This chapter is closely connected with what goes before, and carries on the vindication of the Apostle's conduct.
1-6. Paraphrase. 'In speaking thus highly of my motives I am not writing a letter to commend myself, nor do I need (like these opponents of mine) letters of recommendation either to you or from you. (2) You, my converts, are my best recommendation, for I think of you with gratitude as do all who know your faith and works. (3) You are, indeed, a very letter of Christ who has used me as His amanuensis, and bear the writing of the Spirit on your hearts. (4) It is such a result of my work as I see in you that assures me that God is using me as an instrument of Christ, (5) not that I trust in my personal ability, but that I look to God for help; (6) for it is He who has given me any ability I possess to proclaim the gospel of Christ.'
1. Again] probably refers to the passages in the severe letter (2 Corinthians 10-13) in which he defended himself and stated his claims to recognition: see especially 2 Corinthians 11:22-33; 2 Corinthians 12:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:16-19.
As some] The Judaising leaders had probably brought letters from Palestine and charged St. Paul with having no such recommendations. Epistles of commendation] Such Epistles were commonly used in the early Church to introduce strangers; for examples see Romans 16 and Philemon, and cp. Acts 15:23-27; Acts 18:27.
2. Our epistle] i.e. of commendation.
Known and read] better, known and acknowledged: the Church was an unmistakable witness to the Apostle's labours.
3. Forasmuch as ye are] omitted in RV. Ministered by us] The Apostle regards himself as the scribe of Christ who wrote Christ's words on their hearts. Not with ink, etc.] In this v. the figure is slightly changed; the writing is now that of the Spirit of God on their own hearts. It is no mere matter of paper and ink, but the work of the finger of God; it is written not like the old Law upon tables of stone, but upon living, human hearts.
4. Such trust] i.e. such confidence in you as our letters of commendation. Through Christ to God-ward] my confidence is not in myself, but through Christ in God: i.e. I look to Him for strength and grace through Christ.
5. To think any thing as of ourselves] RV 'To account any thing as from ourselves.'
6. Paraphrase. 'All my power in saving men comes from God, who has given me grace to proclaim a new covenant between Himself and His people—a covenant which is not a formal legal system, but an indwelling, spiritual power, for while the old covenant could only condemn the sinner to death owing to his inability to perform its demands, the new covenant inspires to faith and life.'
Sufficiency] i.e. ability. The new testament] not the book, but, as RV, 'a new covenant'—a new arrangement made by God for man's welfare to which he must submit himself. The letter killeth, etc.] The Law sets up an external standard, which, because we are unable to attain to it, puts us out of heart and makes us despair of success; the Gospel of Christ proclaiming pardon, and bringing us under Christ's influence, calls forth our faith and love, and inspires us ever upward and onward: cp. Romans 7, 8. The spirit is contrasted with the letter. It means the inward inspiring power of the Gospel.
(c) ii. 3:7-4:6. The Glory of the Gospel
The mention of the new covenant suggests a contrast between it and the old. The Gospel is more glorious than the Law, for it is not a lifeless Law but a life-giving Spirit. Therefore its apostles are eager to proclaim it to all. Those who cling to the Law are blind to the truth. But those who receive the Gospel are changed into the likeness of Christ.
7-11. Paraphrase. 'Now if the system which could only declare the sentence of death upon sin was glorious (and glorious it was, for at its giving the very face of Moses was transfigured), (8) the system which brings life and inspiration is more glorious still. (9) I repeat, if the Law was glorious, the Gospel is far more so. (10) For the glory of the Gospel puts the glory of the Law into shadow. (11) For if the transient be glorious, how much more glorious is the permanent!'
7. The ministration of death] i.e. the Law of Moses. Engraven] Exodus 32:16; Exodus 34:28. The face of Moses] The transfiguration of Moses' face (Exodus 34:29) is given as an example of the glory attending the giving of the Law. To be done away] The fading of the glory typified the transitoriness of the Law, which was to give place to the Gospel.
8. Rather glorious] The Gospel was more glorious than the Law because it was a message of forgiveness and not of condemnation, and because it was not a mere legal system, but an inspiring summons.
9. Ministration of righteousness] better, 'of acquittal,' in contrast to 'of condemnation.' The gospel message is one of pardon and reconciliation.
10. That excelleth] The glory of the Law is completely eclipsed by that of the Gospel, which offers forgiveness instead of condemnation.
11. That which is done away, etc.] another aspect of the truth stated in 2 Corinthians 3:10.
12-18. Paraphrase. 'Since our hopes of the future of the gospel are so great, we speak frankly and boldly. (13) We do not seek to conceal anything as Moses concealed his face with a veil lest the people should see the glory fading from it. (14) Those who looked upon the giving of the Law did not understand that it was a temporary measure to convince them of sin; and even now their successors do not realise that it has been superseded by Christ, (15) but think that it still remains in force. (16) When, however, they receive Christ into their hearts, they will know the truth. (17) For Christ is the life-giving Spirit who leads men to the truth and sets them free from bondage. (18) And all we who have received Him, gazing as into a mirror on the glorious Personality of the Lord, are transfigured into His likeness in spirit and character in ever-increasing degrees of perfection, through the influence of the Lord who is the Spirit.'
12f. The whole of this contrast between the glory of the new and the glory of the old dispensation seems aimed at the retrograde teaching of the Judaisers in Corinth. They sought to retain the rites and restrictions of the Law, and to conceal the full truth of the Gospel Which does away with the old legal system.
13. In this and the next two vv. we have a good example of St. Paul's habit of blending the allegorical with the historical interpretation of the OT.: see also Galatians 4:22-31. The reference here is to Exodus 34:33. Could not] RV 'should not.' The end of that which is abolished] i.e. the glory fading from his face.
14. Blinded] RV 'hardened.' The same vail] Note the quick transition from history to allegory. The veil with which Moses covered his face to keep the Israelites from seeing the glory fading is typical of the spiritual veil which keeps Jews and Judaising Christians from seeing that the Law is transitory. Done away in Christ] i.e. when they will truly come under Christ's influence and power they will see that He has made the Law unnecessary, because they will experience the new spirit He bestows.
15. When Moses is read] i.e. when the Law is read: cp. Acts 15:21.
16. It] i.e. their heart. The Law is incomprehensible without Christ.
17. The Lord is that Spirit] RV 'The Lord is the Spirit.' Christ is the life-giving Spirit. There is perhaps a reference to 'the ministration of the Spirit' in 2 Corinthians 3:8. The Spirit is Christ's Spirit: cp. Acts 16:7; (RV) Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11. What is meant is that he who turns to Christ shall receive the illuminating and quickening Spirit. Liberty] freedom from the bondage of the Law is the primary meaning; but perhaps freedom from sin is included: cp. John 8:31, John 8:32.
18. He who keeps the memory and the example of Christ ever before his mind's eye, and tries to follow Him in his life, will gradually come to show in his own character and life an increasing likeness to his Lord.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany