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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
2 Corinthians 3

 

 

Verse 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?

Are we beginning (2 Corinthians 2:17) again to recommend ourselves? (2 Corinthians 5:12) (as some might say he had done in his first letter.)

Commendation - recommendation (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:18). The "some" refers to particular persons of the "many" (2 Corinthians 2:17) teachers who opposed him, and who came to Corinth with letters of recommendation from other churches; and when leaving that city obtained similar letters from the Corinthians to other churches. The 13th canon of the council of Chalcedon (451 AD) ordained that 'clergymen coining to a city where they were unknown should not be allowed to officiate without letters commendatory from their own bishop.' The history (Acts 18:27) proves the custom here alluded to in the letter: "When Apollos was disposed to pass into Achaia (Corinth), the brethren (of Ephesus) wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him." This was about two years previously, and is probably one of the instances to which Paul refers, as many at Corinth boasted of being followers of Apollos (1 Corinthians 1:12).


Verse 2

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

Our letter - of recommendation.

Written in our hearts - not borne merely in the hands. Though this living letter be written by affection in my heart, I wish it to be read by all as my recommendation. Your conversion through my instrumentality, and your faith, "known of all men" by report (1 Corinthians 1:4-7), is my letter of recommendation (1 Corinthians 9:2).

Known and read - words akin in root, sound, and sense (so 2 Corinthians 1:13). 'Ye are known to be my converts by general knowledge: then known more particularly so that my doctrine is read in your life.' The handwriting is first "known," then the letter is "read" (2 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 14:25). There is not so powerful a sermon as a consistent life. The eye of the world takes in more than the ear. Christians' lives are the only religious books the world reads. Ignatius ('ad Ephesum,' ch. 10:) writes, 'Give unbelievers the chance of believing through you. Consider yourselves employed by God; your lives the language in which He addresses them. Be mild when they are angry: humble when they are haughty; to their blasphemy oppose prayer; to their inconsistency, stedfast adherence to your faith.'


Verse 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.

Declared. The letter is so legible that it can be 'read by all men' (2 Corinthians 3:2). Literally, '(Ye) being manifested that ye are an letter of Christ,' though "our letter" (2 Corinthians 3:2), one coming manifestly from Christ, and 'ministered by us' - i:e., carried about and presented by us as its bearers to the world. Christ is the Writer, ye are the letter recommending us. 'What God wished to manifest to all (His Gospel law), He hath written on your hearts: we prepared you to receive the letters, as Moses hewed the stone-tables' (Chrysostom).

Written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God. Paul was the ministering pen, as well as the bearer and presenter of the letter. "Not with ink," in contrast to the letters of commendation which "some" at Corinth (2 Corinthians 3:1) used. "Ink" includes all outward materials for writing on, such as the Sinaitic tables of stone. These were not written with ink, but "graven" by "the finger of God" (Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:16). Christ's letter (his believing members converted by Paul) is better: it is written not merely with the finger, but with the "Spirit of the living God:" it is not the "ministration of death," as the law, but of the 'living Spirit,' that "giveth life" (2 Corinthians 3:6-8).

Not in - not on tablets of stone, as the Ten Commandments (2 Corinthians 3:7).

In fleshy tablets of the heart. So Delta f g, Vulgate. But 'Aleph (') A B C G read [ kardiais (Greek #2588)] 'On (your) hearts (which are) tables of flesh.' Once your hearts were spiritually what the tables of the law were physically-tables of stone; but God has 'taken away the stony heart out of your flesh, and given you a heart of flesh' [ sarkinais (Greek #4560), not sarkikais; fleshy, not fleshly - i:e., carnal; hence, 'out of your flesh' - i:e., your carnal nature] (Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26). Compare 2 Corinthians 3:2, As "ye are our letter written in our hearts," so Christ has first made you 'HIS letter written with the Spirit in (on) your hearts.' I bear on my heart, as a testimony to all, that which Christ has by His Spirit written in your heart (Alford) (cf. Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 7:3; Jeremiah 31:31-34). This passage (Paley) illustrates one peculiarity of Paul-namely, his going off at a word into a parenthetic reflection: here it is on "letter." So "savour," 2 Corinthians 2:14-17.


Verse 4

And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:

And - Greek, 'But.' 'Such confidence, however (namely, of our "sufficiency," 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; 2 Corinthians 2:16, to which he reverts after the parenthesis), as ministers of the New Testament, who have a sufficient 'letter of commendation' in you (2 Corinthians 3:1-3), we have through Christ, (not through ourselves: cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18) toward God' (i:e., in our relation to God, to whom we must render an account of our ministry). Confidence toward God is solid, as looking to Him for the strength needed now, and for the reward of grace to be given hereafter. Compare Acts 24:15. Human confidence is unreal, in that it looks to man for its help and its reward.


Verse 5

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;

The Greek is, 'Not that we are (even yet, after so long experience as ministers) sufficient to think anything OF [af'] ourselves as (coming) FROM [ ex (Greek #1537)] ourselves; but our sufficiency is (derived) FROM God.' 'From' more definitely refers to the source out of which a thing comes; "of" is more general.

To think , [ logizesthai (Greek #3049)] - to 'reason out' or 'devise' by our reasonings. The "we" refers to ministers (2 Peter 1:21).

Any thing - even the least. We cannot expect too little from man, or too much from God.


Verse 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.

Also - accordingly.

Able - rather, as the Greek is the same as 2 Corinthians 3:5, 'sufficient as ministers" (Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23).

The new testament - `the new covenant' as contrasted with the Old (1 Corinthians 11:25; Galatians 4:24). He reverts here to the contrast between the law on "tables of stone," and that 'written by the Spirit on fleshy tables of the heart' (2 Corinthians 3:3). Not of the letter - not of the mere literal precept, in which the old law, as then understood, consisted.

But of the spirit - i:e., the spiritual holiness which lay under the old law, and which the new covenant brings to light (Matthew 5:17-48), with new motives added, and a new power of obedience imparted-namely, the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 7:6 with Romans 2:27; Romans 2:29). Even in writing the letter of the New Testament, Paul and the other sacred writers were ministers not of the letter, but of the spirit. No piety of spirit could exempt a man from the letter of each legal ordinance under the Old Testament; for God had appointed this as the way for a devout Jew to express his mind toward God. Christianity, on the other hand, makes the spirit of outward observances everything, and the letter a secondary consideration (John 4:24). Still, the moral law of the ten commandments, being written by the finger of God, is as obligatory as ever; but more in the Gospel spirit of "love" than in the letter of a servile obedience, and with a deeper spirituality (Romans 13:9). No literal precepts comprehend the wide range of holiness which LOVE, the work of the Holy Spirit, under the Gospel, suggests to the believer's heart instinctively from the Word understood in its full spirituality.

Letter (the law as an outward ordinance) killeth - by bringing home the knowledge of guilt and its punishment, death (Romans 4:15; Romans 7:9; Galatians 3:10; Galatians 3:21). The purer the law, the less is man, without the Spirit, able to keep it: so it is "the ministration of death" (2 Corinthians 3:7).

Spirit giveth life. The spirit of the Gospel, brought home to the heart by the Holy Spirit, gives new spiritual life (Romans 6:4; Romans 6:11). This 'spirit of life' is for us in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2; Romans 8:10), who dwells in the believer as a "quickening spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45). The spiritualism of rationalists admits no 'stereotyped revelation;' only what man's own inner lights, conscience and reason, approve of; thus making the conscience judge of the written Word, whereas the written Word is judge of the conscience (Acts 17:11; 1 Peter 4:11). True spirituality rests on the whole written Word, applied to the soul by the Holy Spirit, as the only infallible interpreter of its far-reaching spirituality. The letter is nothing without the spirit, in a subject essentially spiritual: the spirit is nothing without the letter, in a record substantially historical.


Verse 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:

The ministration of death - the legal dispensation, summed up in the decalogue, which denounces death for transgression (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6).

Written and engraven in stones. The dead stones typify the deadness of the people on whose hearts the Spirit did not write the law. There is no "and" in the Greek. 'The ministration of death in letters,' which "engraven in stones" explains. So 'Aleph (') A C G f, Vulgate. But B Delta have 'in the letter,' which refers to the preceding 2 Corinthians 3:6, "the letter killeth." Even if we read as the English version, 'The ministration of death (written) in letters' alludes plainly to the law's literal precepts as only bringing the knowledge of sin and "death" in contrast to "the spirit" in the Gospel bringing us "life." The 'letters' stand in contrast to "the spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:8). This explains why 'in letters' is used instead of the ordinary 'written and.'

Was glorious - literally, 'was made (invested) in glory:' glory was its encompassing atmosphere.

Could not stedfastly behold - `gaze fixedly at' [ atenisai (Greek #816)]. (Exodus 34:30, "The skin of his face shone; and they were AFRAID to come nigh him.") "Could not" therefore means for FEAR. The 'glory of Moses' countenance' on Sinai passed away when the occasion was over: a type of the transitory dispensation which he represented (2 Corinthians 3:11), as contrasted with the permanent Christian dispensation (2 Corinthians 3:11).


Verse 8

How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?

Shall ... be - i:e., shall be found in part now; fully, when the glory of Christ and His saints shall be revealed.

Rather glorious - literally, 'rather (i:e., still more invested) in glory.'


Verse 9

For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.

Ministration of condemnation - the law regarded in the "letter" which "killeth" (2 Corinthians 3:6; Romans 7:9-11). B g read as English version. But A C Delta G f, Vulgate (oldest manuscript), read 'If to the ministration of condemnation there be glory.'

The ministration of righteousness. The Gospel, which reveals the righteousness of God (Romans 1:17), imputes righteousness to men through faith in Christ (Romans 3:21-28; Romans 4:3; Romans 4:22-25), and imparts righteousness by the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).

Exceed - `abound.'


Verse 10

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

For even the ministration of condemnation, the law, 2 Corinthians 3:7 (which has been glorified at Sinai in Moses' person), has now (English version, less fitly, "was made ... had") lost its glory in this respect by reason of the surpassing glory (of the Gospel): as the light of the moon fades in presence of the sun.


Verse 11

For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

Was glorious - literally, 'was with glory;' or 'marked by glory' [ dia (Greek #1223) doxees (Greek #1391)].

That which remaineth - "the everlasting gospel" (Revelation 14:6). Not 'the ministry,' but the Spirit, and His accompaniments, life and righteousness.

Is glorious - literally, 'is in glory.' The [ dia (Greek #1223)] 'with' or 'by' is appropriate to that of which the glory was transient. 'In' to that of which the glory is permanent. The transient covenant of condemnation had a transient glory: the abiding covenant of justification has an abiding glory. The contrast (2 Corinthians 3:10-11) proves that Paul's chief opponents at Corinth were Judaizers.


Verse 12

Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:

Such hope - of the future glory, which shall result from the ministration of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 3:8-9).

Plainness of speech - openness; without reserve (2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:2).


Verse 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:

We use no disguise, 'as Moses put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel might not look stedfastly upon the end of that which was to be done away,' (Billroth, Olshausen, Alford, Ellicott, etc.) The Septuagint view of Exodus 34:30-35, is thus adopted by Paul, that Moses going in to speak to God removed the veil until he came out and spake to the people; then when he had done speaking he put on the veil, that they might not look on the end, or the fading, of his transitory glory. But this view does not accord with 2 Corinthians 3:7 : the Israelites 'could not look stedfastly on the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance.' Plainly the history (Exodus 34:1-35) implies that Moses' veil was put on because of their not having been able to 'look stedfastly at him.' Paul here (2 Corinthians 3:13) passes from the literal fact to the truth symbolized, the blindness of Jews and Judaizers to the ultimate end of the law: stating that Moses put on the veil that they might not look stedfastly at (Christ, Romans 10:4; the Spirit, 2 Corinthians 3:17) the end of that (law in its mere letter) which (like Moses' glory) is done away. Not that Moses had this purpose; but often God attributes to His prophets the purpose which He has Himself. Because the Jews would not see, God judicially gave them up so as not to see. They would only see Moses under a legal veil, so that they could not see Christ the end of the mere letter law-veil done away in Him. The glory of Moses' face is antitypically Christ's glory shining behind the veil of legal ordinances (John 5:45-47). The veil, taken off to the believer, is left on to the unbelieving Jew, so that he should not see (Isaiah 6:10; Acts 28:26-27). He stops short at the letter, not seeing the end. The evangelical glory of the law, like the shining of Moses' face, cannot be borne by a carnal people, and therefore remains veiled to them until the Spirit takes away the veil (2 Corinthians 3:14-17).


Verses 14-18

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.

Parenthetical: of Christians in general. He resumes the ministry (2 Corinthians 4:1).

Verse 14. Minds , [ noeemata (Greek #3540)] - 'mental perceptions;' 'understandings.'

Blinded - rather [ epooroothee (Greek #4456)] 'hardened:' the opposite to 'looking stedfastly at the end' of the law (2 Corinthians 3:13). The veil on Moses' face (answering to the mere letter) is further typical of the veil that is on their hearts through bondage to that letter without the spirit.

Away ... which veil - rather, 'the same veil ... remaineth untaken away' [literally, not unveiled: kalumma (Greek #2571) mee (Greek #3361) anakaluptomenon (Greek #343)], so that they do not see THAT [ hoti (Greek #3754) Vulgate; not ho (Greek #3739) ti (Greek #5100) 'which veil'] it ("THE OLD TESTAMENT," or covenant of legal ordinances) is done away (2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:11; 2 Corinthians 3:13) in Christ: or, as Bengel, 'because it is done away in Christ' - i:e., it is not done away except in Christ: the veil therefore remains untaken away from them, BECAUSE they will not come to Christ, who does away with the law as a mere letter. If they once saw that the law is done away in Him, the veil would be no longer on their hearts in reading it publicly in their synagogues [ anagnoosei (Greek #320)]: so "read," Acts 15:21,

Verse 15. The veil is - rather, 'a veil lieth upon their heart' (their understanding, affected by the corrupt will (John 8:43; 1 Corinthians 2:14). Compare as to the Tallith, note, 1 Corinthians 11:4. The veil that lies upon the Old Testament (2 Corinthians 3:13) really lies upon their own heart: it is their own fault.

Verse 16. Moses took off the veil on going in before the Lord. So as to the Israelites whom Moses represents, 'whensoever their heart (it) turns (not as the English version, 'shall turn') to the Lord, the veil is by the very fact (not as the English version, 'shall be') taken away' [ periaireitai (Greek #4014)]. Exodus 34:34 is the allusion. Whenever the Israelites turn to the Lord, who is the Spirit of the law, the veil (like Moses' veil) is taken off their heart in the presence of the Lord: no longer resting on the dead letter, the veil, they by the spirit commune with God and with Christ, the inner spirit of the Mosaic covenant (answering to the glory of Moses' face unveiled in God's presence). The veil that prevented their seeing that the dead letter of the law is "done away" by its fulfillment in Christ, is itself "taken away."

Verse 17. The Lord - Christ (2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 4:5).

Is that Spirit - is THE Spirit; namely, that Spirit spoken of in 2 Corinthians 3:6, and here resumed after the parenthesis (2 Corinthians 3:7-16 : Christ is the spirit and "end" of the Old Testament, who giveth life to it, whereas "the letter killeth" (1 Corinthians 15:45; Revelation 19:10, end). The spirit in the Word and the Spirit of the Lord are related as effect and cause. The glory behind the veil is the spirit; the veil is the letter. The Word is a dead letter until Christ's Spirit breathes life into it. The ministry of the spirit includes the law in all its essence.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is - in a man's "heart" (2 Corinthians 3:15; Romans 8:9-10).

There is liberty (John 8:36) - "there," and there only. No longer slaves to the letter, which they were while the veil was on their heart, they are free to serve God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:3); they have no longer the spirit of bondage, but of sonship (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:7). "Liberty" is opposed to the dead law-letter and to the veil, the badge of slavery; also to the fear which the Israelites felt in beholding Moses' glory unveiled (Exodus 34:30; 1 John 4:18). "The Spirit," which "the Lord" bestows, is prominent in the New Testament; the letter in the Old Testament. The Christian is made "one spirit" with the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:17).

Verse 18. But we all - Christians, contrasted with the Jews, who have a veil on their hearts answering to Moses' veil on his face. He does not resume ministers until 2 Corinthians 4:1.

With open face. Translate, 'with unveiled face' (the veil being removed at conversion), as Moses, unveiled before the Lord, reflected His glory; and as the Old Testament, when the veil is taken off, in its Spirit, beneath the letter, reflects plainly the glory of Christ: contrasted with "hid" (2 Corinthians 4:3).

Beholding - `reflecting' [ katoptrizomenoi (Greek #2734)] (Billroth).

As in a glass - a mirror, namely, the Gospel, which reflects the glory of God and Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 Corinthians 13:12; James 1:23; James 1:25).

Are changed (transfigured: the same word as in Matthew 17:2)

Into the same image - that of Christ's glory, spiritually now (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:3); an earnest of the bodily change hereafter (Philippians 3:21). However many they be, believers "all" reflect the same image, Christ, more or less-a proof of Christianity.

From glory to glory - from one degree to another. As Moses' face caught a reflection of God's glory from being in His presence, so believers are changed into His image by beholding Him.

Even as ... - just such a transformation "as" was to be expected, or as proceeds from, 'the Lord the Spirit' [ apo (Greek #575) kuriou (Greek #2962) pneumatos (Greek #4151)] (Alford, 5: 17). But the Vulgate supports "the Spirit of the Lord;" the Spirit glorifies Christ, and also Christians, by receiving of Christ's and showing it unto them (John 16:14 : cf. as to hereafter, Psalms 17:15; Romans 8:11; Revelation 22:4).

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/2-corinthians-3.html. 1871-8.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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