“Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep” (2 Corinthians 11:25).
Unlike the “forty stripes minus one” that Paul the Apostle received at the hands of the religious leaders, this reference to being “beaten with rods” identifies a form of punishment that was typically associated with the Roman government. Acts 16:22-23 records one occasion where Paul was subjected to this kind of beating but the other two incidents remain undocumented. Taken together, this means that Paul was repeatedly subjected to multiple forms of physical punishment from the secular and religious authorities of his day.
If that was not enough, one source comments on the illegal nature of these Roman governmental actions:: “…the Romans inflicted their punishment on Paul by beating him with rods, though they did so illegally since he was a Roman citizen (Act_16:37). The acclaimed Roman peace was not much protection for Paul either. Roman law and order in Lystra did little to stop the mob that stoned Paul and left him for dead…” (1)
This reference to the incident that occurred in the town of Lystra certainly refers to the same event that Paul speaks of here in 2 Corinthians 11:25 when he says, “…once I was stoned.” That incident is recorded in Acts 14:19 where we’re told, “Some Jewish leaders from Antioch and Iconium came and turned the crowds against Paul. They hit him with stones and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead” (CEV).
So in addition to being subjected to various forms of torturous punishment from the secular and religious authorities, Paul also faced a riotous mob that assailed him with rocks in an attempt to kill him. As we consider the extent of Paul’s sufferings for the gospel, one commentator encourages us to focus upon what he sought to accomplish in relating these accounts…
“…Paul describes his ministry in terms that could not possibly be equaled by the false apostles. Yet he does not boast about his own knowledge or speaking skills or other abilities, but about how much he has suffered for the sake of Christ. Here Paul’s boasting is ironic—he ‘boasts’ of things normally considered shameful, signs of weakness and defeat. Thus, his boasts are an imitation or parody of the boasting of his opponents, who praised themselves to the Corinthians in extravagant speeches.” (2)
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [11:25-26] ® 1983 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck
(2) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2065). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.