Notes on 2 Corinthians 11:22-33

2 Corinthians 11:22‑33  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The fleshly pretension of those who opposed the apostle prided itself on its Jewish extraction, as clericalism and ecclesiastical corruptions are apt to do virtually if not naturally as here. Knowing that the apostle turned every eye to Christ in heaven as dead and risen, they seem to have forgotten how easily he could dispose of such claims to superiority. “Are they Hebrews? I too. Are they Israelites? I too. Are they Abraham's seed? I too.” (Ver. 22.) It is a climax from the external designation of the chosen nation, through the internal name (clearly enough distinguished in such scripture, as 1 Sam. 13:19, 20, 3-7; 14:21-2419Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: 20But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock. (1 Samuel 13:19‑20)
3And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear. 4And all Israel heard say that Saul had smitten a garrison of the Philistines, and that Israel also was had in abomination with the Philistines. And the people were called together after Saul to Gilgal. 5And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Beth-aven. 6When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed,) then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits. 7And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. (1 Samuel 13:3‑7)
21Moreover the Hebrews that were with the Philistines before that time, which went up with them into the camp from the country round about, even they also turned to be with the Israelites that were with Saul and Jonathan. 22Likewise all the men of Israel which had hid themselves in mount Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, even they also followed hard after them in the battle. 23So the Lord saved Israel that day: and the battle passed over unto Beth-aven. 24And the men of Israel were distressed that day: for Saul had adjured the people, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies. So none of the people tasted any food. (1 Samuel 14:21‑24)
), to the name in virtue of which they inherited the promises; yet each appropriated to himself with a curtness very galling to his vain-glorious rivals. It was low ground in comparison of Christ, and the apostle treating it with scant respect turns to a higher claim.
“Are they minister of Christ? (Beside myself I speak) I above measure;1 in labors very abundantly, in prisons very abundantly,2 in stripes exceedingly, in deaths often. From Jews five times I received forty [stripes] save one, thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; by wayfarings often, by dangers of rivers, by dangers of robbers, by dangers from countrymen, by dangers from Gentiles, by dangers in town, by dangers in desert, by dangers at sea, by dangers among false brethren, by3 toil and trouble; in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Apart from things without [or, besides], my pressing care4 day by day, the concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is stumbled, and I burn not? If I must boast, I will boast in the matters of my, infirmity. The God5 and Father of the Lord Jesus, he that is blessed forever, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the ethnarch [or, prefect] of Aretas the king garrisoned the Damascenes' city6 to seize me; and through a window I was let down in a basket by the wall and escaped his hands.” ( Vers. 23-33.)
It is hardly exposition that is needed here, but thanksgiving for the grace bestowed of God on a man of like passions with ourselves, when the eye surveys such a roll of suffering labor for Christ, when the heart seeks to realize what it actually means so to be poured out as a libation, as he says to Philippi, where he could rejoice and rejoice in common with all the saints, not as here where the folly of the Corinthians wrung out of an outraged heart the reluctant tale, so profitable for us and all, which we should never otherwise have had recounted. We may well be humbled as we read that which puts our lukewarmness to shame.
Nevertheless, though the summary is as brief as it is plain in the main, the wounded modesty of the apostle, forced to withdraw the veil from a life of unequaled suffering, enters on the task with apologetic words which let out the pain it cost him to speak of his own things. He puts the question as to his adversaries, “Are they ministers of Christ?” and answers, not now as a fool (ἄφρων) but as raving, “I above measure.” The commentators, ancient and modern, will have it to be a comparison. This is the very thing he seems studiously to avoid by the use of the preposition used adverbially and by other means afterward. It is impossible to conceive an answer more spiritually wise and conclusive. For he does not even notice here the extraordinary power which the Lord had given him in the Spirit to deal with disease, death, or demons; nor yet the immense range and success of his work in the gospel; but he turns from his very abundant labors to the excess of stripes which had befallen him, his very abundant imprisonments, and his frequent exposures to death. Those who sought to undermine him might boast of their learning or their originality, their logic or their imagination, their depth of thought or their piquancy of illustration. They might appeal to their adherents numerous or intelligent, to their high favor with women, to their popularity with men; for they sought above all to draw away the disciples after them. What did they care for the poor and despised? What for the interests of Christ and the church?
The phraseology of the apostle (as in ὑπὲρ ἐγώ, and also the sense of παρεκτός) may be now and then difficult to seize or convey from the brevity and abruptness of one who could not bear to dwell on such a theme in view of unworthy adversaries who stood high in the esteem of many a saint. But he assuredly does not mean that any service here was more than the ministry of Christ, for this to him was the highest glory; and the Lord Himself had said that whosoever would be great among them should be their minister, and whosoever would be first should be slave of all. Nor would he merely intimate that he was more devoted and laborious than his detractors, as some have supposed. He was really comparing himself with none; but apologizing for so speaking as contrary to a sound mind, he could not but own himself Christ's minister beyond measure. No doubt the comparative occurs both with “labors” and with “prisons,” and even Bengal thought the false apostles experienced these like Paul, but less but it was overlooked that the Greek tongue often pea the comparative without any object of comparison in a merely intensitive sense,7 where we should employ the positive qualified by “very,” “rather” or the like, meaning (if we attempted to fill up the ellipsis) “more than usual,” or “ordinary,” &c.; and the context confirms this as well as the moral bearing. For μᾶλλον, or πλέον would have been more natural to express comparative superiority, and ὑπερβαλλόντως and πολλάκις just afterward oppose the idea. We see in chapter 10:12 what the apostle felt of comparing, which was their way, not his who was altogether above a habit so far beneath Christ or the Christian.
The apostle next glances at particulars thus far in his course, to which others had compelled him who can have little anticipated such an answer to their vain-glory. He puts them to shame with (not miracles but) sufferings. “From Jews five times I received forty [stripes] save one, thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and day I have been in the deep.” This last danger was of course, like the three shipwrecks, previous to that which is so graphically described in Acts 27, though Grotius by a singular oversight speaks of it as if included. The one stoning at Lystra is related in Acts 14. Paley notices the remarkable accuracy of the inspired historian as compared with the apostle's statement. There is the nearest approach to a seeming contradiction without giving the least real ground for it. The same chapter which gives the case of stoning mentions at the beginning that an assault was made on Paul and Barnabas at Iconium, “to use them despitefully and to stone them; but they were ware of it and fled unto Lystra and Derbe.” “Now had the assault been completed; had the history related that a stone was thrown, as it relates that preparations were made by Jews and Gentiles to stone Paul and his companions; or even had the account of this transaction stopped, without going on to inform us that Paul and his companions were aware of their danger and fled, a contradiction between the history and the apostle would have ceased. Truth is necessarily consistent; but it is scarcely possible that independent accounts, not having truth to guide them, should thus advance to the very brink of contradiction without falling into it.” (Horse Pauline. Works, v. 120, 121, ed. vii.) In the Acts we have but one of the three beatings with rods, and not one of the five scourgings by Jews.
And what a picture of ceaseless, unselfish, suffering toils is dispatched in the next few words, before which the great deeds of earth's heroes grow pale with ineffectual light, attended as they were with heavy blows on others and clever schemes to screen themselves! “By wayfarings often, by dangers of rivers, by dangers of robbers, by dangers from countrymen, by dangers from Gentiles, by dangers in towns, by dangers in desert, by dangers at sea, by dangers among false brethren, by toil and trouble; in watching. often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” Yet this is the man who deprecates it as “folly” to speak of himself, who practiced as he exhorted “but one thing!” “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Forget his failures, his sins, he did not; it is good and wholesome both for self-judgment and as a witness of sovereign grace and faithfulness on God's part. But his progress, his trials, his sufferings, others only by their folly constrained him to recall, in meekness setting right those who opposed, if God peradventure might sometime give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.
Yet it is not only the endurance of cruel usage from time to time from open enemies that tests the heart; it is down out yet more by the unwearied and constant going out, no matter what the labor and the danger, from country to country among strangers whom the Jews could readily influence when they themselves took fire at the gospel, added to the manifold trials of the way: “in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from countrymen, in perils from heathen, in perils in town, in perils in desert, in perils at sea, in perils among false brethren; in toil and trouble, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” How poor the lengthy tales of the most devoted laborers in ancient or modern times compared with these living strokes from the heart of the great apostle.
Nor was it by any means an exhaustive account. “Apart from the things besides” (παρεκτος, possibly “without,” as in the Vulgate, Calvin, Beza, Authorized Version, &c.), “the pressure on me day by day, the concern for all the churches.” There is little doubt that an early confusion crept into the text, and that the true word here is one signifying “urgent attention,” as in Acts 24:1212And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city: (Acts 24:12) it is rather one signifying “faction” or “tumultuous concourse,” though the more ancient copies support the former word (ἐπίστασις, not ἐπισύστασις) in both; and they are followed in this by Lachmann, Tischendorf, Alford, and Tregelles. Mr. T. S. Green is one of those who fall into the opposite extreme of reading the latter word in both. It is one of the few instances where Scholz has in my opinion shown better judgment, reading “concourse” (ἐπισύστασιν) in Acts and “pressure of attention” (ἐπἰστασις) in the passage before us. Anxiety for all the assemblies is the appended explanation of that care day by day which pressed on the apostle. And of this he gives us a sample. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is stumbled, and I (emphatic) burn not?” If they were sorely troubled by scrupulosity, he could and did enter into their difficulties; if any one was stumbled by the unworthy bearing of others, his soul was on fire, filled with love for Christ and the saints, and abhorring selfishness and party with thorough hatred.
Was this self-praise? “If it is needful to boast, I will boast of the matters of my infirmity. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is blessed forever, knoweth that I lie not. At Damascus the prefect of Aretas the king garrisoned the Damascenes' city to seize me; and through a window in a basket was I let down by [or through] the wall, and escaped their hands.” No doubt, it was a remarkable escape at the beginning of his ministry; but it was just the last thing one who sought his own glory would have repeated and recorded forever. No angelic visitors opened the bars and bolts of massive doors, nor blinded the eyes of the garrison: the apostle was let down in a basket through a window in the city wall. Truly he gloried, not in the great deeds or sayings of his ministry, but in his weakness and the Lord's grace. It is the more remarkable from the way in which he proceeds immediately after to speak of his being caught up to the third heaven.