The Sole Commendation He Needs to Prove God's
Sanction of His Ministry He Has in His Corinthian Converts:
His Ministry Excels the Mosaic, as the Gospel
of Life and Liberty Excels the Law of Condemnation.
1. Are we beginning again to recommend
ourselves (2Co 5:12) (as
some of them might say he had done in his first Epistle; or, a reproof
to "some" who had begun doing so)!
10:18). The "some" refers to
particular persons of the "many" (2Co 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 thirteenth canon of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) ordained that "clergymen coming to a
city where they were unknown, should not be allowed to officiate
without letters commendatory from their own bishop." The history (Ac 18:27) confirms the existence of the
custom here alluded to in the Epistle: "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 before the Epistle, and is probably one of the
instances to which Paul refers, as many at Corinth boasted of their
being followers of Apollos (1Co 1:12).
2. our epistle—of recommendation.
in our hearts—not letters borne merely
in the hands. Your conversion through my instrumentality, and
your faith which is "known of all men" by widespread report (1Co 1:4-7), and which is written by memory
and affection on my inmost heart and is borne about wherever I go, is
my letter of recommendation (1Co 9:2).
known and read—words akin in root,
sound, and sense (so 2Co 1:13).
"Ye are known to be my converts by general knowledge: then ye
are known more particularly by your reflecting my doctrine in
your Christian life." The handwriting is first "known," then the
Epistle is "read" [Grotius] (2Co 4:2;
1Co 14:25). There is not so
powerful a sermon in the world, as a consistent Christian life. The eye
of the world takes in more than the ear. Christians' lives are the only
religious books the world reads. Ignatius [Epistle to the Ephesians, 10]
writes, "Give unbelievers the chance of believing through you. Consider
yourselves employed by God; your lives the form of language in which He
addresses them. Be mild when they are angry, humble when they are
haughty; to their blasphemy oppose prayer without ceasing; to their
inconsistency, a steadfast adherence to your faith."
3. declared—The letter is written so
legibly that it can be "read by all men" (2Co 3:2). Translate, "Being manifestly shown to
be an Epistle of Christ"; a letter coming manifestly from Christ, and
"ministered by us," that is, carried about and presented by us as its
(ministering) bearers to those (the world) for whom it is intended:
Christ is the Writer and the Recommender, ye are the letter
written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the
living God—Paul was the ministering pen or other instrument
of writing, as well as the ministering bearer and presenter of the
letter. "Not with ink" stands in contrast to the letters of
commendation which "some" at Corinth (2Co 3:1) used. "Ink" is also used here to
include all outward materials for writing, such as the Sinaitic tables
of stone were. These, however, were not written with ink, but "graven"
by "the finger of God" (Ex 31:18; 32:16). Christ's Epistle (His believing
members converted by Paul) is better still: 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" (2Co 3:6-8).
not in—not on tables (tablets)
of stone, as the ten commandments were written (2Co 3:7).
in fleshy tables of the heart—ALL the best manuscripts read, "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, given
you a heart of flesh" (fleshy, not fleshly, that is,
carnal; hence it is written, "out of your flesh" that is, your
carnal nature), Eze 11:19; 36:26. Compare 2Co 3:2, "As ye are our Epistle written in our
hearts," so Christ has in the first instance made you "His Epistle
written with the Spirit in (on) your hearts." I bear on my heart, as a
testimony to all men, that which Christ has by His Spirit written in
your heart [Alford]. (Compare Pr
3:3; 7:3; Jer 31:31-34). This
passage is quoted by Paley [Horæ
Paulinæ] as illustrating one peculiarity of Paul's style,
namely, his going off at a word into a parenthetic reflection:
here it is on the word "Epistle." So "savor," 2Co 2:14-17.
4. And—Greek, "But." "Such
confidence, however (namely, of our 'sufficiency,' 2Co 3:5, 6;
2Co 2:16—to which he
reverts after the parenthesis—as ministers of the New Testament,
'not hinting,' 2Co 4:1), we
have through Christ (not through ourselves, compare 2Co 3:18) toward God" (that is, in our relation
to God and His work, the ministry committed by Him to us, for which we
must render an account to Him). Confidence toward God is solid and
real, as looking to Him for the strength needed now, and also for the
reward of grace to be given hereafter. Compare Ac 24:15, "hope toward God." Human confidence is
unreal in that it looks to man for its help and its reward.
5. The Greek is, "Not that we are (even
yet after so long experience as ministers) sufficient to think anything
OF ourselves as (coming) FROM 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—Greek, to "reason out"
or "devise"; to attain to sound preaching by our
reasonings [Theodoret]. The "we"
refers here to ministers (2Pe 1:21).
anything—even the least. We cannot
expect too little from man, or too much from God.
6. able—rather, as the Greek is
the same, corresponding to 2Co 3:5,
translate, "sufficient as ministers" (Eph 3:7; Col
the new testament—"the new
covenant" as contrasted with the Old Testament or
covenant (1Co 11:25; Ga 4:24). He reverts here again to the contrast
between the law on "tables of stone," and that "written by the Spirit
on fleshly tables of the heart" (2Co 3:3).
not of the letter—joined with
"ministers"; ministers not of the mere literal precept, in which
the old law, as then understood, consisted; "but of the Spirit," that
is, the spiritual holiness which lay under the old law, and
which the new covenant brings to light (Mt 5:17-48) with new motives added, and a
new power of obedience imparted, namely, the Holy Spirit (Ro 7:6). 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 yoke of the letter of each legal ordinance under
the Old Testament; for God had appointed this as the way in which He
chose a devout Jew to express his state of mind towards God.
Christianity, on the other hand, makes the spirit of our outward
observances everything, and the letter a secondary consideration (Joh 4:24). Still the moral law of the ten
commandments, being written by the finger of God, is as obligatory now
as ever; but put more on the Gospel spirit of "love," than on the
letter of a servile obedience, and in a deeper and fuller spirituality
(Mt 5:17-48; Ro 13:9). No literal precepts could fully
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 deep spirituality.
letter killeth—by bringing home the
knowledge of guilt and its punishment, death; 2Co 3:7, "ministration of death" (Ro 7:9).
spirit giveth life—The spirit of the
Gospel when brought home to the heart by the Holy Spirit, gives new
spiritual life to a man (Ro 6:4, 11). This "spirit of life" is for us in
Christ Jesus (Ro 8:2, 10), who dwells in the believer as a
"quickening" or "life-giving Spirit" (1Co 15:45). Note, the spiritualism of rationalists
is very different. It would admit no "stereotyped revelation," except
so much as man's own inner instrument of revelation, the conscience and
reason, can approve of: thus making the conscience judge of the written
word, whereas the apostles make the written word the judge of the
conscience (Ac 17:11; 1Pe 4:1). 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.
7. the ministration of death—the legal
dispensation, summed up in the Decalogue, which denounces death
against man for transgression.
written and engraven in
stones—There is no "and" in the Greek. The literal
translation is, "The ministration of death in letters," of which
"engraven on stones" is an explanation. The preponderance of oldest
manuscripts is for the English Version reading. But one (perhaps
the oldest existing manuscript) has "in the letter," which refers to
the preceding words (2Co 3:6),
"the letter killeth," and this seems the probable reading. Even
if we read as English Version, "The ministration of death
(written) in letters," alludes to the literal precepts of the
law as only bringing us the knowledge of sin and "death," in
contrast to "the Spirit" in the Gospel bringing us "life"
3:6). The opposition between
"the letters" and "the Spirit" (2Co 3:8) confirms this. This explains why the
phrase in Greek should be "in letters," instead of the ordinary
one which English Version has substituted, "written
was glorious—literally, "was made
(invested) in glory," glory was the atmosphere with which it was
could not steadfastly
behold—literally, "fix their eyes on." Ex 34:30, "The skin of his face shone; and they
were AFRAID to come nigh him."
"Could not," therefore means here, "for FEAR." The "glory of Moses' countenance" on Sinai
passed away when the occasion was over: a type of the transitory
character of the dispensation which he represented (2Co 3:11), as contrasted with the permanency of
the Christian dispensation (2Co 3:11).
8. be rather glorious—literally, "be
rather (that is, still more, invested) in glory." "Shall be," that is,
shall be found to be in part now, but fully when the glory of Christ
and His saints shall be revealed.
9. ministration of condemnation—the law
regarded in the "letter" which "killeth" (2Co 3:6; Ro
7:9-11). The oldest existing
manuscript seems to read as English Version. But most of the
almost contemporary manuscripts, versions, and Fathers, read, "If to
the ministration of condemnation there be glory."
the ministration of righteousness—the
Gospel, which especially reveals the righteousness of God (Ro 1:17), and imputes righteousness to men
through faith in Christ (Ro 3:21-28; 4:3, 22-25), and imparts righteousness by the
10. For even the ministration of
condemnation, the law, 2Co 3:7
(which has been glorified at Sinai in Moses' person), has
now (English Version translates 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 stars and
moon fades in the presence of the sun.
11. was glorious—literally, "was with
glory"; or "marked by glory."
that which remaineth—abideth (Re 14:6). Not "the ministry," but the
Spirit, and His accompaniments, life and righteousness.
is glorious—literally, "is in
glory." The Greek "with" or "by" is appropriately applied to
that of which the glory was transient. "In" to that of which the
glory is permanent. The contrast of the Old and New Testaments proves
that Paul's chief opponents at Corinth were Judaizers.
12. such hope—of the future glory, which
shall result from the ministration of the Gospel (2Co 3:8, 9).
plainness of speech—openness; without
reserve (2Co 2:17; 4:2).
13. We use no disguise, "as Moses put a veil
over his face, that the children of Israel might not look steadfastly
upon the end of that which was to be done away" [Ellicott and others]. The view of Ex 34:30-35, according to the
Septuagint is adopted by Paul, that Moses in going in to speak
to God removed the veil till he came out and had spoken to the
people; and then when he had done speaking, he put on the
veil that they might not look on the end, or the fading, of
that transitory glory. The veil was the symbol of
concealment, put on directly after Moses' speaking; so that
God's revelations by him were interrupted by intervals of concealment
[ALFORD]. But Alford's view does not
accord with 2Co 3:7; the
Israelites "could not look steadfastly on the face of Moses for the
glory of his countenance." Plainly Moses' veil was put on because
of their not having been able to "look steadfastly at him." Paul
3:13) passes from the literal
fact to the truth symbolized by it, 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 steadfastly at (Christ, Ro 10:4) the end of that (law)
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. The
glory of Moses' face is antitypically Christ s glory shining behind the
veil of legal ordinances. The veil which has been taken off to the
believer is left on to the unbelieving Jew, so that he should not see
(Isa 6:10; Ac 28:26, 27). He stops short at the letter of the
law, not seeing the end of it. 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 comes to take away
the veil (2Co 3:14-17) [Cameron].
14-18. Parenthetical: Of Christians in
general. He resumes the subject of the ministry, 2Co 4:1.
blinded—rather, "hardened." The
opposite to "looking steadfastly at the end" of the law (2Co 3:13). The veil on Moses' face is
further typical of the veil that is on their hearts.
untaken away … which
veil—rather, "the same veil … remaineth untaken
away [literally, not unveiled], so that they do not see THAT it (not the veil as English
Version, but 'THE Old Testament,' or
covenant of legal ordinances) is done away (2Co 3:7, 11,
13) in Christ" or, as Bengel, "Because it is done away in Christ,"
that is, it is not done away save 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 (so "reading" means,
15:21). I prefer the
15. the veil is—rather, "a veil
lieth upon their heart" (their understanding, affected by
the corrupt will, Joh 8:43; 1Co 2:14). The Tallith was worn in the
synagogue by every worshipper, and to this veil hanging over the breast
there may be an indirect allusion here (see on 1Co
11:4): the apostle making it symbolize the spiritual veil on their
16. Moses took off the veil on entering into
the presence of the Lord. So as to the Israelites whom Moses
represents, "whensoever their heart (it) turns (not as
English Version, 'shall turn') to the Lord, the veil is (by the
very fact; not as English Version, 'shall be') taken
34:34 is the allusion; not
34:30, 31, as Alford thinks. Whenever the Israelites turn to the
Lord, who is the Spirit of the law, the veil is taken off their hearts
in the presence of the Lord: as the literal veil was taken off by Moses
in going before God: no longer resting on the dead letter, the
veil, they by the Spirit commune with God and with the inner spirit
of the Mosaic covenant (which answers to the glory of Moses' face
unveiled in God's presence).
17. the Lord—Christ (2Co 3:14,
16; 2Co 4:5).
is that Spirit—is THE Spirit, namely, that Spirit spoken of in
2Co 3:6, and here resumed after the
parenthesis (2Co 3:7-16): Christ is the Spirit and "end" of the
Old Testament, who giveth life to it, whereas "the letter killeth"
(1Co 15:45; Re 19:10, end).
where the Spirit of the Lord is—in a
man's "heart" (2Co 3:15; Ro 8:9, 10).
there is liberty—(Joh 8:36). "There," and there only. Such
cease to be 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 (Php 3:3): they
have no longer the spirit of bondage, but of free sonship (Ro 8:15; Ga
4:7). "Liberty" is opposed to
the letter (of the legal ordinances), and to the veil, the badge of
slavery: also to the fear which the Israelites felt in beholding
Moses' glory unveiled (Ex 34:30; 1Jo 4:18).
18. But we all—Christians, as contrasted
with the Jews who have a veil on their hearts, answering to Moses' veil
on his face. He does not resume reference to ministers till
with open face—Translate, "with
unveiled face" (the veil being removed at conversion):
contrasted with "hid" (2Co 4:3).
as in a glass—in a mirror, namely, the
Gospel which reflects the glory of God and Christ (2Co 4:4; 1Co 13:12; Jas 1:23, 25).
are changed into the same
image—namely, the image of Christ's glory, spiritually now
8:29; 1Jo 3:3); an earnest of
the bodily change hereafter (Php 3:21). However many they be, believers all
reflect the same image of Christ more or less: a proof of the
truth of Christianity.
from glory to glory—from one degree of
glory 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
even as, &c.—Just such a
transformation "as" was to be expected from "the Lord the
Spirit" (not as English Version, "the Spirit of the Lord")
[Alford] (2Co 3:17): "who receives of the things of Christ,
and shows them to us" (Joh 16:14; Ro 8:10, 11). (Compare as to hereafter, Ps 17:15; Re