on 2-corinthians 11 :24
Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one - That is, he was five times scourged by the Jews, whose law (Deuteronomy 25:3) allowed forty stripes; but they, pretending to be lenient, and to act within the letter of the law, inflicted but thirty-nine.
To except one stripe from the forty was a very ancient canon among the Jews, as we learn from Josephus, Antiq. lib. iv. ch. viii. sec. 21, who mentions the same thing: πληγας μιας λειπουσης τεσσαπακοντα· forty stripes, excepting one.
The Mishna gives this as a rule, Mish., Maccoth, fol. 22, 10:
"How often shall he, the culprit, be smitten?
Ans. ארבעים תמר אתר forty stripes, wanting one; i.e. with the number which is highest to forty."
Frequently a man was scourged according to his ability to bear the punishment; and it is a canon in the Mishna, "That he who cannot bear forty stripes should receive only eighteen, and yet be considered as having suffered the whole punishment." They also thought it right to stop under forty, lest the person who counted should make a mistake, and the criminal get more than forty stripes, which would be injustice, as the law required only forty.
The manner in which this punishment was inflicted is described in the Mishna, fol. 22, 2: "The two hands of the criminal are bound to a post, and then the servant of the synagogue either pulls or tears off his clothes till he leaves his breast and shoulders bare. A stone or block is placed behind him on which the servant stands; he holds in his hands a scourge made of leather, divided into four tails. He who scourges lays one third on the criminal's breast, another third on his right shoulder, and another on his left. The man who receives the punishment is neither sitting nor standing, but all the while stooping; and the man smites with all his strength, with one hand." The severity of this punishment depends on the nature of the scourge, and the strength of the executioner.
It is also observed that the Jews did not repeat scourgings except for enormous offenses. But they had scourged the apostle five times; for with those murderers no quarter would be given to the disciples, as none was given to the Master. See Schoettgen.
on 2-corinthians 11 :24
Of the Jews ... - On this verse and the following verse it is of importance to make a few remarks preliminary to the explanation of the phrases:
(1) It is admitted that the particulars here referred to cannot be extracted out of the Acts of the Apostles. A few can be identified, but there are many more trials referred to here than are specified there.
(2) this proves that this Epistle was not framed from the history, but that they are written independently of one another - Paley.
(3) yet they are not inconsistent one with the other. For there is no article in the enumeration here which is contradicted by the history, and the history, though silent with respect to many of these transactions, has left space enough to suppose that they may have occurred.
(a) There is no contradiction between the accounts. Where it is said by Paul that he was thrice beaten with rods, though in the Acts but one beating is mentioned, yet there is no contradiction. It is only the omission to record all that occurred to Paul. But had the history, says Paley, contained an account of four beatings with rods, while Paul mentions here but three, there would have been a contradiction. And so of the other particulars.
(b) Though the Acts of the Apostles be silent concerning many of the instances referred to, yet that silence may be accounted for on the plan and design of the history. The date of the Epistle synchronizes with the beginning of Acts 20. The part, therefore, which precedes the twentieth chapter is the only place in which can be found any notice of the transactions to which Paul here refers. And it is evident from the Acts that the author of that history was not with Paul until his departure from Troas, as related in 1 Corinthians 16:10; see the note on that place. From that time Luke attended Paul in his travels. From that period to the time when this Epistle was written occupies but four chapters of the history, and it is here if anywhere that we are to look for the minute account of the life of Paul. But here much may have occurred to Paul before Luke joined him. And as it was the design of Luke to give an account of Paul mainly after he had joined him, it is not to be wondered at that many things may have been omitted of his previous life.
(c) The period of time after the conversion of Paul to the time when Luke joined him at Troas is very succinctly given. That period embraced 16 years, and is comprised in a few chapters. Yet in that time Paul was constantly traveling. He went to Arabia, returned to Damascus, went to Jerusalem, and then to Tarsus, and from Tarsus to Antioch, and thence to Cyprus, and then through Asia Minor, etc. In this time he must have made many voyages, and been exposed to many perils. Yet all this is comprised in a few chapters, and a considerable portion of them is occupied with an account of public discourses. In that period of sixteen years, therefore, there was ample opportunity for all the occurrences which are here referred to by Paul; see Paley's Horse Paulinae on 2 Corinthians, No. 9:
(d) I may add, that from the account which follows the time when Luke joined him at Troas (from Acts 16:10), it is altogether probable that he had endured much before. After that time there is mention of just such transactions of scourging, stoning, etc., as are here specified, and it is altogether probable that he had been called to suffer them before. When Paul says "of the Jews," etc., he refers to this because this was a Jewish mode of punishment. It was usual with them to inflict but 39 blows. The Gentiles were not limited by law in the number which they inflicted.
Five times - This was doubtless in their synagogues and before their courts of justice. They had not the power of capital punishment, but they had the power of inflicting minor punishments. And though the instances are not specified by Luke in the Acts , yet the statement here by Paul has every degree of probability. We know that he often preached in their synagogues Acts 9:20; Acts 13:5, Acts 13:14-15; Acts 14:1; Acts 17:17; Acts 18:4; and nothing is more probable than that they would be enraged against him, and would vent their malice in every way possible. They regarded him as an apostate, and a ringleader of the Nazarenes, and they would not fail to inflict on him the severest punishment which they were permitted to inflict.
Forty stripes save one - The word "stripes" does not occur in the original, but is necessarily understood. The Law of Moses Deuteronomy 25:3 expressly limited the number of stripes that might be inflicted to 40. In no case might this number be exceeded. This was a humane provision, and one that was not found among the pagan, who inflicted any number of blows at discretion. Unhappily it is not observed among professedly Christian nations where the practice of whipping prevails, and particularly in slave countries, where the master inflicts any number of blows at his pleasure. In practice among the Hebrews, the number of blows inflicted was in fact limited to 39, lest by any accident in counting, the criminal should receive more than the number prescribed in the Law. There was another reason still for limiting it to 39. They usually made use of a scourge with three thongs, and this was struck 13 times. That it was usual to inflict but 39 lashes is apparent from Josephus, Ant. 4. viii, section 21.
on 2-corinthians 11 :24
11:24 Five times I received from the Jews forty stripes save one - Which was the utmost that the law allowed. With the Romans he sometimes pleaded his privilege as a Roman; but from the Jews he suffered all things.