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2 Corinthians 3

Lapide's Great Biblical CommentaryLapide's Commentary

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Verses 1-18



i. Paul asserts that he does not seek or need the praise of men, as the Judaising false apostles sought it: the fruit of his preaching is, he says, sufficient commendation.

ii. He states (ver. 6) the cause of this to be that the Apostles and other ministers of the New Testament and of the Spirit were adorned by more honour and glory than were Moses and the other ministers of the Old Testament and of the letter.

iii. He points out (ver. 13) that the Jews have still a veil over their heart in reading the Old Testament, and so do not see Christ in it; but that they will see Him when this veil shall be taken away by Christ at end of the world. Ver. 1. Do we begin again to commend ourselves ? At the end of the Apostle had seemed to praise himself and seek the favour of the Corinthians, hence he meets here any suspicion of vain glory.

Or need we . . . epistles of commendation to you . . . or from you? ie ., written by you to commend me to others. Ver. 2. Ye are our epistle. You, 0 Corinthians, converted by my efforts, are to me like an epistle of commendation read and understood by all, which I can show as my credentials to whom I like. As the work recommends the workman, and the seal faithfully is represented by its image, so do you commend me as though you were a commendatory letter, sealed by yourselves. For all know what you were before your conversion drunken, gluttonous, given up to impurity and other evil lusts. Corinth was then an emporium, as famous for its vices as its wares. But now all men see that you have been completely changed, through my preaching, into different men temperate, chaste, meek, humble, devout, liberal. This your conversion, therefore, is my commendatory letter, i.e ., the public testimony of my preaching before all people.

Written in our hearts. You have been converted by me, and indelibly written and engraven on my heart. This "epistle" was twice written by S. Paul. (1.) He wrote it actually when he instilled into the mind of the Corinthians the faith and Spirit of Christ. (2.) He wrote it and imprinted it on his own heart by his care and love of them. (3.) Christ again was inscribed on their hearts by Paul's ministry, as if by a pen; and Christ, Himself, by Paul's preaching, imprinted on them his faith, hope, charity, and other graces, not with ink, but by the inspiration of the Spirit of the living God, who filled their hearts with charity and all virtues.

Ver. 3. In fleshy tables of the heart. Not in hard stone, as was the law of Moses, but in a heart tender, soft, and teachable. There is an allusion to Jeremiah 32:33 . The Apostle, we should notice, makes a distinction between σάρκινος , used here, and οαρκικός : the first denotes the natural condition of flesh its softness, &c.; the other that which has the vices and corruptions of flesh. Cf. Rom 7:14 and 1 Corinthians 3:3 . Other writers, however, do not observe this distinction. Nazianzen, e.g ., applies the latter of these terms to the incarnation and manhood of Christ. Ver. 4. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward. The Greek word used here, denotes that confident conviction which makes the mind strive to attain some difficult end that it longs for, as though it were certain of success. Such is the confidence which is inspired into the Saints by the Holy Spirit enabling them to work miracles or other heroic works of virtue. This confidence God is wont to demand as a fitting disposition, and to give beforehand, both in him who performs and in him who receives the benefit of the miracle or other Divine gift, in order that the soul may, by this gift, expand and exalt itself, and become capable of receiving Divine power. S. Paul says in effect. "This confident persuasion that you are our epistle, written by the Spirit of the living God, we have before God through the grace of Christ; we have hope and sure confidence in God that, as He has begun, so will He finish this epistle by His Spirit." In the second place this trust is the confidence S. Paul had before God, which enabled him to glory confidently in God of this epistle of his and of God, and of the dignity of his ministry, and of its fruit, when compared with the ministry of Moses and of other Old Testament ministers. Ver. 5. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves. To think anything that is good and is ordained to faith, grace, merit, and eternal salvation, so as to make a man an able minister of the New Testament. But if no one is able to think any such thing, he is still less able to do it. Cf. Council of Arausica (can. 7) and S. Augustine ( de Prædest. Sanct . c. ii.).

1. From this passage S. Augustine lays down, in opposition to the semi-Pelagians, in which he is followed by the Schoolmen, that the will to believe and the beginning of faith and salvation, and every desire for it, come, not from free-will but from prevenient grace. Hence Beza wrongly charges the Schoolmen with teaching that the beginning of good is from ourselves, though weakly and insufficiently; for they all alike teach that the beginning of a good and holy life, of good thoughts and actions, and salvation in general is supernatural, and has its origin in the grace of God, not in nature or the goodness of our will.

2. Calvin is mistaken in inferring from this passage that there is no power in free-will which may be exerted in the works of grace, but that the whole strength and every attempt and act spring from grace. The Apostle says only that free-will is in itself insufficient, not that it has no power whatever. Just as an infirm man has a certain amount of strength, but not enough for walking, and has enough for walking if any one else help him, and give him a start and support, so too free-will is of itself insufficient for good works, but is sufficient if it be urged on, strengthened, and helped by prevenient grace.

It may be said that the sufficiency Paul speaks of here may be, as Theophylact and the Syriac render it, power, strength, or might. I answer that this is true; for the power and strength of free-will for a supernatural work, and of grace, which makes it supernatural, pleasing, to God, and worthy and meritorious of eternal life, are not from free-will, but from exciting and co-operating grace. When free-will has this, it is sufficiently able to believe freely, to love, and to work any supernatural work whatever. For free-will has for every work natural strength able to produce a free work; therefore these two causes concur here in the same work, one natural, viz., free-will, the other supernatural, viz., grace. Each, too, has its corresponding effect: the effect of grace is that it is a supernatural work, of free-will that it is free and the work of man. In the same way an infirm man is not only not strong enough, but wholly unable to walk, because it is a task beyond his strength; but he becomes able if he is given strength by a friend, or from some other source, and then he unites his own strength, however little it be, with that lent to him, and is able to walk. Still the strength that comes from without has to start him and begin his walking, and the whole force and energy with which he walks is to be found in the strength that is given him. That he tries to walk beyond his strength is not from himself but from without; but when it is once given, he puts forth his own strength and co-operates with it, and produces an effect commensurate to his efforts. In the same way free-will co-operates with exciting grace, and acts as a companion to it in every super- natural work in such way as its strength enables it.

We learn from this passage to recognise in every good work our own weakness, and to ascribe to Christ's grace all the goodness and worth of what we do. S. Gregory ( Morals, lib. xxii. c. 19), says: " Let no one think himself to have any virtue, even when he can do anything successfully; for if he be abandoned by the strength that cometh from above he will be suddenly overthrown helplessly on the very ground where he was boasting of his firm standing ." S. Augustine ( contra Julian , lib. ii. c. 8) commends the refutation of the Pelagians by S. Cyprian in the words: " They trust in their strength and exclaim that the perfection of their virtue is from themselves; but you, 0 Cyprian, reply that no one in his own strength is strong, but is safe only under the merciful indulgence of God ." The Psalmist, too, says the same thing ( Psa 59:9 ): "My strength will I guard unto Thee," meaning that he would lay it up in safety under his ward, hoping to over-come his enemies in God's strength and not in his own, because God is the Fount of all virtue and strength. Cf. Ezekiel 29:3 :5, where Pharaoh is forewarned of his fate for ascribing his power and success to himself.

Again, this passage teaches us to pray to God constantly that He would direct our thoughts, and inspire us with heavenly thoughts and desires, for such are the fount and beginning of all good works. This is beautifully expressed in the Collect for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity. S.Bernard ( Serm . 32 in Cantic .) says learnedly and piously: " Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything good as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God. When, therefore, we find evil thoughts in our heart, they are our own; if we find a good thought, it is the word of God: Our heart utters the former and hears the latter . ' I will hear ,' it says , ' what the Lord God will say in me, for He shall speak peace to His people .' So, then, he speaks in us peace, righteousness, godliness; we do not think such things of ourselves, but we hear them within ourselves; but murders, adulteties, thefts, blasphemies, and such things proceed from the heart: we do not hear them, we say them ," or at all events they are suggested to us by the devil. Ver. 6. Not of the letter but of the spirit. Not of the law, but of grace. I am a minister of the New Testament, but not in such a way that I bring tables of the law and of the covenant and its words, as did Moses in the Old Testament, but so that God may by my words inspire into you heavenly thoughts and desires. Cf. Augustine. ( de Spirit. et Lit. c. iii.).

For the letter killeth. (1.) Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine ( de Doctr. Christ. lib. iii. c. 4) explain this to be that the letter of the law convicts and condemns them to death who do not obey this letter, i.e ., the precepts of the law relating to righteousness and charity. For this letter of the law enacts that whosoever breaketh the law is to die the death. (2.) S. Augustine gives another explanation. If you abuse the literal meaning, and neglect the sense of Scripture, and fall into error, as Jews and heretics do, then the letter killeth. (3.) When metaphorical sayings are taken literally (S. Augustine, ibid. c. v., vi.). (4.) When types of the new law contained in the old are understood to be still binding in their literal meaning ( ibid. Cf. also Origen, contra Celsum , lib. iii.; Didymus, de Spirit. Sanct. lib. iii.). The Fathers in general frequently say that the letter , i.e ., the literal meaning of the law killeth, but the spirit , i.e ., the spiritual and allegorical meaning, giveth life. This is because it is not now lawful to Christians to observe the ceremonies and ritual precepts of the old law literally under penalty of death; but they are bound to do what those ceremonies allegorically signified if they wish to attain the life of grace and glory. (5.) S. Augustine again in the same place says that the letter, both of the old and new law, killeth if separated from the spirit; but that this passage refers to the old law alone, because Moses, when he gave the law, gave only the letter, but Christ gave the spirit and the letter, and from this he lays down that the law cannot be fulfilled by the strength of nature alone, but requires the grace of Christ. (6.) S. Augustine once more and Anselm say that the letter killeth by giving occasion to sin; for the law is the occasion by which concupiscence is kindled and sin produced which kills the soul. This sense and the first are the most literal.

But the Spirit giveth life . (1.) The Spirit gives to the soul the supernatural life of grace and charity. (2.) He gives motives and strength for good works and for fulfilling the law. (3.) He guides us towards that eternal life promised by the law to them that keep it. Of this life and Spirit the Apostles were sent by Christ as ministers. Ver. 7. If the ministration of death . . . was glorious. If the ministration and promulgation of the old law, which threatened and brought death and condemnation, were glorious, i.e ., accompanied by thundering and the sound of the heavenly trumpet, by an earth-quake and the splendour of Moses' countenance: if the old law, engraven on tables of stone, was so gloriously promulgated, how much more glorious is the Gospel?

Paul here calls the old law the attendant and lictor of death, because it could indeed slay them that broke it but not give life to them that kept it. From this we may gather that S. Paul is writing against the false apostles, and that they were Jews who were endeavouring to blend the old and the new law. He therefore silences the Jews by depreciating the old law as the law of condemnation, and by extolling himself and his fellow-apostles as the ministers of the evangelical law of righteousness and the life of the Spirit. Cf. in this connection chaps. x. and xi. Ver. 8. How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? This glory of the evangelical law of righteousness was seen in the mighty wind and the different tongues of fire which, when the new law was promulgated, glorified the Apostles before all nations. It was seen too in the gifts of tongues, of prophecy, &c., which used to descend visibly on Christians, as appears from 1 Corinthians 14:26 ; even as now the graces, gifts and virtues of the Holy Spirit are received invisibly.

So that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance. God as a sun so brilliantly shone on the face of Moses on the mount that his face shone as a second sun. The Vulgate rendering of Exo 34:29 is that "he wist not that his face was horned while He talked with him," where the "horns" of course refer to the appearance of rays of light.

Which glory was to be done away. This bright glory left Moses when he was dying, to signify that the old law would fade away with its glory when the new came. Ver. 10 . For even that which was made glorious , &c. For , by a common Hebraism, is here assertive, not causal. The glory of Moses cannot be called glory when compared with that of the Apostolic office, which far excels it. " As ," says Theodoret, " the light of a lantern shines at night, but is at noonday overpowered by the sun, so was the glory of Moses overshadowed by Christ ." This is the bearing of the phrase "by reason of the glory that excelleth." Ver. 12. Seeing then that we have such hope. Since the Lord diffuses the spirit of grace by us His Apostles, we have hope that He will hereafter give us glory far beyond that of Moses.

We use great plainness of speech. We preach the Gospel boldly, freely, frankly, openly.

Ver. 13 . And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face. Moses veiled his face, but we do not veil the face of Christ, but with great freedom bid all gaze upon it. From Exo 24:33 we gather that Moses in his first interview with the people spoke to them with unveiled face because of the reverence due to the majesty of the law, but that he afterwards veiled his face that he might with the greater freedom speak to them. But when he entered the tabernacle ( Exo 33:8 ), to converse with God, he took away the veil. In this and the next three verses, S. Paul gives the allegorical meaning of this veiling; for to the Jews the Old Testament is covered with a veil, so that they do not see the light of the New Testament, and Christ contained in it. From us, however, Christ has taken away the veil, and will take it away from the Jews when they are converted at the end of the world.

S. Gregory ( Pastor. pt. iii. c. 5) says tropologically: " The preacher should, like Moses, suit himself to his hearers: what is deep ought to be concealed from many that hear, and be opened out to very few. "

That the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end. This is the reading of the Greek MSS., the Syriac, and the older Latin authors, as Ambrose, but the Latin reads to the face. The end is Christ, mystically signified by the unveiled brightness of the face of Moses, as Ambrose and Theodoret say. Others take it more literally: they could not look on the perfect splendour of the face of Moses, or again, they could not look on the extremity of the surface of his face. Theophylact again explains it: "The ignorant Israelites could not see that the law was to have an end and be abolished." But this is a mystical meaning; the second is the literal meaning.

Which is abolished. The splendour of Moses was to be abolished, or the brightness of his face. These words may refer either to the face or to the veil, but it is better to understand them of the veil, especially as the following verses refer to the removal of the veil of Moses by the light of the law of the New Testament.

Theodoret observes that the sun-like splendour of the face of Moses typified the glorious brightness of the law of Christ, while the veil typified the shadow under which the dumb ceremonies of Moses lay. The Jews have not even yet been able to see the face of Moses without the veil, because they unbelievingly insist on the reality of their shadowy ceremonies, and have no eyes for the light of the Gospel. Ver. 14 . But their minds were blinded. They were blinded by the brightness of the face of Moses, and, allegorically, blinded by the Gospel light. As this clause is the antithesis to the preceding both meanings are included.

Until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament. The Apostle is still continuing the allegorical sense. Moses and the Old Testament till to-day are veiled to the Jews, so that they cannot see that Christ is signified by so many figures, prophecies, ceremonies, and sacrifices. Again, the Old Testament is veiled to them, because they read it but do not understand its meaning nor see its end and intent, its light and splendour, which is Christ: the eyes of their mind are dull and heavy, as formerly were the eyes of their body when they could not gaze on the shining face of Moses.

Which vail is done away in Christ. This veil, by the grace and faith of Christ is removed, so that we can clearly see Christ foreshadowed in the Old Testament.

Ver. 15. The vail is upon their heart. This veil is the foolish pertinacity with which the Jews still stubbornly cling to the carnal sacrifices and rites of the Old Law, and so are blinded that they cannot see Christ typified by them Ver. 17 . Now the Lord is that Spirit . (1.) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not body but spirit. Spirit in this explanation is taken essentially for what is common to the Three Persons. So S. Ambrose. (2.) Spirit here way stand for the Holy Spirit: the Greek MSS. have the definite article, and Roman Bibles and others spell it with a capital; for the Jews acknowledge one Lord and God, but deny that there is a plurality of Persons, and that the Holy Spirit is God. When the Jews shall have the veil taken away and shall be converted to the Lord and to belief in the Blessed Trinity then will they serve the Lord their God, not in the letter, with dumb corporeal ceremonies, but in the spirit. The God to whom they shall be converted is Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will give them the law of the Spirit of liberty, that with the eyes of their spirit they may see Christ veiled, under the law, and may worship Him in spirit and in truth. Cf. S. John iv. 23. S. Augustine ( ad Serapion ) thus explains this last passage: " We must worship the Father in truth , i.e., in the Son and Holy Spirit. We must worship the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ." But this is the mystical meaning.

Literally, Christ said this against the Samaritans and Jews, for the Samaritans worshipped God with worship that was false and devised by themselves, and so worshipped God together with idols; consequently the God of their worship was not the true God, but a created god of their imaginations, and the companion of idols. The Jews worshipped the true God indeed, but under fixed corporeal signs, which were shadows of things to come. To both of these Christ opposes Christians, who worship God in spirit and not in corporeal signs, and in truth instead of in shadows, falsehood, and ignorance. God is an incorporeal and pure Spirit. Spirit, therefore, in this passage denotes the spiritual worship of faith, hope, charity, and other virtues, by which God is worshipped in truth, i.e ., most truly, rightly, and properly, and not by shadows. Wherefore the sacraments and ceremonies of the New Law, since they are not shadows of the Old Law, but ornaments and helps of the Spirit, belong to the Spirit. Theophylact, Theodoret, Chrysostom thus explain the passage, and prove from it against Macedonius that the Holy Spirit is God.

It may be said that the same Spirit is afterwards called "the Spirit of the Lord." How, then, is He the Lord? The answer is: He is "the Lord" because He is God; He is "of the Lord" because He proceeds from the Father and the Son.

And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Liberty denotes a spontaneous, frank, free, and clearly illuminated will. Now that the veil of Moses has been taken away, we can, with clear and spontaneous will, walk according to the law of God. So Theophylact.

Notice that liberty is not here opposed to the obligation of law, Divine or human, as heretics think, but both to the veil of Moses, or the obscurity of the Old Law, and to the letter, or to the servile compulsion, fear, and deadness of the law. This liberty, therefore, is twofold. See notes to ver. 6.

1. Liberty is, says Chrysostom, an understanding, and clear knowledge of the mystery of the Trinity, of the incarnation, and other things that are obscure to the Jews. It is also a knowledge of true religion and of Divine worship, which the Jews supposed to consist in the sacrifice of bulls and goats, though God wills to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Just as heaviness, dulness, perplexity, and ignorance of the understanding, which hold the mind as it were fast bound in chains, are rightly called slavery, so on the other hand illumination of the intellect and clear knowledge are rightly called liberty, because the mind, set free from ignorance, error, and crass conceptions, is able to freely devote itself to truth, to God, to things spiritual and Divine. Hence Aristotle, Plutarch, Seneca, and others used to say that the wise man alone was free.

2. Liberty, as S. Augustine says, is to be found in the affections and in the love of righteousness, in freedom from fear of punishment, in the spontaneous fulfilling of the law from love of virtue, and not from fear of punishment. This free spirit of Christian love is contrasted with the slavery of Jewish fear. This is evident from the context. The Begardi, three hundred years ago, and the Suencfeldiani and Libertines of the present day, are therefore as impious, as ignorant, and foolish ( a ) in rejecting, on the supposed authority of ver. 6, the written word of God, as though it were a sun that had set, and in holding that the light within is sufficient for our guidance; ( b ) in teaching that a holy and perfect man is set free from the law and does not sin, even if he commit fornication. ( c ) They are followed by many others, who deduce the invalidity of all human laws. Cf. Bellarmine ( de Justific. lib. iv. c. 3 and 4), and Belliolanus, in the fifteen books he wrote on Christian Liberty. S. Augustine ( de Continentia , c. iii.) says excellently: " We are not under a law which orders good and does not give it, but we are under grace, which makes us love what the law orders, and which can, therefore, give orders to free men ." Cf. the same Father ( de Spirit. et Lit. c. x., and de Natura et Grat . c. 57). Ver. 18 . But we all with open face. The open face is that of Christ incarnate or of the mysteries of the faith. We, looking on them, see the glorious Godhead of the Lord and His grace, and the work of our redemption foreshadowed in Moses and the Old Testament.

Beholding as in a glass . "Seeing as in a mirror, not beholding as from a watch-tower," says S. Augustine ( de Trin. lib. xv. c. 8); but Erasmus renders the passage, "representing in a mirror," because he says this is the image of the glory of God. But the Greek verb is clearly to see, not represent in a mirror, and besides the representation is spoken of in the next phrase, "are changed into the same image." Since we see the glory of God in Christ and His Gospel, as though in a mirror, we are by this transformed into the same image of God, and we represent in ourselves this glory. This mirror, therefore, is the cause of the image, not the image itself.

The Apostle here means by mirror the Word clothed in flesh, and made visible, and whatever is put before our eyes in the Gospel and in the Church, and he contrasts all this with Moses veiled. Hence, in the next chapter, he speaks of the image of God ; for Christ as God is the Word and image of the Father, as Man He is the mirror of the Deity and His grace and glory; consequently the Gospel of Christ is nothing but a most clearly polished mirror of the glory of God. Hence S. Augustine calls his "Sentences" a mirror.

"Mirror" may also be taken here to mean the faith through which, as through a mirror darkly, we behold God and the things of God. Cf. notes to 1 Corinthians 13:12 .

Are changed into the same image. Not essentially, as though our essence were changed into the Divine Essence, or into its archetypal being, which it had in God from eternity before it was created, of which S. John speaks when he says, "That which was made was in Him life." This is the error of Almaric and other fanatics, which is refuted by Gerson in his two epistles written against Ruisbroch, and of Ruisbroch himself ( de Vera Contembl .). But we are changed per accidens , i.e ., by the rays of the light of Christ being reflected on us as from a mirror, we become bright with the light of the faith and grace of Christ, and so we become like mirrors flashing out the light of heaven, and like suns illuminating others, as Chrysostom and Theophylact say. Nay, we become as gods, sharing in the Divine Nature, as S. Peter says. "God foreknew and predestinated us to be conformed to the image of His Son," says S. Paul. He alludes to Moses, who, beholding God and conversing with Him, received the rays of light reflected from God, as was said in the note to ver. 7. Moses did not see God Himself, but in a glorious, assumed body which acted as a mirror. Tertullian ( contra Marcion , lib. v.) reads here, we are transfigured , as though Paul was alluding to the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, when Christ, brilliant with the light of His glory, shed it over Moses and Elias and the Apostles, and as it were transfigured them. In the same way, by the Gospel and the grace and faith of Christ, we are transformed and transfigured, inasmuch as we are made partaker of the truth, brightness, and glory of God, so that we are able to communicate them to others, and at last we reflect them on God Himself, from whom they first came.

"The whole life of Christ," says S. Augustine, "which was spent as man on earth, was a mirror giving us a pattern of good living." How wise are they who gaze constantly into this mirror, and do all they can to conform their lives to it, and so are transformed into different men, into heavenly, angelic, and Divine beings!

From glory to glory. (1.) From the glory of Christ into our own glory, so that we become clear and bright with grace and wisdom, even as Christ. (2.) From the brightness of faith into the brightness of sight. (3.) From the brightness of creation into the brightness of justification, according to Anselm. (4.) Daily growing more and more glorious, till we come to the glory of the Beatific Vision. Cf. notes to Romans 1:17 . Maldonatus ( Nota mss .) gives a further explanation. "Progressing from the glory of the 0ldTestament to the glory of the New." So it is said in Romans 1:17 , "from faith to faith."

Even as by the Spirit of the Lord. This change is through the Spirit of the Lord. Even as denotes the cause that is suitable to, and worthy of, so great a change, such, i.e ., as it becomes the Holy Spirit to work. S. Basil and Chrysostom argue from these words against Macedonius that the Holy Spirit is God, and that it is He that taketh away the veil and gives understanding of the Scriptures. Tertullian finally ( contra Marcion , lib. v. c. 11) reads here: "Even as by the Lord of Spirits."

Bibliographical Information
Lapide, Cornelius. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". The Great Biblical Commentary of Cornelius a Lapide. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/clc/2-corinthians-3.html. 1890.
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