(1) Would to God.—As the words “to God” are not in the Greek, it would be better to treat them as the general expression of a wish: Would that ye could bear.
Ye could bear with me a little in my folly.—There are two catch-words, as it were, which characterise the section of the Epistle on which we are now entering: one is of “bearing with,” or “tolerating,” which occurs five times (2 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Corinthians 11:4; 2 Corinthians 11:19-20), and “folly,” which, with its kindred “fool,” is repeated not less than eight times (2 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Corinthians 11:16-17; 2 Corinthians 11:19; 2 Corinthians 11:21; 2 Corinthians 12:6; 2 Corinthians 12:11). It is impossible to resist the inference that here also we have the echo of something which Titus had reported to him as said by his opponents at Corinth. Their words, we must believe, had taken some such form as this: “We really can bear with him no longer; his folly is becoming altogether intolerable.”
And indeed bear with me.—The words, as the marginal reading indicates, admit of being taken either as imperative or indicative. Either gives an adequate meaning, but the latter, it is believed, is preferable. It is one of the many passages in which we trace the working of conflicting feelings. Indignation prompts him to the wish, “Would that ye could bear.” Then he thinks of the loyalty and kindness which he had experienced at their hands, and he adds a qualifying clause to soften the seeming harshness of the words that had just passed from his lips: “And yet (why should I say this? for) ye do indeed habitually bear with me.”
For I have espoused you . . .—The word is not found elsewhere in the New Testament. It appears in this sense in the LXX. version of Proverbs 19:14 : “A man’s wife is espoused to him from the Lord.” Strictly speaking, it is used of the act of the father who gives his daughter in marriage; and this, rather than the claim to act as “the friend of the bridegroom” (see Note on John 3:29), is probably the idea here. He claims the office as the “father” of the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 4:15). The underlying idea of the comparison is that the Church at large, and every separate portion of it, is as the bride of Christ. On the earlier appearances of this thought, see Notes on Matthew 22:2; Matthew 25:1; John 3:29; and, for its more elaborated forms, on Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 19:7-9; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:9). What the Apostle now urges is that it is as natural for him to be jealous for the purity of the Church which owes its birth to him, as it is for a father to be jealous over the chastity of the daughter whom he has betrothed as to a kingly bridegroom.
Corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.—The Greek for “corrupt” has the same special sense as in 2 Corinthians 7:2, as implying something which is incompatible with the idea of purity. The Apostle seeks, as it were, for a chastity of mind as well as of body. Many of the better MSS. give, from the simplicity (i.e., singleness of affection) and chastity; and some, chastity and simplicity.
If ye receive another spirit.—Better, a different spirit, as showing that the word is not the same as in the previous clause. The words point, it is clear, to a counterfeit inspiration, perhaps like that of those who had interrupted the praises of the Church with the startling cry, “Anathema to Jesus!” (See Note on 1 Corinthians 12:3.) Such as these were the “false prophets” of 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:3, simulating the phenomena of inspiration, perhaps thought of by the Apostles as really acting under the inspiration of an evil spirit.
Which ye have not received.—Better, did not receive, as referring definitely to the time of their conversion.
Another gospel, which ye have not accepted.—Better, as before, a different gospel, which ye did not accept—i.e., different from that which you did accept from me. His gospel, he seems to say, was one of pardon through faith working by love: theirs was based on the old Pharisaic lines of works, ritual, ceremonial and moral precepts, standing in their teaching on the same footing.
Ye might well bear with him.—Better, the adverb being emphatic, and intensely ironical, nobly would ye bear with him. He means, of course, that they have done much more than tolerate the preachers of the false gospel, and have paid them an extravagant deference. On a like use of irony in our Lord’s teaching, see Note on Mark 7:9.
But we have been throughly made manifest among you in all things.—The readings vary, some of the better MSS. giving the active form of the verb, having made (it) manifest in everything among all men. The apparent awkwardness of having a transitive verb without an object probably led to the substitution of the passive participle.
He does not deny the facts. He repeats the irritating epithet, “abasing myself”; he adds the familiar antithesis (Matthew 23:12; Luke 1:52; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:11), “Yes, but I did it that you might be exalted,” perhaps with reference to elevation in spiritual knowledge, perhaps, because the fact that he laboured for them without payment was the greatest proof of disinterested love for them which could be given.
“That now he was
The ivy which had hid my princely trunk,
And suck’d my verdure out on’t
—Tempest, i. 2.
Our modern phrase which speaks of one man as “sponging” on another implies a like metaphor. In the word “parasitic” as applied to plants and animals, we have an inverted transfer of the same idea from the incidents of man’s social life to that of lower organisms. As a word belonging, through Hippocrates, to the recognised terminology of physicians, it takes its place in the vocabulary which St. Paul may be supposed to have derived from St. Luke (see Introduction to St. Luke’s Gospel, Vol. I., p. 239), and which the fame of Tarsus as a medical school may also have made more or less familiar, as Jerome states, in the conversational idioms of Cilicia.
The brethren which came from Macedonia supplied.—Not “which came,” but when they came. The Acts of the Apostles present no record of any such supply, but Philippians 4:15 presents an interesting and confirmatory coincidence. The Philippians had sent supplies to him twice at Thessalonica, and it was a natural sequel to this that they should send to him also at Corinth. The Apostle may well have accepted what they thus sent, and yet have thought his acceptance perfectly compatible with his boast that he was not preaching at Corinth for the sake of gain (1 Corinthians 9:16-18). He was not to be robbed of whatever credit attached to his working for his own livelihood at Corinth and elsewhere, by any sneers which had that acceptance for their starting-point.
And so will I keep myself.—It adds to the interest of this declaration to remember that St. Paul had acted on this principle both at Ephesus, which he had just left (Acts 20:34), and in the Macedonian churches which he was now visiting (2 Thessalonians 3:8). The future tense obviously points to his resolution to continue to act on the same lines during his promised visit to Corinth.
No man shall stop me of this boasting.—Literally, This boast shall not be stopped for me. The verb for “stop” means primarily to “hedge round,” or “fence.” In the New Testament, as in Romans 3:19, it is always used of “stopping the mouth.” Here, with something like a personification, he says that his boast shall not have its mouth thus sealed.
In the region of Achaia.—The word (klima) is peculiar to St. Paul among the writers of the New Testament (Romans 15:23; Galatians 1:21). Like our word “climate,” which is derived from it, it was originally a term of science, and had passed gradually into colloquial usage. He names the province and not the city—probably to include Cenchreæ. There is no evidence of his having preached in any other locality south of the Isthmus of Corinth.
Whose end shall be according to their works.—What the works were is stated, or implied, in 2 Corinthians 11:20. Hero he is content to rest on the eternal law of God’s government, that what a man sows that shall he also reap. The abruptness with which the next verse opens indicates that here again there was a pause in the dictation of the letter. After an interval—during which, led by the last words he had spoken, his thoughts had travelled to the contrast between their works, of which they boasted so loudly, and his own—he begins again, half-indignant at the necessity for self-assertion which they have forced upon him, aware that all that had been said of his “insane” habit of “commending himself” was likely to be said again, and yet feeling that he must once for all remind the Corinthians of what he had done and suffered, and then leave them to judge between the rival claims.
If a man devour you.—The word again reminds us of our Lord’s denunciation of the teachers who “devoured widows’ houses” (Matthew 23:14).
If a man take of you . . .—The words in italics are wrongly supplied, and turn this clause into a feeble repetition of the preceding. Better, if a man takes you in. In 2 Corinthians 12:16, we have the same construction (“I caught you with guile”) obviously with this sense.
If a man smite you on the face.—This last form of outrage was, as St. Paul was soon to experience (Acts 23:2), not unfamiliar to Jewish priests and scribes, as the most effective way of silencing an opponent. We have an earlier instance of its application in the action of Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah (1 Kings 22:24). That it had found its way into the Christian Church in the apostolic time is seen in St. Paul’s rule that a bishop should be no “striker” (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7). It is obvious that he had heard of an instance in which this had actually been done at Corinth, and he taunts them with the tameness of their submission. Did he forget, or had he not as yet heard the law of Matthew 5:39; or was he, knowing it, for a time unmindful of it, in this rush of emotion which he himself feels to be simply human, and therefore not inspired?
Are they Israelites? . . .—The words imply another insinuation. They whispered doubts whether he had any right to call himself an Israelite at all. Had he a drop of Abraham’s blood flowing in his veins? Might he not, after all, be but the grandson of a proselyte, upon whom there rested the stigma which, according to a Jewish proverb, was not effaced till the twenty-fourth generation? Did not this account for his heathen sympathies? Strange as the thought may seem to us, the calumny survived, and the later Ebionites asserted (Epiphanius, Hær. xxx. 16) that he was a Gentile by birth, who had only accepted circumcision that he might marry the high priest’s daughter. The kind of climax which the verse presents points not only to three claims to honour on their part, for in that case the first would include both the second and the third, and the climax would have little meaning, but to successive denials that he possessed any of the three. Jerome, strangely enough (Cat. Vir. Illust. c. 5), asserts that St. Paul was a Galilean, born at Gischala; but this, though it may possibly point to a tradition as to the home of his parents, can hardly be allowed to outweigh his own positive statement (Acts 22:3).
I speak as a fool.—The form of the Greek verb is slightly varied, and means, more emphatically than before, I speak as one who is insane; I speak deliriously. In this instance, as before, we must believe that the Apostle is using, in a tone of indignant irony, the very words of insult which had been recklessly flung at him.
In labours . . .—All that follows up to 2 Corinthians 11:28, inclusive, is a proof of his claim to call himself a minister of Christ. The word “labours” is, of course, too vague to admit of more than a general comparison with the picture of his life presented in the Acts of the Apostles. The more specific statements show us that the writer of that book tends to understate rather than exaggerate the labours and sufferings of the Apostle. It tells us, up to this time, only of one imprisonment, at Philippi (Acts 16:23), and leaves us to conjecture where and under what circumstances we are to look for the others. In the “deaths oft,” we trace an echo of the “sentence of death,” the “dying daily” (see Notes on 2 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 4:10); but the words probably include dangers to life of other kinds as well as those arising from bodily disease.
Thrice was I beaten with rods.—This, as we see in Acts 16:22-23, was distinctively, though, perhaps, not exclusively, a Roman punishment. The instance at Philippi, as above, is the only one recorded in the Acts. As a Roman citizen he could claim exemption from a punishment which was essentially servile (Acts 16:37), and at Jerusalem (Acts 22:25) he asserted this claim; but it may well have happened elsewhere, as at Philippi, either that the reckless haste of Roman officials led them to order the punishment without inquiry; or that they disregarded the appeal, and took their chance of impunity; or that there were reasons which led him to prefer enduring the ignominious punishment in silence, without protest.
Thrice I suffered shipwreck.—Again we have a picture of unrecorded sufferings, which we must refer either to the period of his life between his departure from Jerusalem (Acts 9:30) and his arrival at Antioch (Acts 11:26), or to voyages among the islands of the Ægean Sea during his stay at Corinth or at Ephesus, or to that from Ephesus to Cæsarea in Acts 18:22.
A night and a day I have been in the deep.—Taken in their natural sense the words probably point to one of the shipwrecks just mentioned, in which, either swimming or with the help of a plank (as in Acts 27:44), he had kept himself floating for nearly a whole day, beginning with the night. They have, however, been referred by some writers to a dungeon pit, like that into which Jeremiah was cast (Jeremiah 38:6), in which the Apostle was either thrown or hid himself after the stoning at Lystra. Bede (Qucest. iii. 8) relates, on the authority of Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury—whose evidence, as a native of Tarsus, has here a special interest—that there was such a dungeon known by the name of Bythos (the word used here for “deep”) in his time at Cyzicus, and, if so, it is probable enough that the same use of the word may have prevailed in other cities. So at Athens there was a dungeon known as the barathron—a word used also for a “gulf.” On the whole, however, though the conjecture is interesting enough to deserve mention, there seems no adequate reason for adopting it.
Which is blessed for evermore.—The Greek has no conjunction, but its force is best given either by which is, and is blessed for evermore, or, by an emphasis of punctuation and the insertion of a verb, which is: blessed is He for evermore. The Greek participle is not a single predicate of blessedness, such as the English expresses, but is that constantly used in the LXX. version as the equivalent of the Hebrew name for Jehovah: “He that is,” the “I AM” of Exodus 3:13-14; Jeremiah 14:13; and in a later and probably contemporary work, not translated from the Hebrew, in Wisdom Of Solomon 13:1 (“they could not . . . know Him that is”). So Philo, in like manner, speaks of “He that is” as a received name of God. (See also Notes on John 8:58-59; Romans 9:5.)
On the historical facts connected with this incident, see Notes on Acts 9:24-25. The additional details which we learn from St. Paul are—(1) that Damascus was under the immediate control, not of the Governor of Syria, but of a governor or an ethnarch; (2) that the ethnarch was appointed, not by the Roman emperor, but by Aretas (the name was hereditary, and was the Greek form of the Arabic Haret), the King of the Nabathæan Arabs, who had his capital at Petra, who was the father of the first wife of Herod Antipas (see Note on Matthew 14:1); (3) that the ethnarch lent himself to the enmity of the Jews, and stationed troops at each gate of the city to prevent St. Paul’s escape. “Ethnarch,” it may be noted, was about this time the common title of a subordinate provincial governor. It had been borne by Judas Maccabæus (1 Maccabees 14:47; 1 Maccabees 15:1-2) and by Archelaus (Jos. Wars, ii. 6, § 3).