Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible
2 Corinthians 11
2 CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 11
2 Corinthians 11:1-4 Paul unwillingly entereth upon a commendation of
himself, out of jealousy lest the Corinthians should
be perverted by false apostles from the pure doctrine
2 Corinthians 11:5,6 He showeth that he was in all respects equal to the
2 Corinthians 11:7-15 That he declined being chargeable to them, not for
want of love toward them, but to cut off occasion
from those deceitful workers of taking shelter under
2 Corinthians 11:16-22 That he was not inferior to those, whom they so patiently
submitted to, in any of their boasted pretogatives,
2 Corinthians 11:23-33 but as a minister of Christ, in labours and
sufferings for the gospel’s sake, was abundantly
That which the apostle here calls his folly, was his speaking so much in his own commendation; which indeed is no better than folly, unless there be a great reason; which was here, for it was the false teachers, vilifying his person and office, that put him upon it. The verb in the latter part of the verse, may be read either imperatively, (and so we translate it), as if it were an entreaty of them to excuse him in speaking so much good of himself; or indicatively, you do bear with me.
Jealousy is a passion in a person which makes him impatient of any rival or partner in the thing or person beloved. The apostle tells them, that he was jealous over them, and thereby lets them know, that he so passionately loved them, as that he was not patient that any should pretend more kindness to them than he had for them; and withal, that he had some fear of them, lest they should be perverted and drawn away from the simplicity of the gospel; upon this account he calls it a
godly jealousy. For (saith he) I have been instrumental to bring you to Christ; this he calls an espousing of them, the union of persons with Christ being expressed in Scripture under the notion of a marriage, Ephesians 5:23, &c. And he expresseth his earnest desire to present them to Christ uncorrupted, like a chaste virgin.
In all jealousy there is a mixture of love and fear: the apostle’s love to this church, together with his earnest desire to present them in the day of judgment unto Christ pure and uncorrupted, caused him to write; because he was afraid, lest that as the serpent by his subtlety deceived Eve, so some subtle seducers should corrupt them, and so withdraw them from the simplicity of their faith in Christ, and obedience to him. This danger was partly from the pagan philosophers, mixing their philosophical notions with the plain doctrine of the gospel; and partly from some that were tenacious of the Judaical rites, and would not understand the abolition of the ceremonial law.
How our translators have interpreted kalwv hneicesye,
ye might well bear, I cannot tell: the words manifestly are to be interpreted, you have well borne, and so are plainly a reflection upon some in this church, who had patiently endured false teachers, who had preached other doctrine than what Paul had preached. And this the apostle giveth as a reason of his fear, lest they should be corrupted and drawn away from the simplicity of the gospel. This certainly is more obviously the sense of the words, than what others incline to, who make the sense this: If any other could come to you, who could preach to you a better Jesus, a more excellent Saviour, than we have done; or a more excellent spirit than him whom you have received; or a more excellent doctrine than the doctrine of the gospel, which we have preached; you might bear with him. For I see no pretence to interpret the verb as in the potential mood, it is manifestly the indicative mood; and declareth, not what they might do, but what they had done; which made the apestle jealous of them, lest they should be perverted. And our Saviour, John 5:43, hath taught us, that those who with the most difficulty receive those who come to them in God’s name, are always most easy to receive those who come in their own name, without any due authority or commission from God.
The apostle, doubtless, meaneth those that were the true apostles of our Lord. those who were immediately sent out by him to preach the gospel, behind whom the apostle was not, either in respect of ministerial gifts and graces, or in respect of labours, or in respect of success which God had given him in his work. One method that false teachers used to vilify Paul, was by magnifying some others of the apostles above him, and preferring them before him; which makes him, both here, and in Galatians 2:1-21, and Romans 11:13, to magnify his office, by showing them, there was no reason why they should make a difference between him and other apostles; for he had the same immediate call, was intrusted with the same power, furnished and adorned with the same gifts, in labours (as he elsewhere saith) he had been more than they all; nor had God been wanting in giving him success in his labours, proportionable to the chiefest of them: so as he was not a whit behind them.
But though I be rude in speech; admit (saith the apostle) that I be no orator, speaking to you in high language, or in a neat style and phrase; either having no faculty that way, or, if I have, yet choosing rather to speak plainly, and home to your consciences, than floridly, to tickle your ears with a fine sound and chiming of words.
Yet not in knowledge; yet, I bless God, I am not defective in knowledge; and, as God hath enlightened me with a large knowledge of his will, so I have communicated to you the whole counsel of God.
But we have been throughly made manifest among you in all things; and in all things, which may declare me an apostle, one sent of Christ about the business of the gospel, I have been made manifest amongst you; preaching amongst you the whole doctrine of the gospel, and having been an instrument to convert many of you from paganism to Christianity.
What is it that hath made you take such offence at me; seeing you cannot say, that either in my call, or in my gifts and graces, or in my labours, or in the success of my labours, I have been inferior to the chiefest of the apostles? Doth this offend you, that for your sake I have veiled my authority, and departed from my right? Which makes some of you say, I am base in presence. Is it for my putting you to no charge in my preaching the gospel? This was a thing wherein he gloried, and told them, 1 Corinthians 9:6,12,15, that he would rather die, than have his glorying void in this particular.
He interpreteth the term of robbed other churches, by a taking wages of them; which indeed is no robbery, as he had proved, 1 Corinthians 9:1-27. All the robbery that was in it lay in this, that his maintenance, in strictness of right, should have been proportionably from this, as well as from other churches; but for some reasons (which he thinks fit to conceal) he refused to receive any thing from this church; but spared them, and lived upon the maintenance he had from other churches, while he was doing them service. Either he saw the members of this church were poor, or that there were some in this clulrch who would sooner have taken advantage to reproach him for it, and so have hindered the success of the gospel. Whatever it was that caused the apostle to do it, certain it is, that he did it, and make it a great piece of his glorying.
The word which we translate chargeable, signifies to benumb; I benumbed no man: or, (as others), I was not myself more benumbed in any thing. If we take it in the first mentioned sense, it lets us see a reason why Paul refused to take wages of the church of Corinth, test he should cool and benumb them as to the receiving of the gospel, when they saw it would prove chargeable to them. If in the latter sense, the apostle seems to reflect upon such whom wages only edged to their work, who preached merely for gain and filthy lucre. To distinguish himself from such hirelings, he tells them, that when he was with them, and laboured amongst them in preaching the gospel, he put them to no charge; yet he was not slothful in his work, but as laborious as those who did take wages. As to himself, he had want enough whilst he was amongst them; but the providence of God ordered him a supply from the churches of Macedonia, and by that means he kept himself from being burdensome to them; and, he tells them, so he was resolved that he would still be.
The apostle often repeateth this, glorying much in it, that in this region of Achaia he had preached the gospel without charge to the hearers: he did so also at Thessalonica, 1 Thessalonians 2:5,6,9; but concerning them, he saith, what he no where saith of the Corinthians, that they received the word in much affliction; which might, probably, be the cause. It is most likely that he either discerned this people to be more covetous, and too much lovers of their money: or that there was a generation among them, who, if he had taken wages for his labours, would have reproached him as one that was a hireling, and who did all that he did for money. And, indeed, himself seemeth in the next verses to give this as a reason.
Can you possibly interpret my not being chargeable to you, as proceeding from a want of love in me to you? God knoweth the contrary.
I know (saith the apostle) that there are some amongst you who, out of their hatred to me, would seek any occasion to asperse me to justify themselves. If I had (as I might) have taken wages amongst you for my labours, they would either have taken occasion from it to have aspersed me, (as doing what I did from a mercenary spirit), or at least to have justified themselves in their exactings upon you. I had a mind to prevent any such occasions of boasting.
That wherein they glory, they may be found even as we: it should seem by these words, that some teachers in this church, being (possibly) men of estates, required no maintenance of the people; and would have taken advantage against the apostle, if he had taken any: or, possibly, some others exacted upon them unreasonably, who, had Paul taken wages, would have justified themselves by his example. The apostle therefore was resolved to cut off from them any pretence or occasion of boasting, and to do whatever any of them did, in sparing the Corinthians as to the business of their purses.
For such are false apostles; that is, persons pretending to be sent of Christ, but were indeed never sent of him.
Deceitful workers; persons whose work is but to cheat and deceive you; and that both with reference to their call and authority which they pretend to, and also to the doctrine which they bring.
Transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ; they were never apostles of Christ, only they put themselves into such a shape and form, that they might have more advantage to deceive.
It is not at all to be wondered, that the emissaries of Satan dissemble, and pretend themselves to be what they are not, for even Satan himself, who is the prince of darkness, in order to the deceiving and seducing of souls, transformeth himself
into an angel of light; that is, puts on the appearance and form of a good angel. He calls them angels of light, because they were wont to appear in a lightsome brightness; or because of that glory in which they behold the face of God; or because of those great measures of heavenly knowledge which those blessed spirits have. All tempted souls have an experiment of this; for none is tempted to evil under the appearance of evil, (evil as evil being what a reasonable soul cannot be courted to). The devil therefore, in all his temptations to sin, though his end be to ruin and destroy, yet appeareth as an angel of light; moving the soul to evil under the notion and appearance of good.
It is no wonder if there be like servants, like masters: and as the devil, in order to the deceiving of souls, pretends to what he is not, viz. a friend to them; so those who seek their own profit, not your good, show themselves to be
his ministers, driving the same design with him, also do the like, and change their shapes, pretending themselves to be ministers of the gospel, and to aim at the good of your souls, by teaching you the way
of righteousness; but God will one day judge of their works, and their reward at last will be
according to their works.
I say again, Let no man think me a fool: I know that he, who is much in magnifying and praising himself, ordinarily is judged to be a fool; but though I do so, let me not lie under that imputation. There is a time for all things; a time for a man to cease from his own praises, and a time for him to praise himself. The time for the latter is, when the glory of God, or our own just vindication, is concerned; both which concurred here: the apostle was out of measure vilifled by these false apostles; and the glory of God was eminently concerned, that so great an apostle and instrument in promoting the gospel, should not be exposed to contempt, as a mean and despicable person, or as an impostor and deceiver.
If otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little; but if you will judge me a fool, be it so; yet receive me as such, while I boast a little.
That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord; I do not pretend to have any special command of God, to speak what I shall now say in my own commendation; God hath left that to our liberty, which we may use, or not use, as circumstances of time, place, and occasion direct. Or, I do not speak according to the ordinary practice of Christians and ministers of the gospel; whose ordinary practice is to abase and vilify, not to exalt and set forth themselves, according to the more general rules of the word. Yet what the apostle saith was not contrary to the Lord, or to the directions of his word, which hath no where commanded us to vilify ourselves, or to conceal what God hath wrought in us and by us.
But as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting: this my confident boasting hath an appearance of foolishness in it, though really it be not so; for nothing can be truly called foolishness, which hath a direct and immediate tendency to the glory of God, and is designed for that end.
By the flesh is meant, carnal and external things; which though they be the gifts and favours of God, yet do not at all commend a man to God. The apostle saith, there are
many that glory after the flesh; and there needs must be such in all places, because there are many that walk after the flesh: now, it is but natural for men to boast and glory in those attainments, which it hath been the business of their lives to pursue after. Such there were, doubtless, in this famous church, who gloried that they were native Jews, or in their riches, or in their knowledge and learning. Now, though (saith the apostle) I know there is nothing in these things truly to be gloried in, yet, others glorying in them:
I will glory also; and let them know, that if I thought these things worth the glorying in, I have as much to glory in of that nature as any of them have.
Ye freely suffer others foolishly glorying and boasting of themselves, therefore do ye suffer me therein to judge yourselves wise, and it belongs to the wise to bear with such as are not so wise as themselves.
If any domineer over you, as if you were their slaves, or if any bring you into subjection to the rites of the ceremonial law; if they
devour and make a prey of you, take wages of you, and do nothing without hire; if they carry themselves proudly, exalting themselves above you; nay, if they
smite you, you will suffer and bear with such: this is more than to bear with a little folly and indiscretion in me. This is observable, that men of corrupt hearts and loose lives will better bear with teachers that will humour and spare them in their lusts, than with such as are faithful to their souls in instructing and reproving them, though they carry themselves with the greatest innocency and justice towards them.
I speak as to those reproaches they cast on me, who am by them represented to you as though I were weak and contemptible; as indeed I am, as to my person, but not as to my doctrine, and the miracles I have wrought amongst you. And being some of them are so confident in boasting what they are, and what they have done and suffered; let me be a little bold as well as they, in telling you what I am, and what I have done and suffered.
Are they Hebrews? so am I: this would incline us to think, that some, at least, of those corrupt teachers, upon whom the apostle hath so much reflected, were Jews; who had endeavoured to corrupt the Gentile churches with their traditions, and imposing on them the ceremonial rites of the Jewish church. Others think otherwise, and that the words import no more than this; Do they glory in the antiquity of their stock and parentage, as descending from Abraham? I have as much upon that account to glory in as they; for although I was born, not in Judea, but in Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, Acts 22:3, yet I was a Jew, an Hebrew of the Hebrews, Philippians 3:5.
Are they Israelites? Will they derive from Jacob, to whom God gave the name of Israel, from whence all his posterity were called Israelites?
So am I, ( saith he), I can derive from Jacob as well as they.
Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I: will they glory in this, that they are the seed of Abraham? (this was a great boast of the Jews, as we learn from Matthew 3:9, and John 8:1-59); saith the apostle, I have on that account as much to glory in as they. Some here inquire: What difference there is in these three things? For to be a Hebrew, and an Israelite, and of the seed of Abraham, seem all to signify the same thing. Nor indeed have we any need to assign any difference, it seemeth to be but the same thing amplified in three phrases. But others distinguish more subtlely, and think the first may signify a glorying in the ancientness of their pedigree, or in their ability to speak in the Hebrew tongue; the second, may refer to the nation of which they were; the third, to the promise made to Abraham and his seed.
Will they glory in this, that they are ministers of Christ, employed as the servants of Christ in preaching the gospel? I should not boast about this, (in that I may seem to speak as a fool), but I am much more a minister than they, both with respect to my call to the work, and also my performing of it. I had a more immediate call and mission to the work than what they can boast of, and I have done more in that work than any of them have done.
In labours more abundant; I have travelled more to preach it, I have laboured more in the propagation of it.
In stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent; I have suffered more for the preaching of it, I have been oftener whipped, oftener imprisoned, than any of them ever were: see 2 Corinthians 6:4,5.
In deaths oft; I have been oftener in hazard of my life: he calls dangers threatening death, deaths, as 2 Corinthians 1:10.
God, to restrain the passions of his people, which might carry them out to cruelty in the punishments of malefactors, forbade the Jewish magistrates to give any malefactor above forty stripes; (so many they might give them by the Divine law, Deuteronomy 25:3); but they had made an order, that none should receive above thirty-nine. This was amongst their constitions which they called sepimenta legis, hedges to the Divine law; which indeed was a violation of the law: for that did not oblige them to give every malefactor, that had not deserved death, so many stripes; it gave them only a liberty to go so far, but they were not to exceed. Some think, that they punished every such malefactor with thirty-nine stripes: others, more rationally, think, that they did not so, but thirty-nine was the highest number they laid upon any. And it is most probable, that, out of their hatred to the apostle, they laid as many stripes upon him as their constitution would suffer them to do.
Thrice was I beaten with rods; this was by the pagans, for the Jews whipped malefactor with a whip which had three cords. We read of one of these times. Acts 16:23; and of a second, Acts 22:24, when the captain commanded he should be so punished, but he avoided it, by pleading he was a citizen of Rome.
Once was I stoned: of his stoning, read Acts 14:19, it was by a popular tumult at Lystra.
Thrice I suffered shipwreck: we read but of one time that Paul suffered shipwreck, Acts 27:18; which was none of the three times here mentioned, for it was after the writing of this Epistle. But though many of the acts and sufferings of this apostle were written, yet all were not.
A night and a day I have been in the deep: some by the deep here understand the inner prison, mentioned Acts 16:24, or some deep dungeon; but more probably he means, some time when, after a shipwreck, he might be put twenty-four hours to swim up and down the sea upon some broken part of the ship. It refers to some eminent danger Paul was in, of which the Scripture in no other place maketh mention particularly.
In journeyings often; in travellings from place to place for the propagation of the gospel.
In perils of waters; in the Greek, rivers, which were many in those countries through which he travelled.
Of robbers; such as waited to rob passengers by the high-way.
By mine own countrymen, the Jews, who were mortal enemies to Paul, whom they looked upon as an apostate from their religion.
In the city; in many cities where he preached the gospel, as we find in the Acts of the Apostles.
In the wilderness; in wildernesses through which he was forced to pass.
In the sea; storms and shipwrecks.
Among false brethren; false teachers and private persons, who corrupted the Christian religion, and were as great enemies to the apostle as any he had.
The apostle reckons up several afflictive evils, ordinarily incident to such as travel in foreign countries. Of this nature were the
weariness and painfulness, the hunger and thirst, the cold and nakedness, here mentioned. He also mentioneth the watchings and fastings, as voluntary acts of discipline, which he used for the end mentioned, 1 Corinthians 9:27, for the keeping under his body, and bringing it into subjection, and that he might the better attend and discharge the work of the ministry.
By the things that are without, the apostle meaneth either those evils which happened to him from persons that had nto relation to the Christian church, but were persons without, ( as the phrase is used, 1 Corinthians 5:13), or else such kinds of troubles and afflictions as very little influenced his mind, but only affected his outward man: such were his labours, travels, journeyings, imprisonment, stripes before mentioned.
Beside these (he saith) there lay upon him an inward care and solicitude for
all the Christian churches; and this was a daily care. For an apostle differed from an ordinary pastor, not only in his immediate call from Christ, but also in his work; there lay an obligation upon such to go up and down preaching the gospel, and they further had, both a power, and also an obligation, to superintend all other churches, and to direct the affairs of them relating to order and government: and thereupon they were mightily concerned about their doing well or ill.
Who, may be either, what church? Or, what particular Christian in any church?
Is weak, asyenei, through outward afflictions, or in respect of inward spiritual troubles,
and I am not weak, and I do not sympathize with that church, or with that person?
Who is offended, or scandalized, under temptations to be seduced and fall into sin,
and I burn not, and I am not on fire with a holy zeal for the glory of God, and the good of his soul, if possible to keep him upright? By which the apostle doth not only show us what was his own holy temper, but what should be the temper of every faithful minister, as to his province, or that part of the church over which he is concerned to watch; viz. to have a true compassion to every member of it, to watch over his flock, inquiring diligently into the state of it; to have a quick sense of any evils under which they, or any of them, labour. This is indeed the duty of ever private member, but more especially of him whose office is to feed any part of the flock of Christ, Romans 12:15. In this the members of the spiritual, mystical body of Christ should answer to the members of the body natural, to which our apostle before resembled it.
The apostle here calleth the things which he had suffered for the gospel, and the propagation of it, his infirmities; and saith, that he chose those things to glory in. He would not glory of the divers tongues with which he spake, nor of the miracles which he had wrought; but being by the ill tongues of his adversaries put upon glorying, he chose to glory of what he had suffered for God. For as the mighty power of Christ was seen in supporting him, and carrying him through so many hazards and difficulties; so these things, probably, were such as his adversaries could not much glory in. Besides, that these things had not that natural tendency to lift up his mind above its due measures, as gifts had, which sometimes puff up (as the apostle saith concerning knowledge); and also these were things which flesh and blood commonly starleth at, and flieth from: that his gifts and miraculous operations spake the power of God in him, and the kindness of God to him, in enabling him to such effects, rather than any goodness in himself; but his patient bearing the cross spake in him great measures of faith, patience, and self-denial, and love to God; and so really were greater and truer causes of boasting, than those things could be.
Whether this phrase be the form of an oath, or a mere assertion of God’s knowledge of the heart, is a point not worth the arguing. If we look upon it in the former notion, it is no profane oath, because made in the name of God; nor no vain oath, because it is used in a grave and serious matter, and for the satisfaction of those who were not very easy to believe the apostle in this matter. But I had rather take it as a solemn assertion of God’s particular knowledge of the truth of his heart in what he had said. The term
blessed for evermore, may either be applied to the Father, or to Jesus Christ. It is applied to the Creator, Romans 1:25, and to Jesus Christ, Romans 9:5. It is here so used, as that it is applicable either to the First or Second Person. The usage of it in these three texts, is an undeniable argument to prove the Godhead of Christ. The apostle, in these words, seemeth rather to refer to what he had said before, of his various labours and sufferings, than to that which followeth; which was but a single thing, and a danger rather than a suffering.
Ver. 32,33. Luke hath shortly given us the history of this danger, Acts 9:23-25. Soon after Paul was converted from the Jewish to the Christian religion, he, disputing with the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, confounded them by his arguments, proving Jesus was the Christ, as we read there, Acts 9:21. This so enraged them, as that they sought to kill him, Acts 9:23. And (as we learn from this text) to effect their design, they had by some acts or other brought over the governor to favour their design; which, governor was a substitute under Aretas the king, who was father-in-law to Herod; for (as Josephus tells us) Herod put away his wife, the daughter of this Aretas, when he took Herodias. The Jews had got this deputy heathen governor so much on their side, that he shut up the gates, keeping his soldiers in arms. But (as St. Luke tells us, Acts 9:24) Paul coming to the knowledge of this design, though they watched the gates day and night, yet he found a way of escape by the help of those Christians, who at that time were in Damascus; Acts 9:25: The disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. Two questions are started upon this passage of Paul’s life:
1. Whether it was lawful for him to flee? But besides the particular licence our Lord, in this case, had given his first ministers, Matthew 10:23, Paul did in this case no more than what divines make lawful for a more ordinary minister, viz. to flee, when the persecution was directed against him in particular, leaving sufficient supply behind him.
2. The second question raised is: Whether, it being against human laws to go over the walls of a city or garrison, Paul did not sin in this escape? But that is easily answered; for:
a) This was lawful in some cases.
b) God’s glory, and the good of souls, were more concerned in Paul’s life, than to have it sacrificed to a punctilio of obedience to a human law made upon a mere politic consideration.
See Poole on "2 Corinthians 11:32"
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 11". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25