Paul and His Opponents, 1-15
11:1 I wish that you would be patient with me in a little foolishness, but indeed you are being patient with me! 11:2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy, because I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.
Paul writes here, not from a wounded pride, but out of a deep concern for the welfare of his spiritual children; not for his own glory, but for their sakes, 2 Cor 12:19. He is prepared for this reason to indulge in a little ‘foolishness’ in speaking about himself. His reluctance to do so is obvious, but he is encouraged by the fact that they already bear with him, and so will understand his motives.
Paul has already referred to jibes made by his critics that he was ‘worldly’ and ‘timid’. Now he takes up another, that he is a ‘fool’, vv1,16,21. The word lit. means ‘a mindless person’.
v2 Paul has previously depicted himself as the slave of a conquering general, 2 Cor 2:14, the ‘aroma of Christ’, 2 Cor 2:13, Christ’s postman, 2 Cor 3:3, Christ’s ‘ambassador’, 2 Cor 5:20, and a fortress-conqueror, 2 Cor 10:4f. Now, he presents himself as father of the bride-to-be, keeping watch over his daughter until the husband comes and the marriage is consummated.
Paul’s motive in speaking ‘foolishly’ is that they are his spiritual offspring. He is viewing things from the eternal point of view. His love for them is not selfishly possessive: he burns with a fervent ardour and godly jealousy. As their spiritual father, 1 Cor 4:15, he has given his daughter in marriage to the divine Husband. Now, the betrothal of a maiden implies purity and faithfulness. By saying ‘one’ husband, Paul is stressing that believers owe an exclusive loyalty to Christ.
Paul looks forward to the time when he presents his Corinthian converts to Christ when he returns to take them with him to their eternal home. Then will the marriage of the Lamb with the Church be celebrated with heavenly joy, Mt 22:1ff; Mt 25:1ff; Jn 3:29; 14:2-3; Eph 5:22ff; Rev 19:7ff; 21:2,9.
In the OT, Israel is often spoken of as the Lord’s spouse, Isa 54:5-6; 62:5; Jer 3:14; Eze 16:8; Ho 2:19-20. Unfaithfulness is spoken of as spiritual adultery, Jdg 2:17; 8:27; 1 Chron 5:25; Ps 106:39; Jer 3:1; Eze 6:9; Eze 16:15ff; Hos 4:12; cf Jas 4:4. Notice here the identification of the Christ of the NT with Jehovah of the OT. There is also continuity between the church of the NT – the bride of Christ – and the church of the OT – the bride of Jehovah, cf Gal 6:16.
Notice also in passing the high view which Paul takes of marriage, since he can use it to describe such a beautiful and pure relationship.
Corinth was notoriously dissolute, and it is indeed wonderful that those who had formerly been so immoral, 1 Cor 6:9-11, could be reformed into spiritual virgins. They are therefore under obligation to keep themselves pure, cf 1 Jn 3:3.
11:3 But I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by his treachery, your minds may be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 11:4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus different from the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the one you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough!
As Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning – Scott says that Jewish tradition identified the serpent as Satan. That Paul does the same seems clear from 2 Cor 11:14, 12:7.
The Corinthians are in grave danger of being seduced into unfaithfulness by the false teachers who have insinuated themselves into their community. Satan is as active today as the father of lies, Jn 8:44, as he was when he first deceived Eve, the first bride. That these false teachers are emissaries of Satan is implicit here, and explicit in vv13-15. In appearing to be ministers of righteousness, they are aping their master, who can transform himself into an angel of light. Like him, they appear attractive and alluring; but, like him, they contradict the word of God and lead their victims to disaster in the form of corruption of mind and will. The enmity between Satan and Christ continues until the day of judgement; we continue to be threatened by the results of the first fall into sin until the day of judgement and the coming of the new creation.
‘Satan always lies coiled ready to strike at the first sign of weakness (see 2 Cor 2:11) and to exchange sugarcoated lies for the unvarnished truth.’ (Garland)
The ‘cunning’ of these teachers was their persuasive but false gospel and their charismatic power.
Your minds…led astray – As Kruse points out, ‘it is significant that the serpent’s ‘seduction’ of Eve was not sexual, as some rabbinic texts suggest, but rather a beguiling of her mind by denying the truth of what God had said (Gen. 3:1–7). Thus the story of Eve aptly depicts the sort of danger the Corinthians faced, i.e. that their thoughts will be led astray.’
Paul is alarmed that the bride-to-be (cf v2) is flirting, and is dangerously close to unfaithfulness.
Paul has asked them, v1 to ‘put up with’ his ‘foolishness’. The irony is that they ‘put up with’ these subversive teachers readily enough.
‘Someone’ who ‘comes’ is the antithesis of an apostle, who is ‘one who is sent’. They posed as apostles of Christ, but had not been sent by him.
This ‘other’ Jesus could be a ‘Jesus’ who was human but not divine; crucified but not risen; of David’s line but not the everlasting King of Glory. There are many competing Jesuses around today. It is not enough to mouth the name ‘Jesus’; we need to recover and reinstate the authentic Jesus, the Jesus of history, the Jesus of Scripture.
Receiving another ‘Jesus’ means receiving a ‘different Spirit’ – a spirit of the world, perhaps, 1 Cor 2:12, a spirit of bondage, Rom 8:18; Gal 2:4; 4:24; Col 2:20ff and enslavement to outmoded ordinances, 2 Tim 1:7; Rom 8:15.
‘The strongholds, arguments, and pretensions (2 Cor 10:4, 5) of Paul’s opponents so distort the truth that their so-called “Jesus,” “spirit,” and “gospel” differ radically from what Paul has preached (1 Cor 1:18-2:16; cf. Gal 1:6-9). The “different gospel” of the opponents conforms to worldly ways of thinking so much that Paul and his apostolic ministry-a ministry manifesting the death of Jesus through adversity and suffering (2 Cor 4:7-18; 6:4-10; cf. 1 Cor 4:8-13)-is despised and rejected in favor of ministries which satisfy the current taste for eloquence, philosophical wisdom, and spectacular displays of spiritual power.’ (cf. 1 Cor 1:22-25) (New Geneva)
11:5 For I consider myself not at all inferior to those “super-apostles.” 11:6 And even if I am unskilled in speaking, yet I am certainly not so in knowledge. Indeed, we have made this plain to you in everything in every way. 11:7 Or did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you could be exalted, because I proclaimed the gospel of God to you free of charge?
Paul’s argument here is: you bear well enough with imposters and intruders (v4), so bear with me (v1), since I am in no way inferior to such ‘super-apostles’. These were probably false teachers who had invaded his Corinthian territory and made themselves out to be more important than the apostles themselves. Cf v13; 12:11. Alternatively, but less likely, Paul is referring to the leading apostles themselves – Peter, James, and John; but cf. 1 Cor 15:9.
11:8 I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so that I could serve you! 11:9 When I was with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia fully supplied my needs. I kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. 11:10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia. 11:11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 11:12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may eliminate any opportunity for those who want a chance to be regarded as our equals in the things they boast about.
Cf. Acts 18:5
Paul’s opponents would have liked to have silenced Paul in this matter of not accepting financial remuneration, but he solemnly affirms that he will not be silenced.
Why did Paul not accept financial assistance from the Corinthians? (a) he felt compelled to preach the gospel, but to preach it without charge was his free choice, cf 1 Cor 9:15-18. (b) he did not wish to be a burden to those he ministered to. (c) Perhaps he did not wish to lose his independence by becoming obliged to anyone, and thus becoming their ‘client’, as would often have been the case in that culture.
Why then accept financial help from the Macedonians? Possibly he felt at more liberty to accept gifts which would be used for his ministry in other places.
I will keep on doing what I am doing – that it, declining financial assistance from the Corinthians. Paul’s opponents wanted to say that they were working in Corinth on the same terms as Paul. Indeed, they probably not only accepted remuneration but grabbed it greedily, cf v20. It would have been very convenient for them if Paul stopped his present practice, but he refused to do so.
11:13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 11:14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 11:15 Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will correspond to their actions.
It is Satan’s role as a deceiver which is particularly in mind here. Think of Gen 3 and the serpent’s deception of Eve. In certain Jewish writings Satan appears as an angel of light to deceive Eve.
Gurnall remarks that Satan ‘hangs out false colours, and comes up to the Christian in the disguise of a friend, so that the gates are opened to him, and his motions received with applause, before either be discovered; therefore he is said to ‘transform himself into an angel of light,’ 2 Cor. 11:14.’
Satan’s Deceptive Cunning. Satan’s deceptive cunning is highlighted by Paul’s statement that he becomes an angel of light, disguising evil as good. (2 Cor 11:14) his destructive ferocity comes out in the description of him as a roaring, devouring lion (1 Pet 5:8) and as a dragon. (Rev 12:9) As he was Christ’s sworn foe (Mt 4:1-11; 16:23; Lk 4:13; Jn 14:30; cf. Lk 22:3,53), so now he is the Christian’s, always probing for weaknesses, misdirecting strengths, and undermining faith, hope, and character. (Lk 22:32; 2 Cor 2:11; 11:3-15; Eph 6:16) he should be taken seriously, for malice and cunning make him fearsome; yet not so seriously as to provoke abject terror of him, for he is a beaten enemy. Satan is stronger than we are, but Christ has triumphed over Satan, (Mt 12:29) and Christians will triumph over him too if they resist him with the resources that Christ supplies. (Eph 6:10-13; Jas 4:7; 1 Pet 5:9-10) “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1Jo 4:4)
‘The good, by a free choice, was the cause of evil and remains its substratum. Fallen angels and humans, as creatures, are and remain good and exist from moment to moment only by and in and for God. And, just as sin is dependent on the good in its origin and existence, so it is in its operation and struggle. It has the power to do anything only with and by means of the powers and gifts that are God-given. Satan has, therefore, correctly been called the ape of God. When God builds a church, Satan adds a chapel. Over against a true prophet, he raises up a false prophet. Over against Christ, he poses the Antichrist. Even a band of robbers can only exist if, within its own organization, it respects the rules. A liar always garbs himself or herself in the guise of truth. A sinner pursues evil under pretense of the good. Satan himself appears as an angel of light. In its operation and appearance, sin is always doomed to borrow, despite itself, from the treasury of virtue. It is subject to the unalterable fate – while striving for the destruction of all good – of working simultaneously on its own demise. It is a parasite of the good.’ (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ.)
Paul’s Sufferings for Christ, 16-33
11:16 I say again, let no one think that I am a fool. But if you do, then at least accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 11:17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence I do not say the way the Lord would. Instead it is, as it were, foolishness. 11:18 Since many are boasting according to human standards, I too will boast. 11:19 For since you are so wise, you put up with fools gladly. 11:20 For you put up with it if someone makes slaves of you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone behaves arrogantly toward you, if someone strikes you in the face. 11:21 (To my disgrace I must say that we were too weak for that!)
Paul has been accused of being worldly, foolish, and weak. He has answered the first of these in 10:4. Now begins a section, vv16-21a, in which he deals with the second and third of these accusations in a combined reply. He begins his ‘boasting’ about his credentials, trials, visions, and mighty works. He knows that such boasting is foolish, but since his opponents’ boasting has swayed some of the Corinthians, he feels compelled to do a little boasting himself.
In this section, Paul asks his readers to bear with him, and remarks that this is not the way the Lord would have spoken. He points out that his readers have been ready enough to bear with other fools, even though these others have acted in a highhanded and pretentious way, and says ironically, “We were to weak for that!”
I repeat – cf v1, which was followed by the long digression of vv2-15.
Paul is about to speak as if he were a fool, but only because of the gullibility of those taken in by false apostles, 2 Cor 12:11. Let them listen to him as they have listened so readily to others.
I am not talking as the Lord would – Here, in an aside, is the reason for Paul’s embarassment: he knows that he is not speaking as the Lord would have done. Of course, our Lord made the most staggering claims for himself, yet these were claims were totally justified, and uttered in complete humility and self-giving love, cf Phil 2:5ff. Paul himself is one of those who ‘glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh’, Php 3:3; cf Gal 6:14. Boasting is a mark of folly, for the Christian has nothing which he has not received, 1 Cor 4:7. Yet there are times when apparent boasting may clear away the misconceptions of some of the weaker brethren. ‘When his own efforts were being depreciated, and there was a danger in consequence that the gospel, which could never be dissociated in the converts’ minds from him who had proclaimed it to them, might also be discredited, then the apostle felt it a duty to indulge in this disagreeable task.’ (Tasker) In this respect, then, his motive is entirely Christlike. His heart is pure and his conscience clear.
The question of inspiration is not an issue here. What Paul is saying is that self-praise, considered in itself, is not a Christ-like virtue, cf Pr 27:2. But it may become a necessary duty when the vindication of the truth, or the honour of the gospel, or the well-being of fellow-Christians, are at stake.
In the way the world does – = ‘after the flesh’, according to the old, unregenerate nature, and the standards of this fallen world, such as ancestry, achievements and accolades. Cf Rom 7:18.
Humility was not regarded as a virtue in the Graeco-Roman world. After all, people had no hope of glory in an after-life, and so needed to seek it in this life. The social convention was, therefore, to outdo others in boasting of victories, official positions, buildings completed, and other achievements. These were listed on monuments and public buildings, depicted on murals, and set forth in epic narratives. Boasting was also commonplace among the Jews, cf Lk 18:9-12; and Paul himself recalls his pre-Christian grounds for boasting in Php 3:4-6.
Now, Paul is going to meet his opponents on their own ground, but with a pure motive.
‘Paul reluctantly resorted to the methods of the many that he might save his work at Corinth from utter ruin.’ (WBC) ‘It is because “many” (his opponents) boast according to the flesh, and because his converts have been won over by such boasting, that Paul feels forced to indulge in it too for their sakes, even though he is painfully aware that such boasting is pure folly.’ (Kruse)
But whatever anyone else dares to boast about (I am speaking foolishly), I also dare to boast about the same thing. 11:22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am talking like I am out of my mind!) I am even more so: with much greater labors, with far more imprisonments, with more severe beatings, facing death many times. 11:24 Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes less one. 11:25 Three times I was beaten with a rod. Once I received a stoning. Three times I suffered shipwreck. A night and a day I spent adrift in the open sea. 11:26 I have been on journeys many times, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own countrymen, in dangers from Gentiles, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers from false brothers, 11:27 in hard work and toil, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, many times without food, in cold and without enough clothing.
Paul’s lengthy preamble is finished. The time has come to begin the disagreeable task of ‘foolish’ boasting. He is well able to match any claim of his rivals. He has equal reason for audacity. His record is second to none. He is defending himself not for his own sake, but for the sake of the Corinthian church and the Gospel itself. He has been forced to compare himself with these usurpers because of their deceit and the toleration of the Corinthian church.
He meets his critics head on, answering their claims point for point: their Jewish pedigree and their being servants of Christ, vv22f; their visions and revelations, 2 Cor 12:1; their mighty works, 2 Cor 12:12. He will indulge in a little boasting to show that he is in no way inferior to them in any of these area. But he repeatedly points out how relucant he is to boast in this way, 2 Cor 11:30; 12:1,11.
On ‘answering fools according to their folly’, see Prov 26:4-5.
It is apparent that Paul’s antagonists were Palestinian Jews who used the purity of their descent and their pride in their Hebrew language to impose their Judaistic ‘gospel’ on the Corinthians. But his pedigree is in no way inferior to theirs. Though born in Tarsus in Cilicia he too is a pure Hebrew. He has inherited the same privileges; although he places a very different value on them, cf Rom 4:9-18.
Hebrews – may refer to ethnic purity, as in Php 3:5. Alternatively, the term may be used to distinguish Aramaic-speaking Palestinian Jews (Hebrews) from Greek-speaking Jews of the Dispersion (Hellenists), cf Acts 6:1. Paul could read the Scriptures in their original language, and was well able to address a mob at Jerusalem in their native Aramaic dialect, Acts 21:40 22:2. In any case, Paul is asserting that his Jewish ancestry is as pure as his ancestors.
Israelites – refers to theocracy and descent from Israel. A reminder of the people who were ‘adopted by God to be his own his peculiar possession, the special object of his care, the guardians of his law, and chose to reflect his glory in the world’ (Tasker). Cf Rom 9:4. Paul was an Israelite by reason of birth, and a true Israelite by reason of the new birth.
Abraham’s descendents – refers to a claim to share in the promised Messiah, Gal 3:29 Rom 9:7 11:1. See Php 3:5 – ‘a Hebrew of the Hebrews’ – not a Hellenist or Greek-speaking Jew, but a Hebrew-speaker, descended from Hebrews, cf Acts 22:3. The seed of Abraham has now come in the person of Jesus Christ, and all true believers are members of the true Israel of God, and heirs of the promises made to the patriarchs.
It is not clear precisely what nuances should be seen between these three terms. In any case, the main point is clear: whatever Jewishness his opponents could boast of, Paul could do the same.
Paul here takes the literary convention of boasting and turns it on its head. He boasts in folly, weakness, disappointment, and defeat. This passage (23-29) contains the most comprehensive catalogue of Paul’s trials and afflictions. Cf. Rom 8:35; 1 Cor 4:9-13; 2 Cor 4:8-9; 6:4-5; 12:10.
Those who claim that following Christ inevitably leads to a better quality of life in this world reckon without Paul’s experience as recounted here.
In terms of Jewish ancestry, Paul has claimed to be equal to his opponents. But in the matter of being a servant of Christ, he will show that he is more than their equal.
Are they servants of Christ? – Paul concedes this for the sake of argument, although he has denied it in vv13-15. He will proceed to claim that he is a better servant of Christ, by listing his apostolic trials.
I am out of my mind – Paul knows that ‘to glory about so sacred a matter as the service of Christ is downright madness.’ (Plummer) he has already warned the Corinthians against such comparisons, 1 Cor 1:11-16 3:4-9,21-22 4:1, but circumstances have forced him to do just that.
I am more – ‘I am more a servant of Christ than my opponents.’ Paul claims superiority on four points:-
- he has worked harder; his evangelistic campaigns have been more numerous and more arduous;
- he has been imprisoned more often. We have only one definite record of imprisonment prior to this epistle, viz at Philippi, Acts 16, but Clement of Rome (AD 96) states that Paul was imprisoned 7 times, and it is usually supposed that Paul was in prison during his stay in Ephesus, Acts 19;
- he has been flogged more severely, cf Gal 6:17, w Mt 10:17 Mk 13:9. Of course, Paul himself had been the instigator of such floggings prior to his conversion, Acts 22:20 26:11. By the time of writing, he had been flogged five times in the Jewish synagogues. Forty strokes was the maximum punishment which could be inflicted short of the death penalty, Deut 25:3, and this was reduced to 39 for fear of a miscount. ‘Notice that the Jews, even in cruelty and injustice to a servant of God, were scruplously careful to obey in an insignificant detail the letter of the Law, cf Mt 23:23.’ (J.A. Beet)
- he has been in such constant danger of death that he can say, ‘I die daily’, 1 Cor 15:31; cf 2 Cor 1:9.
Three times I was beaten with rods – this by the Roman authorities. We have only the record of the one at Philippi, Acts 16:22ff. Such action was illegal in the case of a Roman citizen, although other ancient literature confirms that there were exceptions. Perhaps this is why Paul wrote soon after the incident in Philippi of having been ‘insulted’, 1 Thess 2:2, and for the same reason the magistrates apologised to Paul afterwards, Acts 16:38f.
Once I was stoned – and left for dead, at Lystra, Acts 14:19. This was not a Jewish judicial act, Le 24:14,16, but one of mob violence.
Three times I was shipwrecked – these not mentioned by Luke in Acts, and obviously took place before that recorded in ch 27. We know that Paul made many voyages – 9 are recorded in Acts and the number was perhaps as many as 18 (P.E. Hughes) and sailing was hazardous in those days.
A night and a day in the open sea – adrift at sea, perhaps clinging to wreckage for up to 24 hours before being rescued. Again, a life-threatening experience.
This catalogue of sufferings vividly fills out the selective outline of his life and labours in Acts. ‘The reality of Paul’s ministry is so completely beyond the empty claims of the Judaizers that no comparison between them is possible.’ (Wilson)
The response of Paul’s opponents to all of this might well have been, ‘more fool you.’ But Paul was proud to be a fool for Christ’s sake.
Paul’s opponents boasted of superiority, of being ‘super-apostles’, 11:5; 12:11. In contrast to their triumphalism, the follower of Christ shows meekness, gentleness and humility. Paul follows the way of the cross with its humble service.
Christian ministers should take this passage to heart, and be reminded that ‘minister’ means ‘servant.’ There is a danger that those in Christian leadership will use their position or gifts to create a circle of admirers, to cause people to lean on him like a crutch, or to tyrannise people. But there are others whose roles give them authority over others: parents, employers, managers, teachers, and so on. Such authority should be exercised unflinchingly, yet always in a spirit of fairness and humility.
Paul’s zeal raises questions about our zeal. He was motivated by a clear grasp of the love, 5:14, and fear, 5:10-11, of Christ.
False brethren – those very people who were opposing Paul and his gospel at Corinth, cf Gal 2:4.
And all these hazards because of his apostolic commission. Could they be matched by those of the pseudo-apostles, in prosecution of their false gospel? Their perils were like those of the Pharisees, cf Mt 23:15, and like those of the cultist today.
External perils have been mentioned in the previous verse; this verse catalogues the physical privations the Paul endured, and which must have threatened to quench the ardour of his spirit. And here was a man constantly suffering from ill-health, 2 Cor 4:7-12; 12:7-10; Gal 4:13f.
Without sleep – either through anxiety or sheer hard work. Paul would preach and teach late into the night, Acts 20:7-12,31, when those who laboured during the day would be able to listen. There were also occasions when he had to ply his trade so as to support himself, 2 Thess 3:7-8.
Hunger and thirst – although receiving some income from manual work and gifts from the Macedonians, Paul sometimes experienced want, Php 4:10-13, and there must have been times when he went without adequate nourishment and clothing, cf Rom 8:35; 1 Cor 4:11; 2 Tim 4:13.
11:28 Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxious concern for all the churches. 11:29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not burn with indignation? 11:30 If I must boast, I will boast about the things that show my weakness. 11:31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is blessed forever, knows I am not lying. 11:32 In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to arrest me, 11:33 but I was let down in a rope-basket through a window in the city wall, and escaped his hands.
Besides everything else – there were many other things which he could have mentioned.
The pressure of my concern for all the churches – he carried a heavy burden of care and concern which was not matched by the callous indifference of the imposters they had been so ready to welcome as their true leaders. Jesus had cautioned his disciples against excessive anxiety about oneself, Mt 6:25-34, but exemplified a sacrificial concern for others, Lk 13:34.
This concern was not mere fussiness: we know that Paul had to deal with serious and frequent problems in the churches which necessitated his visits and letters as well as his constant prayers. Cf 1 Cor 11:19; 1 Tim 4:1.
v30 This verse sums up what has gone before, vv23-28, and introduces what is to follow, 12:5-10. It thus forms the beginning of a new section, and ch 12 might well have begun here (Hughes).
Again, Paul shows his distaste for boasting, and indicates that he is going to turn the whole thing on its head.
Paul joins his opponents in the foolishness of boasting, but his boasting is very different to theirs. He does not boast of achievements, but of weakness. He says the very things a boastful person would have been silent about. The Corinthians have listened to the boasting of the false apostles; now let them hear Paul’s boast, and see what they make of that.
The whole thrust of this epistle is to emphasise the weakness of the human vessel and so to magnify the glorious grace and power of God, 2 Cor 1:8ff; 2:12ff; 3:5; 4:7ff,16ff; 5:1ff; 6:4ff; 7:5ff; 10:17f; 11:9f,23ff; 12:1ff; 13:4.
Here is a solemn assurance of the truth of what he has said and is about to say concerning his weakness. There was no name or person to whom Paul could more solemnly appeal as a witness of his truthfulness. There may be an allusion here to the calumnies circulating about Paul, who couldn’t speak the truth, or, at least, couldn’t make up his mind, cf 1:17.
The relation of this incident has the appearance of an afterthought. However, the chapter-division which contributes to this impression is unfortunate, since it suggests that Paul his adding here to his catalogue of afflictions experienced as a Christian minister.
So why mention Damascus at this point? Perhaps because this marked the beginning of his ‘weakness’. It was his first ‘apprenticeship’ in persecution (Calvin). It was there that ‘the persecutor became the persecuted’ (Waite). He entered the city in arrogance, and left it in humility, Acts 9:1-2,23-25. Moreover, Paul’s escape from that city stands in sharp contrast to the experience he is about to describe, 12:2ff. ‘The man who experienced the ineffable “ascent” even to the third heaven was the same man who had experienced the undistinguished “descent” from a window in the Damascus wall…The relation of his rapture into the third heaven is hemmed in, as it were, on the one side by the narration of his inglorious escape in weakness from Damascus and, on the other, by the reference to the humiliating “thorn in the flesh” which he was called upon to endure.’ (Hughes)
King Aretas – Aretas IV (9 BC – AD 39) was ruler of the Nabataeans, an Arabian nation whose kingdom had once included Damascus. By NT times the city had become part of the Roman province of Syria, but during the reign of Caligula (AD 37-41) a policy of reinstituting eastern states would have led to Aretas being given control of Damascus. This would date Paul’s escape from Damascus between AD 37-39.