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2 Corinthians 11:16-33 – The Fool’s Speech


As a way of defending himself against negative comparisons with opponents in Corinth, Paul rehearses a list of his hardships in ministry.


Second Corinthians 11:16-12:10 is sometimes called "The Fool's Speech." Paul wants to defend himself, but he does not want to open himself up to the charge that in his letters he abuses the power or authority entrusted to him. Paul wants to defend himself also without becoming like his enemies, who have sought the trust of the Corinthians on the basis of credentials rather than trustworthy relationships. Even so, in this speech, he argues that his credentials are equal to those of the teachers to arrive in Corinth after his departure, and he numbers his many sufferings for the sake of the gospel. Some of the sufferings he mentions, such as imprisonments, beatings, stonings, and shipwrecks, are also reported in the Acts of the Apostles.

Paul's speech begins with the credentials of the other teachers. "Are they Hebrews? So am I" (2 Corinthians 11:22). Yet it moves to things that the others might not boast about, namely, deprivation, anxiety, and weakness (2 Corinthians 11:27-29). Paul says he will "boast of the things that show my weakness" (2 Corinthians 11:30). He explains this strategy in chapter 12.

2 Corinthians 11:16-33

Paul’s Sufferings as an Apostle

16 I repeat, let no one think that I am a fool; but if you do, then accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17What I am saying in regard to this boastful confidence, I am saying not with the Lord’s authority, but as a fool; 18since many boast according to human standards,* I will also boast. 19For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves! 20For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face. 21To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters;* 27in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he for ever!) knows that I do not lie. 32In Damascus, the governor* under King Aretas set a guard on the city of Damascus in order to* seize me, 33but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall,* and escaped from his hands.

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