What does 2 Corinthians 11:21 mean?
ESV: To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.
NIV: To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! Whatever anyone else dares to boast about--I am speaking as a fool--I also dare to boast about.
NASB: To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison. But in whatever respect anyone else is bold—I am speaking in foolishness—I too am bold.
CSB: I say this to our shame: We have been too weak for that!But in whatever anyone dares to boast--I am talking foolishly--I also dare:
NLT: I’m ashamed to say that we’ve been too 'weak' to do that! But whatever they dare to boast about — I’m talking like a fool again — I dare to boast about it, too.
KJV: I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also.
Previous verses described what the Corinthians had been putting up with from Paul's opponents in Corinth. The false apostles, pretending to represent Christ, had been demonstrating their strength by treating the Corinthians with great disrespect. They had been ordering the Corinthians around, consuming their supplies, taking advantage of them in every way, acting superior, and even striking those who got out of line. Apparently, the Corinthians had received all of this as evidence that the false teachers were strong, superior, and wise.
Paul continues to be sarcastic in this verse, saying that he and his associates were too weak to treat the Corinthians in this way. He mockingly says he is ashamed of this. In truth, Paul had lived among the Corinthians in a Christlike way. He had refused to take any money from them, working to support himself and living off the donations of churches in other towns. He had suffered and sacrificed for their good and lived with them in humility and servanthood. Since Paul represented Christ, he could not live in any other way.
It seems the Corinthians did not respect Paul's humility and servant leadership, however, preferring instead the strong, abusive leadership more common in their culture.
Paul now implies that he has had enough. He is going to satirize the sinfully boastful attitudes of the false apostles in Corinth to show that he is as good as they are. He can't quite do it with a straight face, however. He feels the need to keep clarifying that he is speaking as a fool would speak and not as a representative of Christ.
Second Corinthians 11:16–33 includes Paul's long list of ways he has suffered in his service to Christ. He describes this as crazy talk, mocking the arrogant style of the false apostles. In truth, the Corinthians probably would have thought of these as signs of failure, weakness, and loss. Paul is shocked that they are so willing to be mistreated by the false apostles. This abuse was something Paul was ''too weak'' to do in his Christlike service for them. Paul's discussion of his weakness will lead to his conclusion in the following chapter that Christ is strongest in him when he is weak.
Second Corinthians 11 compares the believers in Corinth to a betrothed bride. It also pictures them as Eve facing temptation from the snake in the garden in Genesis 3. Paul's job as their spiritual father is to protect them from the lies of false apostles. These deceivers disguise themselves as servants of righteousness in the same way that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Paul is shocked the Corinthians put up with such harsh treatment from these men. He sarcastically pretends to brag about himself as the false teachers do about themselves. Instead, he boasts mostly about the ways he has endured suffering in his service to Christ.
Chapter 11 follows Paul's warning in the previous chapter. There, he vowed to be as bold as needed when he comes to see them in person. He describes himself as a protective spiritual father trying to save the Corinthians from the deceptions of the false apostles to teach a false gospel about a false Jesus. He is shocked the Corinthians put up with their harsh treatment and says he has decided to foolishly boast in order to compete with the false apostles. His boasting about his service to Christ, though, is mostly a long list of all the ways he has suffered for Christ. That theme continues into chapter 12, where Paul explains just how much his suffering has improved his walk with Christ.
Second Corinthians returns to similar themes as those Paul mentioned in his first letter to this church. Paul is glad to hear that the church in Corinth has heeded his advice. At the same time, it is necessary for Paul to counter criticisms about his personality and legitimacy. Most of this text involves that subject. The fifth chapter, in contrast, contains comforting words which Christians have quoted often in times of hardship. Paul also details his expectations that the church in Corinth will make good on their promise to contribute to the needs of suffering believers in Jerusalem.
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