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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

2 Corinthians 3

Verse 1

To commend ourselves? (εαυτους συνιστανειν?). Late (Koine) form of συνιστημ, to place one with another, to introduce, to commend. Paul is sensitive over praising himself, though his enemies compelled him to do it.

Epistles of commendation (συστατικων επιστολων). Late verbal adjective from συνιστημ and often in the papyri and in just this sense. In the genitive case here after χρηιζομεν. Such letters were common as seen in the papyri (Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, p. 226). N.T. examples of commending individuals by letters occur in Acts 15:25; Acts 18:27 (Apollos), 1 Corinthians 16:10 (Timothy); Romans 16:1 (Phoebe with the verb συνιστημ); Colossians 4:10 (Mark); 2 Corinthians 8:22 (Titus and his companion).

Verse 2

Ye are our epistle (η επιστολη ημων υμεις εστε). Bold turn. Paul was writing in their hearts.

Known and read (γινωσκομενη κα αναγινωσκομενη). Play on the word. Literally true. Professing Christians are the Bible that men read and know.

Verse 3

An epistle of Christ (επιστολη Χριστου). He turns the metaphor round and round. They are Christ's letter to men as well as Paul's.

Not with ink (ου μελαν). Instrumental case of μελας, black. Plato uses το μελαν for ink as here. See also 2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:13.

Of stone (λιθιναις). Composed of stone (λιθος and ending -ινος).

Of flesh (σαρκιναις). "Fleshen" as in 1 Corinthians 3:1; Romans 7:14.

Verse 4

Through Christ (δια του Χριστου). It is not self-conceit on Paul's part, but through Christ.

Verse 5

Of ourselves (αφ' εαυτων). Starting from ourselves (reflexive pronoun).

As from ourselves (ως εξ αυτων). He says it over again with preposition εξ (out of). He has no originating power for such confidence.

Sufficiency (ικανοτης). Old word, only here in N.T.

Verse 6

Who also made us sufficient for such confidence (ος κα ικανωσεν ημας). Late causative verb from ικανος (verse 2 Corinthians 3:5) first aorist active indicative, "who (God) rendered us fit." In N.T. only here and Colossians 1:12.

As ministers of a new covenant (διακονους καινης διαθηκης). Predicate accusative with ικανωσεν. For διαθηκη see on Matthew 26:28 and for διακονος on Matthew 20:26 and for καινης (fresh and effective) on Luke 5:38. Only God can make us that.

Verse 7

Of death (του θανατου). Subjective genitive, marked by death in its outcome (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:56; Galatians 3:10). The letter kills.

Engraven on stones (εντετυπωμενη λιθοις). Perfect passive participle of εντυποω, late verb, to imprint a figure (τυπος). Used by Aristias (67) of the "inlaid" work on the table sent by Ptolemy Philadelphus to Jerusalem. Λιθοις in locative case.

Came with glory (εγενηθη εν δοξη). In glory. As it did, condition of first class, assumed as true. See Exodus 34:29; Exodus 34:35.

Look steadfastly (ατενισα). Late verb from ατενης (stretched, intent, τεινω and α intensive) as in Luke 4:20; Acts 3:4.

Was passing away (καταργουμενην). Late verb, to render of no effect, and present passive participle here as in 1 Corinthians 2:6.

Verse 8

How shall not rather? (πως ουχ μαλλον?). Argumentum a minore ad majus (from the less to the greater).

Of the spirit (του πνευματος). Marked by the spirit. Picture of the Christian ministry now.

Verse 9

Of condemnation (της κατακρισεως). Genitive, that brings condemnation because unable to obey the law.

Is glory (δοξα). No copula, but makes the figure bolder. Paul freely admits the glory for the old dispensation.

Of righteousness (της δικαιοσυνης). Marked by and leading to righteousness. See 2 Corinthians 11:15.

Much more (πολλω μαλλον). Instrumental case, by much more.

Exceed (περισσευε). Overflow.

Verse 10

In this respect (εν τουτω τω μερε). The glory on the face of Moses was temporary, though real, and passed away (verse 2 Corinthians 3:7), a type of the dimming of the glory of the old dispensation by the brightness of the new. The moon makes a dim light after the sun rises, "is not glorified" (ου δεδοξαστα, perfect passive indicative of δοξαζω).

By reason of the glory that surpasseth (εινεκεν της υπερβαλλουσης δοξης). The surpassing (υπερ βαλλω, throwing beyond) glory. Christ as the Sun of Righteousness has thrown Moses in the shade. Cf. the claims of superiority by Christ in 2 Corinthians 3:5-7.

Verse 11

Passeth away (καταργουμενον). In process of disappearing before the gospel of Christ.

Remaineth (μενον). The new ministry is permanent. This claim may be recommended to those who clamour for a new religion. Christianity is still alive and is not dying. Note also εν δοξη, in glory, in contrast with δια δοξης, with glory.

Boldness (παρρησια). Instrumental case after χρωμεθα. Old word, πανρησισ παρρησις, telling it all, absolute unreservedness. Surely Paul has kept nothing back here, no mental reservations, in this triumphant claim of superiority.

Verse 13

Put a veil upon his face (ετιθε καλυμμα επ το προσωπον αυτου). Imperfect active of τιθημ, used to put (Exodus 34:33).

That the children of Israel should not look steadfastly (προς το μη ατενισα τους υιους). Purpose expressed by προς and the articular infinitive with negative μη and the accusative of general reference. The Authorized Version had a wrong translation here as if to hide the glory on his face.

Verse 14

But their minds were hardened (αλλα επωρωθη τα νοηματα αυτων). Their thoughts (νοηματα) literally. Πωροω (first aorist passive indicative here) is late verb from πωρος, hard skin, to cover with thick skin (callus), to petrify. See on Mark 6:52; Mark 8:17.

Of the old covenant (της παλαιας διαθηκης). The Old Testament. Παλαιος (ancient) in contrast to καινος (fresh, verse 2 Corinthians 3:6). See Matthew 13:52.

The same veil (το αυτο καλυμμα). Not that identical veil, but one that has the same effect, that blinds their eyes to the light in Christ. This is the tragedy of modern Judaism.

Unlifted (μη ανακαλυπτομενον). Present passive participle of ανακαλυπτω, old verb, to draw back the veil, to unveil.

Is done away (καταργειτα). Same verb as in verses 2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:11.

Verse 15

Whensoever Moses is read (ηνικα αν αναγινωσκητα Μωυσης). Indefinite temporal clause with ηνικα an and the present passive subjunctive.

A veil lieth upon their heart (επ την καρδιαν αυτων κειτα). Vivid and distressing picture, a fact that caused Paul agony of heart (Romans 9:1-5). With wilful blindness the rabbis set aside the word of God by their tradition in the time of Jesus (Mark 7:8).

Verse 16

It shall turn (επιστρεψε). The heart of Israel.

The veil is taken away (περιαιρειτα το καλυμμα). Present passive indicative of περιαιρεω, old verb, to take from around, as of anchors (Acts 27:40), to cut loose (Acts 28:13), for hope to be taken away (Acts 27:20). Here Paul has in mind Exodus 34:34 where we find of Moses that περιηιρειτο το καλυμμα (the veil was taken from around his face) whenever he went before the Lord. After the ceremony the veil is taken from around (περι-) the face of the bride.

Verse 17

Now the Lord is the Spirit (ο δε Κυριος το πνευμα εστιν). Some, like E. F. Scott (The Spirit in the N.T.), take Κυριος here to be Christ and interpret Paul as denying the personality of the Holy Spirit, identifying Christ and the Holy Spirit. But is not Bernard right here in taking Κυριος (Lord) in the same sense here as in Exodus 34:34 (εναντ Κυριου, before the Lord), the very passage that Paul is quoting? Certainly, the Holy Spirit is interchangeably called in the N.T. the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9). Christ dwells in us by the Holy Spirit, but the language here in 2 Corinthians 3:17 should not be pressed unduly (Plummer. See also P. Gardner, The Religious Experience of St. Paul, p. 176f.). Note "the Spirit of the Lord" here.

Liberty (ελευθερια). Freedom of access to God without fear in opposition to the fear in Exodus 34:30. We need no veil and we have free access to God.

Verse 18

We all (ημεις παντες). All of us Christians, not merely ministers.

With unveiled face (ανακεκαλυμμενω προσωπω). Instrumental case of manner. Unlike and like Moses.

Reflecting as in a mirror (κατοπτριζομενο). Present middle participle of κατοπτριζω, late verb from κατοπτρον, mirror (κατα, οπτρον, a thing to see with). In Philo (Legis Alleg. iii. 33) the word means beholding as in a mirror and that idea suits also the figure in 1 Corinthians 13:12. There is an inscription of third century B.C. with εγκατοπτρισασθα εις το υδωρ, to look at one's reflection in the water. Plutarch uses the active for mirroring or reflecting and Chrysostom takes it so here. Either makes good sense. The point that Paul is making is that we shall not lose the glory as Moses did. But that is true if we keep on beholding or keep on reflecting (present tense). Only here in N.T.

Are transformed (μεταμορφουμεθα). Present passive (are being transformed) of μεταμορφοω, late verb and in papyri. See on Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2 where it is translated "transfigured." It is the word used for heathen mythological metamorphoses.

Into the same image (την αυτην εικονα). Accusative retained with passive verb μεταμορφουμεθα. Into the likeness of God in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:48-53; Romans 8:17; Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2).

As from the Lord the Spirit (καθαπερ απο Κυριου πνευματος). More likely, "as from the Spirit of the Lord."

Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/2-corinthians-3.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.