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Paul matches the Corinthian intruders' boasts with respect to heritage point for point. When it comes to service records, however, Paul can confidently claim that his surpasses that of his rivals: Are they servants of Christ? . . . I am more (v. 23). Are they servants . . . ? is perhaps better translated "Do they claim to be servants . . . ?" While this might be a given in their minds, it certainly is not in Paul's. In truth they are false apostles and servants of Satan (11:13-15).
Paul parenthetically adds: I am out of my mind to talk like this. If his boasting thus far has been foolishness (v. 1), now it moves into the realm of sheer madness. The NIV translation I am out of my mind is a fairly cautious one. In today's parlance we might say, "I am a madman" or "I have gone off the deep end."
The first three boasts in the list appear as well in 2 Corinthians 6:5: I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely. Worked . . . harder translates a Greek term commonly used of physical labor that causes one to collapse in bed at night from utter exhaustion (kopos). Although it is used in 10:15 to describe Paul's missionary labors, here it may refer to the long, grueling hours he worked as a tentmaker. He did this to avoid being a financial burden on the church at which he was currently ministering. The plural kopoi ("labors") may indicate that Paul had to work more than one job to keep himself financially afloat.
Been in prison more frequently piques the curiosity. Prisons back then were used to detain an accused person who was awaiting trial rather than to punish someone for breaking the law. Luke records only one imprisonment of Paul prior to the writing of 2 Corinthians (Acts 16:22-34). It is possible that Paul's near-death ordeal in the province of Asia (recounted in 2 Cor 1:8-11) hints at a second imprisonment. But this is merely speculation.
Paul's next boast can be translated either "flogged countless times" or flogged more severely. The main idea of the adverb is "to throw over or beyond" a mark (hyper + ballo), while the noun plege refers to a "stroke" or "blow." Flogging was a common punishment employed by both Jewish and Roman courts for a wide range of offenses. It was sometimes severe enough to kill a person—which is what Paul probably means by exposed to death again and again (compare JB's "whipped . . . often almost to death"; TEV's "near death more often").
The kinds of blows that almost killed him on numerous occasions are specified next. Five times he had received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one, three times he was beaten with rods, and once he was stoned (v. 25). The beatings administered by Jewish authorities are absent from Luke's account—although clearly remembered by Paul (Jews is placed first in the word order for emphasis). Mosaic law prescribed a maximum of forty lashes to be meted out as punishment for an offense (Deut 25:3). The number was lowered to thirty-nine to keep the flogger from accidentally miscounting and thus becoming a lawbreaker himself. In fact, if the person was given one stripe too many and died, the scourger was held responsible. In preparation for flogging, the person's too hands were bound, one on either side, to a pillar, and his clothing was torn to expose the chest and back. The lashes were administered with a strap consisting of three hide thongs. Twenty-six blows were given to the back and thirteen blows to the chest (m. Makkot 3:10-14).
Beaten with rods (erabdisthen) was a Roman form of punishment. Of the three beatings Paul received, Luke records only the one in Philippi, where the chief magistrates of the city ordered Paul and Silas to be stripped and beaten (Acts 16:22-23). The rods, similar to our billy club, were made of birchwood. Such beatings occurred on the main square before the judgment seat. Technically a Roman citizen could not be publicly beaten and imprisoned, as Paul and Silas were, without due process. But there were a number of legal exceptions (Sherwin-White 1963:71-78).
Paul's one stoning was in the streets of Lystra during his first visit there (Acts 14:8-20). Certain Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium had followed him to Lystra and stirred up the crowd against him. He was stoned, dragged outside the city and left for dead. Stoning was technically a Jewish form of punishment for capital offenses like idolatry, blasphemy, sootesaying, profaning the sabbath and adultery (Lev 20:2, 27; 24:14; Deut 13:10; 17:5; 22:22-24; m. Sanhedrin 7).
Paul concludes his service record with three times . . . shipwrecked and a night and a day in the open sea (v. 26). There is no account in Acts of any of these events up to this point in his ministry. That he had been shipwrecked three times is not surprising, however, given the peril involved in this mode of transportation in the first century and how often Paul traveled by sea (Acts 9:30; 13:4, 13; 14:25-26; 16:11; 17:14-15; 18:18-22; 20:6; 21:1-8; 27:1—28:13). The night and day adrift at sea was probably the aftermath of a shipwreck. Paul most likely found himself clinging for dear life to a piece of wreckage or ship's cargo while awaiting rescue (Bruce 1971:243). The ordeal apparently lasted toenty-four hours ("a night and a day"). Use of the perfect tense (pepoihka) suggests that the memories of this experience were still vivid for Paul.