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2 Corinthians 11

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The tone of these concluding chapters is so very different from that of all that precedes them, that though it is impossible to doubt that both came from the same pen (only two or three of the wildest critics have ever alleged the contrary), yet probably some interval took place between the time when the preceding portion was written and that of these three chapters. Perhaps also disquieting news may have come from Corinth of the growing influence of the hostile party, rendering it necessary, as he was so soon to return to it (2 Corinthians 12:14, and 2 Corinthians 13:1), that he should assume the peremptory tone which we find here; for with the loss of his apostolic influence at Corinth, the very truth of that Gospel which he had brought them, and which had made that Church all that it was, would have been fatally affected there.

Verse 1

2 Corinthians 11:1. Would that ye could bear with me in a little foolishness: nay indeed bear with me or (with other interpreters) ‘but indeed ye do bear with me.’ The former, however, suits better, we think, with what follows.

Verse 2

2 Corinthians 11:2. For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I betrothed you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ. The apostle here speaks, like the Baptist, as “the friend of the Bridegroom,” who having betrothed them to Christ at their conversion, hoped to be able to “present them” to Him, uncorrupted by the alienation of their affections, and to witness the consummation of the nuptials at His Second Appearing.

Verse 3

2 Corinthians 11:3. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity (the single-mindedness) that is toward Christ. The Revised Version adds “and purity,” on good, but not preponderating evidence, and (with Meyer) we think this addition has every appearance of having crept in as a gloss, explanatory of “simplicity.” (Tischendorf rejects it.) There is here taken for granted, as a historical fact, both the narrative of the fall and the agency of Satan, in serpent form, in that transaction; while his continued agency in the seduction of men from the paths of truth and safety, through the instrumentality of his ministers, is certainly implied, especially in the light of 2 Corinthians 11:13-15.

Verse 4

2 Corinthians 11:4. For if he that cometh (any one so coming) 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. The import of this verse is not quite clear, and opinions about it are divided. But it seems clear enough that the reference is to intruding zealots, the same Judaizing party which threatened to carry away the Galatian Christians (see the terrible severity with which they are described in Galatians 1:6-9). In this case the import is, ‘I may well be jealous over you; for ye seem ready to drink in the teaching of men who come to you preaching another Jesus, and a different gospel, and claiming a “spirit” very different from that which we brought to you and ye received: right gladly do ye listen to such; may ye not well, then, listen to me?’ What follows seems to shew that this is what is intended, though the suppressed irony is very keen.

Verse 5

2 Corinthians 11:5. For I reckon that I am not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles or (according to others, and the margin of the Revised Version) ‘those pre-eminent apostles.’ In this last case, pretended but false apostles (those of 2 Corinthians 11:13-15) are meant; but to us it appears pretty clear that the reference is to the real apostles, as Peter, James, and John (see Galatians 2:9). That disparaging comparisons between them and our apostle had been made at Corinth, is beyond doubt; and those who were doing this were the same party that were holding up “James, Cephas, and John” as “pillars” to the disparagement of Paul among the Galatians. We cannot doubt that it is these “very chiefest apostles” whom he here reckons himself not behind. Indeed it is a known fact, that the extreme zealots of this Jewish party who eventually left the Church and formed a sect of their own considered our apostle as the great corrupter of the pure, primitive Jewish type of Christianity, by letting in upon it a flood of uncircumcised Gentiles (see Stanley’s introduction to this Epistle). And if the language here used still seems too strong to be applied to real apostles, the language applied to them in speaking to these same Corinthians in his First Epistle (1 Corinthians 15:10) will be found sufficiently similar.

[1] The Revised Version renders it “espoused,” because another word for “betrothed” is commonly used in the New Testament. But since two acts are here clearly distingushed, and “espousal” certainly answer to the second the “presenting of the Church to Christ,” as remaining true to Him here below, the first must correspond to the formal “betrothal” and all the more as the word here used (ἀ ρμόζω) undoubtedly means to bring together, which may apply to the one act as well as the other.

Verse 6

2 Corinthians 11:6. But though I be rude in speech. Probably his detractors, pandering to that tinsel rhetoric which he disclaimed, talked of his want of polish, and no doubt those profound truths which he announced would not flow smoothly through the current forms of Greek speech. But granting this, yet am I not (rude) in knowledge having received by direct revelation from heaven what he preached (Galatians 1:12, and see Ephesians 3:4). Nay, in everything we have made it manifest among all men to youward (compare his Master’s similar protestation before Annas, John 18:20).

Verse 7

2 Corinthians 11:7. Or changing their ground of complaint did I commit an offence ( Gr. ‘sin’) in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God for nought? He had claimed for apostles the right to temporal support from their converts (1 Corinthians 9:13), but, conscious (as they insinuated) that he himself was not one, he dared not assert it at Corinth.

Verse 8

2 Corinthians 11:8. Nay, I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister (gratuitously) to you;

Verse 9

2 Corinthians 11:9. and when I was present with you, and was in want, I was not a burden on any man, but the brethren from Macedonia supplied the measure of my want. From the Macedonian brethren of Philippi and Thessalonica he accepted support, expressly that no breath of suspicion, as to any mercenary motives in preaching at Corinth, might arise there so tender was he of their feelings; and this, no doubt, was what stung to the quick his mercenary detractors, and ... so will I keep myself.

Verse 10

2 Corinthians 11:10. As the truth of Christ is in me not quite an oath, but a very solemn asseveration, no man shall stop me of this glorying in the regions of Achaia (of which Corinth was the capital). There seems to have been something about that locality which rendered it peculiarly desirable that he should be above all suspicion there probably it was the mercenary character of that trading community.

Verse 11

2 Corinthians 11:11. Wherefore? because I love you not? God knoweth.

Verse 12

2 Corinthians 11:12. But what I do, that I will do, that I may out off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. Opinions differ as to what is meant here. But since it is clear that his opponents were irritated at his declining that temporal support which they freely received, the meaning seems plainly to be that by persisting in his course, in spite of their taunts, he meant to compel them either to “be as he-was,” gratuitous preachers, or to hold their peace.

Verse 13

2 Corinthians 11:13. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. He now tears off the mask, giving his opponents their true name in which character they but copy their real master, as next verse says.

Verse 14

2 Corinthians 11:14. And no marvel; for Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light. His own element is darkness (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6), and all his power over men lies in his power to keep them in the dark (a Cor. 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:13). But knowing that men love the light, and hate darkness, he veils his lies in the dress of truth, and hides his poison in the bait of wholesome truth.

Verse 15

2 Corinthians 11:15. It is no great thing therefore (nothing surprising) if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness: whose end shall be according to their works “for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7; Romans 6:21; Philippians 3:19).

Advancing now to the things of which he was well entitled to boast, if boasting was at all permissible and wise, he begins by deprecating the supposition that in so doing he was playing the fool; and if they should still say that he was, then claiming the liberty permitted even to fools.

Verses 16-18

2 Corinthians 11:16-18 . I say again, Let no man think me foolish; but if ye do so, yet as foolish receive me, that I also may glory a little, etc. He feels the conflict between what may be called legitimate boasting and what is mere folly. His boasting was “not after the Lord;” but being wrung from him in self-vindication, it was not foolishness, but only “as in foolishness.”

Verse 19

2 Corinthians 11:19. For ye bear for the foolish gladly, being wise yourselves. ‘As the wise, pitying the foolish, put up with their foolishness, so put ye up with me while I tell you what I have to boast of.’ The irony here is obvious and keen.

Verse 20

2 Corinthians 11:20. For ye bear with a man if, etc. The five things here said to be borne with are clearly just the things which the Corinthians had suffered those deceitful workers to do against himself, if he bringeth you into bondage tyrannizing over them, if he devoureth you alluding to their mercenary ministrations, if he taketh you captive making slaves of you to do their bidding, if he exalteth himself in his pride,

if he smiteth you on the face a figurative way of saying ‘treats you insolently.’ All this rude and injurious treatment of one to whom they owed their conversion to Christ they were quietly putting up with.

Verse 21

2 Corinthians 11:21. 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. ‘I refer now to the reproach cast upon me, as a “weak” preacher, because, forsooth, I showed none of that proud and insolent bearing which they do. But I can be as bold as they, and with better reason too.’ Now follows that incomparable burst of indignant eloquence, embodying particulars of his history or rather bare allusions to facts in his apostolic history extending over some twelve or fourteen years, without any of those details which we should so gladly have had.

Verse 22

2 Corinthians 11:22. Are they Hebrews? of pure Hebrew descent (compare Acts 6:1; Philippians 3:5), so am I. Are they Israelites? children of the covenant, so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham and heirs of the great Abrahamic promise? (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 17:7-8; Genesis 22:17-18; Galatians 3:8), so am I.

Verse 23

2 Corinthians 11:23 . Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as one beside himself) I more. Be it so that his opponents are ministers of Christ, but at least he himself will claim to be one, and a great deal more, referring to the labours and sufferings which he is now to detail, exceeding that (perhaps) of all the other apostles together,

in labours more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly. [1] Clement, in his (First) Epistle to the Corinthians (5), referring to the labours of our apostle, says: “under-going imprisonment seven times.” But since the imprisonment at Philippi (Acts 16:24) is the only one recorded before the date of this Epistle, Clement, says Lightfoot (p. 48, note 3), must have derived his more precise information from some other source,

[1] This clause, which in the received text comes after the next one, precedes it in the best text.

in stripes more abundantly referred to before (2 Corinthians 6:5), and particularized in the next two verses,

in deaths oft hairbreadth escapes from it: compare 2 Corinthians 4:11, “always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake,” and see Rom. 16:34. Of such narrow escapes the apostle’s life was full.

Verse 24

2 Corinthians 11:24. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Not one of these cases is recorded in the Acts. The rule, not to exceed forty, was very strict, and for a merciful reason, ‘lest their brother should seem vile unto them’ (Deuteronomy 25:3). And to prevent the letter of the law from being exceeded, Josephus says ( Antt. iv. 8, 21) it was the practice latterly to inflict one stripe less; hence the phrase ‘to get forty, less one.’ (Wetstein quotes a number of authorities for this.) The mode of infliction with thongs, partly on the naked breast, and partly on the two naked shoulders was very severe, and not infrequently was followed by death.

Verse 25

2 Corinthians 11:25. Thrice was I beaten with rods. This was the Roman mode of scourging, and this also sometimes issued in death. Only one of these three cases is recorded in Acts (Acts 21:22-23). In the apostle’s case, this was an illegal act, and inflicted barbarously and with cruel aggravations, the bleeding backs of him and his companions being left to smart on the earthen floor of a dark dungeon, while their feet were kept ‘fast in the stocks,’ once was I stoned. This was at Lystra (Acts 14:19), when he was ‘supposed to be dead,’

thrice I suffered shipwreck. How often he went from place to place by sea we cannot tell, but as five times are mentioned in Acts, there were probably several more sea voyages, at some of which this no doubt took place, a night and a day have I been in the deep (or, the length of a full day) clinging to some plank and escaping with difficulty.

Verse 26

2 Corinthians 11:26. in journeyings often, in perils of rivers having perhaps to swim across swollen rivers at the risk of life, in perils of robbers for some of the mountainous regions which he traversed are known to have been infested with robbers, and indeed are so still, in perils from mine own countrymen (Gr. ‘race’), in perils from the Gentiles sometimes goaded on by fanatical Jews, as at Philippi (Acts 16:0) and Thessalonica (Acts 17:0); but sometimes by interested idolaters, as at Ephesus (Acts 19:0), as at Damascus, Jerusalem, Pisidia, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Corinth itself, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness . . . the sea . . . amongst false brethren Judaizers, such as described in Galatians 2:4.

Verse 27

2 Corinthians 11:27. in labour and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst (see 1 Corinthians 4:11 ; Philippians 4:12), in fastings often not voluntary fastings, which he would not mention as a privation he had endured, but in the sense of the next clause, in cold and nakedness such as he would doubtless often experience in his travels through inhospitable regions.

Verse 28

2 Corinthians 11:28. Besides those things that are without over and above all such external things, there is that which cometh upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches of which see note at close of this chapter.

Verse 29

2 Corinthians 11:29. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is made to stumble, and I burn not? Who is there who, ‘weak in the faith,’ is troubled with scruples of conscience, does not draw out my sympathy and find me ‘burning’ with indignation against abusers of their Christian liberty, and thereby endangering the souls of those for whom Christ died? (see 1 Corinthians 8:7-13).

Verse 30

2 Corinthians 11:30. If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my weakness. The reference here is thought by many excellent critics to be to the infirmities spoken of in the following chapter. But this seems unnatural, and we cannot well doubt that it is to the whole preceding details, which being of an astounding nature, and doubtless known in full only to himself, seemed to require the very strong and solemn asseveration of the next verse.

Verse 31

2 Corinthians 11:31. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus [1] knoweth that I lie not.

[1] Such is the true reading.

Verse 32

2 Corinthians 11:32. In Damascus the governor ( Gr. ‘ethnarch’) under Aretas the king of that division of Arabia which had Petra for its capital, guarded the city of the Damascenes showing that though not within its natural boundaries, it had fallen into the hands of this king, in order to take me instigated, no doubt, by the Jews, who would represent him as a disturber of the peace. Thus his “weakness” began at the very outset of his ministry, making himself feel what he had till then striven to do to others.

Verse 33

2 Corinthians 11:33. and through a window was I let down in a basket by the wall or ‘over’ it; that is, from an overhanging house, such as is still to be seen at Damascus (and see Joshua 2:15; 1 Samuel 9:12), and escaped his hands.

Note. The catalogue given by the apostle in this chapter of his labours and sufferings in the service of Christ “represents (as Dean Stanley says admirably) a life hitherto without precedent in the history of the world. Self-devotion at particular moments, or for some special national cause, had been often seen before; but a self-devotion involving sacrifices like those here described, and extending through a period of at least fourteen years, and in behalf of no local or family interest, but for the interest of mankind at large, was up to this time a thing unknown.” The only Qualification of this statement which we should be disposed to make is, that one element in the case of the apostle precludes any perfect comparison with that of other heroes, outside the pale of Revealed Religion. “The love of Christ constraineth us (he says) to live no longer to ourselves, but unto Him who died for us and rose again.” Even among those who are themselves so “constrained,” there are few who come within any measurable distance of our apostle; but the one principle animating them and him alike must never be lost sight of. “While there is nothing in this account (continues the same elegant expositor) which contradicts the narrative in the Acts, yet the greater part of it goes far beyond that narrative. Of the particular facts alluded to, only two (the stoning and one of the Roman scourgings) are mentioned in the Acts; and of the general facts, although the narrative of the Acts gives a notion of critical dangers from time to time, we should hardly gather from it any notion of such continued hardships as are here indicated. In one point of view this is extremely important in relation to the authority of the Christian history, as has been well argued by Paley in his Horae Paulinae. It shews that the biography of the apostle, unlike most heroes and saints (as that of Francis Xavier), instead of overrating, underrates the difficulties and sufferings which we learn from the apostle himself; the accuracy of the apostle’s own account being further guaranteed by the extreme and apparently unfeigned reluctance with which it is brought forward. On the other hand, it impresses us with a sense of the very imperfect and fragmentary character of the history of the Acts, as a regular narrative, during that period to which the apostle’s words relate (from Acts 9:1 to Acts 20:2). This consideration gives a double value to this detailed aspect of the apostle’s life, which but for the goading provocations of his opponents would (humanly speaking) have been altogether lost to us.” But yet another consideration must not be lost sight of, the infirm health under which such perils and sufferings were undergone (see 2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Galatians 4:13-14). In view of all this, including his “anxiety for all the churches,” well might Calvin exclaim, “What a picture of a complete minister, to embrace in his care and consideration not one church, nor ten, nor thirty, but all at once; teaching some, others confirming; exhorting some, others counselling, and healing the disorders of others!” No wonder that the writings of so vast-minded and heroic a servant of Christ have a stamp upon them so characteristic and incisive, and that the mind of Christ as reflected in them has penetrated the religious thinking and feeling of all intelligent Christendom.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". 1879-90.