Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 11

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4064. A.D. 60.

In this chapter, the apostle further vindicates himself from the perverse insinuations of them that opposed him at Corinth, intimating,

(1,) That his boasting of his labours was necessary, to counterbalance that of the false apostles, 2 Corinthians 11:1-4 , 2 Corinthians 11:16-21 .

(2,) Showing that in preaching the gospel, he had laboured as freely as any of them, and assigning reasons for declining to receive a contribution from this church for his maintenance, 2 Corinthians 11:5-15 .

(3,) Further to assert his right and authority as an apostle, after mentioning his external privileges and qualifications, he gives an account of his labours, sufferings, dangers, and deliverances; yet in such a manner as plainly to show how disagreeable it was to him so much as to seem to applaud himself on the most necessary occasion, 22-33.

Verse 1

2 Corinthians 11:1. Would to God Rather, I wish; (for the word God is not in the original text;) you could bear a little with me So does he pave the way for what might otherwise have given offence; in my folly Of commending myself, which to many may appear folly; and really would be so if it were not, on this occasion, absolutely necessary for the maintaining of my authority among you. For, &c. I therefore do it because I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy Jealousy is a passion which renders a person impatient of a rival or partner, with respect to a thing or person beloved. By telling them he was jealous over them, the apostle gives them to know he so exceedingly loved them, that he could not bear that any should pretend to have more regard for them than he had; and withal that he feared lest their affections should be alienated not only from him, but also from Christ, through the insinuations of false teachers among them, and they should be rendered unfaithful to him here, and unfit to be presented to him as his spouse hereafter. For By successfully preaching the gospel to you, and bringing you into the engagements of the Christian covenant; I have espoused you to one husband Even to him whose servant and ambassador I am, and have led you into a holy contract with him, which hath been mutually scaled; that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ Pure in affection, and spotless in your conduct. “Here,” says Whitby, “is thought to be an allusion to the αρμοσυνοι of the Lacedemonians,” a sort of magistrates, whose office it was to educate and form young women, especially those of rank and figure, designed for marriage, and then to present them to those who were to be their husbands; and if this officer permitted them, through negligence, to be corrupted, between the espousals and consummation of the marriage, great blame would naturally fall upon him. “The Greek commentators, however, agree with our translation, rendering ηρμοσαμην , here used, by εμνηστευσα , I have espoused you. As therefore the Jews say that Moses espoused Israel to God in mount Sinai, when he made them enter into covenant with him; so, saith the apostle here, by converting you to the Christian faith, I have espoused you to one husband, even Christ.” The betrothing of persons to Christ is accomplished in the present life, but their marriage is to take place in the life to come; when they shall be brought home to their husband’s house, to live with him for ever. And the apostle, having betrothed the Corinthian believers to Christ, was anxious to preserve them chaste or true to their future spouse, that when the time of their marriage came, they might not be rejected by him.

Verse 3

2 Corinthians 11:3. But I fear Love is full of these fears; lest by any means By some means or other; as the serpent A most apposite comparison; deceived Eve Simple, ignorant of ill; by his subtlety Which is in the highest degree dangerous to such a disposition; so your minds (We might therefore be tempted, even if there were no sin in us;) should be corrupted Losing their virginal purity; from the simplicity that is in Christ Namely, that simplicity which is lovingly intent on him alone. “That it was the devil who beguiled Eve, our Lord hath intimated, by calling him a murderer from the beginning, and a liar, John 8:44. The same also St. John hath intimated, by giving the name of the old serpent to him who is called the devil and Satan, who deceiveth the whole world, Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2. Besides, in the history of the fall, the serpent is said to have been punished, as a rational and accountable agent. Wherefore, what Moses hath written of the fall, is not an apologue, or fable, with a moral meaning, as Middleton and others contend, but a true history of things really done, in which the devil was the chief actor.” Macknight. See note on Genesis 3:1-15.

Verses 4-6

2 Corinthians 11:4-6. For if he that cometh After me, with such extraordinary pretences; preach another Jesus Can point out to you another Saviour; whom we have not preached Who shall better or equally deserve your attention and regard; or if ye receive another spirit By his preaching, which ye have not received By ours, and which can bestow upon you gifts superior to those which you received through our ministry; or another gospel Bringing you tidings equally happy, evident, and important, with those which we brought you; ye might well bear with him In his pretensions to exceed us, and there would be some excuse for your conduct; but how far this is from being, or so much as seeming to be, the case, I need not say. For I suppose Λογιζομαι , I reckon, or, I conclude, upon most certain knowledge; that I was not a whit behind I was in nothing inferior to; the very chiefest apostles Either in spiritual gifts, or the greatness of my labours and sufferings, or in the success of my ministry. By the chiefest apostles, St. Paul meant Peter, James, and John, whom he called pillars, Galatians 2:9. Let the Papists reconcile this account which Paul gives of himself as an apostle, with their pretended supremacy of Peter over all the apostles. But, or for, though I be rude, or unskilful, in speech Speaking in a plain, unadorned way, like an unlearned person, as the word ιδιωτης , here used, properly signifies. “The apostle,” says Macknight, “called himself unlearned in speech, because, in preaching, he did not follow the rules of the Grecian rhetoric. His discourses were not composed with that art which the Greeks showed in the choice and arrangement of their words, and in the disposition of their periods. Neither were they delivered with those modulations of voice, and with those studied gestures, wherewith the Greeks set off their orations. This sort of eloquence the apostle utterly disclaimed, for a reason mentioned 1 Corinthians 1:17. It seems the faction in Corinth had objected to him his want of these accomplishments.” Or, as some think, the irony of the faction was levelled, not against the apostle’s style, but against his pronunciation and action in speaking, which, through some bodily infirmity, was ungraceful and unacceptable. See on 2 Corinthians 10:10. Probably the faction objected both imperfections to him. Yet not in knowledge If I be unskilful in speech, I am not so in the knowledge of the gospel of Christ, and of the dispensations which were introductory to it. But we have been thoroughly made manifest, &c. You have had sufficient proof of my acquaintance with the great doctrines of Christianity, and what my gifts are, and therefore you ought not to call in question my authority as an apostle, or my ability to teach, direct, and govern your church, nor to prefer another in opposition to me.

Verses 7-9

2 Corinthians 11:7-9. Have I committed an offence Will any turn this into an objection; in abasing myself Stooping to work at my trade; that ye might be exalted To the dignity of being the children of God; because I have preached the gospel to you free of expense. “This the apostle’s enemies said was a presumption, that he knew himself to be no apostle; or, if he was an apostle, it showed that he did not love the Corinthians. The first of these objections he had answered in his former epistle, (1 Corinthians 9:3-19,) by proving his right to a maintenance, and by declaring that he declined using that right, merely to make his preaching the more acceptable and successful. The second objection he answers in this chapter, 2 Corinthians 11:11-15.” I robbed Greek, εσολησα , I spoiled, as it were, other churches (It is a military term;) taking wages Οψωνιον , pay, (another military word,) of them, when I first came to you; to do you service To serve your best interests by converting you to, and instructing you in, the faith of the gospel. It appears from Philippians 4:15-16, that it was from the church at Philippi that he received the support here spoken of. For the brethren there, “being strongly impressed with a sense of the advantages which mankind derived from the gospel, were so anxious to render the apostle’s preaching in Corinth successful, that, during his residence there, they sent him money, to prevent his being burdensome to the Corinthians. His acceptance of these presents he called a spoiling of the Philippians, because, as he was not labouring among them, he took their money without giving them any thing in return for it; and a taking of wages: but it was for a service performed, not to the Philippians, but to the Corinthians.” And when I was present with you and wanted The gains of my labour not quite supplying my necessities; I was chargeable to no man Of your church, or of Corinth. The word here used, κατεναρκησα , appears to be derived from ναρκη , which, Elian says, is the name of a fish, called by the Latins torpedo, because it deprives those who touch it of the sense of feeling. According to this derivation of the word, the apostle’s meaning is, I benumbed, or oppressed, or hurt, no one. See the notes of Joach. Camerar. For what was lacking For my support; the brethren from Macedonia supplied Though it seems the apostle generally maintained himself by his own labour, he was sometimes so occupied in preaching, and in the other functions of his ministry, that he had little time for working. This was the case when he was first at Corinth, at which time the Philippians relieved him. For he chose to receive help from the poor of that place, rather than from the rich Corinthians. In all things I have kept myself from being burdensome to you In any way whatever; and will keep myself So long as God shall enable me.

Verses 10-12

2 Corinthians 11:10-12 . As the truth of Christ is in me As sure as I am a true Christian, and an apostle. The expression has the nature of an oath. See on Romans 9:1. No man shall stop me of this boasting For I will receive nothing from you. Wherefore For what reason have I resolved on this? Is it, as my enemies tell you, because I do not love you, and will not be obliged to you? God knoweth that is not the case. But what I do, &c. As if he had said, The true reason why I do so, and resolve to continue the same course, is this; that I may cut off occasion, namely, of reproaching me, or boasting of themselves, from them which desire occasion for so doing; that wherein they glory Namely, of their preaching freely, at least sometimes, or some of them, or pretending to do so; they may be found even as we To have no advantage over me in this respect. It would seem that the false teachers at Corinth, in imitation of the apostle, pretended to take nothing for their preaching, and boasted of their disinterestedness. Nevertheless, on other pretences they received presents from their disciples in private, nay, extorted them. See 2 Corinthians 11:20. Wherefore, to put these impostors to shame, and to oblige them really to imitate him, the apostle declared that he never had taken any thing, nor ever would take any thing from the Corinthians, whether in public or in private, on any account whatever.

Verses 13-15

2 Corinthians 11:13-15. For such are false apostles Whatever they may pretend to the contrary, being destitute of that divine mission which all the true apostles have; deceitful workers Pretending to great disinterestedness in their work, while their only design is to promote their own interest; transforming themselves into the appearance of apostles of Christ By pretending to preach the gospel without reward. And no marvel they assume that appearance; for Satan himself In subordination to whom they act, can put on such deceitful appearances, and be transformed into an angel of light Wearing, on certain occasions, a mask of sanctity and religion, in his attempts to deceive and insnare the souls of men, so that one would imagine his suggestions to be of a celestial and divine original. “In this manner, it may be supposed, Satan transformed himself, when he tempted our Lord in the wilderness; and in like manner also when he tempted our first mother Eve. Evil spirits are called angels of darkness, because they employ themselves in promoting error and wickedness, which is spiritual darkness. Whereas, good angels are called angels of light, because they employ themselves in promoting truth and virtue, which is spiritual light.” Therefore, it is no great thing Nothing extraordinary; if his ministers also, under his influence, be transformed That is, make themselves to appear; as ministers of righteousness False teachers are justly called ministers of Satan, because they are employed in disseminating error, whereby Satan’s kingdom is supported in the world. And, on the other hand, with equal propriety are the teachers of true doctrine called ministers of righteousness, because of the efficacy of true doctrine to promote righteousness in them who receive it: whose end Notwithstanding all their disguises; shall be according to their works Here the end, as in Romans 6:21, signifies the final issue of a course of action; consequently the retribution which shall be made to the actor.

Verses 16-17

2 Corinthians 11:16-17. I say again He premises a new apology to this new commendation of himself; let no man think me a fool In boasting thus of myself; let no one think I take any pleasure in doing it, or that I do it without a very strong reason. Let the provocation I have received be considered: let the necessity of the circumstance, and the importance of my character, be duly weighed, and I shall surely be excused. But if otherwise If any one do think me foolish herein, yet bear with my folly, and hear me patiently without offence; that I may boast myself a little As well as others. That which I speak On this head; I speak it not after the Lord Not by any immediate direction or inspiration from Christ; nor after his example, and in such a way as seems worthy of him; but as it were foolishly, &c. In such a manner as many may think foolish, and indeed would be foolish, were I not compelled to it in order that I may vindicate my apostleship, and confirm you in the truth.

Verses 18-21

2 Corinthians 11:18-21. Seeing that many glory after the flesh In circumcision, Jewish extraction, and other outward privileges and qualifications; I will glory also In the same manner; nor can my seeming folly offend you; for ye The disciples of the false apostles; suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wonderfully wise And in your extraordinary wisdom can cherish that arrogant temper in others. As if he had said, Being such very wise men, I hope you will bear with this piece of folly in me as you bear with it in others. This is written in the highest strain of ridicule, as is plain from the next verse, where, in mockery, he mentions their abjectly bearing the contumelious and injurious behaviour of the false teachers, as an example of their wisdom in bearing. But it was a bearing, not with fools, but with knaves, to their own cost. By taking notice of that circumstance, therefore, the apostle placed their pretended wisdom in a truly ridiculous light. For, &c. Your patience in bearing is indeed very great; for ye suffer Not only the folly, but the gross abuses of those false teachers; ye take it patiently if a man Any of the false teachers; bring you into bondage Lord it over you in the most arbitrary manner. If a man devour you By his exorbitant demands, notwithstanding his boast of not being burdensome; if he take of you Gifts and presents, pretending to exact nothing as due; if he exalt himself By the most unbounded self- commendation; if he smite you on the face Treat you as disgracefully as if he did so. I speak What I have now said; concerning reproach Namely, the reproach which they cast upon you Gentiles as uncircumcised and profane, while they are all of a holy nation: or, I mean it of those reproaches with which they load me and my fellow-labourers; as though we had been weak Or contemptible, in comparison of them, and could have used no such authority over you. Howbeit, whereinsoever any is bold Thinks he may value and extol himself; ( I speak foolishly That is, in appearance;) I am bold also I have as much to say for myself, as he has for himself.

Verse 22

2 Corinthians 11:22. Are they Hebrews? Descended from Heber, (see Genesis 11:14,) and speaking the Hebrew language, though with some variation; so am I Paul indeed was a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, but his father and mother were Hebrews, Philippians 3:5. And having been sent to Jerusalem when young, he was instructed by Gamaliel, a noted Jewish doctor, Acts 22:3. So that in Jerusalem he perfected himself both in the language and religion of his nation, on all which accounts he was truly a Hebrew descended of Hebrews. Are they Israelites? Descended from Jacob, who, in preference to his brother Esau, was chosen to be the root of the visible church of God in that early age, and was called Israel for the reason mentioned Genesis 32:28. This appellation, therefore, signified that the persons to whom it was given were members of God’s visible church by their descent from Jacob, and consequently were distinguished from proselytes who were members by circumcision, and not by descent. Are they the seed of Abraham? Inasmuch as Abraham, being constituted a father of many nations, had two kinds of seed; the one by natural descent, called his seed by the law; the other by faith, called that which is of the faith of Abraham, see Romans 4:13; Romans 4:16. Macknight thinks, that by the seed of Abraham, the apostle intended here his seed by faith, or his spiritual seed; because if he had meant his natural seed, this question would have been the same with the preceding: a tautology, he thinks, not to be imputed to the apostle.

Verses 23-25

2 Corinthians 11:23-25 . Are they ministers of Christ? “St. Paul does not compare himself with the false teachers as an apostle, but as a minister of Christ simply. And to show how much he exceeded them in that inferior character, he mentions his labours in the ministry, and his sufferings undergone in his many journeys and voyages, for the sake of spreading the gospel. And from his account it appears, that none of the heroes of antiquity, however vehemently actuated by the love of fame, or of military glory or power, either did or suffered as much in the pursuit of their objects, as the Apostle Paul did and suffered for Christ and his gospel.” I am more so than they; in labours more abundant Sustained for a long series of years; in stripes above measure All endured for Christ and his cause. In prisons more frequent In the narrative of Paul’s travels and sufferings, contained in the Acts, we only read of his being imprisoned once, before this epistle was written, namely, at Philippi. But doubtless many particulars of his life, besides the imprisonments here referred to, were omitted in that history, for the sake of brevity. In deaths oft Surrounding me in the most dreadful forms. Of the Jews five times received I In their synagogues, and before their courts of judgment; forty stripes, save one According to the law, punishment by stripes was restricted to forty, at one beating, Deuteronomy 25:3; but the whip with which these stripes were given, consisting of three separate cords, and each stroke being counted as three stripes, thirteen strokes made thirty-nine stripes, beyond which they never went. See Whitby. As the apostle, before his conversion, had been very active in inflicting this punishment on the disciples of Christ, he could not complain when he himself was treated in the same manner by the zealots for the law. Thrice was I beaten with rods By the Roman lictors or beadles, at the command of their superior magistrates. In his history, contained in the Acts, we find no mention made of his being punished with stripes, and only one instance occurs there of his being beaten with rods. See the margin. Once was I stoned Namely, at Lystra, at which time he was left for dead. Thrice I suffered shipwreck Before his voyage to Rome, in which he was shipwrecked at Malta; of these we have no account in the Acts. A night and a day I have been in the deep Probably floating on some part of a shipwrecked vessel, by which, possibly, he escaped to shore. This, it is likely, happened in one of the three shipwrecks mentioned in the preceding clause.

Verses 26-27

2 Corinthians 11:26-27. In journeyings For the sake of preaching the gospel; often In which I have been exposed to a variety of dangers, from waters, robbers, my own countrymen, and the heathen. In perils in the city From tumults. Of these dangers, frequent mention is made in the Acts: as in Damascus; after that, in Jerusalem; then in Antioch, in Pisidia, Iconium, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, and Ephesus; all before the writing of this epistle. In dangers in the wilderness Of perishing by want, or by wild beasts; in the sea From storms and pirates; among false brethren Who, amidst specious pretensions of love and affection, secretly watched, if not to destroy me, at least to injure my character, and ruin my usefulness. In weariness Through my incessant labours; and painfulness Or fatiguing toil. The latter of the words here used, μοχθος , implies more than κοπος , the former, namely, such hard labour as caused great fatigue. In watchings often Continuing many nights without sleep, which might happen from various causes, besides that mentioned Acts 20:11, when he continued his discourse till break of day. In hunger and thirst Not having the necessaries of life at hand. In cold and nakedness Having no place where to lay my head, and no convenient raiment to cover me; and yet appearing before noblemen, governors, and kings, and not being ashamed.

Verses 28-31

2 Corinthians 11:28-31. Besides those things that are without These external troubles which I have mentioned; that which cometh upon me daily Greek, η επισυστασις μου η καθ ’ ημεραν , that which rusheth upon me daily, or that which is my daily pressure. The expression denotes a crowd of people surrounding and pressing upon a person, in order to bear him down, and trample upon him; an idea which is elegantly applied to his cares respecting the churches; crowding in upon his mind, and ready to overwhelm it. And this is very properly mentioned here among his sufferings, being certainly not one of the least of them, as may be easily inferred from the account which he has given in this and in his former epistle, of the exceeding grief which the errors and irregularities of the single church of Corinth caused him. In saying, the care of all the churches, he signified he was deeply concerned for the prosperity, even of those which he had not seen in the flesh. St. Peter himself could not have said this in so strong a sense. Who is weak Namely, in grace, and therefore oppressed with a variety of doubts and fears, and cast down; and I am not weak By sympathy, as well as by condescension, manifested in complying with their weakness. Who is offended Hindered in or turned out of the good way; and I burn not With zeal and desire to restore him: or am not pained, as though I had fire in my bosom? So that he had not only the care of the churches, but every person therein. If I must needs glory And I am heartily sorry that any such necessity is laid upon me; I will glory of the things that concern my infirmities In my sufferings for Christ, of various kinds, such as I have specified, (see 2 Corinthians 12:10,) sufferings which show my weakness, and his strength, and therefore humble me, and exalt him. And in what I have said, I have only spoken the exact truth, without reigning or aggravating any one circumstance; for God knoweth that I lie not Even that eternal Majesty of heaven and earth; who is blessed for evermore. This clause is added to increase the solemnity of his appeal to God for the truth of what he had said, and was going further to say; and that not only concerning his deliverance at Damascus, but concerning the visions and revelations of the Lord, to be mentioned in the next chapter.

Verses 32-33

2 Corinthians 11:32-33. In Damascus, &c. As if he had said, I must be permitted to add one circumstance more to illustrate the dangers to which I was exposed, as soon as I engaged in the Christian cause, and the remarkable interposition of Divine Providence for my preservation: the governor under Aretas King of Arabia and Syria, of which Damascus was a chief city, willing to oblige the Jews, kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison That is, setting guards at all the gates, day and night; desirous, or, determining, to apprehend me And to deliver me to them. And in such a danger, where even the form of a trial was not to be expected, what could I do but flee? Through a window Therefore, of a house which stood on the city wall; I was let down in a basket With ropes; and escaped his hands The assistance of good men co-operating with the care of God. Now, who that considers and credits the above brief account, though of but a part of the labours and sufferings which the apostle voluntarily sustained, that he might testify to mankind the gospel of the grace of God, can for a moment question his certain knowledge of the truth and importance of that gospel; especially as he neither reaped, nor could expect to reap, any worldly benefit whatever from preaching it? Did he do and suffer all these things to spread a doctrine which, for any thing he knew to the contrary, might be false; or if true, was not important to the salvation of the human race? Surely no man can suppose it, without first supposing that the apostle was destitute of common sense. Consider this, reader, and remember, at the same time, how the Lord sanctioned and confirmed his testimony, by signs and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will, and then think how thou shalt escape if thou reject or neglect such a gospel, or the great salvation revealed in and by it.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". Benson's Commentary. 1857.