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Boasting in Weakness

Boasting in Weakness

Editor’s note: Today’s reading comes from the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, a powerful tool for helping you understand the context in which Scripture takes place. When you understand the time and place in which events occur, you gain all new insight into the truths of God’s Word. Imagine reading the Bible with a behind-the-scenes tour guide traveling beside you, providing a detailed history of the customs, culture, and literature of biblical times. Enjoy today’s selection.


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.In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!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. 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. — 2 Corinthians 11:16-21 NIV

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. — 2 Corinthians 11:30 NIV

Ancient Boasting

Paul’s rivals have demeaned his skill (2 Corinthians 11:6), so he rhetorically embraces the role of fool that they have assigned to him; speakers often spoke in the persona of someone else to make a point. Implicitly, however, he attacks his opponents’ boasting as foolish (returning charges against opponents was conventional rhetorical custom). He boasts in his weakness, not in his honor. Paul’s way of boasting parodies and thus mocks self-boasting, and therefore a central feature of the Greco-Roman valuing of masculine competition and self-promotion. He walks the tightrope of answering fools as their folly deserves without being truly like them (Proverbs 26:4-5).

Ancient sources show that audiences often resented public boasting. They made exceptions, however, whenever it was done (or pretended to be done) for acceptable reasons — such as a speaker defending himself (as in 2 Corinthians 3:1; 2 Corinthians 5:12), replying to charges (2 Corinthians 10:10), speaking for his hearers’ welfare (2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 10:8), critiquing others’ misplaced arrogance (2 Corinthians 11:12, 2 Corinthians 11:18), or because of necessity (2 Corinthians 12:1, 2 Corinthians 12:11).

Sages could boast in how their sufferings demonstrated their endurance (see note on 2 Corinthians 4:8-12), but many in the Corinthian church probably looked instead to more familiar sources of pride in their culture. Monuments, civic buildings and other sites bore inscriptions praising wealthy donors; civic assemblies featured the voices of the powerful; public culture revolved around power. Boasting in weakness challenged the very values on which most boasts were founded— values antithetical to the good news of a crucified Savior (2 Corinthians 13:4; cf. 2 Corinthians 10:17).

Sixth-century Susiya synagogue inscription. The inscription honors the donor, Rabbi Isai, and the scribe, Rabbi Yohannan. Monuments, civic buildings, and other sites often bore inscriptions boasting of wealthy donors. Z. Radovan/

Excerpted with permission from the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, copyright Zondervan, 2016.

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Your Turn

How does understanding Paul’s parody of Greco-Roman self-boasting help inform your reading of this Scripture? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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