2 Corinthians 11:1-4 – God’s Jealousy for the Church

Paul is about to do something foolish but necessary: boast.

Quoting Jeremiah 9:23-24, Paul has already disclaimed boasting except boasting in the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:17). But soon, in this letter, he will begin to boast in 2 Corinthians 11:21b-12:13. He is forced to play this foolish game because at least some of the Corinthians have welcomed those whom he calls “super-apostles” (11:5; 12:11). The Corinthians, apparently, relish the boasting of the “super-apostles,” and the Corinthians received them as representatives of Jesus. So, Paul must boast, but it is foolishness.

The word “fool” or “foolish” occurs eight times (11:1, 16 [2x], 17, 19, 21; 12:6, 11 in this section of 2 Corinthians (11:1-12:13). Those words only occur seven other times in the whole New Testament. By the time Paul gets to the end of his boasting, he exclaims: “I have been a fool!” (12:11). He spoke as a fool rather than “according to the Lord” (11:17). Yet, he does so because he is anxious for the health of the Corinthians.

However, this is all a bit of irony, even sarcasm. Paul will boast—and play the fool—but his boasting is of a different sort than the “super-apostles.” Paul does not boast for self-commendation but to defend his role among the Corinthians as their father in the Lord. His boasts are not lavish self-praise but his own set of credentials which are different from the “super-apostles.” Paul boasts because he is protective of the church rather than himself. In this way, he boasts in the Lord rather than in his own value.

The first four verses of chapter eleven explain why Paul will engage this foolishness.

  • Bear with me in this foolishness as I am divinely jealous,
    • because I am your father who betrothed you to Christ
  • I fear you have been deceived like Eve,
    • because you bear with any who preach another Jesus.

Paul asks the Corinthians to bear with him in his foolish boasting just as, it seems, they have borne with the preaching about a another Jesus. If the Corinthians have put up with and received the boasting of the “super-apostles,” then Paul expects them to put up with some of his own foolishness. This is especially true since Paul planted the church and is their father in the faith (1 Corinthians 4:15).

Paul compares himself to a father who has promised his daughter in marriage and thereby invokes a well-known cultural practice. First, there is an announcement—an engagement between the daughter and the man. Second, there is a betrothal period (typically a year in Jewish cultural) during which time the father protects the virginity of the daughter. Third, there is a marriage ceremony.

The comparison seems rather obvious. Paul betrothed the Corinthians to Christ when he planted (fathered) the church, giving birth to a daughter (the Corinthian church). As her father, his mission is to protect the chastity of his virgin daughter for the sake of Christ. On the wedding day, which is the day when Christ returns, Paul intends to present Christ with a virgin bride.

This explains Paul’s godly jealousy for the Corinthians in the face of his detractors and the intrusion of the “super-apostles.” He is like a father protecting his daughter from those who would seduce her into an illicit relationship.

But what is so illicit about a relationship with the “super-apostles”?

Paul fears they will lead the Corinthians astray from a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ,” just as Eve was deceived by the serpent through “its cunning.” Embedded in this language is a fairly weighty judgment against the “super-apostles.”

  • They use cunning deceptions to lead people astray.
  • They stand opposed to “pure devotion to Christ.”
  • They serve the same role as the serpent who deceived Eve.

Comparing the situation with Eve, who was tricked by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, suggests how seriously he assesses the situation in Corinth. The chastity of his daughter is on the line with these intruders. They play the part of the serpent, which is perhaps why Paul compares them to Satan who “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). In fact, one of the reasons for writing this letter is so the Corinthians would not be “outwitted by Satan” (2 Corinthians 2:11). This, then, is a dire situation where the virginal betrothal lies in the balance.

Moreover, the tactics of the “super-apostles” are filled with deception and “cunning.” These are the vices that Paul disavows with regard to his own ministry. Earlier Paul wrote, “we have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning” (2 Corinthians 4:2). Paul comes to the Corinthians with honesty and an open heart, but the “super-apostles,” according to Paul, come with deceit and cunning. They want to deceive the Corinthians just as the serpent deceived Eve.

Why does Paul fear the Corinthians have been led astray from their “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3)? Because the “super-apostles”

  • herald (announce) another Jesus
  • bring a different spirit/Spirit than the one previously received
  • accept a different gospel

Their message entails “another Jesus,” a Jesus other than the one Paul proclaims. Their practices exhibit a different (heteron) spirit/Spirit than the one with which God gifted the Corinthians. Their gospel is different (heteron); it is a different kind of good news, not the one Paul preached and practiced in Corinth.

Something is radically amiss here. What is “different?” I don’t think it is false teaching in the sense that it is a specific Christological heresy or a Judaizing group from Jerusalem. There is no indication in the letter that there was a doctrinal or dogmatic difference between Paul and the “super-apostles.” We know little, if anything, about the theological content of their teaching. On the contrary, the focus of Paul’s engagement with the “super-apostles” is focused on their self-commendation, comparative style of ministry, their disparagement of Paul’s ministry, and their deceitful practices.

If this is the case, then one may proclaim a theologically correct Jesus, a faithful gospel, and receive the Spirit of God (if “spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit), and yet herald another Jesus, embody a different gospel, and exhibit a different Spirit (or spirit). How is it possible to be a faithful teacher of the truth but lead people astray so that they give up their “pure devotion to Christ”?

The answer to that question lies in the rationale for Paul’s extended discussion of the ministry of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 2-7. The sort of ministry in which Paul engaged is the opposite of what these “super-apostles” are doing. The heart of this is revealed in the nature of Paul’s boasting which contrasts with the nature of the boasting by the “super-apostles.”

Essentially, Paul pursued the ministry of reconciliation for the sake of the Corinthians and humbled himself among them, even to the point of suffering for the gospel. He endured hardship, suffering, and abuse for their sakes. This is the ministry of gospel. It is not self-commendation and self-promotion in order to enjoy prestige, status, or prosperity. This is where the contrast lies—the way in which each has approached the Corinthians as ministers of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:19-21). One example of this is that while Paul refused money from the Corinthians, the “super-apostles” apparently did not (2 Corinthians 11:7). Paul refused to “take advantage” of the Corinthians, but the “super-apostles” did (2 Corinthians 12:18).

While the content of our ministry—the message we proclaim—is of utmost importance, it can be subverted by the way we minister. Our mouths may say one thing but our practices say something different. In this way, the “super-apostles” promoted another Jesus with a different spirit that embodied a different gospel. And the Corinthians, Paul says, put up with it!

The modern church has the same problem. While some preach a relatively “correct” gospel with their words, their practices say something different. When pastors revel in their credentials, status, power, and wealth rather than taking on the ministry of reconciliation embodied by Paul, they herald another Jesus with a different spirit that embodies a different gospel.

What Paul feared for the Corinthians is still a live problem in the contemporary church and seemingly more so now than ever.

One Response to “2 Corinthians 11:1-4 – God’s Jealousy for the Church”

  1.   Bob Abney Says:

    Just read an article from the past…the one about “I’ll Fly Away.” Lovely as well as instructive and bringing back memories from my past. Thank you.

    God bless
    Bob Abney

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