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Bible Commentaries

Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures
2 Corinthians 3

 

 

Verses 1-6

Explanation: Paul's Letter of Commendation - In 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 Paul explains how he needs no commendations from men to carry out his duties, for he has been divinely qualified by God. His letter of commendation is read in the hearts of those believers at Corinth.

2 Corinthians 3:1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?

2 Corinthians 3:1 — "Do we begin again to commend ourselves" - Comments- Webster says the word "commend" means, "To mention as worthy of attention or to express approval of."

2 Corinthians 3:1Comments- Letters of introduction, or recommendation have always been and even today are important documents for obtaining jobs, school enrollment and even business accounts. In Uganda, these letters are of major importance in everyday business activity. Paul used them extensively throughout his missionary travels. He sent coworkers to other cities with such letters.

Paul well knew the importance of such letters in an effort to accomplish a task. Remember how he followed such protocol as a persecutor of the Church before his conversion.

Acts 9:1-2, "And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem."

Acts 22:5, "As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished."

Acts 26:10-11, "Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities."

2 Corinthians 3:2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:

2 Corinthians 3:3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

2 Corinthians 3:2-3Comments- Epistles of Christ Written Upon their Hearts- From a number of statements that Paul makes in his second epistle to the Corinthians, we can assume that skeptics had questioned and doubted the ministry of Paul the apostle and challenged his authority in Christ. They may have scorned his testimonies of divine revelations and visitations from the Lord and of angels, or of his miraculous escapes from danger and imprisonment. No one could doubt the fact that he was bringing many souls to faith in Jesus Christ and that he was reaching further towards the West than any other preacher of the Gospel. We even see Paul defending the genuineness of his ministry to the Church in Jerusalem in Acts 15:1-35 by bringing a living epistle named Titus with him as proof of his divine calling to the Gentiles ( Galatians 2:1-3). Therefore, Paul says that these living epistles are "known and read of all men."

The Corinthian church members are an epistle, of and from Jesus Christ, written by Paul and companions, not written with ink, but with God's Spirit, not written on stone, but written in their hearts. So there are four things about this letter that we can conclude:

1. The source of the message was from Jesus.

2. The writers were Paul and his companions.

3. The writing material was the hearts of flesh instead of stone tablets.

4. The pen was not ink, but it was by the Spirit of the Living God.

2 Corinthians 3:1-3Comments- Paul's Letters of Commendation- Some scholars see Paul making a parenthetical digression in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3. In other words, Paul takes a minute to elaborate upon the phrase "letters of commendation." This is made clear in the Greek text, which begins verse two with "our epistle…," thus, placing emphasis upon the topic of letters of commendation.

2 Corinthians 3:1-3, "Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? (Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.)"

2 Corinthians 3:4 And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:

2 Corinthians 3:4Comments - The phrase "such trust" means, "confidence such as this." Paul had enough confidence in him being called of God, and not a false teacher, that he said he did not need a letter of recommendation from anyone, because the church at Corinth was his manifested proof. This confidence came through Jesus Christ working and manifesting in his life through the Holy Spirit. Confidence like this, or such as this kind, is what Paul had regarding his ministry. This confidence is towards God, that Isaiah , as Paul prayers to God and communes with Him, he comes with confidences as a faithful child of God (Thus 1 John 3:21). Paul had confidence in himself through Jesus Christ as being God's servant. His confidence of having any ability for this calling was in the power of God through Jesus. Paul was confident and sure that he was of God and that he was preaching the true Gospel of Christ Jesus. This is explained in verse 5.

1 John 3:21, "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God."

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;

2 Corinthians 3:5Comments - The word "sufficiency" refers to "worthiness" or "ability." We are not worthy in ourselves to qualify as ministers of Jesus Christ (Note John the Baptist [ Matthew 3:11] and the centurion [ Matthew 8:8]).

Matthew 3:11, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:"

Matthew 8:8, "The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed."

Paul's qualification and ability are nothing of his own, but from the grace of God who called him and equipped him. Note:

Galatians 1:15, "But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother"s womb, and called me by his grace,"

1 Timothy 1:12, "And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;"

In the ministry, we often feel inadequate or unqualified to be doing the great things that God requires of us. It is then that we have to decide that God has qualified us for the task, and not ourselves. We learn to trust in His grace and not in our own abilities.

We understand from 2 Corinthians 3:5 that Paul had learned not to trust in his own feelings about being qualified for God's service. He had learned to yield to the moving of the Holy Spirit when God was ready to us him. We must be careful not to wear a "false humility" about ourselves, declaring ourselves unworthy to be used by Him, for our qualifications have come from God. Note these words from Frances J. Roberts:

"Commit to Me thy sanctification. Bring thy thought into captivity and let thy mind be under the control of the Mind of Christ. Do not curb the impulses of the Spirit within you, neither refuse to allow Me the freedom to manifest Myself through you by means of the gifts. Ye may resist Me, because ye feel unworthy or ‘unready' to be used. This is a delusion of the mind. I do not use you when you ‘feel prepared' but when I need you and you are yielded. Even as I use you, ye will discover that in the process of being used, I shall do a work in you yourself to the edification of your own heart and life." 55]

55] Frances J. Roberts, Come Away My Beloved (Ojai, California: King's Farspan, Inc, 1973), 120.

2 Corinthians 3:6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

2 Corinthians 3:6 — "Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament" - Comments- The New Testament church, because of its Jewish heritage, immediately incorporated the Old Testament Scriptures into its daily worship. These new believers quickly realized that some of the Old Testament teachings, such as the Law of Moses, must now be interpreted in light of the New Covenant. We see this challenge taking place at the first council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.

Acts 15:1-2, "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question."

In addition to the recognition of the Old Testament, the apostles realized that they had been given the authority to reveal the new covenant with as high authority as they held the Jewish Old Testament. According to 2 Corinthians 3:1-11, they were appointed ministers of this new covenant.

The major requirement for all of the New Testament writings to be considered "divinely inspired Scripture" was apostolic authority. These twenty seven books had to have been either written by one of the twelve apostles, or either been imposed by these apostles upon the churches as an "instrument" of the Church, to be read and obeyed by all. Thus, we see the Gospels and Paul's epistles being read in gatherings alongside the Old Testament Scriptures, being elevated to equal authority as other sacred Scripture.

Therefore, Paul's qualifications as a minister of the new covenant was elevated to a level higher than others due to the fact that God had given him the calling of writing much of the New Testament. Paul realized that his writings were on an equal level of authority as the Old Testament Scriptures. Therefore, Paul held the authority to speak on the level of authority that Christ Jesus spoke while on this earth.

Note similar Scriptures that indicate how the New Testament writings became elevated by apostolic authority to become equal to the Old Testament Scriptures:

1 Corinthians 14:37, "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord."

Colossians 4:16, "And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea."

1 Thessalonians 4:2, "For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus."

1 Thessalonians 5:27, "I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren."

2 Thessalonians 2:15, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle."

1 Timothy 5:18, "For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward."

1 Peter 1:12, "Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into."

2 Peter 3:16, "As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction."

Revelation 1:3, "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand."

2 Corinthians 3:6"not of the letter" - Comments- The minister of the letter (which kills) has the ministry of death (verse 7). Note Romans 7:9-11.

Romans 7:9-11, "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me."

2 Corinthians 3:6 — "but of the spirit" - Comments- The minister of the spirit (which give life) has the ministry of righteousness (verse 9). Note Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5.

Ephesians 2:1, "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;"

Ephesians 2:5, "Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)"

2 Corinthians 3:6"for the letter killeth" - Comments- No man can fulfill the Law perfectly, except the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 7:9, "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died."


Verses 1-18

Paul's Divine Calling: The Gospel Ministry Excels that of Moses- In 2Corinthians we again get a glimpse of what a man looks like who is walking in a mature level of sanctification. It is important to note that this passage gives us a perspective of the role of the Holy Spirit as He calls God's servants to a ministry of reconciling the world back to God. We immediately see a man who has dedicated his life to Christian service. In 2 Corinthians 3:1-6 Paul explains how he needs no commendations from men to carry out his duties, for he has been divinely qualified by God. Paul illustrates the importance of his calling by referring to the story of Moses as he ministered the Law and statutes to the children of Israel in the wilderness. He explains the glory of his ministry over that of Moses who taught the Law in order to reconcile the Jews unto God. Such a high calling given to Paul far outweighs that given to Moses, whose face shown with God's glory while delivering the Laws ( 2 Corinthians 3:7-18).

Outline - Here is a proposed outline:

1. Explanation — 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

2. Illustration — 2 Corinthians 3:7-18


Verses 7-18

Illustration: Comparing His Ministry to that of Moses - In 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 Paul illustrates the importance of his calling by referring to the story of Moses as he ministered the Law and statutes to the children of Israel in the wilderness. He explains the glory of his ministry over that of Moses who taught the Law in order to reconcile the Jews unto God. Such a high calling given to Paul far outweighs that given to Moses, whose face shown with God's glory while delivering the Laws ( 2 Corinthians 3:7-18).

The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has been written in our hearts, bringing about righteousness, resulting in eternal life. In contrast, the Law of Moses was written upon stone, bringing transgression and condemnation, which Law was fulfilled in Christ.

Moses' Veil - When Paul attempts to illustrate the glory of the first covenant, he describes the most glorious event of the giving of this covenant, which was the glory that shown on the face of Moses as he delivered the laws and statutes of this covenant. The underlying message in this passage in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 is that this glorious ministry that has been imparted unto Paul of proclaiming the riches of Christ exceeds the glory of the old covenant under the Law. However, in 2 Corinthians 3:13-18 Paul takes a digression to explain the symbolism and meaning of Moses' veil. Otherwise, his main thought would read:

2 Corinthians 3:12 to 2 Corinthians 4:1, "Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech…Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not;"

In other words, Paul recognizes his glorious calling ( 2 Corinthians 3:1-18), which inspires hope to persevere ( 2 Corinthians 4:1-16). This is the underlying theme of this passage of Scripture.

2 Corinthians 3:7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:

2 Corinthians 3:7Comments- In 2 Corinthians 3:7 Paul describes the Law as an "instrument of death," and particularly the Ten Commandments, which was the part of the Mosaic Law engraved in stones. This is because it brought the curse upon all those who transgressed its statutes. Of course, man's sinful nature meant that everyone would transgress at some point in their lives, thus, the Law condemned all to death. This is because the wages of sin is death. The purpose of the Law was to bring condemnation so that a person would come to the end of his own self-righteousness and look unto God for redemption.

2 Corinthians 3:8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?

2 Corinthians 3:8Comments - The ministry of the Spirit of God is more glorious than that of the Law in that it provides life for all who submit to God, while the Law could only minister death, since no one could perfectly obey its rules.

2 Corinthians 3:9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.

2 Corinthians 3:9Comments - The phrase "ministration of condemnation" accurately defines the function of the Mosaic Law. It ministered to the children of Israel by continually finding fault with their lives and demanding that sacrifices be made in the Temple. The Law was unable to minister life to those under its rules, since no one was able to perfectly obey the Law. Instead, it ultimately ministered death to everyone.

2 Corinthians 3:10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.

2 Corinthians 3:10Comments - That which had been glorious (i.e, the giving of the law on Mount Sinai) does not even compare to the glorious ministration of righteousness and life in Christ Jesus.

Even though that awesome day on Mount Sinai with all its manifestations was glorious ( Exodus 4:29-31), the scene on Calvary and Jesus" resurrection and exaltation far out shined in glory.

2 Corinthians 3:11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

2 Corinthians 3:12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:

2 Corinthians 3:12Comments - 2 Corinthians 3:1-11 has been spoken with much assurance, boldness, and openness, and plainness of speech, not hiding facts.

Paul uses the plural subject in this statement, since this epistle was from Paul and Timothy.

2 Corinthians 1:1, "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:"

Note other Pauline epistles that were co-authored:

1. Colossians was also from Paul and Timothy.

2. 1 Thessalonians , and 2Thessalonians were from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy.

3. 1Corinthians was from Paul and Sosthenes.

2 Corinthians 3:13 And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:

2 Corinthians 3:13"And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face" - Comments - The story of Moses wearing a veil to hide his glory is found in Exodus 34:29-35.

2 Corinthians 3:13"that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look" - Comments - Christ Jesus is the end, or fulfillment, of the law for righteousness ( Romans 10:4, Galatians 3:23).

Romans 10:4, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."

Galatians 3:23, "But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed."

2 Corinthians 3:13 — "of that which is abolished" - Comments - BDAG offers two possible translations. (1) If the subject of the participle of καταργέω (that which is abolished) is the Mosaic Law, then he translates the word to mean, "abolish, wipe out, set aside." This is the Mosaic Law which has now been abolished.

(2) However, BDAG says if the subject of this participle is the vail ( κάλυμμα), then the verb should be translated "remove." Moses' face shone as a result of spending time on Mount Sinai, and this splendor began fading as he spent time back in the camp of Israel; but even this fading glory could not be gazed at by the children of Israel.

NIV, "while the radiance was fading away."

2 Corinthians 3:13Comments - Moses' veiled face represents Israel not being able to understand the fulfillment of the Messiah in the Lord Jesus Christ ( John 1:14).

John 1:14, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

2 Corinthians 3:14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.

2 Corinthians 3:15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.

2 Corinthians 3:16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.

2 Corinthians 3:16Comments - When someone turns to Jesus, the veil is removed off of the Old Testament, just like the veil was removed off of Moses' face. Thus, we can behold His Glory. The pronoun "it" refers to the nation of Israel.

2 Corinthians 3:14-16Comments - The Blindness of Israel and the Gentiles - In 2 Corinthians 3:14-16 Paul mentions the fact that the Jews have been blinded unto this day as to their Messiah. When we refer back to 2 Corinthians 2:16, which describes the Gospel as "the savour of death unto death" unto those who are perishing, we understand that Paul is referring to the Jews who have been blinded ( 2 Corinthians 3:14-16) and to the Gentiles who believe not ( 2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord Isaiah , there is liberty.

2 Corinthians 3:17Comments - When a Jew turns to Jesus, he becomes free from the law of sin and death. Paul was a Jew.

Romans 8:2, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death."

Galatians 5:13, "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another."

Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."

2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 3:18 — "But we all, with open face" - Comments- Under the new covenant, we have an uncovered, unveiled face.

2 Corinthians 3:18 — "beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord" - Comments- By the indwelling Spirit of God, we are able to "contemplate" our "reflections" (BDAG) of Christlikeness. Day by day, our reflection becomes and more like His.

2 Corinthians 3:18 — "are changed into the same image from glory to glory" - Comments - God changes us a little at a time. He gives us revelations and insights little by little. If he did it all at once, our flesh could not contain it. Also, He does not bring us into certain levels either, because we are not spiritually ready for such responsibility.

1 Corinthians 3:2, "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able."

Note a similar construction in the Old Testament:

Psalm 84:7, "They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God."

Also, note similar constructions in the New Testament:

Romans 1:17, "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."

Romans 6:19, "I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness."

2 Corinthians 2:16, "To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?"

Philippians 2:27, "For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had — mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow."

Note how Frances J. Roberts uses this type of word structure:

"As Martha in her desire to minister to Me forfeited My nearness, so thou hast done. My child, I have need of nothing. I desire only thy love. Give Me this first always, and whatsoever service may follow, thou wilt then do with light feet and a heart set free. Abandon to Me thy whole being, and I will then work in and through thee in such a way that even as I am using thee, thou shalt simultaneously experience My energizing power; so that in the very process of giving, thou shalt in very truth receive even beyond what ye give, and shall in each instance emerge richer and stronger. There is no loss when ye serve Me thus. For when thy life is wholly lost in My life, there is never anything but gain. As the prophet of old exclaimed, ‘They go from strength to strength'. Only sin worketh death and loss. Righteousness worketh life and health." 56]

56] Frances J. Roberts, Come Away My Beloved (Ojai, California: King's Farspan, Inc, 1973), 79.

However, based upon the context of this passage of Scripture, Andrew Wommack believes the phrase "from glory to glory" refers to the glory of the old covenant being changed into the greater glory of the new covenant. 57]

57] Andrew Wommack, "Hebrew Highlights: The Law Has Power," Andrew Wommack Ministries [on-line]; accessed 7 March 2012; available from http://www.awmi.net/extra/audio/1061; Internet.

2 Corinthians 3:18Comments- God is working in man through Jesus Christ to restore is in spirit, soul, and body into the same image and glory of God, of which we were created to be in the beginning.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are copyrighted by the author, Gary Everett. Used by Permission.
No distribution beyond personal use without permission.

Bibliography Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:4". Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ghe/2-corinthians-3.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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