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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

2 Corinthians 3

Verses 1-6

SECTION 4. — PRAISE FOR GOD’S MANIFEST APPROVAL OF HIS LABORS. CH. 2:12-3:6.

Moreover, when I came to Troas for the Gospel of Christ, and a door was open to me in the Lord, I had no relief for my spirit, through my not having found Titus my brother: but I bade farewell to them and went forth into Macedonia. But to God be thanks who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and makes manifest through us in every place the odour of the knowledge of Him. Because a perfume of Christ we are to God, among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing to these, an odour from death for death; but to those, an odour from life for life.

And for these things who is sufficient? For we are not, as the many are, huckstering the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, before God in Christ we speak.

Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some do, commendatory letters to you or from you? Our letter you are, written in our hearts, known and read by all men: being made manifest that you are a letter of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not in stone tablets but in tablets which are fleshen hearts. A confidence of this kind we have through Christ in reference to God. Not that of ourselves we are sufficient to reckon anything, as from ourselves: but our sufficiency is from God. Who also has made us sufficient to be ministers of a New Covenant, not of Letter but of Spirit.

2 Corinthians 2:12-13. Further proof, after the necessary digression of 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 of Paul’s deep interest in his readers, shown in his movements after writing his First Epistle. This is followed by an assertion and proof and defence of the grandeur of his ministry, occupying 2 Corinthians 2:12 to 2 Corinthians 6:10. See under 2 Corinthians 6:10.

Having come to Troas; agrees with Acts 20:1, which says that after the tumult Paul left Ephesus for Macedonia.

Troas: now Eski Stamboul or Old Constantinople, where there are considerable ruins: an important Roman colony on or near the site of ancient Troy, on the coast of Asia Minor and near the entrance of the Dardanelles. It was the chief landing place for those coming by sea from Macedonia to western Asia. Cp. Acts 16:8; Acts 20:6.

For the Gospel: Romans 1:1 : i.e. to proclaim it.

Door being open, or standing opened: as in 1 Corinthians 16:9. The opportunity afforded at Troas was in the Lord: i.e. in relation to the Master Christ. Notice an important coincidence with Acts 20:7 ff, where, though we have no account of Paul’s previous preaching at Troas, (cp. Acts 16:8; Acts 20:1), yet on his return after visiting Macedonia and Corinth we find Christians at Troas with whom he celebrates the Lord’s Supper. These were probably, in whole or part, a result of labors at the time referred to here. We must therefore suppose that after the tumult at Ephesus Paul went to Troas with a view to preach the Gospel there; and found an abundant opportunity of doing so.

To my spirit: as in 2 Corinthians 7:13; 1 Corinthians 16:18.

Had no rest: cp. and contrast 2 Corinthians 7:5.

Titus my brother; suggests the special relation of Titus to Paul as colleague in apostolic work. This trouble at not finding Titus suggests that he had been directed to rejoin Paul at Troas; and implies clearly that Paul expected him to bring news about the Corinthians. See note under 2 Corinthians 9:5. The expected meeting at Troas was prevented either by Paul’s earlier arrival owing to the tumult, or by some delay of Titus.

Bid farewell; suggests reluctance to leave Troas.

To them: to the converts at Troas. All details about them are unknown to us.

Notice the vivid picture in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 of Paul’s deep anxiety about his readers’ spiritual welfare. He has come to the important city of Troas to proclaim there the good news about Christ; and finds a way open to do so. But he cannot preach. For his spirit is ill at ease, waiting eagerly for tidings about his beloved children at Corinth. Drawn by this intense desire he bids adieu to some at Troas who would gladly keep him, and once more crosses the blue Aegean to Europe. This anxiety suggests the greater importance, recognized by all true evangelists, of securing old converts than making new ones.

2 Corinthians 2:14 a. In Macedonia Paul met Titus, (2 Corinthians 7:6 f,) and received from him most gratifying news about the effect of his First Epistle. And we cannot doubt that this caused really the joy which finds utterance here. But instead of mentioning these tidings Paul begins a long digression (2 Corinthians 2:14 to 2 Corinthians 6:10) about the grandeur of his work. This suggests that the good news received in Macedonia revealed to Paul’s mind and heart the success and grandeur of his work as a whole, and thus called forth his thanks to God. Hence the word always, in emphatic prominence. The Greek word Thriambos, rendered here triumph, denoted originally a hymn sung in those festal processions to the honor of the god Dionysius which were so common in ancient Greece. But in this sense it is found, in all extant Greek literature, perhaps only once. It is, however, found some four times as an epithet of the god to whom the hymns were sung. It was also the usual Greek equivalent for the Latin word triumph, the technical term for the military processions in which illustrious conquerors, accompanied by their soldiers, captives, and booty, entered in state the city of Rome and marched to the Capitol. Cp. Polybius, bk. vi. 15. 8, iv. 66. 8 xvi. 23. 5; Plutarch, Pompey xlv. 14, subst. six times, verb three times; Josephus, Wars bk. vii. 5. 3, 4, 7. This use of the word suggests that it had been used not only for the hymn sung to Dionysius but for the procession in which it was sung. But of this use no example is extant. In later ages, when both pagan festivals and Roman triumphs had passed away, the word was used for any public procession. It is difficult to say to what extent details of a Roman triumph or of a pagan festival* (*See an interesting paper by G. G. Findlay in The Expositor, vol. x. p. 403.) were present to Paul’s mind when writing these words. But in any case the two kinds of triumph had enough in common to link with these words a definite idea. And the Roman triumph suggests a good meaning here. Paul thinks of his life of wandering and hardship, driven from Ephesus by a tumult and from Troas by anxiety about the Corinthians. But he remembers that, just as in Roman triumphs the long and sad train of captives and booty revealed the greatness of the victory and the victor, so his own long and weary wanderings over sea and land revealed the grandeur of God. Cp. Polybius, bk. xvi. 23. 5: “And, when he entered the city in triumphal procession, then even still more, being reminded of their former dangers by sight of those led along, their emotions were aroused both of thanks to the gods and of goodwill towards the cause of so great a change.” Perhaps Paul’s words were suggested in part by remembrance, ever present to him, of his former hostility to God. As a captive he is led along. And his absolute submission, shown in his apostolic work, reveals the completeness of the victory of Him against whom Paul once fought. That his march in the train of his conqueror was with a song of praise to the conqueror, is explained in the words which follow.

In Christ: as the cause, the aim, the director, and the encompassing element, of all his journeys.

2 Corinthians 2:14 b. Explains “leads in triumph,” and accounts for Paul’s “thanks to God.”

Odour: John 12:3; Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 4:18 : any kind of scent.

Manifest: set conspicuously before men. See under Romans 1:19.

Knowledge of Him: of Christ, as proved by “perfume of Christ” in 2 Corinthians 2:15. This knowledge of Christ is an odour which, by leading Paul along in triumph, God manifests, i.e. presents to men’s minds. We may conceive the triumphal procession accompanied by incense-bearers, and revealing its approach by the perfume scattered around. So Paul’s presence, wherever he went, made Christ known, as it were silently and invisibly but pervasively, to those among whom he moved. And that he was a means through which God made Christ known to men to be their eternal life, filled his lips, even amid weariness and anxiety, with “thanks to God.”

The two parts of this verse present two aspects of Paul’s life. He was both well known and unknown. Before the eyes of men the once proud Pharisee walked, a conspicuous token of the victory and majesty of God; meanwhile imparting unobtrusively to those ready to receive it, the life-giving knowledge of Christ.

2 Corinthians 2:15-16. A fact which explains and justifies the assertion of 2 Corinthians 2:14 b.

Perfume of Christ: something revealing, as perfumes do, the nature of that from which it proceeds; and therefore practically the same as “odour of the knowledge of Him,” but adding to it the idea of pleasantness to God.

Similarly, the self-sacrifice of Christ (Ephesians 5:2) and the money given by the Philippians to Paul (Philippians 4:18) were “an odour of perfume.” Same words in Leviticus 1:9; Leviticus 1:13; Leviticus 1:17, etc. Wherever Paul went he presented unobtrusively to men around the knowledge of Christ, and thus pleased God. He was, therefore, himself a perfume of Christ to God. For through his life and work shone the glory of Christ. And this, both when surrounded by those who accept Christ and are thus in the way of salvation and by those who reject Him and are thus perishing. See under 1 Corinthians 1:18. For in each case his word is acceptable to God, as accomplishing a divine purpose. In 2 Corinthians 2:16 Paul lingers on these contrasted cases, and explains more fully the meaning of his solemn words.

Odour: more appropriate to the word death than is “perfume.”

From death for death: (cp. Romans 1:17 :) a scent proceeding from, and thus revealing the presence of, death; and, like malaria from a putrefying corpse, causing death. Paul’s labors among some men revealed the eternal death which day by day cast an ever deepening shadow upon them; and, by arousing in them increased opposition to God, promoted the spiritual mortification which had already begun. But even among such he was nevertheless a revelation of Christ, acceptable to God, i.e. “a perfume of Christ to God.” For it pleases God, the righteous Judge, that the foundation Stone crushes to death (Luke 20:18) those who refuse to build upon it. Among those who believed, Paul’s labors both gave proof of the eternal life they already possessed, and strengthened it. Thus, through the apostle and his colleagues, driven rudely from place to place, revealing and causing among different men different moral states and different results, God was spreading, unobtrusively yet pervasively, the knowledge of Christ. And for this honor Paul cannot forbear to give exultant “thanks to God.”

2 Corinthians 2:17. A question suggested by the solemnity of the position just described, before Paul passes to God’s commendation of his work by the conversion of the Corinthians; and a reason for this question, viz. that Paul is very far from looking upon the Gospel as mere merchandise for self-enrichment.

Huckster: one who bought from the merchants and sold by retail. Same word in Sirach 26:29; Isaiah 1:22 “thy hucksters mix the wine with water.” Cp. Plato, Protagoras p. 313d: “They who carry about education from city to city and sell and huckster it.” Not thus did Paul with the Gospel, making gain of it.

As the many are: a terrible charge. It does not necessarily mean the greater part of Christian teachers; but implies a large and definite number present to Paul’s thought. Sincerity was the human source or motive of his words, as it was (2 Corinthians 1:12) the element of his whole behavior. The original source was from God.

As from (cp. John 1:14)… as from: his words correspond with their human and divine source.

Before God etc.: completes the inward picture of Paul’s preaching; his words spring not from selfish, but from genuine purposes, and from God; and are such words as men speak when sincere and when moved by God. They are spoken in the presence of God and in union with Christ as their encompassing element. Cp. 2 Corinthians 12:19.

2 Corinthians 3:1. Paul now proceeds to recall plain proof (in 2 Corinthians 3:2-3) of the dignity claimed by him in 2 Corinthians 2:14 f. But he remembers that his words above may be thrown in his teeth by opponents at Corinth as mere self-commendation. This hostile reply he anticipates by the first question of 2 Corinthians 3:1; and overthrows it by a second question, which compels his opponents to admit that he has no need to commend himself. Then as an answer to the second question he gives proof of his divine mission.

Commendatory letters: containing credentials needful for those who go among strangers. Such letters Apollos brought (Acts 18:27) to Corinth. But Paul did not need them either to the Corinthians or from them to others.

As some do: probably Jewish or Judaizing teachers who came with letters from known Jewish teachers in other places. The mention of such letters reveals the infinite difference between the great Apostle who came alone to Corinth and founded the church and these unknown teachers.

2 Corinthians 3:2-3. Our letter: practically the same as “the seal of my apostleship,” 1 Corinthians 9:2. Both to themselves and to others, “to you” and “from you,” the Christians at Corinth were a proof that God sent Paul. “Others bring letters in their hands: but in our hearts you ever are as a plain declaration to ourselves of our divine mission.” This shut out all need for commendatory letters. These words are forerunners of “confidence” in 2 Corinthians 3:4 and “hope” in 2 Corinthians 3:12.

Known and read. The Corinthian church was not only in the heart of the apostle but was also visible to all men, as a proof of Paul’s divine mission. His credentials were so conspicuous that all saw them; and so plain that all read their significance.

All men: believers and unbelievers: for in their hearts even enemies knew the work Paul had done at Corinth.

Being manifested that you are etc.: since you stand before the eyes of the world as a letter written by Christ and therefore carrying His authority.

Ministered (see under Romans 12:7) by us: by Paul and Timothy, who, as servants of Christ, founded the Corinthian church, which is here described as a letter written by Christ. These words correspond with “through us” in 2 Corinthians 2:14. Not “written by us”: for the writer was Christ, whose helper Paul was. The Holy Spirit dwelling in the hearts of the Christians at Corinth through the agency of Paul and Timothy was an abiding divine testimony to them, to their converts, and to others that they were sent by God. To the converts, the presence of the Spirit was known directly by the new cry Abba, Father, put into their hearts and lips, and by victory over sin given to them day by day; and to others, by “the fruit of the Spirit” in their holy lives. Cp. Romans 8:13-16; Galatians 5:22.

Living God: in contrast to lifeless ink or stone. Cp. 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Timothy 4:10; Acts 14:15; Hebrews 9:14; Deuteronomy 5:26; Joshua 3:10; Psalms 42:2, etc. It suggests the activity of God, ever blessing, protecting, or punishing. After placing in contrast to the letters written with ink brought by his opponents the gift of the Holy Spirit, Paul places this gift in further contrast to the stone tablets received by Moses on Mount Sinai. And very suitably. For these tablets of stone, preserved during long ages, were an abiding and visible and famous witness of the divine authority of Moses and of the Covenant of which he was minister. No human hand, but the Hand which made Sinai and the world, traced those venerable characters. But they were written only on lifeless stone, on material apparently the most lasting yet doomed to perish. But the divine writing of which Paul had been the pen was on living human hearts, destined to retain and show forth in endless life the handwriting of God.

Flesh: the visible and controlling embodiment of human life, and a conspicuous contrast to stone. Same contrast, and same phrase, in Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26 f. Paul’s commendation was engraved on the flesh and blood walls of the inmost chamber of his readers’ being.

By the second contrast of 2 Corinthians 3:3 Paul opens a way for important teaching to follow. And this second contrast increases immensely the force of the foregoing rebuke to his opponents. Amid much affliction but in words of glowing gratitude to God Paul has been speaking (2 Corinthians 2:14 f) about his own ministry. To this some might object as being self-commendation. The apostle asks whether he has any need for commendation. The absurdity of this suggestion, and the infinite difference between himself and his detractors, he reveals by asking whether when he came to lay the foundation of the church at Corinth he brought commendatory letters with him, or had ever asked his readers for such. Yet he has a letter of commendation, not in his hand but in his heart. His readers themselves are a divine commendation of himself and his fellow-laborers. Others brought letters written in characters of ink. His commendation was the presence of the life-giving Spirit in his readers’ hearts. Nay more. Not only were Paul’s credentials of a kind quite different from those of his opponents, but they were infinitely superior even to the venerable credentials with which God confirmed the Covenant made amid the thunders of Sinai and confirmed the authority of the great Lawgiver of Israel. For Moses brought down from the mountain a testimony written by God on blocks of silent stone. But Paul could point to a testimony written also by God, in the hearts of living men. On Jewish opponents glorying in Moses, this argument would fall with overwhelming force.

2 Corinthians 3:4-6 a. A comment on 2 Corinthians 3:2-3.

Confidence: an idea recurring throughout 5, 6.

Of this kind: viz. grounded on the fact that through his agency God had written His name by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of living men.

Through Christ: “through whom we received grace and apostleship,” Romans 1:5.

In reference to God; as in Romans 4:2. Paul’s confidence took hold of God and came through the work and death of Christ. For it rested on what God had wrought through Christ. To 2 Corinthians 3:4; 2 Corinthians 3:5 is a corrective: cp. 2 Corinthians 1:24.

Reckon: the mental process resulting in Paul’s confidence. See under Romans 6:11.

Of ourselves: apart from influences from without or from above. (Similar words convey important truths in John 5:30; John 16:13.) Paul’s confidence just expressed, is not a result of mere human reasoning. For confidence referring to God, mere mental powers are not sufficient.

As from ourselves: i.e. looking to our own powers as the source of success. Had Paul’s confidence been a result of mere human calculation, it would have looked for results from his own unaided powers.

Our sufficiency: our ability to make the reckoning which results in the confidence of 2 Corinthians 3:4. Of this confidence God is the source. And He has also given us spiritual powers fitting us to be ministers of a new covenant. These last words take up again, in order to develop it fully, the contrast introduced for a moment in 2 Corinthians 3:3.

A New Covenant; implies a complete difference between the gospel dispensation and the older one: for it implies a new engagement of God with men. These words confirm Luke 22:20, (which, supported by all the oldest Greek MSS., I cannot doubt to be genuine,) where, as in 1 Corinthians 11:25, similar teaching is attributed to Christ; teaching from which Paul’s words here were doubtless derived. Cp. also Hebrews 8:6 ff; Hebrews 9:16. Christ, and, taught by Him, Paul, thus proclaimed that in the Gospel the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31 was fulfilled.

Ministers of a New Covenant: whose work it is to make known and carry out a new agreement of God with men. So “ministers of righteousness,” 2 Corinthians 11:15; “of the Gospel,” Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23; Colossians 1:25; Galatians 2:17.

Not of letter etc.: in apposition to new covenant, and describing its nature. As minister of the New Covenant it was Paul’s work to convey to his hearers an indwelling Spirit; not a written letter, like that given to Israel through Moses and engraved on tablets of stone or written on the pages of a book. Similar contrast, in the lips of the Baptist: John 1:17. This contrast Paul expounds in 2 Corinthians 3:6-11; and shows in 2 Corinthians 3:12 to 2 Corinthians 4:6 that his conduct corresponds with it.

REVIEW. After speaking about his former letter and the man whom in that letter he excommunicated, Paul speaks in (4 of his movements after writing the letter. He came to Troas to preach the Gospel. But, drawn by intense anxiety about the Corinthian church, he abandoned the favorable opportunity there presented and came at once to Europe. At this point, without assigning any cause, he bursts into a song of praise to God. The state of mind which made this outburst of praise easy was doubtless prompted, though Paul does not say so, by his joyful meeting with Titus. But the matter of his praise is his entire apostolic work. His sad and weary journeys are a triumphal procession revealing the greatness of God his conqueror, a procession which makes Christ known everywhere, as by the silent perfume of incense. A perfume to God is Paul’s whole life, both among those who receive and those who reject his word. The responsibilities of his work well-nigh appall him. For to him the preaching of the Gospel is no cloak for self-seeking; but is intense reality. This is not self-commendation. For such is needless. While others bring letters of commendation he merely points to God’s evident work in the hearts of his readers, an evidence treasured in Paul’s own heart. The presence in them of God’s Spirit is a nobler testimony than the letters brought by his adversaries, or even than the tablets of stone brought by Moses from Sinai. The confidence in God which moves him to speak thus is no mere human interference, but a gift of that God who has also given him ability to do gospel work, and has made him a minister of a Covenant nobler than that established through the medium of Moses.

Notice that Paul’s appeal in support of his apostolic authority is a courteous recognition of the genuineness of the religion of his readers. They cannot deny the one without denying the other.

Verses 6-11

SECTION 5. — THE MORE GLORIOUS COVENANT CH. 3:6-11.

Ministers of a New Covenant, not of Letter but of Spirit. For the Letter kills: but the Spirit gives life. Moreover, if the ministry of death, engraven on stones, in letters, became glorious, so that the sons of Israel were not able to gaze at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, the glory which was coming to nought, how shall not the ministry of the Spirit be the more in glory. For indeed the glorified is not glorified in this matter, because of the surpassing glory. For if that which comes to nought was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.

While giving proof that he is a minister of God Paul has incidentally given proof of the exceeding greatness of the ministry commended to him. For he has said that his credentials are written, not like those of Moses on tablets of stone, but on human hearts; and that as minister of the New Covenant he imparts, not a written word, but a living Spirit. This contrast of the Old and New Covenants he will now develop.

2 Corinthians 3:6 b. Reason why God has made Paul a minister of Spirit not of Letter, a reason revealing the essential and infinite superiority of the New Covenant.

The letter: the written word which Moses, as minister, and mediator, of the Old Covenant, gave to Israel and to the world. Cp. John 1:17.

The letter kills: exactly parallel to Romans 7:10 ff. Had there been no commandment, sin would (Romans 4:15) have been impossible: and had there been no sin, death, its punishment, would never have been. Thus death was an inevitable consequence of the Law. For man born in sin could not obey it; and therefore could not escape the condemnation it pronounced and the penalty it threatened. Moreover, to bring men under condemnation to death was a specific and immediate aim of the Law: Romans 3:19; Romans 5:20; Romans 7:9 ff. In this sense the Letter of the Law kills. The written command causes first sin, then (Romans 6:16; Romans 6:23; Romans 7:5; Romans 7:9) death. And of this condemnatory and destroying letter Moses was the minister. For through his agency it was given. This does not imply that there was no disobedience before Moses. For the Law was written from the beginning in every man’s heart. And by this inward law they who have not heard of Moses will be judged: Romans 2:12. But at Sinai this universal law took visible and historic form. Consequently, what is true of the Law as a universal principle may be said of its historic form. For the historic form was in harmony with the inward reality of the Law. Moses gave to Israel a written embodiment of a command which, instead of saving, could of itself only destroy. Paul was an agent through whom his readers received the Spirit, i.e. the Holy Spirit, whose presence in the heart gives life, and his a pledge of life eternal.

Life: the normal state of intelligent creatures, viz. union with God, an immediate outworking of the Spirit in the heart developing into eternal life; in absolute contrast to that separation from God which is an immediate result of sin, and which, unless arrested by Him who raises the dead, will develop into eternal death. See under Romans 7:9.

Notice carefully the infinite superiority which Paul claims for the New Covenant. It brings life; whereas the Old Covenant brought death. This contrast is not obscured by the truth that the death brought by the Law is designed by God to be the way to life. See under Romans 7:14. For, had not the Law been followed by the Gospel, it could not, even indirectly, have led to life. And that the Old Covenant was preparatory to, and receives its entire value from, the New which gives life at once to all who accept it, proves the infinite superiority of the latter.

2 Corinthians 3:6 a would be utterly meaningless to us if we had not the Epistle to the Romans. It is therefore a mark that the two epistles came from the same pen, and that Paul had spoken at Corinth the truths afterwards embodied in his letter from Corinth to Rome.

2 Corinthians 3:7-8. Argument based on the foregoing contrast.

The ministry of death: that of Moses who gave to Israel the death-bringing Law. It is explained by “ministry of condemnation,” 2 Corinthians 3:9.

Engraven on stones with letters: a full and graphic delineation of the ministry of Moses. The whole Law was but an amplification of the words brought down from the mountain. Consequently, in the letters engraven on the stones the whole work of Moses found visible and conspicuous embodiment.

Became glorious: literally, in glory. In the course of its development it became surrounded with glory.

So that… could not etc.: proof and measure of the glory. This is implied clearly in Exodus 34:30. [The distinction between ωστε with infinitive and with indicative is rightly given by Canon Evans in the Expositor, and series vol. iii. p. 3; but cannot here be reproduced in English. The infinite presents the inability to behold, not as simple fact, but as giving to the reader a measure of the greatness of the glory. Cp. 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 13:2; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 7:7.]

Glory of his face: its supernatural brightness. This illustrates the central idea of the word glory. See under Romans 1:21. The word “shone” in Exodus 34:29-30; Exodus 34:35, the LXX. render “glorified,” the exact word and tense used here in 2 Corinthians 3:10. This may have suggested the words before us.

Coming-to-nought or passing-away; (see 1 Corinthians 1:28;) suggests in anticipation the argument of 2 Corinthians 3:11 and of 2 Corinthians 3:13-18. Without doubt the brightness on Moses’ face did not continue, but gradually and totally vanished. This is very suggestive. Though the brightness was more than Israel could bear, it was nevertheless a fading glory.

How shall not etc.: same form of argument as Romans 8:32.

The ministry of the Spirit: the ministry of the Gospel, which conveys the Spirit to those who believe. Cp. Galatians 3:4 : “he that supplies to you the Spirit.”

Shall be in glory: inference from the splendor of the ministry of Moses. From the supernatural brightness which encompassed Moses as he gave to Israel the death-bringing letters, Paul infers that a still greater splendor awaits those through whom is imparted the life-giving Spirit. And, since no such splendor surrounds them now, he speaks of it as something which shall be. He refers (cp. “hope” in 2 Corinthians 3:12) to the brightness in the world to come of those who (Daniel 12:3) now “turn many to righteousness.”

2 Corinthians 3:9. Develops and thus supports the argument of 2 Corinthians 3:7-8.

Condemnation: the link connecting “letter” with “Kills” in 2 Corinthians 3:6. The Law pronounces the condemnation (Deuteronomy 27:26) of all who disobey it; and therefore of all men. For none can obey it. Consequently, the only immediate effect of the Law is that just so far as we know it we are condemned by it. For “through law comes understanding of sin”: Romans 3:20. By conveying to men such a law Moses was a minister of condemnation. Cp. “minister of sin,” Galatians 2:17.

Of righteousness: manifested in the Gospel by faith for all who believe, Romans 1:17; Romans 3:21 f. As minister of the Gospel Paul was a means of imparting to men this righteousness. It is the link connecting the Gospel preached by Paul and the Holy Spirit received by those who believe it. The immediate effect of the Law is to bring men under God’s frown: the immediate effect of the Gospel is that they rejoice in the smile of God. And Paul argues that if, as recorded in Exodus 34:29, glory pertains to the former then more abundant glory pertains to the latter.

2 Corinthians 3:10. Supports 2 Corinthians 3:9 by a statement which goes beyond it, and which we are compelled to admit.

In this matter: in the comparison of the two Covenants.

The glorified: general term including any glorious object. The Old Covenant belongs to the category of objects glorious in themselves which lose their glory by the surpassing splendor of some brighter object. Just so the moon is as bright after sunrise as before: but, practically, its brightness is completely set aside by that of the sun. It is so in the matter of the Old Covenant. In it is illustrated the general principle, the glorified is not glorified because of the surpassing glory. The brightness of Moses’ face revealed the splendor of his ministry. And while we look at his ministry alone, amid the darkness of surrounding night, it is in our eyes covered with glory. But when we compare it with the ministry which proclaims righteousness for men whom the Law condemned, and which imparts, not letters graven on stones, but the abiding presence of the life-giving Spirit, the glory of the former covenant fades utterly; and we think only of the greater splendor of the ministry of the New Covenant. This strengthens immensely the argument of 2 Corinthians 3:7-8. If a supernatural brightness attested the grandeur of the Old Covenant, and if the Old Covenant now sinks into insignificance in presence of the New, surely an infinite splendor belongs to, and therefore awaits, the ministry of the New Covenant. For nothing less than infinite splendor can throw into the shade the splendor of the Old Covenant.

2 Corinthians 3:11. A reason of this greater splendor, suggested at the end of 2 Corinthians 3:7, and supporting the argument of 2 Corinthians 3:7 f. It also prepares the way for 6.

That which is coming to nought: the ministry of the Law, which is valid only till (Galatians 3:22 ff; Romans 10:4; Romans 6:14) the Gospel comes.

That which remains: i.e. the Gospel. In the history of the world, as in the experience of each individual God speaks first in the form of Law, “Do this or die.” When we hear the good news, “He that believes shall not die,” the voice of condemnation loses its dread power, and comes to nought. But the good news of life will remain sounding in our ears for ever. Paul argues, “If the temporary dispensation was accompanied by splendour, of which splendour the brightness on Moses’ face was a conspicuous example, surely the abiding voice of the Gospel is or will be surrounded by still greater splendour.” [Notice the appropriate use of δια and εν, as in Romans 1:2, for the temporary and the permanent.] With the passing nature of the Covenant of which he was Mediator, the passing brightness of Moses’ face was in beautiful though incidental agreement. Even the little outward details of the two Covenants were in harmony with their inward essence.

SECTION 5 proves how infinitely superior is the New Covenant to the Old; thus increasing Paul’s claim, as a minister of this Greater Covenant, to his readers’ respect. At the end of (4 he asserted the contrast of the Covenants in the contrasted words “letter” and “spirit,” which he gave as their characteristics. This contrast he develops forcibly by stating the reason of it, viz. that the letter works death, the Spirit works life. In other words, God has made him minister of a New Covenant because the Old one could not attain His purposes of mercy. Whereas the Old Covenant consisted only in letters graven in stones, and in words of condemnation, words producing death, (for none can obey them, and death is the penalty of disobedience,) the New Covenant conveys righteousness, and the Holy Spirit, and life. The Old Covenant set up a relation between God and man destined to be only for a time: the New Covenant sets up a relation destined to continue for ever. When placed in contrast, the grandeur of the Old Covenant fades utterly before the infinitely greater brightness of the New. Nevertheless, the Old Covenant was accompanied by splendor so great that the Israelites could not look on the face of Moses: and that splendor bore witness to its real worth. From this Paul argues triumphantly that to the New Covenant, before whose greatness the Old Covenant sinks into insignificance, belongs a splendor infinitely surpassing that which dazzled the eyes of Israel. And of this splendor he is content to speak as a thing of the future.

Under the above argument lies an important principle, viz. that with inward reality outward manifestation must always eventually correspond; that power, however veiled for a time, must sooner or later clothe itself in appropriate glory. The Old Covenant was at once surrounded by splendor appropriate to its importance. The New Covenant was not. The appearance neither of Christ nor of His servants revealed the grandeur of the kingdom they were setting up. And the contrast between what they were and what they seemed to be proclaimed unmistakably the glory awaiting them.

Although Paul’s relation to the Gospel is shared by no one living now, yet the glory of the better Covenant remains; and gives infinite importance to the work of every one who, officially as preacher or teacher, or casually, announces the good news of salvation. In a true sense the humblest Sunday School teacher who tells with effect the story of the cross is greater, i.e. in privilege, than Moses. For his word imparts at once the Spirit of eternal Life for which the words of Moses did but prepare the way.

These arguments are quite consistent with the infinite importance of the Law as the absolutely necessary preparation for the Gospel. As subordinate to the Gospel the value of the Law cannot be overestimated. Apart from the Gospel it has no value. Paul has really in view, men who set up the Law as independent of, and greater than, the Gospel. Against such, his argument has full force. And, that the one is preparatory, the other final, proves, from every point of view, the infinite superiority of the Gospel.

Verses 12-18

SECTION 6. — THAT, IN SPITE OF PAUL’S UNRESERVED PROCLAMATION OF THE GOSPEL, SOME MEN REJECT IT, DOES NOT DISPROVE ITS SUPERIORITY CH. 3:12-4:6

Having then such a hope we use great openness of speech. And not as Moses used to put a veil upon his face, that the sons of Israel might not gaze at the end of that which was coming to nought. But their thoughts have been hardened. For until this day the same veil remains upon the reading of the Old Covenant: it not being revealed that in Christ it is coming to nought. But until today whenever Moses is read a veil lies upon their heart. But whenever it may turn to the Lord the veil is taken away. Moreover, the Lord is the Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, is freedom. But we all with unveiled face beholding reflected in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed to the same image, from glory to glory, as from the Lord of the Spirit.

Because of this, having this ministry as we have received mercy, we do not fail. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor using with guile the word of God, but by the manifestation of the Truth commending ourselves to every conscience of men before God. And our Gospel, if indeed it is veiled, among those that are perishing it is veiled; in whom the god of this world has blinded the thoughts of the unbelievers, that there may not shine forth the light-giving of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For not ourselves do we proclaim, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves your servants because of Jesus. Because God, who said, Out of darkness light shall shine, it is who has shined in our hearts, to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

After proving in 5 the superiority of the New Covenant, Paul shows in 6, keeping before us and making use of the idea of glory introduced in 5, that his conduct corresponds with this superiority; and explains the rejection by the Jews and others of so great a blessing. In 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 he speaks of the rejection of the Gospel by Jews; in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, of its rejection by unbelievers generally.

2 Corinthians 3:12. Sums up 5, and shows its bearing on Paul’s conduct.

Such a hope: viz. that glory awaits the New Covenant and its ministers, a hope based on the glory of the Old Covenant and the superiority and permanence of the New. In 2 Corinthians 3:4 Paul expressed “confidence” that by God’s grace he was a minister of God. This confidence the argument of 5 has developed into a “hope of glory.” This hope prompts him to proclaim without reserve the Gospel on which it rests.

Openness-of-speech; 2 Corinthians 7:4, Ephesians 6:19; Philippians 1:20; Acts 2:29; Acts 4:13; Acts 4:29; Acts 4:31 : literally saying-everything, without fear, or, as here, without concealment.

2 Corinthians 3:13. Paul does not act as Moses did. See Exodus 34:29-35. This contrast, suggested by the contrast developed in 5, both puts Paul’s conduct in a very clear light and prepares the way for an exposition of the conduct of some who rejected his plainly spoken words.

Used-to-put a veil; agrees with Exodus 34:34, which seems to imply that Moses habitually wore a veil.

That which was coming-to-nought: probably the fading brightness (2 Corinthians 3:7) of Moses’ face, which was the immediate object hidden from the gaze of Israel. But this fading brightness reminds us that the covenant it certified was itself transitory. The radiance on Moses’ face as he came down from the mountain testified that he had been with God, and revealed the grandeur of the work given him to do. He spoke to Aaron, to the elders, to the people. And when he had finished speaking he put a veil over his face until he went again into the presence of God. [The word “till” in Exodus 34:33 (A.V.) should be “when.”] And this he seems to have done constantly. Moses’ purpose in putting on the veil is not stated in Exodus. But we are here taught that it was that the Israelites might not see the end of the splendor upon his face, that their peering eyes might not find out that the glory was passing away. And these words suggest that had they seen this they might have inferred that the Mosaic Covenant was itself only temporary. This explanation of Moses’ motive, though not even suggested by the story of Exodus, yet agrees with it remarkably well. For we cannot doubt that the glory was not permanent but passing. And it may be that a half consciousness of this moved Moses to hide his waning glory. Certainly, both the fading of the brightness and its concealment were in harmony with the temporary nature and the partial revelation of the Old Covenant. We need not discuss the source of Paul’s explanation of Moses’ motive. For it is given not as argument but only to illustrate by contrast his conduct in preaching the Gospel and to explain Israel’s rejection of the word so plainly preached. Since the New Covenant is abiding (2 Corinthians 3:11) Paul has no need to do as Moses did.

2 Corinthians 3:14. But etc.: i.e. in spite of Paul’s openness of speech, so different from the conduct of Moses.

Hardened: become insensible to divine influences. See Romans 11:7; Ephesians 4:18. This hardening is the work both (2 Corinthians 4:4) of Satan and (see under Romans 9:18; Romans 11:8) of God.

Their thoughts: 2 Corinthians 4:4 : nearly but not quite the same as “minds.” It denotes the mind active, i.e. producing thoughts, purposes, etc., but such as could not receive divine impressions. [The Greek aorist leaves quite indefinite whether Paul refers to the hardening of ancient Israel or of the Jews in Paul’s day. It combines the sense of have been hardened and “were hardened.” Since the story of Moses is introduced merely to illustrate the rejection of the Gospel it is best to refer these words to the Jews who rejected Christ. I have therefore chosen the former rendering. So R.V. in 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4. See The Expositor, First Series vol. xi. pp. 299, 380. This is one of the many passages in which the difference of the Greek and English tenses compels the translator to become also an expositor.]

This hardening of the Jews, 2 Corinthians 3:14 b accounts for in a way which links their state in Paul’s day with the story of Moses’ veil.

Until today the same veil remains; makes very conspicuous the continuity of their spiritual position. In “the Book of the Covenant,” Exodus 24:7, the Old Covenant itself was read. By a strong figure Paul says that, just as a veil covered Moses’ face, hiding from Israel the face that its glory was fading, so the open page of the Old Covenant, even while being read, was veiled.

Inasmuch as it is not revealed etc.; justifies the assertion that the same veil remains.

Revealed: made known, as only God can make it known, to the consciousness of those who hear the Old Covenant read. See under Romans 1:17. The Jews did not know that the Old Covenant was only preliminary, that in Christ it comes to nought, i.e. its validity passes away. As a guide of conduct, the Law was not annulled but established (Matthew 5:17) by Christ. For, in Christ, whatever the Law bids we do. But as a covenant between God and man, and as a basis of approach to and intercourse with God, the Old Covenant, “Do this and live,” has utterly passed away. So Galatians 3:19; Galatians 3:25; Romans 8:4; Romans 10:4. Now, just as the brightness of Moses’ face was actually waning, but Israel could not see this because though present among them his face was veiled, so the transitory nature of the Old Covenant was written plainly upon the pages of the Book of the Covenant (cp. Jeremiah 31:31 ff), but the Jews did not know it though the book lay open before them. In other words, the book was veiled.

2 Corinthians 3:15. But until today etc.: in contrast to “revealed that in Christ it comes to nought; expounding still further and from another point of view the hindrance which prevents Israel from knowing the true nature of the Old Covenant.

Until today: graphic repetition, fixing attention upon the still unchanged state of Israel.

Moses is read: more forceful than “the reading of the Old Covenant.” Cp. Acts 15:21. In the Book the veiled Lawgiver was still present.

A veil: not “the same veil”: for the metaphor is changed, to show that the real hindrance is not in the book but in their heart. The book is veiled, inasmuch as only God can reveal its mysteries. The veil was upon their heart, inasmuch as in themselves was the reason why the mysteries were not revealed to them.

Heart: the seat of the intelligence and the source of action. See under Romans 1:21.

Such is Paul’s explanation of the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews. Just as their fathers could not see that the brightness of Moses’ face was fading and that the Covenant of which he was mediator was itself destined to pass away, because his face was hidden from sight by a veil, so even now, after the lapse of many centuries, the Book of Moses, which would tell them if they understood it that the Mosaic dispensation was destined to pass away, is not understood, although read to them every Sabbath. Like its author at Sinai, the book is veiled. Or, rather, on the readers’ hearts a veil lies. For the hindrance is in themselves.

2 Corinthians 3:16. Paul cannot leave his people in their darkness without expressing a hope that they will some day come to the light. The form of his words was suggested apparently by Exodus 34:34, LXX.: “whenever Moses went in before the Lord the veil was taken away.”

To the Lord: to Christ, from whom Israel now turns away.

It may turn: viz. the heart of Israel. The word it suggests a general conversion: cp. Romans 11:26. But 2 Corinthians 3:16 is true of each individual who turns to Christ.

Is taken away: a fixed unchangeable principle of the kingdom of God. So surely as one turns to Christ, the veil is removed. It also expresses confidence of Israel’s salvation. Cp. Matthew 3:10. That by God the veil is removed, Paul leaves his readers to infer.

2 Corinthians 3:17. Two truths, which taken together prove and explain 2 Corinthians 3:16.

Is: practical identity, as in 1 Corinthians 10:16; Romans 1:16. To “turn to the Lord,” i.e. to receive Jesus as Master, is to receive the Holy Spirit as the animating principle of our life. By receiving the one we receive the other. Hence the coming and the presence of the Spirit are spoken of as the coming and presence of Christ: John 14:18; Romans 8:9 f; Galatians 2:20. This intimate and essential relation between the Son and the Spirit, amounting to practical identity of these Two Divine Persons, Paul asserts by the strong words the Lord is the Spirit. (Similarly, in John 10:30 Christ says, “I and my Father are one” in proof that none can pluck His sheep from His hands because to do so would be to pluck them from the Father’s hand.) In virtue of this essential relation of the Son and the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, sent by Christ (John 15:26) and the bearer of Christ’s presence, is called the Spirit of the Lord, and Christ is, in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “the Lord of the Spirit.”

Freedom: in the widest sense possible. The Holy Spirit is absolutely free, i.e. unrestrained by any will or force external to Himself. For the entire universe is under His control. And this freedom He gives to those in whom He dwells. Nothing can hinder them; not even the necessary limitations of life. For, taught by the Spirit, they look upon these limitations as affording opportunities of working out their most deeply cherished desires. They are in harmony with the all-controlling Spirit and are therefore free indeed. Cp. John 8:36; 1 Corinthians 7:22. Now the veil of 2 Corinthians 3:14-16 is a restraint hindering spiritual vision. By it Israel’s heart is bound. It will therefore be removed when Israel turns to the Lord. For, to receive the Lord is to receive the Spirit. And such a hindrance to spiritual vision the Spirit cannot tolerate: for where the Spirit is is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3:18. But we: emphatic contrast. From the general principles of 2 Corinthians 3:17 Paul turns to himself and his readers as exemplifications of it; and places them in express contrast to those whose hearts are still veiled.

All; marks a blessing common to all believers: for (Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6) all have the Spirit.

With unveiled face: from which a veil has been taken away: put forward in conspicuous contrast to the veiled heart (2 Corinthians 3:15) of Israel.

Face: not “heart” as in 2 Corinthians 3:15. For Paul pictures them not as comprehending but as looking.

The glory of the Lord; denotes in Exodus 16:10; Exodus 24:17; Numbers 14:10; Luke 2:9; John 12:41; Acts 7:55; Acts 22:11, a visible and supernatural brightness revealing the presence and grandeur of God: it is here the outshining, through His works and words, of the moral grandeur of Christ; an outshining far more wonderful than any visible brightness. Cp. John 1:14; John 2:11; John 11:40; Romans 6:4.

Beholding reflected in a mirror: i.e. in the Gospel, where the words and works of Christ are recorded. So 1 Corinthians 13:12, where the Gospel mirror is contrasted unfavorably with direct vision in the world to come. And in this glass we behold, not mere abstract moral grandeur, but moral grandeur combined into an image, into a picture of a living man, even Jesus. The early disciples saw Him face to face, and as they heard His words and watched His works they (John 1:14) beheld His glory. But we can do so only by pondering the Gospel. We thus see His image and behold His glory.

Behold: very appropriate for the continued contemplation of Christ as portrayed in the Gospel.

Are being transformed: gradually, day by day, as we continue gazing: wonderful result of our contemplation of Christ. Same word in Romans 12:2; Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2 : cognate word in Romans 8:29; Philippians 3:21. The image reflected in the Gospel mirror reproduces itself in those who gaze upon it. This agrees with Romans 6:10 f; 1 John 4:17, which teach that what Christ is we are to be. This effect of our vision is similar to, but infinitely more glorious than, that (2 Corinthians 3:7) of Moses. Notice here a gradual development of the Christian life and character; one practically the same as that in Romans 12:2. This change is inward and spiritual resulting from inward and spiritual vision of Christ. Soon we shall see Him face to face: and so wonderful will be the effect of that vision that even our bodies (Philippians 3:21 : cp. 1 John 3:2) will be changed and made glorious like His.

From glory to glory: the change proceeds from the moral splendor reflected in the Gospel, and results in splendor imparted to us. Cp. Romans 1:17.

The Lord of the Spirit: the divine Master at whose bidding (John 16:7) goes forth the Holy Spirit, who is therefore “the Spirit of the Lord,” and (Romans 8:9) “of Christ.”

As from the Lord of the Spirit: the result produced by the image of Christ in those who contemplate it corresponds with the dignity of Christ as the Master who sends forth the Spirit. Earthly beauty, however skilfully portrayed, cannot reproduce itself in the beholder. But from Christ, and therefore from the image of Christ reflected in the Gospel, go forth life-giving spiritual influences which stamp His moral image in and on those who behold it. Similarly, in photography the silent and mysterious power of the light stamps on the prepared plate an image of the object. Thus the glory received comes from the glory reflected in the mirror, from the Lord of the Spirit, and is such as we might expect from Him who sends forth the Spirit.

This verse reveals the infinite value of persevering Christian contemplation. As we continue looking into the gospel mirror there rises before us with increasing clearness an image in which are combined every element of moral grandeur in its highest degree, the image of the God-Man. As we contemplate it we feel its power: (for it is a living and life-giving image of the Lord of the Spirit:) and ourselves are changed, in a manner corresponding with Christ’s gift of the Spirit, into a likeness of Him at whom we gaze.

The word I have rendered beholding-reflected-in-a-mirror is derived from the common Greek word for mirror; and is found in the active voice in Plutarch, Morals p. 894d, meaning to “show reflected in a mirror.” The middle voice, in the sense of seeing oneself in a mirror is found in a few places. It is also found, in the sense of seeing an object in a mirror, in Philo, Allegories bk. iii. 33: “Let me not see Thy form mirrored in anything else except in Thyself, even in God.” This passage, like that before us, refers to Moses talking with God at Sinai. A cognate and equivalent verb is found in Clement’s epistle, ch. 36 (see Appendix A,) in the same sense. In all these cases the middle voice denotes, as frequently, the effect of the vision on him who beholds it. [This is confirmed by Philo, Migration of Abraham ch. 17, where to denote seeing oneself in a mirror the middle voice ενοπτριζωνται is followed by εαντονς. Cp. also Plutarch, Morals pp. 696a, 141a.]

Chrysostom, followed by Theodoret, and by the Revised Version (text,) expounds the word to “reflect like a mirror.” But this sense was probably suggested to Chrysostom only by this verse. It is not found in any Greek writer. The word is never predicated in the middle voice of the reflecting mirror, but always of him who sees reflected in a mirror either himself or some object beneficial to himself. Moreover, if the unveiled ones already reflect the glory of Christ, it is needless and meaningless to say that they are being transformed into the same image: for the change would be already effected, especially as an image is outward form, not inward essence. The exposition adopted above gives the cause of the change, viz. contemplation of the reflected glory; and thus supplies the connection between the unveiled face and the progressive change into the same image. It also keeps up the contrast, suggested by we all, of the unveiled Christians and the veiled Jews; while the word transformed reminds us of Moses returning unveiled into the presence of God and thus rekindling his fading brightness.

The last words of 2 Corinthians 3:18 refer certainly to 2 Corinthians 3:17. But Paul’s reference is, I think, sufficiently conveyed by the rendering the Lord of the Spirit; the genitive simply implying, as always, a relation between the governed and governing nouns leaving the nouns themselves and the context to determine exactly what the relation is. That Paul wished to put the Lord and the Spirit in apposition, (as the R.V. does,) is the less likely because the identity asserted in 2 Corinthians 3:17 is administrative, and not personal. In virtue of this identity both is Christ Lord of the Spirit and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Lord. See further in The Expositor, 2nd series vol. iii. p. 384.

2 Corinthians 4:1-2. Parallel to 2 Corinthians 3:12-13; as are 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 to 2 Corinthians 3:12-18.

Because of this: viz. the wonderful change in 2 Corinthians 3:18.

This ministry: that of 2 Corinthians 3:6 ff. As in 2 Corinthians 3:12, Paul now shows the bearing of his foregoing teaching upon his own conduct.

According as we have received mercy: stronger than 1 Corinthians 15:10. It is a humble acknowledgment of helplessness, unable to do any good to himself or others, and of the pity shown to him by God in making him a minister of the more glorious covenant. Whatever position we hold in the church is by the compassion of God. Cp. Exodus 33:19.

Fail: turn out badly in something, to lose heart and give up through weariness or fear.

Hidden things of shame: the many and various things which shame compels us to hide, especially all unworthy motives and means. To these we shall turn if we become weary or timid in our work. But Paul, brave and persevering, had renounced them. He did so because he remembered the wonderful effect of the image reflected in the gospel glass, which in his ministry he held before men. Paul’s actual conduct, in accord with we have renounced etc., is portrayed in the rest of 2 Corinthians 4:2.

Walk: as in 1 Corinthians 3:3; Romans 6:4.

Craftiness: 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 3:9 : literally, doing anything to gain our ends. So Plato, Menexenus p. 247a: “All knowledge apart from righteousness and other virtue is craftiness, not wisdom.”

Using with guile the word of God: cp. “huckstering the word of God,” 2 Corinthians 2:17 : using the Gospel as a means of working out our own secret and unworthy purposes. To do this, is to walk in craftiness.

Manifestation of the truth: exact opposite of the foregoing.

Manifestation: see under Romans 1:19; Colossians 4:4. The truth is made manifest to all, but not revealed to all.

The truth: including (Psalms 119:142; Psalms 119:151) the Law and (Colossians 1:5) the Gospel; as being words which correspond with reality. See note, Romans 1:18.

Conscience: see notes, 1 Corinthians 8:7; Romans 2:15.

Every conscience of men: more forceful than “every man’s conscience.” Cp. Romans 2:9. Each individual conscience is to Paul a definite object of thought. The truth appeals to every conscience, however wicked and ignorant. For it sets forth, and agrees with, the spiritual realities of every man’s own heart, and proclaims that which every man’s heart knows to be true. For the written Law accords with the law written in the heart; and the Gospel accords with man’s need of salvation. Otherwise there would be no hope for the unsaved. And, by its appeal to each man’s conscience, the truth claims respect for those who announce it. Indeed, the preacher’s words will come with authority in proportion as they agree with the facts of his hearers’ inner life. And this will be in proportion as he makes manifest the whole truth. He who does this has therein sufficient commendation, and has no need for craft and guile. While speaking to men Paul stood before God: cp. 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 5:11. And in His presence guile can find no place. This verse expounds, and accounts for, the “much openness of speech” in 2 Corinthians 3:12.

2 Corinthians 4:3-4. Parallel to 2 Corinthians 3:14-15. Paul cannot forget that, although by manifesting the truth he recommends himself to every conscience, yet many reject his words.

My gospel: as in 1 Corinthians 15:1; Romans 2:16.

In (or among) them that are perishing; recalls 2 Corinthians 2:15. They are pictured as standing round the Gospel, but unable, because it is veiled, to see the glory therein reflected. That the Gospel, like the Law, is veiled, Paul must admit. But it is so only among those in the way to destruction. The veiled Gospel is therefore a proof of their deadly peril.

In whom etc.; says that the hindrance is in themselves, in a form which proves the assertion of 2 Corinthians 4:3.

In whom: graphic picture of the locality of the blinding, viz. that inmost chamber whence come their thoughts.

This age: as in Romans 12:2.

God of this age: the most tremendous title of Satan, as a supreme controlling power using for his own ends the men and things belonging to the present life. Him the men of this age (1 Corinthians 2:6 ff) worship and serve. Cp. John 12:31; John 14:30; Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:12; also Philippians 3:19.

Blinded: John 12:40; 1 John 2:11.

Blinded the thoughts: cp. 2 Corinthians 3:14. Their thoughts have no intelligence, and cannot see the gospel light.

Of the unbelievers: not needful to complete the sense, but added to point out the cause of their surrender to the cruelty of Satan. Paul refers only to those who heard and refused the Gospel. For this blinding was a punishment for rejecting the light. And rejection of the light of nature (Romans 1:21) would not make them unbelievers. Because they turned away from the glory reflected in the gospel mirror, God permitted Satan to destroy, in whole or in part their capacity for spiritual vision.

That there may not shine etc.; cruel purpose (and inevitable result) of this blinding. It reveals the loss sustained by the blinded ones. It is as though, in the wilderness, that he might not look at the brazen serpent and live, one put out the eyes of a bitten man.

The glory of Christ: same as “glory of the Lord” in 2 Corinthians 3:18.

The Gospel of etc.: the gospel mirror in which the glory is reflected.

The light-giving: “lest the Gospel shine upon them and give them light.”

Image of God: 1 Corinthians 11:7; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3. Cp. Wisdom of Solomon 7:26 : “An outshining is (wisdom) of everlasting light, a spotless mirror of the energy of God, an image of His goodness.” And Philo (On Monarchy bk. ii. 5, On Dreams bk. i. 41, etc.) speaks often of “the Word” [ολογος] as an “image of God.” See Lightfoot’s valuable note on Colossians 1:15. These words set forth an important relation of the Son to the Father. Of the invisible Father the Son is a visible manifestation and outshining, visible once on earth, though veiled in human flesh, and visible now to those who surround His throne. We know, in part, what God is because we have seen Christ reflected in the gospel mirror. That Christ is the image of God, reveals the greatness of His glory and of the light which proceeds from the Gospel in which His glory is reflected, and the infinite loss of those whose blinded thoughts cannot see this glorious light.

Many of those to whom Paul preached had evidently never seen the image of Christ portrayed in the Gospel. For they were unmoved by it. To them, therefore, the Gospel was veiled. And, since the truth was set plainly before them, the hindrance to sight was not in the Word but in the hearts of those who did not believe it. By not seeing the image set before them they proved themselves incapable of seeing it. And their blindness was so unnatural that it must have been inflicted. And it could be a work only of the enemy of the race. Since the blinded ones were wholly occupied with things of the present life and were thus prevented from beholding the Gospel light, Paul says that they were blinded by the God of this age. And, since the inevitable result of their blindness was that they were unable to see the light which shines forth from Him who reveals to men the face of God, he properly speaks of this as the dire purpose of the blindness inflicted by their foe.

This blindness was wrought, not only by Satan, but by God: as is taught expressly in 2 Thessalonians 2:9 ff; Romans 11:8; John 12:40. In just punishment God surrenders to the cruelty of Satan those who reject the Gospel, that He may destroy their capacity for receiving it. This dual source of spiritual insensibility is illustrated in 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1. The blindness is also attributed to the word, and to those who preach it: Isaiah 6:10; Mark 4:11 f. For, by God’s ordinance, the Gospel hardens those whom it fails to soften.

This blindness, though terrible, is not necessarily final; any more than is the death described in Romans 7:9 ff. For Christ, who raises the dead, gives sight (Luke 4:18) to the blind. But the blindness and death are such as no earthly power can save from. Yet in our deepest darkness we know the direction of the light. And, as we turn towards it, the light of life by its creative power gives eyes to the blind.

Notice that, as in 1 Corinthians 3:23; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 11:3, the Father is called God even in distinction from the Son.

2 Corinthians 4:5-6. These verses justify by contrasted denial, the foregoing description of the Gospel preached by Paul. Its grandeur moves him to rebut a possible or actual insinuation against himself.

Proclaim: as heralds, Romans 2:21.

Ourselves: i.e. our own authority, skill, power, etc.

As Lord: as claiming the homage and obedience of all, and claiming to be the aim of their life and effort.

Servants: see under Romans 1:1.

Ourselves your servants, or slaves: strange proclamation. Cp. 1 Corinthians 9:19; 2 Corinthians 1:24. As a servant or slave toils not for his own profit, except indirectly, but for his master’s, so Paul puts forth all his powers, forgetful of himself, to advance the highest interests of his readers.

Because of Jesus: constrained (2 Corinthians 4:14) by His love to men. This proclamation reveals “the glory of Christ” who has gained over Paul a victory so complete.

Because God etc.: a fact which moved Paul and his companions to become servants because of Jesus. Cp. “because of this” in 2 Corinthians 4:1.

Who said etc.: the first word of creation, Genesis 1:3. Out of the bosom of darkness, light sprang at the bidding of God: graphic picture.

Who has shined: has irradiated by His own light, i.e. by a display of Himself. The creative power which at the first changed darkness into light by a word is at work again in the word of the Gospel. Thus the grandeur of the Old Creation reveals that of the New.

To-bring-to-light etc.: great purpose of the shining forth of this divine light in the heart.

Bring to light: same word as light-giving in 2 Corinthians 4:4.

The knowledge of the glory of God: to make known the grandeur of God, as the shining forth of light makes an object known.

In the face of Christ: from which shines forth the light which reveals the glory of God. While we gaze upon that face as reflected in the gospel mirror, i.e. while we contemplate His character as portrayed in the Gospel, we behold in the face of Christ the greatness of God. That the light which filled Paul’s heart was an outshining of God in creative power, and that it had shone forth in him that men might know and wonder at the grandeur of God, moved him to devote himself to the service of men by proclaiming this glorious Gospel.

Notice the three steps of 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; viz. 1, 2: 3, 4: 5, 6; each culminating in a description of the Gospel. In the 1st and 3rd Paul explains his own conduct; in the 2nd, that of the unbelievers. Also the close connection of 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 with 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. Each begins with the practical effect on Paul with the grandeur of the Gospel; then passes on to treat of its rejection by some; and concludes with a still nobler description of its purpose and efficacy. And they are introduced by similar words. Prompted by the reference to Moses in (5, 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 deals with the Jews: 2 Corinthians 4:1-6, with unbelievers generally. A link binding the whole together is the conspicuous word veil.

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Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/2-corinthians-3.html. 1877-90.