I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me!
2 Corinthians 11:1
Some have called this Paul’s boasting chapter. He knew that boasting was a foolish thing to do, but some of the Corinthians and their Judaizing friends had driven him to it. Perhaps Paul was acting according to Proverbs 26:5, which says that we should answer fools according to their folly.1 “While he assumes the guise of a madman for rhetorical purposes (being able to assume various styles was part of rhetorical training), it is his opponents who generally boast and hence are truly mad.” 2 Paul does add that it is only a “little” foolishness. Obviously, Paul is dealing with the problem in an ironic fashion.
So Paul is the founder and father of the church, but the Judaizers, and no small number of the Corinthian believers, now consider him a madman. He consents to play the part, but only for their final correction and edification.
“I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (11:2). Regarding jealousy (zēlos), there is human jealousy which is oft times evil, and then there is godly jealousy which is good. Chrysostom says, “Human jealousy is basically selfish, but divine jealousy is both intense and pure.” 3 We see in the Bible that God had a pure and zealous love for his betrothed Israel (Hos. 1-3; Isa. 50:1-2; 54:1-8; 62:5). A similar love is reflected in the New Testament for his betrothed in waiting, the church (Matt. 25:1-13; Jn. 3:29; Eph. 5:25; Rev. 19:7).
The apostle may be presenting two pictures here. Perhaps he is presenting himself as the father who jealously guards his daughter until the time of her marriage. Comfort says, “If the bride wasn’t a virgin on the wedding day, it was considered a breach of the engagement contract.” 4 In Israel, the legal contract instituting a betrothal was a very serious matter, almost as binding as marriage. As in some cultures today, sexual faithfulness was vitally important. In ancient Israel, on the night of the marriage consummation a bloodstained cloth was kept as a proof of the wife’s virginity.5
So Paul is like a father, zealously guarding the church as the betrothed of Christ, that he can happily and confidently present her to Christ at his coming. There is another picture that may also be in play here. Paul may also be presenting himself as the arranger of the marriage.6 So, the picture of the friend of the bridegroom may also be reflected. This one had the duty of liaison between the couple. He also had the job of helping guard the bride’s chastity.7
It would surely change the church today if we fully realized that we as a body are the betrothed of the Lord Jesus Christ. We would be anxiously preparing ourselves for the wedding, while at the same time fleeing and forsaking all things that would defile us.
We should note the Greek word for “promised” (espoused or betrothed) is the word hērmosamēn. The word “harmonize” is derived from this word, and it has the basic meaning of joining together or bringing into close association.8 Augustine comments: “What Mary merited physically, the church has guarded spiritually, with the exception that Mary brought forth one Child, while the church has many children destined to be gathered into one body by One.” 9
“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (11:3). Here Paul refers back to Genesis chapter 3, with the fall of the human race through the deception of Eve (Gen. 3:13; cf. 1 Tim. 2:13-15). Obviously, his concern here is that the Corinthian church was also being deceived by false apostles.
We see an interesting pattern in Satan’s deception of the human mother Eve. “First, he questioned God’s word (‘Yea, hath God said?’), then he denied God’s word (‘Ye shall not surely die’), and then he substituted his own lie (‘Ye shall be as gods’).” 10 How smoothly the pseudo-apostles, pseudo-theologians and pseudo-philosophers of Corinth led them astray. How smoothly do these types of our own day beguile us and lead us away from our sincere devotion to the Lord. Our prayer and cry should be, “Keep me close to the Shepherd.” “Thomas ‘a Kempis, has gathered this idea up. (Perhaps he got it from this very verse.) ‘…By two wings man is lifted from the things of earth—simplicity and
No doubt, we should ask the Lord to keep us close to simplicity, purity and sincere devotion to him. The words for sincerity and purity as seen in the original Greek of this verse are the words haplotetos (simplicity, sincerity) and hagnotetos (purity, chastity).12 Someone once asked the famous theologian, Karl Barth, about the greatest theological thought that had even crossed his mind. The one who asked, no doubt expected a complicated theological answer. However, Barth replied: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” 13
For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. 2 Corinthians 11:4
It seems that the Corinthians were in a similar position of that experienced by the Galatians earlier. Paul said of them: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…” (Gal. 1:6). We note here that it was a different Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel. We have many cults running around doing this same kind of teaching today and we must beware of them and guard ourselves.
We do not know exactly what these false apostles were teaching. The fact that the different spirit is mentioned makes us wonder if the excessive emphasis the Corinthians were making on the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12 & 14) caused them to play into the hands of a false religion that greatly emphasized weird spiritual experiences of some type. Comfort sighs, “Exactly how the false teaching was different from the gospel Paul preached has intrigued biblical scholars for centuries.” 14
There are several things that seem obvious about these false apostles. They were Jewish, and apparently Jewish Christians, or false Christians. They were from Jerusalem. In one sense, they were like the Judaizers who were upsetting the Galatians. However, they were apparently making no demands about keeping the law, food laws or circumcision. They seemed to be emphasizing a special knowledge, special powers, and special spiritual experiences.15 It appears that they might have been Hellenistic Jews (Acts 6:1 ff.), since they were emphasizing the importance of proper Greek rhetoric.16
In all this, Paul is injecting more than a little irony. Bruce paraphrases: “You put up readily enough with someone who comes with a different message from that which brought you salvation: why not put up with the apostle who came with the message which did bring you salvation?” 17
“I do not think I am in the least inferior to those ‘super-apostles’” (11:5). Over the centuries, there has been a little confusion about this verse. Some earlier commentators thought this was a reference to the main group of apostles in Jerusalem, to Peter, John, and the others. Today, it is pretty clear that Paul is speaking sarcastically and referring to the Judaizers themselves— calling them the “super apostles.” 18
“I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way” (11:6). Kretzmann says, “As a matter of fact, Paul was a forceful speaker, Act. 19:12; Act. 22:1; Act. 24:10; Act. 26:2; but he purposely avoided the glittering methods of the professional speakers.” 19 Comfort adds that Paul was not a product of the Greek schools of oratory and speechmaking, and in fact, he avoided the high-sounding arguments and preached the simple gospel message instead. 20
The Greek word for untrained or unskilled here is idiōtēs. This spoke of a man who only attended to his own affairs and did not enter public life.21 Such a one was unskilled in the matter of public speaking of course.
There is a famous story which tells how a company of people were dining together. After dinner it was agreed that each should recite something. A well-known actor rose and, with all the resources of elocution and dramatic art, he declaimed the twenty-third psalm and sat down to tremendous applause. A quiet man followed him. He too began to recite the twenty-third psalm and at first there was rather a titter. But before he had ended there was a stillness that was more eloquent than any applause. When he had spoken the last words there was silence, and then the actor leant across and said, “Sir, I know the psalm, but you know the shepherd.” 22
When Paul spoke, he did so with great zeal and content. His speech once calmed a mob in Jerusalem. They stood for a time transfixed, as we see in Acts 22. When in Athens, he was invited to speak to the members of the Areopagus, which was the highest tribunal of the Greek world.23 When we look at the skill in which Paul introduced to them the one True God, we have to acknowledge that maybe Paul was a great speaker after all (Acts 17:16-34).
PAUL, WORKING FOR A LIVING
Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? 2 Corinthians 11:7
The fact that Paul was working among the Corinthians without receiving pay was surely upsetting the Judaizers, who were very intent on getting their pay. No doubt, these false apostles lost no time in charging that Paul was not a real apostle, and the fact that he received no pay was proof of it. In the Greek society, manual labor was looked down upon. It was beneath a person’s dignity to work with his or her hands. The philosophers and highly skilled public speakers expected pay for their deliveries. Barclay comments: “There never was an age in which a man who could talk could make so much money…Every town was entitled to grant complete exemption from all civic burdens and taxes to a certain number of teachers of rhetoric and literature. Paul’s independence was something that the Corinthians could not understand…” 24 Perhaps he was an embarrassment to some of the cultured Corinthian Christians, even before the Judaizers came along.
Clearly, Paul accepted offerings from other churches. Obviously, he had made a good decision not to accept anything from the Corinthians. Since he was blamed for not receiving pay, we can only imagine the fuss that would have ensued had he elected to receive it. The Corinthians had a free ride and even complained about that.
“I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you” (11:8). We know that Paul did receive gifts from the churches at Philippi and Thessalonica after he had left their areas (cf. Phil. 4:15-18; 1 Thess. 3:6; 2 Cor. 11:9). The expression “I robbed” is a military term depicting how a Roman soldier would “strip” the dead enemy.25 The word for support (opsōnion) is another military term. It has reference to the daily ration in food and money that the Roman soldier would receive.26 Here it has the essential meaning of wages.
“And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so” (11:9). Pett comments, “This suggests that Corinth was full of preachers of all kinds, and of many religions and philosophies, whose main concern was to be paid for what they did. He did not want to appear to be like them.” 27 Apparently, during Paul’s initial ministry in Corinth, he was greatly assisted by offerings from Macedonia brought by Silas and Timothy. At that point, he was able to devote himself entirely to preaching and teaching (Acts 18:5). Ambrosiaster added: “Paul accepted contributions from the Macedonians because they corrected their faults. But he refused anything from the Corinthians because they were less ready to correct theirs.” 28
PAUL’S LABOR OF LOVE
As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 2 Corinthians 11:10-11
Paul once again speaks of his boasting. Keener reminds us, “Boasting was considered acceptable if it was for someone else’s sake and not simply for one’s own.” 29 His whole purpose of boasting was for the good of the Corinthians.
“And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about” (11:12). “Paul knew that the fact he hadn’t taken any money from the Corinthians was the strongest rebuttal to the false teachers, for their whole purpose in preaching was to gather a following who would support them (see 2:17).” 30 We now know that these so-called “super apostles” could not be remotely compared to Paul. They were mere wimps, stealing their livelihood from the great spiritual work of Paul. They had not suffered as he had, nor had they paid the awful price he had paid.
THE MASQUERADES OF SATAN
For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:13
Here Paul pulls no punches. He tells it like it is by publicly labeling these Jewish troublemakers as false apostles. This statement should have been enough for the Corinthian church to have stripped them of their masquerades and sent these imposters packing. This is pretty strong language. Pett says, “Paul often writes elsewhere about false teachers, but nowhere else does he speak of false apostles…They were denying him any right to authority in the sphere to which he had been appointed. Thus he has to defend his authority.” 31
In today’s western church, supposed “apostles” can be found all over. Several cults have started with such as these. Today, there are people advertising that they can make others apostles, providing the prospective apostles pay the required fee. Hughes notes that in today’s church, “an individual has only to make the most preposterous claims for himself in order to gain an enthusiastic and undiscerning following.” 32
We must remember the warning of Jesus: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matt. 7:15-16). Chrysostom says: “The false apostles looked good on the surface, but underneath they robbed the soul.” 33 Comfort warns that a first sign of any false teacher is that he tries to discredit the true teachers and preachers.34
“And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (11:14). Our Old Testament does not describe Satan in this manner, however, other Jewish writings so do.35 The Old Testament does say in Isaiah 14:12: “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” Conservative scholars have felt that this is a veiled reference to Satan.36 The devil was thus created as a most wonderful light bearer or brilliantly shining angel. However, Satan fell from his position and became a being of darkness. It should not amaze us that he still tries to appear as an angel of light.
“It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (11:15). As the old saying goes, “like father, like son!” As Satan himself masquerades, so do his followers. Paul is making clear that the Judaizing apostles are plainly children of the devil (cf. Jn. 8:44).
In the church today we must prove all things. We must observe and see what manner of fruit certain teachers are bearing. If we get stuck with a thorn we can be pretty sure we will not find a nice delicious fig on that tree. This whole section is also a warning to those who would teach the Bible. We are assured in James 3:1, that teachers will be judged more strictly than other believers. Teachers must stay close to Jesus and get the message right.
PAUL FORCED TO BOAST SOME MORE
I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 2 Corinthians 11:16
Paul boasts about the price he has paid, not about the price he is paid. Barclay says: “All against his will Paul is forced to produce his credentials as an apostle…Nevertheless, not for his own sake, but for the sake of the gospel that he preaches, it has to be done….” Barclay continues speaking of Paul’s Hebrew background, “Theoretically they held that a rabbi must take no money for teaching and must win his bread by the work of his hands, but they also taught that it was work of exceptional merit to support a rabbi and that he who did so made sure of a place in the heavenly academy.” 37 We can see how it was quite natural for Paul to minister without official pay. In fact, rabbis through the centuries have often worked at secular jobs while they ministered to the flock. This working without pay seemed to have greatly troubled the Judaizers and the Corinthian Christians.
Kretzmann notes that while Paul worked for his living and earned his keep, these false apostles were perfect examples of avarice. They instead robbed the members of the church as they greedily demanded support. They cared nothing for the people but cared only for their own welfare and advantage.38 They simply forced Paul to boast. Keener adds: “Rhetorical teachers like Quintilian and moralists like Plutarch warned their readers never to boast of themselves unless forced to do so by the necessities of a defense or some other very good reason…” 39 Philip Hughes adds of Paul: “Any boasting he did was not for his own sake but theirs, and for the sake of the purity of the gospel in their midst.” 40
“In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast” (11:17-18). Kelcy suspects that the Lord allowed Paul to boast since it was the best weapon he could use in his situation.41 Coffman adds, “When the hay and stubble of their false claims were viewed alongside the pure gold of God’s work in the life of Paul, only a fool could have failed to see the difference.” 42
You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 2 Corinthians 11:19-20
Paul continues to give the Corinthians a heavy dose of irony. The Corinthians had prided themselves in their wisdom, but they now find themselves putting up with fools. Apparently, the false apostles were growing quite abusive. Maybe the Corinthians were even impressed with this aggressiveness.
There is one thing we usually see with false apostles and false prophets. Abusing people in the spiritual realm is never satisfactory for them. They must also abuse in the fleshly realm. It is said, “The dupes of duplicity are the wildest defenders of the very men who debauch them!” 43 Here, it appears that the abuse is a slap in the face, along with preying financially on the flock of course. However, it usually gets worse and soon entails things like sexual abuse. Even this is not satisfactory for abusers and such a thing can also end in the death of the abused. Here, several cult leaders come in mind, who eventually led their groups into mass suicide. We can hardly bear to think of the spiritual suicide involved.
We must never forget Satan’s overall plan of operation. Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). Coffman says of the expression “Take advantage,” that it “is from a Greek verb used to describe how a hunter ‘catches’ animals with a trap or a bait…The oppressive methods of these false teachers should have tipped off the Corinthians to their questionable motives.” 44 Barnes says of the word “slap” or “smite” (derō) that it has to do with skinning or flaying. In the New Testament it also alludes to beating, scourging and taking off skin (Matt 21:35; Mk. 12:3, 5). 45
“To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! Whatever anyone else dares to boast about— I am speaking as a fool— I also dare to boast about” (11:21). Barker and Kohlenberger state, “Paul has already made several efforts to begin sustained boasting (see 10:8; 11:1, 16). Now he finally brings himself to this distasteful task.” 46 However, the apostle readily confesses that he had failed at boasting and inflicting abuse upon the Corinthians. He admits that the so-called super apostles were experts in these areas. Paul was not willing to try and dominate the church but was willing to take a position of weakness and serve the church like a slave.47
PAUL’S TRAIL OF TEARS
Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 2 Corinthians 11:22
While the false apostles were bragging about their Hebrew heritage Paul was forced to declare his impeccable credentials. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, born of Hebrew parents and not only that, he had studied in Jerusalem with the most famous scholar, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). He had excelled over many others in Judaism, being extremely zealous (Gal. 1:13-14). He was a bona fide descendant of Abraham.
Paul spells out his pedigree in Philippians 3:4-7: “…If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.”
While many Jews of the diaspora had totally forgotten their native tongue and had resorted to speaking Greek, Paul was a natural Hebrew speaker.48 Bruce says, that the expression “Hebrews” in the New Testament is a more specialized term than “Israelites.” “Hebrews” speaks of those Jews who actually have family ties in the land of Israel.49 Although Paul was a Jew from Tarsus, it is clear that he actually had close relatives living in Jerusalem (Acts 23:16).
“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again” (11:23). Paul can hardly believe that the false apostles have goaded him into such boasting. However, “He was turning the tables on his critics by boasting in his weaknesses instead of his strengths (11:30).” 50 He had literally poured out his life for decades in the cause of Christ, something the false apostles would not and could not do.
He had gone to prison frequently. Up to this time, we have only one imprisonment of Paul recorded (Acts 16:23-40; 1 Thess. 2:2). However, Clement of Rome, in writing his First Epistle to the Corinthians, states that Paul was in bonds seven times.51 One writer quipped that Paul could have written a guide to the jails of the Mediterranean world.
Not only was Paul in prison for the gospel more frequently, but he had often been flogged for his preaching. We can be sure that the false apostles had no marks to show on their bodies. Of course, he was flogged prior to his imprisonment at Philippi (Acts 16:22). Clarke points out that a beating from the heathen was a serious matter, since there were no rules about scourging criminals. Paul was unmercifully beaten with many stripes.52
“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one” (11:24). The Jews, according to Deuteronomy 25:1-3, were allowed to give forty stripes, but in order not to break their own law by mistake, the stripes were limited to 39. The Mishnah gives us details of this punishment:
They bind his two hands to a pillar on either side, and the minister of the synagogue lays hold on his garments— if they are torn, they are torn, if they are utterly rent, they are utterly rent— so that he bares his chest. A stone is set behind him on which the minister of the synagogue stands with a strap of calf-hide in his hand, doubled and re-doubled, and two [other] straps that rise and fall [are fastened] thereto. The hand piece of the strap is one handbreadth long and one handbreadth wide; and its end must reach to his navel. He gives him one third of the stripes in front and two thirds behind; and he may not strike him when he is standing or when he is sitting, but only when he is bending low… and he that smites, smites with one hand and with all his might. 53
Coffman asks: “Aside from the Christ himself, whoever suffered as did Paul for the propagation of Christianity?” 54 Clearly, the love of Christ constrained him (5:14).
“Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,” (11:25). The beating with rods was a Roman punishment. In those days magistrates were called lictors. They were equipped with birch wood with which they punished criminals. Paul had undergone this punishment three times but in all those times it was illegal. Being a Roman citizen, it was forbidden for him to be so scourged.55
Paul was not only beaten but he was stoned. This event happened at Lystra (Acts 14:19). It is almost unthinkable for a person to live through a stoning but he did. No doubt it was a pure miracle. When we think of stones we probably think of gravel. However, stoning was often done with huge stones that could cause severe damage with each blow.
The apostle had also suffered shipwreck, not just once but three times. The greatest shipwreck was yet to happen on his final journey to Rome. These occasions of shipwreck do not fit into the chronicle of Acts, so they likely happened in Paul’s earlier life when he was at Tarsus.56 Comfort says, “…The fact that Paul survived twenty-four hours adrift at sea would have been considered miraculous in the first century, a sign of God’s hand on
his life.” 57
We sense in Scripture that the Hebrews were not too fond of the sea. Keener says, “…death at sea was the most frightful form of death in antiquity (partly due to the pagan belief that the spirits of those who died at sea roamed forever because they were not properly buried)…there were no lifeboats…or life jackets…” 58
Paul goes on with his tale of woe: “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers” (11:26). Paul was a man on the move. He no doubt had to cross many rivers the hard way, because there were few bridges in the ancient world.59 Of course, the ancient roadways were often infested with bandits. Perhaps Paul was thinking here of that very hazardous road over the Taurus Range in the area of Perga and Pamphylia (Acts 13:14; 14:24).60 Whether he was among his people the Jews or whether he was among the Gentiles, his life was usually in danger. By preaching the gospel, Paul was simply in danger everywhere.
Here he again mentions the dangers at sea. “…Men regarded a sea voyage as taking one’s life in one’s hands…It was the commonest thing for a traveler to be caught and held to ransom. If ever a man was an adventurous soul, that man was Paul.” 61 Of course, one of Paul’s most dreaded dangers was that of false believers, particularly false apostles like those troubling the Corinthian church. No doubt, Paul often remembered the words of Jesus, that were later recorded in John’s gospel: “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).
“I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (11:27). We have seen the word for labor, but here he adds the Greek mochthos. Barnes says, “It implies painful effort; labor producing sorrow, and in the New Testament is uniformly connected with the word rendered ‘weariness’ (2 Cor. 2:9; 2 Thess.3:8)…” 62 Paul had endured many sleepless nights. He had also gone without food. Many in today’s Faith Movement would no doubt consider this as an indication that Paul simply did not have enough faith. Some of this depravation may have resulted from fasting.
“Clearly he often lived on the edge, nearly going over it on occasions when he lacked sleep, adequate food, and sufficient clothing to stave off the cold (cf. 2 Tim 4:13, 21).” 63 He often traveled in Asia Minor, where there are high mountains and bitter cold in the winter. The nakedness mentioned here could refer to inadequate clothing to protect him from the severe cold.64
“Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (11:28). In all his sufferings, the most difficult trials were the internal ones, the concern for his churches, particularly for the Corinthians. Bruce comments: “Corinthian correspondence bears more than adequate witness to his anxiety for one church – burden enough for any man to bear, but at the same time the manifold problems of his other churches…” 65
“Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (11:29). Paul felt a great deal of empathy with the churches he founded. He cared for them and prayed regularly for them. The inward burning here is the Greek puroumai. Pett remarks, “‘Burn’ is taken in various ways, but it must surely in context be a burning in sympathy, or alternately a burning in anger at what causes them to stumble.” 66
“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying” (11:30-31). Paul is pained that he has had to boast in order to defeat the false apostles. However, he takes some relief that he has boasted in his weaknesses rather than his strengths. On several occasions in his writing he calls God as his witness for what he is claiming (Rom. 1:9; 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:18; Gal. 1:20; 1 Tim. 2:7). Coffman says, “Recalling what he had just written, the list seemed almost unbelievable, even to Paul; and the sheer size and significance of it led him to affirm in these most solemn words the absolute truth of every syllable of it.” 67 Truly, God did show to Paul all the things he must suffer for the faith (Acts 9:15-16). It was Eleanor Searle Whitney who said, “Christians are like tea bags. You never know what kind you are until you are in hot water.”
Coffman says of Paul’s suffering and ultimate victory: “even this astounding list is but the tip of the iceberg…The false apostles disappeared, their names unknown, their doctrines not identified, even their number merely a conjecture; but the church of Corinth continued through centuries.” 68
Before Paul’s many trials end, he relates a very interesting story: “In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands” (11:32-33). From historical records, we know that King Aretas IV was ruler over the Nabataean Arabs from 9 BC to AD 40. His territory was east of the Jordan River and ran all the way to the city of Damascus in the north. When we read that Paul went for retreat to Arabia (Gal. 1:17), we can understand that he was somewhere in the territory of Aretas, and probably not so far from Damascus. Obviously there was a designated ruler of the city or ethnarch (ethnarchēs) under Aretas. At this time there may have been some sort of Roman-Nabatean rule that was in place.69 Since Paul had disputed in the Damascus synagogues, he no doubt had raised the ire of the Jews (Acts 9:20-25), who likely recruited the help of the ethnarch to capture and kill him.
We might remember from our Bible studies that the daughter of Aretas was married to Herod Antipas. He later divorced her to marry Herodias, his brother’s wife. Aretas waited for a proper time and then invaded Herod’s territory of Peraea, inflicting a serious defeat on Herod’s forces.70
Clearly the Jews were watching the gates of Damascus, waiting to kill Paul (no doubt in cooperation with the local ruler as we have said). The wall of Damascus was large and wide enough to drive a carriage on top of it. Also, many houses overhung the wall. It was likely from one of these houses that Paul escaped unharmed.71 In the night, Paul’s friends lowered him in a basket and he made his escape (Acts 9:23-25).
The basket (sargane) was no small thing. It was a large woven basket that was suitable for handling straw or bales of wool.72 The episode must have left Paul sufficiently humbled. Stedman tries to put the apostle’s thoughts that night into words: Paul says, “The night I became ‘a basket case,’ that is the thing I boast about.” 73
Some may have a problem with Paul fleeing the scene. Augustine comments: “…let the servants of Christ, the ministers of his word and of his sacrament, do what he has commanded or permitted. Let them by all means flee from city to city when any one of them is personally sought out by persecutors, so long as the church is not abandoned by others who are not thus pursued and who may furnish nourishment to their fellow servants, knowing that otherwise these could not live.” 74