Study Notes—Chapter 11
in a little unreasonableness: Paul understood that his boasting might make him seem to be unreasonable. (2Co 11:16) But he felt compelled to make a defense of his apostleship throughout the latter part of 2 Corinthians. (In fact, in 2Co 11 and 12, Paul used the Greek words aʹphron and a·phro·syʹne, rendered “unreasonable [person],” “unreasonably,” and “unreasonableness” eight times: 2Co 11:1, 16, 17, 19, 21; 12:6, 11.) The “superfine apostles” were causing much harm to the congregation by undermining respect for Paul and his teaching. Such false teachers had compelled him to boast in order to emphasize his God-given authority. (2Co 10:10; 11:5, 16; see study note on 2Co 11:5.) Under these circumstances, his boasting was by no means unreasonable.
I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: The Greek words rendered “I am jealous” and “jealousy” both convey the idea of an intense emotion that can be either positive or negative. In this verse, they have a positive connotation. Both words involve a keen interest and strong personal concern, an expression of sincere affection. Paul expressed such proper concern over his spirit-anointed fellow believers. He likened them to a chaste virgin promised in marriage to one husband, Jesus Christ. Paul jealously wanted to protect all in the congregation from spiritual harm so that they could be preserved unblemished for Christ. Used in this sense, “godly jealousy [lit., “God’s zeal”]” suggests that Jehovah’s love and affection include not only a keen interest in those whom he loves but also a strong desire to protect them from harm.—For a negative connotation of the Greek verb, see the study note on 1Co 13:4.
chaste: Or “pure.” The bride of Christ is composed of 144,000 spirit-anointed ones who individually maintain their figurative virginity by remaining separate from the world and by keeping themselves morally and doctrinally pure.—Re 14:1, 4; compare 1Co 5:9-13; 6:15-20; Jas 4:4; 2Jo 8-11; Re 19:7, 8.
superfine apostles: Paul here uses an expression that may also be rendered “super-apostles” or “superlative apostles.” He uses this somewhat sarcastic designation to describe those arrogant men who apparently saw themselves as superior to the apostles whom Jesus himself had appointed. Paul calls them “false apostles” because they were actually ministers of Satan. (2Co 11:13-15) They taught their own version of the good news about Christ. (2Co 11:3, 4) They also belittled and slandered Paul, challenging his God-given authority as an apostle.
deprived: Lit., “robbed.” The Greek verb sy·laʹo is often used of taking spoils of war. Here Paul uses this strong expression figuratively as an exaggeration in order to make a point. Paul had done nothing fraudulent by accepting provisions from others. Rather, he is answering the charges of the so-called superfine apostles in Corinth, who accused him of taking advantage of the Corinthian congregation. (2Co 11:5) When he “fell into need” in Corinth, it seems that the Corinthian Christians did not assist him, even though some apparently were wealthy. Instead, poorer brothers from Macedonia supplied his needs. (2Co 11:9) He says that he did not “commit a sin” by humbling himself, possibly a reference to his doing tentmaking to support himself in the ministry. (2Co 11:7) So perhaps with a hint of irony, he speaks as though he had “robbed” other congregations by accepting their financial support while he was laboring in behalf of the Corinthians.
provisions: Or “support.” The Greek word o·psoʹni·on literally means “pay; wages.” At Lu 3:14 (see study note), it is used as a military term, referring to a soldier’s pay or allowance. In this context, the term is used to refer to the modest material support that Paul had received from some congregations for his needs while he was in Corinth.—For other occurrences of the same Greek word, see study notes on Ro 6:23; 1Co 9:7.
in order to eliminate the pretext: Paul refused to accept any financial assistance from the Corinthian congregation. (2Co 11:9) In contrast, the “superfine apostles” in Corinth apparently accepted such support, and their “pretext” or claim was that Paul proved that he was not an apostle like them because he did secular work. (2Co 11:4, 5, 20) They wanted “a basis [or, “pretext”] for being found equal” to Paul. The things about which they boast may refer to their assertions that they qualified to serve as apostles. (2Co 11:7) Later in this chapter and in chapter 12, Paul highlighted his own qualifications to show that the basis for their claim was severely lacking. He also frankly stated that the “superfine apostles” were actually “false apostles, . . . disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.”—2Co 11:13.
according to the flesh: That is, on human grounds, boasting about one’s circumstances.
Hebrews . . . Israelites . . . Abraham’s offspring: Paul explains his own family background, possibly because some of his critics in Corinth boasted about their Jewish heritage and identity. First, he mentions that he is a Hebrew, perhaps to emphasize his family connection with the Jewish forefathers, including Abraham and Moses. (Ge 14:13; Ex 2:11; Php 3:4, 5) Paul’s mention of being a Hebrew might also refer to his ability to speak the Hebrew language. (Ac 21:40–22:2; 26:14, 15) Second, Paul says that he is an Israelite, a term sometimes used to refer to Jews. (Ac 13:16; Ro 9:3, 4) Third, Paul specifically states that he descended from Abraham. He emphasized that he was among those who were to be heirs of God’s promises to Abraham. (Ge 22:17, 18) However, Paul did not place undue emphasis on physical factors.—Php 3:7, 8.
offspring: Or “descendants.” Lit., “seed.”—See App. A2.
40 strokes less one from the Jews: The Mosaic Law called for the discipline of wrongdoers by means of beatings, but it stipulated that no more than 40 strokes be given so that the recipient would not be “disgraced.” (De 25:1-3) A Jewish tradition restricted the number of blows to 39 so that the one carrying out the beating would not accidentally exceed the limit. Paul received the maximum penalty, which shows that his offenses were serious in the eyes of the Jews. Paul likely received the beatings mentioned here in synagogues or in the local courts adjacent to them. (See study note on Mt 10:17.) When non-Jewish authorities beat Paul, they were not restricted by the limits imposed by the Mosaic Law.—See study note on 2Co 11:25.
three times I was beaten with rods: This was a form of punishment often meted out by Roman authorities. The book of Acts mentions only one of the three times Paul received such a beating. It was before he wrote his second letter to the Corinthians. That beating took place at Philippi. (Ac 16:22, 23) He was also beaten by Jews in Jerusalem, but there is no mention of rods being used. (Ac 21:30-32) At any rate, Paul’s audience in Corinth, a Roman colony, surely knew that such beatings were brutal. The humiliating process started with stripping off the victim’s garments. (Compare 1Th 2:2.) A Roman citizen, such as Paul, was supposed to be shielded by law from beatings. That is why Paul informed the Philippian magistrates that they had infringed on his rights.—See study notes on Ac 16:35, 37.
stoned: Most likely, Paul here refers to the incident at Lystra that is described at Ac 14:19, 20. Stoning was a method of execution mentioned in the Mosaic Law. (Le 20:2) The stoning was likely a mob action involving fanatic Jews and possibly Gentiles. The intent was clearly to kill Paul; in fact, after stoning him, the attackers assumed that he was dead. Such brutal acts as those described in these verses must have left Paul with lasting physical scars.
three times I experienced shipwreck: The Bible vividly describes one shipwreck that Paul experienced, but it occurred after he wrote this letter. (Ac 27:27-44) Paul frequently traveled by sea. (Ac 13:4, 13; 14:25, 26; 16:11; 17:14, 15; 18:18-22, 27) So there were many occasions when such a disaster might have befallen him. Paul is likely referring to the aftermath of one of his shipwrecks when he writes, a night and a day I have spent in the open sea (lit., “in the deep”). Paul may have clung to a piece of wreckage the whole night and day while being tossed on a stormy sea before he was rescued or washed ashore. Yet, such dire events never stopped him from continuing his travels by sea.
in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers: The word Paul uses for “rivers” in this verse is the same one rendered “floods” at Mt 7:25, 27. In such regions as Pisidia—through which Paul traveled on his first missionary journey—the rivers often flooded after rains, turning ravines into raging, lethal torrents. The same mountainous region was also notorious for harboring bands of robbers. Paul willingly faced dangers, not because he was reckless, but because he accepted God’s direction in his ministry. (Ac 13:2-4; 16:6-10; 21:19) His eagerness to share the good news outweighed any concerns for his own comfort and safety.—Compare Ro 1:14-16; 1Th 2:8.
lacking clothing: Lit., “in nakedness.” The Greek word gy·mnoʹtes can have the meaning “lack of sufficient clothing.” (Compare Jas 2:15; ftn.) When Paul said that he was “cold and lacking clothing,” he was describing hardships that he likely endured when traveling through cold regions in inclement weather, while held in cold prisons, when stripped by robbers, when wading through icy rivers, while engaging in the ministry, or when enduring persecution.—See study note on 1Co 4:11.
the anxiety: The Greek word meʹri·mna, rendered “anxiety,” may also be rendered “anxious concern; worry.” The degree of Paul’s concern for his fellow Christians is evident in that he mentions it in the midst of all the dangers and adversities he listed in the preceding verses. (2Co 11:23-27) He kept in touch with a number of brothers, who made him aware of the spiritual welfare of Christians in various congregations. (2Co 7:6, 7; Col 4:7, 8; 2Ti 4:9-13) He was deeply concerned that all remain faithful to God to the end.—See study note on 1Co 12:25, where the related verb me·ri·mnaʹo has a similar meaning.
the One who is to be praised forever: The Greek grammatical forms used in this phrase indicate that “the One” refers to Jehovah, “the God and Father,” not to “the Lord Jesus.” Similar expressions of praise to God are found at Lu 1:68 (see study note); Ro 1:25; 9:5; 2Co 1:3; Eph 1:3; and 1Pe 1:3.
the governor: Or “the ethnarch”; lit., “the ruler of a nation.” The Greek word e·thnarʹkhes, rendered “governor” here, occurs only once in the Christian Greek Scriptures. It refers to a position lower than that of a king but higher than that of a tetrarch (district ruler). (See study note on Mt 14:1.) However, over the centuries, the word had various meanings. The governor mentioned in this verse served as King Aretas’ representative in Damascus, but his nationality and exact responsibilities are not certain.
Aretas the king: Aretas IV was an Arabian king who ruled from 9 B.C.E. to 40 C.E. His capital was in the Nabataean city of Petra, south of the Dead Sea, but he controlled Damascus as well. Paul here relates events that occurred shortly after his conversion to Christianity. The account in Acts says that “the Jews plotted together to do away with” Paul. (Ac 9:17-25) Paul attributes this attack to the local governor, or ethnarch, of Damascus, who served under the ruler Aretas. There is no contradiction between Luke’s account and Paul’s. One historical reference states: “The Jews furnished the motive, the Ethnarch the military force.”
basket: Or “wicker basket.” In telling the Corinthian Christians about his escape, Paul used the Greek word sar·gaʹne, which denotes a plaited basket made of rope or woven twigs. This type of basket may have been used for carrying large amounts of hay, straw, or wool.—See study note on Ac 9:25.
a window: In describing this event, the Greek text at Ac 9:25 literally says, “through the wall.” However, since the account here at 2Co 11:33 specifically mentions “a window,” there is solid basis for the rendering “through an opening in the wall” at Ac 9:25. Some suggest that Paul was lowered through a window in a disciple’s home that was part of the city wall.