Two Corinthians Three

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

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2 Corinthians 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?

commend ourselves. The false teachers had ingratiated themselves to the Christian church by showing recommendations from other churches, and no doubt would request such letters from Corinth when they decided to leave. But Paul reminds them that he needed no such letters. The Corinthian believers themselves were his “epistles,” for they were his own children in the faith.

2 Corinthians 3:2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:

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.

2 Corinthians 3:4 And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:

2 Corinthians 3:5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;

sufficient of ourselves. Compare 2 Corinthians 2:16.

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.

new testament. Paul is no doubt referring to his very specific call by God, as recorded in Acts 9:3ff, and further in Acts 22:14-16 and Acts 26:16-18. The “new testament, of course, refers to God's “new covenant,” as contrasted with His “old covenant,” as made with Moses and the children of Israel. Compare Hebrews 9:15 and following.

spirit. This contrast between the “letter” and the “spirit” does not refer to a supposed superiority of “spiritual interpretation” over “literal interpretation” of Scripture. While it may be profitable to draw occasional spiritual or allegorical or analogical applications from Scripture, these must always depend for any validity they may have on the basic literal accuracy and truthfulness of the written text. Otherwise, the meaning simply reflects the bias of the interpreter, rather than the intent of the writer. Whenever the writer intended to use a figure of speech to convey his meaning, he always made this clear in the context. Remember also that the human writers were writing under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, whose intent was to reveal God's Word, not hide it.

letter. In context here, the “letter” is referring to the written Law, inscribed on tables of stone. This Law is “holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12), but in and of itself can only condemn sinners, not save them, for “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20), and “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23).

2 Corinthians 3:7 But if the ministration of death, written and 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 glory was to be done away:

glorious. The fact that the Law itself, or the “letter,” was good is evident from the fact that it was associated with the divine “glory.” The tables were kept in the Ark of the Covenant, its resting place covered with the shekinah glory. Nevertheless, that covenant would be “done away” in Christ, who fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17) and has now written His law in our hearts (Hebrews 8:10).

2 Corinthians 3:8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?

2 Corinthians 3:9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.

2 Corinthians 3:10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.

2 Corinthians 3:11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

2 Corinthians 3:12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:

2 Corinthians 3:13 And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:

veil over his face. See Exodus 34:29-35. The “veil” on Moses' face, like the “veil of the temple” (Matthew 27:51), kept the people from such direct contact with the impeccable holiness of God's glory which it would otherwise have consumed them, yet both Moses and the glory in the temple mediated to them the knowledge of God's will. Now that the “veil is done away in Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:14; see also Hebrews 10:20), however, the Israelites (as well as others) still stand condemned by the Law as long as they reject Christ, and so still cannot understand what they read in the Scriptures.

2 Corinthians 3:14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.

minds were blinded. See 2 Corinthians 4:3-4. Ultimately, the blindness of mind which fails to comprehend the gospel is the work of Satan.

old testament. This is the only verse in the Bible where the “old testament” is referred to by that name. The phrase “new testament” (or “new covenant,” which is the same Greek phrase) is mentioned nine times—first in Matthew 26:28, last in Hebrews 12:24.

2 Corinthians 3:15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.

2 Corinthians 3:16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

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, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

glory to glory. We, like Moses when he entered the tabernacle to speak with God (Exodus 34:34), also come into His presence with open (that is, unveiled) face when we read His Word, which both reveals us for what we are, like a mirror (compare James 1:23-25), and also reveals to us the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. In so doing, we (like Moses) can begin to reflect His own image in our lives and even our countenances, from one degree of glory to another to another. And just as we are changed “from glory to glory,” we also receive “grace for grace” (John 1:16). Thus we are gradually being restored to the full image of God in which we were created (Genesis 1:26-27), being “renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him” (Colossians 3:10), for we indeed are predestined “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).