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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

2 Corinthians 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

1. Folly—The apparent personal vanity of proclaiming his own personal qualities, his official dignity, or his eminent services.

And indeed bear— Bloomfield understands this as an affectionate repetition: “Now, do bear with me.” More correctly, Alford makes the verb indicative: But, indeed, you do bear with me. He thus delicately acknowledges them not intolerant, and makes their forbearance thus far a hope for further indulgence.


Verses 1-12

3. St. Paul’s apology for self-commendation; and exculpation from detailed charges, 2 Corinthians 11:1-12.

Our apostle, as if still dreading his purpose of bold measurement, begins another apology for the self-commendation it will embody, but loses the apology in an expression of his anxious affection for the Corinthians, for their pure consecration to Christ, and their rescue from deceivers.


Verse 2

2. For—Reason for his earnest desire for their patient acceptance of the boast he is about to rehearse.

Espoused you—Of the verb here used in the Greek there is a noun from the same root, signifying an espouser, whose office it was to procure and arrange the marriage. Among the Spartans a noun of the same root signified the educator and preparer of the virgin for marriage. St. Paul’s language, though the allusion to either here is not to be pressed, is doubtless suggested and shaped by these customs peculiar to antiquity.

Chaste virgin—So the Church is the bride, the Lamb’s wife. Such, as many suppose, is the allegorical basis of Solomon’s Song.


Verse 3

3. The serpent—St. Paul is jealous, lest as the serpent seduced Eve, so the Christine will seduce away the Corinthian Church. He here supposes even the Gentile Corinthians to be acquainted with and believers in the Genesis history.

Simplicity—Singleness of devotion.


Verse 4

4. For—In proof of their readiness for the seducer. They were ready to bear very finely the announcements by the Christine of his false Jesus, spirit, and gospel.

He that cometh—Literally, the comer. Wordsworth contrasts this comer, who was not sent, with the apostle, which means one sent. One is self-sent, the other is God-sent.

Another Jesus—The spurious Jesus of the seducers.

Another spirit—Than the true Holy Spirit, by whom, through Christ, ye are regenerated.

Might… bear—The verb is indicative.

Ye… bear—The same Greek for bear, as in 2 Corinthians 11:1. And Paul is here hinting how ready they were to bear with his detractors.

Wellκαλως, ironical, beautifully. I, Paul, am obliged to entreat you repeatedly to bear with me; but, reversely, you can bear the details of their false schemes wonderfully well. Such a fact might well make Paul jealous of their fidelity.


Verse 5

5. I am justly jealous at this for the following reason:

I suppose— Literally, I reckon myself not to have been at all inferior to these over-much apostles.

The allusion, as the best scholars now agree, is not to either of the twelve apostles, but to the pretended and pretentious apostles, whose preaching is characterized in the last verse. The over-much apostles is an epithet which characterizes the assumption of the party.


Verse 6

6. Rude in speech—The Greek word for rude signifies non-professional, implying the absence of a literary or scholarly finish of style. The accusation from his detractors he left undenied, but he balanced it by yet not in knowledge. Thus Paul here gives himself the character which modern Greek scholars would attribute to him, namely, unfinished in style but deep in thought.

Made manifest—Whether rude or deep we have been unconcealed; we are transparent to your view.


Verse 7

7. Committed… offence—As towards the Corinthians the offence would be the placing them in the beggarly position of receiving gratuitous benefit, and so (2 Corinthians 11:10) showing want of love, Paul admits the fact of a determination, to cut off all chance for his detractors, to receive no pay from Corinth.

Abasing myself—By working at his trade of tent-making, as he did for months with Aquila at Corinth. Acts 18:3.

Exalted—Into a powerful Christian Church.

Freely—Gratuitously.


Verses 7-12

7-12. Another, and the last, slur received from his detractors now is treated. They had rigidly exacted pay of the Corinthians for services, (ver.

20,) but Paul had refused all compensation. They therefore tried a twofold expedient; on the one hand to say that he refused pay because he was conscious of being a false apostle: and if that induced him to receive pay, then to say they were as good as he; for he took pay as well as themselves.


Verse 8

8. Robbed—An indignant hyperbole. When his great ministerial labours interfered with his self-support, he accepted what they voluntarily offered, but were not obligated to give.


Verse 9

9. Wanted—Was in need of funds.

From Macedonia—Silas and Timothy, who, coming from Macedonia, found Paul lonely, dispirited, and working at his trade, brought him glad news, needed funds, and brotherly re-enforcement in preaching the gospel.

Burdensome—A figurative word borrowed from the torpedo, which by its touch torpifies. St. Paul did not by pecuniary pressure torpify or burden the Corinthians. The harsh figure, perhaps, was borrowed from the sarcasms of his detractors.

So will I—The principle required it, and his will was firm.


Verse 10

10. As—A solemn asseveration.

Stop meFence me off. Wordsworth suggests this as a happy image drawn from the wall across the isthmus of Corinth, fencing the regions of Achaia from Northern Greece, whence Paul was writing.


Verse 11

11. It was not from want of love that St. Paul thus left Corinth in the shade.


Verse 12

12. Occasion—Chance for detraction.

Wherein they glory—The chance they sought was, to say that in the matter of their glory, namely, the receiving apostolic wages, they were as Paul. This occasion, or chance of both having their pay and equalling him, he was determined not, by taking pay, to allow them.


Verse 13

13. For—I will give them no occasion, for the following reason.

False apostles—As, above, they were overmuch apostles.

Deceitful workers— Treacherous machinators; one of whose twofold machinations we have described above.


Verses 13-21

4. Unmasking of their hypocrisy, and apologetic announcement of the measurement, 2 Corinthians 11:13-21.

For one brief moment St. Paul brings the detractors from the shade into the foreground, and gives them a terrible characterization.


Verse 14

14. Transformed… light—This may be an allusion to the appearance of Satan at the temptation, and Milton on that hint has so described the scene.


Verse 15

15. End—Their final retribution.


Verse 16

16. I say again—The apostle here resumes from 2 Corinthians 11:1 his apologetic, ironical, and hesitating preamble to the daring issue begun at 2 Corinthians 11:22.

Fool—He dwells upon these imputations, as if to show that he knew all they could say, and was prepared to brave the whole.

Otherwise—If you will not consent to hold me as no fool.

A little—Diminishing in irony.


Verse 17

17. Not after the Lord—The great body of commentators we have consulted have interpreted Paul as confessing that the measurement that here follows was discordant with the spirit of Christ. Bloomfield alone asks: “Why, then, do we not understand Paul as sincerely and truly confessing that he was a fool?” Certainly he means the reverse. And these hard sayings against himself are but his defiant re-echoings of the taunts, actual or expected, of his detractors. One of those taunts was, or would be, that his boasting was un-Christlike. But, first, whose denunciations of the wickedness of his adversaries were ever more terrible than the Lord’s? and, second, what is there un-Christlike in Paul’s magnificent measurement of himself with his adversaries that now soon follows? Paul’s meaning is:

What I now speak I speak, forsooth, not after the Lord, do I!


Verse 18

18. I will glory also—But not after the flesh.


Verse 19

19. Ye… are wise—Severe irony, preparatory to giving, next verse, the most eminent instance of their said wisdom!


Verse 20

20. For ye suffer—Paul now describes, in somewhat figurative terms, the treatment these Corinthians, in their fancied wisdom, tamely accepted from the Christine false apostles.

Bondage—To this authority and these false doctrines.

Devour you—Use and ruin you for his own advantage.

Take of you—Exact wages from you as apostles.

Smite you on the face—The last of insults.


Verse 21

21. St. Paul now declares that all this reproach upon himself is ironical. Render it thus: In regard to all this matter of reproach, I am talking as if I really had been weak. However, I am now going to be bold, (foolish, my enemies may call it,) if any body ever was. And so he forthwith boldly proceeds to bring his opponents to close issue.


Verse 22

II. MEASUREMENT OF THE APOSTLE WITH HIS OPPONENTS, SHOWING HIS OWN SUPERIORITY, 2 Corinthians 11:22 to 2 Corinthians 13:10.

From this long level of preliminary apologies and explanations the apostle now suddenly takes an upward spring, and maintains an eagle flight to the end of the epistle. Claiming to boast not of great talents or grand exploits, and with an occasional flash of irony, he rehearses his sufferings and humiliations for Christ, as well as his revelations and self-sacrifices; and from this elevation comes down in authority upon the infected part of the Corinthian Church.

St. Paul unfolds his equality to, and immense superiority over, his opponents—


Verse 22

1. By his genuine Hebraism, 2 Corinthians 11:22. “It would appear from Epiphanius,” says Stanley, “that the Judaizers went so far as to assert that he was altogether a Gentile by birth, and only adopted circumcision in order to marry the high priest’s daughter. This suspicion might possibly arise from his birthplace at Tarsus, one of the great seats of Gentile education; or from his connexion with Gamaliel, whose teaching notoriously inculcated toleration of Gentile usages.”

This verse fixes the fact that his opponents were Jews and Judaizers, and probably from Jerusalem.

22. Hebrews—Distinguished from the term Jews in the fact that the latter merely signifies those of the tribe of Judah, while the former includes the whole twelve, and is thence the most proper opposite of Gentile.

Israelites—No more comprehensive than Hebrew, but more honourable as derived from the God-given title of Prevailer with God. Genesis 32:28.

Seed of Abraham—Not a Gentile proselyte even, but a pure blooded Hebrew of (out from) Hebrews. On these points of mere descent Paul is short and decisive, with an I also.


Verse 23

23. Ministers—The Greek word technically for deacons, and genetically for humble servitors of any kind.

As a fool—The echo from the other side is a stronger term for madness than any yet used. Are they servants of Christ? And now I am, by their outcry, a greater infatuate than ever when I boldly reply, I more. The abrupt and concise υπερ εγω, above, I is, indeed, a bold fling. It may mean, above them am I, that is, as a servant of Christ; or it may mean, above a servant of Christ am I. The import, at any rate, is, If these are, forsooth, servants of Christ, I am something above that; and the result is, If I am merely a servant of Christ, they are below that—none at all. That this last inference is meant is plain from 13-15.

Labours… stripes… prisons… deaths—Four generic bodily endurances. The details that follow are specialties included under the four.

The next two verses give the numerical figures of bodily sufferings so severe as to leave distinct traces on the memory of the number.


Verses 23-33

2. By incomparably greater sufferings, 2 Corinthians 11:23-33.

With consummate skill St. Paul, (in whose ears are echoing the retorts of his foes, “What a boaster!”) shows off here, not his victories and conquests, not the oratory he had displayed, the converts he had gained, the Churches he had founded; but the unparalleled sufferings and disgraces he had undergone. He enumerates them almost statistically, classifying their sorts, and giving their figures. But, all the while, the more profoundly he thus humbles himself, the more transcendent is his superiority over his easy-living adversaries.

Of a large number of the sufferings here undergone, Luke’s brief sketch in the Acts gives no account. This confirms Paley’s argument for the truth of Christianity, drawn from the sufferings of the early Christian preachers. It shows, too, that in accounting for the writing of some of the epistles we may easily suppose voyages and journeys unmentioned by Luke. When, for instance, Luke informs us (Acts 20:31) that Paul spent three continuous years at Ephesus, it is as when we say that a young man spends four years at college; that is, without counting three months each year of vacation.

As both a catalogue and a picture the present section is strikingly parallel to 2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 2 Corinthians 6:5-10.

The endurances enumerated are, 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, bodily; 2 Corinthians 11:28-29, mental; 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, a single notable event.

2 Corinthians 11:23 gives four general bodily endurances, of which all that follow are specials.


Verse 24

24. The Jews—A less honourable epithet than either of the three in 2 Corinthians 11:22, used here to intimate to the Judaizers whence his severest persecutors came. John, in his gospel, uses the word Jews in the same adverse sense. Note, John 1:19.

Five times—A most bitter recollection; for the stripes of antiquity were deaths in the amount of agony they inflicted and the probability of death as the result. Note, John 19:1.

Stripes—In italics as not being in the Greek; it being unnecessary to Paul’s readers, who knew what the terrible number forty save one indicated. Forty stripes was the limit by law, (Deuteronomy 25:1;) but Jewish custom, in its caution against accidentally breaking the law, limited it in Paul’s time to thirty-nine. Says Stanley: “The culprit was bound by both hands to a pillar; the officer of the synagogue stripped off his clothes until his back was bared. The officer then ascended a stone behind. The scourge consisted of four thongs of calf skin, and two of asses’ skin. The culprit bent to receive the lashes. The officer struck with one hand with all his force. A reader meanwhile read, first, Deuteronomy 28:58-59; next, Deuteronomy 29:8; lastly, Psalms 78:38. It was so severe a punishment that death often ensued.” The thrice thirteen strokes were impartially distributed; thirteen on the back, thirteen on the right shoulder, and thirteen on the left shoulder.


Verse 25

25. The above stripes being specially from Jews, these rods were doubtless in Gentile hands. The Roman rods often inflicted death. As a Roman citizen, Paul was by law exempt from this punishment, but he was doubtless often out of reach of law. So at Philippi he suffered it, following it with protest, and at Jerusalem narrowly escaped it. Acts 16:37; Acts 22:25.

Once… stoned—At Lystra. Acts 14:19.

Thrice… shipwreck—In addition to the one in Acts 28, which was much later than this writing.

A night and a day—Twenty-four hours. Not, as some interpret, that Paul was sunk in the deep that time and saved from drowning by miracle. The natural image is, that he was floating that time in the deep, on a fragment of a wrecked ship.


Verse 26

26. Perils—The spontaneous repetition of the word gives a lively variety to the style.

Waters—Rather, rivers; which had to be crossed without bridges, with liability to drowning. These Paul would plentifully find in his first missionary journey.

Countrymen… heathen—Nearly all the persecutions of his earlier ministry were from Jews; later, from Romans.

City—As at Ephesus, Corinth, and Jerusalem.

False brethren—Who capped the climax of perils. He has just mentioned perils from Jews and from Gentiles; he now mentions, as third, his perils from the Judaizers themselves, who, as followers of Christ, claimed to be brethren, but whose claim was false.


Verse 27

27. An enumeration of bodily privations.

Painfulness—The aches resulting from overwork.

Watchings—Sleeplessnesses.

Fastings—Not voluntary fastings, but inability to procure food.


Verse 28

28. Are without—Are outside this list of physical trials, and which are outside my proper apostolic endurances.

That… daily—The onslaught, or rush, upon me daily; namely, the distracting care of all. The word care has the same Greek as the word thought in Matthew 6:25, where see note.


Verse 29

29. The distraction of this care arises from its carrying the apostle’s soul, as it were, out of himself into a sympathy and identification with its various individual objects.

Weak… weak—He becomes weak by tender sympathy with the weak, feeling for their infirmities, and trying, with them, to rise into strength. This weakness may consist in want of Christian faith, morality, or firm purpose.

Offended—Made by some one to stumble or falter in his Christian course.

Burn not—He cannot say I stumble with him, but I burn in shame and sorrow for him. The I in this last clause is, according to the Greek, emphatic. If any one is weak, I am sympathetically weak with him; if any stumble, the man to burn with agony thereat is I.


Verse 30

30. Stanley inadvertently says, at 2 Corinthians 11:22, that we lose sight of the false teachers until 2 Corinthians 12:11. St. Paul in these two verses, 30, 31, has them right face to face. If I am compelled by my traducers in self-defence to glory, I will evade the charge of being a boaster by centering my glorying, not upon my powers and exploits, but upon mine infirmities.


Verse 31

31. This adjuration that I lie not, is, like that in Romans 9:1, a denial in the very word, lie, of his assailants. Though a large number of Paul’s endurances were known to the Corinthians, and though all here enumerated were analogous to those known, yet the full amount, the sum total, could not be sworn to by any one, even of St. Paul’s companions, as Timothy, Titus, Luke, Trophimus, etc.; but so much could be attested by all that this, his solemn oath, could meet the lie given him by his assailants for the purpose not only of abasing his boasts, but also to sink him to the earth as a falsifier. It is strange that Alford and other commentators should be at a loss to account for the earnestness of this adjuration. The point at which it touches is the very crisis of the life-struggle between St. Paul and his opponents.


Verse 32

32. In Damascus—The narrative in Acts 9:23-25, (where see notes,) agrees with this, except that Luke specifies only the Jewish share of the plot against St. Paul.

GovernorEthnarch, or viceroy. See note to Matthew 2:22.

With a garrison—Probably an extemporized garrison of Jews.

Apprehend me—Paul’s only crime as viewed by the Jews there, as with these Judaizers here in Corinth, was his embodying Gentiles into an uncircumcised Christianity. In a question of this kind the ethnarch could have felt no opposition to Paul; and the true solution of his hostility is probably furnished by Michaelis, (quoted by Meyer:) “Jewish gold probably accounts for the conduct of the emir.”


Verse 32-33

32, 33. Commentators are much puzzled to know why Paul gives this narrative just here. Its purpose is, as we think, to confirm the truth of the asseveration of 2 Corinthians 11:31, which asserts the solemn truth of 2 Corinthians 11:22-29. From the mass of his past endurances for Christ he selects, as specimen and proof of all the rest, one great notorious historical fact, occurring at the very commencement of his career—a fair keynote to the whole. This occurred, indeed, in distant Damascus, and a good while ago. It is, however, narrated by Luke; was doubtless known at Jerusalem; and had a notoriety beyond challenge in Corinth. See note on 2 Corinthians 11:33.

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Verse 33

33. Window—Or, kiosk, based upon and projecting over the wall. From a similar window Eutychus fell to the ground, as stated Acts 20:9.

Basket—Bloomfield describes it as a very strong netting made of cords, for the purpose of a net for taking fish, or, rather, a hamper for carrying fish, “a fish-hamper.” Stanley says: “There is a spot still pointed out on the eastern wall, itself modern, as the scene of Paul’s escape. Close by is a cavity in the ancient burial ground, where he is said, in the local legends, to have concealed himself; and formerly a tomb was shown of a St. George, who was martyred in furthering the escape. It is curious that in the present traditions of Damascus the incidents of this escape have almost entirely eclipsed the story of his conversion.” And, we may add, that the popular interest in such an incident very probably gave it that notoriety in his own day which rendered it an effective reminder against his opponents that any sufferings he had to narrate were credible. “An apostle in a basket” is an object quite likely to attract attention, and suggestive of some reflections and lessons. Let no man be ashamed of any predicament, however humble, in which he may be found in a career of good-doing. Alford, we think, mistakes the point when he supposes Paul tells this story of the basket as a self-humbling fact, likely to be quoted ever after to his disgrace. The infirmity of the narrative in which St. Paul glories is simply the fact that he was the object of united Gentile and Jewish hostility for Christ, and a refugee from their hands; not especially because he escaped in a basket. The man who could work at tent making for the glory of a gratuitous gospel, would see slight disgrace in a rope-hamper; far less the man who could boast of being five times striped with Jewish thongs, and thrice with the Roman rods.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/2-corinthians-11.html. 1874-1909.

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