Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 11

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

Paul found it necessary to remind and reveal to the Corinthians some of the evidences of the Lord’s commendation of his ministry (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:18). He called this "foolishness" because he should not have had to speak of these things. He and his ministry were well known to his readers.

Verses 1-6

1. Paul’s reasons for making these claims 11:1-6

In the first subsection he explained his need to present this evidence.

Verses 1-18

B. Claims made by Paul 11:1-12:18

In this section Paul gave further evidence that he possessed apostolic authority to encourage the whole Corinthian church to continue to respond positively to his ministry. Some writers refer to 2 Corinthians 11:1 to 2 Corinthians 12:13 as Paul’s "Fool’s Speech" because of the recurring "foolishness" terminology in this passage (aphrosyne, aphron, paraphron; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Corinthians 11:16 [twice], 17, 19, 23; 2 Corinthians 12:11; 2 Corinthians 12:16).

Verse 2

God had jealously guarded His people Israel from the deceitfulness of deceivers who sought to draw their affections away from Himself (cf. Hosea 2:19-20; Hosea 4:12; Hosea 6:4; Hosea 11:8). Paul felt the same concern for the Corinthians. His jealousy was in that sense "godly" (God-like). Paul pictured himself as the father of a virgin bride (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:15; 2 Corinthians 12:14). His desire was to keep his daughter, the Corinthian church, pure until she would consummate her marriage to Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:14; Ephesians 5:27; 1 John 3:2-3). [Note: See Richard D. Patterson, "Metaphors of Marriage as Expressions of Divine-Human Relations," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51:4 (December 2008):689-702.] This will take place at the Rapture.

"Human jealousy is a vice, but to share divine jealousy is a virtue. It is the motive and object of the jealousy that is all-important. There is a place for a spiritual father’s passionate concern for the exclusive and pure devotion to Christ of his spiritual children, and also a place for anger at potential violators of that purity (2 Corinthians 11:29)." [Note: Harris, p. 385.]

The motive of Paul’s critics in citing what they had done was self-glorification, but Paul’s was the welfare of his readers. This is the first of three reasons that Paul gave for the Corinthians to bear with him (2 Corinthians 11:1). He wanted them to be completely loyal to Christ.

Verse 3

Paul’s critics were not just calling his apostolic authority into question. They were leading the Corinthians astray. The apostle communicated the seriousness of this seduction by comparing it with the serpent’s cunning deception (Gr. exepatesen) of Eve (Genesis 3:13).

"The very future of the Corinthians as an apostolic church is in jeopardy." [Note: Barnett, p. 501.]

Genuine Christians can be and are being deceived by false teachers and are abandoning their faith today. This sometimes happens when young people go off to college and conclude that what they learned in church is unscientific. It also happens when Christian’s accept the teachings of cultists who come knocking on their doors.

Verse 4

The Jesus they were preaching was different enough from Him whom Paul preached that Paul could say their Jesus was a different person. The "if" in this verse does not represent a hypothetical possibility but a past reality. In listening to the false teachers’ message the church was under the influence of some sort of spirit, but it was not the Holy Spirit. They were in danger of accepting a different gospel (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:5; Galatians 1:8-9). In all this they were bearing up "beautifully." Paul described ironically their accepting it all very graciously and submissively from the false apostles (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:7). Since they showed such remarkable toleration of false teachers surely they owed their father in the faith the same toleration.

This is the second reason the Corinthians should bear with Paul (2 Corinthians 11:1): their willingness to accept visitors who presented an adulterated message.

Verse 5

The "eminent apostles" were probably the false apostles who claimed to be eminent rather than the other genuine apostles. [Note: Hughes, pp. 378-80; Richard Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians, pp. 1245-7; Plummer, pp. 298-9; Tasker, pp. 148-9; Barnett, pp. 50708; Martin, p. 337; Wiersbe, 1:669.] The context supports this interpretation as does the rare term translated "eminent" (NASB, Gr. huperlian apostolon, lit. "exceedingly beyond apostles"). It is perhaps a term more appropriate to phonies claiming apostleship than to genuine apostles. However this term may have been one that Paul’s critics used to describe the Twelve in contrast to Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:11-12). [Note: Bruce, pp. 236-7; Hodge, p. 256; Kent, pp. 164-5; Harris, p. 386; Lowery, p. 580.] By elevating the Twelve exceedingly they effectively denigrated the apostle to the Gentiles. Whichever view is correct the meaning is clear. Paul’s foes were claiming that he was an inferior apostle.

This is the third reason the readers should bear with Paul (2 Corinthians 11:1). He claimed that he was not inferior to these "super-apostles."

Verse 6

Paul had just said that he was not inferior. He was not now claiming that he was inferior in speech. He evidently meant that even if his critics’ charge that he was inferior in speech was true, which it was not, no one could charge him with being inferior in knowledge. Another view is that Paul meant he was not professionally trained as a rhetorician. The Corinthians knew very well Paul’s superior knowledge of the revelations of God (cf. Ephesians 3:4-5; 1 Corinthians 2:6-11). He had expounded divine truth to his readers exhaustively in person and in his letters. Obviously knowledge is more important than speech.

Paul had previously revealed that some of his Corinthian hearers criticized him for not being a skilled rhetorician (2 Corinthians 10:10). Nevertheless Paul was as competent as any of the Twelve or any of his critics in his ability to communicate as well as in his ability to understand God’s revelations. He was responding to criticism of him here, not conceding inferiority.

The fact that the early Christians used the word "apostle" in a general sense (e.g., 2 Corinthians 8:23; Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14; et al.) and in a technical sense (e.g., 2 Corinthians 1:1; et al.) probably created some confusion. In what sense was Paul an apostle? He claimed to be an apostle on a level equal with the Twelve. Yet the word in the general sense means anyone sent out on the Christian mission, and in this sense the teachers in Corinth who were criticizing Paul were apostles. Perhaps it would be more accurate to define the Corinthians’ question about Paul as what type of apostle was he rather than was he an apostle or not.

Verses 7-8

Again Paul used irony (meaning the opposite of what he said): "or did I commit a sin in humbling myself." This is almost sarcasm. He had written that apostles have the right to refrain from working for a living and to live off the gifts of their audiences (1 Corinthians 9:6; 1 Corinthians 9:14). Yet he had made tents in Corinth and had refused to accept gifts from the Corinthians (cf. Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 9:4-15). This indicated to some in Corinth that he did not believe he was an apostle. The other apostles normally accepted support from the recipients of their ministries, and these false apostles evidently did so consistently.

Paul had expounded God’s truth in Corinth without accepting money from his converts there for doing so. He adopted this policy in Corinth and elsewhere because he did not want to burden the people he was currently ministering to. He also did so because he knew there were people who would accuse him of preaching to receive payment. He accepted financial help from other churches while not ministering to them directly ("robbed them") so he could serve the Corinthians without taxing them.

Verses 7-15

2. Freedom to minister without charge 11:7-15

Paul claimed the freedom to minister in Corinth without receiving financial support from the Corinthians to illustrate his self-sacrificing love for his readers and his critics’ selfishness. He digressed from his "foolish" boasting (2 Corinthians 11:1-6) to defend his policy regarding his own financial support (2 Corinthians 11:7-12) and to describe his opponents’ true identity (2 Corinthians 11:13-16).

Verse 9

Paul had practiced his trade of leather-working (Gr. skenopoios) when he had first arrived in Corinth (Acts 18:3). When Silas and Timothy joined him from Macedonia, Paul stopped this work and devoted all his time to preaching and teaching (Acts 18:5). He apparently did this because these brothers had brought financial gifts with them from the Macedonian churches (cf. Philippians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 3:6). Paul’s principle was to preach and teach without charging those who benefited directly from his ministry. This is a good policy in church planting, but it is not normative for a settled pastoral ministry (1 Corinthians 9:14; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). [Note: Cf. Barnett, p. 518.]

Verses 10-12

Paul claimed that he had not sinned in behaving as he had (2 Corinthians 11:7). He had not deceived his readers. Rather, as God knew his heart, he had behaved as he had because he loved the Corinthians. Furthermore it was not necessary for him to change his policy of accepting or declining support on the basis of the welfare of those he served. His critics uniformly accepted support. By giving up his right to preach the gospel without cost Paul would have been descending to their level. He also would have enabled his critics to compare themselves with him favorably.

Verses 13-15

"The moment has come for Paul to drop the veil of irony and to speak in the plainest possible terms in denunciation of these would-be ’super-apostles’ who have invaded his territory in Achaia." [Note: Hughes, p. 392.]

Paul did not want the Corinthians to associate him with these people because they were counterfeit ambassadors of Christ. It is for this reason that their accusations concerned Paul. They were self-servers who were the true sons of their father Satan, the consummate hypocrite. [Note: See Gregory H. Harris, "Satan’s Work as a Deceiver," Bibliotheca Sacra 156:622 (April-June 1999):190-202.] They may have been genuine believers. Indeed they appear to have been. Nevertheless in their conduct they were following the example of Satan. They perverted the thinking and misdirected the affections of the Corinthians. Some scholars have argued that these "false apostles" were different individuals from the "eminent apostles" of 2 Corinthians 11:5, but I agree with those who see them as the same. Another view of their identity follows.

"Several factors suggest . . . that they were Palestinian Jews, members of the Jerusalem church who were false brothers (cf. Galatians 2:4) in Paul’s estimation." [Note: Lowery, p. 579.]

In our own day when people value toleration so highly and practice it so widely even in the church, we need to learn from Paul’s example of calling a spade a spade. The welfare of those under his ministry required him to identify his critics for who they really were. We shall serve our generation faithfully if we do the same. We should point out teachers who lead others into error and warn people about them if we want to keep the naive from harm (cf. 3 John 1:9-10).

Verse 16

Paul apologized again for having to resort to mentioning these experiences (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:1). He did so to prove to the skeptical minority in the church that he had suffered as much as, if not even more than, the false apostles. The false teachers had impressed the "wise" Corinthians with their boasts. Consequently Paul answered these fools according to their folly (Proverbs 26:5). However, he stressed that he was not a fool but was only speaking as one (i.e., boasting) to make his point.

"The key term is aphron, ’fool’: not a dim-witted person or clown, a jester (as in ’play the fool’), but in the technical sense of the person in hellenistic-Roman society who had lost the correct measure (metron) of himself and the world around him . . ." [Note: Martin, p. 362.]

Verses 16-33

3. Paul’s service and sufferings 11:16-33

To answer his critics and prove the extent of his own service and sufferings for Christ, Paul related many of his painful experiences as an apostle.

Verses 17-18

These two verses are probably parenthetical. Paul evidently knew that only such "boasting" would convince the minority of his own genuineness. Straightforward claims such as the Lord Jesus made would not.

"The reason for Paul’s embarrassment at this juncture is now given: self-commendation is not ’after the Lord’ [cf. Romans 15:5; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 2:8] but, the exact opposite, ’after the flesh’ [cf. 2 Corinthians 5:16], that is, typical of the old unregenerate nature whose values are dictated by the external, self-centered standards of this fallen world." [Note: Hughes, p. 397.]

Verses 19-21

The apostle was most ironical in these verses (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:10). The Corinthians considered themselves unusually wise, but they were being unusually foolish by not only humoring the fools in their midst but doing so gladly. They were absurdly tolerant. They submitted to the teaching of the false apostles even though it resulted in their own enslavement. Probably this teaching involved the Judaizing error (i.e., submission to the Mosaic Law is necessary for justification and or sanctification, cf. Galatians 2:4; Galatians 5:1). The false teachers had evidently devoured the Corinthians’ financial contributions. They had abused them and exalted themselves at their expense. Hitting in the face may have occurred (cf. Acts 23:2; 1 Corinthians 4:11), but it definitely pictures the most insulting and harmful conduct. How inconsistent this behavior was with the manner of the Savior.

Ironically Paul feigned shame that he had behaved so weakly among them. Really it was the Corinthian Christians who should have been ashamed (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:5; 1 Corinthians 15:34). Paul’s conduct had been Christ-like. Now he was experiencing abuse for such gentleness, as his Master had.

Verses 21-22

After repeated warnings that he was going to boast (2 Corinthians 10:8; 2 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Corinthians 11:6; 2 Corinthians 11:16), Paul now finally began. At first he matched each of his critic’s claims: "So am I."

"It is probable that this ’Speech’ mirrors, but so as to parody and also correct, the claims of the newly arrived false apostles." [Note: Barnett, p. 534.]

"Thus the ’Speech’ proper has elements of antitriumphalism as well as of triumph, characteristics that inexactly replicate those in the remarkable victory parade metaphor set out in 2 Corinthians 2:14." [Note: Ibid., p. 535.]

The term "Hebrew" had three connotations. A "Hebrew" was a pure-blooded Jew and or one who could read the Old Testament in the original languages and speak Aramaic as contrasted with one who knew only Greek (cf. Acts 6:1; Philippians 3:5).

"’Hebrew’ . . . denotes Jews whose family ties were Palestinian, if they were not wholly resident in Palestine. . . . It looks very much as if Paul’s opponents at Corinth were of Palestinian provenance." [Note: Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, pp. 240-1.]

As an Israelite, Paul was a member of God’s chosen people, as his critics were. Paul traced his descent all the way back to Abraham. He probably did so to connect himself with the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant and circumcision, both of which were of cardinal importance to the Jews. Thus in his upbringing, his citizenship, and his ancestry Paul was not inferior to any of his Jewish critics.

Verses 23-25

The apostle listed general afflictions he had suffered in the service of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23) and then cited specific examples (2 Corinthians 11:24-25). He turned from nationality (2 Corinthians 11:23) to achievements (2 Corinthians 11:24-29). Here he claimed superiority to his critics, not just equality with them. He proceeded from speaking as a fool (2 Corinthians 11:16-17; 2 Corinthians 11:21) to talking like a madman (2 Corinthians 11:23).

His opponents claimed to be servants of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23), but really they were masquerading as such (2 Corinthians 11:13). Paul alone was the true servant of the Lord. However instead of citing successes that he had experienced in his ministry, the awards that he had received from others, he listed his apparent defeats. Thus he boasted in his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 11:30; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:5; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

". . . Paul is not in fact magnifying self in the passage which is now beginning-in this, too, there is complete disparity between himself and his adversaries-but he is magnifying, as he does throughout this epistle, the amazing grace of God which in the midst of afflictions and sufferings is sufficient for his every need." [Note: Hughes, p. 406.]

Paul’s writing of 2 Corinthians fits into Luke’s chronology of his life at Acts 20:2, so everything that Paul described here occurred before Acts 20:2. Paul’s life involved many more dangerous experiences than we read about in Acts. Paul referred to many imprisonments (2 Corinthians 11:23), but Acts only records one before this time (i.e., in Philippi, Acts 16:23-40).

"Prison (cf. Acts 16:23) was merely detention until trial or execution, but having been in prison and bonds were matters of grave shame in the culture-not a typical subject of boasting!" [Note: Keener, p. 234.]

The apostle mentioned numberless beatings (2 Corinthians 11:23), whereas Acts only records one by now (also in Philippi, Acts 16:22-23). The only record of a near fatal experience in Acts before this was Paul’s stoning at Lystra (Acts 14:19), though Paul said he had often been in danger of dying (2 Corinthians 11:23). Paul claimed to have received whippings by the Jews five times (2 Corinthians 11:24), but Acts says nothing about any of these. It does not mention the three beatings (by the Gentiles, 2 Corinthians 11:25; cf. 2 Timothy 3:11) either.

"The fact that St Paul was thrice treated in this way is evidence that being a Roman citizen was an imperfect protection when magistrates were disposed to be brutal." [Note: Plummer, p. 325.]

Paul had already experienced shipwreck three times by now, though Luke recorded none of these in Acts. Paul’s night and day in the sea (2 Corinthians 11:26) also comes as news to the reader of Acts.

"Ancient sources suggest that shipwreck was a common experience for those who spent much time on the sea (cf. Ps.-Phoc.25), especially if they traveled even during the more dangerous seasons. Some would view surviving them (especially multiple times), however, as divine protection or even vindication." [Note: Keener, p. 234.]

Obviously in Acts Luke gave us only a highly selective account of the Apostle Paul’s very difficult life.

Verses 26-27

Paul broadened his description from specific hardships to general types of danger (2 Corinthians 11:26) and privation (2 Corinthians 11:27) that he had experienced as an apostle. Paul’s sufferings on his journeys as a missionary merited special mention (2 Corinthians 11:26) as did his labors when he settled in an area to plant a church (2 Corinthians 11:27). Again Luke recorded only a few of these in Acts (cf. Acts 9:23; Acts 9:29; Acts 13:13; Acts 13:45; Acts 13:50; Acts 14:19; Acts 14:24; Acts 16:16-40; Acts 18:12; Acts 19:23-41)

Verses 28-29

All the previous trials that Paul enumerated were temporary, but what follows remained with him always. Internal pressure (2 Corinthians 11:28) harassed Paul on top of all the external difficulties that he endured. Specifically, concern for the weak and the moral failures of his converts disturbed Paul (2 Corinthians 11:29).

"And so it should be with every faithful pastor of Christ’s flock: he should lovingly identify himself with those who have been committed to his care, showing himself deeply anxious for their spiritual well-being, compassionate with them in their frailties and temptations, and resisting and resenting every one who seeks to entice them away from the purity of their devotion to Christ. This compassion is not of man: it is the divine compassion of Christ Himself, burning in the heart of His servant, and blazing forth in love to reach and to bind to the one Bridegroom the hearts of those to whom he ministers." [Note: Hughes, p. 418.]

Verses 30-31

Rather than boasting about his strengths, as his critics did, Paul boasted in his weaknesses, humiliations, and sufferings. These would not initially impress others with his qualifications as an apostle, but these afflictions had come upon him as he had served others and Christ faithfully. They were evidences that God had supernaturally sustained His servant through countless discouraging circumstances. They were, therefore, the greatest possible proof and vindication that Paul was an apostle (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 2 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Corinthians 4:10-11; 2 Corinthians 12:5; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul’s boast was that he resembled the Suffering Servant; his life was like that of Christ. Paul called God as his witness that his claims, which probably seemed incredible to those who did not know him well, were true.

It seems probable that Paul anticipated what he was about to say in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33 with his strong claim in 2 Corinthians 11:31. [Note: Alford, 2:707-8; Hughes, pp. 419-20; et al.] Others believe Paul was referring to what he had already written in this chapter. [Note: E.g., Tasker, p. 167; Hodge, p. 278; et al.] Still others think he meant what he wrote before and after this verse. [Note: E.g., Plummer, p. 332.]

Verses 32-33

Perhaps Paul mentioned the final experience he cited because it was his first experience of suffering for the gospel. It provided a pattern for Paul’s life that continued. Paul’s critics may have charged him with cowardice in his escape from Damascus, though there is no basis for this revealed in the text. That may be an additional reason he mentioned it, though I doubt it. It may also have been that it would have reminded his readers of his supernatural call and appointment as an apostle on the Damascus road. It was undoubtedly a humbling memory for Paul too. This specific example of danger increases the emotional intensity of Paul’s litany of sufferings in the reader.

Aretas IV was the father-in-law of Herod Antipas. He lived in Petra and ruled the kingdom of Nabatea (called Arabia in Galatians 1:17) between 9 B.C. and A.D. 40. Damascus at the time of Paul’s conversion may have been under Nabatean rule. [Note: Hughes, p. 425.] Alternatively it was under Roman rule, and a colony of Nabateans controlled it. [Note: Bruce, pp. 244-45.] A third possibility is that Aretas ruled the Nabatean population of Damascus. [Note: Keener, p. 236.] The historical evidence is incomplete. Aretas evidently wanted to arrest Paul because the apostle began evangelizing in that region immediately after his conversion (cf. Acts 9:20; Galatians 1:17; Galatians 1:22-23). His activity antagonized the Jews living in the area who obtained official support for their opposition to Paul (cf. Acts 9 23-25). Aretas himself may have been a Jew. [Note: Hughes, p. 425.]

In many of his examples Paul presented himself as one who did not fit the pattern of "successful" ministers of the gospel. Like the Corinthians, we modern Christians tend to evaluate a person’s success on the basis of the standards of the world. Rather than playing down the events in his ministry that made him look inferior, Paul emphasized them because they glorified God’s remarkably sufficient grace. In view of all Paul’s calamities there is no way he could have been so effective unless God was with Him.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.