2 Corinthians 11:23
Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.
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(23) Are they ministers of Christ?—It is obvious that this title was claimed by the rival teachers in some special sense. They were “ministers of Christ” in a nearer and a higher sense than others. This again falls in with all that has been said as to the nature and pretensions of those who said, “I am of Christ.” (See Notes on 2Corinthians 10:7; 1Corinthians 1:12.)

I speak as a fool.—The form of the Greek verb is slightly varied, and means, more emphatically than before, I speak as one who is insane; I speak deliriously. In this instance, as before, we must believe that the Apostle is using, in a tone of indignant irony, the very words of insult which had been recklessly flung at him.

In labours . . .—All that follows up to 2Corinthians 11:28, inclusive, is a proof of his claim to call himself a minister of Christ. The word “labours” is, of course, too vague to admit of more than a general comparison with the picture of his life presented in the Acts of the Apostles. The more specific statements show us that the writer of that book tends to understate rather than exaggerate the labours and sufferings of the Apostle. It tells us, up to this time, only of one imprisonment, at Philippi (Acts 16:23), and leaves us to conjecture where and under what circumstances we are to look for the others. In the “deaths oft,” we trace an echo of the “sentence of death,” the “dying daily” (see Notes on 2Corinthians 1:9; 2Corinthians 4:10); but the words probably include dangers to life of other kinds as well as those arising from bodily disease.

2 Corinthians 11:23-25. Are they ministers of Christ? — “St. Paul does not compare himself with the false teachers as an apostle, but as a minister of Christ simply. And to show how much he exceeded them in that inferior character, he mentions his labours in the ministry, and his sufferings undergone in his many journeys and voyages, for the sake of spreading the gospel. And from his account it appears, that none of the heroes of antiquity, however vehemently actuated by the love of fame, or of military glory or power, either did or suffered as much in the pursuit of their objects, as the Apostle Paul did and suffered for Christ and his gospel.” I am more so than they; in labours more abundant — Sustained for a long series of years; in stripes above measure — All endured for Christ and his cause. In prisons more frequent — In the narrative of Paul’s travels and sufferings, contained in the Acts, we only read of his being imprisoned once, before this epistle was written, namely, at Philippi. But doubtless many particulars of his life, besides the imprisonments here referred to, were omitted in that history, for the sake of brevity. In deaths oft — Surrounding me in the most dreadful forms. Of the Jews five times received I — In their synagogues, and before their courts of judgment; forty stripes, save one — According to the law, punishment by stripes was restricted to forty, at one beating, Deuteronomy 25:3; but the whip with which these stripes were given, consisting of three separate cords, and each stroke being counted as three stripes, thirteen strokes made thirty-nine stripes, beyond which they never went. See Whitby. As the apostle, before his conversion, had been very active in inflicting this punishment on the disciples of Christ, he could not complain when he himself was treated in the same manner by the zealots for the law. Thrice was I beaten with rods — By the Roman lictors or beadles, at the command of their superior magistrates. In his history, contained in the Acts, we find no mention made of his being punished with stripes, and only one instance occurs there of his being beaten with rods. See the margin. Once was I stoned — Namely, at Lystra, at which time he was left for dead. Thrice I suffered shipwreck — Before his voyage to Rome, in which he was shipwrecked at Malta; of these we have no account in the Acts. A night and a day I have been in the deep — Probably floating on some part of a shipwrecked vessel, by which, possibly, he escaped to shore. This, it is likely, happened in one of the three shipwrecks mentioned in the preceding clause.

11:22-33 The apostle gives an account of his labours and sufferings; not out of pride or vain-glory, but to the honour of God, who enabled him to do and suffer so much for the cause of Christ; and shows wherein he excelled the false apostles, who tried to lessen his character and usefulness. It astonishes us to reflect on this account of his dangers, hardships, and sufferings, and to observe his patience, perseverance, diligence, cheerfulness, and usefulness, in the midst of all these trials. See what little reason we have to love the pomp and plenty of this world, when this blessed apostle felt so much hardship in it. Our utmost diligence and services appear unworthy of notice when compared with his, and our difficulties and trials scarcely can be perceived. It may well lead us to inquire whether or not we really are followers of Christ. Here we may study patience, courage, and firm trust in God. Here we may learn to think less of ourselves; and we should ever strictly keep to truth, as in God's presence; and should refer all to his glory, as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for evermore.Are they ministers of Christ? - Though Jews by birth yet they claimed to be the ministers of the Messiah.

I speak as a fool - As if he had said, "Bear in mind, in what I am now about to say, that he who speaks is accused of being a fool in boasting. Let it not be deemed improper that I should act in this character, and since you regard me as such, let me speak like a fool." His frequent reminding them of this charge was eminently suited to humble them that they had ever made it, especially when they were reminded by an enumeration of his trials, of the character of the man against whom the charge was brought.

I am more - Paul was not disposed to deny that they were true ministers of Christ. But he had higher claims to the office than they had. He had been called to it in a more remarkable manner, and he had shown by his labors and trials that he had more of the true spirit of a minister of the Lord Jesus than they had. He therefore goes into detail to show what he had endured in endeavoring to diffuse the knowledge of the Saviour; trials which the had borne probably while they had been dwelling in comparative ease, and in a comfortable manner, free from suffering and persecution.

In labors more abundant - In the kind of labor necessary in propagating the gospel. Probably he had now been engaged in the work a much longer time than they had, and had been far more indefatigable in it.

In stripes - In receiving stripes; that is, I have been more frequently scourged; 2 Corinthians 11:24. This was a proof of his being a minister of Christ, because eminent devotedness to him at that time, of necessity subjected a man to frequent scourging. The ministry is one of the very few places, perhaps it stands alone in this, where it is proof of special qualification for office that a man has been treated with all manner of contumely, and has even been often publicly whipped. What other office admits such a qualification as this?

Above measure - Exceedingly; far exceeding them. He had received far more than they had, and he judged, therefore, that this was one evidence that he had been called to the ministry.

In prisons more frequent - In the Book of Acts , Luke mentions only one imprisonment of Paul before the time when this Epistle was written. That was at Philippi with Silas, Acts 16:23 ff. But we are to remember that many things were omitted by Luke. He does not profess to give an account of all that happened to Paul; and an omission is not a contradiction. For anything that Luke says, Paul may have been imprisoned often. He mentions his having been in prison once; he does not deny that he had been in prison many times besides; see on Acts 16:24.

In deaths oft - This is, exposed to death; or suffering pain equal to death; see on 2 Corinthians 1:9. No one familiar with the history of Paul can doubt that he was often in danger of death.

23. I speak as a fool—rather, as Greek, "I speak as if beside myself"; stronger than "as a fool."

I am more—namely, in respect to the credentials and manifestations of my ministry, more faithful and self-denying; and richer in tokens of God's recognition of my ministry. Old authorities read the order thus, "In prisons above measures, in stripes more abundantly" (English Version, less accurately, "more frequent"). Ac 16:23-40 records one case of his imprisonment with stripes. Clement of Rome [First Epistle to the Corinthians] describes him as having suffered bonds seven times.

in death oft—(2Co 4:10; Ac 9:23; 13:50; 14:5, 6, 19; 17:5, 13).

Will they glory in this, that they are ministers of Christ, employed as the servants of Christ in preaching the gospel? I should not boast about this, (in that I may seem to speak as a fool), but I am much more a minister than they, both with respect to my call to the work, and also my performing of it. I had a more immediate call and mission to the work than what they can boast of, and I have done more in that work than any of them have done.

In labours more abundant; I have travelled more to preach it, I have laboured more in the propagation of it.

In stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent; I have suffered more for the preaching of it, I have been oftener whipped, oftener imprisoned, than any of them ever were: see 2 Corinthians 6:4,5.

In deaths oft; I have been oftener in hazard of my life: he calls dangers threatening death, deaths, as 2 Corinthians 1:10.

Are they ministers of Christ?.... The apostle could have answered to this question that they were not, being neither sent by Christ, nor preachers of him, and who sought their own things and not his, being false apostles, and deceitful workers; but he chose not to litigate this point with them, and by a rhetorical concession allows it; and replies,

I speak as a fool; that is, he might be thought to speak as such an one, for what he afterwards says; and if he was, he must be content, he could not help it, there was a necessity for it, to stop the mouths of these vain boasters:

I am more; that is, more a minister of Christ than they, more manifestly so than they were; yea, he was more than an ordinary minister of Christ, he was an apostle, the apostle of the Gentiles, and laboured and suffered more than even the rest of the true apostles of Christ, and therefore must be greatly superior to the false ones:

in labours more abundant; in taking fatiguing journeys, preaching the Gospel constantly, administering ordinances, working with his own hands, &c.

in stripes above measure; which were cruelly and unmercifully inflicted on him by his enemies, and which he afterwards mentions:

in prisons more frequent; as at Philippi, and so after this at Jerusalem, and Rome, and perhaps in other places, though not recorded; Clemens Romanus says (h), that he was seven times in bonds:

in deaths oft; that is, frequently in danger of death, in such afflictions and evils as threatened with death, and therefore are so called; see 2 Corinthians 1:8.

(h) In Epist. ad Corinth, i. p. 14. Ed. Oxon. 1669.

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am {n} more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in {o} deaths oft.

(n) Paul being honourable indeed, defends his ministry openly, not for his own sake, but because he saw his doctrine come into danger.

(o) In danger of present death.

2 Corinthians 11:23. In the case of those three Jewish predicates the aim was reached and the emotion appeased by the brief and pointed κἀγώ. Now, however, he comes to the main point, to the relation towards Christ; here κἀγώ cannot again suffice, but a ὑπὲρ ἐγώ must come in (comp. Theodoret), and the holy self-confidence of this ὑπὲρ ἐγώ gushes forth like a stream (comp. 2 Corinthians 6:4 ff.) over his opponents, to tear down their fancies of apostolic dignit.

παραφρονῶν λαλῶ] also ironical, but stronger than ἐν ἀφροσ. λέγω: in madness (Herod. iii. 24; Dem. 1183. 1; Soph. Phil. 804) I speak! For Paul, in the consciousness of his own humility as of the hateful arrogance of his foes, conceives to himself a: παραφρονεῖ! as the judgment which will be pronounced by the opponents upon his ὑπὲρ ἐγώ; they will call it a παράφρον ἔπος (Eur. Hipp. 232)!

ὑπὲρ ἐγώ] He thus concedes to his opponents the predicate διάκονοι Χριστοῦ only apparently (as he in fact could not really do so according to 2 Corinthians 11:13-15); for in ὑπὲρ ἐγώ there lies the cancelling of the apparent concession, because, if he had granted them to be actually Christ’s servants, it would have been absurd to say: I am more! Such, however, is the thought: “servants of Christ are they? Well, if they are such, still more am I!” The meaning of ὑπὲρ ἐγώ is not, as most (even Osiander and Hofmann) assume: “I am a servant of Christ in a higher degree than they” (1 Corinthians 15:10), but: I am more than servant of Christ; for, as in κἀγώ there lay the meaning: I am the same (not in reference to the degree, but to the fact), so must there be in ὑπὲρ ἐγώ the meaning: I am something more. Thus, too, the meaning, in accordance with the strong παραφρονῶν λαλῶ, appears far more forcible and more telling against the opponents.[335] ὑπέρ is used adverbially (Winer, p. 394 [E. T. 526]); but other undoubted Greek examples of this use of ὑπέρ are not found, as that in Soph. Ant. 514 (ὁ δʼ ἀντιστὰς ὑπέρ) is of doubtful explanatio.

ἐν κόποις περισσοτέρως κ.τ.λ.] Paul now exchanging sarcasm for deep earnest, under the impulse of a noble μεγαληγορία (Xen. Apol. i. 2) and “argumentis quae vere testentur pectus apostolicum” (Erasmus), begins his justification of the ὑπὲρ ἐγώ, so that ἐν is to be taken instrumentally: through more exertions, etc. The comparative is to be explained from the comparison with the κόποι of the opponents. The adverb, however, as often also in classic writers, is attached adjectivally (sc. οὖσι) to the substantive. So also de Wette.[336] Comp. Luke 24:1; 1 Corinthians 12:31; Php 1:26; Galatians 1:13; see Ast, ad Plat. Polit. p. 371 f.; Bernhardy, p. 338. Billroth, Osiander, Hofmann, and the older commentators incorrectly hold that εἰμί is to be supplied: “I am so in a yet much more extraordinary way in labours.” Apart from the erroneous explanation of ὑπὲρ ἐγώ, which is herein assumed, the subsequent πολλάκις is against it, for this with εἰμί supplied would be absurd. Hofmann would make a new series begin with ἐν θανάτ. πολλάκις; but this is just a mere makeshift, which is at variance with the symmetrical onward flow of the passage with ἐν. Beza, Flatt, and many others supply ἦν or γέγονα; but this is forbidden by 2 Corinthians 11:26, where (after the parenthesis of 2 Corinthians 11:24-25) the passage is continued without ἐν, so that it would be impossible to supply ἦν or γέγονα furthe.

ἐν πληγ. ὑπερβαλλ.] by strokes endured beyond measure.

ἐν φυλακ. περισσοτ.] by more imprisonments. Clement, ad Cor. i. 5 : ὁ Παῦλος ὑπομονῆς βραβεῖον ἀπέσχεν ἑπτάκις δεσμὰ φορέσας, in which reckoning, however, the later imprisonments (in Jerusalem, Caesarea, Rome) are include.

ἐν θανάτοις πολλάκις] πολλάκις γὰρ εἰς κινδύνους παρεδόθην θάνατον ἔχοντας, Chrysostom. Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:31; 2 Corinthians 4:11; Romans 8:36; and Philo, Flacc. p. 990 A: προαποθνήσκω πολλοὺς θανάτους ὑπομένων ἀνθʼ ἑνὸς τοῦ τελευταίου, Lucian, Tyr. 22; Asin. 23. See on this use of θάνατος in the plural, Stallbaum, ad Plat. Crit. p. 46 C; Seidler, ad Eur. El. 479.

[335] So that the absolute ὑπέρ is not to be explained ὑπὲρ αὑτούς, but ὑπὲρ διακόνους Χ. Our view is already implied in the plus (not magis) ego of the Vulgate. Luther also has it, recently Ewald; and Lachm. writes ὑπερεγώ as one word. Comp. also Klöpper, p. 97.

[336] In the Vulgate this view has found distinct expression at least in the first clause; “in laboribus plurimis.”

2 Corinthians 11:23. διάκονοι Χρ. κ.τ.λ.: are they Christ’s ministers? (as they specially claimed to be; cf. 2 Corinthians 10:7)—I speak as one beside himself (sc., as if he would say “this is mad boasting indeed; for what office can be higher than this?”); I am more, i.e., I am that in a higher degree than they (ὑπέρ being used adverbially), as is proved by my trials in the service of the Gospel. The summary which follows is of deep interest for the student of St. Paul’s life; he goes into more definite detail than elsewhere (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:11-13, chap. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, 2 Corinthians 6:4-10), and gives us a more vivid picture of his extraordinary labours than would be possible to form from the narrative in the Acts alone. It will be remembered that his missionary career lasted for ten or eleven years after this Epistle was written, and that therefore we cannot regard these verses as giving us a complete list of his trials.—ἐν κόποις κ.τ.λ.: in labours more abundantly, sc., than they (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10), in prisons more abundantly (up to this point in his life we only know of one imprisonment, viz., at Philippi, Acts 16:23, but there must have been others; cf. Romans 16:7, where he speaks of Andronicus and Junias as having been his “fellow-prisoners” on some occasion to which no other allusion had been preserved. Afterwards we read of his being imprisoned at Jerusalem (Acts 21:33), at Cæsarea (Acts 23:35) and at Rome (Acts 28:30), besides which the evidence of the Pastoral Epistles gives another Roman imprisonment. Clement of Rome (§ 5) speaks of St. Paul as seven times in bonds; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:5 above), in stripes above measure, details of which are given in the following verses (cf. Acts 21:32), in deaths oft, i.e., in frequent perils of death (cf. Acts 9:23; Acts 14:19, etc., and chaps. 2 Corinthians 1:10, 2 Corinthians 6:9).

23. Are they ministers of Christ?] St Paul here cannot be content with the simple ‘so am I.’ These men (see ch. 2 Corinthians 10:7; 1 Corinthians 1:10) claimed to be in some special sense Christ’s ministers. But when the Apostle thinks of the singleness of his devotion to Christ’s cause, of which he had so frequently boasted (ch. 2 Corinthians 2:17, 2 Corinthians 4:5, 2 Corinthians 6:4-10, 2 Corinthians 7:2, &c.), and of the nature of his services as compared with theirs, his spirit rises within him. ‘I may speak like a madman,’ he cries (see next note), ‘but I cannot contain myself at such a charge. What have they done for the cause of Him whose name they falsely arrogate to themselves, compared to the services I have rendered? I use no mere words of vaunting, but appeal to the devotion of a life to His Gospel.’

I speak as a fool] Rather as a madman (scarse wise, Rhemish. Our translation is Tyndale’s). The word in the original is stronger than that in 2 Corinthians 11:16; 2 Corinthians 11:19. St Paul is not thinking here so much of the impression his words may produce on the Corinthians, as of the fact that all ‘boasting’ in God’s sight is ‘excluded’ by the ‘law of faith’ (Romans 3:27; cf. Luke 17:10). Mad indeed is it to boast of anything as constituting a claim on God for reward. But facts are facts, and they may be appealed to, not for self-glorification, but (ch. 2 Corinthians 12:11) to confute pretensions which ought never to have been advanced.

in labours more abundant] Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10. He now commences the proof of this assertion, and it consists not in words but in deeds. He appeals to “a life hitherto without precedent in the history of the world. Self-devotion at particular moments, or for some special national cause, had been often seen before; but a self-devotion involving sacrifices like those here described, extending through a period of at least fourteen years, and in behalf of no local or family interest, but for the interest of mankind at large, was up to this time a thing unknown.” Stanley. De Wette would translate more abundantly (the word is an adverb in the original) and connect it with what has gone before, ‘in labours I am more abundantly a minister of Christ than they.’

in prisons more frequent] “What is left out is more than is enumerated.” Chrysostom. There is but one imprisonment mentioned up to this time in the Acts (ch. Acts 16:23). So there is but one beating with rods (see below). The Acts of the Apostles, being written with a special purpose (see note on ch. 2 Corinthians 1:8, 2 Corinthians 6:5), does not attempt to give a full account of St Paul’s labours and sufferings. See Stanley’s note on 2 Corinthians 11:21 and Paley, Horae Paulinae, Ep. to Corinth. 9. Estius accounts it a proof of St Paul’s modesty that he had never mentioned these things even to a friend so intimace as St Luke.

in deaths oft] Cf. ch. 2 Corinthians 1:9-10, 2 Corinthians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 15:31. “Perils containing death,” i.e. as a possible event. Chrysostom.

2 Corinthians 11:23. Διάκονοι, ministers) outwardly.[80]—παραφρονῶν λαλῶ, I speak as a fool) Paul wrote these things, while he constantly laboured to deny himself.—ὑπὲρ) above, [I am] more than they. The more a man suffers, the more he ministers.—περισσοτέρως, more abundantly) The false apostles had also experienced labours and imprisonments, but in a less degree, the other hardships were peculiar to Paul.

[80] And yet there was no need of this distinction, if the Critical Note on this passage be compared: “It is a question; for he affirms, that they were not the ministers of Christ,” 2 Corinthians 11:15. The Germ. Ver. agrees with this.—E. B.

Verse 23. - I speak as a fool. Not merely as before aphron, but paraphronon," I speak as a madman." It is downright insanity on my part to enter into this contest of rival egotism. The verb does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament; the substantive is used of "downright infatuation" in 2 Peter 2:16. I am more. I may claim to be something beyond an ordinary servant of Christ (comp. 2 Corinthians 11:5). This is the "frantic" boast which he proceeds to justify in a fragment of biography which must ever be accounted as the most remarkable and unique in the world's history. And when St. Paul lived the life was, as Dean Stanley says, "hitherto without precedent in the history of the world." No subsequent life of saint or martyr has ever surpassed St. Paul's, as here sketched, in self-devotion; and no previous life even remotely resembled it. The figure of the Christian missionary was, until then, unknown. In labours more abundant; literally, more abundantly. The best comment is 1 Corinthians 15:10. In stripes above measure. The expression is partly explained in the next verse. In prisons. St. Clement of Rome says that St. Paul was imprisoned seven times. The only imprisonment up to this date recorded in the Acts is that at Philippi (Acts 16:23). The imprisonments in Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome all took place later. He says later," The Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city that bonds and imprisonment await me" (Acts 20:23). In deaths oft. He alludes to the incessant opposition, peril, and anguish which make him say in 1 Corinthians 15:31, "I die daily" (comp. 2 Corinthians 4:11; Romans 8:36). With the whole passage we may compare 2 Corinthians 6:4, 5. 2 Corinthians 11:23Ministers of Christ

Referring to his opponents' claim to have a closer connection with Christ than he had. See the note on 1 Corinthians 1:12.

As a fool (παραφρονῶν)

Only here in the New Testament. See the kindred παραφρονία madness, 2 Peter 2:16. Lit., being beside myself Rev., as one beside myself. This expression is stronger than that in 2 Corinthians 11:21, because the statement which it characterizes is stronger. Up to this point Paul has been asserting equality with the other teachers. Now he asserts superiority "I more;" and ironically characterizes this statement from their stand-point as madness.

More abundant (περισσοτέρως)

Lit., more abundantly, as Rev.

Stripes above measure (ὑπερβαλλόντως)

This peculiar form of suffering is emphasized by details. He specifies three Roman scourgings, and five at the hands of the Jews. Of the former, only one is recorded, that at Philippi (Acts 16:22, Acts 16:23. See on Acts 22:25), and none of the latter. The Jewish scourge consisted of two thongs made of calf's or ass's skin, passing through a hole in a handle. Thirteen blows were inflicted on the breast, thirteen on the right, and thirteen on the left shoulder. The law in Deuteronomy 25:3 permitted forty blows, but only thirty-nine were given, in order to avoid a possible miscount. During the punishment the chief judge read aloud Deuteronomy 28:58, Deuteronomy 28:59; Deuteronomy 29:9; Psalm 68:38, 39. The possibility of death under the infliction was contemplated in the provision which exonerated the executioner unless he should exceed the legal number of blows. Paul escaped Roman scourging at Jerusalem on the ground of his Roman citizenship. It is not related that he and Silas urged this privilege at Philippi until after the scourging. It is evident from the narrative that they were not allowed a formal hearing before the magistrates; and, if they asserted their citizenship, it may have been that their voices were drowned by the mob. That this plea did not always avail appears from the case cited by Cicero against Verres, that he scourged a Roman citizen in spite of his continued protest under the scourge, "I am a Roman citizen" (see on Acts 16:37), and from well-known instances of the scourging of even senators under the Empire.


At Philippi, and other places not recorded.


Perils of death, as at Damascus, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Thessalonica, Beroea.

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