Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 11

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1

[While this third part of Paul’s epistle is directed against his enemies, it is obvious that even these are, in his estimation, divided into two classes; i. e., the leaders and the led. The apostle does not always keep these separate in his mind, yet we frequently find him, as in this section, appealing to those who were led, and denouncing those who led them.] Would that ye could bear with me in a little foolishness: but indeed ye do bear with me.

Verse 2

For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ.

Verse 3

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ.

Verse 4

For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or if ye receive a different spirit, which ye did not receive, or a different gospel, which ye did not accept, ye do well to bear with him. [These first four verses are introductory. The apostle, seeing the effect which the self-glorification of these false teachers has had upon certain of the Corinthians, determines, for a time, to adopt their tactics, descend to the foolishness of boasting, and thus overcome them on their own ground. Paul, in his consecration to Christ and forgetfulness of self, could not thus descend to the level of boasting, even though he merely related facts, without a sense of shame and a petition for consideration. When he considers the folly of the situation, it seems to him that the Corinthians could not put up with it, but when he remembers their affection for him, he is sure they will. He tells them that nothing but the strongest motives could induce him to thus belittle himself, but he found such a motive in his extreme jealousy for them on Christ’s behalf. As the paranymph, or "bridegroom’s friend" (John 3:29), the one whose office it was to procure and arrange the marriage, he had espoused them to one husband, even Christ, and had so instructed and led them as to present them pure and spotless before the Lord at his coming. But now he feared that as the serpent led Eve into sin by his crafty wickedness, so these false teachers were corrupting the church at Corinth from that simplicity of doctrine and purity of life which they owed to Christ, their espoused husband. Now, if these false teachers (and Paul speaks of one of them as a sample of them all) had come professing to preach another Jesus and another religious spirit, and a different gospel from any that Paul preached, there might have been sonic excuse in giving them a patient hearing. But such had not been the case. Professedly they were preaching the same Jesus, etc., that he did, and so the Corinthians were without excuse in permitting them to assail Paul. They had sold their apostle and had received nothing in exchange for him. With the next verse his boasting begins, but in a very mild and apologetic form.]

Verse 5

For I reckon that I am not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles. [I can not think that you receive these rival teachers and professed apostles as so much superior to me, for I am not behind these super-apostolic apostles. Paul is not here comparing himself with the twelve, but with these spurious apostles at Corinth. Paul reveals his emotion by the use of that strange word which is translated "very chiefest." It means "out-and-out," "extra-super," "overmuch," a term he would have never applied to the twelve. It is as though he said, Though these men claim to be apostles a hundred times over, yet I can certainly take my place in the front ranks with them.]

Verse 6

But though I be rude in speech, yet am I not in knowledge; nay, in every way have we made this manifest unto you in all things. [Paul admits that one criticism of him was true. He did indeed pay little regard to the laws of rhetoric, and scorned to weaken his thought by loading it with verbal ornament or the studied expressions which the schools regarded as eloquence. But though he was thus rude in speech, a very unimportant matter, he was not deficient in the all-important sphere of knowledge. The Corinthians had had every opportunity to test him in this particular, and he felt that the truth of his statement must be so manifest to them as to need no further proof.]

Verse 7

Or did I commit a sin in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I preached to you the gospel of God for nought? [A second accusation which his enemies never wearied in presenting was that he had preached the gospel in Corinth without charge. They had said that he did this because he knew that he was not an apostle, and so was hindered by his conscience from taking the wages of an apostle--see 1 Corinthians 9:1-15 and notes. As Paul has already refuted this charge, he does not repeat the refutation; he merely asks them if he had committed a sin in so doing.]

Verse 8

I robbed other churches [Paul again shows his emotion by the indignant hyperbole "robbed"], taking wages of them that I might minister unto you;

Verse 9

and when I was present with you and was in want, I was not a burden on any man; for the brethren [i. e., Silas and Timothy, Acts 18:5], when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my want; and in everything I kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself. [Here the apostle relates the well-known history of his ministry at Corinth. The church at Philippi is the only one which we know of that contributed to his needs while in Corinth (Philippians 4:15-16). When his necessities had reached a crisis and he had come to want, he had not appealed to the Corinthians, but had endured until relieved by the coming of his friends from Macedonia. His enemies had slandered him as to this, hoping to drive him to receive wages that they might reduce his influence in this respect to the level of their own; but in this hope they would be disappointed, for he would continue to preach without compensation as he always had done.]

Verse 10

As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this glorying in the regions of Achaia.

Verse 11

Wherefore? because I love you not? God knoweth.

Verse 12

But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them that desire an occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. [The apostle is determined that whatever he may do elsewhere he will receive no compensation for any preaching in Achaia. Knowing that they would wish to know why he thus made an exception in their case, he raises the question himself, but does not answer it, because to do so frankly would have been to show the deficiencies of their entire character and nature. But that he does not thus except them because of any lack of love, is shown by his appeal to God, who knew his heart. Compare 2 Corinthians 6:11-13; 2 Corinthians 7:2; 2 Corinthians 12:15 . One motive for his conduct he will tell them, and that is that he may silence the tongues of those who seek an opportunity to detract him. Here the language of the apostle grows bitterly sarcastic. The false teachers had received wages from the beginning, yet he speaks of them as if they gloried in preaching the gospel for nothing and declares that he will do likewise that they may be found no better than he. In the next three verses Paul speaks with the most unreserved plainness, and, as Bengel observes, "calls a spade a spade."]

Verse 13

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. [Thus he declares plainly that these men are not apostles, that they maintained their false position by imposture, and that they assumed the name and office of apostles, though never having been called to be such by Christ.]

Verse 14

And no marvel; for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light.

Verse 15

It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. [The apostle says that no one need stand aghast at such awful presumption, for Satan himself sets an example in this respect and his ministers may be expected to follow it. Some think that Satan fashioned himself as an angel of light when he appeared before God as narrated in the Book of Job; others, that he did so when he appeared before Jesus to tempt him. It is not clear to what incident in the life of Satan Paul refers. In this age, as in all ages, these warning words of the apostle should be weighed and considered. As Jesus bade us beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, so Paul bids us beware of the emissaries of Satan, who come claiming to be leaders in religion. The servants of Satan do not hesitate to hold ecclesiastical offices, or occupy pulpits.]

Verse 16

[In this section the apostle draws a comparison between himself and the false apostles, showing how he excelled them in labors, revelations, signs, etc.] I say again [having twice swerved from the distasteful task, Paul unwillingly resumes his apparent boasting], Let no man think me foolish; but if ye do, yet as foolish receive me, that I also may glory a little.

Verse 17

That which I speak, I speak not after the Lord, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of glorying. [Let no man think that I am foolish enough to boast wittingly of my own accord, but if any one does so think, let him, nevertheless, bear with me a little while in my boasting, since my adversaries have made it the order of the day. I am painfully conscious that the Spirit of God does not prompt to boasting, but I do so on my own responsibility, or according to my own confident folly, my so doing having been made a permissible necessity by your behavior toward me.]

Verse 18

Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also. [I am about to follow the carnal example of the boasters, that I may defeat them with their own weapon.]

Verse 19

For ye bear with the foolish gladly, being wise yourselves.

Verse 20

For ye bear with a man, if he bringeth you into bondage, if he devoureth you, if he taketh you captive, if he exalteth himself, if he smiteth you on the face.

Verse 21

I speak by way of disparagement, as though we had been weak. Yet whereinsoever any is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am bold also. [You encourage me to talk foolishly, for it pleaseth you to indulge fools that ye may thereby flatter yourselves with a show of superiority, and by your recent conduct toward these, my rivals in boasting, you have shown to what lengths of patient endurance you will go in this matter, for you have permitted them to bring you into bondage to their authority and their false doctrine, to impoverish you by exorbitant exactions of wages, to treat you as their captives, and to exalt themselves over you as though they were your conquerors, and even to smite you as though you had become their slaves. If you bore with such strenuous boastfulness, you can bear with me in my weak foolishness. But I have indeed disparaged myself when I talked about my meekness, as I will now show you, for if any ever addressed bold words to you, you are now about to hear such from me also. And yet my words will all be foolishness, for all the things whereof I boast are really worthless as commendations to you in comparison with my being called of Christ as his apostle. The apostle speaks of the whole class of false apostles as if they were a single individual. Thus, after many preliminary apologies and explanations, Paul comes at last to his boast, not of his exploits or talents, as one Fight expect, but of his sufferings and humiliations, revelations and self-sacrifices.]

Verse 22

Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. [This verse shows clearly that Paul’s enemies were Judaizing Jews. They had evidently boasted of their race, nationality, etc., to the disparagement of Paul. They probably urged that Paul was greatly inferior to them because he was born at Tarsus, was a Roman citizen, lived much like a Gentile, and did not abjectly obey the Jewish law. By their whisperings they no doubt laid the foundation for that calumny which was long after found formed against him; for "it would appear from Epiphanius," says Stanley, "that Judaizers went so far as to assert that he was altogether a Gentile by birth, and only adopted circumcision in order to marry the high priest’s daughter." In answer to this rising cloud of slander, Paul asserts his racial, national, etc., equality with his enemies. He was a Hebrew, he belonged to the sacred nation and spoke the sacred language (Acts 22:2); and an Israelite, he belonged to the theocracy, and being of the seed of Abraham, he was by birth an heir to the promises, and was not a proselyte nor descended from one.]

Verse 23

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as one beside himself) I more; in labors more abundantly [1 Corinthians 15:10], in prisons more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft. [1 Corinthians 15:31 . On Jewish grounds Paul claimed equality, but as a minister of Christ, superiority. Knowing that his enemies would say that it accorded with his general insanity to thus assert his superiority, he ironically admits his madness in thus asserting that his ministerial labors exceeded those of his easy-living adversaries--theirs being in fact no labor at all, but rather an effort to steal the credit of his labors. This verse gives the general bodily distresses endured, while the next three tell of special cases. According to Acts, Paul had, up to this date, been imprisoned but once, and was afterwards imprisoned thrice. Clement of Rome, who wrote toward the close of the first century, says that Paul was imprisoned seven times. Paul’s life for long periods was hourly exposed to death (Acts 9:23; Acts 13:50; Acts 14:5-6; Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13); but the best comment on this expression is the catalogue of sufferings which follow.]

Verse 24

Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. [Deuteronomy 25:2 . The law limited all beatings to forty stripes; but one stripe was omitted lest the law should be accidentally broken through careless counting. Such a scourging inflicted the agony of death, and generally resulted in it. Not one of these scourgings is mentioned in Acts.]

Verse 25

Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep [The Romans punished by using the vine rods of the soldiers or the fasces of the lictors, and no law limited the number of strokes. Such beatings often caused death. Roman citizenship was presumed to protect from such punishment, but in his orations Cicero tells us that in the provinces the rights of citizenship were often set at nought in this respect. Luke tells of but one of these beatings (Acts 26:22). The stoning took place at Lystra (Acts 14:19). Luke tells in all six sea voyages, but says nothing of the wreckings here mentioned. In referring to the twenty-four-hour struggle for life amidst the waves, Paul uses the present tense, showing that the horror of his situation was still vividly remembered]:

Verse 26

in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren [Disasters at sea remind Paul of similar trials by land, and the eightfold reiteration of "perils" emphasizes the fact that he was nowhere safe. Traveling in those days was both arduous and dangerous. The highways were infested with robbers and the streams were often without bridges, the mountain torrents were sudden and violent in their risings, and the science of navigation and the art of shipbuilding were each extremely crude. For perils from his own countrymen, see Acts 13:45; Acts 13:50; Acts 14:2; Acts 14:5; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 18:15; Acts 19:9; Acts 21:27 . They even attempted to take his life a few weeks later as he was leaving Jerusalem (Acts 23). For perils from the Gentiles, see Acts 19:30-31 . For his perils in the cities, see 2 Corinthians 11:32 and Acts 9:24-25; Acts 9:29; Acts 13:50; Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 16:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 18:12; Acts 19:23 . Perils from false brethren were the most distressing of all, for they wounded the affections-- Philippians 3:18; Galatians 2:4];

Verse 27

in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. [The apostle here tells how he labored until labor became a pain; how he sacrificed his sleep that he might teach, preach and pray (Acts 20:31; 1 Thessalonians 3:10); how his journeyings often took him where he suffered for water and was faint with hunger; how he often fasted for the good of the cause (Acts 13:2; Acts 13:3; Acts 14:23; 1 Corinthians 9:27); and how he was cold and insufficiently clad. The apostle makes no mention of the frequency of his hunger and thirst, etc., for the recurrency of these trials was beyond his control. He employs the word "often" when speaking of the watchings and fastings which were directly under his control, and which he might have avoided had he chosen to do so. Surely this catalogue of privations must have made the apostle’s character stand in strong contrast to the self-indulgent spirit of his adversaries. From physical trials Paul now turns to those which were mental.]

Verse 28

Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches. [Besides the things which I have already mentioned--trials which come from external circumstances--there are others which attack me daily; I mean the wranglings, disputes, backslidings and apostasies of all the churches which are constantly brought to my attention that I may instruct, arbitrate or discipline according as the cases may demand. This verse may also be taken to mean that there were trials other than those mentioned, which came upon Paul from without.]

Verse 29

Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is caused to stumble, and I burn not? [In this verse Paul shows what the care of the churches meant to him. It was an excessive drain upon his sympathies. If any weak one suffered through the rash selfishness of a brother who abused his liberty by eating in an idol temple, Paul suffered with him as if he also were weak, and if any were caused to stumble, Paul made the case of such a one his own, and burned with indignation.]

Verse 30

If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my weakness. [If my enemies force upon me the moral necessity of boasting, I will at least not boast of my exploits, but of those things which others might regard as matters of shame. Thus the apostle shows how impossible it was for him to really boast after the fashion of a worldly mind.]

Verse 31

The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed for evermore knoweth that I lie not. [This solemn asseveration is not to be restricted to the statements contained in the next two verses, but applies to all he has said or is about to say in this entire section. No doubt in the apostle’s own mind it was called forth by what he was about to say concerning his revelations, his mind looking forward to what he intended to say when he added the last item to his catalogue of sufferings.]

Verse 32

In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king guarded the city of the Damascenes in order to take me:

Verse 33

and through a window was I let down in a basket by the wall, and escaped his hands. [In the walled cities of the Orient, houses were often built against the walls so that the windows projected over them. No doubt in Paul’s mind an apostle in a basket seemed the depth of humiliation. Aretas was king of Arabia from B. C. 7 to A. D. 40. Damascus belonged to Rome, and it has puzzled some to find it at this time under the control of the king of Arabia. But it will be remembered that Aretas engaged in war with Herod, because he dismissed the Arab’s daughter and took his niece, Herodias, for a wife. Aretas defeated Herod, and the Romans took up the quarrel, and it seems likely that in the ensuing contest the city of Damascus fell, for a time, into the hands of the Arabians.]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.