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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann
2 Corinthians 3

 

 

Verses 1-3

The Glory of the New Testament Ministry.

The apostle's letter of commendation:

v. 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?

v. 2. Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men,

v. 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 he art.

The apostle was often driven to self-defense, and therefore he also made statements concerning his work which his opponents, ever on the lookout for faults and flaws, maliciously explained as self-glorification, See 1Co_9:15; 1Co_14:18; 1Co_15:10. Since, then, Paul had just written that his preaching of the Gospel was done in all sincerity and the opponents might take occasion to repeat their charge, he guards against their insinuation: Do we begin once more to commend ourselves? -of which he had been falsely accused. His question plainly states that there is not a grain of sinful presumption in the declarations which he has made. And he repeats, with emphasis: Or do we stand in need of commending letters to you or from you, like certain other people? This is a fine bit of irony directed against the false apostles and Judaizing teachers it seems that some of these, upon their arrival at Corinth, produced such letters written by prominent members of the older congregations, especially by men with Judaizing tendencies. But Paul scouts and scorns the idea that he "who first brought the Gospel to Corinth should need to present formal credentials to the Corinthian church; and it would lie equally anomalous that he should seek recommendations from them. " The idea was preposterous, absurd. The witness of his character and office is far superior to any that could be given him by any congregation.

With winning tact the apostle now turns to the Corinthians with the statement. You are our letter, written in our hearts, known, acknowledged, and read by all men The believers at Corinth were a testimonial, a letter of recommendation, superior to any that the intruders were able to produce. Their whole being in Christ they owed to his work of planting and building, of teaching and educating. What need had Paul of further letters? They were his credentials, written in his heart, he himself being writer, bearer, and receiver of this letter. The weal and woe, the welfare of the congregation at Corinth, that was the apostle's continued concern; that he bore in his heart with loving prayer. And the letter which he thus bore as a continual testimony was open to the knowledge of the world as such, and it could be read without difficulty: both handwriting and contents could be recognized and appropriated by all beholders that cared to investigate. "Facts speak louder than words."

The apostle explains this more fully: Manifested that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by our service: Christ was the Author, Paul acted as His secretary. And the letter itself was not written with ink on long strips or pieces of papyrus after the manner of the time, but by the Spirit of the living God. Through the instrumentality of the Spirit the truth of the Gospel has been imprinted upon their hearts, as the apostle says: Not on stone tablets, but on tablets that are hearts of flesh. Christ the Author, the Holy Ghost the Transmitter of divine power, Paul the secretary and minister: in that way this wonderful letter was composed. The reference used by Paul reminds of an event in the history of Israel, when the Decalogue was written by the finger of God upon stone tablets. But here the Gospel, the gracious news of the atonement through the redemption of Christ, is implanted into the heart as a lasting blessing: Christ dwelling in the heart by faith.


Verses 4-6

The spirit contrasted with the letter:

v. 4. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward;

v. 5. not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God,

v. 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.

The work which Paul had done at Corinth as God's servant was worthy of all commendation. And yet he avoids even the suspicion of self-glorification by writing: But such confidence we have through Christ toward God. That was the confidence, the quiet certainty, which Paul had, that the Corinthian congregation was his letter of commendation, that its condition in doctrine and life bore a continual testimony to his work. But this confidence was not the outgrowth of a false self-esteem, it was rather a persuasion to God, in respect to God, the Author of the work, and through Christ, in whose power he accomplished such great things in Corinth. "This boasting every preacher should have, that he be certain and that his heart also stand in that confidence and be able to say: This confidence and courage I have toward God in Christ that my doctrine and preaching is truly God's Word. Thus also when he serves in other offices in the Church, baptizes a child, absolves and comforts a sinner, that, too, must be done in the certain confidence that it is the command of Christ."

The words of Paul concerning the ministry of the New Testament condemn all pride, presumption, self-conceit, and false confidence, as Luther says, and ascribe all honor and glory to God: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to form any opinion as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God. The very suggestion as though he were praising himself and lauding his own efforts, commending his success in Corinth as due to his own ability, is here rejected. On the contrary, he says of himself and of all ministers of the Gospel, not only that they lack fitness for the service of the Word, but that they are not even able to have the right opinions, to form the proper judgments in anything connected with the office, whether it be great or small, as of themselves. If any preacher of the Gospel is depending upon his own natural ability, his own accumulated wisdom, his own practical shrewdness, then he is still lacking entirely in that sufficiency which the Lord demands for the proper service of Him whose unvarying requirement is the acknowledgment of one's own insufficiency and unworthiness. There is only one way in which a man may become sufficient, may gain the proper qualifications for the work of preaching the Gospel, and that is by the free gift of God. Everything that a preacher thinks, does, and carries out successfully in his office is given to him by God, is performed through him by God, to whom therefore all glory and honor must at all times be given.

Incidentally, however, God takes care of the work which He has entrusted to weak human hands, to infirm human minds: Who also made us sufficient, gave us the proper qualifications, as ministers of the New Covenant, as ministers, namely, not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. God must and does truly give the ability, the necessary qualifications, to those that are ministers, that serve in the work of the Gospel, provided they are servants of the Gospel in truth, and not in name only. He enables them to be ministers of the New Covenant, to devote their time and energy to its propagation, to the distribution of the New Testament gifts of grace. For the word "new" implies that the apostle is here contrasting the present ministry with that of the Old Covenant which was made with the children of Israel on Mount Sinai. Of the former covenant he says that it was a covenant of the letter; of the latter, that it is a covenant of the Spirit; Be contrasts the Law and the Gospel. "For he uses the word 'letter' somewhat contemptuously of the Law (which nevertheless is also the Word of God) over against the office and preaching of the Gospel... For 'letter' is that which is called, and is, every form of commandment, doctrine, and preaching which remains only in the word or on the paper and in the letter, and nothing is done afterwards... Thus also the command of God, since it is not kept, although the highest doctrine and God's eternal will, must yet suffer that men make of it a mere letter and empty shell, since without heart and fruit it does not bring life and salvation... On the other hand, there is an altogether different doctrine and preaching, which he calls the ministry of the New Testament and of the Spirit, which does not teach what you should do (for that you have heard before); but it indicates to you what God wants to do and give to you, yea, has done already, in this way, that he gave His Son, Christ, for us, because on account of our disobedience to the Law, which no man fulfills, we were under God's wrath and condemnation, that he paid for our sins, reconciled God, and gave us His righteousness. " This contrast is brought out by the apostle in one brief sentence: The letter kills: the Law is the instrument of death, Rom_5:20; Rom_7:9; Rom_8:2, because no man is able to fulfill its demands, and therefore every person is under its condemnation of death; the Spirit gives life: the Gospel brings us the glorious news of the free grace of God in Christ Jesus, of the complete fulfillment of the Law, of the payment of all guilt, of the appropriation of perfect righteousness, life, and salvation. And the Gospel brings the Holy Spirit into the hearts, its power is that of the Spirit, who works a new spiritual life in the sinner, gives him the joyful confidence to know God as his dear Father, and to live a life of thankfulness, righteousness, and purity.


Verses 7-11

The glory of the ministry of righteousness:

v. 7. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be done away,

v. 8. how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious?

v. 9. For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.

v. 10. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory which excels.

v. 11. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

The contrast of v. 6 is here carried out in detail, probably on account of the Judaizing opponents in Corinth, whose aim was to exalt the preaching of the Law, to place it by the side of the Gospel as being necessary for salvation. The apostle concedes: But if the ministry of death, engraved in letters upon stones, was, or came into existence, in glory, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily on the face of Moses on account of the glory, the brightness, of his face, transient as it was. The office and the preaching of the Law is an office unto death, for as conditions are here on earth, in the midst of fallen mankind, no man can keep the Law, and therefore all men are under its condemnation. The Law is and must remain to sinful men a dead letter, unable to give life. It was indeed, in the form of the Decalogue, engraved upon tablets of stone by the finger of the Lord Himself, Exo_32:16. But that very fact indicates to the apostle that the Law, so far as all men are concerned, is and remains to them something external. It is a fixed letter, formed and engraved in stone; it cannot transmit to the sinner life and power to keep it, it cannot work spiritual ability. It is true, indeed, that the Law and its ministry came into existence in glory; for when the Lord had given to Moses the entire Law with all its explanation, and when Moses then returned to the camp of the children of Israel, the skin of his face had assumed such a degree of brightness on account of his having been in the presence of God's glory, Exo_34:29-30, that the children of Israel found themselves unable to look at Moses for any length of time, being blinded by the brightness of his face. Yet this brightness was of a transitory nature, it was visible when Moses came from the divine presence, and faded away when the occasion was past.

Now Paul's argument is: If even this ministry, as here described, was connected with divine glory, though of a transient character, how shall not rather the ministry of the Spirit be with glory? If the office that could not but serve death was glorious, surely the office which gives the Spirit of God, that transmits Him with all His gifts to the hearts of the believers, is much rather entitled to that distinction. The ministry of the New Testament is indeed not connected with an external, physical brightness of the face, but it possesses a spiritual glory, which far transcends any bodily brightness, a glory which is imparted to the mind, heart, and body of every believer, making his life a reflection of the divine, eternal glory. "The glory of the Lord is the knowledge of God. Moses also has glory, that is, the knowledge and understanding of the Law. If I have the knowledge of the Law, I see in it His face plainly, I look into His bright light. But now we have gone through this and have a higher knowledge of Christ the Lord; whosoever knows Him as the man that helps, that gives the power to fulfill the Law, through whom we have received forgiveness of sins, there His glory is reflected in us, that is: As the brightness of the sun is reflected in water or in a mirror, thus Christ is reflected and sheds His brightness into the heart, that we are glorified from one glory to another, that we daily grow and know the Lord ever more clearly."

The apostle repeats the same thought with a slightly different emphasis: For if the ministry of condemnation is glory, by a great deal more does the ministry of righteousness exceed in glory, The office of the Law is a ministry of condemnation, it cannot but pronounce condemnation upon all men, since all men are transgressors of the Law; it must state that all men are under the curse, that they have all sinned and come short of the glory of God, that they have deserved His wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation. If, therefore, even this ministry has glory, with such inevitable results accompanying its work, how much more glorious must the ministry of the Gospel be! For the preaching of the Gospel is a ministry of righteousness: it shows us how we may become righteous in the sight of God; it imputes to us the perfect righteousness earned for us by our Redeemer; it reveals to us the righteousness which comes by faith to all and upon all that believe, Rom_3:22. On the one hand, the sentence of condemnation, opening up before us death and hell; on the other hand, the sentence of mercy, giving us the assurance of eternal salvation: how much does the latter exceed the former!

So emphatically does the apostle want to bring out the superiority of the New Testament ministry that he rises to a very climax: For that which was made glorious, the ministry of the Old Covenant, has not been made glorious in this respect, on account of the surpassing glory (of the ministry of the Sew Testament); for if the transient thing was with glory, much more that remaining is in glory. The apostle means to say that when a person really carries out the comparison in all its features and from all sides, it will finally come to this, that there is really no glory left for the ministry of the Old Covenant; its glory disappears when held beside that of the New Testament ministry, just as the light of the stars fades before the majesty of the rising sun. "If one looks upon this brightness and sanctity properly which we have in Christ through the preaching of the Gospel, then that part of the glory, namely, that of the Law (which is only a small, temporary, passing glory), is really a non-glory, rather nothing but dark clouds beside the light of Christ, which now illumines the way for us out of sin, death, and hell to God and eternal life. " For if the transitory thing, the ministry of the Law, which was intended for a short apace of time only, had glory, then that which remains, the office of the Gospel, the ministry which is active as long as the world stands and whose fruits are eternal, will abide in glory. "It is also a particularly comforting word that he says, that the ministry and preaching of the Law is such a ministry as passes away; for if that were not the case, nothing but eternal damnation would be there. But the doing away happens when the Gospel's preaching of Christ begins; to that Moses must yield and allow it to have supreme sway, so that he no longer shall rule with his terror in the conscience of the believers,... that the glory of Christ may shine into the heart with His sweet, consoling light."


Verses 12-18

The effect of the two ministries:

v. 12. Seeing, the n, that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech;

v. 13. and not as Moses, which put a veil over his face that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.

v. 14. But their minds were blinded; for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament; which veil is done away in Christ.

v. 15. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.

v. 16. Nevertheless, when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.

v. 17. Now, the Lord is that spirit; and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

v. 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.

Although the apostle did not actually describe the consummation of all Christian hope, but showed only the manner of its accomplishment, yet the final bliss was implied. And therefore he continues: Having therefore such hope, we make use of much boldness of speech. The hope which the ministers of the New Testament have extends forward to the future glorification of Christ and the believers in the mansions of heaven, when the spiritual gifts of the Gospel, righteousness and life, will be revealed before the whole world. And therefore the servants of the Word make use of great openness, much boldness of speech. Because Paul had before his mind's eye the definite fulfillment of the certain promises of the Gospel, he could speak with all frank and unreserved confidence. There was nothing to conceal, nothing to suppress, with the utmost plainness he could preach the message of Christ and of the fullness of salvation contained in Him. Just as he did not hesitate to let the thunder of Sinai roll over the head of the unrepentant sinner, so he withheld not a syllable of the saving truth to the poor sinner, whose self-righteousness and pride had been taken away by such frank preaching.

In this respect he and the other teachers differed from Moses, who, although vested with the full official authority of a servant of God, yet placed a veil upon his face, and this for the purpose that the children of Israel should not look steadily on the end of that which was passing away. It was not only that the sight of the divine radiance on the face of Moses was withheld from the children of Israel because their previous conduct had made them unworthy of such a favor and rendered them unable to endure the splendor of such sinless reflection, but that the glory on the face of Moses, was fading away even while he was speaking with the people. Moses was aware of this transitoriness of the phenomenon; he realized that this fact symbolized the preparatory nature of the Old Testament ministry, and his action was in agreement with the will of God. A continued enjoyment of the divine reflection was denied the children of Israel on account of their refusal to accept the words of the prophet. In this way Moses was handicapped in his work and could not bring out the Gospel-news as it is now proclaimed by the ministers of the New Testament.

That the people of Israel were the guilty ones, and not Moses, appears from the next words: But blinded were their minds; their power of thinking had become callous, hardened. It was impossible for them to gain a clear knowledge of the important matters which they should have known for their salvation. The entire history of the journey through the wilderness is an account of wonderful, patient mercy on the part of God and of stubborn resistance on the part of the children of Israel. And therefore, in a way, the sentence of hardening was carried out in its beginnings even in the wilderness. And that is not all: For to the present day the same veil remains unlifted at their reading of the Old Testament, for it is only done away in Christ. The apostle says of the Jews of his time what has remained practically unchanged to this day: there is still a veil upon the hearts of the children of Israel, which prevents their seeing the evanescence of the Old Testament. They will not acknowledge that the age before Christ was one of preparation, of type and prophecy only. They will not turn to the Lord to be granted an open vision, to recognize Christ as the Savior of the world. To this very day, whenever Moses is read in their synagogues, the veil lies upon their hearts. And get it remains true, and should be remembered in all the missionary work upon the children of Abraham according to the flesh, that at whatever time Israel shall turn to the Lord, the veil mill be taken away. If they will but turn to Christ in true conversion and accept Him as the promised Messiah, then they will be given the open vision to understand the entire Old Testament in the light of the New, prophecy in the light of fulfillment. The apostle is not speaking of a single event, as if all the Jews would at one time turn to the true Lord and their Savior Jesus Christ, but of the individual instances, no matter how often they occur in the time of the, New Covenant, Rom_11:26, when God takes away the veil from the heart of some member of the Jewish race, when He takes away the pride of false understanding and of self-righteousness and brings about the right knowledge of sin, thus leading the way to Christ the Savior. "Paul teaches 2Co_3:15 f. the veil that covered the face of Moses cannot be removed except by faith in Christ, by which the Holy Ghost is received. " Note that the writings of Moses and the entire Old Testament are here referred to as a well-known collection, as a single book.

Just what the removing of the veil signifies the apostle explains in conclusion: But the Lord, the Jehovah of Israel, Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, is the Spirit; He is the Author of the New Covenant of mercy and grace, He is the One that is given through the Gospel with all His blessings, with the fullness of salvation. But where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, there is no longer the bondage of the Law. Every person that will heed the Gospel-call is assured of free access to God, without any intervening veil, without the fear of condemnation. The argument of the apostle has been formulated by one commentator as follows: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom: as the Lord is the Spirit, whoever turns to the Lord has that Spirit; therefore such a one must be free, and mill no more he hindered by the veil which covers and checks the action of the soul. This is the effect which is bound to be brought about in the case of the Jews and of all who, like them, have their minds blinded to the glory of the Gospel.

But as for the Christians: We all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, to that same image are changed from one glory to another, as from the Lord the Spirit. Before the face of the believers of the New Testament the veil of Moses and of the children of Israel no longer hangs; it has been removed by the mercy of God. And not only that, but they also reflect, as in a mirror and therefore somewhat imperfectly, but none the less surely, the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ; there is evidence of its power and brightness in their whole life. And so they are transformed into His image, not at once, but by gradual stages, the process of sanctification occupying the entire life. The believers are renewed in knowledge as well as in righteousness and holiness, after the image of God and of Christ, their Savior. 1Jn_3:2; Col_3:10; Eph_4:24. Thus the work of the Spirit will continue without ceasing until the perfection of the Kingdom of Grace becomes the perfection of the Kingdom of Glory, Rom_8:29, "that the Holy Spirit enlighten, cleanse, strengthen our hearts, that he work new light and life in the hearts, and the true evangelical, Christian perfection is that we daily increase in faith, in the fear of God, in faithful diligence in our calling and office which has been entrusted to us."

Summary

Paul states that the Corinthians are his letter of commendation, refers his sufficiency in the pastoral office to God, praises its glory, and describes its effects.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/2-corinthians-3.html. 1921-23.

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