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THE SECOND EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 3 - Verse 7
Verse 7. But if the ministration of death. In the previous verses, Paul had referred incidentally to the institutions of Moses, and to the superiority of the gospel. He had said that the former were engraven on stones, but the latter on the heart, (2 Co 3:3;) that the letter of the former tended to death, but the latter to life, (2 Co 3:6.) This sentiment he proceeds further to illustrate, by showing in what the superior glory of the gospel consisted. The design of the whole is to illustrate the nature and to show the importance of the ministerial office, and the manner in which the duties of that office were to be performed. That the phrase "ministration of death" refers to the Mosaic institutions, the connexion sufficiently indicates, 2 Co 3:13-15. The word "ministration" (diakonia) means, properly, ministry; the office of ministering in Divine things. It is usually applied to the officers of the church in the New Testament, Ac 1:17,25; Ro 11:13; 1 Co 12:5.
The word here, however, seems to refer to the whole arrangement, under the Mosaic economy, by which his laws were promulgated and perpetuated. The expression, "ministrations— written and engraven on stone," is somewhat harsh; but the sense evidently is, the ministration of a covenant, or of laws, written on stones, The word "ministration'" there refers to the arrangement, office, etc., by which the knowledge of these laws was maintained; the ministering under a system like that of the Jewish; or, more strictly, the act and occasion on which Moses himself ministered, or promulgated that System to the Jews, and when the glory of the work was irradiated even from his countenance. And the purpose of the apostle is to show that the ministry of the gospel is more glorious than even the ministry of Moses, when he was admitted near to God on the holy mount; and when such a glory attended his receiving and promulgating the law. It is called the "ministration of death,"' because it tended to condemnation; it did not speak of pardon; it was fitted only to deepen the sense of sin, and to produce alarm and dread. See Barnes "2 Co 3:6.
Written and engraven in stones. The ten commandments—the substance of all the Mosaic institutes, and the principal laws of his economy— were written, or engraven, on tables of stone.
Was glorious. Was attended with magnificence and splendour. The glory here referred to consisted in the circumstance of sublimity and grandeur in which the law of Moses was given. It was
(1.) the glory of God, as he was manifested on Mount Sinai, as the Lawgiver and Ruler of the people.
(2.) The glory of the attending circumstances, of thunder, fire, etc., in which God appeared. The law was given in these circumstances. Its giving—called here the "ministration"—was amidst such displays of the glory of God. It was
(3.) a high honour and glory for Moses to be permitted to approach so near to God; to commune with him; and to receive at his hand the law for his people, and for the world. These were circumstances of imposing majesty and grandeur, which, however, Paul says were eclipsed and surpassed by the ministry of the gospel.
So that the children of Israel, etc. In Ex 34:29,30, it is said, that "when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone, while he talked with him. And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him." The word rendered "stedfastly behold" (atenisai) means, to gaze intently upon; to look steadily, or constantly, or fixedly. See Barnes "Ac 1:10".
There was a dazzling splendour, an irradiation; a diffusion of light, such that they could not look intently and steadily upon it—as we cannot look steadily at the sun. How this was produced is not known. It cannot be accounted for from natural causes; and was doubtless designed to be to the Israelites an attestation that Moses had been with God, and was commissioned by him. They would see
(1.) that it was unnatural, such as no known cause could produce; and,
(2.) not improbably, they would recognise a resemblance to the manner in which God usually appeared—the glory of the Shechinah in which he so frequently manifested himself to them. It would be to them, therefore, a demonstration that Moses had been with God.
Which glory was to be done away. The splendour of that scene was transitory. It did not last. It was soon destroyed, (thn katargoumenhn). It was not adapted or designed long to continue. This does not mean, as Doddridge supposes, "soon to be abolished in death;" or, as others, "ceasing with youth;" but it means, that the shining or the splendour was transitory; it was soon to cease; it was not designed to be permanent. Neither the wonderful scenes accompanying the giving of the law on Sinai, nor the shining on the countenance of Moses, was designed to abide. The thunders of Sinai would cease to roll; the lightnings to play; the visible manifestations of the presence of God would all be gone; and the supernatural illumination of the face of Moses also would soon cease— perhaps as Macknight, Bloomfield, and others suppose, as a prefiguration of the abrogation of the glory of the whole system of the Levitical law. Paul certainly means to say, that the glory of Moses, and of his dispensation, was a fading glory; but that the glory of the gospel would be permanent, and increasing for ever.
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