Necessary Boasting- 2 Corinthians 12:1-6

In this passage, Paul is referring to his dealings with the so-called “super-apostles” (2Cor. 11:5), false apostles in the church at Corinth who were preaching a different message and were opposing Paul. They were deceiving the people and causing strife and division within the church, and Paul has been refuting them and their message. He begins, then, in verse one, by stating that it is necessary to continue boasting, “although their is nothing to be gained”. Paul does not really want to boast, he is uncomfortable in doing so, but sees it as necessary in order to deal with these false apostles. His boasting here is in the area of “visions and revelations from the Lord”. The phrase from the Lord here is in the genitive, and could be an objective genitive (of the Lord) or a subjective genitive (from the Lord). It is likely here that Paul means both, that the Lord revealed Himself to Paul, which He had not done to the false apostles. These visions and revelations can also be understood as being slightly different things, with the visions pertaining mainly to personal guidance Paul received from the Lord (like the necessity to boast here) and revelations being information about the Lord to be passed on to others. Paul then talks in verse 2 of knowing a man in Christ, an odd phrase which most propose refers to Paul himself (for it would not make much sense boasting about someone you know when you are defending yourself), and refers to an incident in which he was “caught up to the third heaven”. In ancient cosmology their were three “heavens”, the first being the sky above where the birds fly, the second being “outer space” where the sun, moon and stars are, and the third being the place where God dwells beyond “outer space”. So Paul here is asserting he was caught up to heaven, to the place where God dwells. He is not sure if it was an “out of body” experience or not, but what he does know is that he was “caught up to paradise”. The Greek “caught up” here describes a sudden forceful apprehension, Paul was forcefully apprehended to paradise, with the idea being Paul did not do this but God did this to him. There he heard “inexpressible things”, that he was “not permitted to tell”. The Greek word “heard ” here is akouo, to hear with understanding. Paul heard and understood things both from and about the Lord which no one else has ever heard or understood, some of which he was permitted to pass on and some of which he was not. The point here is that none of these “super-apostles” had received this kind of revelation, none of them knew the Lord the way Paul did, and in this way Paul shows his “superiority” to the false apostles, asserting the validity of his message and thereby invalidating theirs. Paul then makes another rather unusual statement, saying in verse 5, “I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weakness”. Why would Paul make this statement if in both parts he is referring to himself? We would suggest here that Paul uses this unusual method because he sees the “boasting” he has to do regarding the false apostles as foreign to his true self. He is by nature now a very humble man who would much prefer to boast “in the Lord”, and boasting about himself, his accomplishments and his experiences makes him profoundly uncomfortable. He has been shown (in a vision) that it is necessary to boast in this way to deal with the false apostles once and for all, and he does so in obedience, in spite of the fact that doing so makes him profoundly uncomfortable, for he would prefer to boast about his weakness (another unusual idea we will examine in our next post), not about what he does but what Christ does through him. Paul then tells us that his choosing to boast is not foolish, because it is true, but he refrains so no one will think more of him that what is warranted by what he says or does. He has boasted, in these verses, in his accomplishments and experiences because it was necessary to deal with the false apostles, he became a “man like that” because it was necessary to do so. He became a man who boasted in his accomplishments and experiences in order to deal with the situation at hand, boasting in his “strengths” in order to deal with their supposed strength, and now he is about to return to much more comfortable territory, to his true self, not a “man in Christ” but the Apostle Paul, boasting not in his strength but in his weakness, boasting not in what he has said, done or experienced but in what Christ has said and done through him, which as our next post will demonstrate , is a very different message.

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