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Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies
2 Corinthians 3

 

 


Verse 1

Do we begin again

Rev., are we beginning. As if anticipating, the taunt so often repeated, that he had no commendatory letters, and therefore was forced to commend himself by self-laudation and by dishonest means. See 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 10:12. You will say, “You are beginning again the old strain of self-commendation as in the first epistle.” See 1Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 9:15-21.

To commend ( συνιστάναι )

See on Romans 3:5. Some others. Others is superfluous. The reference is to certain false teachers accredited by churches or by other well-known teachers.


Verse 2

Our epistle

The figure which follows is freely and somewhat loosely worked out, and presents different faces in rapid succession. The figure itself is that of a commendatory letter representing the Corinthian Church: “Ye are our letter.” This figure is carried out in three directions: 1. As related to the apostles' own consciousness. The Corinthian Church is a letter written on the apostles' hearts. Their own consciousness testifies that that Church is the fruit of a divinely accredited, honest, and faithful ministry. 2. As related to the Corinthians themselves. The Church needs no letter to commend the apostles to it. It is its own commendation. As the visible fruit of the apostles' ministry they are a commendatory letter to themselves. If the question arises among them, “Were Paul and his colleagues duly commissioned?” - the answer is, “We ourselves are the proof of it.” 3. As related to others outside of the Corinthian Church. The answer to the charge that the Corinthians have been taught by irregular and uncommissioned teachers is the same: “Behold the fruit of their labors in us. We are their commission.”

At this point the figure again shifts; the letter being now conceived as written on the Corinthians' hearts, instead of on the hearts of the apostles: written by Christ through the apostles' ministry. This suggests the comparison with the law written on tables of stone, which are used as a figure of the heart, fleshy tables, thus introducing two incongruities, namely, an epistle written on stone, and writing with ink on stone tables.

Written in our hearts

See above. Compare Plato: “I am speaking of an intelligent writing which is graven in the soul of him who has learned, and can defend itself” (“Phaedrus,” 276).


Verse 3

An epistle of Christ ministered by us ( ἐπιστολὴ Χριστοῦ διακονηθεῖσα ὑφ ' ἡμῶν )

An epistle written by Christ through our ministry; that is, you, as the converted subjects of our ministry, are an epistle of Christ. Others explain: an epistle of which Christ forms the contents, thus making the apostles the writers. For the expression ministered by us, compare 2 Corinthians 8:19, 2 Corinthians 8:20; 1 Peter 1:12.

Ink ( μέλανι )

From μέλας blackOnly here, 2 John 1:12(see note), and 3 John 1:13.

The Spirit

Instead of ink.

Fleshy tables of the heart ( πλαξὶν καρδίας σαρκίναις )

The best texts read καρδίαις the dative case in apposition with tables. Render, as Rev., tables which are hearts of flesh. Compare Ezekiel 11:19; Jeremiah 17:1; Jeremiah 31:33. For of flesh, see on Romans 7:14.


Verse 4

Confidence

In the fact that he may appeal to them, notwithstanding their weaknesses and errors.

Through Christ to God-ward ( διὰ τοῦ Χριστοῦ πρὸς τὸν Θεόν ).

Through Christ who engenders the confidence, toward God, with reference to God who gives us success, and to whom we must account for our work.


Verse 6

Hath made us able ministers ( ἱκάνωσεν ἡμᾶς διακόνους )

An unfortunate translation, especially in view of the conventional sense of able. The verb ἱκανόω from ἱκανός sufficient(see on Romans 15:23), means to make sufficient or fit. It occurs only here and Colossians 1:12. The correct sense is given by Rev., hath made us sufficient as ministers. Compare enabled ( ἐνδυναμώσαντι ), 1 Timothy 1:12.

Of the new testament ( καινῆς διαθήκης )

See on Matthew 26:28, Matthew 26:29. There is no article. Render, as Rev., of a new covenant, in contrast with the Mosaic. See on Hebrews 9:15. Of course the term is never applied in the gospels or epistles to the collection of New-Testament writings.

Of the letter ( γράμματος )

Depending on ministers, not on covenant. For letter, see on writings, John 5:47. Here used of the mere formal, written ordinance as contrasted with the Gospel, which is “spirit and life.” Compare Romans 2:29; Romans 7:6.

Killeth

See on Romans 5:12, Romans 5:13; see on Romans 7:9; see on Romans 8:2. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:56. “The living testimony borne to his authority in the Corinthian Church suggests strongly the contrast of the dreary, death-like atmosphere which surrounded the old, graven characters on which his opponents rested their claims” (Stanley).


Verse 7

The ministration of death ( ἡ διακονία τοῦ θανάτου )

Because it is the ministry of the letter which killeth. The law meant death to the sinner.

Written and engraven in stones ( ἐν γράμμασιν ἐντετυπωμένη λίθοις )

Lit., engraven on stones by means of letters. The use of these words to describe a ministration is peculiar. The ministration of death (see above) is that of Moses, and does not apply to his entire career as Israel's lawgiver, but to his particular ministry in receiving on Sinai and transmitting to the people the law of God. The ministration may be said to have been graven on stones, since the whole purport of that economy which he represented was contained in the tables, and he was its minister in being the agent through whom God delivered it to the people.

Was glorious ( ἐγενήθη ἐν δόξῃ )

A very inadequate translation. Ἑγενήθη means came to pass or took place, not simply was. A glory passed from God to Moses, so that his face became shining. It is much more graphic and truthful to render ἐν δόξῃ literally, in or with glory, than to convert the two words into a single adjective, glorious. Rev., much better, came with glory.

Steadfastly behold ( ἀτενίσαι )

See on Luke 4:20.

Passing away ( καταργουμένην )

Lit., being done away or brought to nought. See on Luke 13:7; see on Romans 3:3.


Verse 8

Glorious ( ἐν δόξῃ )

As in 2 Corinthians 3:7, with glory.


Verse 9

Ministration of condemnation

Because Moses was the minister of the law. For the relation of the law to sin and condemnation, see Romans 5:20; Romans 7:7-13.


Verse 10

That which was made glorious had no glory in this respect ( οὐ δεδόξασται τὸ δεδοξασμένον ἐν τούτῳ τῷ μὲρει )

Rev., that which hath been made glorious hath not been made glorious. The peculiar form of expression is taken from Exodus 34:29, Exodus 34:35, Sept., “Moses knew not that the appearance of the skin of his face was glorified.” “The children of Israel saw the face of Moses that it was glorified.” Much unnecessary difficulty has been made, chiefly about the connection and meaning of in this respect. That which hath been made glorious is the ministry of death and condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:7, 2 Corinthians 3:9), the ministry of Moses in the giving of the law, which ministry was temporarily glorified in the shining of Moses' face. Hath not been made glorious is only another way of expressing was passing away (2 Corinthians 3:7): of saying that the temporary glory of Moses' ministry faded and paled before the glory of the ministry of Christ. The figure which pervades the whole passage (2 Corinthians 3:7-11) is that of a glorified face. The ministration of the law, impersonated in Moses, is described as having its face glorified. It is to this that in this respect refers. Paul says that the ministry of the law, which was temporarily glorified in the face of Moses, is no longer glorified in this respect; that is, it no longer appears with glorified face, because of the glory that excelleth, the glory of Christ ministering the Gospel, before which it fades away and is as if it had not been. This accords with ch. 4, where the theme is the same as here, ministry or ministration (2 Corinthians 4:1); and where the christian revelation is described as “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). This is the key to our passage. To the same purpose is 2 Corinthians 4:18, where the Christian is represented as gazing, through the Gospel, with unveiled face, upon the glory of God in Christ, and as being changed thereby into the image of Christ. The glory of the law in the face of Moses has faded before the glory of the Gospel in the face of Jesus Christ.


Verse 11

That which is done away ( τὸ καταργούμενον )

Lit., which is being done away; in course of abolition through the preaching of the Gospel. Both the A.V., and Rev. passeth fail to bring, out the idea of process.

Was glorious ( διὰ δόξης )

Lit., through glory. Rev., with glory.


Verse 12

Plainness ( παῤῥησίᾳ )

Rev., boldness. See on openly, John 7:13; see on confidence, 1 John 2:28; see on freely, Acts 2:29. The contrast is with the dissembling with which his adversaries charged him.


Verse 13

Could not steadfastly look

Rev., should not. See Exodus 34:30-35, where the A.V., by the use of till, gives the wrong impression that Moses wore the veil while speaking to the people, in order to hide the glory of his face. The true sense of the Hebrew is given by the Sept.: “When he ceased speaking he put a veil on his face;” not because the Israelites could not endure the radiance, but that they should not see it fade away. Whenever Moses went into the presence of God he removed the veil, and his face was again illumined, and shone while he delivered God's message to the people. Then, after the delivery of the message, and during his ordinary association with the people, he kept his face covered.

To the end ( εἰς τὸ τέλος )

Rev., on the end. The termination.

Of that which is abolished ( τοῦ καταργουμένου )

See 2 Corinthians 3:11. The temporarily glorified ministration of Moses. The end of this, which the veil prevented the Israelites from seeing, was the disappearance of the glory - the type of the termination of Moses' ministry. Paul's comparison is between the ministry of Moses, interrupted by intervals of concealment, and the gospel ministry, which is marked by frank and full proclamation. “The opposition is twofold: 1. Between the veiled and the unveiled ministry, as regards the mere fact of concealment in the one case, and openness in the other. 2. Between the ministry which was suspended by the veiling that its end might not be seen, and that which proceeds 'from glory to glory,' having no termination” (Alford). The face of Moses needed a continually renewed illumination: in the face of Christ the glory abides forever.


Verse 14

Minds ( νοήματα )

Originally, things which proceed out of the mind. Compare hearts and minds, Philemon 4:7, and devices, 2 Corinthians 2:11. Hence, derivatively, the minds themselves. The word occurs but once outside of this epistle, Philemon 4:7. Some render here thoughts. So Rev., in margin.

Were blinded ( ἐπωρώθη )

See on the kindred noun πώρωσις hardening Mark 3:5. Rev., correctly, were hardened.

The same veil ( τὸ αὐτὸ κάλυμμα )

The expression their minds were hardened is carried out figuratively. There is a veil over their minds when the law is read, as there was over Moses' face. They cannot yet recognize the end of the Mosaic ministry.

Untaken away ( μὴ ἀνακαλυπτόμενον )

Rev., admirably - giving the force of ἀνά up-unliftedBut both A.V. and Rev. construe unlifted with veil: the same veil remaineth untaken away (unlifted ). This is objectionable, because καταργεῖται isdone away is used throughout the chapter of the glory of the Mosaic ministry, while another word is employed in 2 Corinthians 3:16of the taking away of the veil. Further, the reading of the best texts is ὅτι thator because, and not ὅ τι whichBecause is not true to the fact, since the veil remains unlifted, not because it is done away in Christ, but because of the hardness of their hearts. It is better, therefore, to take μὴ ἀνακαλυπτόμενον unliftedas a nominative absolute, and to render, it not being revealed that it (the veil) is being done away in Christ. This falls in naturally with the drift of the whole passage. The veil remains on their hearts, since it is not revealed to them that the Mosaic economy is done away in Christ.


Verse 16

It shall turn

The heart of Israel.

Shall be taken away ( περιαιρεῖται )

Rev., correctly, is taken away. The verb occurs twice in Acts (Acts 27:20, Acts 27:40) of the taking away of hope, and of the unfastening of the anchors in Paul's shipwreck; and in Hebrews 10:11, of the taking away of sins. There is an allusion here to the removal of the veil from Moses' face whenever he returned to commune with God. See Exodus 34:34.


Verse 17

Now the Lord is that Spirit

Κύριος theLord is used in Exodus 34:34for Jehovah. The Lord Christ of 2 Corinthians 3:16is the Spirit who pervades and animates the new covenant of which we are ministers (2 Corinthians 3:6), and the ministration of which is with glory (2 Corinthians 3:8). Compare Romans 8:9-11; John 14:16, John 14:18.

Liberty

Compare Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:7.


Verse 18

All

Contrasted with Moses as the sole representative of the people.

Open ( ἀνακεκαλυμμένῳ )

Rev., correctly, unveiled, as Moses when the veil was removed.

“Vainly they tried the deeps to sound

E'en of their own prophetic thought,

When of Christ crucified and crown'd

His Spirit in them taught:

But He their aching gaze repress'd

Which sought behind the veil to see,

For not without us fully bless'd

Or perfect might they be.

The rays of the Almighty's face

No sinner's eye might then receive

Only the meekest man found grace

To see His skirts and live.

But we as in a glass espy

The glory of His countenance,

Not in a whirlwind hurrying by

The too presumptuous glance,

But with mild radiance every hour

From our dear Savior's face benign

Bent on us with transforming power,

Till we, too, faintly shine.

Sprinkled with His atoning blood

Safely before our God we stand,

As on the rock the prophet stood,

Beneath His shadowing hand.”

Keble, “Christian Year,” Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity.

Beholding as in a glass ( κατοπτριζόμενοι )

So American Rev. Rev., reflecting. Only here in the New Testament. The verb in the active voice means to show in a mirror; to cause to be reflected. In the middle voice, to took at or behold one's self in a mirror. Rev., reflecting seems to be preferred on internal grounds, as better suiting the comparison with the divine glory as mirrored in the unveiled face of Moses. But this is unwarranted by usage. Stanley, who adopts this rendering, admits that there is no actual instance of the sense of reflecting. This sense, however, is not sacrificed by the translation beholding, but is conveyed by the succeeding clause, changed into the same image, etc. As Heinrici observes, beholding expresses the fact from which the process of change into God's image proceeds. When Moses beheld Jehovah's glory, his own face reflected that glory. The mirror is the Gospel, which is called the Gospel of the glory of Christ, 2 Corinthians 4:4.

Are changed ( μεταμορφούμεθα )

Rev., transformed. See on Matthew 17:2. The present tense expresses the change as in progress; are being changed, which is further defined by from glory to glory.

The same image ( τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα )

See on Revelation 13:14. Compare especially 1 John 3:2; also Romans 8:29; John 17:24; Colossians 3:4; Romans 8:17; 1 Corinthians 15:48-53.

By the Spirit of the Lord ( ἀπὸ Κυρίου πνεύματος )

Better, as Rev., from the Lord the Spirit. Compare 2 Corinthians 3:17. The preposition ἀπό fromdepicts the transformation as proceeding from rather than as caused by.

 


Copyright Statement
The text of this work is public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/vnt/2-corinthians-3.html. Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

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