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Song of Solomon
2 Corinthians 3 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)
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2 Corinthians 3
2 Corinthians 3:1
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some
, epistles of commendation to you, or
of commendation from you?
Paul's ministry is his sufficient letter of commendation
Do we begin again to commend ourselves?
The last verse of the last chapter might be seized upon by St. Paul's opponents to renew their charge - that he was always praising himself. He anticipates the malignant and meaning smiles with which they would hear such words. The word "again" implies that this charge had already been brought against him, perhaps in consequence of such passages as
1 Corinthians 2:16
1 Corinthians 3:10
1 Corinthians 4:11-14
1 Corinthians 9:15-23
1 Corinthians 14:18
, etc. Such passages might be called self-laudatory and egotistical, were it not that (as St. Paul here explains) they arose only from a sense of the grandeur of his office, of which he was the almost involuntary agent, used by God as it seemed best to him. Hence he says later on (
2 Corinthians 7
:18) that self-praise is no commendation, and that the true test of a man is God's commendation. The verb "I commend," technically used in the same sense as our "commendatory letters," occurs also in
Or need we,
etc.? The reading,
, thus translated, is better supported than
, unless, which would have a somewhat ironical force. The
in the reading
implies, "Can you possibly think that we need," etc.? Generally, when a stranger came to some Church to which he was not personally known, he carried with him some credentials in the form of letters from accredited authorities. St. Paul treats it as absurd to suppose that he or Timothy should need such letters, either
the Corinthians or to them.
. He will not name them, but he refers to the Judaists, who vaunted of their credentials in order to disparage St. Paul, who was too great to need and too independent to use them. We can hardly, perhaps, realize the depth and bitterness of antagonism concealed under that word "some" in
1 Corinthians 4:18
. It is not meant that there was anything discreditable in using such letters (for Apollos had used them,
), but the disgraceful thing was that St. Paul should be disparaged for not bringing them.
Epistles of commendation.
ἐπιστολαὶ συστατικαί (
"introductory letters" - was familiar in later Greek. In days when there were few public hostels, and when it was both a duty and a necessity for small and persecuted communities like those of the Jews and Christians to practise hospitality (
. etc.), it was customary both for synagogues and Churches to provide their friends and emissaries with authentic testimonials. Otherwise they might have been deceived by wandering impostors, as, in fact, the Christians were deceived by the vagabond quack Peregrinus. We can easily see how the custom of using such letters might be abused by idle, restless, and intriguing persons, who have never found it very difficult to procure them. We find traces of their
use by Phoebe, by Silas and Jude, by Apollos, by Mark, and by Zenas, in
; and of their unfair use by certain Judaists, in
and Galatians 2:12. Nothing can more forcibly illustrate the necessity for St. Paul's protest against the idle vaunt of possessing such letters, than the fact that,
more than a century afterwards
, we find malignant innuendoes aimed at St. Paul in the pseudo-Clementines, under the name of" the enemy" and "Simon Magus" and "a deceiver." He is there spoken of as using letters from the high priest (which, indeed, St. Paul had done as Saul of Tarsus,
Acts 9:1, 2
); and the Churches are warned never to receive any one who cannot bring credentials from James; so deep-rooted among the Judaists was the antagonism to the independent apostolate and daring originality of the apostle of the Gentiles! Dr. Plumptre quotes Sozomen ('H.E.', 5:16) for the curious fact that the Emperor Julian tried to introduce the system of "commendatory letters" into his revived paganism.
Or letters of commendation from you.
The substitution of "letters" for "epistles" is an instance of the almost childish fondness for unnecessary synonyms, which is one of the defects of the Authorized Version. The true reading probably is "to you or from you" (
, A, B, C). The word "commendatory" (
) is omitted in A, B, C.
Or from you
. It was worse than absurd to suppose that St. Paul should need those
to a Church of which he was the thunder; and nothing but the boundless "inflation" which characterized the Corinthians could have led them to imagine that he needed letters
them to other Churches, as though, forsooth, they were the primary Church or the only church (
1 Corinthians 14:36
2 Corinthians 3:2
Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:
Ye are our epistle.
Their very existence as a Church was the most absolute "commendatory letter" of St. Paul, both
1 Corinthians 9:2
, "The seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord ").
Written in our hearts.
The expression has no connection with the fact that the high priest bore the names of Israel graven on the jewelled Urim, which he wore upon his breast. St. Paul means that others may bring their "letters of commendation" in their hands.
letter of commendation is the very name and existence of the Church of Corinth written on his heart.
Known and read of all men.
The metaphor is subordinated to the
. All men may recognize the autograph, and in it were read the history of the Corinthian converts, which was written on the apostle's heart, and which therefore rendered the notion of any other letter of commendation to or from them superfluous and even absurd. The play on words (
) is similar to that in
2 Corinthians 1:13
2 Corinthians 3:3
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 fleshy tables of the heart.
The fame and centrality of Corinth gave peculiar prominence to the fact of their conversion.
The epistle of Christ ministered by us.
The Corinthians are the epistle; it is written on the hearts of St. Paul and his companions; Christ was its Composer; they were its amanuenses and its conveyers. The development of the metaphor
as a metaphor
would be somewhat clumsy and intricate, but St. Paul only cares to shadow forth the essential fact which he wishes them to recognize. Not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God;
not with visible or perishable materials, but spiritual in its origin and character. The notion of "the finger of God" naturally recalled the notion of "the Spirit of God" (comp.
). Not in tables of stone. God's writing by means of the Spirit on the heart reminds him of another writing
on the stone tablets of the Law, which he therefore introduces with no special regard to the congruity of the metaphor about "an epistle."
But in fleshy tables of the heart.
The overwhelming preponderance of manuscript authority supports the reading "but in fleshen tablets - hearts." St. Paul is thinking of
, "I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts;" and
, "I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh." The tablets were not hard and fragile, but susceptible and receptive. Our letters of introduction are inward not outward, spiritual not material, permanent not perishable, legible to all not only by a few, written by Christ not by man.
2 Corinthians 3:4
And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:
The confidence, namely, that we need no other recommendation to or from you.
Who alone can inspire such confidence in myself and my mission (
1 Corinthians 15:10
in relation to God; towards whom the whole Being of Christ is directed (
), and therefore all the work of his servants (
2 Corinthians 3:5
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves.
He here reverts to the question asked in
2 Corinthians 2:16
. He cannot bear the implication that any "confidence" on his part rests on anything short of the overwhelming sense that he is but an agent, or rather nothing but
, in the hands of God. To think anything as of ourselves. He has, indeed, the capacity to form adequate judgments about his work, but it does not come from his own resources (
) or his own independent origination (
1 Corinthians 15:10
But our sufficiency.
Namely, to form any true or right judgment, and therefore to express the confidence which I
Is of God.
We are but
workers with him (
1 Corinthians 3:19
2 Corinthians 3:6
Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
Either, "And he it is who;" or, "Who besides
power, has made us adequate ministers."
Hath made us able ministers;
made us sufficient ministers
Of the new testament;
of a fresh covenant
). The "new testament" has not the remotest connection with what we call "The New Testament," meaning thereby the book - which, indeed, had at this time no existence. The word "testament" means a will, and in this sense implies neither the Hebrew
nor the Greek
, both of which mean "covenant." In one passage only of the New Testament (
Hebrews 9:16, 17
mean a "testament" or "will." For the thought, see
1 Timothy 1:11, 12
Not of the letter, but of the spirit.
In other words, "not of the Law, but of the gospel;" not of that which is dead, but of that which is living; not of that which is deathful, but of that which is life-giving; not of bondage, but of freedom; not of mutilation, but of self-control; not of the outward, but of the inward; not of works, but of grace; not of menace, but of promise; not of curse, but of blessing; not of wrath, but of love; not of Moses, but of Christ. This is the theme which St. Paul develops especially in the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians (see
Romans 7:6, 10, 11
Not of the letter
. Not, that is, of the Mosaic Law regarded as a yoke of externalism; a hard and unhelpful "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not;" a system that possessed no life of its own and inspired no life into others; a "categoric imperative," majestic, indeed, but unsympathetic and pitiless. Both the Law and the gospel were
committed to writing
; each covenant had its own
; but in the case of the Mosaic Law there was the book and nothing more; in the case of the gospel the book was nothing compared to the spirit, and nothing without the spirit.
Out of the spirit
. That is, of the gospel which found its pledge and consummation in the gift of the Spirit. The Law, too, was in one sense "spiritual" (
), for it was given by God, who is a Spirit, and it was a holy Law; but though such in itself (
) it was relatively (
) a cause of sin and death, because it was addressed to a fallen nature, and inspired no spirit by which that nature could be delivered (see
). But in the gospel the spirit is everything; the mere letter is as nothing (
For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
This is one of the very numerous "texts" which have been first misinterpreted and have then been made, for whole centuries, the bases of erroneous systems. On this text more than any other, Origen, followed by the exegetes of a thousand years, built his dogma that the Scripture must be interpreted allegorically, not literally, because "the letter" of the Bible kills. The misinterpretation is extravagantly inexcusable, and, like many others, arose solely from rending words away from their context and so reading new senses into them. The contrast is not between "the outward" and the inward sense of Scripture at all. "The letter" refers exclusively to "the Law," and therefore has so little reference to "the Bible" that it was written before most of the New Testament existed, and only touches on a small portion of the Old Testament.
. Two questions arise.
The answers seem to be that
the letter - the Law regarded as an outward letter - passes the sentence of
death on those who disobey it
. It says, "He who doeth these things shall live in them;" and therefore implies, as well as often says, that he who disobeys them shall be cut off. It is, therefore, a deathful menace. For none
obey this Law with perfect obedience. And
the sting of death being sin, the Law kills by directly leading to sin, in that it stirs into existence the principle of concupiscence (
1 Corinthians 15:56
Galatians 3:10, 21
But the spirit giveth life
. This contrast between a dead and a living covenant is fundamental, and especially in the writings of St. Paul (
1 Corinthians 15:45
). The Law stones the adulteress; the gospel says to her, "Go, and sin no more."
2 Corinthians 3:7
But if the ministration of death, written
engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which
was to be done away:
The ministration of death.
The ministration, that is, of the Law, of "the letter which killeth." St. Paul here begins one of the arguments
a minori ad majus
which are the very basis of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Written and engraven in stones;
engraved in letters on stones
). The reference shows that, in speaking of "the letter," St. Paul was only thinking of the Mosaic Law, and indeed specifically of the Decalogue.
occurred in glory
proved itself glorious
. In itself the Law was "holy, just, and good" (
), and given "at the disposition of angels" (
); and its transitory glory was illustrated by the lustre which the face of Moses caught by reflection from his intercourse with God (
Could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses
Exodus 34:29, 30
). St. Paul has been led quite incidentally into this digression in the course of defending himself by describing the nature of his ministry; but it bore very definitely on his general purpose, because his chief opponents were Judaists, whose one aim it was to bind upon the Church the yoke of Mosaism. That they could not "behold" the face of Moses is the
, or traditional legend, derived from
, which says that "they were afraid to
to him. The reader may recall the beautiful lines of Cardinal Newman-
"Lord l grant me this abiding grace -
Thy words and saints to know;
To pierce the veil on Moses' face,
Although his words be slow."
Because of the glory of his countenance.
This circumstance is so often alluded to as to have become identified with the conception of Moses. The Hebrew words for "a ray of light" and "a horn" are identical; hence, instead of saying that his face was "irradiated," the Vulgate says,
Cornnta erat ejus facies
; and even in our version of
we find "And he had
. 'rays of light'] coming out of his hand." To this is due the mediaeval symbol of Moses with horns, as in the matchless statue by Michael Angelo.
Which glory was to be done away.
The Greek might be expressed by "the glory - the evanescing glory - of his countenance." It was not "to
done away," but from the first moment they saw it it began to vanish. The verb "to do away," implying annulment, and the being abrogated as invalid, is a characteristic word in this group cf Epistles, in which it occurs twenty-two times. This illustrates the prominence in St. Paul's thoughts of the fact that the Law was now "antiquated" and "near its obliteration" (comp.
). But in dwelling on the brief and transient character of this radiance, St. Paul seizes on a point which (naturally) is not dwelt upon in
2 Corinthians 3:8
How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?
The ministration of the spirit.
That is, "the apostolate and service of the gospel."
Be rather glorious.
A contrast may be intended between the ministration of the letter, which "became glorious," which had, as it were, a glory lent to it (
ἐγενήθη ἐν δόξῃ
), and that of the spirit, which is, of its own nature, in glory.
2 Corinthians 3:9
For if the ministration of condemnation
glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.
The ministration of condemnation.
The same antithesis between the Law as involving "condemnation" and the gospel as bestowing "righteousness" is found in
Romans 5:18, 19
. The glory; perhaps, rather,
; a stronger way of describing it as "glorious."
Involving the further conception of "justification," as in
Romans 1:16, 17
2 Corinthians 3:10
For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.
. He proceeds to show that the latter ministration was far more superabundant in glory.
That which was made glorious,
etc. Many various interpretations have been offered of this text. The meaning almost undoubtedly is, "For even that which has been glorified [namely, the Mosaic ministry, as typified by the splendour of his face] has not been glorified in this respect [i.e. in the respect of its relation to
ministry], because of the surpassing glory [of the latter]." In other words, the glory of Mosaism is so completely outdazzled by the splendour of the gospel, that, relatively speaking, it has no glory left; the moon and the stars cease to shine, they "pale their ineffectual fires" when the sun is in the zenith. The phrase, "in this respect," occurs again in
2 Corinthians 9:3
1 Peter 4:16
2 Corinthians 3:11
For if that which is done away
glorious, much more that which remaineth
. An explanation of the "surpassing" glory of the later covenant founded on its eternity.
That which is done away;
that which is evanescing
; "which is being done away," as in ver. 7.
Was glorious... is glorious.
The expression is varied in the Greek. The brief, the evanescent covenant was "through glory,"
it was a transitory gleam; the abiding covenant is "in glory;"
it is an eternal splendour. It is, however, a disputed point whether St. Paul intended such rigid meanings to be attached to his varying prepositions (
διὰ τῆς πίστεως
διὰ τοῦ θανάτου
ἐν τῇ ζωῇ
πρός τὸν Κύριον
). That which remaineth. The final, eternal, unshakable gospel (
is in glory
. Christ is eternally the Light of the world (
); and Moses and Elias derived all their permanence of glory by reflection from this transfiguring light.
2 Corinthians 3:12
Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:
confidence inspired by this ministry and the veil on the hearts of those who will not recognize it
A hope based upon the abiding glory of this gospel covenant.
Plainness of speech.
The frankness and unreserved fearlessness of our language is justified by the glory of our ministry. It was impossible for Moses to speak with the same bold plainness.
2 Corinthians 3:13
And not as Moses,
put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:
And not as Moses.
We need not act, as Moses was obliged to do, by putting any veil upon our faces while we speak. And here the image of "the veil" as completely seizes St. Paul's imagination as the image of the letter does in the first verses.
Put a veil;
used to put
, a veil on his face when he had finished speaking to the people.
That the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished;
that the children of Israel might not gaze on the end of what was passing away
. The object of the veil, according to St. Paul, was to prevent the Israelites from gazing on
the last gleam of the covenant
. In other words, he did not wish them to be witnesses of a
glory. It is preposterous to imagine that St. Paul is here casting any blame on the conduct of Moses, as though he acted fraudulently or delusively. Moses was aware, and even told the people, float his legislation was not final (
Deuteronomy 18:15 -19
), but it would be quite natural that he should not wish the people to witness the gradual dimming of the lustre which, in St. Paul's view, was typical of that transitoriness. It seems, however, that St. Paul is here either
following a different reading or rendering of
is adopting some Jewish
is giving his own turn to the narrative, as the rabbis habitually did, by way of
, or exposition. For from the narrative of Exodus we should not gather that it was the object of Moses to hide the disappearance of the splendour, but rather to render the light endurable. In our Authorized Version the verse runs, "till Moses had done speaking with them he put a veil on his face;" but the meaning of the original may be, "after he had done speaking with them," as the LXX. takes it and the Vulgate.
. To interpret this of
, because of
, is an instance of the superstitious and unintelligent way in which systems are made out of a mosaic of broken texts. The foolish character of the interpretation is shown when we consider that it involves the inference that Moses put a veil on his face in order to prevent the Israelites from seeing Christi But this attempt to illustrate Scripture by catching at a similar, expression applied in a wholly different way in another part of Scripture, is one of the normal follies of scriptural interpretation.
2 Corinthians 3:14
But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which
is done away in Christ.
. This word is rendered" devices" in
2 Corinthians 2:11
; "minds" in
2 Corinthians 3:14
and 2 Cor 4:4; and "thought" in
2 Corinthians 10:5
. It means that their powers of reason were, so to speak, petrified.
. The verb cannot mean" to blind." By whom were their minds hardened? It would be equally correct to say by themselves (
), or by Satan (
2 Corinthians 4:4
), or by God (
Romans 11:7, 8
The same veil.
Of course the meaning is "a veil of which the veil of Moses is an exact type." The veil which prevented them from seeing the evanescence of the light which shone on the face of Moses was symbolically identical with that which prevented them also from seeing the transitory character of his Law. It had been as it were taken from his face and laid on their hearts (see
.). Many commentators have seen in this verse a reference to the Jewish custom of covering the head with the
, a four-cornered veil, when they were in the synagogues. But this is doubtful, since the
did not cover the eyes. More probably his metaphor may have been suggested by
, "And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast ever all people, and
that is spread over all nations."
There are two other ways of rendering this verse:
"For until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remaineth unlifted; which veil is done away in Christ," as in the Revised Version; or
"The same veil remaineth, it not being revealed that it is done away in Christ," as it is taken by Chrysostom and many others, and in the margin of the Revised Version. The latter seems to be the better view. It is not the veil, but the old covenant, which is being done away in Christ. To the Jews that truth still remained under a veil. The present tense, "is
of annulment," might naturally be used until the utter abrogation of even the possible fulfilment of the Mosaic Law at the fall of Jerusalem.
In the reading of the old testament;
the old covenant
. There is no allusion to the Old Testament as a
, but the phrase is equivalent to "Moses is read" in the next verse. (On this obduracy of the Jews, see
Romans 11:7, 8, 25
2 Corinthians 3:15
But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.
When Moses is read
; a veil of moral obstinacy, which prevents them from seeing the disappearance of the old covenant, as effectually as the veil on the face of Moses prevented them from seeing (as St. Paul viewed the matter) the disappearance of the transitory lustre on the face of Moses.
2 Corinthians 3:16
Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.
When it shall turn to the Lord.
The nominative of the verb is not expressed. Obviously the most natural word to supply is the one last alluded to, namely, "the heart of Israel." The verb may have been suggested by
Shall be taken away;
is in course of removal
. The tenses imply that "the moment the heart of Israel shall have turned to the Lord, the removal of the veil begins." Then "they shall look on him whom they pierced" (
); "He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations" (
2 Corinthians 3:17
Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord
Now the Lord is that Spirit.
The "but" (Authorized Version, "now") introduces an explanation. To whom shall they turn? To the Lord. "But the Lord is the Spirit." The word "spirit" could not be introduced thus abruptly and vaguely; it must refer to something already said, and therefore to the last mention of the word "spirit" in ver. 3. The Lord is the Spirit, who giveth life and freedom, in antithesis to the spirit of death and legal bondage (see ver. 6; and comp.
1 Corinthians 15:45
). The best comment on the verse is
, "For the law of the
spirit of life in Christ Jesus
hath made me free from the law of sin and death." All life and all religion had become to St. Paul a vision of all things in Christ. He has just said that the spirit giveth life, and, after the digression about the moral blindness which prevented the Jews from being emancipated from the bondage of the letter, it was quite natural for him to add, "Now the Lord
the Spirit to which I alluded." The connection in which the verse stands excludes a host of untenable meanings which have been attached to it.
There is liberty.
The liberty of confidence (ver. 4), and of frank speech (ver. 12), and of sonship (
Galatians 4:6, 7
), and of freedom from guilt (
); so that the Law itself, obeyed no longer in the mere letter but also in the spirit, becomes a royal law of liberty, and not a yoke which gendereth to bondage (
) - a service, indeed, but one which is perfect freedom (
1 Peter 2:16
2 Corinthians 3:18
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory,
as by the Spirit of the Lord.
But we all.
An appeal to personal experience in evidence of the freedom.
With open face;
with unveiled face
; as Moses himself spoke with God, whereas the Jews could not see even the
splendour on the face of Moses till he had shrouded it with a veil.
Beholding as in a glass.
as likely to be the true meaning as "reflecting as a mirror," which the Revised Version (following Chrysostom and others) has substituted for it. No other instance occurs in which the verb in the middle voice has the meaning of "reflecting," and the words, "With unveiled face," imply the image of "beholding." They are, in fact, a description of "the beatific vision." An additional reason for retaining the translation of our Authorized Version is that the verb is used in
sense by Philo ('Leg. Alleg.,' 3:33).
The glory of the Lord.
Namely, him who is "the Effulgence of God's glory" (
), the true Shechinah, "the Image of the invisible God" (
Are changed into the same image.
The present tense implies a
transfiguration, a mystical and spiritual change which is produced in us while we contemplate Christ.
From glory to glory.
Our spiritual assimilation to Christ comes
his glory and issues in a glory like his (
1 Corinthians 15:51
; comp." from strength to strength,"
). (For the thought, comp.
1 John 3:2
.) As by the Spirit of the Lord. This rendering (which is that of the Vulgate also) can hardly be correct. The natural meaning of the Greek is "as
the Lord the Spirit
change into glory comes from the Lord, who, as St. Paul has already explained, is the Spirit of which he has been speaking. No such abstract theological thought is here in his mind as that of the "
union," of the Son and the Holy Spirit. He is still referring to the contrast between the letter and the spirit, and his identification of this "spirit" in its highest sense with the quickening life which, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we receive from Christ, and which is indeed identical with "the Spirit of Christ."
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