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2 Corinthians 11:23

ESV Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.
NIV Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.
NASB Are they servants of Christ?—I am speaking as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.
CSB Are they servants of Christ? I'm talking like a madman--I'm a better one: with far more labors, many more imprisonments, far worse beatings, many times near death.
NLT Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again.
KJV Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.

What does 2 Corinthians 11:23 mean?

Using satire and sarcasm, Paul declared he will now engage in the same foolishness as the deceptive false apostles in Corinth. He has promised to boast about his qualifications and experiences, just as they do. He began in the previous verse by pointing out that he, too, is a true Hebrew and member of God's chosen people, the Israelites. That fact may have given his opponents some credibility with the Corinthians, so he reminded them the same was true of him. That's not much of a boast in itself, however.

Opponents in Corinth may have presented themselves as servants of Christ, but Paul has already made clear they present a false version of Jesus and certainly do not act like Him. Here, Paul's claim to spiritual credentials is more specific, describing himself as a "better" servant of Christ than the false apostles. Paul's use of satire here is explicit. In fact, he says that to make such a declaration would be the words of a madman.

Paul would see such speech—were it not sarcasm—as insane because a true servant of Christ should never brag about being a better servant of Christ than another. His use of that approach, here, is for a particular effect. Beyond that, Paul doesn't boast the way anyone reading his letter might have expected. Instead of describing all the churches he has established or the great number of people he has led to faith in Christ, he begins to describe the suffering he has experienced as Christ's representative.

That his labors have been far greater may sound to modern ears like Paul is bragging about his work ethic. However, to those in Corinthian culture, one who did much laborious work was seen as a failure in life, not a success. Next, Paul adds that he has spent time in far more jails, has been beaten countless times, and has often been near death in his ministry. This would have been odd boasting indeed to Corinthian ears. From their perspective, Paul is describing a collection of failures, disasters, and losses that go beyond even the recorded episodes of such experiences in the book of Acts.

The boast is genuine, however. Paul is establishing that he has suffered as Christ Himself suffered during His life on earth. In addition, he is establishing the great weakness and fragility of his life, which will amplify the glory of God's strength demonstrated through him.
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