Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 11

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Verse 1

11:1–15 In this section, Paul defends himself against his opponents, whom he sarcastically calls super-apostles (see v. 5 and note). He compares them to the serpent that deceived Eve (v. 3), calling them false apostles and deceitful workers (v. 13). Paul defends his ministry by pointing out that he did not accept payment while in Corinth (vv. 7–9); his motive for ministry is the expansion of Christ’s kingdom, not payment or respect (see 12:14). - FSB

in a little foolishness -- Paul has previously stated that physical comparison is foolishness, but the false teachers had used him as the object of ridicule. Therefore, he uses the Sophists’ rhetorical style (boasting) against them (a sarcastic parody). He had to defend himself before this church for their own good. He felt silly in having to do this, as verses 2 Corinthians 11:17 and 2 Corinthians 11:21 affirm.

Paul takes on an ironic tone in saying, I hope you will put up with a little more of my foolishness. He again asks with irony, Please bear with me (or But indeed you are putting up with me, a translation that makes the irony even more pointed).

... likely, he is simply implying that, while he assumes the guise of a madman for rhetorical purposes (being able to assume various styles was part of rhetorical training), it is his opponents who generally boast and hence are truly mad. - IVPBBCNT

bear with me -- There are three reasons stated in vv. 2 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Corinthians 11:4; 2 Corinthians 11:5 why they should listen. Each of these reasons is introduced in English by the word “for” (gar).

His antagonists were indulging in self-praise (2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 10:7, 2 Corinthians 10:12-18) and the Corinthians were evidently sympathetic to that. Consequently his hand was forced (2 Corinthians 12:11); he must indulge in foolish boasting in order to win the Corinthians’ attention and gain a fair hearing.

Reluctantly, he decides to employ his opponents’ methods; but unlike theirs, his motive is not personal gain but the Corinthians’ welfare (v.2). He goes on to supply three grounds for his appeal to the Corinthians to bear with him:

(1) his divine jealousy for them especially when they were endangered (vv.2–3);

(2) their willingness to put up with rivals who presented an adulterated message (v.4); and

(3) his claim not to be in the least inferior to the “super-apostles” (v.5). - EBCNT

Verse 2

2 Corinthians 11:2 Espoused to Christ

bethrothed you -- When using the metaphor of marriage to describe the relation between believer and Christ, the metaphor holds that while here on earth He was the bridegroom (see J 3:29) and the metaphor continues in the parables when the Lord’s return is pictured as a bridegroom coming for his bride for the consummation of the marriage (see Matthew 22:2; Matthew 25:1-13).

Paul continues to use this same metaphor relationship in 2 Corinthians 11:2 (see also Ephesians 5:26-27) when he pictures the Christian as bethrothed to Christ.

In the Revelation the same metaphor is used when John pictures in heaven at the Lord’s return after the judgment the marriage of the bride and the Lamb taking place Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:9.

Windell Gann

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When are we espoused? When we are saved, at conversion.

When is the marriage? After the Lord returns for his bride, in heaven!

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Peoples’s New Testament - BW Johnson

For I am jealous over you. His course was induced because of his jealousy for them, not in behalf of himself, but of Christ. He had espoused them to Christ, the Bridegroom of whom the church is the bride (Revelation 21:2). He has a fear lest this bride may be led astray.

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The MacArthur Study Bible has this note: on 2 Corinthians 11:2

I have betrothed you to one husband. As their spiritual father (2 Corinthians 12:14; 1 Corinthians 4:15; cf. 2 Corinthians 9:1-2), Paul portrayed the Corinthians like a daughter, whom he betrothed to Jesus Christ (at their conversion). ... Having betrothed or pledged the Corinthians to Christ, Paul wanted them to be pure until the marriage day finally arrived (cf. Revelation 19:7).

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The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible: on 2 Corinthians 11:2

But because of his jealous love for the Corinthians, and his desire as their “father” to present the church to Christ, as a “pure virgin” bride, untainted by the errors of others, Paul is willing to make his appeal on any terms (11:2).

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See also the Pulpit Commentary on this passage.

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The IVP Background Commentary

11:2. Being jealous over God’s people with God’s jealousy (cf. Exodus 20:5) would have been viewed as pious (cf. Numbers 25:11). Fathers normally pledged their daughters in marriage, and Paul compares the Corinthian church with a daughter (1 Corinthians 4:14-15) whom he has pledged in marriage to Christ (cf. Jewish depictions of God marrying his son Israel to the law). (Other commentators see Paul as presenting the bride, as the best man would, rather than as a father betrothing her.)

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The Jerome Bible Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11:2

I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ: The one husband and Christ are the same person. The relationship of the Jewish people and Yahweh in the OT is now predicated of the NT faithful and Christ. The love that existed between the Israelites and God is presented under the figure of an engagement or marriage in Hosea 2:21; Isaiah 54:5-6; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 3:1; Ezekiel 16:6-43. Christ is called the bridegroom of the Church in Ephesians 5:27-32; Ap 21:9; 22:17. His bride, the Church, should be without stain (Ephesians 5:27). As betrothal to Christ means that the Church’s relation to him is exclusive, so should the relation of its members be. That Paul was father of the Corinthian church is seen in his betrothing it to Christ; in that epoch a father arranged the marriage of his daughter.

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The New Bible Commentary says in 2 Corinthians 11:2.

Using the imagery of betrothal and marriage, he sees himself as the agent of God through whom his converts were betrothed to Christ, and he feels under obligation to ensure that they are presented as a pure virgin to him, i.e. to ensure that they remain truly devoted to Christ until he comes again.

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Tim Constable Expository Notes on the Bible, 2 Corinthians 11:2

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). This will take place at the Rapture. [Note: he says at the "rapture" when truly it is after the Lord’s Second Coming, Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:9. WG]

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The Believer’s Study Bible is very interesting in this passage:

More specifically, in this text, Paul views himself as a father who lovingly and caringly seeks to nurture and mature his virgin daughter (the Corinthians) so as to someday present her, pure and undefiled, to a husband (Christ). By implication, as one reads between the lines, Paul views the false teachers as deceptive suitors who would violate his daughter and rob her of her precious virginity and purity through their proclamations of “another Jesus,” a “different spirit,” and a “different gospel.” Doctrinal purity and discernment is deemed crucial. Paul’s image is a powerful statement of his great love and concern for the Corinthian church.

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The Bible Knowledge Commentary in 2 Corinthians 11:2

In Paul’s metaphor the church was a virgin betrothed to Christ at conversion. As the servant of God’s grace he acted as their spiritual father (1 Corinthians 4:15). Until the marriage was consummated at Christ’s coming, exclusive devotion to Christ should prevail (cf. Ephesians 5:25-27).

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Passages to consider: (linked to e-Sword) 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:26-27; Ephesians 5:23-33; Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:9.

Matthew 22:2; Matthew 25:1-13;

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Verse 3

2 Corinthians 11:3

But -- The ‘But’ marks a contrast to ‘present a pure virgin’: he is quite sure that they will be loyal to Christ; but still he is very uneasy.

deceived Eve by his cunning -- He feared the Corinthians, like Eve, would fall prey to satanic lies and have their minds corrupted. The tragic result would be the abandonment of their simple devotion to Christ in favor of the sophisticated error of the false apostles

cunning -- craftiness. (1 Corinthians 3:19; Ephesians 4:14; Luke 20:23) By extension of his analogy, this refers to the deceitfulness of Paul’s opponents in Corinth. These people cast doubt on God’s promises and Paul’s apostolic authority

a sincere and pure devotion -- "Simple" or "sincere," according to Paul’s usage, means unmixed or unadulterated (Robertson). The meaning therefore is ‘your single-minded devotion to Christ.’

Verse 4

if someone comes -- The false teachers came into the Corinthian church from somewhere else. Likely they were Palestinian Jews (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:22; Acts 6:1)

The false Judaizing teachers at Corinth apparently did not practice a rigid legalism (like the Judaizers in Galatians); in fact, they apparently encouraged licentiousness (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:21). Their fascination with rhetoric and oratory (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:10) suggests they had been influenced by Greek culture and philosophy. They claimed (falsely, cf. Acts 15:24) to represent the Jerusalem church, even possessing letters of commendation (see note on 2 Corinthians 3:1).

whom we have not proclaimed -- Paul’s opponents may have downplayed the importance of Jesus’ crucifixion, since Greeks considered crucifixion to be a sign of weakness (see 1 Corinthians 1:18). By contrast, Paul presented the crucifixion of Christ as the heart of his gospel (1 Corinthians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 3:1).

another Jesus -- Cf the Greek in Galatians 1:6-7. These false teachers didn’t preach the same "Jesus" that Paul did.

a different spirit -- The false teachers apparently either proclaimed that Christ was not crucified or that His crucifixion degraded Him as Savior. In doing so, they preached the opposite message of Paul, who only wanted to proclaim Christ crucified (2 Corinthians 13:4; 1 Corinthians 1:18).

another [a different] gospel -- Galatians 1:6-7.

Verse 5

2 Corinthians 11:5

I consider -- The third justification for the request of v.1 now appears (see comment). Still engaging in his “senseless” but pardonable self-praise, Paul maintains that he is in no way inferior to the “super-apostles.”

not in the least inferior -- Paul claims to be in no respect inferior to the original apostles (see 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, 1 Corinthians 15:10) with whom he was being unfavorably compared and whose authority his adversaries illegitimately invoked in support of their Judaizing program at Corinth.

The verb tense indicates that at no time, past or present, did Paul think of himself as less than these supposedly authoritative representatives from Jerusalem (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:11).

chiefest apostles [super-apostles, ESV; most eminent, NASB;] -- This expression is either the description of the Twelve used by Paul’s opponents and here (as in 2 Corinthians 12:11) quoted by Paul, but most likely this is the apostle’s ironical description of the exalted view these “false apostles” had of themselves, (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15). -- wg

This descriptive phrase is rare; Paul uses it only here and in 2 Corinthians 12:11. Verse 5 is contextually and grammatically linked to v. 4, which obviously refers to the false teachers (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Paul is using the term “apostles” sarcastically in its two senses: (1) the Twelve and (2) messengers sent from churches (cf. v. 13). Apparently these false teachers had some connection with the church in Jerusalem (cf. v. 22 shows by inference that they claimed a Jewish background; 2 Corinthians 12:1 shows that they claimed charismatic experiences). - Utley

The false teachers claiming to be from the "Jerusalem church" may have held those who were preaching to the Jews were more eminent.

It seems most probably however that these "false teachers" were claiming to be "apostles" themselves, and bragging about their skills and Paul in sarcasm refers to them as "super-apostles."

apostles -- 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 may have called themselves apostles.

Verse 6

unskilled in speech -- Paul’s speaking abilities did not meet the standards of some in Corinth. Many people in the region were trained in professional rhetoric, which was highly valued in Greek culture. - FSB

Paul acknowledged his lack of training in the rhetorical skills so prized in Greek culture (see note on 2 Corinthians 10:10; cf. Acts 18:24); he was a preacher of the gospel, not a professional orator. - MSB

Paul’s statement that he is “unskilled in speech” (NASB) need not mean that he is a terrible speaker; even the best speakers played down their oratorical skills to lower audience expectations. He seems to have been accused of inadequate rhetorical skill by others, however; his writings attest a higher level of rhetorical sophistication than possessed by most people of his day. -- IVPBBCNT

not so in knowledge -- Paul was not deficient in terms of knowledge. Paul did not refer here to his rabbinic training under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), but to his knowledge of the gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6-11; Ephesians 3:1-5), which he had received directly from God (Galatians 1:12). (MSB)

in every way we have made this plain [made manifest; made perfectly clear; made evident] -- This would be an appeal to the transparent openness and sincerity of all his dealings, as in 2 Corinthians 5:20 and 2 Corinthians 12:12.

Verse 7

2 Corinthians 11:7

did I commit a sin -- With biting irony Paul asked his accusers how foregoing his right to support could possibly be a sin.

Greek culture measured the importance of a teacher by the fee he could command. The false apostles therefore accused Paul of being a counterfeit, since he refused to charge for his services (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1-15). - MSB

preached ... free of charge -- Paul had resort to manual labor to support himself at Corinth (Acts 18:1–3).

The false teachers’ claim that Paul was motivated by self-interest is absurd. His was motivated only to bring them to Christ and further Jesus’ work in the world (see 1 Corinthians 9:15; 1 Corinthians 9:18).

Paul didn’t preach for money, note his comment to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:33-34.

Paul preached the gospel without demanding or expecting payment from the people whom he sought to reach with the gospel.

Verse 8

2 Corinthians 11:8

I robbed -- “Robbed” is a very strong word, used in extrabiblical Gr. to refer to pillaging. Paul, of course, did not take money from churches without their consent; his point is that the churches who supported him while he ministered in Corinth received no direct benefit from the support they gave him. - MSB

I robbed -- “An hyperbolical expression” (Meyer).

accepting support [taking wages] -- The Philippian Church was at least one (Philippians 4:15-16) of the churches referred to.

to serve you -- Paul had received support from the impoverished Macedonian churches so he could minister in Corinth (see 2 Corinthians 8:2; Philippians 4:15), and now (in this letter) requests that Corinth provide relief for saints with less wealth than themself (see 2 Corinthians 8:4-6 and note).

Verse 9

2 Corinthians 11:9

was in need -- When Paul first came to Corinth and didn’t have any support yet, he labored with with hands with Aquila and Pricilla who were tradesmen in leather goods. (Acts 18:1-3).

not burden anyone -- While in Corinth, Paul provided for his own needs through manual labor and support from other churches (compare 2 Corinthians 11:7).

brethren who came -- Silas and Timothy (Acts 18:5), bringing money from Philippi (Philippians 4:15) and, possibly, Thessalonica (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:6). The Macedonians’ generous financial support allowed Paul to devote himself full time to preaching the gospel.

Providentially the gift arrived just when his resources had failed and he had begun to feel need. Even in this extremity he had not been a burden to anyone in Corinth. Financial independence would continue to be his policy.

Macedonia -- (see note on 2 Corinthians 1:16).

Verse 10

As the truth of Christ is in me -- This is an idiomatic way of asserting truthfulness or Paul’s sense of inspiration (cf. Romans 9:1).

truth -- Paul uses the term as a way of referring tot he gospel of Jesus Christ.

1. Romans 1:18, 25; 2:8, 20; 3:7; 15:8

2. 1 Corinthians 13:6

3. 2 Corinthians 4:2; 6:7; 11:10; 13:8

4. Galatians 2:5, 14; 5:7

5. Ephesians 1:13; 6:14

6. Colossians 1:5, 6

7. 2 Thessalonians 2:10, 12, 13

8. 1 Timothy 2:4; 3:15; 4:3; 6:5

9. 2 Timothy 2:15, 18, 25; 3:7, 8; 4:4

10. Titus 1:1, Titus 1:14

this boasting -- About his ministering free of charge. Paul takes satisfaction in preaching the gospel message without any payment. Doing so allows him to maintain the integrity of his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:18; 2 Corinthians 2:17).

not be silenced -- not be stopped; This is a strong Greek term which is used in the Septuagint for the damming of a river.

Achaia -- The Roman province of which Corinth was the capital and leading city (see 2 Corinthians 9:2). The false apostles apparently were affecting more than just the city of Corinth.

Verse 11

2 Corinthians 11:11

And why? [Wherefore?] -- Paul continues to use the same ironical tone as previously.

I do not love you? -- Paul dismisses any charge that he lacks affection for the church in Corinth and affirms again his love for them. (2 Corinthians 7:2; 2 Corinthians 12:15).

Because I do not love you -- The so-called super-apostles may have suggested that Paul did not have genuine affection for the Corinthians since he did not allow them to share in his ministry financially (compare note on v. 5). Paul dismisses any charge that he lacks affection for the church in Corinth. - FSB

Verse 12

2 Corinthians 11:12

continue to do -- That Paul refused to accept financial support from the Corinthians was a source of embarrassment to the false apostles, who eagerly sought money for their services. Paul intended to keep his ministry free of charge and thereby undermine the false apostles’ claims that they operated on the same basis as he did. - MSB

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. - Constable

Those superlative apostles receive pay for their work, and would like for this difference between them and Paul to be eliminated by Paul’s behaving as they do, so that they may be on an equality with him. -- R. V. G. Tasker

of those who want an opportunity -- Paul did not want to accept any payment from the Corinthians, which distinguished him from the super-apostles who maligned him (v. 13; see note on 2 Corinthians 2:17). Compare note on v. 4, and note on v. 5. - FSB

Paul knew his opponents. He tried to remove every opportunity for their attacks. He limited his freedom and rights to protect and expand the gospel (cf. Rom. 14:1–15:13). - Utley

Paul followed this policy because he loved the church. The truth was not what the critics and false teachers were saying: that he did not care enough for the church to allow them to be a part of his ministry. Contrariwise, he practiced the policy of self-support because he did love them. If he took money from them, his critics would charge him with ministering for the sake of money. Such criticism would only disturb the church. Therefore, his policy was the proof that he loved the church (vv. 11–12). -- POSB

Verse 13

False apostles -- FALSE TEACHERS - 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, 2 Timothy 4:2-4, 1 Timothy 4:1-3, Matthew 24:24, Acts 20:28-30, Galatians 1:7-9, Deuteronomy 18:21-22.

To Support false teachers is Sinful- 2 John 1:10-11.

false apostles -- Refers to those who exploited the Corinthian church for self-gain (compare note on 10:13). This group is likely synonymous with, or at least similar to, those Paul sarcastically refers to as super-apostles (see note on 2 Corinthians 11:5).

Paul bluntly and directly exposed the false apostles for what they were—emissaries of Satan. Not only was their claim to apostleship false, so also was their doctrine (see note on v. 4). As satanic purveyors of false teaching, they were under the curse of Galatians 1:8-9. Paul’s forceful language may seem harsh, but it expressed the godly jealousy he felt for the Corinthians (see note on v. 2). Paul was unwilling to sacrifice truth for the sake of unity. Cf. 1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Peter 2:1-17; Judges 1:8-13. -- MSB

Verse 14

2 Corinthians 11:14

angel of light -- Satan’s major trick is masquerading as truth (cf. Gen. 3). Evil always tries to mimic or counterfeit the good. False teachers always come from inside the church (cf. 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:18-19).

angel of light -- May refer to the kind of angel who ministers to believers (Hebrews 1:14) or simply to a good spiritual being aligned with God’s purposes (compare note on John 1:4). This comparison suggests that the false apostles came across as genuine while inwardly desiring to destroy the Church for their own benefit (see 2 Corinthians 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:19; 2 Corinthians 13:10; compare note on v. 13; note on v. 5). The idea of Satan disguising himself as an angel of light recalls similar descriptions of Satan’s activity in various ancient Jewish writings, though Paul does not seem directly dependent on them (e.g., Life of Adam and Eve 9:1; Apocalypse of Moses 17:1; Testament of Job 6:4; 17:2; 23:1). - FSB

Just as Satan changed himself into an angel of light to deceive Eve (as described in the Jewish apocryphal book The Life of Adam and Eve), so his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Satan’s servants claim to be God’s servants, but their deeds are wicked, and their punishment is sure (2 Corinthians 5:10). - NLTSB

angel of light -- Since the Prince of Darkness (cf. Luke 22:53; Acts 26:18; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:13) masquerades as an angel of light—that is, deceptively, disguised as a messenger of truth—it is not surprising that his emissaries do as well. Satan deceived Eve (see notes on v. 3; Genesis 3:1-7) and holds unbelievers captive (4:4; cf. Ephesians 2:1-3); his emissaries were attempting to deceive and enslave the Corinthians. The terrifying “end” these self-styled “ministers of righteousness” will face is God’s judgment—the fate of all false teachers (Romans 3:8; 1 Corinthians 3:17; Philippians 3:19; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Peter 2:1, 3, 17; Judges 1:4, 13). - MSB

Verse 15

2 Corinthians 11:15

See notes on previous verse - 2 Corinthians 11:14

his servants -- Suggests these servants, who may be the false apostles, actually serve Satan and stand as a threat to the Church (compare 2 Corinthians 11:13).

servants (ministers) -- diakonos G1249

Verse 16

2 Corinthians 11:16

foolish -- The false apostles probably claimed that Paul’s hardships invalidated his apostleship and made him look foolish (compare 2 Corinthians 12:13).

Paul turns their accusations against them: He assumes the role of a fool to make them look foolish. His discussion of his hardships exposes the false apostles as people who are self-centered; they could never demonstrate Paul and his companions’ endurance for the sake of bringing people to Christ and leading a church in Jesus’ way and teachings.

To support this claim, Paul outlines how poorly these “strong apostles” have treated the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 12:20-21). Paul has done the opposite for the Corinthians, even though he has been called weak (2 Corinthians 10:10).

so that I also may boast a little -- Paul was not comfortable with personal boasting (cf. vv. 1, 17). The false teachers had forced him to use their methods (the style of chapters 10–13 reflects the characteristics of Hellenistic rhetorical forms). - Utley

fool -- In his arrogance the fool boasts in himself, not in the Lord (see 2 Corinthians 10:17-18), for which he is condemned (see, e.g., Psalms 14:1; Psalms 53:1-2; Proverbs 9:13-18). Almost like a fool, Paul is about to boast a little in his own identity to make his point (see 2 Corinthians 11:21-23). - ESVSB

Verse 17

2 Corinthians 11:17

what I am saying -- Paul acknowledged that boasting is “not according to the Lord” (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:1), but the desperate situation in Corinth where the false apostles made their “boast according to the flesh" forced him to boast, not for self-glorification (Galatians 6:14), but in what the Lord had accomplished and was accomplishing through him.

not with the Lord’s authority -- That is, "boasting" is not something the Lords wants from us, He doesn’t approve of selfish boasting. But Paul’s "boasting" is in what the Lord has done (2 Corinthians 11:21 -ff through 2 Corinthians 12:1-21)

not with the Lord’s authority -- Paul alluded to Jesus’ life and attitude in 2 Corinthians 10:1, (by "the meekness and gentleness of Christ") and when it came to boasting or human comparisons, Paul must admit there is no precedent, or example, in Christ for him to boast like this.

Paul is NOT saying here, that this is written without inspiration from the Holy Spirit, 2 Peter 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 3:15-16.

Verse 18

2 Corinthians 11:18

Since may boast -- The false apostles boasted in fleshly, selfish way, but Paul will boast (glory) in the Lord and what God has done in the Corinthian church.

flesh -- Paul means after the manner of those who judge only by what is outward and visible, or perhaps he may mean boasting of things, such as “high birth, wealth, wisdom, of being circumcised, of Hebrew ancestry, of popular renown” (Chrysostom), on which fleshly men set high value. - CBSC

I too will boast -- "It is remarkable that St Paul does not glory in what he has done, but what he has borne.” --Robertson.

Verse 19

2cor 11.19

because you are wise -- Paul sarcastically points out how foolish the Corinthians were to believe the false apostles (v. 13; compare v. 5). This is made more ironic by the fact that the Corinthians considered themselves to be wise (cf note on 1 Corinthians 1:20). - FSB

The Corinthians, wrote Paul sarcastically, should have no trouble bearing with a “fool” like him, since they themselves were so wise (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:10)! - MSB

being wise yourselves -- The apostle was most ironical in these verses.

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. Gal. 2:4; 5:1).

The false teachers had evidently devoured the Corinthians’ financial contributions. - Constable

Verse 20

2 Corinthians 11:20

brings you into bondage -- The Gr. verb translated by this phrase appears elsewhere in the NT only in Galatians 2:4, where it speaks of the Galatians’ enslavement by the Judaizers. The false apostles had robbed the Corinthians of their freedom in Christ (cf. Galatians 5:1). - MSB

devours you -- Or “preys upon you.” This probably refers to the false teachers’ demands for financial support (the same verb appears in Luke 20:47 where Jesus denounces the Pharisees for devouring widows’ houses). - MSB

strikes you on the face -- To strike someone on the face was a sign of disrespect and contempt (cf. 1 Kings 22:24; Luke 22:64; Acts 23:2).

The false apostles may have physically abused the Corinthians, but the phrase is more likely used in a metaphorical sense (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:27) to speak of the false teachers’ humiliation of the Corinthians.

someone strikes you in the face -- Paul uses this metaphor to express his disbelief that the Corinthian believers cannot recognize the falsity of the super-apostles’ teaching and work (see note on v. 4; compare note on v. 5). - FSB

hits you in the face -- Paul’s words drip with sarcasm (cf. v. 21). He was so gentle and meek (cf. 10:1) with them, but they reject him; the false teachers were so selfish and manipulative, yet the church loves and accepts them. - Utley

They put up not only with the speech of fools but also with the despotism of tyrants. The intruding aliens had reduced them to slavery by robbing the Corinthians of their liberty in Christ and by seeking to reimpose the Mosaic law (cf. Galatians 2:4; Galatians 5:1). They had exploited them by greedily devouring any and all maintenance offered them (cf. Mark 12:40). They had entrapped them with tantalizing bait (cf. Luke 5:5); they had put on airs of superiority and had gravely insulted and humiliated them. - EBCNT

Verse 21

2 Corinthians 11:21

too weak for that -- Paul’s sarcasm reached its peak as he noted that he was “too weak” to abuse the Corinthians as the false apostles had done (see note 2 Corinthians 11:20).

I also dare to boast -- 2 Corinthians 11:22 ff After repeated warnings that he was going to boast (2 Corinthians 10:8; 2 Corinthians 11:1, 2 Corinthians 11:16), Paul now finally began. At first he matched each of his critic’s claims: “So am I.”

boast -- Paul finally and reluctantly boasts in his identity. In stark contrast to his opponents, however, Paul boasts at great length in his weakness as the appropriate way to glorify God’s grace and power in one’s life (v. 30; see 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 a; 2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 2 Corinthians 12:5-10). - ESVSB

boast -- Paul is ready to fight fire with fire. If they want to compare credentials, so be it! -

Verse 22

The false teachers troubling the church were Judiazing teachers.

Hebrews -- A reference to Jewish ethnicity, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage (Philippians 3:5) Paul was a Jew by descent, whose native tongue was Aramaic or Hebrew and whose intellectual and cultural heritage was within Judaism (trained in Jerusalem at the feet of the most prominent Jewish rabbi of the time, Gamaliel, Acts 5:34, Acts 22:3).

Israelites -- As an “Israelite” he was a member of God’s people Israel. Apparently the false teachers were bragging they were part of the OT covenant people of God. Philippians 3:5.

offspring (seed) of Abraham -- As a descendant of Abraham who had been “circumcised on the eighth day” (Philippians 3:5), Paul was an heir to the covenants based on God’s promise (Ephesians 2:12). All in all, with regard to descent, citizenship, and heritage, he was the equal of his rivals.

A reference to being part of the new covenant people of God as well as being a true descendant of Abraham (see Romans 9:6-9; Romans 11:1-6; Galatians 3:8, Galatians 3:16, Galatians 3:29).

[See Gal. 3, where this is one of their arguments.]

Paul is not suggesting that being Jewish is a necessary qualification of ministers, but that it provides the benefit of knowing the OT and being raised in the same tradition as Jesus.

We may take the words Hebrew, Israelite, seed of Abraham, as referring respectively to the nationality, theocratic condition, and Messianic rights of the Jewish people. Thus the Hebrew would not only be one who was of pure descent, but whose attachment to Jewish nationality caused him to cling to the Jewish language (see Acts 6:1, Acts 21:40, Acts 22:2; and Philippians 3:5). - CBSC

So am I -- The two key expressions are (1) “I also” or “So am I” pointing to Paul’s equality with his rivals in certain limited respects (bold boasting, v. 21b; lineage, citizenship, and heritage, v. 22), and (2) “I am more” (v. 23), pointing to Paul’s vast superiority in service and suffering (2 Corinthians 11:23-29).

Verse 23

Are they servants (ministers) of Christ -- διακονοι G1249. Paul had already emphatically denied that they were (2 Corinthians 11:13); however, some of the Corinthians still believed they were. Paul used their view for the sake of argument, then went on to show that his ministry was in every way superior to the false apostles’ so-called “ministry.”

I am a better on -- Even based on their own fleshly boasting, Paul could "out-boast" them!

I am talking ... -- Paul asks, "Are they? I speak as a fool", the answer is, "NO! They are not!"

“I more so” Paul had a series of comparisons with en.

1. in far more labors, v. 23

2. in far more imprisonments, v. 23

3. in stripes above measure, v. 23

4. in danger of death often, v. 23

a. beaten with thirty nine lashes (5 times), v. 24

b. beaten with rods (3 times), v. 25

c. stoned (once), v. 25

d. shipwrecked (3 times), v. 25

Some of these are recorded in Acts, but not all of them.

We know so little of the first century church. Paul had paid the price to speak the gospel! - (Utley)

in labors … in deaths often -- A general summation of Paul’s sufferings for the gospel; he does not attempt to give a full account, but in the next few verses give examples, many of which are not found in Acts. Paul was often in danger of death (Acts 9:23, Acts 9:29; Acts 14:5, Acts 14:19, Acts 14:20; Acts 17:5; Acts 21:30-32). - (MSB)

compare 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 6:5;

far greater labors -- 1 Corinthians 15:10;

far more imprisonments -- Acts 16:23; 2 Corinthians 6:5;

countless beating -- Acts 16:23, etc.

often near death -- 2 Corinthians 1:9-10, 2 Corinthians 4:11; (1 Corinthians 15:31).

(Romans 16:4;)

[In almost every stop on Paul’s missionary journeys recorded in Acts he came into mistreatment and danger, Asia, Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus, Jerusalem, etc.]

Verse 24

2 Corinthians 11:24

forty stripes minus one -- Deuteronomy 25:1-3 set 40 as the maximum number that could legally be administered; in Paul’s day the Jews reduced that number by one to avoid accidentally going over the maximum. Jesus warned that His followers would receive such beatings (Matthew 10:17).

This refers to punishment administered by Synagogue courts (cf. Deuteronomy 25:1-3). The strokes were probably given with a rod (cf. Exodus 21:20; Proverbs 10:13; Proverbs 19:29; Proverbs 26:3) and given in public. This type of punishment was practiced in Assyria and Egypt, as well as in Israel (cf. Isaiah 50:6; Jeremiah 20:2; Jeremiah 37:15).

The rabbis later codified that it had to be one less the forty strokes (the maximum number, cf Josephus, Antiq. 4:8:21, 23). They specified that so many hits be done on the back and on the front, left and right shoulders (cf. Maccoth 3:10ff). - Utley

Verse 25

Three times -- Refers to Roman beatings with flexible sticks tied together (cf. Acts 16:22-23).

once I was stoned -- At Lystra (Acts 14:19-20). Clement of Rome, St Paul’s companion and friend (Philippians 4:3), says in a somewhat obscure passage (Epistle of Clement 1:5) that St Paul was “seven times imprisoned, put to flight and stoned.”

three times I was shipwrecked -- These would not including the shipwreck on his journey as a prisoner to Rome (Acts 27) which had not yet taken place at the time of writing this letter.

Paul had been on several sea voyages up to this time (cf. Acts 9:30; Acts 11:25-26; Acts 13:4, act 13.13; Acts 14:25-26; Acts 16:11; Acts 17:14-15; Acts 18:18, Acts 18:21), and he must have also had many other sea travel experiences, giving ample opportunity for the 3 shipwrecks to have occurred.

The shipwreck related in Acts 27:13-44 was a trifling one.

a night and a day -- At least one of the shipwrecks was so severe that Paul spent an entire day floating on the wreckage, waiting to be rescued. See note at Genesis 1:5.

The narrative of Acts is clearly selective.

Verse 26

2 Corinthians 11:26

frequent journeys --

waters [rivers] --

robbers -- Though the presence of Roman soldiers cut down on crime, robbers still posed a serious danger to travelers in the ancient world.

Paul’s journey from Perga to Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14), for example, required him to travel through the robber-infested Taurus Mountains, and to cross two dangerous, flood-prone rivers.

in perils [danger] -- The connected with his frequent travels.

my own people -- Paul was frequently in danger from his “own countrymen” (Acts 9:23, Acts 9:29; Acts 13:45; Acts 14:2, Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 18:6, Acts 18:12-16; Acts 20:3, Acts 20:19; Acts 21:27-32)

from Gentiles [heathen]-- (Acts 16:16-40; Acts 19:23 to Acts 20:1).

in the wilderness -- Translated desert in Acts 8:26. Cf. Matthew 14:13-15. It means any place void of inhabitants.

danger at sea -- If any one should object that the Apostle thus repeats himself, it may be observed that the expressions here used are arranged in pairs, and are intended to shew that wherever he was, and whatever he did, the Apostle was in danger. - CBSC

false brethren -- Those who appeared to be Christians, but were not, such as the false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13) and the Judaizers (Galatians 2:4).

There is no VERB, PARTICIPLE, or INFINITIVE in vv. 26, 27, 28) of what has happened to Paul in his service for Christ.

1. dangers from rivers

2. dangers from robbers

3. dangers from his countrymen (as he was in Corinth)

4. dangers from Gentiles

5. dangers in the city

6. dangers in the wilderness

7. dangers at sea

8. dangers among false brethren (as he was in Corinth)

Verse 27

2 Corinthians 11:27

I have been Paul starts another list using the DATIVE/LOCATIVE εν (en).

1. in labor

2. in hardship

3. in sleepless nights

4. in hunger

5. in thirst

6. in fastings many times

7. in cold

8. in nakedness

All of us who claim to be servants of the gospel should quit whining!

cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:8;

in watchings -- Literally, in sleeplessnesses, i.e. in repeated nights of sleeplessness, whether from anxiety or other causes.

in hunger -- And Paul may have suffered such because of his determination not to accept support from the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 9:12, 1 Corinthians 9:15, 1 Corinthians 9:18; 2 Corinthians 11:7-12).

without food -- “Amid fastings” has nothing to do with ascetic fasting. That was a discipline which Paul certainly seldom needed. Such fastings would be ridiculous in this catalog. These are fastings that were caused by the fact that one had no food at all or had food but could not or dared not eat it. - Lenski

nakedness [exposure] -- One traveling to the interior of Asia Minor would face “cold”; coupled with “nakedness” (sometimes used, as here, to mean inadequate clothing), this was a serious hardship.

Verse 28

2 Corinthians 11:28

Apart from such external things -- From the external trials Paul has been speaking about he now turns to the inward anxieties.

daily pressure -- Far worse than the occasional physical suffering Paul endured was the constant, daily burden of concern for the churches that he felt. Those who were “weak” (cf. Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8) in faith, or were “made to stumble” into sin caused him intense emotional pain. Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:14. - MSB

Another thing which caused daily pain for Paul was the psychological/spiritual worry for the health and effectiveness of the churches—possibly this was the worst pain of all! - Utley

anxiety about all the churches -- False doctrine and division threatened the churches that Paul planted (Acts 20:30). He also wrote letters to several of these churches to combat the negative influence of other teachers (Galatians 1:6-8; Ephesians 4:14; Philippians 3:1-2; 1 Timothy 1:6-7). The pressure Paul faced as a minister to these churches caused him to worry constantly about their well-being. - FSB

This total identification of shepherd with sheep, or of a spiritual father with his children in the faith, is illustrated in v.29. Paul was at one with all his converts (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:26), sympathizing with their weakness in faith, conduct, or conscience (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:7-13; 1 Corinthians 9:22). - EBCNT

Verse 29

2 Corinthians 11:29

Verse 29 has two rhetorical questions. When Paul sees churches and believers hurting, it hurts him and makes him furious at those who would cause little ones to stumble (cf. Matt. 18).

weak -- If he hears of some Christian who is weak, he feels that weakness himself. He endures the sufferings of others sympathetically. If he learns that some brother in Christ has been offended, he burns with indignation. - BBC

weak - Paul felt for those who were “weak” (cf. Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8) in faith, or were “made to stumble” into sin caused him intense emotional pain. Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:14.

fall [stumble; "led into sin"] -- This is the Greek term skandalon, G4624, which literally referred to a baited trap-stick (cf. Romans 11:9). It is used in the sense of moral failure (here and 1 Corinthians 8:13) or possibly to be seduced by the false theology of the “super apostles” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 5:11).

The verb σκανδαλίζω means to catch in a deathtrap, and the passive means to be so caught. The noun σκάνδαλον denotes the crooked stick to which the bait is affixed so that to touch the bait is to spring this trap that kills the victim. - Lenski

indignant [I inwardly burn] -- The view that best suits the context is that he felt so ablaze with compassion for a person who was “led into sin” that he shared that person’s deep remorse. - EBSNT

Is anyone weak, and do I not in sympathy share his weakness? R., W. P., gives the second question the sense: “When a brother stumbles, Paul is set on fire with grief.” The sympathy, the grief are introduced by the commentators. - (Lenski, Robertson’s Word Pictures)

indignant - G4448, Possibly Paul meant it was indigant (burning with rage) against the one who had "baited the trap."

Verse 30

2 Corinthians 11:30

I will boast … my infirmity -- To do so magnified God’s power at work in him (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:7; Colossians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:20-21). - MSB

my weakness -- Refers to the hardships Paul suffered for the sake of believers (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). - FSB

my weakness -- Paul’s trials and criticisms had caused him to realize that his strengths were from God and his weaknesses were an opportunity for God to receive the glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1-10). - Utley

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 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). - Constable

Not his successes, not his gifts or abilities, but his weaknesses, his reproaches, the indignities he endured— these form the subject of his boasting. These are not the things that men usually boast about, or that make them famous. - BBC

Verse 31

2 Corinthians 11:31

God and Father -- Paul called God as his witness that his claims, which probably seemed incredible to those who did not know him well, were true.

God knows -- Paul uses the same assurance which he voiced in 2 Corinthians 11:11 where he stated it in briefest form: “God knows”; here he expands the subject and merely adds the object. “God knows” is not an oath in v. 11 or here in v. 31 although it is called an oath by some commentators. There is neither the form of an oath nor the necessity for one. Paul is no profuse swearer. “God knows” states an assured fact, one that helps to assure others. - Lenski

I am not lying -- Realizing how incredible the list of his sufferings must have seemed, Paul called on God to witness that he was telling the truth (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:10; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Romans 1:9; Romans 9:1; Galatians 1:20; 1 Thessalonians 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 2:10; 1 Timothy 2:7)— that these things really happened. - MSB

I am not lying -- Recalling what he had just written, the list seemed almost unbelievable, even to Paul; and the sheer size and significance of it led him to affirm in these most solemn words the absolute truth of every syllable of it. This verse, like the one before it, "must be understood as applicable to all that Paul had said or was about to say."[53]

[53] J. W. McGarvey, op. cit., p. 234.

Verse 32

At Damascus -- This circumstance 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.

Damacus was located 60 miles northeast of Galilee. Paul was on his way to Damascus to round up renegade Jews called Christians, as described in Acts 9:1-4, that he met Jesus Christ and became a disciple of Christ himself.

The trouble Paul describes here in 2 Corinthians is also described in Acts 9:19-25. There, it melds together Paul’s experiences in Damascus. Galatians 1:17 suggests that Paul spent three years in Arabia and then returned to Damascus. The problem recorded here likely occurred after his second visit to Damascus. Paul may even have created a reputation for being a troublemaker there because of his success in preaching Christ. At any rate, his successful debates with the Jews in the synagogues “proving that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:22) apparently caused a great stir. They set a watch at the gates day and night, desiring to arrest him.

But why does Paul mention this particular incident? J. B. Watson suggests:

He takes hold of what men made an occasion of shame and ridicule and sets it in the light of being another proof that the paramount interest in his life was to serve the Lord Christ, for whose sake he was prepared to sacrifice his personal pride and appear as a coward in the eyes of men. - BBC

the governor -- Literally, the Ethnarch (ruler of the nation— the title of an Oriental provincial governor. See 1 Maccabees 14:47; 1 Maccabees 15:1, &c.). - CBSC

under King Aretas --

Aretas (see Josephus’ Antiquities, xviii.) was the king of Arabia Petraea. His daughter had been divorced by Herod Antipas in order that he might marry Herodias, ‘his brother Philip’s wife’ (see Matthew 14:3-5). This and some disputes about the frontier led to war being proclaimed, and a battle was fought (a. d. 36) in which Herod’s army was entirely destroyed. It is thought by some that Aretas profited by this circumstance to seize on Damascus, and that it was just at this juncture (a. d. 37) that St Paul returned to Damascus from his stay in Arabia. Others, however, place this event about the year 39, after Herod Antipas had been banished to Gaul, and think that Aretas, taken into favour by Caligula, had obtained Damascus, among the various changes which the new Emperor made in the arrangements of his eastern provinces. Aretas seems to have been a common name among the Arabs, like Ptolemy in Egypt, or Seleucus and Antiochus in Syria. Josephus mentions more than one. Cf. also 2 Maccabees 5:8.- BN

Verse 33

2 Corinthians 11:33

through a window -- Acts 9:25 does not say Paul escaped through a “window” but rather “through an opening,” that is, through a little door or aperture in the wall.

However, similarities in this account, including the window, are striking with regard to Rahab’s allowing the two Hebrew spies to escape Jericho (Joshua 2:15) and even Michal’s helping David escape Saul (1 Samuel 19:11-12). - CPNT

in a basket -- The word for “basket” (σαργάνη sarganē) is unique in the NT. It was perhaps more like a large bag made of braided rope. Such flexible “baskets” could be used for carrying fish but also large amounts of hay, straw, or wool. Acts 9:25 uses a different Greek word for basket (σπυρὶς spuris), the same word used in the account of the feeding of the four thousand (Matthew 15:37; Matthew 16:10; Mark 8:8, Mark 8:20). - CPNT

and escaped -- The question is whether this escape was the occasion of Paul going into Arabia, Galatians 1:17, and receiving revelation from Christ and then returning to Damascus a second time; Or if this is three years after his conversion and trip into Arabia, and on this escape he returns to Jerusalem.

Bibliographical Information
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. 2021.