“Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often” (2 Corinthians 11:22-23).
A portion of the Old Testament book of Proverbs tells us, “There is no good way to answer fools when they say something stupid. If you answer them, then you, too, will look like a fool. If you don’t answer them, they will think they are smart” (Proverbs 26:4-5 ERV). This illustrates the challenge Paul the Apostle faced in addressing the boasts made by the false apostles within the Corinthian church.
But instead of offering his own list of credentials in response, Paul replied with a list of negative experiences that others might ordinarily wish to forget. In doing so, Paul presented a dramatic contrast to the self-reverential “qualifications” offered by the pseudo-apostles at Corinth. One commentary explains the idea behind this approach…
“You will remember that the question had been raised in the church at Corinth as to whether Paul was a true apostle. What credentials could he show that he had received a divine call? How could he prove to anyone’s satisfaction that he was equal to the twelve apostles, for instance? He is ready with his answer, but perhaps it is not exactly what we would expect.
He does not bring forth a diploma to show he had graduated from some seminary. Neither does he bring an official letter, signed by the brethren in Jerusalem, stating that they had ordained him to the work. He does not present his personal accomplishments or skills. Rather, he brings before us a moving record of sufferings he had endured in the work of the gospel.” (1)
He began by saying, “They brag that they are Hebrews, do they? Well, so am I. And they say that they are Israelites, God’s chosen people? So am I. And they are descendants of Abraham? Well, I am too” (TLB). The first group referred to those who possessed the ability to speak and read the Hebrew language. The second group encompassed those who hailed from the nation of Israel while the “descendants of Abraham” identified those who traced their physical lineage back to Abraham as their ancient ancestor.
So these false teachers had no advantage over Paul when it came to these baseline credentials. But as we’ll see, Paul’s list of “qualifications” will begin to deviate quite sharply from those presented by these false apostles.
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers [11:21]