Online Bible Commentary
To Boast or Not to Boast
2 Corinthians 11:16 I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. (NKJV)
On his third missionary journey, after ministering in Ephesus for two years and three months, the Apostle Paul left for Macedonia in May, A.D. 56. In Macedonia he visited churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.
Paul was in Macedonia from June to November of A.D. 56. It was there that he wrote the letter of 2nd Corinthians, likely in September and October of A.D. 56.
The church in Corinth had been beset by false teachers. These false teachers, Judaizers, were undermining Paul’s teachings and questioning his apostolic authority.
The Judaizers wanted to add to the Gospel, to make it more complicated. What they wanted to add was the requirement to follow the Jewish practices and customs expressed in the Mosaic Law.
The Corinthian church has now rejected the false teachers and returned to the teachings of Paul. However, Paul still has some concern about the issue of his apostolic authority and addresses it again in this letter.
Paul began this letter by defending his apostolic authority. After moving on to other subjects, he now concludes this letter by returning to defend his apostolic authority in the last four chapters.
In this passage, Paul defends his apostolic authority by comparing himself to the Judaizers. He writes “Let no one take me for a fool” (v. 16a). This is a reference to the Judaizers, who were boasting about themselves in order to attempt to build up their authority. He is saying that only fools constantly boast about themselves.
However, Paul realizes that he is going to have to do a little boasting to offset the boasting of the Judaizers. So, he asks the Corinthian believers to “tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting” (v 16b).
He is not happy that he needs to resort to boasting. So, he labels his boasting as an expression of self-confidence when he writes “In this self-confident boasting” (v. 17a).
But Paul is not comfortable with boasting of himself, even if he calls it an expression of self-confidence. He seeks to be Christ-like in all that he does. He admits here that Christ never boasted when he writes “I am not talking as the Lord would” (v. 17b). Instead when he boasts about himself, Paul is talking “as a fool’ would talk (v. 17c).
However, Paul realizes that some people, in this case the Corinthian believers, are convinced by boasting. In order to keep up with the Judaizers he must do some boasting. So, Paul writes “since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast (v. 18).
He writes that they “gladly put up with fools”, they listen to the Judaizers’ boasting (v. 19a). The Corinthian believers believed they were wise. So, Paul writes “since you are so wise” (v. 19b)! Paul is being sarcastic. The Corinthian believers actually had been deceived by the Judaizers.
The Corinthian believers had believed the Judaizers previously. In doing so, they had been exploited by the Judaizers in three ways.
In describing the first way, Paul writes “In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you” (v. 20a). The Judaizers had enslaved them by putting them under the Mosaic Law instead of the freedom of the grace of Christ.
Secondly, Paul writes that the Judaizer “exploits you or takes advantage of you” (v. 20b). The Judaizers pressured the Corinthian believers into giving them large sums of money.
The third way they had been exploited was that the Judaizers “puts on airs or slaps you in the face” (v. 20c). The Judaizers manipulated the Corinthian believers by claiming to be spiritually superior to them through words and actions.
These actions would sometimes be expressed physically through a slap to the face. Anything was acceptable in order to keep the believers doing what the Judaizers wanted them to do.
Church history is replete with examples of arrogant church leaders wrongly using physical force to keep the congregants in line. It is amazing what church members will put up with at the hands of false teachers.
Next, Paul writes “To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that” (v. 21a)! He means that if the Corinthian believers needed that kind of poor treatment in order to prove apostolic authority, that he is ashamed of being too weak to provide them that. Again, Paul is being sarcastic.
Paul concludes this passage by writing “Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about” (v. 21b). Those who need to boast to establish their authority are “speaking as fools”, and Paul admits here that he must speak as a fool and boast at this time.
So the question is to boast or not to boast when speaking for the Lord. The Lord did not boast, and neither should we.
However, in this case Paul felt the need to boast in order to establish his apostolic authority. His boasting was not so much boasting as expressing his self confidence in his knowledge of the Lord.
Paul realized that we sometimes need to express this self confidence in the knowledge of the Lord in order to reach others for the Lord. In today’s world, we also have the ability to cite credentials: positions, degrees, and publications in Christian organizations as a way to prove our knowledge of the Lord, and the credibility of our teaching.
Citing credentials is not boasting. It is necessary in today’s world in order to establish authority over those false teachers who would attempt to deceive believers. I believe that Paul would do the same, were he here with us in this world today.