Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, February 29th, 2024
the Second Week of Lent
There are 31 days til Easter!
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 3

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors


2 Corinthians 3:0


Ministers of the New CovenantChrist's EpistleOur MinistryServants of the New CovenantFrom Troas to Macedonia- The Apostolate:It's Importance
(2 Corinthians 2:14-6) (2 Corinthians 2:12-6)
2 Corinthians 3:1-32 Corinthians 3:1-32 Corinthians 3:1-32 Corinthians 3:1-32 Corinthians 3:1-3
The Spirit, Not the Letter
2 Corinthians 3:4-62 Corinthians 3:4-62 Corinthians 3:4-62 Corinthians 3:4-62 Corinthians 3:4-11
Glory of the New CovenantThe Ministry of the New Covenant
2 Corinthians 3:7-112 Corinthians 3:7-182 Corinthians 3:7-112 Corinthians 3:7-11
2 Corinthians 3:12-18 2 Corinthians 3:12-182 Corinthians 3:12-182 Corinthians 3:12-18

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. The emphasis of this chapter is very similar to the emphasis of the Book of Hebrews. It is a comparison between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. How are sinful humans made right with God.

1. performance of the Mosaic Law

2. faith in the atoning work of God in Christ?

This comparison is used by Paul to defend his gospel and himself against the Jewish-oriented false teachers who have arrived in Corinth.

B. This chapter's use of the term "spirit" is highly ambiguous. There has been much discussion over 2 Corinthians 3:6, 2 Corinthians 3:8, 2 Corinthians 3:17, and 18. Are they relating to the "Holy Spirit" or the concept of "the spiritual"? There seems to be an intentional fluidity between the two. The new age is the age of the Spirit (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-38), which inaugurates a spiritual relationship with God versus a legal, performance-based relationship.

C. Paul's use of the term "law" (see Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 9:9)

1. law = wrath; Romans 3:20; Romans 4:15; Galatians 3:10-13; Colossians 2:14

2. law = spiritually good; Romans 7:14

3. contrast between Romans 1:5; Romans 2:13; Galatians 3:12; and Romans 3:2 or 8:7; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Galatians 3:21

4. Paul uses Abraham and Moses as two typological symbols of the relationship between "faith" and "law"

The Law is good. It is from God. It served, and continues to serve, a divine purpose (cf. Romans 7:7, Romans 7:12, Romans 7:14, Romans 7:22, Romans 7:25). It can not bring peace or salvation. James Stewart in his book A Man in Christ, shows Paul's paradoxical thinking and writing:

"You would naturally expect a man who was setting himself to construct a system of thought and doctrine to fix as rigidly as possible the meanings of the terms he employed. You would expect him to aim at precision in the phraseology of his leading ideas. You would demand that a word, once used by your writer in a particular sense should bear that sense throughout. But to look for this from Paul is to be disappointed. Much of his phraseology is fluid, not rigid. . .'The law is holy,' he writes, 'I delight in the law of God after the inward man' (cf. Romans 7:12-13) but it is clearly another aspect of nomos that makes him say elsewhere, 'Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law' (cf. Galatians 3:13)" (p. 26).

D. Paul uses three major metaphors in this chapter:

1. letters, 2 Corinthians 3:1-3

a. letters of recommendation, 2 Corinthians 3:1

b. they are letters, 2 Corinthians 3:2

c. OT tablets, 2 Corinthians 3:3

2. Old and New Covenants, 2 Corinthians 3:6-11

a. written versus spiritual, 2 Corinthians 3:3, 2 Corinthians 3:6

b. kills versus gives life, 2 Corinthians 3:6

3. veil, 2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:12-16

a. Moses, 2 Corinthians 3:12

b. Jews of Paul's day, 2 Corinthians 3:14

c. believers, 2 Corinthians 3:14-16


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Describe the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant?

2. Why is the OT said to be death? Does this mean the OT is evil?

3. What is the relationship between the OT and the NT?

4. Does this passage speak of the Holy Spirit or the spiritual realm?

5. What is the metaphor of "the veil" trying to communicate to modern day Christians?

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2 Corinthians 3:1-3 1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? 2You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

2 Corinthians 3:1 The grammatical form of both questions in 2 Corinthians 3:1 expects a "no" answer. It is hard to know if Paul is being sarcastic or heart broken.

"to commend" This word is a compound of "to place" and "together," which is used metaphorically to demonstrate, to frame together, or to recommend.

1. to demonstrate (cf. Romans 3:5; Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Galatians 2:18)

2. to endure (cf. Colossians 1:17)

3. to commend (cf. Romans 16:1; 2 Corinthians 3:1; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 10:12, 2 Corinthians 10:18; 2 Corinthians 12:11)

"as some" Paul uses this term often in 2 Corinthians because of the conflict with the aggressive false teachers from Palestine who tried to elevate themselves by contrasting themselves to Paul and his background and his gospel (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:2; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 10:2). He also used the same expression in a negative sense in 1 Corinthians to relate to the actions and beliefs of some church members (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:18; 15:12).

"letters of commendation" The early church adopted the procedure of letters of recommendation to assure the orthodoxy and trustworthiness of itinerant ministers (cf. Acts 18:27; Romans 16:1; 1 Corinthians 16:3, 1 Corinthians 16:15-18; Philippians 2:29-30; 3 John 1:12).

2 Corinthians 3:2 "You are our letter, written in our hearts," Paul is asserting that he does not need a letter to recommend himself to this church (or from this church), because he is its spiritual founder as Christ is its savior and Lord. They were his flesh-and-blood letter (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:3).

The phrase "written in our hearts" is a perfect passive participle. Paul loved this church. They were permanently in his heart and mind. The passive voice implies that God/Christ/Spirit is the agent (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:3), which produces Paul's love.

See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HEART at 1 Corinthians 14:25.

"known and read" There is a sound play between these two Greek words (i.e., ginôskomenç and anaginôskomenç, cf. 2 Corinthians 1:13). Both are present passive participles.

"by all men" This is the use of the term "all" where it is not inclusive (cf. Romans 11:26). This is obviously a hyperbole, so common in Jewish literature (cf. Matthew 5:29-30, Matthew 5:38-42; Matthew 6:24; Matthew 7:3-5; Matthew 23:23-24).

2 Corinthians 3:3 "being manifested" See note at 2 Corinthians 2:14.

"you are a letter of Christ" Believers are meant to clearly reveal Christ by their motives, words, and actions. How we live reflects on His reputation!

"cared for by us" See SPECIAL TOPIC: SERVANT LEADERSHIP at 1 Corinthians 4:1.

"the Spirit of the living God" The terminology referring to the Triune God is very fluid. The Spirit is often referred to as the Spirit of Jesus (cf. Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:11). Here the same type of fluidity is directed toward the Father. The title "living God" is a play on YHWH, which is from the Hebrew verb "to be" (cf. Exodus 3:14). The descriptive title is common for the Father in the NT (cf. Matthew 16:16; Matthew 26:63; Acts 14:15; Romans 9:26; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Timothy 4:10; Hebrews 3:12; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:31; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 7:2). In the OT the pagan idols were lifeless. They could not respond or they were dead part of the year (i.e., the winter) following the fertility cycles of nature. YHWH was the only truly alive, always-alive God!

"not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" This seems to relate to the giving of the law in Exodus 31:18 and to the promise of a New Covenant (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-38). This is an obvious contrast between the Old Covenant as external law versus the New Covenant as internal (i.e., new heart, new mind, and new spirit, cf. Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26).

Verses 4-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 4Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Corinthians 3:4 "confidence" This is another Pauline term used mostly in 2 Corinthians . It comes from the same Greek root as faith, trust, believe (i.e., peithô and pistis, pisteuô). It basically means trust, confidence, or reliance.

1. positive context:

a. Paul's travel plans, 2 Corinthians 1:15

b. Paul's confidence in God through Christ, 2 Corinthians 3:4

c. Paul's confidence in Titus, 2 Corinthians 8:22

d. Paul's confidence in Christ, Ephesians 3:12

2. negative context:

a. Paul wants to be gentle with them, 2 Corinthians 10:2

b. Paul's reluctant comparison of his credentials with the false teachers, Philippians 3:4

2 Corinthians 3:5 "Not that we are adequate in ourselves" The Greek term hikanos is common in the NT and is used in two senses.

1. as a large number of something (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:30), even time

2. fit, appropriate (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:6), competent, qualified, able, or adequate

The second sense is used here. Paul expresses his sense of unworthiness using this term in 1 Corinthians 15:9. He also asserts that gospel ministers are not worthy in themselves in 2 Corinthians 2:16 and 2 Corinthians 3:5.

Yet, even as we are inadequate in ourselves, God has called us and empowered us as His representatives (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6; 2 Timothy 2:2). We are adequate in Him (cf. Colossians 1:12).

"to consider" This is the term logizomai, which is used thirty-four times by Paul, but less than seven in the rest of the NT (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:19; 2 Corinthians 10:2, 2 Corinthians 10:7; 2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 12:6). It reflects Paul's logical presentation of truths and then as encouragement to think through the issues clearly.

The term is a major theological word because of:

1. its use in the Septuagint for personalized truth (cf. the New International Dictionary of NT Theology, vol. 3, p. 823)

2. its use in Genesis 15:6, which Paul uses to justify OT righteousness based on a free gift of God through faith (cf. Romans 4:3)

3. it may have been a technical term used by Sophists in their rhetorical presentations (see Bruce W. Winter, Philo and Paul Among the Sophists)

Modern believers should also carefully consider what they believe about the faith and why. Our mental and verbal abilities are part of the image of God in mankind. We must worship God with our minds (cf. LXX Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37). We need to be able to give an account of the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). We must think through our faith beliefs for our own stability and for evangelism. See the video "Why I Trust the NT" online at www.freebiblecommentary.org, click on "Biblical Interpretation Sermons," then on Video Seminar, Dallas, TX, 2009" and then on the right side of the screen at lesson 3.

2 Corinthians 3:6 "servants of a new covenant" See Special Topic: Servant Leadership at 1 Corinthians 4:1.

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

1. written versus spiritual, 2 Corinthians 3:3 and 6

2. letter versus Spirit, 2 Corinthians 3:6

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

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

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

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

Paul is contrasting the old and new covenants, but really heart faith (cf. Romans 2:29; Romans 7:6) versus head faith (i.e., legalism, human performance, self-righteousness).

"the letter kills" This seems to relate to the primary purpose of the Mosaic law. It was given not to give life, but to accentuate and reveal our sinfulness (cf. Romans 7:9-11; Galatians 3:10). The Law brings condemnation (cf. Romans 5:13), wrath (cf. Romans 4:15), and death (cf. Romans 7:19; 2 Corinthians 3:6). See George E. Ladd's A Theology of the New Testament, pp. 495-510. The place of the law is also clearly seen in Romans 3:20; Romans 5:20; Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:24-25. The relationship between the NT believer and the OT Law has been a greatly confused issue. It seems to me, based on all the passages of the NT, that the Christian is not under OT law (cf. Romans 6:14; Galatians 5:18). This is not because the OT law has passed away, but because the NT Christian fulfills the OT law in God's love relationships with us seen in believers' love for others (cf. Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14). The purpose of the law is to bring fallen mankind to Christ, so as to redeem them. However, just because the OT law is not a means of salvation does not mean it is not God's will for humanity in society (cf. Matthew 5:17; Romans 8:4). See SPECIAL TOPIC: PAUL'S VIEWS OF THE MOSAIC LAW at 1 Corinthians 9:9.

"the Spirit gives life" This context does not provide a hermeneutical method! This paragraph does not relate to the historical-grammatical method of biblical hermeneutics versus the allegorical method. It relates primarily to the distinction between the purpose of the OT and the purpose of the NT.

Even more to the point, the role of heart-felt faith in God's resources (cf. John 6:63) versus trusting in human resources (i.e., knowledge, works, racial standing). The key is God's love, Christ's work, and the Spirit's enabling. Notice that both the killing of the letter and life-giving of the Spirit are both present active indicatives.

Verses 7-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 7But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? 9For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. 10For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. 11For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.

2 Corinthians 3:7 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence, which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes.

"the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones" The purpose of the law was to show sinfulness (cf. Galatians 3:24). This section, 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, is a rabbinical Midrash on Exodus 34:23-35. There is a threefold use of "the veil" metaphor: (1) Moses; (2) contemporary Jews; (3) believers.

The old covenant is written by the finger of God on tablets of stone on Mt. Sinai (cf. Exodus 19-20). The new covenant, also written by God, is on the hearts of faithful followers (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-38). The first is characterized by obedience to an external code, but the second, obedience to an internal relationship.

"came with glory" See SPECIAL TOPIC: GLORY (DOXA) at 1 Corinthians 2:7.

"could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was" This relates to Exodus 34:30-35. There has been much discussion about this passage. Some think Moses veiled his face to keep the Israelites from seeing the fading glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:13). Others, however, think that Moses veiled his face because the Israelites could not stand the glory of God because of their sins.

2 Corinthians 3:8 This verse is contrasting the ministry of Moses, which reflected God's glory with the ministry of the Spirit who shares the Father's glory.

2 Corinthians 3:9 "if" This is another first class conditional sentence, which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes.

"the ministry of condemnation" What a strong, shockingly negative way to describe the Old Covenant.

"the ministry of righteousness" The OT produced condemnation for most of the children of Abraham. The NT produces righteousness for all the children of Adam if only they will trust in God's finished work in Christ and the wooing of the Spirit. See Special Topic: Righteousness at 1 Corinthians 1:30.

"abound" This is a present active indicative of perisseuuô, which emphasizes its ongoing nature. See fuller note at 2 Corinthians 1:5 and Special Topic at 2 Corinthians 2:7.

2 Corinthians 3:10

NASB"For indeed what had glory, in this case has not glory because of the glory that surpasses it" NKJV"For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect because of the glory that excels" NRSV"Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory" TEV"We may say that because of the far brighter glory now the glory that was so bright in the past is gone" NJB"Indeed, what was once considered glorious has lost all claim to glory, by contrast with the glory which transcends it"

The OT is characterized as "had glory" (perfect passive indicative). It was surely from God and reflected God. However, the fuller revelation is in Christ, the glory of the NT (perfect passive participle). This comparison of YHWH's covenants is also developed in the book of Hebrews. See SPECIAL TOPIC: GLORY (DOXA) at 1 Corinthians 2:7.

The definite article "to" (nominative, neuter, singular) is used as a grammatical place holder for "the old covenant" (most English translations have "what"). It is characterized in this context as

1. "written on tablets of stone," 2 Corinthians 3:3, 2 Corinthians 3:7

2. "the letter," 2 Corinthians 3:6

3. "the ministry of death," 2 Corinthians 3:7

4. "the ministry of condemnation," 2 Corinthians 3:9

"surpasses" This is an intensified term from "over" or "beyond" and "to throw." Paul uses it here and in 2 Corinthians 9:14 (i.e., "The surpassing grace of God"). He also uses both perisseuô and huperballô in 2 Corinthians 11:23, where he compares his background and ministry with the credentials of the false teachers. Paul speaks with intense feelings and hyperbolic vocabulary! See Special Topic: Paul's Use of Huper Compounds at 1 Corinthians 2:1.

2 Corinthians 3:11 "if" This is another first class conditional sentence.

"that which fades away" This is the term katargeô, which is used so often by Paul in his Corinthian letters (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:28; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 6:13; 1 Corinthians 13:8, 1 Corinthians 13:10, 1 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Corinthians 15:24, 1 Corinthians 15:26; 2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:11, 2 Corinthians 3:13, 2 Corinthians 3:14). For the Special Topic see 1 Corinthians 1:28.

"that which remains is in glory" The contrast is not between that which is from God or has God's glory, but which has the greater glory and the abiding glory. The answer is the New Covenant in Christ, the New Age of the Spirit, and the now complete predestined eternal plan of redemption (cf. Acts 2:22-24; Acts 3:18-21; Acts 4:28; Acts 13:29-41).

Verses 12-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 12Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, 13and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:12 "Therefore having such a hope" This seems to relate to eschatological glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:11). See SPECIAL TOPIC: HOPE at 1 Corinthians 13:13.

"we use great boldness in our speech" See Special Topic below.


2 Corinthians 3:13 This verse refers to verse 2 Corinthians 3:7, which is an allusion to Exodus 34:29-35. In the OT the reason for Moses wearing a veil is the fear of what his glowing face might cause to the Israelites (cf. Exodus 34:30). Paul interprets the reason so as to accentuate his depreciation of the Old Covenant. As Moses' face fades, so too, Moses covenant!

Paul makes several comparisons between Moses' covenant and Jesus' covenant.

1. the Lord of Exodus = the Spirit of Jesus

2. only Moses could approach God intimately versus all believers in Christ can approach God

3. Moses' glory faded versus Jesus' glory never fades

4. Moses' followers cannot see Christ in the OT versus Jesus' followers through the Spirit can correctly interpret the OT in light of Christ

5. Moses brought the bondage of performance versus Christ brings the freedom of grace

6. the letter of the Mosaic Law brings death versus the Spirit of the New Covenant brings life, life eternal, life abundant

7. Moses' covenant was unable to produce a righteous people versus Jesus' covenant does produce righteous people (both objectively in justification and subjectively in sanctification)

2 Corinthians 3:14 "But their minds were hardened" This is an aorist passive indicative. This Greek term comes from the idea of "thick skinned" or "calloused" (cf. Mark 6:52; Mark 8:17; Romans 11:7, Romans 11:25). Spiritual blindness has both a spiritual origin (i.e., [1] God by the use of the passive voice, cf. Isaiah 6:9-10; Isaiah 29:10; John 12:40; Romans 9:18 and [2] Satan, cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4) and human origin (cf. John 3:19-20). For a good discussion of the theological mystery of Israel's hardening read Rom. 9-11 and Hard Sayings of the Bible from Inter Varsity Press, pp. 619-621.

The verb "lies" in 2 Corinthians 3:15 can be either present passive (i.e., #1) or present middle (i.e., #2).

See SPECIAL TOPIC: SCHEMES at 2 Corinthians 2:11.

"the same veil remains unlifted" Moses used a literal veil; this term is now used to describe the inner blindness of contemporary Judaism. Jews were/are walking in the judgment of Isaiah 6:9-10 and 29:10. This also relates to the Jews of our day who refuse to accept Jesus as the Messiah (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:15).

"because it is removed in Christ" Only the grace of God can remove the blindness of tradition, self-righteousness, and sin. Religious people are as prone to spiritual blindness as non-religious people. Fallen mankind's only hope is

1. the unchanging mercy of the Father

2. the full and finished atonement of the Son

3. the universal wooing/work of the Spirit

Salvation is a spiritual gift and not a matter of family, tradition, intellect, performance, or preference!

What Paul may be asserting in this context is the believer's ability through the Spirit to see the life, teachings, and work of Jesus in the OT. Jesus Himself opened the minds of the two on the road to Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:13-35, especially 2 Corinthians 3:2 Cor. 3:25-27).

NASB, TEV"is removed" NKJV"taken away" NRSV"set aside" NJB"done away"

See Special Topic: Katargeô at 1 Corinthians 1:28.

2 Corinthians 3:15 "heart" See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HEART at 1 Corinthians 14:25.

2 Corinthians 3:16 "but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away" This could be a quote from Exodus 34:34. If so it relates to Moses' actions when approaching God. It also seems to be a universal appeal and invitation for anyone and everyone to turn to the Lord. The term "turn" in Hebrew (shub) refers to repentance. The term, "the Lord," here could refer contextually either to YHWH or to Jesus. The ambiguity is probably purposeful. Notice the combined emphasis on human volitional choice and divine action (i.e., covenant).

2 Corinthians 3:17 "Now the Lord is the Spirit" The ministry of Jesus and the Spirit are inseparably linked (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). The ministry of the Spirit is to magnify Jesus (cf. John 16:8-14).

In context it is possible that Paul is not commenting on the connection between Jesus and the Spirit, but defining the word "Lord" (kurios)in 2 Corinthians 3:16, which in the context of Exodus 34:34, refers to YHWH (see Special Topic at 2 Corinthians 1:1), but Paul is using it in the sense of the REB translation, "Now the Lord of whom this passage speaks is the Spirit." If this is accurate then the entire section is not referring to Jesus by the term "Lord," but to the Spirit (cf. Genesis 1:2 also note Gordon D. Fee, To What End Exegesis, pp. 218-239). This then would be the only place where Paul uses Kurios for the Spirit. It is a contrast between the OT law code and the then unwritten gospel (i.e., written versus living).


"there is liberty" This refers to freedom from spiritual blindness, self-righteousness, and legalism caused by a personal faith relationship with Jesus Christ (cf. John 8:32, John 8:36; 1 Corinthians 8:0; 1 Corinthians 8:0; 1 Corinthians 10:23ff; Galatians 5:1, Galatians 5:13).

One of my favorite commentators, F. F. Bruce, in his book, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, says

"Paul certainly knew the love of Christ to be the all-compelling power in life. Where love is the compelling power, there is no sense of strain or conflict or bondage in doing what is right: the man or woman who is compelled by Jesus' love and empowered by his Spirit does the will of God from the heart. For (as Paul could say from experience) 'where the Spirit of the Lord is, there the heart is free'" (p. 21).

2 Corinthians 3:18 "with unveiled face" This is a perfect passive participle implying a permanent unveiling. Also note the inclusive "we all" referring to the believers in the confused and factious Corinthian church.

"beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord" The gospel has fully revealed both YHWH and Jesus of Nazareth (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6). As we respond in repentance and faith the revelation changes us into His image. This same metaphor is found in 2 Corinthians 4:4. These Corinthian Christians had clearly seen God in Christ through the gospel.

The term "beholding" is a rare term. The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker lists the possible uses based on the voice (p. 424).

1. Active, produce a reflection

2. Passive, what is seen in a mirror

3. Middle, look at oneself in a mirror

"are being transformed" This is a present passive indicative. All of the verbals in this context are passive voice, implying God's activity on our behalf, transforming believers into Christ's likeness (cf. Romans 12:2). This same verb is used of the Transfiguration (cf. Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2). We get the English word metamorphosis from this Greek term.

"into the same image" Jesus is the image of God (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4; John 1:14-18; John 14:9; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). Humans were created in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). Believers are in the image of Christ (cf. Romans 8:29-30). Christlikeness is God's primary goal for all believers (cf. Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 1:4).

"from glory to glory" There are stages in God's plan of restoration and renewal. Believers are in a process (see Special Topic at 1 Corinthians 3:15) that leads to Christlikeness (cf. 1 John 3:2). See Special Topic: Glory at 1 Corinthians 2:7.

"the Lord, the Spirit" Some possible translations:

1. King James, "even as by the Spirit of the Lord"

2. Vulgate, "even as from the Lord (who is) the Spirit"

3. Westcott and Hort, "even as from the sovereign Spirit"

4. from the context of 2 Corinthians 3:16-17, "even as from the Lord who is Spirit" (cf. TEV, NJB, and NIV)

It is hard in some contexts to know if pneuma (i.e., spirit) should be

1. little "s," referring to the human spirit (cf. KJV of 2 Corinthians 3:6, 2 Corinthians 3:8; Romans 7:6; 1 Corinthians 15:45)

2. capital "S," referring to the Holy Spirit, the third person of the eternal Trinity (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:3; Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:11)

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/2-corinthians-3.html. 2021.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile