and they doubtless claimed of the civil authorities of Damascus that he should be given up and taken to Jerusalem for trial. It was not difficult, therefore, to secure the cooperation of the governor of the city in the case, and there is no improbability in the statement.
Under Aretas the king - There were three kings of this name who are particularly mentioned by ancient writers. The first is mentioned in 2 Macc. 5:8, as the “king of the Arabians.” He lived about 170 years before Christ, and of course could not be the one referred to here. The second is mentioned in Josephus, Antiquities 13, xv, section 2. He is first mentioned as having reigned in Coele-Syria, but as being called to the government of Damascus by those who dwelt there, on account of the hatred which they bore to Ptolemy Meneus. Whiston remarks in a note on Josephus, that this was the first king of the Arabians who took Damascus and reigned there, and that this name afterward became common to such Arabian kings as reigned at Damascus and at Petra; see Josephus, Antiquities 16, ix, section 4. Of course this king reigned some time before the transaction here referred to by Paul. A third king of this name, says Rosenmuller, is the one mentioned here. He was the father-in-law of Herod Antipas. He made war with his son-in-law Herod because he had repudiated his daughter, the wife of Herod. This he had done in order to marry his brother Philip’s wife; see the note, Matthew 14:3. On this account Aretas made war with Herod, and in order to resist him, Herod applied to Tiberius the Roman emperor for aid. Vitellius was sent by Tiberius to subdue Aretas, and to bring him dead or alive to Rome. But before Vitellius had embarked in the enterprise, Tiberius died, and thus Aretas was saved from ruin. It is supposed that in this state of things, when thus waging war with Herod, he made an incursion to Syria and seized upon Damascus, where he was reigning when Paul went there; or if not reigning there personally, he had appointed an ethnarch or governor who administered the affairs of the city in his place.
Kept the city ... - Luke Acts 9:24 says that they watched the gates day and night to kill him. This was probably the Jews. Meantime the ethnarch guarded the city, to prevent his escape. The Jews would have killed him at once; the ethnarch wished to apprehend him and bring him to trial. In either case Paul had much to fear, and he, therefore, embraced the only way of escape.
With a garrison - The word which is used here in the original (φρουρέω phroureō) means simply to watch; to guard; to keep. Our translation would seem to imply that there was a body of people stationed in order to guard the city. The true idea is, that there were men who were appointed to guard the gates of the city and to keep watch lest he should escape them. Damascus was surrounded, as all ancient cities were, with high walls, and it did not occur to them that he could escape in any other way than by the gates.
And through a window - That is, through a little door or aperture in the wall; perhaps something like an embrasure, that might have been large enough to allow a man to pass through it. Luke says Acts 9:25 that they let him down “by the wall.” But there is no inconsistency. They doubtless first passed him through the embrasure or loop-hole in the wall, and then let him down gently by the side of it. Luke does not say it was over the top of the wall, but merely that he descended by the wall. It is not probable that an embrasure or opening would be near the bottom, and consequently there would be a considerable distance for him to descend by the side of the wall after he had passed through the window. Bloomfield, however, supposes that the phrase employed by Luke and rendered “by the wall,” means properly “through the wall.” But I prefer the former interpretation.
In a basket - The word used here (σαργάνη sarganē) means anything braided or twisted; hence, a rope-basket, a net-work of cords, or a wicker hamper. It might have been such an one as was used for catching fish, or it might have been made for the occasion. The word used by Luke Acts 9:25 is σπυρὶς spuris - a word usually meaning a basket for storing grain, provisions, etc. Where Paul went immediately after he had escaped them, he does not here say. From Galatians 1:17, it appears that he went into Arabia, where he spent some time, and then returned to Damascus, and after three years he went up to Jerusalem. It would not have been safe to have gone to Jerusalem at once, and he therefore waited for the passions of the Jews to have time to cool, before he ventured himself again in their hands.
1. There may be circumstances, but they are rare, in which it may be proper to speak of our own attainments, and of our own doings; 2 Corinthians 11:1. Boasting is in general nothing but folly - the fruit of pride - but there may be situations when to state what we have done may be necessary to the vindication of our own character, and may tend to honor God. Then we should do it; not to trumpet forth our own fame, but to glorify God and to advance his cause. Occasions occur however but rarely in which it is proper to speak in this manner of ourselves.
2. The church should be pure. It is the bride of the Redeemer; the “Lamb’s wife;” 2 Corinthians 11:2. It is soon to be presented to Christ, soon to be admitted to his presence. How holy should be that church which sustains such a relation! How anxious to be worthy to appear before the Son of God!
3. All the individual members of that church should be holy; 2 Corinthians 11:2. They as individuals are soon to be presented in heaven as the fruit of the labors of the Son of God, and as entitled to his eternal love. How pure should be the lips that are soon to speak his praise in heaven; how pure the eyes that are soon to behold his glory; how holy the feet that are soon to tread his courts in the heavenly world!
4. There is great danger of being corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ; 2 Corinthians 11:3. Satan desires to destroy us; and his great object is readily accomplished if he can seduce Christians from simple devotedness to the Redeemer; if he can secure corruption in doctrine or in the manner of worship, and can produce conformity in dress and in the style of living to this world. Formerly, he excited persecution. But in that he was foiled. The more the church was persecuted the more it grew. Then he changed his ground. What he could not do by persecution he sought to do by corrupting the church; and in this he has been by far more successful. This can be done slowly but certainly; effectually but without exciting suspicion. And it matters not to Satan whether the church is crippled by persecution or its zeal destroyed by false doctrine and by conformity to the world. His aim is secured; and the power of the church destroyed. The form in which he now assails the church is by attempting to seduce it from simple and hearty attachment to the Saviour. And, O! in how many instances is he successful.
5. Our religion has cost much suffering. We have in this chapter a detail of extraordinary trials and sorrows in establishing it; and we have reason to be thankful, in some degree, that the enemies of Paul made it necessary for him to boast in this manner. We have thus some most interesting details of facts of which otherwise we should have been ignorant; and we see that the life of Paul was a life of continual self-denial and toil. By sea and land; at home and abroad; among his own countrymen and strangers, he was subjected to continued privations and persecution. So it has been always in regard to the establishment of the gospel. It began its career in the sufferings of its great Author, and the foundation of the church was laid in his blood. It progressed amidst sufferings, for all the apostles, except John, it is supposed were martyrs. It continued to advance amidst sufferings - for 10 fiery persecutions raged throughout the Roman Empire, and thousands died in consequence of their professed attachment to the Saviour. It has been always propagated in pagan lands by self-denials and sacrifices, for the life of a missionary is that of sacrifice and toil. How many such people as David Brainerd and Henry Martyn have sacrificed their lives in order to extend the true religion around the world!
6. All that we enjoy is the fruit of the sufferings, toils, and sacrifices of others. We have not one Christian privilege or hope which has not cost the life of many a martyr. How thankful should we be to God that he was pleased to raise up people who would be willing thus to suffer, and that he sustained and kept them until their work was accomplished!
7. We may infer the sincerity of the people engaged in propagating the Christian religion. What had Paul to gain in the sorrows which he endured? Why did he not remain in his own land and reap the honors which were then fully within his grasp? The answer is an easy one. It was because he believed that Christianity was true; and believing that, he believed that it was of importance to make it known to the world. Paul did not endure these sorrows, and encounter these perils for the sake of pleasure, honor, or gain. No man who reads this chapter can doubt that he was sincere, and that he was an honest man.
8. The Christian religion is, therefore, true. Not because the first preachers were sincere for the advocates of error are often sincere, and are willing to suffer much or even to die as martyrs; but because this was a case when their sincerity proved the facts in regard to the truth of Christianity. It was not sincerity in regard to opinions merely, it was in regard to facts. They not only believed that the Messiah had come and died and risen again, but they saw him - saw him when he lived; saw him die; saw him after he was risen; and it was in relation to these facts that they were sincere. But how could they be deceived here? People may be deceived in their opinions; but how could John, e. g., be deceived in affirming that he was intimately acquainted - the bosom friend - with Jesus of Nazareth; that he saw him die; and that he conversed with him after he had died? In this he could not be mistaken; and sooner than deny this, John would have spent his whole life in a cave in Patmos, or have died on the cross or at the stake. But if John saw all this, then the Christian religion is true.
9. We should be willing to suffer now. If Paul and the other apostles were willing to endure so much, why should not we be? If they were willing to deny themselves so much in order that the gospel should be spread among the nations, why should not we be? It is now just as important that it should be spread as it was then; and the church should be just as willing to sacrifice its comforts to make the gospel known as it was in the days of Paul. We may add, also, that if there was the same devotedness to Christ evinced by all Christians now which is described in this chapter; if there was the same zeal and self-denial, the time would not be far distant when the gospel would be spread all around the world. May the time soon come when all Christians shall have the same self-denial as Paul; and especially when all who enter the ministry shall be willing to forsake country and home, and to encounter peril in the city and the wilderness; on the sea and the land; to meet cold, and nakedness, hunger, thirst, persecution, and death in any way in order that they may make known the name of the Saviour to a lost world.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25