“Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I’m talking like a madman–I’m a better one: with far more labors, many more imprisonments, far worse beatings, near death many times” (2 Corinthians 11:22-23 HCSB).
In his previous Biblical letter to the Corinthian church, Paul the Apostle wrote, “…by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10 ESV). But while Paul worked harder than anyone in helping to build the first-century church, one thing left unsaid were the sufferings he endured during that process.
In fact, the true extent of Paul’s sufferings may have remained unknown if it were not for the need to counter the boasting of the false apostles at Corinth. One aspect of those sufferings included “many more imprisonments” than those false teachers ever endured.
For instance, the New Testament book of Acts tells us that Paul was imprisoned on at least three separate occasions (Acts 16:16-24, 23:35–24:23-27 and 28:16), However, two of those incarcerations took place after he wrote this letter to the Corinthians. Therefore, Paul must have experienced additional imprisonments beyond those that are recorded for us within the pages of the Scriptures.
We’re also told that Paul was subjected to “stripes above measure” (KJV). If we were to express this idea in a contemporary sense, we might say that Paul had been wounded by physical beatings so often that he lost count. He then went on to add, “Five times I received 39 lashes from Jews” (2 Corinthians 11:24 HCSB). This describes a flogging that was typically administered with a whip comprised of a wooden handle with multiple strips of leather.
The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy established forty lashes as the maximum number of strikes that were permissible under this form of corporal punishment (see Deuteronomy 25:1–3). However, this number was customarily reduced by one to avoid the possibility of exceeding the legal limit. So at the time of this letter to the Corinthian church, Paul had been lashed with a whip no less than 195 times. If the false teachers at Corinth could match that level of physical punishment in their service to Christ, they were free to make their claim.