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2 Corinthians 11

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

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Verses 1-33

Chapter 11

THE PERIL OF SEDUCTION ( 2 Corinthians 11:1-6 )

11:1-6 Would that you would bear with me in a little foolishness--but I know that you do bear with me. I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God, for I betrothed you to one husband, I wished to present a pure maiden to Christ. But I am afraid, that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your thoughts may be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity which look to Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus, a Jesus whom we did not preach, if you take a different spirit, a spirit which you did not take, if you receive a different gospel, a gospel which you did not receive, you bear it excellently! Well, I reckon that I am in nothing inferior to these super-apostles. I may be quite untrained in speaking, but I am not untrained in knowledge, but, in fact, in everything and in all things we made the knowledge of God clear to you.

All through this section Paul has to adopt methods which are completely distasteful to him. He has to stress his own authority, to boast about himself and to keep comparing himself with those who are seeking to seduce the Corinthian Church; and he does not like it. He apologizes every time he has to speak in such a way, for he was not a man to stand on his dignity. It was said of a great man, "He never remembered his dignity until others forgot it." But Paul knew that it was not really his dignity and honour that were at stake, but the dignity and the honour of Jesus Christ.

He begins by using a vivid picture from Jewish marriage customs. The idea of Israel as the bride of God is common in the Old Testament. "Your Maker," said Isaiah, "is your husband." ( Isaiah 54:5). "As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." ( Isaiah 62:5). So it was natural for Paul to use the metaphor of marriage and to think of the Corinthian Church as the bride of Christ.

At a Jewish wedding there were two people called the friends of the bridegroom, one representing the bridegroom and one the bride. They had many duties. They acted as liaisons between the bride and the bridegroom; they carried the invitations to the guests; but they had one particular responsibility, that of guaranteeing the chastity of the bride. That is what is in Paul's thought here. In the marriage of Jesus Christ and the Corinthian Church he is the friend of the bridegroom. It is his responsibility to guarantee the chastity of the bride, and he will do all he can to keep the Corinthian Church pure and a fit bride for Jesus Christ.

There was a Jewish legend current in Paul's time that, in the Garden of Eden, Satan had actually seduced Eve and that Cain was the child of their union. Paul is thinking of that old legend when he fears that the Corinthian Church is being seduced from Christ.

It is clear that there were in Corinth men who were preaching their own version of Christianity and insisting that it was superior to Paul's. It is equally clear that they regarded themselves as very special people--super-apostles, Paul calls them. Ironically Paul says that the Corinthians listen splendidly to them. If they give them such an excellent hearing will they not listen to him?

Then he draws the contrast between these false apostles and himself He is quite untrained in speaking. The word he uses is idiotes ( G2399) . This word began by meaning a private individual who took no part in public life. It went on to mean someone with no technical training, what we would call a layman. Paul says that these false but arrogant apostles may be far better equipped orators than he is; they may be the professionals and he the mere amateur in words; they may be the men with the academic qualifications and he the mere layman. But the fact remains, however unskilled he may be in technical oratory, he knows what he is talking about and they do not.

There is a famous story which tells how a company of people were dining together. After dinner it was agreed that each should recite something. A well-known actor rose and, with all the resources of elocution and dramatic art, he declaimed the twenty-third psalm and sat down to tremendous applause. A quiet man followed him. He too began to recite the twenty-third psalm and at first there was rather a titter. But before he had ended there was a stillness that was more eloquent than any applause. When he had spoken the last words there was silence, and then the actor leant across and said, "Sir, I know the psalm, but you know the shepherd."

Paul's opponents might have all the resources of oratory and he might be unskilled in speech; but he knew what he was talking about because he knew the real Christ.

MASQUERADING AS CHRISTIANS ( 2 Corinthians 11:7-15 )

11:7-15 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you should be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you for nothing? I plundered other Churches and took pay from them in order to render service to you. And when I was present with you and when I had been reduced to want I did not squeeze charity out of any man. The brothers who came from Macedonia again supplied my want. In everything I watched that I should not be a burden on you, and I will go on doing so. As Christ's truth is in me, as far as I am concerned this boast will not be silenced in the regions of Achaea. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I love you. But I do this and I will continue to do it, in order to eliminate the opportunity of those who wish an opportunity to prove themselves the same as we are--and to boast about it. Such men are false apostles. They are crafty workers. They masquerade as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is then no great wonder if his servants too masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their deeds deserve.

Here again Paul is meeting a charge that has been levelled against him. This time the charge is clear. It was rankling in the minds of the Corinthian Church that Paul had refused to accept any support from them whatsoever. When he was in want it was the Philippian Church who had supplied his needs (compare Php_4:10-18 ).

Before we go further with this passage, we must ask, how could Paul maintain this attitude of utter independence with regard to the Corinthian Church and yet accept gifts from the Philippian Church? He was not being inconsistent and the reason was a very practical and excellent one. As far as we know, Paul never accepted a gift from the Church at Philippi when he was in Philippi. He did so only after he had moved on. The reason is clear. So long as he was in any given place he had to be utterly independent, under obligation to no man. It is hardly possible to accept a man's bounty and then condemn him or preach against him. When he was in the middle of the Philippian community Paul could not be beholden to any man. It was different when he had moved on. He was then free to take what the love of the Philippians chose to give, for then it would commit him to no man or party. It would have been impossible for Paul, when in Corinth, to receive Corinthian support and at the same time maintain the independence which the situation demanded. He was not in the least inconsistent; he was only wise.

Why were the Corinthians so annoyed about his refusal? For one thing, according to the Greek way of thinking, it was beneath a free man's dignity to work with his hands. The dignity of honest toil was forgotten, and the Corinthians did not understand Paul's point of view. For another thing, in the Greek world, teachers were supposed to make money out of teaching. There never was an age in which a man who could talk could make so much money. Augustus, the Roman Emperor, paid Verrius Flaccus, the rhetorician, an annual salary of 100,000 sesterces, which, in present day purchasing power was the equivalent of a quarter of a million pounds. Every town was entitled to grant complete exemption from all civic burdens and taxes to a certain number of teachers of rhetoric and literature. Paul's independence was something that the Corinthians could not understand.

As for the false apostles, they, too, made Paul's independence a charge against him. They took support all right, and they claimed that the fact that they took it was a proof that they really were apostles. No doubt they maintained that Paul refused to take anything because his teaching was not worth anything. But in their heart of hearts they were afraid that people would see through them, and they wanted to drag Paul down to their own level of acquisitiveness so that his independence would no longer form a contrast to their greed.

Paul accused them of masquerading as apostles of Christ. The Jewish legend was that Satan had once masqueraded as one of the angels who sang praises to God and that it was then that Eve had seen him and been seduced.

It is still true that many masquerade as Christians, some consciously but still more unconsciously. Their Christianity is a superficial dress in which there is no reality. The Synod of the Church in Uganda drew up the following four tests by which a man may examine himself and test the reality of his Christianity.

(i) Do you know salvation through the Cross of Christ?

(ii) Are you growing in the power of the Holy Spirit, in

prayer, meditation and the knowledge of God?

(iii) Is there a great desire to spread the Kingdom of God

by example, and by preaching and teaching?

(iv) Are you bringing others to Christ by individual

searching, by visiting, and by public witness?

With the conscience of others we have nothing to do, but we can test our own Christianity lest our faith also should be not a reality but a masquerade.

THE CREDENTIALS OF AN APOSTLE ( 2 Corinthians 11:16-33 )

11:16-33 Again I say, let no one think me a fool. But, even if you do, bear with me, even if it is as a fool that you do bear with me, so that I too may boast a little. I am not saying what I am saying as if talk like this was inspired by the Lord, but I am talking with boastful confidence as in foolishness. Since many boast about their human qualifications I too will boast, for you--because you are sensible people--suffer fools gladly. I know that this is true because you suffer it if someone reduces you to abject slavery, if someone devours you, if someone ensnares you, if someone behaves arrogantly to you, if someone strikes you on the face. It is in dishonour that I speak, because of course we are weak! All the same, if anyone makes daring claims--it is in foolishness I am speaking--I too can make them. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? This is madman's raving--I am more so. Here is my record--In toils more exceedingly, in prisons more exceedingly, in stripes beyond measure, in deaths often; at the hands of the Jews five times I have received the forty stripes less one; three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day have I been adrift on the deep. I have lived in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of brigands, in perils which came from my own countrymen, in perils which came from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils upon the sea, in perils among false brethren, in labour and toil, in many a sleepless night, in hunger and in thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Apart altogether from the things I have omitted, there is the strain that is on me every day, my anxiety for all the Churches. Is there anyone's weakness which I do not share? Is there anyone who stumbles and I do not bum with shame? If I must boast, I will boast of the things of my weakness. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, he who is blessed forever, knows that I do not lie. In Damascus, Aretas, the king's governor, set a guard upon the city of the Damascenes to arrest me, and I was let down in a basket through an opening through the wall, and escaped out of his hands.

All against his will Paul is forced to produce his credentials as an apostle. He feels that the whole thing is folly, and, when it comes to comparing himself with other people, it seems to him like madness. Nevertheless, not for his own sake, but for the sake of the gospel that he preaches, it has to be done.

It is clear that his opponents were Jewish teachers who claimed to have a gospel and an authority far beyond his. He sketches them in a few lightning strokes, when he speaks about what the Corinthians are willing to endure at their hands. They reduce the Corinthians to abject slavery: This they do by trying to persuade them to submit to circumcision and the thousand and one petty rules and regulations of the Jewish law, and so to abandon the glorious liberty of the gospel of grace. They devour them. The Jewish rabbis at their worst could be shamelessly rapacious. Theoretically they held that a rabbi must take no money for teaching and must win his bread by the work of his hands, but they also taught that it was work of exceptional merit to support a rabbi and that he who did so made sure of a place in the heavenly academy. They behaved arrogantly. They lorded it over the Corinthians. In point of fact the rabbis demanded a respect greater than that given to parents, and actually claimed that, if a man's father and teacher were both captured by brigands, he must ransom his teacher first, and only then his father. They struck them on the face. This may describe insulting behaviour, or it may well be meant quite literally (compare Acts 23:2). The Corinthians had come to the curious stage of seeing in the very insolence of the Jewish teachers a guarantee of their apostolic authority.

The false teachers have made three claims which Paul asserts that he can equal.

They claim to be Hebrews. This word was specially used of the Jews who still remembered and spoke their ancient Hebrew language in its Aramaic form, which was its form in the time of Paul. There were Jews scattered all over the world, for instance there were one million of them in Alexandria. Many of these Jews of the dispersion had forgotten their native tongue and spoke Greek; and the Jews of Palestine, who had preserved their native tongue, always looked down on them. Quite likely Paul's opponents had been saying, "This Paul is a citizen of Tarsus. He is not like us a pure-bred Palestinian but one of these Greekling Jews." Paul says, "No! I too am one who has never forgotten the purity of his ancestral tongue." They could not claim superiority on that score.

They claim to be Israelites. The word described a Jew as a man who was a member of God's chosen people. The basic sentence of the Jewish creed, the sentence with which every synagogue service opens, runs, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord" ( Deuteronomy 6:4). No doubt these hostile Jews were saying, "This Paul never lived in Palestine. He has slipped away out of the chosen people, living in Greek surroundings in Cilicia." Paul says, "No! I am as pure an Israelite as any man. My lineage is the lineage of the people of God." They cannot claim superiority on that point.

They claim to be descendants of Abraham. By that they meant that they were Abraham's direct descendants and therefore heirs to the great promise that God had made to him ( Genesis 12:1-3). No doubt they claimed that this Paul was not of as pure descent as they. "No!" says Paul. "I am of as pure descent as any man" ( Php_3:5-6 ). They had no claim to superiority here either.

Then Paul sets out his credentials as an apostle, and the only claim he would put forward is the catalogue of his sufferings for Christ. When Mr. Valiant-for-truth was "taken with a summons" and knew that he must go to God, he said, "I am going to my Father's; and though with great difficulty I am got hither yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought his battles who will now be my rewarder." Like Mr. Valiant-for-truth, Paul found his only credentials in his scars.

When we read the catalogue of all that Paul had endured, the one thing that must strike us is how little we know about him. When he wrote this letter, he was in Ephesus. That is to say we have reached only as far as Acts 19:1-41; and if we try to check this catalogue of endurance against the narrative of that book, we find that not one quarter of it is there. We see that Paul was an even greater man than perhaps we thought, for Acts merely skims the surface of what he did and endured.

Out of this long catalogue we can take only three items.

(i) "Three times," says Paul, "I have been beaten with rods." This was a Roman punishment. The attendants of the magistrates were called the lictors and they were equipped with rods of birch wood with which the guilty criminal was chastised. Three times that had happened to Paul. It should never have happened to him at all, because, under Roman law, it was a crime to scourge a Roman citizen. But, when the mob was violent and the magistrate was weak, Paul, Roman citizen though he was, had suffered this.

(ii) "Five times," says Paul, "I received the forty stripes less one." This was a Jewish punishment. The Jewish law lays down the regulations for such scourging ( Deuteronomy 25:1-3). The normal penalty was forty stripes, and on no account must that number be exceeded, or the scourger himself was subject to scourging. Therefore they always stopped at thirty-nine. That is why scourging was known as "the forty less one." The detailed regulations for scourging are in the Mishnah, which is the book in which the Jewish traditional law was codified. "They bind his two hands to a pillar on either side, and the minister of the synagogue lays hold on his garments--if they are torn, they are tom, if they are utterly rent, they are utterly rent--so that he bares his chest. A stone is set behind him on which the minister of the synagogue stands with a strap of calf-hide in his hand, doubled and re-doubled, and two other straps that rise and fall thereto. The handpiece of the strap is one handbreadth long and one handbreadth wide, and its end must reach to his navel (i.e. when the victim is struck on the shoulder the end of the strap must reach the navel). He gives him one third of the stripes in front and two thirds behind, and he may not strike him when he is standing or when he is sitting but only when he is bending down ... and he that smites smites with one hand and with all his might. If he dies under his hand, the scourger is not culpable. But if he gives him one stripe too many, and he dies, he must escape into exile because of him." That is what Paul suffered five times, a scourging so severe that it was liable to kill a man.

(iii) Again and again Paul speaks of the dangers of his travels. It is true that in his time the roads and the sea were safer than they had ever been, but they were still dangerous. On the whole, the ancient peoples did not relish the sea. "How pleasant it is," says Lucretius, "to stand on the shore and watch the poor devils of sailors having a rough time." Seneca writes to a friend, "You can persuade me into almost anything now for I was recently persuaded to travel by sea." Men regarded a sea voyage as taking one's life in one's hands. As for the roads, the brigands were still here. "A man," says Epictetus, "has heard that the road is infested by robbers. He does not dare to venture on it alone, but waits for company--a legate, or a quaestor, or a proconsul--and joining him he passes safely on the road." But there would be no official company "or Paul. "Think," said Seneca, "any day a robber might cut your throat." It was the commonest thing for a traveller to be caught and held to ransom. If ever a man was an adventurous soul, that man was Paul.

In addition to all this there was his anxiety for all the Churches. This includes the burden of the daily administration of the Christian communities; but it means more than that. Myers in his poem, St. Paul, makes Paul speak of,

"Desperate tides of the whole great world's anguish

Forced thro' the channels of a single heart."

Paul bore the sorrows and the troubles of his people on his heart.

This passage comes to a strange ending. On the face of it, it would seem that the escape from Damascus was an anti-climax. The incident is referred to in Acts 9:23-25. The wall of Damascus was wide enough to drive a carriage along it. Many of the houses overhung it and it must have been from one of these that Paul was let down. Why does he so directly and definitely mention this incident? It is most likely because it rankled. Paul was the kind of man who would find this clandestine exit from Damascus worse than a scourging. He must have hated with all his great heart to run away as a fugitive in the night. His bitterest humiliation was to fail to look his enemies in the face.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.