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Saturday, May 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 3

Gann's Commentary on the BibleGann on the Bible

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Verse 1

2 Corinthians 3:1

Do we begin again -- This seems to be raised to meet an objection.

To commend ourselves? -- To recommend ourselves; do we speak this in our own praise, in order to obtain your favor.

Or need we, as some others -- Probably some who had brought letters of recommendation to them from Judea. The false teachers at Corinth had been apparently introduced there by commendatory letters from abroad.

Letters of introduction were common among the Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews, as they are now.

Of commendation from you -- To other congregations. It is implied here by Paul, that he sought no such letter. The news of the congregations he established were by themselves his letters of recommendation (2 Corinthians 3:2), along with his own work ethic and integrity.

Such letters were, however, sometimes given by Christians, and are by no means improper, Acts 18:27.

Verse 2

2 Corinthians 3:2

You are our epistle -- The converstion of the Corinthians under Paul’s labors was a better testimonial of his character and fidelity than any letter could be.

written in our hearts -- The sense may be that this letter (2Cor.) was, as it were, written on his heart. But most likely it portrays their conversion to Christ as a tender message written on Paul’s heart.

A few mss. and versions read thus, “your hearts” but not sufficient for one to alter the majority reading.

known and read of all men -- Corinth was a large, splendid, and dissipated city. Their conversion, therefore, would be known afar. All people would hear of their conversion under Paul’s labor.

Verse 3

2 Corinthians 3:3

clearly you are an epistle of Christ, -- Their conversion was as good as any letter of recommendation.

an epistle of Christ, -- A letter that Christ sent as a testimonial to Paul’s character and integrity.

ministered by us -- The idea here is, that Christ had employed their ministry in accomplishing this. They were Christ’s letter, but it had been prepared by the instrumentality of the apostles.

written not with ink -- Paul continues to use the metaphor of a letter of recommendation. But this letter was not written by a fading ink, in lines that easily fade, or that can be read by only a few, or may be soon destroyed.

but by the Spirit of the living God, -- In strong contrast with letters written with ink. By the Spirit of God moving on the heart revealing the God’s grace in their conversion.

Paul begins to make a strong distinction between the law given through Moses that came to end, and the living gospel of Christ that reigns now.

not on tablets of stone - The ten commandments had been written on stone, first by God Himself. It here stands for the entire Law that was given at Mt. Sinai and for all the teaching from Moses and the prophets of the O.T.

The new covenant had been promised by Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:20).

tablets of stone -- A reference to the Ten Commandments (see notes on Exodus 24:12; Exodus 25:16). Those who insist on keeping the Sabbath (Saturday) that is a part of the Law of Moses that has been nailed to the cross Colossians 2:14 are in conflict with Paul’s teaching in this chapter. All the ten commandments are taught in the New Covenant, except the "Sabbath" law. (Cf. Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

Verse 4

2 Corinthians 3:4

such trust [confidence] -- Paul was confident in his ministry, and that confidence resulted in his ability to stay the course and continue moving toward the goal (cf. Acts 4:13, Acts 4:29).

This is another Pauline term used mostly in II Corinthians. It comes from the same Greek root as faith, trust, believe (peitho and pistis, pisteuo). It basically means trust, confidence, or reliance.

through Christ -- Christ alone can inspire such confidence and power Paul needed.

Paul’s confidence before God in claiming that the Corinthians were a letter written by Christ that validated his apostolic credentials came through Christ .

toward God. -- i.e. in relation to God; towards whom all of Paul’s service is directed, Romans 5:1.

Verse 5

2 Corinthians 3:5

Not ... sufficient of ourselves -- Paul’s confidence was not in himself but in Christ.

to think -- "to consider". This is the term logizomai, reflects Paul’s logical presentation of truths.

our adequacy [sufficiency] is from God -- Paul points to God as the source of his confidence (v. 4) which did not come from his own abilities, but from the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Verse 6

2 Corinthians 3:6

made us able [enabled, sufficient, competent, adequate] ministers [servants] -- Paul was called by Christ Himself to be a ministers of the new covenant. 2 Corinthians 1:1.

the new covenant -- The covenant that provides forgiveness of sins through the death of Christ ( Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 11:19; Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 8:7-12).

the letter kills -- This is a reference to the law of Moses (compare Romans 2:27; Romans 7:6). The law does not justify people; it only identifies sin and condemns (see Romans 3:20; Romans 8:2). Instead, people are justified by faith (see Romans 3:28 and note).

the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. -- The letter kills because it results in spiritual death. Man’s inability to truly keep the Mosaical Law sentenced him to an eternal death (without a sacrifice of atonement, see notes on Romans 7:9-11; cf. Romans 5:12; Galatians 3:10). Here "spirit" stands for the New Covenant under Christ, and only through Jesus Christ can one have eternal life, and it is through grace. Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18.

“not of the letter but of the Spirit” There is a series of comparisons.

1. stone versus the heart, vv. 2 Corinthians 3:3

2. letter versus spirit, v. 2 Corinthians 3:6

3. old service versus spiritual service, v. 2 Corinthians 3:7

4. ministry of death versus life, 2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:6

5. the service connected with condemnation versus the service connected with right-standing, v. 2 Corinthians 3:9

6. what has passed away versus what is permanent, v. 2 Corinthians 3:11

7. the veil remains unlifted versus the veil is removed, v. 2 Corinthians 3:14

Paul is contrasting the old and new covenants, the contrast of the Law of Moses versus the Gospel of Christ, the "letter" versus the "heart" (cf. Romans 2:29; Romans 7:6), one depending on "legalism" versus "grace".

Not of the letter, but of the spirit -- Both in this and in the final clause of this verse, the RSV has perpetrated a gross error in capitalizing "Spirit" in order to make it mean "Holy Spirit" in both clauses, an error slavishly followed in Good News for Modern Man, Phillips New Testament, The New English Bible (1961), and others. While it is true, of course, that the blessings of the new covenant may be enjoyed only by those who have received the blessed Holy Spirit, there is no reference to that here. As Hughes said, "It is unlikely that a direct reference to the Spirit is intended." "The contrast in 2 Corinthians 3:6 is not between the outward and inward sense of scripture, but between the outward and inward power of the Jewish and Christian dispensations." As Tasker put it, "Paul is distinguishing the new covenant from the old by using the contrasted categories of spirit and letter, life and death." Farrar gave the meaning as "Not of the law, but of the gospel." Paul’s usage of this same expression in Romans 2:28 f speaks of a true Jew as one who is a Jew in heart, IN THE SPIRIT, NOT IN THE LETTER. There is no need to multiply evidence that Paul used the same expression here exactly as he used it there. - Coffman

Verse 7

2 Corinthians 3:7

ministry of death -- Paul contrasts his ministry with the ministry of Moses (the law) which brought only death and condemnation (compare note on 2 Corinthians 3:6). In contrast the Gospel of Christ, given by the inspiration of God’s Spirit, brought grace, forgiveness and eternal life, (Romans 1:16; Ephesians 1:7; Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:21).

engraved on stones -- Literally the ten commandments, but here it stands for the full Law of Moses.

Again here is the evidence that Sabbath (Saturday) keeping, which was part of the ten commandments, was nailed to the cross, and first day of the week is for special remember’s of the Lord’s death. (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.

could not look steadily [gaze] at the face of Moses -- The Israelites could not look intently or stare at Moses’ face for too long because the reflective glory of God was too bright for them. It was similar to staring into the sun (see Exodus 34:29-35)

Compare the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-8; 2 Peter 1:16-18.

face of Moses -- Even though Moses’ ministry of the law was a ministry of death and condemnation, it was still accompanied by the glory of God. While God’s glory made Moses’ face radiant (Exodus 34:29-35), that glory did not last.

its glory ... brought to an end, -- That covenant that came through Moses was brought to an end with the death of Christ on the cross.

However, Paul here laid stress on the diminishing radiance of Moses’ face, interpreting the veil as being used to prevent Israel’s SEEING THE GLORY FADE AWAY. Thus the veil symbolized the blindness of Israel, not only in the old covenant, but also in the rejection of Christ the head of the new covenant; and the disappearing glory of Moses’ face symbolized the abrogation of the old covenant. - Coffman

The complaint of Foy E. Wallace, Jr., regarding the RSV’s rendition of this paragraph is fully justified. He said:

They have omitted "done away" (2 Corinthians 3:7), "abolished" (2 Corinthians 3:13), and "is done away in Christ" (2 Corinthians 3:14) ... This chapter clearly affirms the abolition of the MINISTRATION OF DEATH (the Old Covenant). They have clobbered the entire chapter of 2 Cor. 3. - Coffman

Verse 8

2 Corinthians 3:8

ministry of the Spirit [spirit] -- Both in verse 6 and this verse, the RSV has perpetrated a gross error in capitalizing "Spirit" in order to make it mean "Holy Spirit" in both clauses ... Hughes said, "The contrast in 2 Corinthians 3:6 is not between the outward and inward sense of scripture, but between the outward and inward power of the Jewish and Christian dispensations." As Tasker put it, "Paul is distinguishing the new covenant from the old by using the contrasted categories of spirit and letter, life and death." Farrar gave the meaning as "Not of the law, but of the gospel." Paul’s usage of this same expression in Romans 2:28 ff speaks of a true Jew as one who is a Jew in heart, IN THE SPIRIT, NOT IN THE LETTER. - (Coffman )

ministry of the Spirit … exceeds much more in glory. -- The “ministry of the Spirit” is Paul’s descriptive term for the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 8:8, Hebrews 8:13; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24).

Verse 9

2 Corinthians 3:9

ministry of condemnation ... righteousness -- The whole relationship of the two covenants was dealt with by the writer of Hebrews. Despite the fact that the total abrogation of the old covenant is stated here, it is incidental to the truth being stressed, that is, that the new covenant is more glorious.

The “ministry of the Spirit” is Paul’s descriptive term for the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 8:8, Hebrews 8:13; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24).

Paul is arguing that if such glory attended the giving of the law under the ministry that brought death, how much more glorious is the New Covenant which brings righteousness. The law pointed to the superior New Covenant and thus a glory that must also be superior.

Verse 10

2 Corinthians 3:10

what once had glory -- refers to the old covenant.

has come to have no glory at all, -- that is, not as glorious as the new covenant.

because of the glory that surpasses it. -- means "because of the glory of the new covenant."

that which passeth away -- is needlessly softened in this version. As the English Revised Version (1885) margin gives it, the better rendition is "is being done away."

Paul’s stress in these verses of the fading glory and ultimate abrogation of the law of Moses was directly related to the problems at Corinth. Macknight was almost certainly correct in his view that:

These observations (of Paul) concerning the glory or excellence of the gospel above the law, were made by the apostle to convince the Corinthians how ill-founded was the boasting of the false teacher, who assumed to himself great honor on account of his knowledge of the law of Moses, and who erroneously enjoined obedience to the law, as necessary to salvation. - Coffman

Verse 11

2 Corinthians 3:11

brought to an end -- the old covenant give at Sinai through Moses,

2 Corinthians 3:7, came to an end with Christ and the Gospel.

what is permanent -- the new covenant (the Gospel) given through Christ.

The case is made that the new covenant has permanent to glory in contrast to that given through Moses.

Verse 12

2 Corinthians 3:12

we have such a hope -- Dummelow’s paraphrase is: "Since our hopes for the future of the gospel are so great, we speak frankly and boldly. We do not seek to conceal anything as Moses concealed his face with a veil." - Coffman

such hope -- The belief that all the promises of the New Covenant are coming to pass in Christ. It is hope in total and complete forgiveness of sins for those who obey the gospel, cf. Hebrews 5:9; Romans 8:24-25; Galatians 5:5; Ephesians 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3, 1 Peter 1:13, 1 Peter 1:21.

Verse 13

2 Corinthians 3:13

Moses ... veil over his face -- Exodus 34:29-35;

might not see [gaze, look steadfastly, look intently] -- Clines observed that "Concealment was not necessarily Moses’ motive for the veil; Paul is probably thinking that it was God’s providence that the Israelites never saw that the glory was fading." - Coffman

New Century Version = "We are not like Moses, who put a covering over his face so the Israelites would not see it. The glory was disappearing, and Moses did not want them to see it end."

The Old Covenant was shadowy. It was made up of types, pictures, symbols, and mystery. Moses and the prophets communicated the glory of the Old Covenant with a certain obscurity (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-11).

was passing away [brought to an end; abolished; being done away; fading away] -- This refers to the passing away of the old covenant given through Moses.

That old covenant was not something that passed away slowly with time. God consciously abrogated it, on the basis that Israel had broken it (Hebrews 8:9). But it came to a sudden and complete end with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (Colossians 2:14, etc.).

Verse 14

2 Corinthians 3:14

their minds were hardened. -- Paul gets a lot of use out of the "veil" metaphor. In these verses it stands for the hardening of Israel; but the most significant face is that the veil is removed in Christ.

An immense body of truth is related to CHRIST AND THE VEIL, as the word is used in scripture. The rending of the veil of the temple during our Lord’s crucifixion, for example, compels the linking of many of the most significant truths in the Bible under the subject of Christ and the Veil. - Coffman (Matt 23: )

hardened -- This Greek term comes from the idea of “thick skinned” or “callousness” (cf. Mark 6:52; Mark 8:17; Romans 11:7; Romans 11:25)

the same veil remains unlifted -- Moses used a literal veil; this term is now used to describe the inner blindness of contemporary rabbinical Judaism. Jews are walking in the judgment of Isaiah 6:9-10 and Isaiah 29:10.

Paul’s point was that just as the Old Covenant was obscure to the people of Moses’ day, it was still obscure to those who trusted in it as a means of salvation in Paul’s day. The veil of ignorance obscures the meaning of the Old Covenant to the hardened heart (cf. John 5:38). - MSB

taken away -- NASB, TEV “removed”; NKJV “taken away”; NRSV “set aside”; NJB “done away”

Verse 15

2 Corinthians 3:15

Yes, to this day -- Paul wrote this epistle about 30 years after Christ’s death but he accurately describes the conduct of most Jews who were still persecuting Christians. Of no other people on earth would such a description still be accurate nineteen hundred years after it was made.

when Moses is read -- A portion from five books of Moses and a portion from the prophets were read regularly in their synagogues. (See note on Luke 4:16).

Without Christ, the Old Testament is an impenetrable mystery. Paul pointed out here that the Jews who did not believe in Jesus were blinded to many of the most significant things in the Old Testament. "Few passages in the New Testament emphasize more strongly that the Old Testament Scriptures are fully intelligible only when Christ is seen to be their fulfillment." - Coffman

Moses is read -- Jews typically heard the Law of Moses read every week in the local synagogue (see Luke 4:16-17; Acts 13:27; act 15:21; Acts 17:2-3).

a veil lies over their hearts. -- Moses covered his face with a veil because of the radiance of God’s glory (Exodus 34:33-34). This veil represents the Jews’ hardened hearts and their inability to grasp the gospel message and refusal to obey God.

Verse 16

2 Corinthians 3:16

But [when ever, nevertheless] -- This conjunction does not always mean "to continue", but introduces a time when a persons comes to understand the scriptures and turns to the Lord in obedience.

when one turns to the Lord, -- This refers to conversion by believing and obeying the Gospel. Mark 4:12; Acts 3:19; Acts 15:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:9.

Believing in Christ one understands how the O.T. was a shadow of things to come, and how He is the fulfillment of its Messianic prophecies and promises.

one -- "One" here is speaking univerally of anyone, Jews of Gentile, and not limited to the "Jews" as some try to maintain.

the veil is removed [taken away] -- When people come to understand the true meaning of the prophecies and the genuine sense of the word of God, their understanding is like a light shinning upon it.

There may be an allusion in the language here to the declaration in Isaiah 25:7. - BN

Verse 17

2 Corinthians 3:17

the Lord -- The word "Lord" here refers to the Lord Jesus, cf. 2 Corinthians 3:16.

the Lord is the Spirit, -- Paul does not here fuse the persons of the Lord and the Holy Spirit. Here the word "Spirit" should not be capitalized because Paul is continuing is use "spirit" as the contrast of "letter". (2 Corinthians 3:6 see note there.)

Paul in making a distinction between the "letter" and the "spirit" makes "Moses" to be representation of the "letter" (the Law) and the "Lord" (Christ) to be the fulfillment of the "spirit" in his contrast of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

where the Spirit of the Lord is, -- Here "spirit" stands for the "Gospel", the New Covenant. Christ brought the New Covenant ("spirit") into play and with it came "freedom" from the Law, and freedom from sin. (John 8:32);

there is freedom. -- In Christ there is freedom: (1) from the law (Romans 8:2); (2) from fear (Romans 8:13); (3) from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2); (4) from sin (Romans 6:18); and (5) from corruption (Romans 8:21).

Verse 18

2 Corinthians 3:18

we all -- All believers in Christ.

all with unveiled [open] face -- All Christians, not just one man, as in the case of Moses, behold the glory of the Lord; and no veil is required.

beholding -- The word "beholding" (G2734) in classical Greek means "looking at one’s self in a mirror"; "But that requires steady looking when mirrors are metal, and so the word came to mean simply, TO GAZE STEADILY."

The word used here κατοπτριζόμενοι katoptrizomenoi has been very variously rendered. Macknight renders it, “we all reflecting as mirrors the glory of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

beholding the glory of the Lord, -- Hebrews 1:3; The splendor, majesty, and holiness of God as manifested in the gospel, or of the Lord as incarnate. The idea is, that God was clearly and distinctly seen in the gospel. There was no obscurity, no veil, as in the case of Moses.

being transformed [changed into the same image] -- Romans 12:2;

Under the old covenant, only the face of Moses shone; only the high priest went into the Holy of Holies; only the priests might serve at the altar, etc., etc. But in the glorious new covenant, "All who are Christ’s, whether great or small, whether known or unknown, have this blessed privilege of beholding and being transformed." - Coffman

one degree of glory to another. -- Paul suggests that believers will progress through ever-greater degrees of glory (doxa in Greek). This may mean that they will learn and grow more in their relationship with Him over time. Alternatively, this progress may culminate in the transformation of the physical body into a glorious one (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).

“Ever-increasing glory” literally is “from glory to glory.” (cf. Romans 1:17 where the phrase "from faith to faith" must mean from an every increasing faith.)

the Lord who is the Spirit. -- McGarvey gave the import of this to be, "Now Jesus is that Spirit, or new covenant of which I have been speaking (2 Corinthians 3:3, 2 Corinthians 3:6, 2 Corinthians 3:8); and where that new covenant is, there is liberty, especially the liberty of seeing (without a veil)." In this view, spirit would not be capitalized. - Coffman

Bibliographical Information
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gbc/2-corinthians-3.html. 2021.
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