2 Corinthians 11
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me.

(1) Would to God.—As the words “to God” are not in the Greek, it would be better to treat them as the general expression of a wish: Would that ye could bear.

Ye could bear with me a little in my folly.—There are two catch-words, as it were, which characterise the section of the Epistle on which we are now entering: one is of “bearing with,” or “tolerating,” which occurs five times (2Corinthians 11:1; 2Corinthians 11:4; 2Corinthians 11:19-20), and “folly,” which, with its kindred “fool,” is repeated not less than eight times (2Corinthians 11:1; 2Corinthians 11:16-17; 2Corinthians 11:19; 2Corinthians 11:21; 2Corinthians 12:6; 2Corinthians 12:11). It is impossible to resist the inference that here also we have the echo of something which Titus had reported to him as said by his opponents at Corinth. Their words, we must believe, had taken some such form as this: “We really can bear with him no longer; his folly is becoming altogether intolerable.”

And indeed bear with me.—The words, as the marginal reading indicates, admit of being taken either as imperative or indicative. Either gives an adequate meaning, but the latter, it is believed, is preferable. It is one of the many passages in which we trace the working of conflicting feelings. Indignation prompts him to the wish, “Would that ye could bear.” Then he thinks of the loyalty and kindness which he had experienced at their hands, and he adds a qualifying clause to soften the seeming harshness of the words that had just passed from his lips: “And yet (why should I say this? for) ye do indeed habitually bear with me.”

For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
(2) For I am jealous over you . . .—The word is used with the same sense as in the nearly contemporary passage of Galatians 4:17, and the whole passage may be paraphrased thus: “I court your favour with a jealous care, which is not a mere human affection, but after the pattern of that of God.” There is probably an implied contrast between the true jealousy which thus worked in his soul and the false jealousy of which he speaks in the passage just referred to.

For I have espoused you . . .—The word is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. It appears in this sense in the LXX. version of Proverbs 19:14 : “A man’s wife is espoused to him from the Lord.” Strictly speaking, it is used of the act of the father who gives his daughter in marriage; and this, rather than the claim to act as “the friend of the bridegroom” (see Note on John 3:29), is probably the idea here. He claims the office as the “father” of the Corinthian Church (1Corinthians 4:15). The underlying idea of the comparison is that the Church at large, and every separate portion of it, is as the bride of Christ. On the earlier appearances of this thought, see Notes on Matthew 22:2; Matthew 25:1; John 3:29; and, for its more elaborated forms, on Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 19:7-9; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:9). What the Apostle now urges is that it is as natural for him to be jealous for the purity of the Church which owes its birth to him, as it is for a father to be jealous over the chastity of the daughter whom he has betrothed as to a kingly bridegroom.

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
(3) But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent . . .—An allusive reference to the history of Genesis 3, which meets us again in 1Timothy 3:13-15. St. Paul either takes for granted that the disciples at Corinth will recognise the “serpent” as the symbol of the great Tempter, as in Revelation 12:9; or, without laying stress on that identification, simply compares the work of the rival teachers to that of the serpent. The word for “subtilty” is not that used in the LXX. of Genesis 3:1. Literally, it expresses the mischievous activity of a man who is capable de tout—ready, as we say, for anything.

Corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.—The Greek for “corrupt” has the same special sense as in 2Corinthians 7:2, as implying something which is incompatible with the idea of purity. The Apostle seeks, as it were, for a chastity of mind as well as of body. Many of the better MSS. give, from the simplicity (i.e., singleness of affection) and chastity; and some, chastity and simplicity.

For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.
(4) For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus.—The singular points, like the “any man,” “such an one,” of 2Corinthians 10:7; 2Corinthians 10:11, to an individual teacher who had made himself conspicuously prominent. The words throw light on Galatians 1:7-8. The false teachers in Galatia and those at Corinth were doing the same thing. In the absence of fuller knowledge of what they taught, it is difficult to define accurately what precise form of error is alluded to. One thing, at least, is clear—that their Jesus was not his Jesus—not the Friend and Brother of mankind who had died for all men, that He might reconcile them to God. Reasoning from probabilities, we may, perhaps, infer that they spoke of Him as the head of a Jewish kingdom, requiring circumcision and all the ordinances of the Law as a condition of admission to it.

If ye receive another spirit.—Better, a different spirit, as showing that the word is not the same as in the previous clause. The words point, it is clear, to a counterfeit inspiration, perhaps like that of those who had interrupted the praises of the Church with the startling cry, “Anathema to Jesus!” (See Note on 1Corinthians 12:3.) Such as these were the “false prophets” of 2Peter 2:1; 1John 4:3, simulating the phenomena of inspiration, perhaps thought of by the Apostles as really acting under the inspiration of an evil spirit.

Which ye have not received.—Better, did not receive, as referring definitely to the time of their conversion.

Another gospel, which ye have not accepted.—Better, as before, a different gospel, which ye did not accepti.e., different from that which you did accept from me. His gospel, he seems to say, was one of pardon through faith working by love: theirs was based on the old Pharisaic lines of works, ritual, ceremonial and moral precepts, standing in their teaching on the same footing.

Ye might well bear with him.—Better, the adverb being emphatic, and intensely ironical, nobly would ye bear with him. He means, of course, that they have done much more than tolerate the preachers of the false gospel, and have paid them an extravagant deference. On a like use of irony in our Lord’s teaching, see Note on Mark 7:9.

For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.
(5) For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles.—The verb with which the sentence opens is the same as the “I think,” “I reckon,” which characterises these chapters, and which, being characteristic, ought to be retained. I reckon I have not fallen short of those apostles-extraordinary. The whole tone of the passage ought to have made it impossible for any commentator to imagine that the words referred to Peter and James and John as the pillars of the Church of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). Of them he speaks, even in his boldest moments, with respect, even where respect is mingled with reproof. He is glad to remember how they gave to him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. He presents himself at Jerusalem a few months after writing these words, and almost submissively follows the counsel which James gives him (Acts 21:26). It is, accordingly, simply the insanity of controversy to imagine that these words have any bearing on the question of the primacy of St. Peter. Those whom he holds up to scorn with an almost withering irony, as “apostles-extraordinary” (he coins a word which literally means, “these extra-special or over-extra apostles”), are the false teachers, claiming to stand in a special relation to Christ, to be His Apostles—perhaps, also, to have a double title to the name, as delegates of the Church of Jerusalem. Of these he speaks more fully in 2Corinthians 11:13.

But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been throughly made manifest among you in all things.
(6) But though I be rude in speech.—The word for “rude” is the same as that translated as “unlearned” in 1Corinthians 14:23-24. This, then, had also been said of him by some at Corinth. It might seem at first as if the contemptuous criticism was likely to have come from the Hellenic or paganising party of culture, who despised the Apostle because he was without the polish and eloquence of the rhetoric in which they delighted. The context, however, makes it clear that the opponents now under the lash are the Judaising teachers, the “apostles-extraordinary.” They apparently affected to despise him because he had abandoned, or had never mastered, the subtleties of Rabbinic casuistry, the wild allegories of Rabbinic interpretation. “He talks,” we hear them saying, “of others as ‘laymen,’ or ‘unlearned.’ What right has he so to speak who is practically but a ‘layman’ himself? How can a man who is cutting and stitching all day be a ‘doctor of the law’? Ne sutor ultra crepidam.” Side by side with the recognition of the dignity of labour in some Jewish proverbs (such, e.g., as that the father who did not teach his son to work taught him to be a thief), there was among the later Rabbis something like the feeling of an aristocracy of scholarship. Even the Son of Sirach, after describing the work of the ploughman and the carpenter and the potter, excludes them from the higher life of wisdom. “They shall not be sought for in public counsel . . . they cannot declare justice and judgment; and they shall not be found where parables are spoken” (Ecclesiasticus 38:33). The word for “rude” was probably used as the equivalent for the Hebrew term by which the Pharisees held up the working classes to contempt as “the people of the earth.”

But we have been throughly made manifest among you in all things.—The readings vary, some of the better MSS. giving the active form of the verb, having made (it) manifest in everything among all men. The apparent awkwardness of having a transitive verb without an object probably led to the substitution of the passive participle.

Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely?
(7) Have I committed an offence (literally, a sin) in abasing myself . . .?—The rival teachers apparently boasted of their disinterestedness. “They didn’t come for what they could get.” St. Paul, we know, more than most men, had acted on the law of which they boasted as their special distinction, and in 1Corinthians 9:1-18, in the discussion on the question of eating things sacrificed to idols, had dwelt with a pardonable fulness on his own conduct in this matter, as an example of foregoing an abstract right for the sake of a greater good. His enemies were compelled to admit this as far as his life at Corinth was concerned; but they had detected what they looked on as a grave inconsistency. He had accepted help from the churches of Macedonia (2Corinthians 11:9), and in this they found ground for a two-fold charge: “He wasn’t above taking money from other churches—he was only too proud to take it from that of Corinth;” and this was made matter of personal offence. To take money at all was mean; not to take it from them was contemptuous.

He does not deny the facts. He repeats the irritating epithet, abasing myself”; he adds the familiar antithesis (Matthew 23:12; Luke 1:52; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:11), “Yes, but I did it that you might be exalted,” perhaps with reference to elevation in spiritual knowledge, perhaps, because the fact that he laboured for them without payment was the greatest proof of disinterested love for them which could be given.

I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.
(8) I robbed other churches, taking wages of them.—The word for wages—strictly rations, or wages in kind, rather than in money—is found in Luke 3:14; Romans 6:23; 1Corinthians 9:7. Its use in the last-named passage had, perhaps, given occasion for a sneer. “He too can take wages when it suits his purpose.” From St. Paul’s point of view, if what he had received had been wages at all, he had been guilty of an act of spoliation. He had received wages from one employer while he was acting in the service of another.

And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.
(9) I was chargeable to no man.—There is no doubt that this gives substantially the meaning of the Greek word, but the word is a very peculiar one, and has a history which, as throwing light on the sources of St. Paul’s phraseology, and his character as shown in his use of it, is not without interest. The verb (katanarkaô) is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, nor in the LXX. versions of the Old, nor, indeed, in any known Greek author, except Hippocrates. Jerome describes it as belonging to the patois of Cilicia, which, if true, would be interesting; but he gives no proof of it (Ep. ad Aglaia), and the statement must be treated as unproven. The history which we are about to trace, tends, however, to confirm it as a probable conjecture. The root of the verb is found in the noun narkè, which is used (1) for “numbness,” or “torpor” (a sense found in our “narcotic”), and (2) as the name of a fish of the torpedo genus, causing numbness by its contact with the human body (Aristotle, Anim. Hist. vi. 10). The verb derived from the noun is accordingly used by Hippocrates and Galen in the sense of “being benumbed,” or causing numbness. (See Foesius, Lexic. Hippocrat. s.v, ναρκὴ.) As used here, it takes its place as a bold figurative expression. To benumb any one, was to exhaust him, to drain him of his vitality by pressing on him, and, as it were, living upon him. St. Paul accordingly means, in using the word, to say, “I didn’t drain you of your resources—did not live upon you.” An analogous similitude is found in Shakespeare’s lines:—

“That now he was

The ivy which had hid my princely trunk,

And suck’d my verdure out on’t

Tempest, i. 2.

Our modern phrase which speaks of one man as “sponging” on another implies a like metaphor. In the word “parasitic” as applied to plants and animals, we have an inverted transfer of the same idea from the incidents of man’s social life to that of lower organisms. As a word belonging, through Hippocrates, to the recognised terminology of physicians, it takes its place in the vocabulary which St. Paul may be supposed to have derived from St. Luke (see Introduction to St. Luke’s Gospel, Vol. I., p. 239), and which the fame of Tarsus as a medical school may also have made more or less familiar, as Jerome states, in the conversational idioms of Cilicia.

The brethren which came from Macedonia supplied.—Not “which came,” but when they came. The Acts of the Apostles present no record of any such supply, but Philippians 4:15 presents an interesting and confirmatory coincidence. The Philippians had sent supplies to him twice at Thessalonica, and it was a natural sequel to this that they should send to him also at Corinth. The Apostle may well have accepted what they thus sent, and yet have thought his acceptance perfectly compatible with his boast that he was not preaching at Corinth for the sake of gain (1Corinthians 9:16-18). He was not to be robbed of whatever credit attached to his working for his own livelihood at Corinth and elsewhere, by any sneers which had that acceptance for their starting-point.

And so will I keep myself.—It adds to the interest of this declaration to remember that St. Paul had acted on this principle both at Ephesus, which he had just left (Acts 20:34), and in the Macedonian churches which he was now visiting (2Thessalonians 3:8). The future tense obviously points to his resolution to continue to act on the same lines during his promised visit to Corinth.

As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia.
(10) As the truth of Christ is in me . .—The formula is almost, though not quite, of the nature of an oath. He speaks here, as in Romans 9:1, in the consciousness that the truth of Christ (the objective sense of the truth revealed in Christ seems almost merged in the subjective sense of the truthfulness that was of the essence of His nature) dwells in him, and that therefore he cannot but speak “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

No man shall stop me of this boasting.—Literally, This boast shall not be stopped for me. The verb for “stop” means primarily to “hedge round,” or “fence.” In the New Testament, as in Romans 3:19, it is always used of “stopping the mouth.” Here, with something like a personification, he says that his boast shall not have its mouth thus sealed.

In the region of Achaia.—The word (klima) is peculiar to St. Paul among the writers of the New Testament (Romans 15:23; Galatians 1:21). Like our word “climate,” which is derived from it, it was originally a term of science, and had passed gradually into colloquial usage. He names the province and not the city—probably to include Cenchreæ. There is no evidence of his having preached in any other locality south of the Isthmus of Corinth.

Wherefore? because I love you not? God knoweth.
(11) Because I love you not . .—This then had been said. Some of the Corinthians were jealous, or affected to be jealous, of the preference shown to the Macedonians in receiving gifts from them. With an emphatic appeal to Him who reads the secrets of men’s hearts, he disclaims that imputation.

But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we.
(12) That I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion.—It lies on the surface that the “occasion,” or opening for attack, which his opponents had thus desired, was one against which he guarded himself by not taking money. They boasted of their own disinterestedness. They taunted him with his meanness in taking money from the Macedonian churches. The Apostle wishes, therefore, by persisting in his line of conduct, in spite of the appeals of a real or affected jealousy, to place himself on the same level with them, them on the same level with himself. The comparison between them must rest, he says, on other grounds. This seems the only tenable and coherent interpretation; nor is there any force in the objection which has been urged against it, that there is no evidence that the rival teachers did teach gratuitously. If this is a natural inference from St. Paul’s language, and there is no evidence to the contrary, that is surely evidence enough. It may be added, however, that there is at least in favour of the interpretation here given, the evidence of antecedent probability. It was likely that those who claimed to be in some special sense followers of Christ, would at least affect to act on the words of Christ, “Freely ye have received, freely give.” (See Note on Matthew 10:8.) It was likely that those who, from another point of view, were representatives of the scribes of Judaism, should at least affect to act as the noblest of those scribes had acted, and to teach, not for payment, but for the love of teaching. That it was an affectation, and not a reality, we shall hereafter see reason to believe.

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
(13) For such are false apostles . . .—St. Paul’s estimate of the character of his rivals is now given in unsparing language as the reason why he desires to deprive them of any claim which may give them an adventitious superiority to him. In the term “false apostles” we have the explanation of the “apostles extraordinary” of 2Corinthians 11:5. These “crafty workers” were carrying on a system of imposture, trying to assume the character of being, in a higher sense than he was, “Apostles of Christ.” This again throws light both on the words “if any man trusts that he is Christ’s” of 2Corinthians 10:7, and on the “I am of Christ” of 1Corinthians 1:12.

And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
(14) For Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.—The present tense of the original excludes the thought that reference is made to any special incident (such as the appearance of Satan among “the sons of God,” of Job 1:6) recorded in the Old Testament, or in tradition. The thought is rather that Satan is ever so transforming himself. If we are to look for any special allusion, we may find a possible explanation in the words “though we, or an angel from heaven,” in Galatians 1:8. They suggest the thought, as at least a probable inference, that the Judaising teachers had claimed the authority of an angelic message for the gospel which they preached, and set this against the authority of the angelic visions which St. Luke had recorded in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:2). It is probable, we may add, that the Christ-party at Corinth, as distinct from that of Cephas, had affinities with the Jewish sect of the Essenes, and they, we know, were addicted to the worship of angels (Jos. Wars, ii. 8, § 6), and made much of revelations conveyed through their ministry. On this supposition St. Paul may, in his allusive way, mean to imply that they were mistaking a satanic for an angelic apparition. Something of the kind is obviously implied in the stress which St. Paul lays on his own visions and revelations in 2Corinthians 12:1.

Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
(15) If his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness.—The words seem to point to one of the special characteristics of the Apostle’s rivals. They represented themselves as the preachers of a righteousness which was, they asserted, neglected in St. Paul’s teaching. They claimed the authority of one who was known as James the Just, or Righteous, and who had insisted emphatically on the necessity of a righteousness showing itself in act. They presented themselves as a kind of revival of the Chasidim, or righteous ones. (See Note on Acts 9:13.) It may be noted that the latter developments of the same school, as seen in the Clementine Homilies and Recognitions, present, in the midst of much that is both false and malignant, an almost ostentatiously high standard of morality.

Whose end shall be according to their works.—What the works were is stated, or implied, in 2Corinthians 11:20. Hero he is content to rest on the eternal law of God’s government, that what a man sows that shall he also reap. The abruptness with which the next verse opens indicates that here again there was a pause in the dictation of the letter. After an interval—during which, led by the last words he had spoken, his thoughts had travelled to the contrast between their works, of which they boasted so loudly, and his own—he begins again, half-indignant at the necessity for self-assertion which they have forced upon him, aware that all that had been said of his “insane” habit of “commending himself” was likely to be said again, and yet feeling that he must once for all remind the Corinthians of what he had done and suffered, and then leave them to judge between the rival claims.

I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little.
(16) I say again, Let no man think me a fool . . .—The stinging word is repeated from 2Corinthians 11:1. He protests against the justice of the taunt. He pleads that, even if they think him “insane” (this, rather than mere foolishness, is probably the meaning of the word), they will give him the attention which, even in that case, most men would give—which they, at least, were giving to men to whom that term might far more justly be applied.

That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting.
(17) I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly.—Better, in foolishness; as keeping up the emphatic repetition of the same word in the English as in the Greek. From one point of view the distinction drawn is the same as that which we find in 1Corinthians 7:6; 1Corinthians 7:10; 1Corinthians 7:12. There is, however, a marked difference in the subject-matter of the two cases. There he distinguishes a private opinion from a principle or rule which he feels to be divine. Here he draws the line of demarcation between human feelings and a divine inspiration. It is, of course, easy to raise questions which would be hard, if they were not also frivolous and foolish. Are we to class what he places on the lower side of the boundary-line as inspired or uninspired teaching? If the former, are we not contradicting what he writes as inspired? If the latter, are we not depriving what follows of the authority of an inspired writing? Are we not, in so doing, admitting the principle of recognising a human element mingling with the divine in other parts of Scripture as well as this? The answer to these questions, so far as they need an answer, is best found in taking St. Paul’s words in their plain and natural sense, believing that his words have just the authority which he claims for them, and no more. Speaking apart from these questions, there is something almost pathetic in the consciousness which he feels that self-vindication can never, as such, come from the Spirit of God, and that it is, at the best, a pardonable human weakness. It is not wrong, or else his conscience would have forbidden it. It is not the note of the highest or noblest temper, or else he would have felt the Spirit’s guidance in it.

Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also.
(18) Seeing that many glory after the flesh.—To glory, or boast, after the flesh, as interpreted by 2Corinthians 5:16 (where see Note), is to lay stress on things which are the accidents of the spiritual life, not of its true essence—on descent, prerogatives, rank, reputation, and the like. There is a touch half of irony, half of impatience, in the way in which the Apostle says that he too will for once descend to their level and do as they do.

For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise.
(19) Ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise.—He falls back into the strain of irony of 1Corinthians 4:8-10, to which, indeed, the whole passage presents a striking parallelism. He assumes that in their serene, self-complacent wisdom they will be willing to tolerate even those whom they look upon as half-insane. He drives the sarcasm home by urging that they tolerate those who are morally in a far worse condition.

For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.
(20) For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage.—Every word in the sentence clearly points to something that Titus had told him of the action of these rival teachers. They reproduced, in their worst form, the vices of the Pharisaism of Palestine (Matthew 23:4; Matthew 23:14; Matthew 23:25). They enslaved the consciences of men (the same word is used of the same class of men in Galatians 2:4) by pressing on them an iron code of rules which left no room for the free play of conscience and of reason in those over whom they claimed to act as directors.

If a man devour you.—The word again reminds us of our Lord’s denunciation of the teachers who “devoured widows’ houses” (Matthew 23:14).

If a man take of you . . .—The words in italics are wrongly supplied, and turn this clause into a feeble repetition of the preceding. Better, if a man takes you in. In 2Corinthians 12:16, we have the same construction (“I caught you with guile”) obviously with this sense.

If a man smite you on the face.—This last form of outrage was, as St. Paul was soon to experience (Acts 23:2), not unfamiliar to Jewish priests and scribes, as the most effective way of silencing an opponent. We have an earlier instance of its application in the action of Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah (1Kings 22:24). That it had found its way into the Christian Church in the apostolic time is seen in St. Paul’s rule that a bishop should be no “striker” (1Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7). It is obvious that he had heard of an instance in which this had actually been done at Corinth, and he taunts them with the tameness of their submission. Did he forget, or had he not as yet heard the law of Matthew 5:39; or was he, knowing it, for a time unmindful of it, in this rush of emotion which he himself feels to be simply human, and therefore not inspired?

I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also.
(21) I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak.—Better, I speak it as a matter of reproach to myself, as though we were weak. The irony becomes more intense than ever. He has named these acts of outrage, he says, as though by way of self-disparagement. “We” (the pronoun is strongly emphasised) “were too infirm to venture on such things.” The taunt flung at his bodily infirmities is still present to his thoughts, and he assumes, in the bitterness of his irony, that it was through them he had been kept from like acts of self-asserting authority. Then he resumes his contrast, still dwelling on the offensive words, “folly” or “insanity,” which had been used of him: “Yes, but on every ground of daring—I know you will see my insanity again in this—I have as much right to dare as they.”

Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.
(22) Are they Hebrews?—This, then, was one of their boasts. They were Jews of Palestine, speaking Aramaic, reading the Law and Prophets in the original. He, they asserted, or implied, was a Hellenistic Jew (his birth at Tarsus naturally suggesting that thought), content to use the Greek version of the LXX., over which many of the more exclusive Hebrews mourned on an annual fast-day as a national degradation. St. Paul’s answer is, that he too was a Hebrew; or, as he puts it in Philippians 3:5, “a Hebrew born of Hebrews.” What he means is obviously that his parents were Jews of Palestine, and that the accident of his birth in Tarsus had not annulled his claim to that nationality. As a matter of fact it made him able to unite things that were commonly looked on as incompatible, and to be both a Hebrew and a Hellenist.

Are they Israelites? . . .—The words imply another insinuation. They whispered doubts whether he had any right to call himself an Israelite at all. Had he a drop of Abraham’s blood flowing in his veins? Might he not, after all, be but the grandson of a proselyte, upon whom there rested the stigma which, according to a Jewish proverb, was not effaced till the twenty-fourth generation? Did not this account for his heathen sympathies? Strange as the thought may seem to us, the calumny survived, and the later Ebionites asserted (Epiphanius, Hær. xxx. 16) that he was a Gentile by birth, who had only accepted circumcision that he might marry the high priest’s daughter. The kind of climax which the verse presents points not only to three claims to honour on their part, for in that case the first would include both the second and the third, and the climax would have little meaning, but to successive denials that he possessed any of the three. Jerome, strangely enough (Cat. Vir. Illust. c. 5), asserts that St. Paul was a Galilean, born at Gischala; but this, though it may possibly point to a tradition as to the home of his parents, can hardly be allowed to outweigh his own positive statement (Acts 22:3).

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.
(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.

Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.
(24) Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.—None of these are recorded in the Acts. It is probable that the words refer to the early period of his work in Cilicia, which is implied though not recorded in that book. (See Note on Acts 15:41). The number of the stripes in Jewish punishments of this kind rested on the rule of Deuteronomy 25:3, which fixed forty as the maximum. In practice it was thought desirable to stop short of the full number in order to avoid exceeding it. The punishment was inflicted with a leather scourge of three knotted thongs, and with a curiously elaborate distribution: thirteen strokes were given on the breast, thirteen on the right shoulder, and thirteen on the left.

Thrice was I beaten with rods.—This, as we see in Acts 16:22-23, was distinctively, though, perhaps, not exclusively, a Roman punishment. The instance at Philippi, as above, is the only one recorded in the Acts. As a Roman citizen he could claim exemption from a punishment which was essentially servile (Acts 16:37), and at Jerusalem (Acts 22:25) he asserted this claim; but it may well have happened elsewhere, as at Philippi, either that the reckless haste of Roman officials led them to order the punishment without inquiry; or that they disregarded the appeal, and took their chance of impunity; or that there were reasons which led him to prefer enduring the ignominious punishment in silence, without protest.

Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
(25) Once was I stoned.—Here the Acts (Acts 14:19) give us the solitary instance at Lystra. The accuracy of the Apostle in referring to this form of suffering, where we can compare it with the history, may fairly be urged as evidence of a like accuracy in his other statements.

Thrice I suffered shipwreck.—Again we have a picture of unrecorded sufferings, which we must refer either to the period of his life between his departure from Jerusalem (Acts 9:30) and his arrival at Antioch (Acts 11:26), or to voyages among the islands of the Ægean Sea during his stay at Corinth or at Ephesus, or to that from Ephesus to Cæsarea in Acts 18:22.

A night and a day I have been in the deep.—Taken in their natural sense the words probably point to one of the shipwrecks just mentioned, in which, either swimming or with the help of a plank (as in Acts 27:44), he had kept himself floating for nearly a whole day, beginning with the night. They have, however, been referred by some writers to a dungeon pit, like that into which Jeremiah was cast (Jeremiah 38:6), in which the Apostle was either thrown or hid himself after the stoning at Lystra. Bede (Qucest. iii. 8) relates, on the authority of Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury—whose evidence, as a native of Tarsus, has here a special interest—that there was such a dungeon known by the name of Bythos (the word used here for “deep”) in his time at Cyzicus, and, if so, it is probable enough that the same use of the word may have prevailed in other cities. So at Athens there was a dungeon known as the barathron—a word used also for a “gulf.” On the whole, however, though the conjecture is interesting enough to deserve mention, there seems no adequate reason for adopting it.

In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
(26) In journeyings often.—Again we enter on a list of activities and sufferings of which this is the only, or nearly the only, record. Some of them may be referred to journeys (as above) before his arrival at Antioch; some, probably, to that from Antioch to Ephesus through the interior of Asia Minor (Acts 18:23; Acts 19:1); some to excursions from Ephesus. The “perils of waters” (better, rivers) point to the swollen torrents that rush down in spring from the mountain heights of the Taurus and other ranges, and render the streams unfordable. “Robbers” infested, then as now, well-nigh every high-road in Syria and Asia Minor, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan (see Note on Luke 10:30), and the story of St. John and the young robber, as reported from Clement of Alexandria by Eusebius (Hist. iii. 23). Of the “perils from his own countrymen,” we have instances enough up to this time at Damascus (Acts 9:23), at Jerusalem (Acts 9:29), at Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, and Lystra (Acts 13:50; Acts 14:5-19), at Thessalonica, and at Corinth (Acts 17:5-13; Acts 18:12). Of “perils from the heathen” we find examples at Philippi (Acts 16:20) and Ephesus (Acts 19:23). City and wilderness (possibly the Arabian desert of Galatians 1:17; possibly the high table-lands of Armenia and Asia Minor) and sea were alike fruitful in dangers. As if with something like a climax he reserves the word “false brethren,” such as those of Galatians 2:4, as the last and worst of his trials.

In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
(27) In weariness and painfullness . . .—The same combination meets us in 2Thessalonians 3:8, where the English version has “labour and travail,” as Tyndale and Cranmer have in this passage. “Weariness and painfulness” appear first in the Geneva version; toil and trouble is, perhaps, the best English equivalent. From the use of the phrase in 2Thessalonians 3:8, it probably refers chiefly to St. Paul’s daily labour as a tent-maker. The “watchings” indicate the sleepless nights spent in anxiety, or pain, or prayer. “Hunger and thirst” are named as privations incident to his journeys or his labours. “Fastings,” as distinguished from these, can hardly mean anything but times of self-chosen abstinence, of which we have at least two instances in Acts 13:2-3, and which would be natural in St. Paul both as a Pharisee (see Notes on Matthew 6:16, and Luke 18:12) and as a disciple of Christ (see Note on Matthew 9:15). “Cold and nakedness” seem to speak not only of lonely journeys, thinly clad and thinly shod, on the high passes from Syria into Asia Minor, but also of lodgings without fire, and of threadbare garments. The whole passage reminds us of the narrative given by an old chronicler of the first appearance of the disciples of Francis of Assisi in England, walking with naked and bleeding feet through ice and snow, clothed only with their one friar’s cloak, shivering and frost-bitten (Eccleston, De Adventu Minorum). He obviously contrasts this picture of his sufferings with what the Corinthians knew of the life of his rivals, who, if they were like their brethren of Judæa, walked in long robes, and loved the uppermost places at feasts (Matthew 23:6). It had become a Jewish proverb that “the disciples of the wise had a right to a goodly house, a fair wife, and a soft couch” (Ursini. Antiqq. Hebr. c. 5, in Ugolini’s Thesaurus, vol. xxi.).

Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.
(28) That which cometh upon me daily . . .—The word so translated primarily signifies a “rush” or “tumult,” and is so used in Acts 24:12. Here that meaning is excluded by the fact that perils of that nature had been already specified, and that he now manifestly speaks of something differing in kind as well as in degree. But there is, as our modern phraseology shows, such a thing as a “rush” of business almost as trying as the “ugly rush” of a crowd, and that is manifestly what he means here. The daily visits of inquirers, the confessions of sin-burdened souls, the craving of perplexed consciences for guidance, the reference of quarrels of the household or the church to his arbitration as umpire, the arrival of messengers from distant churches, each with their tidings of good or evil—this is what we have to think of as present to St. Paul’s thoughts as the daily routine of his life; and the absence of any conjunction between the two clauses clearly points to the fact that, in his mind, “the care (or anxiety) of all the churches” was all but identical with the “rush” of which he had just spoken.

Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?
(29) Who is weak and I am not weak . . .?—The words obviously spring from a recollection of all that was involved in that “rush” of which he had just spoken. Did any come to him with his tale of body-sickness or soul-sickness, he, in his infinite sympathy, felt as if he shared in it. He claimed no exemption from their infirmities, was reminded by every such tale of his own liability to them. The words that follow have a still stronger significance. The word “offended” (better, made to stumblei.e., led to fall by a temptation which the man has not resisted) suggests the thought of some grievous sin, as distinct from weakness; and the dominant sense of the word, as in Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 18:8-9; Mark 9:42-43; Mark 9:45; Mark 9:47; 1Corinthians 8:13, is that of the sins to which men are led by the temptations of the senses. The other word—to “burn”—is even more startling in its suggestiveness. It had been used in 1Corinthians 7:9 of the “burning” of sensual passion, and it is scarcely open to a doubt that the associations thus connected with it mingle with its meaning here. Men came to the Apostle with their tales of shame, and told how they had been tempted and had fallen; and here, too, he, in that illimitable sympathy of his, seemed to have travelled with them on the downward road. He felt himself suffused, as it were, with the burning glow of their shame. He blushed with them and for them, as though the sin had been his own. Simply as a word, it should be added, it is equally applicable to any emotion of intense pain or fiery indignation, and it has been so taken by many interpreters. The view which has been given above seems, however, most in harmony with the Apostle’s character.

If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.
(30) If I must needs glory . . .—The words form a transition to the narratives that follow. The question, “Who is weak and I am not weak?” has suggested the thought of the weakness and infirmity of various kinds with which his enemies reproached him. He will glory—here also with a touch of grave irony—in these and will leave his rivals to find what ground for boasting they can in what they call their strength. He is confident that his weak points are stronger than their strong ones.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.
(31) The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.—The solemn attestation was, we may believe, a natural introduction to what was possibly intended, as the words passed from his lips, to be the beginning of a much fuller narrative than that which was its actual outcome.

Which is blessed for evermore.—The Greek has no conjunction, but its force is best given either by which is, and is blessed for evermore, or, by an emphasis of punctuation and the insertion of a verb, which is: blessed is He for evermore. The Greek participle is not a single predicate of blessedness, such as the English expresses, but is that constantly used in the LXX. version as the equivalent of the Hebrew name for Jehovah: “He that is,” the “I AM” of Exodus 3:13-14; Jeremiah 14:13; and in a later and probably contemporary work, not translated from the Hebrew, in Wisdom Of Solomon 13:1 (“they could not . . . know Him that is”). So Philo, in like manner, speaks of “He that is” as a received name of God. (See also Notes on John 8:58-59; Romans 9:5.)

In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me:
(32) In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king . . .—The question meets us at the outset whether the fact that follows is brought in as being the first instance of suffering endured for the sake of Christ, and therefore the natural opening to what was intended to have been a long, connected narrative of all such sufferings, or as being connected in some special manner with his “infirmities.”, On the whole, the evidence—especially the context of 2Corinthians 11:30—seems in favour of the latter view, as far, at least, as the selection of the incident is concerned. There was, we can well imagine, an element of the ludicrous—something that gave occasion to jests and sneers—in the way in which the Apostle’s escape had been effected. There was, so to speak, something undignified in it. Those who mocked at the stunted growth and weakness of his bodily presence would find good matter for their mirth in this.

On the historical facts connected with this incident, see Notes on Acts 9:24-25. The additional details which we learn from St. Paul are—(1) that Damascus was under the immediate control, not of the Governor of Syria, but of a governor or an ethnarch; (2) that the ethnarch was appointed, not by the Roman emperor, but by Aretas (the name was hereditary, and was the Greek form of the Arabic Haret), the King of the Nabathæan Arabs, who had his capital at Petra, who was the father of the first wife of Herod Antipas (see Note on Matthew 14:1); (3) that the ethnarch lent himself to the enmity of the Jews, and stationed troops at each gate of the city to prevent St. Paul’s escape. “Ethnarch,” it may be noted, was about this time the common title of a subordinate provincial governor. It had been borne by Judas Maccabæus (1 Maccabees 14:47; 1 Maccabees 15:1-2) and by Archelaus (Jos. Wars, ii. 6, § 3).

And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.
(33) Through a window in a basket . . .—On the mode of escape, see Notes on Acts 9:24-25. So the spies escaped from the house of Rahab (Joshua 2:15), and David from the pursuit of Saul (1Samuel 19:12). The word which St. Paul uses for “basket” (sarganè) implies, perhaps, a more vivid personal recollection, as meaning specifically a rope-work hamper. St. Luke employs the more general term, spuris. (See Note on Matthew 15:32.)

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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