2 Corinthians 3:1-3
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?
1. Incipimus rursum nos ipsos commendare? numquid, sicuti quidam, commendaticiis epistolis opus habemus ad vos? aut commendaticiis a vobis?
2. Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:
2. Epistola nostra vos estis, scripta in cordibus nostris, quae cognoscitur et legitur ab omnibus hominibus.
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 fleshly tables of the heart.
3. Dum palam fit, vos esse Epistolam Christi, subministratam a nobis, scriptam non atramento, sed Spiritu Dei vivi: non in tabulis lapideis, sed in tabulis cordis carneis. 1
1. Do we begin. It appears that this objection also was brought forward against him -- that he was excessively fond of publishing his own exploits, and brought against him, too, by those who were grieved to find that the fame, which they were eagerly desirous to obtain, was effectually obstructed in consequence of his superior excellence. They had already, in my opinion, found fault with the former Epistle, on this ground, that he indulged immoderately in commendations of himself. To commend here means to boast foolishly and beyond measure, or at least to recount one's own praises in a spirit of ambition. Paul's calumniators had a plausible pretext -- that it is a disgusting 2 and odious thing in itself for one to be the trumpeter of his own praises. Paul, however, had an excuse on the ground of necessity, inasmuch as he gloried, only because he was shut up to it. His design also raised him above all calumny, as he had nothing in view but that the honor of his apostleship might remain unimpaired for the edification of the Church; for had not Christ's honor been infringed upon, he would readily have allowed to pass unnoticed what tended to detract from his own reputation. Besides, he saw that it was very much against the Corinthians, that his authority was lessened among them. In the first place, therefore, he brings forward their calumny, letting them know that he is not altogether ignorant as to the kind of talk, that was current among them.
Have we need? The answer is suited (to use a common expression) to the person rather than to the thing, though we shall find him afterwards saying as much as was required in reference to the thing itself. At present, however, he reproves their malignity, inasmuch as they were displeased, if he at any time reluctantly, nay even when they themselves constrained him, made mention of the grace that God had bestowed upon him, while they were themselves begging in all quarters for epistles, that were stuffed entirely with flattering commendations. He says that he has no need of commendation in words, while he is abundantly commended by his deeds. On the other hand, he convicts them of a greedy desire for glory, inasmuch as they endeavored to acquire favor through the suffrages of men. 3 In this manner, he gracefully and appropriately repels their calumny. We must not, however, infer from this, that it is absolutely and in itself wrong to receive recommendations, 4 provided you make use of them for a good purpose. For Paul himself recommends many; and this he would not have done had it been unlawful. Two things, however, are required here -- first, that it be not a recommendation that is elicited by flattery, but an altogether unbiassed testimony; 5 and secondly, that it be not given for the purpose of procuring advancement for the individual, but simply that it may be the means of promoting the advancement of Christ's kingdom. For this reason, I have observed, that Paul has an eye to those who had assailed him with calumnies.
2. Ye are our Epistle. There is no little ingenuity in his making his own glory hinge upon the welfare of the Corinthians. "So long as you shall remain Christians, I shall have recommendation enough. For your faith speaks my praise, as being the seal of my apostleship." (1 Corinthians 9:2.)
When he says -- written in our hearts, this may be understood in reference to Silvanus and Timotheus, and in that case the meaning will be: "We are not contented with this praise, that we derive from the thing itself. The recommendations, that others have, fly about before the eyes of men, but this, that we have, has its seat in men's consciences." It may also be viewed as referring in part to the Corinthians, in this sense: "Those that obtain recommendations by dint of entreaty, have not in the conscience what they carry about written upon paper, and those that recommend others often do so rather by way of favor than from judgment. We, on the other hand, have the testimony of our apostleship, on this side and on that, engraven on men's hearts."
Which is known and read. It might also be read -- "Which is known and acknowledged," owing to the ambiguity of the word ajnaginwskesai, 6 and I do not know but that the latter might be more suitable. I was unwilling, however, to depart from the common rendering, when not constrained to do so. Only let the reader have this brought before his view, that he may consider which of the two renderings is the preferable one. If we render it acknowledged, there will be an implied contrast between an epistle that is sure and of unquestionable authority, and such as are counterfeit. 7 And, unquestionably, what immediately follows, is rather on the side of the latter rendering, for he brings forward the Epistle of Christ, in contrast with those that are forged and pretended.
3. Ye are the Epistle of Christ. Pursuing the metaphor, he says that the Epistle of which he speaks was written by Christ, inasmuch as the faith of the Corinthians was his work. He says that it was ministered by him, as if meaning by this, that he had been in the place of ink and pen. In fine, he makes Christ the author and himself the instrument, that calumniators may understand, that it is with Christ that they have to do, if they continue to speak against him 8 with malignity. What follows is intended to increase the authority of that Epistle. The second clause, 9 however, has already a reference to the comparison that is afterwards drawn between the law and the gospel. For he takes occasion from this shortly afterwards, as we shall see, to enter upon a comparison of this nature. The antitheses here employed -- ink and Spirit, stones and heart -- give no small degree of weight to his statements, by way of amplification. For in drawing a contrast between ink and the Spirit of God, and between stones and heart, he expresses more than if he had simply made mention of the Spirit and the heart, without drawing any comparison.
Not on tables of stone. He alludes to the promise that is recorded in Jeremiah 31:31, and Ezekiel 37:26, concerning the grace of the New Testament.
I will make, says he, a new covenant with them, not such as I had made with their fathers; but I will write my laws upon their hearts, and engrave them on their inward parts. Farther, I will take away the stony heart from the midst of thee, and will give thee a heart of flesh, that thou mayest walk in my precepts.
(Ezekiel 36:26, 27.)
Paul says, that this blessing was accomplished through means of his preaching. Hence it abundantly appears, that he is a faithful minister of the New Covenant -- which is a legitimate testimony in favor of his apostleship. The epithet fleshly is not taken here in a bad sense, but means soft and flexible, 10 as it is contrasted with stony, that is, hard and stubborn, as is the heart of man by nature, until it has been subdued by the Spirit of God. 11