2 Corinthians 11:1-33

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Paul regarded boasting about himself or his accomplishments as foolish. In their boasting, his detractors had demeaned him. For this reason, the apostle decided to do some boasting of his own and so asked the Corinthians to put up with some senselessness from him, adding that he desired that they bear with him. The Greek text could also be understood to mean that they were already putting up with the apostle. (11:1)

Both meanings are found in modern translations. “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!” (NRSV) “If only you would put up with a little foolishness from me! Please put up with me.” (NAB) “I should like you to bear with me in a little foolishness; please bear with me.” (REB) “I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that.” (NIV). “I wish you would be patient with me even when I am a little foolish, but you are already doing that.” (NCV) “I wish you would put up with a little foolishness from me—not that you don’t do this already.” (NJB)

Corrupt individuals posed a threat to the spiritual well-being of the community of believers in Corinth and likely also to that of believers elsewhere in the Roman province of Achaia. The apostle had jealous concern for them. He had promised them to one husband, Christ. In his godly jealousy for believers, Paul wanted to be able to present them as a chaste virgin to the Son of God or in an undefiled state as persons who would be acceptable to him as members of his bride. (11:2)

Paul feared that, as the serpent had cunningly seduced Eve, believers in Achaia might have their minds corrupted, being led astray from the “sincerity and chastity” that they should be maintaining for Christ. In the case of Eve, her falling victim to the serpent, the devil’s instrument, resulted in the loss of her good relationship with God and eventually led to her death. For the Corinthians to have had their minds corrupted could have led to the loss of their approved relationship as God’s beloved children and their place as members of Christ’s bride. This would have been the greatest loss imaginable. (11:3; see the Notes section.)

The apostle had grave concern for the Corinthians, as they had shown themselves to be amenable to destructive influences. If someone proclaimed a Christ other than the one whom Paul had made known to them, they were willing to listen. They did not reject a presentation of Christ that deviated from the truth. The Corinthians had received God’s spirit, and yet they were receptive to an opposing spirit (an impelling influence that did not promote purity in thought, word, and deed through a transformation of the inner self). They had responded to the evangel or the message about the Son of God and how an approved standing with his Father resulted from faith in what he accomplished by laying down his life in sacrifice. Nevertheless, when someone came with another evangel, one that contradicted what they had accepted, they readily put up with it and the individual. (11:4)

Identifying those responsible for introducing error, Paul referred to them ironically as “super apostles,” stating that he considered himself in no way inferior to them. (11:5) If it could be said that Paul lacked polish or eloquence in his speaking, he was not deficient in knowledge. The Corinthians and others in Achaia had all the needed evidence that he fully knew the vital message about God and Christ. (11:6)

Those who disparaged Paul appear to have pointed to his not receiving support from believers in Achaia while laboring in their midst and suggested that his ministry had little worth. This apparently prompted the apostle to ask whether he had sinned when humbling himself in order to exalt the Corinthians and others. He had elevated believers, laboring as their servant without relying on any contributions from them. Without charge, he had declared the “evangel of God” (the message about Christ that had God as its ultimate source). (11:7)

Paul had “robbed” other congregations, accepting contributions from them while serving the Corinthians. He spoke of robbing these other congregations because, at the time, they were not benefiting from his labors and so were not receiving anything for their kind help. (11:8)

When he came to be in need while in Achaia, the apostle did not become a burden to any of the believers there. “Brothers” (or fellow believers) from the neighboring province of Macedonia arrived with a contribution to assist him. So, although he proved to be in need, he did not become a burden to anyone in Corinth and determined never to become such in the future. (11:9)

Paul took rightful pride in his having labored without receiving financial support. He solemnly declared, by the “truth of Christ in [him],” that he would not let this reason for boasting be taken from him in the regions of Achaia. The “truth of Christ” refers to the deposit of the full revelation about God’s Son. Paul, as a divinely chosen vessel, had this deposit within him. (11:10)

Regarding his not permitting anything to deprive him of his boast about serving without cost to anyone, he asked, “Why [is] this? Because I do not love you? God knows [I do].” Paul’s unselfish service in Achaia confirmed his deep love for believers in Corinth, and God was his witness. (11:11)

As to financial support, the apostle determined to handle matters as he had in the past. Thereby he put an end to the pretext of those who, in keeping with their boastful claims, wanted a pretext for being recognized as equal to the apostle. Unlike Paul, they, however, did seek personal gain. (11:12)

The apostle then strongly denounced the arrogant pretenders, calling them “false apostles,” “deceitful workers,” and persons who transformed themselves into “apostles of Christ,” falsely claiming to be men sent forth in Christ’s service. Unlike Paul, they were not divinely commissioned, and their actions proved to be spiritually harmful to those who yielded to their influence. (11:13)

That such sham apostles existed should not have astonished believers. The ultimate deceiver, Satan, disguises himself as an “angel of light.” In the case of Eve, for example, the message the adversary conveyed through the serpent represented the death-dealing lie as enlightenment and as something from which she could greatly benefit. (11:14) So there is nothing “great” or beyond expectation for Satan’s servants to disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness,” falsely representing themselves as advancing the cause of truth and right. Their end, or the adverse judgment to be expressed against them, would be in accord with what their corrupt works merit. (11:15)

Again Paul said, as he did previously when stating that he did not lack in knowledge (11:6), “Let no one consider me to be senseless.” But if there were those who did think so, he would permit them to accept him as a fool in order for him to do a little boasting. (11:16)

The Son of God never boasted about himself but gave his Father credit for everything he said and did. So Paul could say that his speaking was not according to the Lord’s speaking, but a speaking in senselessness, a speaking that is characteristic of self-assured boasting or bragging. (11:17)

Many others, primarily Paul’s detractors, boasted “according to the flesh,” or from the standpoint of outward appearances that impressed fellow humans. For this reason, the apostle also decided to boast. His boasting, though, served to expose the emptiness of the bragging of those who demeaned him and his faithful service. (11:18)

The apostle implied that the Corinthians would be quite willing to tolerate his resorting to senseless bragging, using irony when telling them that they were pleased to put up with fools because they themselves were wise. (11:19) It appears that the false apostles assumed the arrogant bearing of abusive masters. Yet the Corinthians submitted to their mistreatment. They put up with whoever enslaved them, preyed on them, exploited them, elevated themselves above them, or slapped them in the face. (11:20)

Paul, on the other hand, had conducted himself as a lowly servant. Therefore, he, “according to shame,” spoke of having been weak. In relation to having been weak, this could mean that Paul represented himself as being ashamed of being too weak to act in the abusive manner of the false apostles. Another possibility is that the Corinthians should have been ashamed. Translators have variously rendered the Greek text to make it more explicit. “To my shame I say that we were too weak!” (NAB) “To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that [resorting to the abusive ways of the false apostles]!” (NRSV) “I am ashamed to say that we are too weak to behave in such a way.” (CEV) “And you call me a weakling! I admit the reproach.” (REB) “It is shameful to me to say this, but we were too ‘weak’ to do those things to you!” (NCV) “I am almost ashamed to say that I never did brave strong things like that to you.” (J. B. Phillips) “I say it to your shame; perhaps we have been too weak.” (NJB) Paul’s apparent objective was to help the Corinthians to come to their senses and to recognize their folly in having exalted those who abused them while looking down on Paul for conducting himself as a caring servant and treating them in a loving manner. (11:21)

In their bearing, words, and actions, the false apostles had been bold or daring. In response to their daring and the baneful effect it had exerted on the community of believers in Corinth, Paul determined to talk like a senseless person, like a person who is daring. As the context reveals, the apostle manifested his daring or boldness by resorting to boasting. (11:22)

The aspects on which he initially focused reveal that the false apostles were Jews who took pride in their heritage. Paul, in his “boasting,” made it clear that he was not inferior to them. “Are they Hebrews? I [am] also. Are they Israelites? I [am] also. Are they of the seed of Abraham? I [am] also.” Both on his father’s and his mother’s side, he was a Hebrew, an Israelite (having Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, as his ancestor), and a descendant of Abraham the Hebrew through his great-grandson Benjamin. (11:22; Philippians 3:4, 5)

Paul continued his boasting, “Are they servants of Christ? I speak as one deranged, I am more so.” He then backed up his words about being a servant of the Son of God to a far greater degree than any his detractors were. The proof consisted of what he had faced when making known the glad tidings about Christ. Paul’s abundant labors included everything he did to help others to learn about the Son of God and to assist fellow believers to maintain and grow in faith. Additionally, he worked with his hands to care for his personal needs. The opposition to his labors in the cause of Christ led to his being imprisoned more often than others. With greater frequency and probably also greater severity than any other believers, he was subjected to flogging. In view of the perils he encountered, he found himself many times near death. (11:23)

The Mosaic law limited the administration of beatings to 40 strokes. (Deuteronomy 25:2, 3) To prevent possibly exceeding the upper limit and thereby violating the law, the Jews restricted the number of strokes to 39. On five different occasions, the Jews beat Paul 39 times. (11:24)

Three different times, non-Jewish authorities ordered the apostle to be beaten with rods. One instance of this occurred in Philippi. He and his companion Silas had their clothes stripped off and were then severely beaten with rods, leaving open wounds on their bodies. (11:25; Acts 16:22, 23, 33)

The one stoning to which Paul referred took place in Lystra. Jewish opposers arrived from Iconium and Pisidian Antioch and succeeded in inciting the non-Jewish populace against him. The enraged mob stoned him and dragged his body outside the city, thinking that he was dead. When the grieving believers surrounded him, he got up and entered Lystra, leaving with Barnabas on the next day. (11:25; Acts 14:19, 20)

In the course of three of his sea voyages, Paul experienced shipwreck. In the case of one of these three instances, he must have spent “a night and a day in the deep,” likely clinging to pieces of wreckage from the ship until he was rescued or able to swim to shore when the sea became calmer. (11:25)

Often Paul was on the road, traveling from one location to another to proclaim the message about Christ or to visit communities of believers to encourage and strengthen them in the faith. During his extensive travels, he had to make his way across flooded rivers. Besides the dangers rivers posed, the apostle faced dangers from robbers who preyed on passing travelers, dangers from fellow Jews (people of his own race) who were hostile to his activity, and dangers from non-Jews who rejected and opposed his proclamation about Christ. There were dangers in the cities from lawless elements of society, and dangers in the wilderness or unpopulated areas where water might be difficult to obtain, where no protection from the elements existed, or where a chance encounter with a large wild animal could be hazardous. Storms made his sea travels perilous. Particularly distressing to him must have been the dangers he encountered from false brothers who endeavored to undermine his efforts and may even have stirred up unbelievers against him. (11:26)

Paul worked hard and exerted himself strenuously. Often he went without sleep. He experienced hunger and thirst, fasted frequently, and endured biting cold while insufficiently clothed. (11:27)

Apart from the hardships of an external nature, he daily found himself in a state of inward concern and anxious care for all the communities of believers. These included congregations in cities where he had personally labored and those about whom he periodically received news from fellow believers. (11:28)

After enumerating the many perils he had endured, Paul raised the questions, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is stumbled, and I am not indignant [literally, ‘I do not burn’]?” In view of all that had befallen him, he was very much aware of his weakness or frailty. Without divine help, he could not have endured. So he could sympathize with those who were weak or painfully aware of their limitations or their helpless state. It greatly troubled Paul when a believer made himself responsible for stumbling a fellow believer or for leading him into sin. Such stumbling could have resulted from a failure to take into consideration the weak conscience of another believer, insisting on a right instead of foregoing the right out of loving regard for the scruples of the fellow believer. The weaker believer could thus have been emboldened to act in a manner that proved to be sinful for him. Any failure to show love can have an injurious effect on the spiritual welfare of others, and can be especially damaging to fragile faith. Paul’s indignation would have been directed at those who had caused the stumbling, whereas he would feel deeply for those who had callously been led into sin. (11:29; see the Notes section.)

If there was to be any boasting from him, the only kind in which Paul would engage related to his weakness. It would involve matters that revealed him to be a lowly servant of Christ who endured trials and hardships but did not do so in his own strength. (11:30) He called upon the “God and Father of the Lord Jesus” as his witness to his limiting all boasting to his personal weakness. Paul acknowledged God as the one who “knows,” and so from whom nothing is concealed. After making his prayerful expression that God be blessed or praised forever, the apostle solemnly declared, “I do not lie.” The God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ was his witness to the truth of his words. (11:31)

Paul then referred to an incident early in his life after his encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. The incident illustrated his personal weakness or helplessness in the face of grave danger. In their desire to kill him, hostile unbelieving Jews appear to have gained the support of a high official (an ethnarch) who was subject to King Aretas. All egress from the walled city was blocked, with the gates being watched day and night. Under the cover of darkness, Paul’s disciples (possibly those whom he had aided to become believers) had him positioned in a large basket and lowered him from a window down the outside of the city wall, making it possible for him to escape. (11:32, 33; Acts 9:23-25; see the Notes section for comments about Aretas.)


As elsewhere in 2 Corinthians, the change from first person plural pronouns and verbs to first person singular pronouns and verbs in this chapter does not appear to be significant. Consistency is not to be expected in a dictated letter, and the first person plural pronouns and verbs function as an editorial “we” and usually have the same significance as the first person singular pronouns and verbs. At times, Paul may have meant to include his close associates, but this often cannot be established from the context.

In verse 3, the Greek words for “and chastity” are missing in numerous manuscripts.

In verse 29, the Greek term for “burn” (pyróo) is commonly understood to mean “burn with indignation,” Paul’s indignation being directed against the one responsible for causing a fellow believer to sin. There is a possibility, however, that the term “burn” relates to the internal upheaval Paul felt for the one who was stumbled. So the meaning could be that, within himself, the apostle burned with pain for the stumbled individual. Another significance could be that Paul burned with a consuming longing to restore the one who had been caused to sin.

Aretas may have been a dynastic name, for a number of Nabataean (Arabian) kings bore that name. To differentiate the various rulers, the Aretas (mentioned in verse 32) is referred to as Aretas IV. He ruled from about 9 BCE to about 39 CE.

In verse 32, many manuscripts represent the ethnarch as “wanting” to seize Paul. A number of other manuscripts omit the Greek word for “wanting.”