Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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2 CORINTHIANS - Chapter 3

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2 Corinthians 3

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  PERSONAL DEFENSE  1, 15 -- 7, 16 (continued)

2.  The Apostle Defends His Assurance  3, 1 -- 5, 10

The adversaries at Corinth also accused St. Paul of self-commendation and boasting.  They said he had to resort to such language and such practices in order to get a hearing.  But the Apostle in this section of his letter tells them that he needed not to commend himself, since the Corinthians themselves were his recommendation and testimonial.  And as to boasting, the very grandeur and excellence of the ministry committed to him and his companions made them speak with boldness and assurance; they could not do otherwise.  And yet they are at all times aware of the frailty and weakness of their own lives and personal efforts, as contrasted with the sublimity and perfection of the work God has entrusted to them.  In their labors and sufferings they are sustained by the hope of a glorious hereafter.  Hence they seek only to please Christ, their future judge.

The conception of Christian theology and of the apostolic ministry, in its preaching, its labors, its sufferings, and its hopes given in 3, 1 -- 5, 10 constitutes one of the finest passages in all the writings of St. Paul.

3, 1-3:  They Are His Commendation.  Again to commend, etc.: implies that the Apostle had already been accused of self-recommendation, perhaps in 1 Cor., or in a lost letter written after our 1 Cor.  This matter of self-recommendation reappears in 10, 12-18 and 12, 11.  If those chapters were written before this one, they throw light on the present verse.  See Introduction.    2 f.  The Corinthian church was St. Paul's letter of commendation.  It was a letter inscribed on his heart and open to the inspection of all the world.  It was a letter dictated by Christ and written down by the Apostle by means of the Spirit.  Finally, it was a letter written on the hearts of the Corinthians themselves.

3, 4-11;  Excellence of the New Law.    5.  While St. Paul refers here directly to the work of the Corinthian missionaries, he lays down the general principle that of our natural strength and ability we are not able even to think, much less to wish or to do, anything supernaturally good and meritorious of life eternal.  The beginning, as well as the completion, of each and every salutary act requires the grace of God.  Such is the doctrine of the Church against the Pelagians, who denied all need of grace, and against the Semi-Pelagians, who denied the necessity of grace for the beginning of a salutary act.

6.  The letter kills: i.e., the outward observance of law without an inner spirit is ruinous.  Some authorities think "letter" here means the Mosaic Law, and "spirit" the gift of the Holy Spirit; the two are thus contrasted in Rom. 7, 6.    7.  Ministration of death: i.e., the Mosaic Law, which had no power, apart from faith and grace, to save from spiritual death; and yet, being divine in its origin, it was accompanied, when given on Mt. Sinai, by a glorious manifestation which shone on Moses' face (Ex. 34, 29-35).    8.  Ministration of the spirit means the New Law, the gospel.    9 f.  The glory of the New Covenant so completely transcends that of the Old that the latter has by comparison no glory at all.    11.  The splendor which accompanied the giving of the Old Law, like the Law itself, was passing.

3, 12 -- 4, 6:  The Veil Is Taken Away.    12.  Such hope, of one day enjoying the fullness of the glory spoken of in 8.    13.  The sense of the Greek is "that the children of Israel might not gape upon the end of that which was being destroyed."    14.  Their minds: i.e., the minds of the Jews who would not accept the gospel.    17.  The spirit is the Holy Spirit mentioned above, in 6.8, the life and principle of the New Law, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, or inasmuch as the Lord here does not mean Christ, but God, the life-giving Spirit of the New Covenant (6; 1 Cor. 15, 54), in contradistinction to the letter of the Old (Cornely).  But it is difficult to see how Lord here can mean Yahweh, to whom the Jews as a people had always turned.  There seems rather to be question of Christ to whom they refused to turn.  When, therefore, the Jews shall have turned from the letter of the Law which kills to the Spirit of the gospel which gives life, the blindness of their minds shall disappear and they shall be freed from the servitude which now enslaves them (Callan).  There is freedom: i.e., freedom from the ceremonial precepts and bondage of Mosaic legislation but not from its moral teaching.  [Commentary on this section is continued at the beginning of the next chapter.]


Confraternity Bible:

They are His Commendation  1* Are we beginning again to commend ourselves?  Or do we need, as some do, letters of commendation to you or from you?  2 You are our letter, written on our hearts, which is known and read by all men; 3 clearly you are a letter of Christ, composed by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on fleshly tablets of the heart.

Excellence of the New Law  4 Such is the assurance I have through Christ towards God.  5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything, as from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.  6 He also it is who has made us fit ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.

7* Now if the ministration of death, which was engraved in letters upon stones, was inaugurated in such glory that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly upon the face of Moses on account of the transient glory that shone upon it, 8* shall not the ministration of the spirit be still more glorious?  9 For if there is glory in the ministration that condemned, much more does the ministration that justifies abound in glory.  10 For though the former ministration was gloried, yet in this regard it is without glory, because of the surpassing glory of the latter.  11* For if that which was transient was glorious, much more is that glorious which abides.

The Veil Is Taken Away  12 Having therefore such hope, we show great boldness.  13* We do not act as Moses did, who used to put a veil over his face that the Israelites might not observe the glory of his countenance, which was to pass away.  14* But their minds were darkened; for to this day, when the Old Testament is read to them, the selfsame veil remains, not being lifted to disclose the Christ in whom it is made void.  15 Yes, down to this very day, when Moses is read, the veil covers their hearts; 16 but when they turn in repentance to God, the veil shall be taken away.  17* Now the Lord is the spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 But we all, with faces unveiled, reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into his very image from glory to glory, as through the Spirit of the Lord.
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1: Again to command, etc.: implies that the Apostle had already been accused of self-recommendation, perhaps in 1 Cor., or in a lost letter written after our 1 Cor.

7: Ministration of death: the Mosaic Law, which had no power, apart from faith and grace, to save from spiritual death.

8: Ministration of the spirit: the New Law, the gospel.

11: The splendor which accompanied the giving of the Old Law, like the Law itself, was passing.

13: The sense of the Greek is "that the children of Israel might not gape upon the end of that which was being destroyed."

14: i.e., the minds of the Jews who would not accept the gospel.

17: Freedom: from the ceremonial precepts and bondage of Mosaic legislation, but not from its moral teaching.