2 Corinthians 11 Study Notes


11:1 Paul felt compelled by circumstances to compare himself with those who had usurped his authority in Corinth. He foresaw that this would seem like foolishness or madness to some, for which he begged indulgence.

11:2-3 In the marriage analogy in these verses, four parties may be identified: (1) Paul was the spiritual father of the Corinthians, (2) the Corinthians were a pure virgin daughter of marriageable age, (3) Christ was the bridegroom to whom the Corinthians were to be given in marriage (at his return, Rv 19:7-9), and (4) the serpent was the devil working through the false teachers trying to lure the daughter away from sincere and pure devotion to her bridegroom (vv. 13-14). The reference to the fall (Gn 3) indicates that Paul believed in a historical Adam and Eve (Rm 5:14; 1Co 15:22,45; 1Tm 2:13-14).

11:4 The true, historical, biblical Jesus must be proclaimed carefully. Where the light of truth appears, the spirit of freedom and joy prevail. So adamant was Paul for the one and only gospel to be identified and preached that he pronounced a curse on those in Galatia who perverted the message (Gl 1:9).

11:5 The word super-apostles is a combination of an adjective meaning “superior” and the usual NT word for “apostle.” The only other place in the NT where this word appears is 12:11. The quotation marks indicate Paul’s disdain for such a designation of those who were troubling the Corinthians. It might also be rendered “so-called super-apostles.”

11:6 On untrained in public speaking, see note at 10:9-10. The “super-apostles” may have received the formal training that Paul had never had. In the battle of style versus substance, Paul claimed to win when it came to knowledge of God (see note at 10:17). His ministry concentrated on the clear truth rather than extravagant oratory.

11:7-8 The “super-apostles” obviously expected to be paid (see note at 2:17). They had apparently suggested to the Corinthians that it was a sign of Paul’s inferiority that he declined financial support. His derisive refusal of this notion is seen in his exaggerated language. He was neither a sinner nor a robber in his financial habits.

11:9-11 The brothers who came from Macedonia were Silas and Timothy (Ac 18:5). After planting Macedonian churches (in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea; Ac 16-17), Paul had traveled to Achaia alone. Following a brief stop in Athens, he had settled in Corinth, supporting himself as a tentmaker (Ac 18:1-4). Some time later, his traveling partners Silas and Timothy came with sufficient funds collected from the Macedonian churches, enabling Paul to devote full attention to his ministry. Paul’s personal commitment was to serve the churches without pay, underscoring the doctrine that salvation itself is free to the person who believes. On his teaching about Christian financial support for ministers in general, see 1Co 9:12-15. Paul knew that this letter would be read in churches around Corinth (regions of Achaia), and they would therefore know about this defense of his ministry.

11:12 I will continue is a reference to preaching without pay, which would sharpen the contrast between Paul and the false teachers. If Paul had received pay for his teaching, this would provide an opportunity for them to be regarded as our equals in monetary concerns.


Greek pronunciation [NOH sihss]
CSB translation knowledge
Uses in 2 Corinthians 6
Uses in the NT 29
Focus passage 2 Corinthians 11:6

The Greek noun gnosis means knowledge or understanding, and the related verb ginosko means to know, understand, or discern. The verb ginosko is much more common than gnosis and is prominent in John’s writings (57x in John; 25x in 1 John), though Paul used it often as well (50x). The noun gnosis never occurs in John’s writings and is found primarily in Paul’s writings, particularly 1 and 2 Corinthians (16x).

For Paul, gnosis refers mainly to the knowledge of God and the things of God, so it is a key term for him in describing various aspects of salvation (1Co 1:5; 2Co 2:14; 4:6; 6:6; 8:7; 10:5; Php 3:8; Col 2:3). In 1 Corinthians gnosis is listed as a spiritual gift, probably a revelatory one (12:8; 13:2,8; 14:6). Though knowledge can cause pride (1Co 8:1), knowledge is also essential for Christians to enjoy their liberty in Christ (1Co 8:7,10,11). Gnosis in its positive sense is never merely intellectual. Thus believers must guard against false knowledge (1Tm 6:20).

11:13-15 The so-called “super-apostles” were not simply believers who disagreed with Paul in motive or method. They were agents of Satan who had gained a hearing in the church. Verse 13 is the only place in the NT where the phrase false apostles occurs, but see Rv 2:2. More frequent is the reference to false prophets, which Jesus predicted (Mt 7:15; 24:11,24).

11:14 Holy angels are sometimes associated with light or brightness (Lk 2:9; 24:4; Ac 12:7). No wonder Satan deceives by covering his dark evil with a cloak of light.

11:15 The word behind servants is translated as “ministers” in 3:6; 6:4. Jesus taught about the terrible end awaiting false prophets in the Sermon on the Mount, noting, “You’ll recognize them by their fruit” (Mt 7:16).

11:16-12:10 Bible interpreters have often identified these verses as Paul’s “Fool’s Speech.” In order to defend himself against the false apostles, he boasted about experiences he had had, many of which would usually be considered evidences of shame or humiliation. Yet the false teachers couldn’t come close to matching Paul’s record.

11:16 The word fool is from the Greek aphronos, meaning “one who is ignorant or unlearned” (vv. 16,19; 12:6,11; Rm 2:20; 1Co 15:36; Eph 5:17). We might translate it as “ignoramus.” The other word translated “fool” is moros, meaning “one who is stupid” or “a moron” (1Co 1:25,27; 3:18; 4:10; 2Tm 2:23; Ti 3:9).

11:17 In the Gospels Jesus never spoke the way Paul was about to speak. In 1Co 7:12 Paul also spoke about something Jesus had not addressed.

11:18 The false apostles were as public (many boast) about their experiences and achievements as Paul was private.

11:19 Put up with is the same verb as that in 11:4, expressing the same sarcasm. The words so wise, phronimos in Greek, are the opposite of foolish (see note at v. 16).

11:20-21 Tactics of the false teachers included psychological and physical intimidation. Paul responded tongue-in-cheek: We have been too weak for that!

11:22 The false apostles and the true apostles were alike in their Jewish heritage. Yet the false apostles were perhaps, like the Judaizers in Galatia (Gl 5:1-6), construing salvation as being based on keeping the law or performing good works.

11:23 Paul did not concede that these false apostles were servants of Christ. He had just called them Satan’s servants (v. 15). But he granted their claim for the sake of argument. In any such comparison, Paul had suffered the most for the one they claimed to serve.

11:24-25 The five Jewish beatings (thirty-nine lashes; see note at Dt 25:1-3) and the three Roman beatings were administered during a more brutal era when adults were subjected to corporal punishment by religious or governmental authorities. Of the beatings mentioned here, only the Roman beating at Philippi is reported (Ac 16:22). The stoning occurred in Lystra (Ac 14:19). The shipwreck of Ac 27 occurred after the writing of 2 Corinthians.

11:26-27 Besides nature, robbers, and hostile Jews, Paul had to deal with false brothers, who betrayed him.

11:28 Everything Paul mentioned in vv. 23-27 was endured in the course of church planting or evangelism. After converts were made, he faced the task of cultivating these believers in their faith.

11:29 Paul identified emotionally and spiritually with the struggles of his converts.

11:30-31 Paul boasted in the grace of God that helped him in his weakness.

11:32-33 This episode, Paul’s first brush with being persecuted, is also reported in Ac 9:23-25. Luke, the Gentile author of Acts, noted that Jews of Damascus initiated the plot, while Paul the Jew remembered this as a plot of the Gentile governor of the city. There was probably a coalition of Jews and Nabateans serving under the governor.