What does 2 Corinthians 11:32 mean?
ESV: At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me,
NIV: In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me.
NASB: In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me,
CSB: In Damascus, a ruler under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to arrest me.
NLT: When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me.
KJV: In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me:
Paul has said in the previous verses that he would boast only in his weaknesses. He was not claiming to be powerful or impressive, as the false apostles in Corinth likely did. Even his use of the term "boasting," in this passage, is meant as a sideways criticism of the self-promoting false teachers. Paul is showing that he was weak, that he suffered and faced great danger, in order to give glory to Christ for what He accomplished through Paul. His success as an evangelist was not based in being invincible, lucky, or charismatic.
This verse gives another example of Paul's personal weakness from the very beginning of his Christian life (Acts 9:8–25). Aretas, a king in the city of Damascus, apparently agreed with the local Jewish religious leaders. He felt Paul's proclamation in the synagogue that Jesus was the Son of God was worthy of death. The king posted guards at the entrance to the city to catch Paul leaving town. Paul concludes the story in the following verse, but his point is that powerful men are not hunted by kings.
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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