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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
2 Corinthians 3



Verse 1

1. Ἀρχόμεθα πάλιν ἑαυτοὺς συνιστάνειν; Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? This looks like a reference to a charge which had been brought against him. Such passages as 1 Corinthians 2:16; 1 Corinthians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 9:1-5; 1 Corinthians 9:20-27; 1 Corinthians 14:18; 1 Corinthians 15:10 might easily lead to such accusations. And if 10–13 is part of the second lost letter, the πάλιν here is still more intelligible, for there is plenty of self-commendation in those four chapters. See on 2 Corinthians 1:23, 2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 2:9. For συνιστάνειν in the sense of ‘commend,’ which is specially common in this letter (2 Corinthians 4:2, 2 Corinthians 5:12, 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 6:11-12; 2 Corinthians 6:18), comp. Romans 16:1. Its other N.T. meaning is ‘establish by argument, prove by evidence’ (2 Corinthians 7:11; Romans 5:8; Galatians 2:18). The notion of ‘bringing together,’ in the one case persons, in the other things, connects the two uses, which Hesychius marks as ἐπαινεῖν and βεβαιοῦν.

ἢ μὴ χρῄζομεν ὥς τινες. See critical note. The ‘others’ of the A.V. has no authority. The μή of course implies a negative reply. Elsewhere S. Paul speaks of his opponents as τινές (1 Corinthians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 15:12; Galatians 1:7). Here they are the οἱ πολλοί of 2 Corinthians 2:17, who had brought commendatory letters from some congregation or other, and had tried to discredit the Apostle, because he had nothing of the kind. Comp. the commendation of Titus and his companion (2 Corinthians 8:22-24), of Timothy (1 Corinthians 16:10-11), of Judas and Silas (Acts 15:25-27), of Apollos (Acts 18:27), and of Demetrius (2 John 1:12). The Epistle to Philemon is a συστατικὴ ἑπιστολή. For examples of such letters in the early Church see Suicer. They were very necessary as a guarantee that the visitor [1] might safely be entertained as a guest, [2] might rightly be admitted to communion. See Paley, Horae Paulinae iv. 10. The ἐξ ὑμῶν implies that the Judaizers got the Corinthians to give them commendatory letters.

Verses 1-6

1–6. These opening verses deal with a difficulty which had been growing at Corinth. He was so often obliged to speak of himself and his authority, that he laid himself open to the sneering reminder that “self-praise is no recommendation.” The outburst of praise in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 is likely to provoke this sneer once more. So, before going on with his Apologia, he turns aside to deal with this. ‘Do not think that I am writing a testimonial for myself. I have no need of anything of the kind. You are my testimonial. Any ability which Apostles may have is not their own, but comes from God.’

Verse 2

2. ἡ ἐπιστολὴ ἡμῶν ὑμεῖς ἐστέ. The metaphor is loosely used. The Corinthians are themselves a letter; the letter is written on the Apostle’s heart; it is also written on their hearts. There are two main points. 1. ‘We have got something better than ordinary letters; we have got yourselves, and the affectionate ties which bind us to you can be discerned by all the world.’ 2. ‘The testimony is not traced with ink on a perishable surface; it is written in living characters by the Spirit on imperishable souls.’ See Deissmann, Bible Studies, p. 59. In Polycarp [11] there is a clear reference to this.

ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν. It is probable that in saying ‘hearts,’ not ‘heart’ (comp. 2 Corinthians 4:6, 2 Corinthians 7:3), the Apostle includes others with himself. Contrast ἡ καρδία ἡμῶν πεπλάτυνται (2 Corinthians 6:11), and see Lightfoot on 1 Thessalonians 2:4 as against Conybeare and Howson II. pp. 95, 419. The Corinthians are his (and Timothy’s) συστατικὴ ἐπιστολή, because his message has found a place in their hearts (2 Corinthians 3:6), and because they had given him too a place in their affections (1 Corinthians 4:15).

γινωσκομένη καὶ ἀναγινωσκομένη. Another play upon words: see on 2 Corinthians 1:13. The translation ‘read’ is here so entirely appropriate, that to render ἀναγινωσκομένη ‘acknowledged, recognized, admitted’ is not allowable: see 2 Corinthians 3:15, where ‘read’ must be the meaning. All men, including the Corinthians themselves, could see the ties which bound S. Paul to them. Comp. 2 Corinthians 6:11, 2 Corinthians 7:3; Philippians 1:7. ἐπιστολὴν ἔμψυχον ἔχομεν τὰ καθʼ ἡμᾶς συνιστῶσαν ὑμῖν, τὴν πίστιν τὴν ὑμετέραν, τὴν πανταχοῦ γῆς καὶ θαλάττης ᾀδομένην (Theodoret).

Verse 3

3. φανερούμενοι. Nothing need be inserted: being made manifest that ye are an epistle of Christ. No article: see on 2 Corinthians 2:16. The participles are in logical order; first known as being there, then read by all, then made manifest as an epistle of Christ. He means that Christ is the real giver of the commendatory letter, for it is He who sends the Apostle and his colleagues and gives them success. In these chapters φανερόω is frequent; 2 Corinthians 4:10-11, 2 Corinthians 5:10-11, 2 Corinthians 7:12.

διακονηθεῖσα ὑφʼ ἡμῶν. Is the διακονία that of the amanuensis (Romans 16:22), or that of the bearer (Acts 15:30; 1 Peter 5:12 probably)? The latter best accords with the idea of dissemination (ὑπὸ πάντων ἀνθρώπων, 2 Corinthians 3:2): wherever S. Paul went he spoke of his Corinthian friends (2 Corinthians 9:2-3).

οὐ μέλανιοὐκ ἐν πλαξίν. We might have expected ἐν μεμβράναις (2 Timothy 4:13) or ἐν χάρτῃ (2 John 1:12): but the proverbial opposition between ‘hearts of flesh’ and ‘hearts of stone’ (Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26; Jeremiah 31:33) comes into his mind, together with the thought of God’s writing His law—formerly on tables of stone, now on tables which are hearts of flesh. We may sum the whole up thus: ‘What Christ by the Spirit of God has written on your hearts is written on our hearts as a commendation to all men.’ The Apostle ever “wore his heart on his sleeve.” These two verses (2, 3) should be compared with 2 Corinthians 4:12-15, 2 Corinthians 5:13, 2 Corinthians 6:11-12. In all four places we see S. Paul’s great love for his converts breaking through the subject in hand and coming to the surface. Note the difference between the dative without ἐν and with ἐν, μέλανι and to ἐν πλαξίν; and also between σαρκίναις, balancing λιθίναις, both of which refer to material, and σαρκικαῖς (2 Corinthians 1:12, 2 Corinthians 10:4), which would refer to quality. If we read καρδίαις, not καρδίας (see critical note), the dative is in apposition with πλαξίν: not on tables of stone, but on tables, (which are) hearts of flesh. For ‘ink’ and ‘tables’ see atramentum and tabulae in Dict. of Antiquities. The connexion with what follows seems to be close: yet WH. begin a fresh paragraph with 2 Corinthians 3:4.

Verse 4

4. Πεποίθησιν δὲ τοιαύτην ἔχομεν. And confidence of this kind we have through Christ to God-ward (see on 2 Corinthians 1:15). ‘We did not get it through our ability in reference to our own work.’ The confidence (first with emphasis), is that which is indicated in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3,—the sure testimony which the faith of the Corinthians afforded to the validity of S. Paul’s Apostleship; and the confidence is felt even when the Apostle puts himself in the presence of God.

Verse 5

5. οὐχ ὅτι ἀφʼ ἑαυτῶν ἱκανοί ἐσμεν. I do not mean that (2 Corinthians 1:24) we are sufficient (2 Corinthians 2:17) to account anything proceeding from ourselves as coming out of ourselves (i.e. being really originated by us); but our sufficiency comes from God. Whatever qualification the Apostle has, it is not one of merit; it is wholly a gift from above; comp. 2 Corinthians 4:7. The verse answers the question raised in 2 Corinthians 2:17. The words may mean: not that of ourselves we are sufficient to account anything as coming out of ourselves, &c. But in neither case do we get any support for the doctrine that the natural man is incapable of good. Nowhere else in Biblical Greek is ἱκανότης found. In ἠ ἱκανότης ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ there may be a reference to the Divine Name El Shaddai, which was sometimes understood as meaning ‘The Sufficient’; and ἱκανός is found in this sense Ruth 1:20-21; Job 21:15; Job 31:2; Job 39:30 [Job 40:2]; Ezekiel 1:24 (A). Comp. 1 Corinthians 3:6.

Verse 6

6. ὃς καὶ ἱκάνωσεν ἡμᾶς διακόνους. Who also made us sufficient as ministers (R.V.). The repetition, ἱκανοί, ἱκανότης, ἱκάνωσεν, must be preserved; also the aorist, which (as in Colossians 1:12) points to the moment when the gift of competency was bestowed. For διάκονος comp. 2 Corinthians 11:15; Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23; Colossians 1:25.

καινῆς διαθήκης. Of a new covenant (R.V.). The thought is suggested by πλαξὶν λιθίναις, and the phrase comes from Jeremiah 38[31]:31 (Hebrews 8:8). It is used of Christianity first in 1 Corinthians 11:25. The emphasis is on καινῆς, and perhaps for that reason the article is omitted. But in Hebrews 9:15 διαθήκης precedes, and there also the article is omitted. Here, and in all other passages where καινός occurs, the meaning is ‘fresh, not obsolete, not worn out.’ In Hebrews 12:24 we have διαθήκης νέας, which means a covenant that is ‘recent, not ancient.’ Comp. ‘new wine into fresh wine-skins’ (Matthew 9:17; Luke 5:38). New wine may or may not be better than old: fresh skins must be better than skins that are worn out. So here, καινῆς implies that the new covenant is better than the obsolete one (Hebrews 8:13). It is valid and effective, with plenty of time to run. See Trench, Synonyms § LX. On the rival translations of διαθήκη, ‘covenant,’ and ‘testament,’ see Westcott’s detached note on Hebrews 9:16, pp. 298–302.

οὐ γράμματος ἀλλὰ πνεύματος. Jeremiah 31:31-33 is still in his mind, with Ezekiel 11:19. The important word καινῆς gives an abrupt, but very natural turn to the argument. He has been urging the superiority of his own claims on their affection and obedience to those of his Judaizing opponents. He now points to the boundless superiority of the dispensation of which he is a minister to that which the Judaizers represent. Even if as an individual he had nothing to urge, the claim of the Gospel which he brought to them would be paramount, and that in three particulars. This dispensation of grace is καινή, πνεύματος, ζωοποιεῖ. 1. It is not obsolete, like the Jewish Law, but of full force. 2. It is not an external legal instrument, but an indwelling power. 3. It is not a judicial enactment, putting those who transgress it to death; its spirit gives life to all who accept it. The Law simply said, ‘Thou shalt not,’ and imposed a penalty for transgression. So far from giving any power to keep its enactments, by its prohibitions it provoked men to transgress (Romans 8:5-13; Romans 5:20). The spirit of the Gospel is really the Spirit of God, entering the heart and making the recipient, not only able, but willing, to obey. Chrysostom has a fine passage in which he contrasts the Law and Grace under this third head. The Law finds a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath, and stones him. Grace finds thousands of robbers and murderers, illuminates them, and gives them life. The one turns a living man into a dead one: the other out of dead men makes living ones. Christ says, ‘Come unto Me all ye who are heavy laden,’ not ‘and I will punish you,’ but ‘and I will give you rest.’ Comp. the contrast in John 1:17.

It matters little whether we regard the genitives, γράμματος and πνεύματος, as characterizing διακόνος or διαθήκης: but ἡ διακονία τοῦ πνεύματος (2 Corinthians 3:8) is in favour of the former. The Apostles are ministers, not of a covenant that is literal and formal, but of one that is spiritual: therefore, as ministers, they are not of letter, but of spirit. It is perhaps safer not to insert the article in translation. For the characterizing genitive comp. Luke 4:24; Luke 16:8; Luke 18:6; James 1:25; James 2:4. Winer, p. 297; Blass, § 35. 5.

τὸ γὰρ γρὰμμα ἀποκτείνει. Eternal death, as the opposite of eternal life, is meant: that is the tendency of the letter. The prohibitions of the Law incite to sin which involves death. And, with regard to physical death, the Law gave no promise of resurrection. Origen was strangely mistaken in supposing that this passage supports his view that the literal interpretation of Scripture is harmful, and that, to be profitable, interpretation must be mystical and ‘spiritual,’ or at least moral. And, however true it may be that to keep insisting upon the letter becomes fatal to the spirit, that is not what is meant here. The point here is, that the Law is incomparably inferior to the Gospel.

The form ἀποκτέννει, which is believed to be Aeolic, is found here (אFGKP) for ἀποκτείνει (B), and is accepted by some editors here and Matthew 10:28; Mark 12:5; Luke 12:4; Revelation 6:11. WH. accept it Revelation 6:11. None accept ἀποκτενει (ACDL).

Verse 7

7. ἐν γράμμασιν ἐντετυπωμένη λίθοις. Engraven in letters (see critical note) on stones. The thought of the πλαξὶν λιθίναις is still in his mind. The Ten Commandments are here put for the whole Mosaic Law.

ἐγενήθη ἐν δόξῃ. Came with glory (R.V.), was inaugurated in glory. Comp. κἀγὼ ἐν ἀσθενειᾳ ἐγενόμην (1 Corinthians 2:3).

ὤστε μὴ δύνασθαι ἀτενίσαι. The glory of that dispensation was so great that even its manifestation on the face of the lawgiver was overpowering to those who received it. At this point the reference to Exodus 34:29-35 begins. For τοὺς υἱοὺς Ἰσραήλ, the regular phrase in the LXX., comp. Romans 9:27; Hebrews 11:22; Revelation 2:14.

τὴν καταργουμένην. Which was being done away. Comp. 1 Corinthians 13:8; 1 Corinthians 13:10; Galatians 5:11. The point is, that, however dazzling, it was only temporary and very transitory. This is an emphatic afterthought, which is taken up again 2 Corinthians 3:11.

Verses 7-11

7–11. The inferiority of the Law to the Gospel is set forth in a detailed argument directed against the Judaizers: ὅρα πῶς πάλιν ὑποτέμνεται τὸ φρόνημα τὸ Ἰουδαικόν (Chrysostom).

Verse 8

8. πῶς οὐχὶ μᾶλλονἔσται ἐν δόξῃ. How shall not (Romans 8:32) rather (1 Corinthians 12:22) the ministration of the spirit be with glory. The change from ἐγενήθη to ἔσται marks the difference between the glory imparted to the Law, which was short and is past, and the innate glory of the Gospel, which will be permanent.

Verse 9

9. The Apostle justifies (γάρ) what has just been said by showing that the same contrast holds good if we compare the two from an earlier standpoint. The Law is a διακονία τοῦ θανάτου, because it is a διακονία τῆς κατακρίσεως, and condemnation leads to death. The Gospel is a διακονία τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ ζωοποιοῦντος, because it is a διακονία τῆς δικαιοσύνης, and righteousness leads to spiritual life; for ‘the spirit is life because of righteousness’ (Romans 8:10). In a very much higher degree the ministration of righteousness is superabundant in glory. The righteousness is that which comes through faith in Christ (Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:22). Note that he says τῆς δικαιοσύνης, not τ. δικαιώσεως, which would be the proper antithesis to τ. κατακρίσεως. The Gospel gives not merely acquittal but positive righteousness. In the sense of ‘abound inπερισσεύω is commonly followed by ἐν (2 Corinthians 8:7; Ephesians 1:8; Colossians 2:7, &c.); but in 1 Thessalonians 3:12 and Acts 16:5, as here, there is no preposition.

The reading τῇ διακονίᾳ (see critical note) gives: For if the ministration of condemnation has glory. But this looks like a correction to what seemed to be more accurate.

Verse 10

10. He again justifies (γάρ) what has just been said, adding καί to mark a new point. The Gospel’s superabundance in glory is shown by the fact that it absolutely eclipsed the Law. For indeed that which hath been made glorious hath even not been made glorious (hath even been deprived of glory) in this respect, by reason of the glory that exceedeth. In marking the change from περισσεύω (2 Corinthians 3:9) to ὑπερβάλλω (2 Corinthians 3:10) we must make the latter harmonize with 2 Corinthians 9:4; Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 2:7, where the R.V. has ‘exceed,’ while it has ‘surpass’ here. Take ἐν τούτῳ τῷ μέρει (comp. 2 Corinthians 9:3 and see Lightfoot on Colossians 2:16) with οὐ δεδόξασται: the Law has been deprived of its imparted glory in this respect, that something which quite outshines it has appeared. Stars cease to shine when the sun is risen.

Verse 11

11. He continues the justification (γάρ) of what has been said. For if that which is being done away (2 Corinthians 3:7) was through glory, much more that which abideth (Romans 9:11) is in glory. The fading of the glory from the face of Moses indicated that the ministration which he instituted was not to last. To the old dispensation glory was a phase, through which it passed; to the new it is a sphere in which it abides (2 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Corinthians 13:13; John 15:4).

Verse 12

12. παρρησίᾳ. Boldness of speech (Ephesians 6:19; Philippians 1:20). Freedom from fear, especially in reference to speech, is the radical meaning of the word. Then it easily passes to freedom from reserve, and is transferred from speech to action (John 7:4; John 11:54). See on 2 Corinthians 7:4 : χρώμεθα as in 2 Corinthians 1:17. He is hinting at the silences of the O.T.; e.g. as to resurrection and eternal life.

Verses 12-18

12–18. This overwhelming superiority of the Gospel inspires its ministers with great boldness. An Apostle has no need to veil the glory which he has received, for there is no fear of its being seen to fade away. In 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 S. Paul spoke of his confidence (2 Corinthians 3:4). Here he speaks of his hope, the hope of that superabundant glory which in 2 Corinthians 3:8 is spoken of as future. The glory is already present, but its continuance and its development unto perfection are a field for hope.

Verse 13

13. καὶ οὐ καθάπερ ΄. ἐτίθει κάλυμμα. And not, as M. used to put a veil over his face, do we act. The suppression of what corresponds to καθάπερ, ὥσπερ, ὡς, and the like, is natural and not rare; comp. Matthew 25:14; Mark 13:34. Excepting Hebrews 4:2, the Attic καθάπερ is found in the N.T. in S. Paul only (2 Corinthians 3:18, 2 Corinthians 1:14, 2 Corinthians 8:11; elsewhere twelve times). Moses did not enjoy the freedom from fear and reserve which is given so abundantly to Christ’s ministers. Christ Himself had used reserve, not only in teaching the multitude, but in training the Twelve (John 16:12). The change came at Pentecost. ‘We need not hide the full magnificence of our message, lest the future should prove it false: it will stand the test of time, and will not fade away.’

πρὸς τὸ μὴ ἀτενίσαι. That they should not look steadfastly upon. Comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:9. In 2 Corinthians 3:7could not’ is right. The A.V. has ‘could’ in both places, ‘behold’ in one, and ‘look’ in the other. In both we have ‘the sons of Israel,’ τοὺς υἱοὺς Ἰσραήλ, as commonly in the LXX. The two verses differ, but are not inconsistent. In 2 Corinthians 3:7 the glory was such that the Israelites could not fix their gaze (Luke 22:56) on Moses’ face. In 2 Corinthians 3:13 he used to put a veil on his face to prevent them from fixing their gaze on the end of that which was being done away. Neither of these statements agrees with the A.V. of Exodus 34:29 ff., which implies that he veiled his face to overcome their fear of him. The R.V., agreeing with both the Hebrew and the LXX., shows that he overcame their fear by exhorting them to come to him, that he talked to them unveiled, and that, when he had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face, until he returned to the presence of the Lord. There he was unveiled, and he remained so on coming out, so long as he was addressing the people as God’s emissary. Then he put the veil on again, until he went back to commune with Jehovah. This agrees with what we have here (2 Corinthians 3:13). He veiled himself that the people might not gaze upon the end of that which was passing away, viz. the fading glory. They saw him only when the reflexion of the Divine splendour was fresh upon him. S. Paul makes the transitoriness of this reflexion a symbol of the transitory character of the Law; but of course he does not mean that either the Israelites or Moses so understood it. With this symbolizing comp. 1 Corinthians 10:2-4 and Galatians 4:21-26. He considers the Jews of his own day as quite alien from the Christian Church. They have been cut off from their own olive tree (Romans 11:24). This passage should be compared with Romans 9-11, where see Sanday and Headlam.

Verse 14

14. ἀλλὰ ἐπωρώθη τὰ νοήματα αὐτῶν. But their minds were blinded. This suits those whose power of perception is covered with a veil, whose ‘minds the god of this world has blinded’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). The R.V. here substitutes ‘hardened’ for ‘blinded,’ in accordance with the original meaning of πῶρος and πωρόω. But ‘blinded’ is perhaps closer to the later meanings. To speak of ‘minds’ or ‘thoughts’ being ‘hardened’ is a curious expression. Comp. Romans 11:7; Romans 11:25; Ephesians 4:18. For νοήματα see on 2 Corinthians 2:11. By the πώρωσις of these is meant moral obtuseness, not wilful obstinacy. Their understandings lost their sensibility towards spiritual truths. In order to distinguish πωρόω from τυφλόω (2 Corinthians 4:4) ‘dulled’ might be used here. The ἀλλά refers to 2 Corinthians 3:13. They were not allowed to see the fading of the glory, which might have taught them that their dispensation was to pass away; but, on the contrary, their perceptions were paralysed, and to this day cannot grasp the situation. See a valuable note on this and kindred passages in the Journal of Theological Studies, Oct. 1901, pp. 81 ff. Lightfoot (on 2 Thessalonians 2:8) points out that S. Paul sometimes uses καταργεῖν in opposition to ‘light’ as if with a sense of ‘darkening,’ ‘eclipsing’; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:10. The use of it here (2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:14) confirms the meaning ‘blinded’ for ἐπωρώθη.

ἄχρι γὰρ τῆς σήμερον ἡμέρας. This is to justify so strong an expression as ἐπωρώθη. It can have been nothing less than πώρωσις, for it has lasted so long. See Chrysostom.

ἐπὶ τῇ ἀναγνώσει τῆς π. δ. This takes us to the public reading in the synagogue (τὴν ἀνάγνωσιν τοῦ νόμον, Acts 13:15); and the synagogue, as in Acts, is the centre of unbelief.

τῆς παλαιᾶς διαθήκης. “Nothing more strongly expresses the Apostle’s conviction of the extinction of the Jewish system than this expression of the ‘Old Covenant,’ applied to the Jewish Scriptures within thirty years after the Crucifixion” (Stanley). See Westcott on Hebrews 8:13. The direct opposite of καινός is ἀρχαῖος, as is shown 2 Corinthians 5:17. But παλαιός, as meaning what has existed for a long time, may be opposed to either νέος (Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22) or καινός (Luke 5:36). ‘The same veil’ is not understood literally. It is the symbolical meaning which is the same in both cases, viz. the inability to see the vanishing of the glory of the Law.

μὴ ἀνακαλυπτόμενον. The construction and translation of these words is doubtful. They may refer to τὸ κάλυμμα which precedes; or they may be taken absolutely and refer to what follows. Either, at the reading of the old covenant the same veil abideth without being lifted, because it is done away in Christ; or, at the reading of the old covenant the same veil abideth, the revelation not being made that it is done away in Christ (Chrysostom). In the first rendering it is the veil that is done away in Christ; and this has two difficulties: [1] that it does not fit the context, for the veil abides unlifted, not because it is done away in Christ, but because of the πώρωσις of their hearts: [2] that throughout the passage (2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:11; 2 Corinthians 3:13-14) it is the glory of the Law which καταργεῖται. When S. Paul speaks of the veil being removed, he says περιαιρεῖται (2 Corinthians 3:16). Therefore the second rendering is preferable, according to which it is the Law which ἐν Χριστῷ καταργεῖται. This absolute use of a participle or adjective is found elsewhere: comp. καθαρίζον πάντα τὰ βρώματα (Rec. of Mark 7:19); εἰς οὐδὲν χρήσιμον (2 Timothy 2:14). The A.V. spoils the repetition of ‘done away’ (comp. 1 Corinthians 8:8) by substituting ‘abolished’ in 2 Corinthians 3:13. The R.V. does the like by substituting ‘pass away’ in 2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:11; but it has ‘done away’ in the margin. There are many places in the N.T. in which it is doubtful whether ὄτι is ‘that’ or ‘because’ (2 Corinthians 1:14; Luke 1:45; Luke 7:16; Luke 7:39; Luke 9:22; Luke 10:21; Luke 11:38; Luke 22:70; 1 John 2:12-14, &c.).

Verse 15

15. ἀλλʼ ἕως σήμερον ἡνίκα ἄν. See critical note. But unto this day, whensoever Moses is read, a veil (see on 2 Corinthians 2:16) lies upon their heart. The ἀλλά marks the opposition to μὴ ἀνακαλυπτόμενον: but, so far from this revelation having been recognized by them, a veil is over their heart. A revelation is the uncovering of a truth: they kept their powers of receiving truth covered. It is because κάλυμμα here has not the same meaning as before that he does not say τὸ κάλυμμα, which would have signified the veil of Moses concealing the vanishing of the glory. By κάλυμμα, here balances ‘a veil,’ he means their insensibility to the truth, much the same as the πώρωσις. For ἕως with an adv. comp. Matthew 17:17; Matthew 18:21; ἕως ἄρτι is frequent; 1 Corinthians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Corinthians 15:6. Here only (2 Corinthians 3:15-16) is ἡνίκα found in the N.T., but in the LXX. it is frequent.

Verse 16

16. ἡνίκα δὲ ἐάν. But whensoever it shall turn to the Lord. The nominative is ἡ καρδία αὐτῶν, or possibly τις: ‘whensoever a man.’ The ἡνίκα here balances ἡνίκα in 2 Corinthians 3:15 : whenever they hear the Law read, they fail to understand: whenever they turn to the Lord (Christ) the true meaning is revealed to them. He probably has Exodus 34:34 in his mind; but περιῃρεῖτο becomes περιαιρεῖται, ‘he then and there removes.’ The verb is used of taking away what envelopes or surrounds a thing: τὰ ἱμάτια, τὸν δακτύλιον, πᾶν τὸ στέαρ (Genesis 38:14; Genesis 41:42; Leviticus 4:8), and hence τὰς ἁμαρτίας, τὰ ἀδικήματα (Hebrews 10:11; Zech. 3:15). As in Exod., the verb is probably middle, not passive; ‘but whenever one turns, he ipso facto takes away the veil: his own act of conversion removes it.’ The subject of the verbs is left characteristically indefinite; Israel, any typical Israelite. S. Paul saw the turning to the Lord of the ἐκλογή (Romans 11:7-10), and foresaw that of all Israel (2 Corinthians 11:25). Here he may have his own conversion in his mind. The veil was taken off by Moses, whenever he turned to the Lord; and the heart of Israel takes it off, whenever it turns to the Lord. For ἡνίκα δὲ ἐάν (אA) many authorities have ἡνίκα δʼ ἄν (BDFGKLP): but this looks like a correction. In popular language ἐάν for ἄν seems to have been common (1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 16:3; Galatians 6:7; Matthew 5:19; Matthew 5:32; Matthew 10:42; Matthew 11:27, &c.). Winer, p. 390; Blass, § 26. 4, 65. 7. This passage may have suggested the variant κεκαλυμμένη of the δ-text in Luke 24:32.

Verse 17

17. ὁ δὲ κύριος τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν. Now the Lord is the Spirit: see on 2 Corinthians 2:16. The interpretations of this difficult passage are many, and we must be content to remain in doubt as to the Apostle’s meaning. But to whatever extent the verse throws light upon Trinitarian doctrine, there is no evidence that it was written for the purpose of doing so. ‘The Lord’ here, as in 2 Corinthians 3:16, means Christ. To turn to Christ is to turn from the letter that killeth to the spirit that giveth life (2 Corinthians 3:6). Thus Christ, and the spirit as opposed to the letter, are treated as in some sense equivalents. As both substantives have the article, we may translate, The Spirit is the Lord; but the order of the words is against it, and the preceding πρὸς Κύριον is decisive. Yet Chrysostom and others take it so, and find in the words evidence for the Divinity of the Holy Spirit, a doctrine which may be gathered from 2 Corinthians 13:13, but which is not here in question. The Lord is the Spirit is probably the right translation; and the meaning, which is at once simple and fitting, is, that to turn to Christ and receive Him is to receive the Spirit of the Lord. We may compare, ‘And the rock was Christ,’ or ‘And Christ was the rock,’ either of which may represent ἡ πέτρα δὲ ἦν ὁ Χριστός (1 Corinthians 10:4). The spiritual rock was Christ in effect. The water of the spiritual rock was to the Israelites what the sustaining presence of Christ is to Christians. The effect in each case was the same, and therefore the cause was the same; the rock was Christ. As to the relation between the effect of Christ’s presence with that of the Spirit’s presence, comp. John 14:16; John 14:26; John 16:7; John 16:14. For patristic interpretations of the passage see Lias, Appendix I., and Chase, Chrysostom, p. 93. But κύριος in both verses must mean Christ, and not Jehovah. The Jews turned to Jehovah, but refused to turn to Christ.

οὗ δὲ τὸ πνεῦμα Κυρίου, ἐλευθερία. See critical note. Freedom from the trammels of the Jewish Law is perhaps specially meant, but not exclusively. Spiritual liberty of all kinds may be understood; Galatians 4:31; Galatians 5:1. By the indwelling of the Spirit bondservants are changed into sons. The freedom of the Gospel, its openness (2 Corinthians 3:2), confidence (2 Corinthians 3:4), and boldness (2 Corinthians 3:12), especially in contrast to the formalism and reserve of the Law, is a note which sounds throughout this section. ‘The Spirit bloweth where it listeth’ (John 3:8); its very life is freedom and energy in opposition to the bondage of the letter. Comp. Seneca’s saying, ‘To obey God is liberty’ (De Vit. beat. 15). See Mayor on James 1:25.

Hort conjectures κύριον for Κυρίου (WH. II. App. p. 119). But is it possible that κύριος is the right reading? S. Paul simply draws a conclusion from his previous words, and naturally simply repeats the two words on which all turn. In the latter clause κύριος is not strictly personal, but, on the other hand, is not a mere adjective, as with the reading κύριον. ‘The Lord Jesus is the Source of the life-giving spirit, as opposed to the condemning, death-giving letter: indeed the Lord is the life-giving spirit. But such an identification reveals the sovereign power of that spirit: and where, as in the realm of the Gospel, the spirit (not the letter) is Sovereign, there there is freedom.’ Acts 2:36 is some justification for the otherwise difficult transition from ὁ κύριος, which to us is a proper name, to κύριος as descriptive.

Verse 18

18. ἡμεῖς δὲ πάντες. This refers, not (as in 2 Corinthians 3:1-12) to the ministers of the Gospel, but to all Christians, to all who have been set free by the presence of the Spirit. In the new dispensation the privilege is universal, not, as in the old, confined to one mediator. The δέ refers back to 2 Corinthians 3:16. The Jews are still in need of conversion to Christ that the veil may be removed from them: but all we Christians, with unveiled face. For the dative comp. ἀκατακαλύπτῳ τῇ κεφαλῇ (1 Corinthians 11:5).

κατοπτριζόμενοι. In the active this means ‘to show in a mirror,’ in the middle [1] ‘to behold as in a mirror,’ or [2] ‘to reflect as in a mirror.’ Chrysostom adopts the latter meaning, and it makes excellent sense: with unveiled face reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord. The idea is taken from Moses removing the veil when he talked with God, and thus catching a reflexion of the Divine glory. Augustine points out that we are not obliged to believe that “we shall see God with the bodily face in which are the eyes of the body”; it is “the face of the inner man” which is meant (De Civ. Dei XXII. 29).

τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα μεταμορφούμεθα. Are being transfigured into the same image; acc. of definition. As S. Paul, perhaps purposely, uses the same word as is used of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2), the same English word should be used here as there. The Vulgate changes from transfigurari in Mt. and Mk to transformari here, and has influenced English Versions. Comp. Romans 12:2; Philippians 3:21. Seneca again has something a little similar, “Not only corrected but transfigured” (Ep. Mor. VI. 1); and “A man is not yet wise, unless his mind is transfigured into those things which he has learned” (Ep. Mor. XCIV. 48). By τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα is meant the same image as that which is reflected in the mirror, the image of the perfection that is manifest in Christ: Galatians 4:19. It carries the mind back to the Creation (Genesis 1:26) and implies that this transformation is a re-creation (Colossians 3:10). See on μετασχηματίζεσθαι. 2 Corinthians 11:13.

ἀπό δόξης εἰς δόξαν. The words emphasize the contrast to Moses. Comp. ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν (Romans 1:17), ἐκ δυνάμεως εἰς δύναμιν (Psalms 83:8). The probable meaning is that the process of transfiguration is a gradual one; “from one stage of glory to another” (Lias). Comp. Enoch li. 4, 5, lxii. 15, 16, cviii. 11–15; Apoc. of Baruch li. 1, 3, 5, 7–12. But the sense may be, as Bengel gives it, a gloria Domini ad gloriam in nobis.

καθάπερ ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος. See critical note. This again is difficult and of doubtful meaning, like ὁ δὲ κύριος τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν (2 Corinthians 3:17), to which it looks back. There are several possible renderings. [1] Even as by the Spirit of the Lord (A.V.), which is that of the Vulgate, tanquam a Domini Spiritu. But the order of the Greek is against this, and, had S. Paul meant this, he would perhaps have written καθάπερ ἀπὸ τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ κυρίου. [2] Even as by the Lord of the Spirit, viz. Christ, through whose instrumentality the Spirit is given (Titus 3:5-6; John 16:7). This is perhaps the simplest grammatical meaning of the words, if κυρίου is a substantive. Tertullian seems to have read πνευμάτων, for he gives tanquam a domino spirituum as S. Paul’s words (Adv. Marc. 2 Corinthians 3:11). [3] Even as from the Lord the Spirit (R.V.; comp. A.V. margin), which is found in some MSS. of the Vulgate, a domino spiritu. [4] Even as from the Spirit which is the Lord (R.V. margin). [5] Even as from a Spirit exercising lordship (Hort), or, by a paraphrase, a Spirit which is Lord. This last takes κυρίου as an adjective, and it has great advantages. As Hort suggests, it may be “the Scriptural source of the remarkable adjectival phrase τὸ κύριον in the (so called) Constantinopolitan Creed”—τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον τὸ κύριον τὸ ζωοποιόν. Such a use of κύριος is not found elsewhere in Scripture, but its adoption in the Creed is evidence that it was thus understood by some. If this rendering stands, the conjectural reading κύριον for Κυρίου in 2 Corinthians 3:17 becomes not improbable. We may adopt any of the three last, [3], [4], or [5], and interpret that by the influence of the Spirit all Christians are step by step made similar to the glorified Christ. The Jew does not catch the reflexion of even the glory of the Law; he sees nothing but the dull and deadening letter. Much less does he reflect the glory of the Gospel. The καθάπερ characterizes the transformation; our transformation is one which answers to its source, viz. a spirit which is Sovereign,—again in contrast to Moses, who had to deal with the γράμμα. Throughout the verse there is contrast between the Old Covenant and the New; between one man and ‘we all’; between the face often veiled and ‘with unveiled face’; between glory that is transient and ‘reflecting as in a mirror’ (present of continued state) ‘from glory to glory’; between glory that is external and glory that is a penetrating and assimilating influence; between the ministry of the γράμμα and the agency of the πνεῦμα. See Briggs, The Messiah of the Apostles, pp. 127 ff.


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.

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Sunday, November 29th, 2020
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