2-Corinthians - 3:1-18

The Glorious Ministry

      1 Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as do some, letters of commendation to you or from you? 2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 being revealed that you are a letter of Christ, served by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tablets of stone, but in tablets that are hearts of flesh. 4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God; 5 not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God; 6 who also made us sufficient as servants of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the service of death, written engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly on the face of Moses for the glory of his face; which was passing away: 8 won't service of the Spirit be with much more glory? 9 For if the service of condemnation has glory, the service of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. 10 For most certainly that which has been made glorious has not been made glorious in this respect, by reason of the glory that surpasses. 11 For if that which passes away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. 12 Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness of speech, 13 and not as Moses, who put a veil on his face, that the children of Israel wouldn't look steadfastly on the end of that which was passing away. 14 But their minds were hardened, for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains, because in Christ it passes away. 15 But to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. 16 But whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Chapter In-Depth

Explanation and meaning of 2-Corinthians 3.

Historical Commentaries

Scholarly Analysis and Interpretation.

This chapter 2 Cor. 3 is closely connected in its design with the preceding. Paul had said in that chapter 2-Corinthians 2:14, that he had always occasion to triumph in the success which he had, and that God always blessed his labors; and especially had spoken, in the close of the previous chapter 2-Corinthians 2:17, of his sincerity as contrasted with the conduct of some who corrupted the Word of God. This might appear to some as if he designed to commend himself to them, or that he had said this for the purpose of securing their favor. It is probable also, that the false teachers at Corinth had been introduced there by letters of recommendation, perhaps from Judea. In reply to this, Paul intimates 2-Corinthians 3:1 that this was not his design; 2-Corinthians 3:2 that he had no need of letters of recommendation to them, since 2-Corinthians 3:2-3 they were his commendatory epistle; they were themselves the best evidence of his zeal, fidelity, and success in his labors. He could appeal to them as the best proof that he was qualified for the apostolic office. His success among them, he says 2-Corinthians 3:4, was a ground of his trusting in God, an evidence of his acceptance. Yet, as if he should seem to rely on his own strength, and to boast of what he had done, he says 2-Corinthians 3:5 that his success was not owing to any strength which he had, or to any skill of his own, but entirely to the aid which he had received from God. It was God. he says 2-Corinthians 3:6, who had qualified him to preach, and had given him grace to be an able minister of the New Testament.
It is not improbable that the false teachers, being of Jewish origin, in Corinth, had commended the laws and institutions of Moses as being of superior clearness, and even as excelling the gospel of Christ. Paul takes occasion, therefore 2-Corinthians 3:7-11, to show that the laws and institutions of Moses were far inferior in this respect to the gospel. His was a ministration of death 2-Corinthians 3:7; though glorious it was to be done away 2-Corinthians 3:7; the ministration of the Spirit was therefore to be presumed to be far more glorious 2-Corinthians 3:8; the one was a ministration to condemnation, the other of righteousness 2-Corinthians 3:9; the one had comparatively no glory, being so much surpassed by the other 2-Corinthians 3:10; and the former was to be done away, while the latter was to remain, and was therefore far more glorious, 2-Corinthians 3:11.
This statement of the important difference between the laws of Moses and the gospel, is further illustrated by showing the effect which the institutions of Moses had had on the Jews themselves, 2-Corinthians 3:12-15. That effect was to blind them. Moses had put a veil over his face 2-Corinthians 3:13; and the effect had been that the nation was blinded in reading the Old Testament, and had no just views of the true meaning of their own Scriptures, 2-Corinthians 3:14-15.
Yet, Paul says, that that veil should be taken away, 2-Corinthians 3:16-18. It was the intention of God that it should be removed. When that people should turn again to the Lord, it should be taken away, 2-Corinthians 3:16. It was done where the Spirit of the Lord was, 2-Corinthians 3:17. It was done in fact in regard to all true Christians, 2-Corinthians 3:18. They were permitted to behold the glory of the Lord as in a glass, and they were changed into the same image. The same subject is continued in 2 Cor. 4, where Paul illustrates the effect of this clear revelation of the gospel as compared with the institutions of Moses, on the Christian ministry.

The apostle shows, in opposition to his detractors, that the faith and salvation of the Corinthians were sufficient testimony of his Divine mission; that he needed no letters of recommendation, the Christian converts at Corinth being a manifest proof that he was an apostle of Christ, 2-Corinthians 3:1-3. He extols the Christian ministry, as being infinitely more excellent than that of Moses, 2-Corinthians 3:4-12. Compares the different modes of announcing the truth under the law and under the Gospel: in the former it was obscurely delivered; and the veil of darkness, typified by the veil which Moses wore, is still on the hearts of the Jews; but when they turn to Christ this veil shall be taken away, 2-Corinthians 3:13-16. On the contrary, the Gospel dispensation is spiritual; leads to the nearest views of heavenly things; and those who receive it are changed into the glorious likeness of God by the agency of his Spirit, 2-Corinthians 3:17, 2-Corinthians 3:18.

In this chapter the apostle clears himself from the charge of arrogance and self-commendation, and ascribes both the virtue and efficacy of his ministry, and his qualifications for it, to the Lord; and forms a comparison between the ministration of the Gospel, and the ministration of the law, showing the preferableness of the one to the other; and consequently how much more happy and comfortable the state and condition of the saints under the Gospel dispensation is, than under the legal one: on account of what the apostle had said in the latter part of the preceding chapter, concerning the excellency, usefulness, and success of the Gospel ministry, he foresaw an objection would arise; that he and his fellow ministers were proud and arrogant, and commended themselves, which was unseemly, and not agreeably to the character they bore; which objection he obviates, 2-Corinthians 3:1, by putting some questions, signifying that they were not guilty of vain boasting; nor did they need any commendations of their own, or others, nor any letters to recommend them, either from Corinth to other places, or thither: a practice which, he suggests, the false teachers made use of; and in 2-Corinthians 3:2 he gives the reason why they did not stand in need of such letters, because the members of the church at Corinth were their epistle or letter, declaring to all men the efficacy and success of their ministry among men; but lest he should be charged with arrogating to himself and others, he declares, 2-Corinthians 3:3 that though the Corinthians were their epistle, yet not so much theirs as Christ's; Christ was the author and subject, they only were instruments; the writing was not human, but the writing of the Spirit of God; and that not upon outward tables, such as the law was written upon, but upon the tables of men's hearts, which only God can reach; however, that they had been useful, successful, and instrumental in the conversion of souls, through the ministry of the word, that he was confident of, 2-Corinthians 3:4 though the sufficiency and ability to think, study, and preach, were not of themselves, and still less to make the word effectual for conversion and comfort, but of God, 2-Corinthians 3:5 wherefore he ascribes all fitness, worthiness, and ability to preach the Gospel, to the grace and power of God, by which they were made ministers of it; and hence he takes occasion to commend the excellency of the Gospel ministry above that of the law, which he does by observing their different names and effects; the Gospel is the New Testament or covenant, or an exhibition of the covenant of grace in a new form; the law is the Old Testament, or covenant, which is vanished away; which, though not expressed here, is in 2-Corinthians 3:14 the Gospel is spirit, the law the letter; the one gives life, and the other kills, 2-Corinthians 3:6 wherefore the apostle argues from the one to the other, that if there was a glory in the one which was only a ministration of death, as the law was, 2-Corinthians 3:7 then the Gospel, which was a ministration of spiritual things, and of the Spirit of God himself, must be more glorious, 2-Corinthians 3:8 and if that was glorious which was a ministration of condemnation, as the law was to guilty sinners; much more glorious must be the Gospel, which is a ministration of the righteousness of Christ, for the justification of them, 2-Corinthians 3:9 yea, such is the surpassing glory of the Gospel to the law, that even the glory of the law is quite lost in that of the Gospel, and appears to have none in comparison of that, 2-Corinthians 3:10 to which he adds another argument, taken from the abolition of the one, and the continuance of the other; that if there was a glory in that which is abolished, there must be a greater in that which continues, 2-Corinthians 3:11 and from hence the apostle proceeds to take notice of another difference between the law and the Gospel, the clearness of the one, and the obscurity of the other; the former is signified by the plainness of speech used by the preachers of it, 2-Corinthians 3:12 and the latter by the veil which was over Moses's face, when he delivered the law to the children of Israel; the end of which they could not look to, and which is a further proof of the obscurity of it, 2-Corinthians 3:13 as well as of the darkness of their minds; which still continues with the Jews in reading the law, and will do until it is taken away by Christ, 2-Corinthians 3:14 and that there is such a veil of darkness upon the hearts of the Jews, when reading the law of Moses; and that this continues to this day, is again asserted, 2-Corinthians 3:15 and an intimation given that there will be a conversion of them to the Lord, and then it will be removed from them, 2-Corinthians 3:16 and who that Lord is to whom they shall be turned, and by whom they shall have freedom from darkness and bondage, is declared, 2-Corinthians 3:17 and the happy condition of the saints under the Gospel dispensation, through the bright and clear light of it, is observed, 2-Corinthians 3:18 in which the Gospel is compared to a glass; the saints are represented as without a veil looking into it; through which an object is beheld, the glory of the Lord; the effect of which is a transformation of them into the same image by degrees; the author of which grace is the Spirit of the Lord.

(2-Corinthians 3:1-11) The preference of the gospel to the law given by Moses.
(2-Corinthians 3:12-18) The preaching of the apostle was suitable to the excellency and evidence of the gospel, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

SUMMARY.--Paul's Letters of Commendation. The New Covenant and the Covenant of the Letter; or the Law and the Gospel. The First Written on Tables of Stone; Is a Ministration of Death; Was Glorious, But Is Done Away. That Which Remaineth, the New Covenant, Far More Glorious. The Veil Over the Face of Moses a Type of Blindness of Israel. The Transforming Power of the Gospel.

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