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2 Corinthians 11
Paul was about to speak of his own labors, sufferings and qualifications; and, to him, it was distasteful and somewhat embarrassing to do so; however, the false apostles who had intruded themselves into the Corinthian scene had spoken of the apostle so adversely, and the rather naive Corinthians had shown such vulnerability to their seductions, that Paul destroyed them in the withering attack recorded here, reluctantly meeting them upon their own grounds, and, in a sense, stooping to their level of personal boasting in order to do it.
His enemies were only a minority of the Corinthian church; and even these "are divided into two classes, the leaders and the led; and Paul does not always keep these separate in his mind." F1 Yet in this chapter, "He clearly appealed to those who were led and denounced those who led them." F2 The great majority at Corinth had Paul's confidence. He believed they would bear with him and not misunderstand his motives. Carver said, "Again he is giving voice to his underlying confidence in the church at Corinth, as expressed in 2 Cor. 7:4,14,16; 2 Cor. 8:24, and 2 Cor. 9:2." F3 Some would understand this verse as imperative, i.e., a plea that the Corinthians would bear with Paul (as in English Revised Version (1885) margin); but the preferred meaning is, "Yet my prayer is not necessary, for you do, in fact, bear with me." F4 Thus the unity of this epistle is evident in the fact that "His confidence in the Corinthians, his `boldness' on their behalf, shines clearly through." F5
A little foolishness ...
Godly jealousy ...
"This means a jealousy like that of God, not a mean, blind or unworthy passion, but a justified concern for the honor and purity of the church at Corinth." F6
Espoused you to one husband ...
"The word `espoused' is used of the act of a father who gives his daughter in marriage." F7 Broomall noted that "The espousal took place at conversion; the `presentation' will be consummated at the Second Coming"; F8 however, Kelcy was correct in not limiting the "presentation" to the Second Coming. "It includes the thought of himself as presenting them to Christ as a `pure virgin' all along during his ministry." F9 Romans 12:1f confirms Kelcy's view of this.
"Paul was very far from despising marriage, since he made it a symbol" F10 of the final union of the church with her Lord.
As a pure virgin to Christ ...
This whole verse means that Paul was just as jealously concerned for the purity of the church as a father would be for the purity of a daughter betrothed to a kingly bridegroom.
For a list of other New Testament passages bearing upon the great apostasy, see my Commentary on Acts, pp. 395,396, and my Commentary on Matthew, p. 96.
At the time of Paul's writing, only a few of the Corinthians were under the domination of the false apostles, "But there was a risk that they might distract the church as a whole from its loyalty to Christ." F11 Historically, and as regards the entire church on earth, Paul's fears were more than justified.
The great analogy between Eve as the wife of Adam I and the church as the wife of Adam II is in bold relief here. The seduction of Eve was therefore viewed by Paul as a prophecy of the seduction of the church. Paul dealt with this at length in 2 Thess. 2. Just as Satan through subtlety deceived Eve, Paul feared that the false apostles, doing the work of Satan, would deceive the church.
Several things of great importance appear in these lines: (1) The account of the temptation and fall as recorded in Genesis "was regarded by the inspired writers of the New Testament not as myth, allegory or fiction, but as a true record of what happened." F12 (2) Human egotism has always been the point of vulnerability of people. As Tasker said:
From Eve onwards the human heart has been prone to be deceived by those who, appearing to have wisdom, insinuate the most destructive of all lies, i.e., that men are not under an imperative duty to recognize and obey God. F13
This is even a stronger word than "subtlety," the corresponding word in Genesis; and it means "an extreme malignity which is capable of anything." F14
The serpent beguiled Eve ...
True and historical as the Genesis account is, there are mysteries in it which remain unknown. Macknight spoke of one of these thus:
Some think that the devil in that history is called a serpent figuratively, because in tempting Eve he used the qualities natural to serpents; and that the punishment inflicted on him, namely, his being confined to our atmosphere, is figuratively expressed by his going on his belly and eating dust. But others think that in the history of the fall the devil is called a serpent because he assumed the appearance of a serpent: and that after the fall a change was actually made in the form and state of that animal as a memorial of the devil's having abused its primitive form. F15
The translation of the last clause cannot be correct; for the very thing Paul wanted to correct was their "bearing with" any false apostle. The true meaning must be similar to the following renditions:
You manage to put up with that well enough (NEB). Ye bear with him (the false apostle) nobly. F16 You put up with that finely. F17
He that cometh ...
"This either designates the outstanding leader among the false apostles, or is a generic reference to all of this group." F18 Since it is not known that there was any "outstanding leader," it is better understood as "any man that cometh" to proclaim so false a doctrine. All of the true apostles were "sent" of God; but the false apostles were mere "comers" who commissioned themselves and were in no sense messengers from God.
Preacheth another Jesus ...
It is not revealed in the New Testament exactly what the false teaching was. "Every opinion concerning the character and identity of these false apostles is ventured only in the realm of conjecture." F19 It is enough for us to know that their teachings were unsound, tended to immorality, denied essential truth and were utterly destroyed by Paul's inspired epistles.
As McGarvey said, "These first four verses are an introduction" F20 to the main theme of the chapter; and this verse fits in, according to Dummelow's paraphrase, thus:
My fear is not without reason, for you are certainly very favorably inclined to those who bring a different gospel; but if you can tolerate them, you can surely tolerate me. F21
For ages, this has been construed as a reference to the Twelve, especially to Peter, James and John, the inner circle of that sacred group; but the true meaning, as advocated by McGarvey, Kelcy and many others, appears to be that "chiefest apostles" is Paul's designation of the false apostles who were troubling Corinth. The reasons underlying what is now the generally accepted interpretation are these:
The whole tone of the passage ought to have made it impossible for any commentator to imagine that these words referred to Peter and James and John as the pillars of the church of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). Of them Paul spoke, even in his boldest moment, with respect, even where respect is mingled with reproof. F24
For these reasons, then, we shall construe "chiefest apostles" as a term of derogation applied sarcastically by Paul to the false teachers. However, the obvious truth must also be stated that, even if it did refer to Peter, James and John, it is also true of them, no less than it was true of the false apostles! Which of the Twelve themselves had any such record as is here revealed of the blessed Paul? It must be received as fact, then, that such a comment as the following from Macknight cannot be denied; for the basis of it, i.e., that Paul was not a whit behind Peter, James and John, etc., is solid truth, no matter how these words are understood. He said: "Let the Papists reconcile this account which Paul gives of himself as an apostle, with their pretended supremacy of Peter over all the apostles." F25
Rude in speech ...
In no single area of Christian literature is there a more widespread and generally accepted error than the notion that the apostle Paul was deficient as a public speaker. Filson spoke of Paul's lack as a speaker, saying, "He admits it," and citing this verse along with 2 Cor. 10:10; 1 Cor. 1:17 and 1 Cor. 2:4. F26 First, we shall glance at these verses which are supposed to be Paul's admission that he was a poor speaker.
The verse here: "Rude in speech" does not mean lacking agility as a speaker. "One definition of `rude' is `forceful or abrupt'; and our translators could have more worthily supplied such terms, if substitute they must; but there is no end to their tampering with the text." F27 Wallace was referring to the perversion of this verse in the RSV, which has "unskilled in speaking," which is of course a gross falsehood. See treatise below on Paul, a Skilled Speaker. The principal point, however, is that Paul here made a sarcastic reference to the slander of the false apostles; and the true meaning is, "They say I am rude in speech; but it has to be admitted that my speech makes sense, whereas theirs does not!" There is no thought whatever of Paul's making a confession here that, after all, he is not a very good speaker.
His speech is contemptible ...
Paul did not say this of himself. The text says, "THEY SAY ... his speech is contemptible" (2 Corinthians 10:10); and just why should such an allegation from servants of Satan be allowed as gospel truth? Commentators who take this as a fact are poor friends of Paul; with friends like them, he does not need any enemies!
Christ sent me ... to preach the gospel, not in wisdom of words ...
(1 Corinthians 1:17). This has no reference whatever to Paul's ability as a speaker, but reveals his rejection of the stylish but worthless oratorical style of the Greeks. See treatise below on Greek Oratory.
I came unto you ... not with excellence of speech or of wisdom ... not in persuasive words of wisdom ... not in the wisdom of men ...
(1 Corinthians 2:1-5). All that is said in the above paragraph applies equally here. There is not a hint in either place of Paul's ability. He was an eloquent and powerful speaker. All of these expressions he was applying to the Greek oratory which he rejected as worthless, not because he COULD NOT HAVE USED IT, but because he knew a better way.
Volumes could be written about the oratorical conceit of the Greeks. Their speakers assumed an emphatic distance, constructed their speeches with all kinds of decorative phraseology, gloried in balanced phrases and clauses, sought stunning effects by the use of alliteration, used words which sounded good, no matter what their meaning, modulated their voices in undulating cycles of dynamic contrast, adopted an "oratorical tone" much like the "holy voice" affected by some preachers, skillfully employed a hundred different gestures, each having its hidden significance and known only to the profession, timed their gesticulations so that the ictus always occurred exactly with the intonation of the proper syllable, strutted like peacocks before their audiences, exposing their good Grecian profiles in moments of dramatic pause (Paul was a Jew and had no such profile), arranged their speeches in classical outlines, cut, altered or perverted all material to suit the outline, paused at predetermined intervals to receive the applause of their hearers, and produced by such devices what they called an oration! This ornate, artificial and worthless kind of speaking resulted at last in the destruction of Greece; but in Paul's day it was still very stylish and popular among the self-imagined intelligentsia of a place like Corinth. The various references in these epistles to "wisdom of words," "wisdom of men," "excellency of speech," etc., are precise and exact designations of the bombastic, worthless oratory of the Greeks, described above. That is what THEY meant by such terms; and Paul used the terms in exactly the same sense. Now, as regards Paul's ability as a speaker, see article below.
PAUL, A SKILLED SPEAKER
It may well be doubted if a more effective speaker ever lived. The great apostle to the Gentiles who preached before governors and kings delivered messages which, even in the abbreviated form of their preservation, have fired the imagination of people in all ages. Among his achievements are the following:
He interrupted and calmed a vicious and unprincipled mob in the Jerusalem temple, a mob which stood transfixed, hypnotized and breathless for the great oration recorded in Acts 22. It is impossible to suppose that any weak speaker could have done a thing like that.
While speaking in the streets of Athens, the center of Greek culture, Paul was invited by responsible members of the Areopagus to speak before the highest tribunal in the Greek world. Would they have invited an "unskilled" speaker? A thousand times, NO! Invitations before that tribunal were not casually passed out to mere street-preachers. The oration that he delivered there resulted in the baptism of one of the mighty judges and an undetermined number of other converts; and the content of it has challenged the thinking of nineteen centuries!
Paul's eloquence before Festus was of such persuasive and glowing quality, that when the governor entertained royalty (Agrippa II and Bernice), he presented the apostle for the entertainment of his royal guests! Does that sound like he was a timid, embarrassed, weak and incompetent speaker? Commentators who affirm such nonsense should be ashamed. Paul's address on that occasion was so impressive, that even when Festus tried to break up the meeting, the king and his royal consort refused to leave until Paul had finished! Weak preaching? Absolutely NO!
Paul converted rulers of synagogues, the governor at Paphos, the chamberlain of the City of Corinth and enjoyed the friendship of the politarchs of Ephesus. He was bilingual, possibly trilingual, and one of the best educated men of his generation. As a high sheriff of the Sanhedrin, he enjoyed a post of honor and trust which was its own inherent testimony to the man's unusual and outstanding ability, which would of necessity have included mastery of the art of speaking. No man ever communicated his ideas to humanity any better than Paul did.
Another incident confirming the views expressed here happened at Lystra, where the pagan citizens of that Lycaonian city hailed the apostle as "Hermes" (Acts 14:12). And who, pray tell, was Hermes? He was the chief speaker for the gods of Grecian civilization! Weak speaker? The Lycaonians thought he was the chief speaker of the gods!
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels ...
. This probably is as good an estimate of Paul's speaking ability as any that was ever written; and the lines could reflect unconsciously his own subjective awareness of his superlative ability as a mover of mankind with the spoken word.
It is our humble prayer that students of the sacred scriptures will recover themselves from the stupid error of thinking that Paul was an "unskilled" speaker. It is quite evident that much of the gratuitous downgrading of Paul as a gifted speaker derives from the thought that it is stylish, in a literary sense, to do so.
The bitter sarcasm of this is evident. "Professional Greek rhetoricians (alluded to in 2 Corinthians 11:6) would be suspect if they failed to demand fees." F28 Paul's sarcastic question is, "Have you been so completely taken in by these false apostles that you could believe I am a sinner because I did not demand your money when I preached to you the gospel?" As Lipscomb said, "This is bitter irony ... he was deeply hurt by the ungenerous construction of his generosity." F29
It really is not certain that all of the alleged slanders against Paul which he answered in these lines were really spoken against him, although most commentators seem to assume this. However, Clines pointed out that,
It can be argued that these extremely perverse criticisms were not actually made, but are ironically imagined by Paul in order to contrast his own and the false apostles' attitude to financial support. F30
During Paul's eighteen months ministry at Corinth when the Corinthians had been converted, he had received no money from them. He had decided that, in Corinth, the gospel would in some manner be compromised by his asking and receiving support of his many converts.
It was in Corinth that Paul had labored as a tent maker, working with Aquila, in order to be free to preach without charge. It was from Corinth that he had written the letters to the Thessalonians, among whom also he had preached without imposing any financial burden upon them (1 Thessalonians 2:9). "It was Paul's custom when preaching in a place to accept no gifts from the local people, despite the fact that it imposed a severe hardship upon himself." F31
I robbed other churches ...
This is a reference to the churches of Macedonia (mentioned a moment later); and thus, "It is once again that the `earnestness of others' (2 Corinthians 8:8) is set before the Corinthians; and in this we may discern another internal strand uniting these last four chapters to those which precede them." F32
See my comment under the preceding verse.
When they came from Macedonia ...
These were in all probability Silas and Timothy. Based upon the record in Acts 15:40 and Acts 16:1ff, and upon inferences from 1 Thess. 3:1, those were the two men referred to here, but not by name, as the Corinthians already knew who had come from Macedonia. Even this bounty only supplemented Paul's earnings as a tent maker.
I was not a burden on any man ...
The word here translated "burden" is a medical term derived from the name of a certain kind of fish listed by Aristotle, a creature which benumbed people who came in contact with it. Its being in the vocabulary of physicians has led to the supposition that "Paul may have derived it from Luke." F33
Paul did not here rule out the acceptance of funds from Christians in other places, but vehemently declared that nothing would induce him to get on the payroll of the Corinthians. All of Paul's considerations in such a decision may not be clear to us; but it is safe to believe that there were very good reasons for this; and, especially at this time, "Paul knew the spot he had them (the false apostles) in, and he meant to keep them there." F34 Even the most naive persons in Corinth could not have failed to be impressed by the fact of Paul's obvious sincerity, a fact demonstrated and made certain by his attitude toward money.
The false apostles hoped to induce Paul to accept money from the Corinthians; but this Paul adamantly refused to do. However, this was not a sign of lack of love for them, but just the opposite. He would do nothing that would give the false apostles an excuse for claiming to be on the same level with Paul. This was due to Paul's loving determination to destroy the hold of those parasites upon his beloved Corinthian converts. The false apostles were already feeling the pinch of the situation in which they found themselves. One of the things they gloried in was that of taking money from the Corinthians; and so, "They desire an occasion for inducing Paul to accept payment as they do, so that the disadvantage forced upon them by the contrast might be removed." F35 This will be made clear in the next verse.
This is a somewhat tricky and involved sentence; but the meaning is apparently that suggested by Tasker:
Those superlative apostles receive pay for their work, and would like for this difference between them and Paul to be eliminated by Paul's behaving as they do, so that they may be on an equality with him. F36
But what I do, that will I do ...
Paul meant by this, "I will go right on doing as I have done all along." Why should he have taken the heat off of them?
These men at Corinth were in no sense genuine, being phony self-seekers playing the religious game for money. Lies and deception were their stock in trade; they were evil hypocrites pretending to be apostles of Christ. It is a marvel that they had managed to put together a following at Corinth; but such is the mystery of iniquity that they were fully able to do so; and the marvel of our own times is that wicked and lying deceivers are still doing the same thing. Hughes described such a marvel thus:
It is no less so in our own day when an individual has only to make the most preposterous claims for himself in order to gain for himself an enthusiastic and undiscerning following. In every age, the church is under the necessity of holding fast to the doctrine of those who are Christ's true apostles. That doctrine, in a word, is that which we possess in the writings of the New Testament. F37
The explanation reveals that such developments as that of false teachers stealing the church away from the Lord are no "marvel" at all, in one sense, but merely what should have been expected in view of the nature and tactics of the evil one. The tactics of such deceivers follow closely the pattern of Satan in Eden: (1) As Satan flatly denied God's word, evil teachers do the same today, stridently declaring their soul-destroying doctrine of salvation "by faith alone," contradicting the word of God which says people "are not justified by faith alone" (James 2:24). (2) As Satan promised Eve that she and Adam would "be as gods," the sophisticated false teachers of this generation are doing everything in their power to deify humanity. (3) The same triple allurements of fleshly delight, pride of life, and lust of the eye which overthrew Eve are today carrying the thoughtless into every kind of sin. (4) As Satan pretended to be wise, so do the false teachers of all generations masquerade as wise ones, people in the "know" who make light of God's commands and rush into rebellion against the Creator. These are the people who make fun of Christian ordinances, deny the claims of God's church upon people's loyalty, and represent Almighty God as a doting, loving Father who will never punish anybody, and who will never notice the crimes of blood, lust and savagery raging under his very nose. And as for worshiping God, "Let that be every man doing exactly what he pleases, when he pleases, if he pleases; and God will at last save everybody." See under 2 Cor. 11:15.
In connection with this and the preceding verse, it has been suggested by some that "Paul may be alluding to a Jewish legend that Satan appeared to Eve in the form of an angel and sang hymns like the angels"; F38 but such a tale could hardly be anything except human imagination. There does not seem to be in view here any actual event of Satan's transforming himself into an angel of light; but, in all probability, this is a metaphorical statement of the exceedingly great power of Satan to deceive people. He even appeared before the Lord during our Master's temptation, advocating a sinful act and backing up the temptation with a misquotation from the Holy Bible (Matthew 4:4ff).
Ministers of righteousness ...
This the false teachers do literally; and, from this basic truth, there derives the necessity for every soul who would be true to God to "search the scriptures daily, whether these things are so" (Acts 17:11). Not one teaching of the New Testament is free from the corrupting devices of man; there are none of its doctrines that have not been denied; and there is no commandment in it which is not rejected out of hand, if not by one false teacher, then by another. To borrow a line from Jesus (out of context), "What is written ... how readest thou?" (Luke 10:26).
Paul here stated that his boastings were in no sense foolish. They were the only way to open the eyes of those being deceived by the false boasters. Nevertheless, Paul said, "Even if you think I am foolish, let me boast a little in order for you to see how silly, by comparison, are the claims of those "superlative apostles" who are leading some of you around by the nose!" As Paul had already explained, "Any boasting he did was not for his own sake but theirs, and for the sake of the purity of the gospel in their midst." F39
Not after the Lord ...
It is astounding that commentators will render this as did Dummelow, "I am not speaking now under the inspiration of Christ." F40 The New International Version renders it, "I am not speaking now as the Lord would"; F41 but the RSV perverted it completely, giving this: "What I am saying, I say not with the Lord's authority, but as a fool!" This despite Paul's having just said, "Let no man think me foolish!" (2 Corinthians 11:16). Paul was familiar with both "authority" and "inspiration"; and, if he had meant anything like the words attributed to him in RSV, he would have used those words. The fact that he did not use them shows that something else was meant.
It means that his words IF SPOKEN IN CONCEITED BOASTING would not be "after the Lord"; but Paul was not speaking in that manner at all, but as in foolishness. In that latter usage of such boasting, there can be no question. Of course they were spoken. "after the Lord," i.e., according to the will of the Lord.
Not after the Lord ...
was interpreted thus by Kelcy:
It was not the Lord's usual method; but Paul speaking by inspiration, certainly had the Lord's approval. The Lord granted this use of boasting because it was the best weapon to use in the situation Paul faced. F42
The view advocated by Kelcy goes all the way back to Chrysostom and has been known for ages as the correct view of what is said here. Many of the so-called translations have committed grievous sin in the perversion of Paul's words here. It should be noted that Paul did not say that he was speaking "in foolishness" but "as in foolishness." In that distinction lies the understanding of 2 Cor. 11:17.
Two things are in view here: (1) boasting for reasons of personal pride, and (2) boasting for the purpose of saving a church, when no better method was available. The first of these is indeed "not after the Lord"; but the second, in the circumstances, most assuredly was. Chrysostom phrased it like this: "By itself (boasting) is indeed not of the Lord, but by Paul's intention it becomes so." F43
This is not any more complicated than a score of other difficult passages in Paul's writings.
Having laid the groundwork for it, being careful to reveal his natural loathing at being forced, in a sense, to resort to such a thing, and also his pure intention of redeeming his beloved converts from the control of their enemies, Paul announced in this verse his purpose of proving the utter worthlessness of the false apostles' vaunted credentials, not one of whom could even approach the matchless authentication manifested in a true apostle like Paul. When the hay and stubble of their false claims were viewed alongside the pure gold of God's work in the life of Paul, only a fool could have failed to see the difference.
This is sarcastic irony at its withering best. The sting in it comes from the obvious meaning, "Such smart people are bigger fools than the fools they indulge!" F44
Titus had no doubt given Paul a first-hand account of such scandalous conduct on the part of the false teachers; and the majority of the Corinthians must have blushed to hear this factual record of their cowardice and servility in submitting to it.
The failure of some of the Corinthians had been in their putting up with the arrogance and aggressiveness of the false apostles and in submitting to it as if they were actually true apostles, incredibly failing to notice how anti-Christian and contrary to the Holy Spirit their outrageous behavior surely was. Note what these false apostles were doing:
Bringing into bondage. This could have meant that they were being enslaved to keep the ceremonial laws of the Jews (see Galatians 2:4; 5:1).
Devouring them. This, like most of what is said here, has overtones of the Pharisaical methods in Jerusalem. Jesus, for example, said that they "devoured widows' houses" (Matthew 23:14). They took as much money and substance as they could lay hold of.
Taking them captive. This suggests 2 Tim. 2:26, where Paul spoke of Satan's taking people "captive" to do his will. The false apostles were leading the people into gross sin.
Exalting themselves. "Light is thrown on Paul's meaning here by what he had already said about `every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God' (2 Corinthians 10:5)." F45 Those evil men were placing their own words above the word of God.
Smiting in the face. Whether this was literal or not has been disputed; but representatives of that class who had smitten the Son of God himself in the face would have been perfectly in character by perpetrating such actions against the Lord's followers. The view here is that there is no reason to suppose it was anything but physical.
Hughes' paraphrase of the first sentence here is: "I confess to my shame, that as compared to those super-apostles, I have been weak!" F46 If arrogance, greed, deceit, tyranny, oppression and the robbery of Christians of their wealth are marks of true Christian oversight, Paul was willing to admit that in those categories he had indeed fallen somewhat behind the super-apostles who were plundering the church of God at Corinth. This is sarcastic irony.
This is the best hint of all regarding the identity of the false apostles. They evidently belonged to the fierce Judaizers who almost succeeded in stealing the church of God itself. Although speaking here of fleshly descent from Abraham, Paul had a much higher view of who were really Israelites and the true seed of Abraham. The Christians are the true Israelites, as well as the genuine seed of Abraham. Paul developed this extensively in Romans, and also in Gal. 3:29.
Ministers of Christ ...
This is not, as suggested by some, a reference to a sinful "Christ party" at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:12); for, if it had been, Paul would not have said, "I more."
As one beside himself ...
The RSV descends to the level of a ridiculous paraphrase in rendering this "I am talking like a madman." As Wallace said, "That certainly is not a translation of anything Paul said." F47 This has the same meaning of "as in foolishness" in 2 Cor. 11:17.
Labors ... prisons ... stripes ... deaths ...
Although somewhat of a loose summary of what he was about to relate, it is obviously extemporaneous. The amazing sufferings and tribulations suffered by Paul were so numerous that they tumbled over each other in his mind as he dictated these words. Aside from the Christ himself, whoever suffered as did Paul for the propagation of Christianity?
"All that follows from here to verse 28, inclusive, is proof of Paul's right to call himself a minister of Christ. F48 All of the things mentioned here at the outset would be elaborated further on.
If those false apostles, as appears likely, were part of the old hierarchical crowd in Jerusalem, it must have required divine power for Paul to speak of them as mildly as he does. A Jewish beating with stripes was a cruel, brutal and inhuman punishment. It was founded on Deut. 25:3 which fixed forty stripes as the number inflicted. The barbarous instrument was a three-ply scourge of knotted leather thongs, with the knots so arranged as to give the maximum pain and injury to the victim. The 39 blows were delivered 13 on the chest, 13 on the right shoulder, and 13 on the left shoulder. Neither the New Testament nor any other history mentions any of these five cruelties inflicted upon Paul, showing how little is actually known of all that he suffered for the cause of Christ.
Beaten with rods ...
In Acts is the record of Paul's being thus beaten at Philippi; but nothing is known of the other two punishments (Acts 16:22,23).
Once was I stoned ...
Acts 14:19 describes this event, in which Paul was apparently thought to be dead by his enemies. It occurred at Lystra.
Thrice I suffered shipwreck ...
As this was written before the shipwreck on Malta, it has to refer to events nowhere else recorded. Paul made no less than nine voyages before these lines were written and another nine afterward. F49 Travel by ship in those times was hazardous indeed.
A night and a day ... in the deep ...
"After one of the shipwrecks, Paul spent a night and a day clinging to wreckage while adrift at sea." F50 At least four times, the blessed apostle heard the dreadful cry, "Abandon ship"; and anyone who ever heard it once knows the soul-chilling terror of such an experience. Paul's sufferings are a glorious odyssey surpassing that of Homer, or any other; and, when it is remembered that this brief record is practically all that people know of it, the surpassing modesty and humility of the matchless Paul are almost unbelievable.
A thousand pages could not tell the whole story if God had given it to us; but the vast majority of the events which stormed Paul's memory in this recital are forever shrouded in the modesty of Paul and in the mists of nineteen centuries. Yet these mountain peaks which here are momentarily lifted for a fleeting glance of them are of the highest interest. Nevertheless, we shall leave them just as they are. The scattered bits of information by which we might piece out a little more of the odyssey here and there fade into the background of this brief, stark catalogue of apostolic sufferings and tribulations. How dearly were purchased the glorious rights of all subsequent generations in the gospel of Christ by such advocates as Paul the apostle!
Paul's hardships were genuine and included physical hunger, cold, nakedness, thirst, unending toil and a host of other hardships which these things suggest but do not elaborate.
His day and a night in the ocean following a shipwreck was one of these; but what were the others? Did he think of that dark night before the wreck on Malta when his watching saved the ship from being abandoned by its crew? What is suggested by this list is just as interesting as what is related.
In fastings ...
Were these devotional, or were they of those times of hunger and thirst mentioned in the same breath? Some say one thing, some another; but we do not know. Paul's boasting was taking a turn that no one but himself could have anticipated; and the fact that shines in all of this is that Paul was boasting of his sufferings, his hardships, his persecutions for the name of Christ, his providential survivals of many deaths, and his merciless tortures from rods and stripes. It should be evident to all that no man ever boasted like this, except one under the direct inspiration of God.
Those things that are without ...
New English Bible (1961) renders this, "These external things just enumerated"; but RSV has "Apart from other things," indicating that even this astounding list is but the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, it was not any of those things that happened to Paul, but his deep and faithful concern for his Christian converts that he reserved as the climax of his credentials as a true apostle. The loving concern and care for all the churches God had blessed him to establish; that was the heart of Paul. Everything else was peripheral. One wonders if the Corinthians did not weep when they read this. Could any human being be so unresponsive to pure and holy love as not to be touched by what was written here? The only answer we have is history. The false apostles disappeared, their names unknown, their doctrines not identified, even their number merely a conjecture; but the church of Corinth continued through centuries; and these priceless letters are living treasures nineteen centuries afterward! Oh Lord, blessed be thy holy name!
This elaborates Paul's perfect identification of himself with those whom he converted.
as used here is probably "to burn with indignation." F51
This verse should be understood retrospectively as well as prospectively. It flies like a banner over all that Paul mentioned in this entire section through 2 Cor. 12:10. The great spiritual power of Paul was inherent in the strength through weakness which marked his whole life. As Hillyer wisely observed: "In this verse, Paul looks back to the experiences he has just catalogued. A `boastful' person, in the ordinary sense, would never have mentioned such things." F52
Circumstances had required Paul to boast; but he turned the occasion into one that stressed his own mortal weakness and dependence upon God. No man without the direction of God's Spirit would have boasted in any such manner.
Recalling what he had just written, the list seemed almost unbelievable, even to Paul; and the sheer size and significance of it led him to affirm in these most solemn words the absolute truth of every syllable of it. This verse, like the one before it, "must be understood as applicable to all that Paul had said or was about to say." F53
Some scholars have objected to what they call the intrusion of this compact little narrative into Paul's letter at this point, insinuating that it is misplaced, or an interpolation, and that it apparently does not belong here. Such opinions are due to a lack of discerning Paul's evident purpose in the exceedingly significant placement of these verses exactly where they are found.
Before relating the glorious experience of being caught up into the third heaven, Paul would again emphasize his humility, doing so by placing the narrative of his undignified and inglorious flight from Damascus in the dead of night squarely alongside the account of his rapture into heaven, making the incident here a foil of the glorious experience next related. The same purpose is evident in the account of the thorn in the flesh, which account hems in the rapture narrative at the end of it. Hughes commented on this as follows:
Paul's rapture into the third heaven is hemmed in, as it were, on one side by the escape from Damascus, and on the other by the humiliating record of the "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7ff) ... Paul was determined to keep himself in true perspective, that of a weak, unworthy mortal who owes everything to the grace of Almighty God. F54
In this connection, it should be remembered that the chapter division here is awkward, tending to obscure the logical connection in the three episodes, the glorious one in the center, and the two inglorious ones on either side of it.
In Damascus ...
The account of what occurred here harmonizes perfectly with Luke's record of the same event (Acts 9:23-25) "There is no discrepancy between Luke's assertion that the Jews watched the gates and Paul's that the ethnarch did so." F55 The word here rendered "governor" is actually "ethnarch" (English Revised Version margin). The ethnarch was appointed by the central authority to look after the interests of some particular race, in this case, the Jews. He was most certainly a Jew himself, as were those whom he appointed to guard the city.
Under Aretas the king ...
It is this little phrase that gives one of the few solid clues to the chronology of Acts and the Pauline letters. Aretas reigned over Nabatea from 9 B.C. to 40 A.D. F56 The only time during his long reign, however, when he had authority over Damascus was during the reign of Caligula (37-41 A.D.). F57 Both Augustus and Tiberius who preceded Caligula, and Nero and his successors after him were the recognized rulers in Damascus; but the absence of any coins with Caligula's image in the collection of many coins from Damascus bearing images of the other Roman emperors confirms the fact mentioned here by Paul, not that anything Paul said NEEDED confirmation, but as another demonstration of his total accuracy. Paul's escape from Damascus sometime during Caligula's short reign together with the fact of the escape's being three years after his conversion fixes the date of the apostle's baptism between the years 35-40 A.D.
Through a window ...
The comment of Tasker is appreciated. He said: "RSV translates this, `through a window in the wall'; and though the window was IN THE WALL, this is not an accurate translation of the original." F58 One might ask what is wrong with giving the true meaning in different words? What is wrong? The translator's integrity is at stake. If the translator is not going to give what the original says, he is not translating at all, but paraphrasing; and heaven knows that in this generation some place is needed where WHAT GOD SAID may be read, and not merely what some people think he meant.
Was I let down ... and escaped ...
It is impossible to read the words "was I let down" apart from the sequel "he was caught up" (2 Corinthians 12:4). It is the abasement of his undignified escape that Paul deliberately placed as a foil of his being caught up into heaven.
There also seems to be in Paul's narrative of this event a feeling on his part that it was symbolical, typical and prophetic of all the hardships and sufferings that he was destined to undergo as a Christian, and at the same time a pledge of God's perfect providence and blessing which would inevitably protect and preserve him for the fulfillment of the task to which God had called him. The victory of Christ over the proud persecutor also shines in this event; because nothing could have shown any more dramatically the contrast between Saul of Tarsus and Paul the apostle, than the two situations of his approach to Damascus and his exit from it. He approached breathing out threatenings and slaughter, but he fled as a hunted animal in the dead of night. There at Damascus he sheathed forever the sword of the persecutor and unsheathed the eternal sword of the Spirit, the gospel of Christ. Strangely enough, even in the ignominy of this humiliating withdrawal from Damascus, Paul joined the company of the immortal heroes of Israel. Over the wall of Jericho, Rahab delivered the faithful spies; and David, the shepherd king himself, was delivered from death through a window (Joshua 2:15; 1 Samuel 19:12).
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.