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Paul and the False Apostles


I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! 2I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. 5I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge; certainly in every way and in all things we have made this evident to you.

7 Did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I proclaimed God’s good news to you free of charge? 8I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for my needs were supplied by the friends who came from Macedonia. So I refrained and will continue to refrain from burdening you in any way. 10As the truth of Christ is in me, this boast of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

12 And what I do I will also continue to do, in order to deny an opportunity to those who want an opportunity to be recognized as our equals in what they boast about. 13For such boasters are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness. Their end will match their deeds.

Paul’s Sufferings as an Apostle

16 I repeat, let no one think that I am a fool; but if you do, then accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17What I am saying in regard to this boastful confidence, I am saying not with the Lord’s authority, but as a fool; 18since many boast according to human standards, I will also boast. 19For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves! 20For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face. 21To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he forever!) knows that I do not lie. 32In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.

22. He now, by enumerating particular instances, lets them see more distinctly, that he would not by any means be found inferior, if matters came to a contest. And in the first place, he makes mention of the glory of his descent, of which his rivals chiefly vaunted. “If,” says he, “they boast of illustrious descent, I shall be on a level with them, for I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham.” This is a silly and empty boast, and yet Paul makes use of three terms to express it; nay more, he specifies, as it were, three different marks of excellence. By this repetition, in my opinion, he indirectly reproves their folly, inasmuch as they placed the sum-total 852852     “Proram et puppim;” — “The prow and stern.” of their excellence in a thing that was so trivial, 853853     Vne chose si vaine, et de si petite consequence;” — “A thing so empty, and of so small importance.” and this boasting was incessantly in their mouth, so as to be absolutely disgusting, as vain men are accustomed to pour forth empty bravadoes as to a mere nothing.

As to the term Hebrews, it appears from Genesis 11:15, that it denotes descent, and is derived from Heber; and farther, it is probable, that Abraham himself is so called in Genesis 14:13, in no other sense than this — that he was descended from that ancestor. 854854     Qu’il estoit descendu d’Heber de pere en fils;” — “That he was descended from Heber, from father to son.” Not altogether without some appearance of truth is the conjecture of those, who explain the term to mean those dwelling beyond the river. 855855     Vray est que la coniecture de ceux qui disent qu’ils sont ainsi appelez comme habitants outre la riuiere, n’est pas du tout sans eouleur;” — “It is true, that the conjecture of those who say that they are so called, as dwelling beyond the river, is not without some appearance of truth.” We do not read, it is true, that any one was called so before Abraham, who had passed over the river, when he quitted his native country, and afterwards the appellation came to be a customary one among his posterity, as appears from the history of Joseph. The termination, however, shows that it is expressive of descent, and the passage, that I have quoted, abundantly confirms it. 856856     The word Hebrew signified properly one who was from beyond, (עכרי from עכר to pass, to pass over,) hence applied to Abraham, because he had come from a foreign land; and the word denoted properly a foreignera man from the land or country beyond (עכר) the Euphrates. The name Israelite denoted properly one descended from Israel or Jacob, and the difference between them was, that the name Israelite, being a patronymic derived from one of the founders of their nation, was in use among themselves; the name Hebrew was applied by the Canaanite to them, as having come from beyond the river, and was the current name among foreign tribes and nations.” — Barnes.Ed.

23. Are they ministers of Christ? Now when he is treating of matters truly praiseworthy, he is no longer satisfied with being on an equality with them, but exalts himself above them. For their carnal glories he has previously been scattering like smoke by a breath of wind, 857857     Car quant a leurs gloires charnelles, qui n’estoyent que choses vaines, iusques yci il les a fait esuanoir comme en soufflant dessus.” — “For as to theft carnal glories, which were but vain things, he has hitherto made them vanish by, as it were, blowing upon them.” by placing in opposition to them those which he had of a similar kind; but as they had nothing of solid worth, he on good grounds separates himself from their society, when he has occasion to glory in good earnest. For to be a servant of Christ is a thing that is much more honorable and illustrious, than to be the first-born among all the first-born of Abraham’s posterity. Again, however, with the view of providing against calumnies, he premises that he speaks as a fool “Imagine this,” says he, “to be foolish boasting: it is, nevertheless, true.”

In labors. By these things he proves that he is a more eminent servant of Christ, and then truly we have a proof that may be relied upon, when deeds instead of words are brought forward. He uses the term labors here in the plural number, and afterwards labor What difference there is between the former and the latter I do not see, unless perhaps it be, that he speaks here in a more general way, including those things that he afterwards enumerates in detail. In the same way we may also understand the term deaths to mean any kind of perils that in a manner threatened present death, instances of which he afterwards specifies. “I have given proof of myself in deaths often, in labors oftener still.” He had made use of the term deaths in the same sense in the first chapter. (2 Corinthians 1:10.)

24. From the Jews. It is certain that the Jews had at that time been deprived of jurisdiction, but as this was a kind of moderate punishment (as they termed it) it is probable that it was allowed them. Now the law of God was to this effect, that those who did not deserve capital punishment should be beaten in the presence of a judge, (Deuteronomy 25:2, 3,) provided not more than forty stripes were inflicted, lest the body should be disfigured or mutilated by cruelty. Now it is probable, that in process of time it became customary to stop at the thirty-ninth lash, 858858     The custom of excepting one stripe from the forty is made mention of by Josephus: πληγὰς μίας λειπούσης τεσσαράκοντα, “forty stripes save one.” (Joseph. Antiq. lib. 4. cap. 8. sect. 21.) It is noticed by Wolfius, that the Jews in modern times make use of the same number of stripes — thirty-nine — in punishing offenders, there being evidence of this from what is stated by Uriel Acosta, who, in his Life, subjoined by Limborch to his Conversation with a learned Jew, declares that he had in punishment of his departure from the Jews, received stripes up to that number. — Ed. lest perhaps they should on any occasion, from undue warmth, exceed the number prescribed by God. Many such precautions, 859859     Plusieurs semblables pouruoyances et remedes inuentez par los Rabbins:” — “Many similar provisions and remedies, invented by the Rabbins.” prescribed by the Rabbins, 860860     “The Mishna gives this as a rule, (MISH. Maccoth. fol. 22:10,) ‘How often shall he, the culprit, be smitten? Ans. אלכעין חסר אחד, forty stripes, wanting one, i.e., with the number which is nighest to forty.’ They also thought it right to stop under forty, lest the person who counted should make a mistake, and the criminal get more than forty stripes, which would be injustice, as the law required only forty.” — Dr. A. Clarke. “As the whip was formed of three cords, and every stroke was allowed to count for three stripes, the number of strokes never exceeded thirteen, which made thirty-nine stripes.” — Bloomfield.Ed. are to be found among the Jews, which make some restriction upon the permission that the Lord had given. Hence, perhaps, in process of time, (as things generally deteriorate,) they came to think, that all criminals should be beaten with stripes to that number, though the Lord did not prescribe, how far severity should go, but where it was to stop; unless perhaps you prefer to receive what is stated by others, that they exercised greater cruelty upon Paul. This is not at all improbable, for if they had been accustomed ordinarily to practice this severity upon all, he might have said that he was beaten according to custom. Hence the statement of the number is expressive of extreme severity.

25. Thrice was I beaten with rods Hence it appears, that the Apostle suffered many things, of which no mention is made by Luke; for he makes mention of only one stoning, 861861     “Once was I stoned.” Paley remarks in his “Horae Paulinae,” that this clause, “when confronted with the history,” (contained in the Acts of the Apostles,) “furnishes the nearest approach to a contradiction, without a contradiction being actually incurred, of any that he remembers to have met with.” While the narrative contained in the Acts of the Apostles gives an account of only one instance in which Paul was actually stoned, (Acts 14:19,) there was, previously to that, “an assault” made upon Paul and Barnabas at Iconium, “both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews, with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them, but they were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe.” (Acts 14:5, 6.) “Now had the ‘assault,’” says Paley, “been completed; had the history related that a stone was thrown, as it relates that preparations were made both by Jews and Gentiles to stone Paul and his companions; or even had the account of this transaction stopped, without going on to inform us that Paul and his companions were aware of their danger and fled, a contradiction between the history and the Apostle would have ensued. Truth is necessarily consistent; but it is scarcely possible that independent accounts, not having truth to guide them, should thus advance to the very brink of contradiction without falling into it.” — Ed. one scourging, and one shipwreck. We have not, however, a complete narrative, nor is there mention made in it of every particular that occurred, but only of the principal things.

By perils from the nation he means those that befell him from his own nation, in consequence of the hatred, that was kindled against him among all the Jews. On the other hand, he had the Gentiles as his adversaries; and in the third place snares were laid for him by false brethren. Thus it happened, that

for Christ’s name’s sake he was hated by all.
(Matthew 10:22.)

By fastings I understand those that are voluntary, as he has spoken previously of hunger and want. Such were the tokens by which he showed himself, and on good grounds, to be an eminent servant of Christ. For how may we better distinguish Christ’s servants than by proofs so numerous, so various, and so important? On the other hand, while those effeminate boasters 862862     “Thrasones.” — See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 98, n. 1. had done nothing for Christ, and had suffered nothing for him, they, nevertheless, impudently vaunted.

It is asked, however, whether any one can be a servant of Christ, that has not been tried with so many evils, perils, and vexations? I answer, that all these things are not indispensably requisite on the part of all; 863863     “Il n’est pas necessairement requis que tous vniversellement endurent toutes telles fascheries;” — “It is not indispensably requisite that all universally endure all such vexations.” but where these things are seen, there is, undoubtedly, a greater and more illustrious testimony afforded. That man, therefore, who will be signalized by so many marks of distinction, will not despise those that are less illustrious, and less thoroughly tried, nor will he on that account be elated with pride; but still, whenever there is occasion for it, he will be prepared, after Paul’s example, to exult with a holy triumph, in opposition to pretenders 864864     “Des mercenaires;”. — “Hirelings.” and worthless persons, provided he has an eye to Christ, not to himself — for nothing but pride or ambition could corrupt and tarnish all these praises. For the main thing is — that we serve Christ with a pure conscience. All other things are, as it were, additional.

28. Besides those things that are withoutBesides those things,” says he, “which come upon me from all sides, and are as it were extraordinary, what estimate must be formed of that ordinary burden that constantly presses upon me — the care that I have of all the Churches.” The care of all the Churches he appropriately calls his ordinary burden. For I have taken the liberty of rendering ἐπισύστασιν in this way, as it sometimes means — whatever presses upon us. 865865     The word (ἐπισύστασις) is translated or rather paraphrased by Beza as follows: “Agmen illud in me consurgens;” — “That troop which rises up together against me.” He adds by way of explanation: “Certum est enim ἐπισύστασιν dici multitudinem quae adversus aliquem coierit, idque non semel, sed repetitis vicibus. Quia igitur multiplices erant curae, quarum tanquam agmine magis ac magis veluti obruebatur, Apostolus usus est translatitie hoc vocabulo, admodum significanter;” — “For it is certain that ἐπισύστασιν denotes a multitude that has come together against any one, and that not once merely, but in repeated instances. As, therefore, there were manifold cares, by which rushing upon him like a troop, more and more, he was in a manner overwhelmed, the Apostle, by way of metaphor, made use of this term very significantly.” Raphelius considers the term to be synonymous with an expression made use of by Cicero: “concursus occupationum;” — “a crowding together of engagements.” — (Cic. Fam. 7:33.) — Ed.

Whoever is concerned in good earnest as to the Church of God, stirs up himself and bears a heavy burden, which presses upon his shoulders. What a picture we have here of a complete minister, embracing in his anxieties and aims not one Church merely, or ten, or thirty, but all of them together, so that he instructs some, confirms others, exhorts others, gives counsel to some, and applies a remedy to the diseases of others! Now from Paul’s words we may infer, that no one can have a heartfelt concern for the Churches, without being harassed with many difficulties; for the government of the Church is no pleasant occupation, in which we may exercise ourselves agreeably and with delight of heart, 866866     “Car le gouernement de l’Eglise n’est pas vne occupation ioyeuse pour nous exercer tout doucement, et par manicrc de passe-temps et exercice gracieux pour recreer nos esprits;” — “For the government of the Church is not a pleasant occupation for exercising ourselves quite agreeably, and by way of pass-time, and an agreeable exercise for refreshing our minds.” but a hard and severe warfare, as has been previously mentioned, (2 Corinthians 10:4,) — Satan from time to time giving us as much trouble as he can, and leaving no stone unturned to annoy us.

29. Who is weak. How many there are that allow all offenses to pass by unheeded — who either despise the infirmities of brethren, or trample them under foot! This, however, arises from their having no concern for the Church. For concern, undoubtedly, produces συμπάθειαν (sympathy,) 867867     See Calvin’s Harmony, vol. 2, p. 232. which leads the Minister of Christ to participate in the feelings of all, 868868     Prend en soy les afflictions de tous;” — “Take upon himself the afflictions of all.” and put himself in the place of all, that he may suit himself to all.

30. If he must glory. Here we have the conclusion, drawn from all that has gone before — that Paul is more inclined to boast of those things that are connected with his infirmity, that is, those things which might, in the view of the world, bring him contempt, rather than glory, as, for example, hunger, thirst, imprisonments, stonings, stripes, and the like — those things, in truth, that we are usually as much ashamed of, as of things that incur great dishonor. 869869     De toutes lesquelles nous n’avons point de honte coustumierement, que si nous estions vileinement diffamez;” — “Of all which we feel ordinarily as much ashamed, as if we had been shockingly defamed.”

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