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Bible: What Does 2 Corinthians 11 Teach Us About False Apostles?
The Apostle Paul
"A Little Foolishness"
According to Ryrie, Paul inserts “a little foolishness” from verses twenty-one through thirty-three—a passage that shows the apostle’s authenticity by detailing much of the suffering for Christ he had to endure (v. 1).
[Ryrie also suggests that Paul speaks as a fool in order to “make the false apostles appear in their true colors” (New Testament Study Bible, 26).]
Portraying himself as their spiritual father, Paul asserts the godly jealousy he feels for the church in Corinth—an assembly he had already betrothed to Christ and intended to present to Him as a chaste virgin (v. 2).
Using the Satan-Eve analogy, the apostle reveals his fear that they have allowed false teachers to corrupt their minds and turn them from the purity and simplicity of the gospel (v. 3).
He criticizes them for tolerating those who spout heterodox doctrines (v. 4).
Labeling these teachers facetiously as “the most eminent apostles,” Paul affirms his status in comparison to them as “not at all inferior” (v. 5).
He acknowledges his lack of rhetorical skill, but maintains that his level of spiritual knowledge far surpasses theirs—a fact that he has surely made abundantly clear to the Corinthians (v. 6).
Aiming to circumvent criticism from opponents who thought him an illegitimate teacher, he asks the church a rhetorical question that proved that he had not sinned when he chose not to charge the Corinthians a speaker’s fee for his service to them (v. 7).
Not only did he not sin against them, but he also accepted love gifts from poorer churches in order that he could preach to the church in Corinth free of charge, and thus not be a burden to them financially (v. 8).
Macedonian brethren, not Corinthians, provided for his needs when he visited the city; Paul vows to continue this practice of not being a drain on their resources (v. 9).
[Is Paul writing this way to shame the Corinthians for their tightfistedness toward him?
Has he not just commended them for their desire to contribute to the needs of the Jerusalem church?]
Paul will not allow any of his opponents to prevent his boasting about this practice (v. 10).
He has followed this course of action (and plans to continue doing so) not because he does not love the Corinthians, but because he wants to stop his adversaries from exalting themselves to a position of authority where they do not belong (vv. 11-12).
Satan: An Angel of Light
The Angel of Light
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Paul Engages in "A Little Foolishness"
No longer resorting to sarcasm to make his point, the apostle bluntly levels a charge of false apostleship against his opposition (v. 13a).
Since their master Satan makes himself appear as a heavenly messenger, it does not strike Paul as strange that the devil’s ministers should masquerade as servants of righteousness, and claim to be God-sent (vv. 13b-15).
Verses sixteen through twenty-one seem to introduce Paul’s little season of foolishness.
First, he admonishes his opponents not to regard him as a fool; however, if they persist in their attack, he would like them to give him leeway as a fool to boast a little (v. 16).
Second, Paul points out that he speaks not as the Lord would speak—that is, wisely—, but he speaks like a fool in his boasting in order to demonstrate what his opponents do (vv. 17-18).
Third, the apostle sarcastically calls the Corinthians “wise” for tolerating fools who work all kinds of evil against them (“brings you into bondage,” “devours you,” “takes from you,” “exalts himself,” “strikes you on the face”) [vv. 19-20].
Again, Paul engages in sarcasm when he confesses that he was too weak to take advantage of them as the false apostles did; however, he can also boast as confidently as they can (v. 21).
Now the apostle illustrates many of the ways in which his credentials surpass those of his opponents.
Insofar as the basic requirements (national heritage) are concerned, his position equals theirs (v. 22).
However, with regard to his service for Christ, Paul replies “foolishly” that he has undergone far more trials than they have.
He lists seventeen separate categories of suffering with “perils” having an eight-fold dimension to it.
Paul structures his delineation around the preposition en in verses 23, 26-27; verses 24-25, 28 focus on the specific numbers of times or the specific frequency with which he experienced a certain tribulation or difficulty.
The table below places the details into perspective:
The Preposition "en"
# of times or frequency of occurrence
Labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often (v. 23)
Five times thirty-nine stripes (v. 24)
In journeys often, in perils of waters, . . . robbers, . . . countrymen, . . . the Gentiles, . . . in the city, . . . , in the wilderness, . . . in the sea, . . . among false brethren (v. 26)
Three times beaten with rods (Acts 16:23)
In weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness (v. 27)
Daily deep concern for all the churches (v. 28)
In which category do you think false apostles occur?
Paul’s questions in verse twenty-nine demonstrate his concern for weak believers whom some leader has caused to stumble.
He can empathize with these believers because he has been “in their sandals”; therefore, he will boast about these things (v. 30).
In a final statement, Paul shows his seriousness about this matter when he brings God directly into the picture as a witness to the truth of what happened in Damascus: friends rescued him from a garrison by letting him down “in a basket through a window in the wall” (vv. 32-33; cf. Acts 9:24-25).
[These last three verses almost seemed tacked on to the end of the discussion, but they well illustrate the apostle’s weakness.]
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