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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 11

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

CHAPTERS 10-13. HIS DEFENCE AGAINST HIS OPPONENTS and HIS HEARTFELT PLEA TO HIS ‘CHILDREN’ NOT TO BE LED ASTRAY.

Paul Now Lays Down The Gauntlet Against Some Of His Opponents Who Have Seemingly Arrived In Corinth (2 Corinthians 10:1 to 2 Corinthians 12:13)

Up to this point Paul’s letter has been written on a fairly amicable basis. He has made clear certain real problems still existing in the Corinthian church, but on the whole has not felt it necessary to defend himself too strongly. There have been inferences and hints that all was still not fully well, but nothing that was too powerful. His thoughts about them had become more settled and he had felt that the bad times were probably mainly over. Now, however all changes, and Paul goes into a powerful defence against some ‘pseudo-apostles’ who are seeking to undermine his ministry, and his fear as to what their effect on the Corinthians will be (2 Corinthians 12:20-21).

The very abruptness of the change of tone requires an explanation. The probable explanation may possibly be the simplest one. That even as he was coming to an end of writing his letter news reached him of certain preachers from Jerusalem who had arrived at Corinth who were antagonistic towards him, were personally attacking him and seeking to reveal him as a fraud, were proclaiming a diminished Christ, and were winning a hearing and dividing the church, thus seeming to upset all that he had achieved. It would seem that those who brought the news informed him of what these men were saying against him, as they sought to destroy his position completely, and woo the Corinthians over to themselves.

So, fearful lest he might lose what Titus’ visit and his severe letter had gained, he launches into this powerful defence in which he pulls no punches. This would fit in with the fact that this time he is not speaking of only one opponent but of a number of such.

In these days of instant telecommunication it is difficult for us to fully understand what it must have been like to be dependent on news arriving slowly, without any possibility of quickly discovering what the true situation was, especially when dealing with a church as volatile as that at Corinth. On the arrival of such news there would arise a deep fear in the mind and heart of Paul of the collapse of all that he had worked for, and all that he had thought was put right. All he could then do was write strongly, and as quickly as possible, in the hope of stopping it before it got worse.

So Paul opens this section by identifying himself by name. This is something that he does comparatively rarely in the body of a letter (although see Galatians 5:2; Ephesian 2 Corinthians 3:1; Colossians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; Philemon 1:9). Here it is as a contrast to his opponents and to stress his personal status. They have previously declared their loyalty to him, let them remember that he is the one appointed as an Apostle of Christ by the will of God. It may also be an indication that he takes the pen from his emanuensis and begins to write in his own hand.

‘I, Paul, . . . beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be’ (2 Corinthians 10:1-2). This appears so startling after his previously revealed attitude that many today find it hard to accept that 2 Corinthians 1:1 to 2 Corinthians 9:15 and 2 Corinthians 10:1 to 2 Corinthians 13:13 originally coexisted in the same letter. They point out that there are also other aspects of chapters 10--13 that seem to be at odds with the rest of the letter.

For example, Paul's remarks about his critics become much more pointed and strident. The "some" who peddle the word of God for profit (2 Corinthians 2:17) and carry letters of recommendation (2 Corinthians 3:1-3) are now called "false apostles," "deceitful workmen" and are depicted as coming as "angels of light" like Satan does (2 Corinthians 11:13-15), although he does have such people in mind in 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:2. Compare also 2 Corinthians 5:12. They are depicted as out to enslave and exploit the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:20). His defence also becomes much more impassioned: "What anyone else dares to boast about -- I also dare to boast about" (2 Corinthians 11:21). Although we must not overlook that he has ‘gloried’ in certain things all the way through (e.g. 2 Corinthians 1:5-9; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 3:1-2 etc).

And he boasts as ‘one out of his mind’ (2 Corinthians 11:23). But again we should note 2 Corinthians 5:13 where he also speaks of being ‘beside himself’. So while not totally different the atmosphere seems to have become more charged.

Furthermore his tone is now marked by biting sarcasm and scathing irony. For example in 2 Corinthians 11:19 he says, "You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!". And finally, Paul's attitude toward the Corinthians becomes patently more threatening. "On my return," he warns, "I will not spare those who sinned earlier" (2 Corinthians 13:2), which sits ill with 2 Corinthians 2:4, and adds , "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith" (2 Corinthians 13:5) (although this latter does tie in with 2 Corinthians 6:1).

There can be no real doubt about the change of tone and attitude, although possibly not to the extent often mooted, heightened to a new intensity rather than actually new.

A number of proposals have been put forward to account for this state of affairs. Some think that the explanation lay in Paul's frame of mind, that he penned chapters 10-13 after a night's sleep from which he awoke with a sense of foreboding.

Others that a lengthy dictation pause intervened, a period in which he was too busy to continue with the letter, and that during it he received fresh news of an alarming nature, prompting him to abruptly alter his approach as he hurriedly finalised his letter.

Others consider that perhaps chapters 1-9 are addressed to the general Corinthian congregation, while chapters 10--13 are directed at certain false apostles and their adherents who formed a minority. The bearer could make this abundantly clear as he read out the letter. (It was personally delivered not posted, thus enabling its intentions to be made clear). Or perhaps that chapters 1-9 are intended for the majority who supported Paul (2 Corinthians 2:6), while chapters 10-13 are aimed at the minority who were still against him. Or that he has begun to write it himself rather than through an emanuensis and thus expresses himself more strongly.

The difficulty with any of these is that there are not the usual contextual clues to alert the reader to the receipt of disturbing news ("I hear that --"), a change of audience ("Now, to the rest of you --") or a change of writers ("I write this in my own hand"). This has led some to suggest that Paul intentionally reserved his criticism until he had regained the Corinthians' trust or that he first consolidated his apostolic authority and then exercised it against those who were still opposed to him, again with the bearer making the situation clear.

But the real problem that requires explanation is not so much the general content but the sudden change of approach and stridency of tone at 2 Corinthians 10:1, and the difference in emphasis. How probable from a pastoral standpoint would it be, it is asked, for Paul to begin the letter with praise ("Praise be to the God and Father . . ." 2 Corinthians 1:3) and conclude with a sharp warning ("Examine yourselves," 2 Corinthians 13:5)? There is no real parallel to this in his other letters. However in the light of 1 Corinthians 9:25 that is not really a problem, for there Paul could praise God and still say about himself that he was, at least theoretically, in danger of being rejected after testing. How much more so then the Corinthians.

Many have therefore suggested that chapters 10-13 are to be identified with Paul's "severe letter," sent prior to chapters 1--9 to rebuke the church for its lack of support and to call for the punishment of the individual who had challenged and humiliated Paul on his last visit, and late added to another letter. But this falls down both on content, there is for example no mention of his chief opponent (2 Corinthians 2:6), and on lack of explanation as to where the remainder of the letter disappeared to. It has, for example, no opening greeting. Another alternative offered is that 2 Corinthians 10-13 was written after chapters 1-9 in response to reports of new developments at Corinth. But this fails because we have to explain why it was not conjoined simply as it was, including its opening salutation and the closing salutation of the previous letter. It is also very little different from seeing the section as arising just as chapters 1-9 have been written, on receipt of disturbing news, but with more difficulties.

For one vital fact to take into account is that there is a total lack of any manuscript or patristic evidence to suggest that chapters 10-13 ever circulated independently of chapters 1-9. This is a major drawback of both of these last alternatives. This is especially so as abrupt changes of tone do occur elsewhere in Paul's letters (for example in Philippians 3:2). It is not something unique in his letters.

"I am glad I can have complete confidence in you" (2 Corinthians 7:16) may fit ill with "examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith" (2 Corinthians 13:5), but it does also sit ill with ‘we entreat you that you receive not the grace of God in vain’ (2 Corinthians 7:1). The fact is that all the way through the letter Paul is trying to convey a positive message while at the same time expressing his fears. One may be seen as an encouragement and the others as a warning to the same people.

It would appear to us that the best explanation of all these various problems is that which sees the change resulting as a result of the arrival of bad news while he was in course of writing the letter. The bad news that his rivals, with whom he has had to struggle elsewhere, have arrived at Corinth and are maligning him and his ministry, not so much this time on the basis of what saves (for Paul mentions no such doctrinal disagreement) but on the basis of the essence of Christ Himself, and on the basis of their priorities and jealousies, and of seeing Paul as an upstart. In view of the previous upset which he had thought was settled this would very much affect him. Indeed it would shake him to the core. We have already had indications that he is still not absolutely sure of them. The bad news thus reconfirms his fears and arouses deep alarm within him. The result being that he then takes up the pen himself, in great concern, so as to write these last strongly apologetic chapters in order, he hopes, to stymie further disagreements within the church before it is too late. (The volatility of the church in Corinth will later be confirmed in the letter to the Corinthians written by Clement of Rome at the end of the century).

Furthermore the fact that Paul has failed to notify them clearly in 1-9 of his future plans with regard to visiting them (it is only indirectly referred to in 2 Corinthians 9:4), which must seem surprising in the circumstances in view of the fact that it had after all been such a big thing with them (2 Corinthians 1:17), would strongly support the idea that 10-13, which does contain such information, must be a part of the same letter, which is the view we take.


Verse 1

Paul Continues His Defence. He Expresses His Concern For Them And His Fear Lest They Be Led Astray. He Defends His Policy Of Not Letting Them Maintain Him And Sums Up His Opponents As False Apostles. (2 Corinthians 11:1-15).

‘Would that you could bear with me in a little foolishness. Yes, indeed, do bear with me.’

In his defence of his Apostleship he admits that he is going to say things which appear a little ‘foolish’, and he trusts that they will bear with him. Indeed he repeats his request for their indulgence. It is not what they would expect to hear from ‘the wise’. But he puts on no pretence of being worldly wise, and somewhat mysterious. He speaks openly and honestly of himself like ‘a fool’.

He is aware that such talk is folly from someone like him, but he feels that he has been left with no choice. Yet he does want them to know that usually he does not like talking like this about himself, as he would rather speak of Christ, but they have left him no option if his message is to be vindicated. He must defend his position.


Verses 1-33

Paul Defends His Apostleship And Compares Himself With His Opponents (2 Corinthians 11:1-33).

An exact determination of who the visiting preachers were who constituted the new grave threat to Paul’s ministry, is not possible, but we may certainly discover many of their characteristics. ‘Are they Hebrews? Are they Israelites?’ (2 Corinthians 11:22) demonstrates that the intruders were Jewish Christians, but the lack of references to circumcision and the Mosaic law indicates that they were not like the Judaising opponents mentioned in Galatians, feeling bound by the Law. Rather they claimed special knowledge, and superior powers and super spiritual experiences.

It seems probable that they came from Jerusalem and cited the twelve as their authority, (without necessarily having justification), for Paul asserts his equality with the twelve (2 Corinthians 11:5). But he has no truck with the claim to Apostleship of the intruders themselves. They are ‘false Apostles’. Whereas the opponents in Galatians appear to have stressed their Jewishness, including the necessity for circumcision and keeping the Law, these may rather have been Hellenistic (affected by Greek civilisation) Jews, stressing experiences of the Spirit. They also stress that they are ‘Christ’s’ (2 Corinthians 10:7). This may suggest that they knew Him in His earthly ministry, or were disciples of those who had.

The absence of specific theological argument might suggest that doctrinal questions were not the main issue, unless he considers that he has already combated this (2 Corinthians 2:14 to 2 Corinthians 7:1), but he does refer to ‘another Jesus’, ‘another spirit’ and ‘another Gospel’ (2 Corinthians 11:4), and it is difficult to see how he could describe them as ministers of Satan if he saw them as orthodox (2 Corinthians 11:15). His comments on them there are most scathing. However, most of Paul's efforts in 2 Corinthians 10:7 to 2 Corinthians 12:13 are spent in combating the suggestion that his credentials were inferior to theirs, and that might suggest lack of content to their message rather than specific gross unorthodoxy. Possibly they saw Jesus as a wonderworking teacher, mighty in the Spirit, just as they considered that they were, a diminishing of His deity.

For it is clear from the context that these intruders do lay great importance on such things as the outward display of the Spirit, and oratorical skills and heritage. "Signs, wonders and miracles" are "things that mark an apostle" (2 Corinthians 12:12), and "visions and revelations" are grounds for boasting (2 Corinthians 12:1). They pride themselves on eloquent speech (2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 11:6) and correct heritage (2 Corinthians 11:22). This might tie in with the portrayal of the intruders in chapters 1-7 as those who seek to legitimise their authority through letters of recommendation, and who take pride in what is outward rather than in what is in the heart (2 Corinthians 5:12), assuming they are connected. Those apparently saw the covenant made with Moses as of prime importance (chapter 3).

Part of their argument against Paul is that as well as not being an orator, he also has to work to support himself, unlike the true Apostles who could depend on those to whom they went for their keep (Matthew 10:9-13). (Paul turns this argument against them). And they seek to demean his very appearance and the fact that he has a disability from which God does not heal him. He can clearly not be an Apostle.


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.’

He stresses that he is concerned for them like a father for his virgin daughter. Just as Yahweh was jealous over Israel (Hosea 1-3; Ezekiel 16; Isaiah 50:1-2; Isaiah 54:1-8; Isaiah 62:5), so is he jealous over them, lest someone come and spoil their relationship with Christ. He has espoused them to Christ so that they may be kept pure, so as to have Him as their one husband. He does not want anything interfering with the purity of their relationship with Him, or to interfere with their purity. The Husband will expect to receive His bride in a state of faithfulness and obedience, as untarnished. He will not want her to have been dallying with others. And it is Paul’s responsibility as her ‘father’, the one who brought her to birth, and has espoused her to Christ, to ensure that she is kept in such purity.

In the ancient Near East, parents typically chose a wife for their son, often early in life, and arranged for the marriage by a legal contract, a betrothal. It was then the responsibility of the father of the bride-to-be to ensure his daughter's virginity during that betrothal period. Betrothal was considered almost as binding as marriage itself. The betrothed couple addressed each other as “wife" and "husband” (Deuteronomy 22:23-24; Joel 1:8), and sexual faithfulness was considered vital. As a guarantee of this a bloodstained cloth was exhibited as proof of virginity on the wedding night.

So he again stresses that the Corinthian church owes its very existence to him. He is their only ‘father’.


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.’

But he admits that he is afraid, that just as the serpent beguiled Eve by his devilish cleverness and subtlety, so their minds might be being corrupted from the simple purity of laying all their hope in Christ and what He is. He does not want anything to come between them and Christ. He wants no veil on their minds. He wants no extras (1 Corinthians 2:2). Just pure and true faith in Christ.

While he does not say so the implication is that Satan is behind these attempts to delude them, and that the deluders are Satan’s instruments (compare 2 Corinthians 11:13-14).

The reference to Eve may well include the inference that the church is the ‘second or last Eve’ as Jesus is the ‘second man’, the ‘last Adam’, but it is not spelt out. However the close connection with the previous verse suggests it. So the words have in mind that living in this present world is for Christians as a whole a preparation for their presentation to Christ, the One Who is the life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45; 1 Corinthians 15:47-49). The new Eve is being prepared for her new ‘Adam’.


Verse 4

‘For if he who comes preaches another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or if you receive a different spirit, which you did not receive, or a different gospel, which you did not accept, do you do well to bear with it (or ‘him’)?’

The ‘if’ is with the indicative suggesting something that has actually happened. We might translate ‘when’. The context explains what he means. The point is that another husband, another Jesus, is being preached and is distracting her from the One to Whom she is espoused. Indeed the speed with which they have responded to the new teachers makes him feel that they are quite ready to be unfaithful. As a ‘father’ he is distraught.

He applies the same principle to the receiving of spirit and to the message of the Gospel. He fears that they have been willing to respond to a different spirit than the life-giving spirit of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Corinthians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 15:45) or the Holy Spirit (John 7:39; John 20:22) and to a different Gospel. This reminds us of 1 Corinthians 12-14 where there was also warning of the need to ensure that the right Spirit is speaking to them. To open themselves to other spirits will result in them being deceived. So here they are in danger of responding to wrong spirits and listening to a watering down of the Good News.

‘Do you do well to bear with it?’ This final question is to make them stop and think. Perhaps they will pause in their folly and remain faithful after all to Christ as portrayed by Paul. Or we may translate ‘you bear with it well’, as a sarcastic comment.


Verse 5

‘For I reckon that I am not a whit behind the very highest ranking apostles.’

In view of this he feels it necessary as their ‘father’ to establish his position and authority. He wants them to know that he is in no way an inferior Apostle, a second class one. His teaching and authority is equal to that of ‘the very highest ranking’, Peter, James and John and the other Apostles. So he is a top-ranking Apostle and to turn from his teaching is to turn from the true Gospel. He is thus superior to his opponents, who are not of the highest ranking Apostles, and he should therefore be heeded.

The fact that Paul here claims equality with ‘the highest ranking Apostles’, and not superiority confirms that the twelve are in mind here. Had he sarcastically intended ‘these superlative Apostles’, i.e. his opponents, he would surely not simply have claimed equality.


Verse 6

‘But if it be that I am rude in speech, yet am I not in knowledge; no, in every way have we made this openly clear to you in all things.’

His opponents are accusing him of not preaching like a trained orator. Well, he will not agree with their verdict, but even if it were true it is his deliberate policy not to flaunt himself and not to hide the truth with flowery words (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Nevertheless that says nothing about what he knows, about the knowledge that he possesses. He certainly is not ‘rude’ (lacking as an amateur, as a layman) in knowledge. He has fullness of knowledge, as the Twelve do. He knows the ‘full knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). And indeed he and his co-workers have made all the knowledge that they have openly clear in every way. They do not hide it behind verbosity or superiority.


Verse 7

‘Or did I commit a sin in abasing myself that you might be exalted, because I preached to you the gospel of God for nought?’

Or are they blaming him for not accepting payment from them for what they have taught them, and saying thereby he did wrong? It was the Greek view that an orator should be paid by those who wanted to hear him. That was the sign of a distinguished orator. And Jesus Himself had told His Apostles that as they went out they should trust those among whom they went for supplies. However, that was in a different context, and for a different reason, in a land where hospitality could be expected in God’s name to those who came from God. But Paul had abased himself by working with his hands making tents so that he would not have to accept payment from them. Do they consider that this is a sin? This is probably irony. He makes the statement as an argument for his defence. He is expecting that when they think about it they will approve the fact that he is not after their money, and is not burdensome to them, but earns his own way.

This does, however, demonstrate that the matter had become a point at issue. The intruders may well have suggested that Paul was slighting the Corinthians by not accepting their permanent hospitality. But, he points out, his purpose in abasing himself was that they might be ‘lifted up’ by his message, recognising its essential truth and that it was not of this world, rather than seeing him just as an orator and money-grabber. He wanted them to see that he brought them heavenly truth, not just went through an act. That is what he wants them to think about and recognise. He had not come to be a burden, but to give them freely of the truth that exalts men.

Or the idea of being ‘exalted’ might refer to their being lifted up out of sin and set on high with Christ (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1-2).

‘Abase myself.’ He supported himself by engaging in the trade that was native to his home province of Cilicia, working with goats'-hair cloth, which was used to make cloaks, curtains, tents and other articles intended to give protection against the damp (Acts 18:3). The idea that Paul lowered himself by doing this is thoroughly Greek. Within Judaism, manual labour was not denigrated. It was part of Paul's training as a Rabbi that he should support himself through some form of manual labour. The attitude in Greek society, however, was quite different, especially among the upper classes. For the educated or the person of high social standing to have to do manual work was considered personally demeaning. They were above dirtying their hands.

His was no easy option. The life of an itinerant worker was hard. Even a craftsman who stayed in one place and developed a regular clientele had to work from sunrise to sunset every day to make ends meet. But to be constantly on the road, as Paul was, meant that each time he went to a new town he had to start afresh and undercut the residential tentmakers or work for them. Opposition from competitors would only increase his difficulties


Verse 8

‘I robbed other churches, taking wages of them that I might minister to you.’

Indeed he had done more. He had accepted money from other churches so as not to have to rely on them. ‘Robbed.’ Perhaps there is a sarcastic suggestion in the use of this word that his opponents were ‘robbing’ the Corinthians. They robbed the Corinthians, while he ‘robbed’ other churches. It may however signify that he is suggesting that he had taken as ‘wages’ what was not his due from other churches, because he did nothing for it, and it should have been paid by the church to which he was preaching. He is not really suggesting that he has robbed them, only describing it from the Corinthian viewpoint. The other churches had given quite willingly. Or it may include the thought that he found it hard to accept gifts from the Macedonians because he knew how poor they were, and felt that he was robbing them.


Verse 9

‘And when I was present with you and was in want, I was not a burden on any man, for the brethren, when they came from Macedonia, supplied the measure of my want, and in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so will I keep myself.’

In fact the truth was that when times of need did arise while he was with them he had still refused to be a burden to them. Rather his need was met by visitors from Macedonia who came bringing gifts. So there was no way in which he had been a burden to them. And he intends to keep it that way. He will not allow himself to be accused of preaching for reward, of preaching for any other reason than to bring the truth of Christ. This suggests that Corinth was full of preachers of all kinds, and of many religions and philosophies, whose main concern was to be paid for what they did. He did not want to appear to be like them.

The probability must be that he has taken up this position both in order to make clear that all he was concerned about was conveying the truth, and because he wanted his behaviour to act as a lesson to the Corinthians in view of their attitude towards money. He was demonstrating that money was not the most important thing in life, and that he for one was no lover of money, and he would continue to think in that way. Or alternately it may have been so as to make clear to them that he was not just a paid orator. He did not want to be just another Corinthian nine day wonder. But it proved the important difference between him and such as his opponents.


Verse 10-11

‘As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this glorying in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I love you not? God knows.’

And ‘as the truth of Christ is in him’. That is what matters to him. It is because he is full of the truth of Christ that he will glory in making the Gospel without charge throughout Achaia (ancient Achaia, the region around Corinth). That is the reason why he does not want to be a pedlar of knowledge. He does not want any hindrance to the spread of this truth. He does not want there to be any danger that he might be accused of false motives. He wants all to recognise that what matters to him is the truth of Christ. But did they think that he was doing this because he did not love them? Let them think about it. Such an idea was folly. Indeed ‘God Himself knows’ the truth. He was doing it precisely because of his loving concern for them, and because he wanted the best for them.


Verse 12

‘But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity that in that in which they glory, they may be found even as we.’

And he intends to continue doing what he has been doing, so that he may cut off from his opponents the opportunity of making themselves appear as on level terms with him, which is their great desire.

‘Desire an opportunity that in that in which they glory, they may be found even as we.’ Their desire is for the opportunity to show themselves as on equality with Paul in the things they boast about, so that their message might be equally acceptable. They are trying to bring him down to their level for this purpose. But he is cutting off that opportunity for they cannot compete with his making his Gospel free of charge. They do not have the will or the desire, and disdain the means. And that is why he will continue to make the Gospel free to all, so as to clearly differentiate himself from them. They were quite comfortable in being a charge on the Corinthians and living off them as reward for their preaching, (for after a time gladly given hospitality could easily become a burden, and they seem to have been misusing the privilege which they claimed was their right) and they did not want anything to change. But it sat ill in comparison with one who preached freely and was in no way a burden on them even from the start.

Many refer ‘opportunity’ back so that his idea is that they are ‘seeking an opportunity to declare that he is greedy and after their money’. For, he is saying, the fact is that they are simply looking for any opportunity to lay a charge against him. Because he does not accept money for his labours, they say he is not a genuine Apostle because he is demonstrating that he has no right to the support of the church. If he did receive reward they would simply say he was greedy and was more concerned with money than with the truth of his message.

Either way, once they have done that they will be able to declare themselves on level terms with him.

Others see the opportunity that they are seeking as the opportunity to operate on level terms in the sphere which was allocated to him by the Apostles, Apostleship to the Gentiles. They are saying that it is they exclusively, not he, who have been sent by the Apostles in Jerusalem to proclaim Christ in this area, which gives them the right to maintenance and to demand the obedience of the church. (Compare 2 Corinthians 10:13-16).


Verses 13-15

‘For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into apostles of Christ. And no marvel, for even Satan fashions himself into an angel of light. It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness, whose end shall be according to their works.’

And they do this because they are false apostles, deceitful workers, fashioning themselves into the apostles of Christ.

Note that their falsehood lies in their claim to be ‘Apostles of Christ’. They are seeking supreme authority, and seeking to supplant him. But it was he to whom the Apostleship to the Gentiles had been granted, both by the Apostles and by God (Galatians 2:8; Romans 11:13; Acts 9:9; Acts 9:15-16). It is not that Paul seeks to prevent others labouring among the Gentiles. He stated himself that one sows and another waters (1 Corinthians 3:6-9), and he was delighted that Christ was preached even by those who were not in full accord with him (Philippians 1:18). But it was another thing when they claimed supreme authority and the right to take over the church.

They are false because they make false claims to be Apostles, they are deceitful because they back those false claims with spurious authority, and reveal it by their deceitful activities, and in the end they are only self-made ‘Apostles’. No one has appointed them as Apostles. They do not have the rights that they claim.

Given the unique status of the Twelve it is not surprising that men should seek such a privilege. The Apostles were the deposit of the truth. Those who sought self-glory would never be satisfied with less, even though it was patently not available. It was for those for whom it had been prepared in the same way as was authority under the Rule of God (Matthew 20:23; Mark 10:40). The church constantly had to reject such false claims (Revelation 2:2). And later the same sad state of affairs would result from the false application of the term ‘Bishop’, which came to mean almost the equivalent of ‘Apostle’, one who could make authoritative declarations. But these men who rejected Paul had taken their ‘sending forth’ (apostello) by the Jerusalem church as more significant than it was. They had got above themselves. (Given its importance it is in fact quite remarkable how few did tend to make such claims for themselves).

But this should not surprise anyone, says Paul. For Satan too sets himself up as having false authority. He sets himself up as an angel of light in order to deceive. This was apparent when he came to Jesus after His baptism and sought to give Him ‘heavenly’ guidance (Matthew 4:1-10; Luke 4:1-12 compare Matthew 16:23).

There is no real need therefore to turn to Jewish fables for an explanation although some suggest that he is drawing on a Jewish legend similar to what is later found in the Life of Adam and Eve 9:1, where Satan transforms himself into brightness as of angels and pretends to grieve with Eve, who sits weeping by the River Tigris, and in the Apocalypse of Moses 17:1-2, where Satan comes to Eve in the form of an angel at the time when the angels are going up to worship God and tempts her to eat of the fruit of the tree.

Paul often writes elsewhere about false teachers, but nowhere else does he speak of false apostles. Thus he is not here just calling them false teachers, even though he does make clear that their teaching also is deficient (2 Corinthians 11:4). They were not just conflicting with Paul’s teaching. He could have dealt with that by doctrinal teaching as in Galatians. They were denying him any right to authority in the sphere to which he had been appointed. Thus he has to defend his authority.

‘It is no great thing therefore if his ministers also fashion themselves as ministers of righteousness.’ Just as Satan, ruler of the ‘power of darkness’ (Colossians 1:13) presents himself as an angel of ‘light’, so do his servants and ministers who are unjustified before God and unrighteous before men put on the shape of being ministers of righteousness. They act out a form of righteousness, a form of godliness without its power (2 Timothy 3:5). They are play actors acting out a scene so as to impress men.

‘Whose end shall be according to their works.’ But note that their end will be in accordance with what they reveal themselves to be by their works. In the end all judgment is by works, because they finally reveal what a man is. It is just that the Christian has been cleansed from his evil works, has been covered with the works of Christ Who is made to us righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and begins a new life of righteousness evidenced in his works. Yet he too will in the end be justified by works, both the works of Christ imputed to him, and the resulting works he does in Christ (Matthew 12:37; James 2:21-25; Revelation 20:12). The former are the basis of his salvation, the latter the fruit.


Verse 16

He ‘Foolishly’ Compares Himself With His Opponents (2 Corinthians 11:16 to 2 Corinthians 12:13).

‘I say again, let no man think me foolish; but if you do, yet as foolish receive me, that I also may glory a little.’

He does not want to be thought ‘foolish’ for what he is about to say (compare 2 Corinthians 11:1), even though he is about to glory in himself, like the foolish do (2 Corinthians 10:12). But if they wish to receive him as foolish, that is fine with him. Let them receive him as foolish, just so long as he can ‘boast’ a little and they will listen.


Verse 17

‘That which I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of glorying.’

He wants them understand the nature of his boasting, to recognise that he is not speaking in the normal way for those who follow the Lord. The approach he is taking is not the normal one they should expect from a spiritual person or from a servant of the Lord. By having confidence in boasting he is behaving like the foolish. But it is necessary here because only in this way can he counteract the boasting of his opponents. There are times when counteracting evil that we have to do things that we would not otherwise do. (He is not suggesting that he is actually disobeying or ignoring the Lord, that would have been anathema to him).


Verse 18

‘Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also.’

His opponents are boasting like human beings because of their unspiritual nature, boasting in their human status and behaviour, glorying after the flesh. So he, in order to combat them, intends to do the same. But this is not what one would expect of one who walks according to the Lord. We should note that he is not here really denying God’s inspiration, or that he is doing the right thing. What he is doing is emphasising how unusual this approach is for one who is in the Lord, arising only out of special circumstances.


Verse 19-20

‘For you bear with the foolish gladly, being wise yourselves. For you bear with a man, if he brings you into bondage, if he devours you, if he takes you captive, if he exalts himself, if he smites you on the face.’

It has become necessary because, in their supposed wisdom, it appears that they listen to fools. Let them then bear with him as he speaks like a fool. They think that they are ‘wise’, but he speaks of their ‘wisdom’ sarcastically because they are clearly not behaving wisely at all. They put up with those who enslave them, who force them to do what they want; with those who devour their possessions by living lavishly off them; with those who ‘take them’ (make them captives to their false teaching or even possibly sexually misuse their daughters under the pretence of religion); with those who exalt themselves and treat them roughly so as to demonstrate that they are in charge. And the mesmerised Corinthians are putting up with it because of the great claims these people are making.

Note the contrast with Paul. Instead of bringing them into bondage he betrothed them to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). Instead of devouring their possessions he refused in any way to be a charge on them (2 Corinthians 11:9). Instead of making them captive to his own teaching he brought them the truth (2 Corinthians 11:10). Instead of lording it over them he has been meek and gentle among them (2 Corinthians 10:1) and loved them (2 Corinthians 11:11). Can they not see the difference?


Verse 21

‘I speak by way of disparagement, as though we had been weak. Yet in whatever any is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am bold also.’

By saying this he is disparaging them for bearing with fools who are characterised by brashness, in contrast with whom he had been thought of as weak. (Or the disparagement may be of himself for having been weak). Those whom they elect to follow are the exact opposite of Paul, brashly strong, demanding, belligerently authoritative. He is revealed in contrast as ‘weak’, although not really weak.

But now he is about to reveal that in whatever these fine fellows are bold, he has equal right to be bold (although, he admits, such comparisons are foolish, and not to be encouraged in other circumstances).


Verse 22

‘Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.’

His roots are every bit as good as theirs. They boast of their antecedents as ‘true Hebrew speaking Jews’ connected with Jerusalem - For this use of ‘Hebrews’ see Acts 6:1. Well, so is he. For he grew up in Jerusalem under the teaching of Gamaliel. Are they ‘genuine born Israelites’? Well, so is he. His parents were Hebrews, and he is of the tribe of Benjamin. Are they the fleshly ‘seed of Abraham’, well, so is he. See Philippians 3:5. It would appear that his opponents were laying great stress on these connections as demonstrating their superiority to the Corinthians. They were the true children of the covenant given through Moses, in which the Gentiles have a secondary part. There is here a demoting of Christian Gentiles. That is why elsewhere Paul argues that Gentile Christians equally are part of the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:12-22) and are the true seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:28-29).


Verse 23

‘Are they servants (ministers - diakonoi) - of Christ? (I speak as one beside himself) I more; in labours more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths often.’

Do they claim to be servants of Christ? (They may well have been able to claim that they had actually been to some extent His disciples while he was on earth, even though they were not behaving like it). He will now speak as though he was a bit mad, otherwise he would not think of boasting in this way. He is even more a genuine servant of Christ. Whatever their claims he has worked harder and more abundantly for Christ than any of them, he has been in prison for Christ more often, he has been beaten for Christ more times than he can count, he has indeed often stared death in the face for Christ’s sake.


Verses 24-27

‘Of the Jews five times I received forty stripes save one. 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, 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; in labour and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.’

He outlines his credentials. By the very Jews whom they boast that they are one with, he has five times received the maximum beating allowed, forty stripes less one (compare Deuteronomy 25:2-3). He has been beaten with Roman rods three times by the lictors (rod-bearers - Acts 16:22). Strictly as a Roman citizen he was exempt from such treatment but the law was as regularly abused as used. Some observed it, others ignored it as both Cicero and Josephus bring out.

He has been stoned. This would be by Jews, it was a Jewish form of punishment for blasphemy. See Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19. He has been shipwrecked three times. Regular travellers at sea, especially in smaller boats, were often subject to shipwreck due to sudden storms. On one such occasion he spent a night and a day keeping himself afloat in the sea (or in a small boat similar to a lifeboat) before being rescued. He has faced every form of difficulty and danger that regularly faced travellers who went unescorted. Arduous journeys. Perilous river crossings. Danger from robbers. Threats, whether from his own countrymen, or from Gentiles. He has been imperilled in all types of surroundings, whether in cities or in the countryside, or in the desert, or in the sea, or among ‘pseudo-brethren’, some who like his opponents in Corinth sought to destroy him. He has laboured and had to struggle hard, he has often had to stay awake at night because of threats all around, he has been hungry and thirsty, he has gone without food often, he has been bitterly cold and insufficiently clothed, often in rags. (How are his opponents doing in comparison with this in the service of Christ?)


Verse 28

‘Besides those things that are without (or ‘that I have left out’), there is that which presses on me daily, anxiety for all the churches.’

And there were other difficulties too, but he could not include them all. And as hard as all these troubles put together was the burden of care he bore for all the churches, which pressed on him daily. Always thinking of them, always praying for them, always wondering how he can encourage them, always trying to work out the best way that he can help them. ‘All the churches.’ That is, those that he and his companions have founded. (How are his opponents comparing now? Do they have many churches that they constantly bear a burden for?)


Verse 29

‘Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is caused to stumble, and I burn not?’

For as a true servant of Christ he takes the burden of the weak Christians on himself (1 Corinthians 9:22), as he well can because he recognises his own weakness. He gets alongside them as one weak person to another. And when they stumble he burns with anguish. He has personal concern for all his spiritual children (compare 2 Corinthians 1:4-6).

‘Burn’ is taken in various ways, but it must surely in context be a burning in sympathy, or alternately a burning in anger at what causes them to stumble.

The term weak can be interpreted in a number of ways. He could be including those who have a fragile conscience, as in Romans 14:1-23; 1 Corinthians 8:7-13, or Christians who felt themselves powerless in society, or Christians who do not have the spiritual fortitude to overcome temptation, or all, for he may well mean those weak in any way. Whenever God’s people are weak he suffers with them and sympathises with them in their experience. For he has been through it all himself.


Verse 30

‘If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my weakness.’

So if he is to boast he will boast about the things which show he is weak, He does not glory in his splendour like his opponents do, he glories in his weaknesses which show him to be a sharer in the sufferings of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:6), and one who can come alongside people in their weakness. They demonstrate that he carries the cross daily (2 Corinthians 4:10-11; 1 Corinthians 15:31). They demonstrate that he is willing to endure for Christ as a true and faithful servant.


Verse 31

‘The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed for evermore, knows that I lie not.’

And in order to ensure that they recognise his genuineness he calls on God to be his witness. The One Who is the God and the Father of the Lord Jesus (compare 2 Corinthians 1:3). The One Who is blessed for evermore. The explanations are in order to emphasise His greatness, so as to stress even more His reliability. He is the One who knows that Paul is telling the truth.


Verse 32-33

‘In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king guarded the city of the Damascenes in order to take me, and through a window was I let down in a basket by the wall, and escaped his hands.’

He finishes this aspect of his glorying with a personal example, which went back to his earliest days as a Christian. One which he never forgot. The letting down in a basket contrasts with being caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2) and with his spiritual destruction of fortresses (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). He knew what it was to have both the downs and the ups. Because of one governor (ethnarch), acting on a king’s behalf, he was lowered over a wall in a basket (the basket in question would have been a bag of braided rope, suitable for carrying hay, straw or bales of wool) through an aperture in the wall, a humiliating experience and in itself a reminder of his weakness. This underlined all he had said about afflictions and danger, and was in total contrast to 2 Corinthians 10:4 where the thought included that of scaling the walls, thus showing that he is outwardly weak, even if inwardly powerful. And it also contrasts with his being lifted up to the third heaven by another King. In the flesh he suffers humiliation and tribulation, in the Spirit he soars above all.

The governor or ethnarch ruled the city on behalf of Aretas, who was a Nabataean king. Or alternately he may have been ethnarch of the Nabataeans living in the city. Either way he was determined to prevent Paul leaving the city by watching the gates, resulting in his ignominious exit. No climbing of fortresses here. Only humiliation. But once again God’s power was revealed through weakness.

Note on Aretas.

The political status of Damascus at the time of Paul's stay there is not certain. It is unclear whether it was under Roman rule, Nabataean rule under the Romans, or some kind of joint Roman-Nabataean rule. Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that the Greek term "ethnarch" (ethnarches) could refer to the governor of the city or to the ruler of a major ethnic group within the city. Josephus, for example, employed the term for rulers of peoples under foreign control (Jewish Antiquities 17:11:4; Jewish Wars 2:6.3), and Strabo tells of how an ethnarch was granted to the Jews in Alexandria because of their large numbers (17:798). A reasonable conjecture is that "ethnarch" refers to the leader of a semi-autonomous colony of Nabataeans in the city during the rule of Gaius (AD 37-41). But this was a time when the policy of client kingdoms on the eastern frontier was in force.

The king in question was Aretas IV Philopatris who was the last and most famous of the Nabataean kings under that name. He reigned in Petra from 9 BC to AD 40. Herod Antipas, who ruled the regions of Galilee and Perea, divorced Aretas' daughter to marry Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Philip. Aretas naturally took this personally and bided his time until several years later, when he invaded Perea and was able to defeat Herod's forces in AD 36. Rome was unhappy about this but their retaliation was forestalled by the death of the emperor Tiberius. Caligula favoured Aretas, It is thought that Aretas’ rule may well for a time have included Damascus, (although he need not have been there at the time mentioned). It would explain the ability of his ethnarch to guard the city (gates) continually (imperfect tense). The absence of Roman coinage there between AD 34 and 62 may hint at this but is not decisive.

Luke's account of the same episode attributes Paul's flight to "the Jews," who were conspiring to kill him, and were keeping a close watch on the city gates (Acts 9:23-25). Whether this was in cooperation with the authorities, or for the purpose of private vengeance we do not have sufficient information to know. Having obtained the cooperation of the authorities in order to arrest Paul they may well have wanted to ensure that he did not escape by themselves also watching the gates with a view to killing him.

End of Note.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-corinthians-11.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, August 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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