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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
2 Corinthians 11

 

 

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Verses 1-15

SECTION 15. — PAUL’S BOASTING: HIS REFUSAL OF MAINTENANCE. CH. 11:1-15.

Would that you bore with a morsel of senselessness of mine! Nay, indeed, bear with me. For I am jealous about you with a jealousy of God. For I have betrothed you to one man, to present to Christ a pure virgin. But I fear lest in any way as the serpent deceived Eve with his craftiness so your thoughts be corrupted from simplicity and purity towards Christ. For if he who comes is proclaiming another Jesus whom we did not proclaim, or another kind of spirit you are receiving which you did not receive, or another kind of gospel which you did not accept, you would bear with it nobly. For I reckon to have fallen nothing short of the overmuch apostles: but if I am indeed uninstructed in utterance, yet not in knowledge; but in everything we have made it manifest among all towards you.

Or, a sin did I commit, when humbling myself that you may be exalted, that as a free gift God’s Gospel I announced to you? Other churches I plundered, by taking wages for ministry to you. And when present with you and brought to want I pressed upon no one. For my want the brothers supplied when they came from Macedonia. And, in everything, not burdensome I kept myself, and I will keep. It is truth of Christ in me that this boasting shall not be put to silence in reference to me in the regions of Achaia. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows. But what I do I also will do, that I may cut off the occasion of those who wish an occasion, that in the matter in which they boast they may be found to be as we also are. For such men are false apostles, guileful workmen, men fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder: For Satan himself fashions himself into an angel of light. No great thing then if also his ministers fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness; whose end will be according to their works.

Sections 15-18, containing Paul’s boasting about himself, are the kernel of DIV. III.; as are 4-8, containing his boasting about the apostolic ministry, of DIV. I. Already, in 2 Corinthians 10:12-16, by contrasting himself with them, he has rebuked his adversaries. He will now cover them with shame, that thus he may rescue his readers from their snares, by a recital (15) of his own refusal to be maintained by the church, of (16) his hardships and perils, of (17) his wondrous revelations tempered with special affliction, and of (18) his credentials to and love for his readers. Of this, as of all human boasting, he has already in 2 Corinthians 10:17 f struck the true keynote.

In 2 Corinthians 11:1-4 Paul apologizes for, and justifies, his boasting, by his relation to his readers and his fears about them. In 2 Corinthians 11:5-6 he begins his boasting by comparing himself with his opponents, and by a general statement about himself and his colleagues. In 2 Corinthians 11:7-12 we have the first item of boasting, justified in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 by a terrible description of his opponents.

2 Corinthians 11:1. My morsel: more literally, my little bit of senselessness. Paul admits the foolishness of talking about oneself; but claims forbearance on the ground that he does not say much.

Senselessness: 2 Corinthians 11:16-17; 2 Corinthians 11:19; 2 Corinthians 11:21; 2 Corinthians 12:6; 2 Corinthians 12:11 : without intelligence, opposite to “prudent,” 2 Corinthians 11:19. To talk about oneself is usually a mark of unsound mind. Of this folly, to a small extent and (2 Corinthians 11:13) to serve God, Paul will now be guilty. These words (cp. 2 Corinthians 11:16; 2 Corinthians 12:1; 2 Corinthians 12:11) betray a man unaccustomed to speak about himself. He cannot do so, even to serve God, without apology.

Nay, indeed, etc.; corrects the foregoing lament that his readers do not bear with his momentary weakness, by a request that they will do so.

2 Corinthians 11:2. Reason why they should bear with Paul.

Jealousy (see under 1 Corinthians 12:31) of God: which God cherishes about them. Paul’s thoughts about the Corinthians are an outflow of thoughts in the breast of God. And this gives him a strong claim to their indulgence. This jealousy, 2 Corinthians 11:2 b explains and justifies.

Betrothed, to present: the marriage not yet consummated. So Ephesians 5:27; Matthew 25:6; Revelation 19:7 ff. Already believers are Christ’s in spirit: in that day they will be His in body also. And this affiance of the Corinthians to Christ was brought about by the labors of Paul.

One man; makes prominent Christ’s unique claim to their undivided devotion.

To present etc.: Paul’s purpose in the betrothal. Cp. Ephesians 5:27.

Pure virgin: each word significant. Paul’s feelings about the Corinthians were similar to those of Abraham’s servant when bringing to Canaan a maiden to be wife of his master’s son. Cp. Jeremiah 3:1-14; Ezekiel 16 : etc. The frequency of this metaphor reveals the importance of the analogy on which it rests. What every man claims from his betrothed, God claims from us. Thus the human is, and doubtless was designed to be, a pattern of the divine.

2 Corinthians 11:3. Continues Paul’s explanation of his “jealousy.”

In any way; reveals, as in 2 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 9:4; 2 Corinthians 12:20, a watchful anxiety which takes everything into account.

Serpent, Eve, deceived, craftiness; recall vividly the details of Genesis 3:1-13.

Corrupt, or damage: as in 2 Corinthians 7:2; 1 Corinthians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Ephesians 4:22.

Thoughts: the products of their mental activity, as in 2 Corinthians 10:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Corinthians 3:14; Philippians 4:7.

Sincerity towards Christ: singleness of purpose, i.e. a heart ruled by the one purpose of loyalty to Christ. Same word in same sense in 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11; 2 Corinthians 9:13; Romans 12:8; Ephesians 6:5. Paul feared lest their thoughts should be so injuriously affected as to turn away from the absolute fidelity which Christ claims from His betrothed. The comparison with Eve, easily suggested by the metaphor of 2 Corinthians 11:2, both justifies Paul’s fear and finds excuse for the objects of it. For Eve in Paradise was pure: yet she fell. And the serpent’s craftiness suggests, as 2 Corinthians 11:15 asserts, that the Corinthians were exposed to similar perils.

And purity: see Appendix B.

This comparison suggests that Paul accepted Genesis 3:1-13 as historic fact. See my Romans Diss. iii. For a fable could give no ground for his fear, and would be inconsistent with the earnestness of this passage.

And the comparison suggests that the serpent was a mouthpiece of a spiritual foe. Cp. 2 Corinthians 11:14; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2; Wisdom of Solomon 2:24.

2 Corinthians 11:4. Reason for Paul’s fear, viz. his readers’ conduct and disposition.

He who comes: any strange arrival, looked upon in Paul’s vivid conception as a definite person. It suggests that Paul’s opponents at Corinth were men from without. So 2 Corinthians 10:6.

Proclaim: as a herald; see Romans 2:21. They acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth to be the Christ; but so misrepresent His teaching as practically to portray another Jesus, i.e. a man quite different from Him whom Paul proclaimed.

You are receiving: not necessarily actually received; but their minds were going in that direction. See 2 Corinthians 10:5.

Another kind of spirit; probably does not refer to “the spirit of the world,” (1 Corinthians 2:12 : cp. Ephesians 2:2,) but suggests in irony the powerlessness of the opponents to impart the Holy Spirit. Any animating principle received from them must be of another kind from Him whom they had already received through Paul’s ministry. Cp. Galatians 3:2.

Another kind of Gospel: Galatians 1:6.

Accepted: 1 Thessalonians 2:13 : welcomed as true. Paul supposes them to be listening to something quite different from the good news which they had heard and accepted from his lips.

Received, accepted; claims their own previous welcome to the Gospel in support of what he now says.

Jesus, the Spirit, the Gospel: the three great factors of the Christian life. Touching each of these, Paul contrasts his teaching and its results with that of his opponents.

Nobly: bitter irony.

You would bear with it: or (R.V. Greek text) you bear with it. The latter reading states simple matter of fact. The former represents Paul as feeling the utter impossibility of his own supposition; and, instead of saying, “you bear it,” as merely saying that if it were possible his readers would bear with it nobly. The reading is quite uncertain.

2 Corinthians 11:5-6. A short summary, introducing the boasting of (15-18; and justifying the contrast, unfavorable to the opponents, implied in 2 Corinthians 11:4. It reveals the purpose of the whole boasting, viz. to cover Paul’s opponents with shame, and thus save his readers from their snares.

Fallen-short: 2 Corinthians 12:11; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 12:24 : to be behind, or deficient, in anything. Grammar does not decide whether Paul refers to a past and now continuing falling short, or to something future and continuing. Cp. 2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 5:11. The former is more likely.

The overmuch apostles: the false apostles of 2 Corinthians 11:13. It continues the irony of 2 Corinthians 11:4. There is no hint of a reference to the twelve. 2 Corinthians 11:6 begins Paul’s boasting, by meeting a charge of his opponents, already quoted in 2 Corinthians 10:10.

Uninstructed: same word as “private-member” in 1 Corinthians 14:16; 1 Corinthians 14:23 f. See notes. Paul admits that he has not had the special training in rhetoric given in the schools. But this is not inconsistent with that eloquent which is the natural outgrowth of full knowledge and deep earnestness, and which breathes in every page of Paul’s epistles. Yet we can well conceive that Paul did not use the artificial modes of arrangement and expression then in vogue in the schools, to which probably then as in all ages inferior men attached great importance.

Not in knowledge: acquaintance with the matter in hand, which is infinitely more important than modes of utterance.

We have made it manifest: viz. the just-mentioned knowledge. Paul means probably that in everything he did he gave proof, among all men, of his knowledge, by his action towards the Corinthians. He thus appeals, in support of the assertion in 2 Corinthians 11:6 a, to his own known work.

Towards you: cp. 2 Corinthians 1:12.

Manifest in: as in 2 Corinthians 4:10 f.

I am… we have. While defending himself Paul remembers that his defence avails equally for his colleagues.

2 Corinthians 11:7. From his first boast, viz. of “knowledge,” Paul now turns to a second.

Or was it a sin etc.; suggests perhaps, but does not necessarily prove, that this boast, like the last, may be a reproach from his adversaries. For it may be that Paul merely throws his boast into the form of a reply to a conceivable objection that thus he may place his conduct and that of his opponents in a stronger light.

When humbling myself etc.; a preliminary comment on the following fact, revealing its bearing upon this question. Paul submitted to menial toil and actual want (2 Corinthians 11:8) in order that thus the Gospel might have unhindered progress (1 Corinthians 9:12) and might raise the Corinthians into the lofty position of sons of God. Cp. 2 Corinthians 8:9.

That-as-a-free-gift etc.: the supposed sin committed by Paul.

As-a-free-gift: without receiving pay from his converts.

Free-gift… Gospel of God: appropriate collocation. Cp. Romans 5:15. It could not be a sin to announce without cost the good news which God had sent into the world; especially when in doing so he was making himself low that his hearers might be lifted up.

2 Corinthians 11:8-9. Facts explaining, and showing the force of, the statement implied in the question of 2 Corinthians 11:7.

Other churches: those of Macedonia (2 Corinthians 11:9, Philippians 4:15 f) and possibly others; from whom Paul received money to enable him to preach at Corinth without cost to the Corinthians.

Plundered: a daring hyperbole. If sin was committed, it was against the other churches.

Minister to you: to render them the free and honorable service of preaching the Gospel. Cp. 2 Corinthians 5:18. The following words suggest that 2 Corinthians 11:8 a refers to money received before Paul came to Corinth. And contributions received in Thessalonica before his first visit to Corinth (Acts 17:1; Acts 18:1) are mentioned in Philippians 4:16. Either to these or to gifts received after he left Macedonia, Philippians 4:15 may refer. Perhaps Paul accepted the second contribution sent to him at Thessalonica in view of his needs in the missionary journey still before him. And, if so, he took pay from other churches in order to preach the Gospel at Corinth. 2 Corinthians 11:9 a is a second and more startling fact.

Brought to want: probably because his labors in the Gospel did not leave him sufficient time to earn a livelihood.

Present with you; recalls with almost tragic force Paul laboring among the Corinthians, how earnestly and successfully they knew well, and yet in want.

Press-down-upon: 2 Corinthians 12:13 : a very rare word denoting to press upon so as to paralyze. Another hyperbole. They could not say that he laid paralyzing burdens upon them for his own maintenance. 2 Corinthians 11:9 b states another fact which explains how Paul avoided burdening his readers.

The brothers: well known to the readers; perhaps Silas and Timothy. Cp. Acts 18:5, “when they came from Macedonia, i.e. Silas and Timothy, Paul was being held fast by the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ”; which seems to imply that when they came he was fully occupied with preaching.

When they came etc.: their coming put an end to his want.

In everything; includes demands for money and whatever else might seem to oppress them.

And will keep; lays emphasis on Paul’s refusal to be burdensome, as being an expression of a deliberate and abiding purpose.

2 Corinthians 11:7-9 reveal an interesting trait of the inner apostolic life of Paul, a practical working out of his set purpose (1 Corinthians 9:12; 1 Corinthians 9:15 ff) to preach the Gospel without cost. At Corinth (Acts 18:3) and at Thessalonica (2 Thessalonians 3:7 ff) and at Ephesus (Acts 20:34) he toiled at menial labor to support himself and his companions. And he did not give to the Gospel merely his spare time, after earning a livelihood; but spent to supply his bodily needs only the time not occupied by evangelical work. Consequently, although his weary toil was continued into the night, (2 Thessalonians 3:8,) he was unable to keep himself from want: for he could not restrain (Acts 18:5) his evangelical activity, and would not lay a burden upon his new converts. This last he refused to do lest he might hide the true nature of the Gospel under the appearance of worldly self-seeking. Yet he accepted with gratitude free gifts from a distance: for these he felt to be a meet expression of spiritual life.

2 Corinthians 11:10-12, Dwells upon, and explains the motive of, the deliberate purpose asserted in the last words of 2 Corinthians 11:9.

Truth of Christ: the exact correspondence of Christ’s words with facts, past, present, or future. See under Romans 1:18. Since Christ lives in Paul, (Galatians 2:20,) this element of His character is found in Paul. To this he now appeals. Cp. 2 Corinthians 11:18; Romans 9:1.

That this boasting etc.: an assertion which is a truth of Christ in Paul.

This boasting: viz. “I have kept myself… and will keep.”

In reference to me: as in 2 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 10:15-16; Galatians 6:4; cp. Romans 4:2 : not quite the same as “my boasting.” Others besides Paul might boast about his refusal to burden the church. The presence of opponents made it specially important that in the regions of Achaia this boasting should not be silenced. Why? interrupts the discourse as if to compel the readers to consider Paul’s conduct and motive.

Because I do not love you? His refusal of money from the Corinthians while accepting it from the Macedonians might seem to be an act of contemptuous dislike. For we seldom refuse a gift from those we love.

God knows: before whom (2 Corinthians 11:11) Paul’s heart and apostolic work “are made manifest.”

2 Corinthians 11:12. Paul’s real purpose in refusing to burden the Corinthians. To us it is obscure through our ignorance of the precise conduct of his opponents. The occasion (as in Romans 7:8) they sought was probably an opportunity of boasting to Paul’s disadvantage. And he was resolved so to act as to prevent this. It is easiest to suppose that these Jews who had come to Corinth boasted that they were disinterested and unpaid benefactors of the Corinthians; and that they were seeking an opportunity to show that Paul was not such, and was therefore inferior to themselves.

Had he accepted maintenance from the Corinthians, these men would have found the opportunity they sought.

In the matter in which they boast: in the boasted disinterestedness of their service for the Corinthians.

As we are: i.e. laboring for the Corinthians without pay. This seems to imply that while these opponents professed to be disinterested benefactors they were really serving their own selfish ends, and were secretly making, perhaps in some indirect way, their own profit. They were (2 Corinthians 11:13) “guileful workmen.” Paul refuses maintenance in order by his example to compel his opponents to forego these unworthy gains.

May be found; suggests a scrutiny to which their conduct (as well as Paul’s) would be subjected. Paul refuses maintenance that thus they may be compelled to do the same, so that when their conduct is examined they may be found to be like him.

Notice the bitter irony of these last words. Paul’s opponents boasted their disinterestedness, while making gain of the Corinthians; and eagerly watched him to detect self-enrichment, that they might boast of their own superiority. (These have been the tactics of demagogues in all ages.) But Paul resolved to refuse just recompense for real and great benefits, that thus by his example he may compel those who boasted their superiority to come up to his own level of working without pay, so that when his conduct and theirs are investigated they may be found to be as disinterested as he was. This interpretation is confirmed by the next verse.

2 Corinthians 11:13-15. Paul’s purpose (2 Corinthians 11:12) implies that his opponents are not what they professed to be. He now explains and justifies his purpose by a plain assertion that they are false and guileful.

False-apostles: like “false brethren,” “false-prophets,” 2 Corinthians 11:26; Galatians 2:4; 1 John 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1, etc. They claimed to be apostles, but were not.

Workmen: Philippians 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:15; Matthew 9:37; Acts 19:25. They were workers; but with hidden, selfish, and wicked motives.

Fashioning themselves etc.: more fully, “changing their exterior into that of apostles of Christ.” They assumed the dignity of men formally sent by Christ and thus holding the first rank in the church. See under Romans 1:1. The repetition of the word apostle suggests that they claimed this specific title. Yet this audacity excites no wonder in Paul. For their master Satan does the same.

Angel of light: same as “angel from heaven,” Galatians 1:8. When visibly visiting earth they came clothed in the brightness of the world to which they belong. Satan’s empire is darkness: Colossians 1:13. But it is his habit to approach men in the garb of an angel from heaven. And at all times Evil is prone to assume the appearance of Good.

His ministers: doing, of their own free choice, his work. Cp. “his angels,” Matthew 25:41; Revelation 12:7. Such are all who deal in falsehood and guile: for unconsciously they are acting under his guidance and are working out his purposes. This fearful description implies that Paul’s opponents, though church-members and professed followers and apostles of Jesus, were bad men, deliberately deceiving the Corinthian Christians. Therefore, since Evil ever assumes the garb of Good in order to ensnare men, it was no wonder that these men assumed a garb which was not their own.

Ministers of righteousness: as in 2 Corinthians 3:9. Cp. Romans 6:19. These men put on a new garb, representing themselves as men laboring to make dominant among men conformity to the Law of God, and thus servants of the abstract principle of Righteousness.

Whose end etc.] Their guilt was so evident that a mere statement of a general principle announces their fate.

According to their works: Romans 2:6.

End: Romans 6:21 f; Philippians 3:19; Hebrews 6:8; 1 Peter 4:17 : not simply the point at which something ceases, but the goal towards which it tends, and in which existing forces find their full outworking and the whole its consummation. Cp. 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Peter 1:9. Its cognate adjective is “mature” or “perfect.” See under 1 Corinthians 2:6. These words imply that Paul had no expectation that all men will eventually be saved. For he is evidently thinking of bad works; and therefore of a bad end. But, if finally restored, the end of all men, and of these servants of Satan, would be endless happiness; in whose light the most terrible and prolonged bygone torments will, as endless and glorious ages roll by, dwindle into insignificance. Of these eternally happy ones Paul could not say (Philippians 3:19) that their “end is destruction”; nor Christ, (Mark 14:21,) “it were good for him, if that man had not been born.” Certain passages which seem to imply an expectation of universal restoration will claim our attention elsewhere.

REVIEW. In beginning to portray his own conduct Paul is deeply conscious of the foolishness of speaking about oneself. He therefore begs for indulgence, on the ground of his special relation to his readers, and his fears about them prompted by their ready reception of false teaching. Their folly in this he shows (2 Corinthians 11:5 to 2 Corinthians 12:18) by a long portrayal of himself Whatever may be said about his modes of speech, he has given full proof of his knowledge. And, although reduced to want in their midst until relieved by contributions from Macedonia, he refused and will still refuse, all payment for his labors among the Corinthians. Yet he does this, not from want of love but because he is determined to put an end to the gains of some who profess to be disinterested and unpaid benefactors; that thus he may bring up to his own level, under the scrutiny to which both he and they are subject, those who claim to be his superiors. This implied charge he supports by saying that his opponents are deceivers, servants of the great deceiver, men whose real conduct will in the end have its due recompense.

About the deceivers here referred to, see further in the Review of DIV. III. under 2 Corinthians 13:10.


Verses 16-33

SECTION 16. — PAUL’S TOILS, PERILS, AND HARDSHIPS. CH. 11:16-33.

Again I say, let not any one think me to be senseless. But at any rate if you do, even if as senseless, receive me, that I also may boast some little. What I speak, not according to the Lord do I speak, but as in senselessness, in this confidence of my boasting. Since many boast according to flesh, I also will boast. For gladly you bear with the senseless ones, being prudent. For you bear it if one enslaves you, if one eats you up, if one lays hold of you, if one lifts himself up, if in the face one strikes you. By way of dishonour I say how that we have become weak. But in whatever matter any one is daring, in senselessness I say it, daring am I also. Hebrews are they? And I am. Israelites are they? And I am. Seed of Abraham are they? And I am. Ministers of Christ are they? Wandering from my senses I speak, beyond this am I. In labours more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in beatings surpassingly, in deaths often. By the hand of Jews five times I received forty stripes save one: three times I was beaten with a rod: once I was stoned: three times I suffered shipwreck: a night and day I have spent in the deep. In journeys often: in dangers of rivers, dangers of robbers, dangers from my race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers in the sea, dangers among false-brothers. By labour and toil, in watchings often: in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Apart from the other things, there is for me my daily attention, my anxiety about all the churches. Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is ensnared and I am not set on fire? If there is need to boast the things of my weakness I will boast of. God, the Father of the Lord Jesus, knows, He who is blessed for ever, that I do not lie. In Damascus, the ethnarch of Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes, to seize me: and through a window, in a basket I was let down through the wall, and I escaped their hands.

2 Corinthians 11:16. A second apology, introducing a second specific matter of boasting and a second contrast to Paul’s opponents.

Again; refers back to 2 Corinthians 11:1, which was practically an ironical disproof that his boasting is folly. This repetition reveals Paul’s great reluctance to appear to speak foolishly, even though conscious of a noble motive. He is jealous about the impression he makes upon others. But if he fail to convince them that he is not foolish he still begs them to listen to him even if as to a senseless one.

Receive, or accept: as in 2 Corinthians 11:4. Same word in 2 Corinthians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 7:15; 2 Corinthians 8:17; Galatians 4:14; Matthew 10:14; Matthew 10:40 f. Cp. 2 Corinthians 7:2. To accept Paul’s pleading, is to accept him who pleads.

I also may boast: as others do. This supports the foregoing plea. It is developed in 2 Corinthians 11:18-20.

Some little: same words as in 2 Corinthians 11:1. Paul begs them to forgive, if they look upon his boasting as foolish, a momentary weakness, one shared by others whom they tolerate.

2 Corinthians 11:17. A comment on “that I may boast.”

According to the Lord: taking the Master as my pattern, and His will as my guide. So Romans 15:5; Romans 8:27. Paul wishes to throw off for a moment his apostolic dignity and say a few words which do not involve his Master’s reputation; in condescension to the weakness of his readers, who could not see, as we all see now, that in all this boasting he was animated by pure loyalty to Christ.

As in senselessness; keeps before us the request of 2 Corinthians 11:16 b.

In this confidence (same word as in 2 Corinthians 9:4) of my boasting: source of the foolishness of which he might seem to be guilty, and in some sense an excuse for it. He speaks as he does because he is sure that what he says is true.

2 Corinthians 11:18. Another excuse for Paul’s boasting, one already suggested in 2 Corinthians 11:16. However foolish boasting may be, Paul does but imitate his opponents.

According to flesh: 2 Corinthians 5:16; Romans 8:4 : from the point of view of the present bodily life. All such boasting looks at and exults in matters pertaining to bodily life, and looks at them under the influence of the appetites and needs of the body. It is the exact opposite of speaking “according to the Lord.” Compare and contrast Galatians 6:13.

2 Corinthians 11:19-20. A justification of “I also will boast,” viz. the ready forbearance and prudence of the Corinthian Christians.

For gladly you bear with; recalls “nobly you bear it” in 2 Corinthians 11:4.

Prudent: same word in 1 Corinthians 4:10; 1 Corinthians 10:15; Romans 11:25; Luke 16:8; Matthew 25:2-9. “It seems to belong to the prudent man to be able to take counsel well about the things good and profitable to him:” Aristotle, Ethics bk. vi. 5. 1. It is the exact opposite of senseless. Since Paul’s readers are full of sense, it is easy for them to condescend to bear with others who have less sense than themselves. This bitterly sarcastic justification of his own boasting, Paul supports at once, in 2 Corinthians 11:20, by his readers’ forbearance towards his opponents. Cp. 2 Corinthians 11:4, supporting 2 Corinthians 11:3.

Enslaves you: same word in same connection, Galatians 2:4. The opponents were robbing the Corinthian Christians of their Christian liberty and bringing them under bondage to the Law. Cp. Galatians 5:1-12; Acts 15:10.

Eats you up: maintains himself at your expense. Cp. Mark 12:40; Luke 15:30.

Lays-hold-of-you: catches you as in a trap, or in the chase. Same word in same sense in 2 Corinthians 12:16.

Lifts himself up; as greater than, and claiming authority over, you.

Strikes you in the face: a daring description of violence and contempt. All this can be no other than a picture of the actual conduct of Paul’s opponents at Corinth, conduct tolerated, at least formally, by the church. And it justifies fully the boasting which follows, which would in ordinary circumstance be foolish and unworthy of a servant of Christ. For, men accustomed to treatment like this cannot refuse to tolerate a little boasting from the apostle.

2 Corinthians 11:21. Transition to Paul’s actual boasting.

By way of dishonour: i.e. placing dishonor upon myself.

I say: habitually.

We: Paul and his colleagues, in contrast to the opponents.

How that etc.; looks upon this weakness not as objective fact but as Paul’s subjective view of it. Objectively, they were both weak and strong according to the point of view.

We have become weak: by laying all our powers on the altar of Christ, and by going at His bidding into positions of helplessness. Cp. Philippians 3:8. These words are inserted to make conspicuous the contrast which follows.

Any one is daring: (as in 2 Corinthians 10:2 :) as the opponents were.

I also; keeps before us, as in 2 Corinthians 11:16; 2 Corinthians 11:18, the comparison of Paul and his opponents. In whatever matter they act fearlessly, disregarding consequences, Paul, though ever acknowledging his own weakness is equally fearless. They are not afraid to usurp authority over the Church of Christ: and Paul is not afraid to punish them.

2 Corinthians 11:22. Now begins Paul’s actual boasting, in face of his opponents. It is not an example of the daring of 2 Corinthians 11:21, but the ground of it. These adversaries claimed authority over Gentile believers because they were the ancient people of God. But in this Paul is their equal.

Hebrews: oldest name of the covenant people; Genesis 14:13; Genesis 39:14; Genesis 39:17; Exodus 1:15 f, Exodus 1:19; Deuteronomy 15:12; 1 Samuel 4:6; Jeremiah 34:9; Jeremiah 34:14; Judith 12:11. Probably equivalent to “immigrant,” or “foreigner”; and used in the Old Testament chiefly to distinguish the sacred nation from others. In Acts 6:1 it distinguishes those who used the national language from those Jews who spoke Greek either always or usually. And this is probably the reference here and in the similar boasting of Philippians 3:5. Cp. John 19:13; John 19:17; John 19:20; Acts 22:2.

Israelites: the favorite and sacred name, as given by God in the crisis of his life to the one ancestor claimed by the whole covenant people and by it only. Cp. Romans 9:4; Romans 11:1; John 1:48 f; Acts 2:22; Acts 3:12; Acts 5:35; Acts 13:16; Acts 21:28.

Seed of Abraham; recalls the promises to Abraham. Same connection in Romans 11:1. This verse implies that Paul’s opponents at Corinth were Jews, priding themselves in the ancient language and customs of their nation, in the honor conferred upon it by God, and in the blessings promised to Abraham and his descendants. In Galatians 6:12 we find similar opponents.

2 Corinthians 11:23. Ministers of Christ are they? neither admits nor denies, but simply quotes, their boast. Contrast 2 Corinthians 11:15. Paul’s reply to this boast is so startling that he introduces it with an apology, forsaking my senses I speak.

Beyond this etc.: i.e. I am something more than a minister of Christ. These words are senseless inasmuch as nothing is greater than to be a minister of Christ. They are justified by the contrast between the life portrayed in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 and that of these professed ministers of Christ. Paul’s superiority is seen in labours to which (1 Corinthians 15:10) he devotes himself more abundantly than they; in prisons in which with more abundant frequency he is confined, in beatings which fall upon him in a degree surpassing anything they suffer; in the presence often of death itself in various forms. In the last point Paul lays aside the language of comparison; perhaps as having in this matter no rival.

In… in… in… in: same sense as 2 Corinthians 6:4-7.

Labours, prisons, beatings: 2 Corinthians 6:5; Acts 16:23.

Deaths: 2 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 4:11; 2 Corinthians 6:9; Romans 8:36. Notice the fourfold climax.

2 Corinthians 11:24-25. A simple enumeration in proof of the last two items of 2 Corinthians 11:23.

By Jews: in contrast probably to beaten with a rod, which in the one recorded case (Acts 16:22) was by Gentiles.

Five times: all unknown to us.

Forty stripes save one: same number in Josephus, Antiq. bk. iv. 8. 21, 23.

Deuteronomy 25:3 limits the number of stripes to forty. Notice that the Jews, even in cruelty and injustice to a servant of God, were scrupulously careful to obey in an insignificant detail the letter of the Law. Cp. Matthew 23:23.

I was thrice beaten with a rod: only one case (Acts 16:22) recorded.

Once I was stoned: important coincidence in Acts 14:19.

Three times I suffered shipwreck: all unknown.

In the deep: the sea, probably the raging sea; (same word in same sense, Psalms 107:24;) perhaps clinging to a portion of wreck.

2 Corinthians 11:26-27. Continued descriptive exposition of 2 Corinthians 11:23.

Dangers… dangers: suggested by journeys, which were then not only wearisome but perilous.

Of rivers: by crossing them, or through their overflow. The dangers of travel suggested other dangers.

From my race: Galatians 1:14; Acts 7:19. Cp. Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 20:19.

From Gentiles: cp. Acts 16:19; Acts 19:24 ff.

False brethren: Galatians 2:4. Of this danger, the treason of Judas is an example.

Labour and toil: 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8. The double expression intensifies the idea.

Watchings: 2 Corinthians 6:5 : and 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8 suggest that Paul refers to loss of sleep occasioned by menial toil for self-support.

Hunger and thirst: Deuteronomy 28:48. It is so unlikely that voluntary religious fasts (of which we have no mention in Paul’s writings) would be enumerated among the hardships mentioned here that, in spite of the apparent repetition, it is better to suppose that the fastings often were involuntary lack of food on journeys or through poverty. So 2 Corinthians 6:5. The frequent lack of food is thus parallel to the frequent loss of sleep, each plural term being closely related to two foregoing singulars. Paul lingers over his hunger and thirst, and says that it was frequent.

Cold and nakedness; completes the picture. Cp. 1 Corinthians 4:11.

2 Corinthians 11:28. Apart from the other things: which Paul does not mention.

My daily attention: his eye ever fixed on the churches, watching their progress and perils. This attention was to him anxiety, and embraced all the churches, both those founded by himself and under his special care and those beyond his sphere of labor. In all Christians he took deep interest: and his anxious care for them was a heavier burden than the hardships enumerated above. This anxiety explains his prayers (Romans 1:9; Philippians 1:4; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2) for each church singly.

2 Corinthians 11:29. Examples of this anxiety, and its effect upon Paul.

Weak: in faith and spiritual life, 1 Corinthians 8:9; Romans 14:1.

I am weak] Weakness is practically a limitation of our action. Paul makes the weakness of these brethren a limitation of his own action. So 1 Corinthians 8:9-13; Romans 15:1. For, his intense sympathy moves him to look at everything from their point of view, and to abstain from whatever will injure them. Thus their weakness, by limiting his action, is a real and felt weakness to him. Just so, in the weakness of her infant a mother feels herself to be weak.

Ensnared: entrapped, and injured in spiritual life; a frequent result of weakness. So 1 Corinthians 8:13.

I: emphatic, directing conspicuous attention to the effect upon Paul.

Set-on-fire: same word as “burn” in 1 Corinthians 7:9, denoting intense emotion; in this case, of sorrow. Cp. Luke 24:32; 3 Maccabees 4:2, Psalms 39:4; Jeremiah 20:9. Notice the climax. Paul sees a brother weak in spiritual life: and in his weakness the apostle’s own power and liberty are limited. The brother falls into some snare of the enemy: and sorrow like a fire consumes the heart of Paul. And this of each case: who is weak etc.? This deep sympathy with all the brethren calls from him “daily attention,” and gives rise to “anxiety about all the churches.” That Paul’s sympathy and anxiety embraced all churches everywhere and all persons and details within his observation, proves that it was inbreathed by God.

2 Corinthians 11:30-31. If there is need etc.; reveals again Paul’s reluctance to speak about himself as he is here compelled to do.

Weakness: literally “absence of strength,” denotes in a narrower sense “sickness” (as in Luke 13:11 f; John 5:3; John 5:5) as being an absence of bodily strength, and in a wider sense all kinds of human powerlessness.

Things of my weakness: occasioned by, and betraying, weakness. Cp. 2 Corinthians 12:5; 2 Corinthians 12:9.

I will boast; may refer either to his abiding resolve, or more likely to 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, and especially to 2 Corinthians 12:7-11, and perhaps other matters present to his mind but afterwards passed over. If so, these words, though verbally suggested by “weak” in 2 Corinthians 11:29, yet have, as often in such cases, no special reference to it, but begin a new, though not different line of boasting.

I lie not: in declaring my purpose to boast in the things pertaining to my weakness. This purpose is from a human point of view so unlikely that in asserting it Paul appeals to Him who alone knows his motives.

God, the Father of the Lord Jesus: see 2 Corinthians 1:3; Romans 15:6.

He who is etc.: i.e. God the Father: as demanded by the Greek construction.

Blessed for ever: see Romans 1:25; Romans 9:5. While Paul thinks of God, and especially of the Father of the Lord Jesus, whose strength is manifested in his own weakness, he seems to hear from afar the song of praise which will go up for ever.

2 Corinthians 11:32-33. In Damascus; recalls the well-known beginning of Paul’s Christian life.

Ethnarch: literally “national-chief.” Same word in 1 Maccabees 14:47; 1 Maccabees 15:1; Josephus, Antiq. bk. xiv. 7. 2, Wars bk. ii. 6. 3. It was evidently a provincial governor set by Aretas over the Syrian city of Damascus.

Aretas: king of Arabia Petraea, whose daughter Herod Antipas married and afterwards divorced. See Josephus, Antiq. bk. xviii. 5. 1.

Was guarding: a military term; also in Galatians 3:23; Philippians 4:7; 1 Peter 1:5. This implies that Damascus, which both earlier and later was under Roman rule, was at this time in the power of Aretas. For a very plausible explanation of this, see ch. iii. of Conybeare and Howson’s St. Paul. It is certainly an interesting coincidence that whereas there exist Roman coins of Damascus both earlier and later there are none belonging to the time here referred to.

Window: same word in Acts 20:9.

Lowered through the wall: same words in Acts 9:25. We have here another witness of the correctness of the Book of Acts. The slight difference is easily explained by supposing that the Jews prompted and assisted the Ethnarch to watch for Paul. The abrupt transition from this incident suggests that it was designed to be the beginning of a series of proofs of Paul’s “weaknesses,” a series commencing at the very commencement of his Christian course; but broken off suddenly to make way for the more startling matter of 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. Paul’s furtive mode of escape (in the darkness of night, Acts 9:24) proves the extreme peril and helplessness of his position. By narrating this incident he was therefore “boasting in the things which belong to his weakness.”

REVIEW. In passing to a second specific matter of boasting Paul betrays again his consciousness of the unseemliness of boasting; and, jealous for his readers’ respect, begs that his boasting be not taken as a mark of foolishness. But, even if it is, he has still a claim to attention. In saying this, which may seem to be foolish, he is careful not to implicate the authority of his Master but to speak only in his own name. He has a claim to his readers’ attention because from the lofty standpoint of their own wisdom they are accustomed to bear with foolishness and with unscrupulous self-assertion and violence. And, though Paul humbles himself by confession of weakness, he is if need be as bold as they. Equally with his opponents he can claim descent from the sacred people. And their claim to be ministers of Christ is surpassed by his own ministry, of which the credentials are written in hardships and perils of every kind and without number. And in addition to these he has a special burden, inasmuch as the spiritual weakness and fall of any who in any church bear the name of Christ is to him a personal weakness and a burning sorrow. The mention of weakness moves him to say that the things pertaining to his weakness shall be the only matter of the boasting which is forced upon him. He has matters of boasting so wonderful that before narrating them he appeals, as witness of his veracity, to Him who knows all things and whose praise will be sung for ever. He tells first a peril and escape at the very beginning of his Christian career, a kind of matriculation to him in the school of persecution, an escape not by the pomp of supernatural deliverance but by ordinary human instrumentality.

 


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Bibliography Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11:4". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jbc/2-corinthians-11.html. 1877-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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