Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Paul Earns His Stripes (II Corinthians 11:24)

How many times did Paul receive the legal maximum of 39 lashes? Five (II Corinthians 11:24)

After learning that some members of the church at Corinth had challenged his apostolic authority, Paul responds by presenting his credentials (II Corinthians 11:22-12:9). Though the apostle repeatedly acknowledges that such boasting is foolish (II Corinthians 11:16, 17, 19, 21, 12:6), his validation comes in the form of biographical details. Instead of recounting his triumphs, Paul’s “fool’s boast” paints a bleak picture as he presents a catalog of the hardships that he has endured for the sake of Christ (II Corinthians 11:23-27).

This material is common in Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Raymond F. Collins (b. 1935) informs:

This is the third such listing of Paul’s hardships in this letter (see II Corinthians 4:8-12, 6:4-10). A fourth will follow in the next chapter (II Corinthians 12:10). This is the longest of the four and contains some vocabulary that does not appear elsewhere in Paul’s correspondence as well as other words he rarely uses. Like the other catalogs, this list demonstrates Paul’s endurance and his steadfastness in preaching the gospel, despite the difficulties that he encountered at virtually every turn. (Collins, Second Corinthians (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 231)
Calvin J. Roetzel (b. 1931) inventories:
This longest of all of Paul’s tribulation lists (II Corinthians 4:8-9, 6:4-5, 12:1, I Corinthians 4:9-13; and Romans 8:35) discloses information known only here. We learn here of five synagogue lashings (II Corinthians 11:24, see Deuteronomy 25:3), three Roman scourges with rods, one stoning possibly by a mob (II Corinthians 11:25), three shipwrecks, multiple imprisonments (II Corinthians 11:23), and so forth. The list embraces different types of tribulation—physical abuse (II Corinthians 11:23b-25a), peril (II Corinthians 11:25b-26), hardships (II Corinthians 11:27), and anxieties (II Corinthians 11:28)—but Paul lumps them all together without distinction. They all tell a story of weakness in which is imbedded a profound theological assertion that sets Paul apart from the rival missionaries, contests their legitimacy, and subverts and inverts their understanding of body language. (Roetzel, 2 Corinthians (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), 109)
Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (b. 1935) encapsulates:
His apostolic labours have often brought him to the point of death (II Corinthians 11:23). One could starve in prison, and the floggings inflicted by Jewish (five times) and Roman authorities (three times) were as little concerned about the survival of the victim as the mob who pelted him with stones. Here Paul graphically illustrated what he means by ‘bearing in the body the dying of Jesus’, which is the means whereby ‘the life of Jesus’ is manifested (II Corinthians 4:10-11). (Murphy-O’Connor, The Theology of the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 115-116)
The litany of Paul’s brushes with death begins by noting that he has endured corporal punishment from the Jews (II Corinthians 11:24).
Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. (II Corinthians 11:24 NASB)
The beatings came “from” the Jews (II Corinthians 11:24 KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV). C.K Barrett (1917-2011) notifies:
Five time the Jews have given me...[is] literally, From the Jews I received—the verb corresponds to rabbinic usage; see Hermann Leberecht Strack [1848-1922] and Paul Billerbeck [1853-1932] iii. 527). (Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 296)
Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) analyzes:
This use of ὑπό, ‘at the hands of,’ is classical and is found in papyri, but it is rare in the New Testament. In I Thessalonians 2:14 and Matthew 17:12 we have πάσχειν ὑπό. Georg Benedikt Winer [1789-1858], p. 462. We expect ὑπό των ἐθνων with the next statement, but in the rapid enumeration it is omitted. He naturally begins with what his own nation, which had become bitterly hostile, had done to him. (Plummer, II Corinthians (International Critical Commentary), 323)
Paul further stresses the Jews’ culpability by placing them at the beginning of the sentence, an emphatic position in the Greek. Victor Paul Furnish (b. 1931) observes:
A certain emphasis attaches to the phrase here, not only because it stands first...but also because no agent is specified for either of the similar experiences which follow immediately in the list (II Corinthians 11:25). (Furnish, II Corinthians (Anchor Bible), 515)
Despite this emphasis, Paul is certainly not being antisemitic. Murray J. Harris (b. 1939) clarifies:
The construction λαμβάνειν τι ὑπὸ τινος means “be given something by someone” (Walter Bauer [1870-1960], F. Wilbur Gingrich [1901-1993], William F. Arndt [1880-1957] and Frederick W. Danker [1920-2012] 465c). ὑπὸ ’Ιουδαί ων, “at the hands of the Jews,” does not amount to a general indictment of the Jewish people, but it does strike a note of pathos after Paul’s defense of his Jewishness in II Corinthians 11:22. (Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 801)
Margaret E. Thrall (1928-2010) questions:
It may be significant that when Paul comes to speak more specifically of his hardships he begins with his five experiences of punishment by the Jews [II Corinthians 11:24]. Is it because this particular hardship was especially unlikely to have come the way of his rivals? And was this because their ‘alternative gospel’ appeared to involve less of a break with Judaism than what had become known of Paul’s own message and his more radical attitude to the Mosaic law? (Thrall, 2 Corinthians 8-13 (International Critical Commentary), 736-37)
Paul literally had a tortured relationship with the synagogue. John G. Gager (b. 1937) construes:
Paul’s activities generated deep hostilities toward him among many Jews. These hostilities are reflected directly in two Pauline texts: first, in II Corinthians 11, where he speaks of “danger from my own people” and having received the thirty-nine lashes (an official punishment administered by Jews on Jews) five times at the hands of the Jews, no doubt in connection with his disruptive missionary activities [II Corinthians 11:39]; and in II Thessalonians 2, an early letter, where he rants against the Jews “who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out and...oppose all men by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved [I Thessalonians 2:15-16].” (Gager, Reinventing Paul, 68)
The punishment that the Jews Paul subject Paul to is flogging: “lashes” (CEV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) or “stripes” (ASV, KJV, NKJV). This word is actually not in the text and must be supplied by translators.

R.C.H. Lenski (1864-1936) explains:

The Greek needs no noun, “I got forty minus one” being plain enough. Luke 12:47 likewise omits “stripes.” (Lenski, The Interpretation of II Corinthians, 1273)
Though many translations do the math for the reader and simply report that Paul received 39 lashes (CEV, HCSB, MSG, NASB, NLT), the literal Greek is forty “minus” (NIV, NKJV, NRSV), “less” (ESV, RSV) or “save” (ASV, KJV) one.

Murray J. Harris (b. 1939) comments:

In the expression τεσσεράκοντα παρὰ μίαν...the preposition παρὰ has the unusual sense of “less” (Friedrich Blass [1843-1907], Albert Debrunner [1884-1958] and Robert W. Funk [1926-2005] §236[4]) or “minus”; that πληγάς (“strokes”) must be supplied (as in Luke 12:47) with τεσσεράκοντα, or πληγήν with μίαν; that τεσσεράκοντα was more often spelled τεσσαράκοντα until the Byzantine period. (Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 801)
The 39 stripes, also known as the makkot arbaim, represents the maximum Jewish in-house punishment of Paul’s era. Margaret E. Thrall (1928-2010) apprises:
The Roman authorities allowed the Jews to inflict this punishment upon those of their fellow-Jews who had broken the regulations of the Mosaic Law. (Thrall, I and II Corinthians (Cambridge Bible Commentary), 174)
Though governed by later custom, the penalty originated in the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 25:2-3). Murray J. Harris (b. 1939) traces:
“The thirty-nine stripes” was the official punishment of the synagogue, alluded to by Jesus when he warned his disciples that some of them would be handed over to local Jewish councils (συνέδρια) and scourged “in their synagogues” (ἐν ταις συναγωγαις αὐτων, Matthew 10:17; cf. Matthew 23:34). This punishment has its origin in the regulations of Deuteronomy 25:2-3 concerning the penalty to be meted out to the guilty person who deserved a flogging. The number of lashes was to correspond to the gravity of the offense, but in no case was it to exceed forty lest the offender should suffer gross public humiliation. We may explain the change from forty to thirty-nine strokes as the maximum permissible penalty as resulting from (1) a concern to avoid a miscount that would infringe a commandment; or (2) the fact that the instrument of punishment had three straps, so that thirteen strokes was the maximum permitted; or (3) an interpretation of the juxtaposed words bemispār ’arbā‘îm (Septuagint, ἀριθμω τεσσαράκοντα), literally, “by number forty,” in Deuteronomy 25:2-3 to mean “a number near to forty” (Mishnah Makkot 3:10). Josephus [37-100] also refers to the “forty stripes minus one” (Antiquities of the Jews 4:238, 248); clearly the later comparable reference in the Mishnaic tractate Makkot (“Stripes”) reflects practice that dates back at least to the first century A.D. (Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 801)
Victor Paul Furnish (b. 1931) notes:
The present list is the earliest evidence for the practice of stopping one short of the maximum allowed, probably to avoid going over the maximum due to a miscount...The later rabbinic tractate Makkot indicates some of the crimes for which this punishment was administered (Mishnah Makkot 3:1-9), and explains that the administrator was liable if more than forty blows had been given (Mishnah Makkot 3:10-14). (Furnish, II Corinthians (Anchor Bible), 515-16)
In being whipped, Paul receives the stiffest penalty available to the Jews. E.P. Sanders (b. 1937) examines:
Paul says that he five times received the thirty-nine stripes [II Corinthians 11:24]. It seems very likely that the administration of the stripes is what is called elsewhere “persecution.’ It is important to note that, from the Jewish perspective, it was punishment...It is intrinsically probable that the Diaspora synagogues had at their disposal only two punishments, ostracism and the thirty-nine stripes. (Peter Richardson [b. 1935] with David Granskou [b. 1927], “Paul on the Law, His Opponents, and the Jewish People in Philippians 3 and II Corinthians 11”, Anti-Judaism in Early Christianity, Volume 1: Paul and the Gospels, 86)
Obviously, the procedure was agonizing. Paul Barnett (b. 1935) describes:
In no case was the beating to exceed forty, administered to the man or woman bending down. The Mishnah tractate Makkoth, which corroborates Paul’s “forty lashes minus one,” nominates false witness (e.g., about a priest, that he was the son of a divorced mother — Mishnah Makkoth 1:1) as an offense for which this punishment was administered. The minister of the synagogue was to stand on a raised stone inflicting the blow “with all his might,” using a redoubled calf strap, to which two other straps were attached. Thirteen blows were delivered to the chest and twenty-six to the back. The severity of this beating can be inferred from the provisions made in the event the offender defecated, urinated, or even died as a result of their blows. (Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 542)
Bruce Chilton (b. 1949) adds:
The culprit had his hands tied on either side of a pillar and his clothing ripped from his torso. Then an expert in the lash flogged him from behind so that one-third of the blows landed on his chest and two-thirds on his back. The total number of blows was limited to thirty-nine—Paul’s “forty lashes less one.”...Although such flogging was nothing compared to the Roman version, which went on and on with steel-tipped whips and could kill a man, it remained a painful disgrace (see Josephus [37-100] Antiquities 4.238-39). Just the thing for a Diaspora interloper who thought he could compare himself to Moses. (Chilton, Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography, 84-85)
Paul likely reviews his most physically demanding trial first. Kar Yong Lim considers:
A.E. Harvey [b. 1930], ‘Forty Strokes Save One: Social Aspects of Judaizing and Apostasy’, 93-94, rightly points out that none of the other sufferings Paul undergoes ‘is likely to have exceeded, in the sheer damage it caused to his physique (let alone the humiliation of his person), the five occasions on which he received from his fellow Jews the maximum judicial penalty of forty strokes save one’. So Sven Gallas, ‘»Fünfmal vierzig weniger einen ...«. Die an Paulus vollzogenen Synagogalstrafen nach 2Kor 11,24’, 190. (Lim, ‘The Sufferings of Christ Are Abundant In Us’: A Narrative Dynamics Investigation of Paul’s Sufferings in 2 Corinthians, 179)
Though painful, the 39 stripes resulting in death was probably rare. Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) conjectures:
Josephus [37-100] (Antiquities of the Jews iv.viii. 21) calls it τιμωρίαν ταύτην αἰσχίστην, but he does not intimate that death often ensued, and it is improbable that Jewish magistrates would allow death to be risked. But the frail and sensitive Apostle might feel that he had nearly died under the affliction. (Plummer, II Corinthians (International Critical Commentary), 324)
Paul notes that he faces this maximum punishment five times! (II Corinthians 11:24). R. Kent Hughes (b. 1942) calculates:
Five floggings total 195 stripes. Imagine Paul’s anguish as in full knowledge of the excruciating pain that was coming he awaited another beating. Even more, imagine his love for his people, the Jews. (Hughes, 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness (Preaching the Word), 203)
The unit is laced with language which emphasizes the severity of Paul’s hardships. Robert B. Hughes (b. 1946) reveals:
Paul loads this section with words that show abundance: “far more,” “without number” (II Corinthians 11:23), “often” (II Corinthians 11:23, 27); “five times,” “three times” (II Corinthians 11:24-25); “frequent” (II Corinthians 11:26); “dangers” (eight times in II Corinthians 11:26); “many” (II Corinthians 11:27); “daily pressure,” “all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:28). (Hughes, Second Corinthians (Everyman’s Bible Commentary), 110)
There is, however, a shift which begins when Paul begins speaking of the 39 stripes. Paul Barnett (b. 1935) delineates:
Unlike the verses preceding and succeeding, which use the generalized references “more abundantly” (II Corinthians 11:23), “surpassingly” (II Corinthians 11:23), and “frequently” (II Corinthians 11:23, 26, 27), II Corinthians 11:24-25 give specific numbers — “five times,” “once,” and “three times.” In their statements of their exploits the great Romans appealed to statistics; for example in his Res Gestae Augustus [63 BCE-4 CE] declared, “Twice I received triumphal ovations. Three times I received curule triumphs. Twenty times and one did I receive the appellation of imperator” (Res Gestae 4). The numerical details given here by Paul probably belong to that tradition, except that Paul’s catalogue points to his suffering and defeat. (Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 541-42)
Victor Paul Furnish (b. 1931) notes:
The numerical reference is somewhat less prominent in the first example of death-dealing experiences than in those which follow in II Corinthians 11:25, simply because this first one has been introduced with reference to the agents. But here, too, the number is important, for it adds to the overall impressiveness of the list. Cf. the patterned enumeration of Augustus [63 BCE-4 CE]’s honors on the Monumentum Ancyranum: e.g., “Twice I received triumphal ovations. Three times I celebrated curule triumphs. Twenty times and one did I receive the appellation of imperator” (E.G. Hardy [1852-1925] 1923:37). Similarly, the tabulated exploits of Pompey (Pliny [23-79], Natural History VII.xxvi.98), Lucius Siccius Dentatus [514-450 BCE] (ibid.101-3), M. Manilus Capitolinus [D. 384 BCE] (ibid.103-4), and Julius Caesar (Civil Wars II, 32). (Furnish, II Corinthians (Anchor Bible), 515)
Paul plays on familiar language as the format and numbers entailed lampoons Augustus (63 BCE-4 CE)’s resume. Moyer V. Hubbard (b. 1962) reports:
Paul’s words read like a parody of the famous inscription of Augustus [63 BCE-4 CE] in which he catalogs the glories of his reign, the achievements he wanted all to remember...“Twice have I had the lesser triumph...three times the [full] curule triumph; twenty-one times have I been saluted as ‘Imperator’...Fifty-five times has the Senate decreed a thanksgiving unto the Immortal Gods...Nine kings, or children of kings, have been led before my chariot in my triumphs...thirteen times had I been consul.”....The original inscription was erected on bronze pillars at the emperor’s mausoleum in Rome, and copies were distributed throughout the provinces. Portions have been found in Ancyra (capital of Galatia), Apollonia (in Illyricum), and Antioch (in Psidia). Such chronicles of glory would have been familiar to Paul and the Corinthians, rendering Paul’s “boast” all the more ironic. (Clinton E Arnold [b. 1958], Romans to Philemon (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), 152)
Despite these floggings seemingly representing significant occurrences, none of them is recorded in the book of Acts which narrates much of Paul’s ministry. John B. Polhill (b. 1939) conjectures:
Nowhere in Acts is there mention of Paul’s receiving a lashing from a synagogue. There is no doubt that Luke was selective in narrating the events of Paul’s life. It is striking, however, that he mentioned none of the five lashings. It may be that some of them were received during the period of his Cilician ministry. This would be particularly likely if he worked exclusively out of the synagogues during this period, which seems to have been the case. His leaving the synagogues and turning primarily to Gentiles was a development of his first missionary journey, according to the picture furnished by Acts (Acts 13:46-48). (Polhill, Paul and His Letters, 68)
Kenneth L. Chafin (1926-2001) reasons:
Paul claims that his suffering in behalf of Christ should put him in a totally different category of apostle from that of those who oppose him. He wrote to the Galatians: “Let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). As one reads through Paul’s account he is immediately aware of the fact that there is information here in II Corinthians that is not recorded by Luke in Acts. Had Paul’s credentials not been questioned, he probably would never have shared what he wrote here. He was like a doctor who never calls attention to his credentials until someone falsely accuses him of not having...training, experience, or expertise in his field. (Chafin, 1, 2 Corinthians (Mastering the New Testament), 283-84)
Acts’ silence on the matter has not deterred speculation about the beatings. R. Kent Hughes (b. 1942) hypothesizes:
Remarkably, not one of Paul’s floggings is mentioned in Acts or any other source. Therefore, the five floggings all occurred early in Paul’s ministry — and were likely followed by more. (Hughes, 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness (Preaching the Word), 203)
Mark A. Seifrid (b. 1953) footnotes:
Peter Stuhlmacher [b. 1932] (Versöhnung, Gesetz und Gerechtigkeit, pp. 90-91) points to the five times Paul received thirty-nine lashes from ‘the Jews’ as an indication that at an early stage Paul’s Gospel was Law-free. If Paul received this treatment at an early stage in his missionary career, it may well have been the result of his stance regarding the Law, but we cannot be certain on this basis. (Seifrid, Justification by Faith: The Origin and Development of a Central Pauline Theme, 146)
Based upon opportunity, Bruce Chilton (b. 1949) deduces:
The synagogues of both Damascus and Jerusalem had the means and the will to administer the thirty-nine lashes, and it’s likely Paul received a couple of his five floggings in those cities. (Chilton, Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography, 85)
Murray J. Harris (b. 1939) relays:
Ernest-Bernard Allo [1873-1945] (296) speculates that they might have taken place at Damascus (Acts 9:23), Jerusalem (Acts 9:29), Psidian Antioch (Acts 13:50), Iconium (Acts 14:2, 5), and early in his Ephesian ministry (Acts 19:9; cf. I Corinthians 15:32). (Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 802)
Notably, Corinth, the city to which the letter is sent, is not among the usual suspects for hosting a flogging.

One archaeological site even commemorates one of Paul’s whippings. Rivka Gonen documents:

On the western coast of the island of Cyprus are two ancient towns named Paphos...The sites of Christian significance are St. Paul’s Pillar in the centre of the village of Kato Paphos to which, so a local tradition relates, Paul was bound and given 39 lashes as punishment for preaching the new faith. (Gonen, Biblical Holy Places: An Illustrated Guide, 13-14)
As there is no documentation of the floggings, the charges that resulted in the floggings are equally uncertain. The interpreter is left to reconstruct the “crime” based upon the punishment.

Murray J. Harris (b. 1939) pieces together:

None of the floggings is mentioned in Acts, and where and when they occurred is unknown. Nor can we know precisely why Paul was given these synagogal punishments; but possible reasons are not difficult to find, such as disregard of food laws by eating unclean food (cf. Mishnah Makkot 3:2) and encouraging other Jews to do so (cf. I Corinthians 10:25, 27), or the rejection of the need for circumcision by male Gentiles as a sign of inclusion within the people of God (cf. Galatians 5:11). But an even more probable reason would have been a charge of blasphemy, understood either as “defiant sin,” which could involve the two offenses already mentioned, or as the dishonoring of God and his people by promulgating a messianism that focused on a crucified Jesus of Nazareth and affirmed his deity. The punishment for blasphemy was removal from the community (Numbers 15:30-31, and at a later period Mishnah Keritot 1:1), but from the Mishnah we learn that scourging could be a substitute for “extirpation” (Mishnah Makkot 3:15). If this was true also in the first century, Paul’s “blasphemy” that merited permanent removal from the synagogue could have been punished instead by flogging. Nor should we forget that he may have been punished for more than one reason on each of the five occasions. We may gauge the seriousness with which Paul’s offense was viewed on each occasion from the fact that he incurred the maximum penalty each time. (Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 801-02)
C.K Barrett (1917-2011) evaluates:
Many of these are offences of which it is unlikely that Paul could have been held to be guilty, such as illegal sexual connections [Mishnah Makkoth 3:1-9], the making of the sacred anointing oil or incense, or tattooing. In view of Acts 21:28 (which of course falls at a period later than the writing of II Corinthians) it is worth noting that one punishable offence was entering the Temple in a state of uncleanness (Mishnah Makkoth 3:2). In the third century (see Hermann Leberecht Strack [1848-1922] and Paul Billerbeck [1853-1932] iv. 318ff.) it became customary to inflict flogging (as the less degrading punishment) upon a scholar who had deserved the synagogue bann. It is possible that this may have happened earlier in isolated cases. It can hardly be doubted that Paul refers to floggings he had received (broadly speaking) for being a Christian (Emil Schürer [1844-1910] II ii. 262), though it would be more accurate to speak of specific offences, such as consorting with Gentiles and eating forbidden food (cf. e.g. I Corinthians 10:25, 27) which Paul had committed because he was a Christian. The floggings will probably go back (Leonhard Goppelt [1911-1973], Christentum und Judentum, p. 87; Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times (1970), p. 74; Goppelt also points out that Paul must have been expelled from the synagogue, though wishing to remain within it) to the earliest period of his apostolic work, but the fact that he endured a formidable punishment...five times shows that he did not lightly give up his Jewish status and connection (cf. Romans 9:1-5, 10:1). (Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (Black’s New Testament Commentary), 296-97)
Margaret E. Thrall (1928-2010) discusses:
It must be significant that Paul each time received the maximum penalty, indicating the gravity with which his offence was apparently regarded. Its nature, however, remains a matter of conjecture. Most of the offences listed in Mishnah Makkot 3:1-9 as punishable by flogging would be irrelevant. Of the rest, infringement of the food laws would be the most probable. But it may be a mistake to attempt to identify the charge against Paul by looking through this list of offences. Flogging and ostracism were probably the only forms of punishment which Jews of the Diaspora were able to inflict on fellow synagogue members guilty of transgression and if the ostracised member continued to frequent the synagogue nevertheless, only flogging remained. Hence: ‘The penalty...probably covered so many transgressions that the crime cannot be precisely specified just by learning the punishment.’ It could well have been, in any case, Paul’s general attitude to the Mosaic law, in relation to his Gentile mission, that exposed him to discipline, rather than any specific personal offence. In particular, there was the fact that he did not require, indeed eventually strongly opposed, the acceptance of circumcision by his male Gentile converts. At a time when the Christian movement seemed still to be part of Judaism, and was so regarded both by Paul himself and by his fellow Jews, this policy might seem deserving of the most stringent punishment. (Thrall, 2 Corinthians 8-13 (International Critical Commentary), 737-38)
The floggings are naturally assumed to originate with Paul’s Christian beliefs. D.A. Carson (b. 1946) conjectures:
Probably there was some sort of legal excuse. The charge may have been specific: consorting with Gentiles or eating forbidden fruit or the like...Christian ministers and evangelists spent a total of eight years in jail during 1950-1952 in Quebec, because they preached the gospel in the open air and handed out literature; but the charge was always something else, such as inciting to riot or disturbing the peace. (Carson, A Model of Christian Maturity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13, 126)
The assumption is that since the Jews could not beat Paul, they beat him. They are trying to nip Paul’s movement in the bud. While the specifics are unknown it can be safely assumed that Paul suffers for his Christian beliefs. In context, in subjecting himself to the 39 stripes, Paul is asserting that he has earned his stripes.

Does Paul have a better argument to substantiate his apostolic authority than his suffering? Why does the apostle open his catalog by noting the instances in which he was flogged by the Jews (II Corinthians 11:24)? Why are none of these beatings recorded in Acts? How would this punishment have affected Paul’s appearance and health? In naming the Jews, is Paul airing dirty laundry? What is the sternest punishment you have incurred? How do you feel about corporal punishment? In the context of a religious institution? Have you ever suffered for your beliefs? Physically? What are your credentials? If you needed to validate your standing as a Christian, how would you do so? Is suffering a prerequisite to being Christian? What does Paul’s withstanding these beatings indicate about the apostle?

Subjecting himself to the 39 lashes is a clear demonstration that Paul still has a heart for his native Jewish people. E.P. Sanders (b. 1937) characterizes:

II Corinthians 11:24 shows Paul’s continuing commitment to Judaism. He kept attending the synagogue. Arland J. Hultgren [b. 1939] has argued that Paul did not accept the punishment, but it is apparent that he did. He kept showing up, and obviously submitted to the thirty-nine stripes. He undoubtedly thought that those who judged him deserving of punishment were wrong, but had he wished he could have withdrawn from Jewish society altogether and thus not have been punished. (Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, 192)
Paul’s standard operating procedure involved synagogue visits. William R. Baker (b. 1951) annotates:
Notably, in Matthew 10:17 and Mark 3:9, Jesus warns that his disciples would be flogged in the synagogues. Paul, who makes it a point to begin his evangelistic thrust by visiting the synagogues in each city he enters (Acts 9:20, 13:5, 14, 14:1, 17:1-2, 10, 17, 18:4, 19, 26, 19:8), regularly exposes himself to the danger of this punishment should the reaction against the gospel be severe. (Baker, 2 Corinthians (The College Press NIV Commentary), 406)
Frank J. Matera (b. 1942) suggests:
These scourgings...suggest that Paul continued to preach to his Jewish compatriots, at least from time to time, despite the harsh reception he received from them. As Luke indicates in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul frequented synagogues because they provided a ready-made assembly of Jews, proselytes, and God-fearers whom he could evangelize. His preaching about Jesus and the law, whether to Jews or to Gentiles, led the synagogue authorities to discipline him with the punishment described in Deuteronomy 25:3...That Paul was scourged five times is an indication of his perseverance in preaching as well as of his physical stamina. It also indicates that at this early stage the synagogue authorities were content to punish rather than expel him for his messianic preaching. (Matera, II Corinthians: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 267)
Some scholars have seen a contradiction between Acts’ account and Paul’s own writings. Wayne A. Meeks (b. 1932) critiques:
Unfortunately we cannot simply accept the Acts picture of the mission as a direct, factual account. The pattern of beginning always in synagogues accords ill will with Paul’s own declarations that he saw his mission as primarily or even exclusively to the gentiles (Galatians 1:16, 2:7-9; Romans 1:5, 13-15, 11:13ff, 15:15-21). To be sure, these statements are not to be taken absolutely: his becoming “as a Jew to the Jews, in order to win the Jews” (I Corinthians 9:20) is not merely rhetorical, for if he had never been in contact with synagogues he would not have “five times...received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one” (II Corinthians 11:24). But this policy seems to have been very different from the way it is described in Acts. (Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul, 26)
It seems that in Paul’s mind, even though he has become an advocate for Jesus Christ, he is still a Jew. John M.G. Barclay (b. 1958) deciphers:
This suggests that Paul was considered a Jew, a member of the synagogue, and that he wished to be considered so; that he received this punishment five times indicates that he kept returning to synagogues although he knew this was risky. It also suggests, however, that he tested the tolerance of his fellow Jews beyond the limit, and that he was often considered a lawbreaker, and sometimes, perhaps an apostate...It is exactly this doubleness – of a radical Jew at the margins of his own community, all the more threatening because he claims to represent its center – that we meet everywhere in Paul’s own letters. (Stephen Westerholm [b. 1949], “Paul, Judaism, and the Jewish People”, The Blackwell Companion to Paul, 188)
It seems that Paul views his status within Judaism quite differently than do the Jews. Richard N. Longenecker (b. 1930) juxtaposes:
It may have been difficult for him [Paul] to relinquish his ties with Pharisaism and to think of himself as anything other than a fulfilled Jew. The Jewish world, however, seems to have been even more perceptive than Paul on this matter, and to have recognized his break with the past. For in II Corinthians 11:24 there is the statement: “From the Jews five times I received forty lashes less one.” Just where and when Paul received these lashings is uncertain. But there is no doubt that they were “synagogue whippings” or “stripes” that were administered by synagogue officials as a severe form of punishment for some type of serious deviation from Jewish thought or practice. And there is no doubt that Paul viewed them as afflictions that he suffered as a “servant of Christ” and because of his witness for Christ (cf. II Corinthians 11:23-29)...II Corinthians 11:24, in fact, speaks quite dramatically of how reticent Paul was to separate himself from his Jewish past and of how far he would go in being “to those under the law as one under the law” (I Corinthians 9:20). But it also suggests how the Jewish world, even at such an early time, viewed his commitment to Jesus, and how for them that commitment was anathema to the Jewish religion (cf. I Thessalonians 2:14). (Longenecker, “A Realized Hope, a New Commitment, and a Developed Proclamation: Paul and Jesus”, The Road from Damascus: The Impact of Paul's Conversion on His Life, Thought, and Ministry), 28)
E.P. Sanders (b. 1937) concurs:
At least some...Jews, possibly including some Christian Jews (II Corinthians 11:26, “false brethren”), objected to Paul’s preaching to Gentiles enough to administer to him the thirty-nine stripes. He was punished, that is to say, for doing what lay at the heart of his call and his life’s work – bringing Gentiles into the people of God without requiring full obedience to the Torah. Thus he kept on getting punished, just as he kept on evangelizing the Gentiles. If Paul persecuted the church on the same issue as the one which subsequently brought down punishment on him, we would have to conclude that he did not initiate the Torah-free mission to the Gentiles. (Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, 191)
In a tragic irony, Paul may be reaping the punishment that he sowed (Galatians 6:7). Murray J. Harris (b. 1939) outlines:
There is irony in the fact that as a Christian Paul repeatedly received the very punishment — synagogal floggings — that he, as a ruthless persecutor of Christians, had repeatedly caused to be meted out to them or himself had inflicted on them (Acts 22:19, 26:11). (Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 802-03)
In being flogged, Paul demonstrates that he is willing to place himself in harm’s way for sake of the Jews. A.E. Harvey (b. 1930) reminds:
If he had simply walked out of the synagogue never to return it is difficult to see how anything of this kind could have happened to him. But we know that this was not the case. He received a severe – indeed the maximum – judicial flogging five times, as a result (we must assume) of being determined to enjoy access to the synagogue even though continuing to show contempt for certain ‘observance of the law’. His own decision, that is to say, to renounce the superiority given to him by his parentage and education elicited a response from the synagogue which ‘penalized’ him severely. (Harvey, Renewal Through Sufferings: A Study of 2 Corinthians, 119)
David K. Lowery (b. 1949) connects:
This verse [II Corinthians 11:24] makes it clear that Paul’s statement in Romans 9:3—wishing himself cursed if by so doing Israel could be saved—was no empty declaration. (Roy B. Zuck [1932-2013], The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, 581)
Paul is convicted that Jesus represents nothing less than his people’s salvation and he is relentless in his pursuit to bring the Jews to Jesus. Michael F. Bird (b. 1974) asserts:
Paul is not given the thirty-nine lashes by his fellow Jews because he asks them to ‘try’ Jesus in the same way one might try a kebab (II Corinthians 11:24). He is not executed for asserting that Roman citizens may wish to invite Jesus into their hearts. No, Paul has the courage and conviction to proclaim that the one who is to come again, the Messiah, is Jesus, who has fulfilled Israel’s hopes by being cursed on a cross and raised from the dead. Jesus is the deliverer Israel has hoped for and desperately needed (II Corinthians 1:20; Acts 13:32-34; Romans 11:26). (Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message, 28-29)
Paul’s love for his people and his belief in Christ make him willing to subject himself to repeated whippings and public humiliation. As such his commitment is unquestionable and as such, so should be his apostolic authority.

In lieu of continued abuse, why does Paul not cut his ties with the circumcised people? What does it say about Paul that he subjected himself to this treatment? Does this confirm that Paul would rather have been maimed than expelled from the synagogue? Would Paul have perceived this suffering as coming from “friendly fire”? Is this evidence that Paul still acknowledges the synagogue’s authority? What, if anything, is accomplished by Paul’s suffering? Does any good emerge from it? Has any good resulted from your suffering? Who or what do you care enough about to subject yourself to a severe beating?

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” - Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), quoted in Victor Frankl (1905-1997), Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 121

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