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Tuesday, November 28th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 3

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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In the closing verses of the preceding chapter, the apostle might seem to have spoken too highly of himself and put in too high claims for his work. To do away with any such impression is the object of the first six verses of this chapter.

Verse 1

2 Corinthians 3:1. Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? or [1] need we, as do some, epistles of commendation to you or from you? (On these two questions see footnote on chap. 2 Corinthians 1:13.) In those times, when means of communication between distant places were both few and slow, such recommendatory letters would be natural, and we have examples of the practice in Acts 15:23; Acts 18:27; indeed in this very Epistle (2 Corinthians 8:18-19), as also in 3 John 1:5-8. Against the usefulness of such letters in general the apostle here says nothing. But ‘was it come to this, that he needed such to his own children in the faith’? The “some” who did need such letters were doubtless the parties who had come to Corinth as emissaries from the hostile party of Jewish zealots for the law, to poison them against his own person and teaching, and who, in order to make way for themselves, had brought with them letters, probably from the headquarters of his opponents at Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:12).

[1] The Authorised Version has done well in departing here (with Beza) from the received reading (‘unless it be that we need,’ etc.). Though the evidence against it is decisive, they were probably less influenced by this than by its evident unsuitableness.

Verse 2

2 Corinthians 3:2. Ye are our epistle. ‘Your conversion is our letter recommendatory’ not needing to be carried about and produced with the hand, but written in our hearts. Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:2, “The seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.” No true servant of Christ will feel himself above the need of such seals of his ministry. In the early Church of Scotland, the most gifted ministers never deemed their Divine “call” to be decisively “sealed” until they could see some saving fruit of it. But our apostle’s letter of recommendation, in the conversion of the Corinthians, was not only written in his own heart, but known and read of all men in the marvellous and manifest change which the Gospel had wrought on one of the most unlikely of all communities. [1]

[1] There is in the original Greek words here a play upon the words “ known and read”, which cannot be represented in our language the same which is found in Acts 8:30, “ Understandest thou what thou readest?

Verse 3

2 Corinthians 3:3. being made manifest that ye are an epistle of Christ. Nearly all modern interpreters take this to mean, ‘an epistle of which Christ is the author.’ But with Chrysostom we cannot but think the meaning is, ‘an epistle of which Christ is the subject-matter,’ as if he had said, ‘all who see you may read Christ in you.’ The other view of the clause seems like a repetition of the preceding one, while this presents the change on the Corinthians in a new and striking light. Besides, if the phrase “ye are our epistle” (2 Corinthians 3:2), means ‘an epistle commendatory of us,’ the phrase “ye are an epistle of Christ,” may well mean ‘an epistle commendatory of Christ.’ Compare Galatians 2:20, “Christ liveth in me,” and Philippians 1:21, “To me to live is Christ,” ministered by us as if he had said, by the change wrought through us, ‘We wrote Christ on your character,’ written ... by the Spirit of the living God accompanying our message, not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. [1] There is here an evident allusion to the Mosaic law as written on tables of stone. The contrast between this and the same laws as written on the heart is precisely that which both Jeremiah and Ezekiel had predicted as the grand point of contrast between the old and the new economy. “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers . . . I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:31-33). In Ezekiel, it is the heart itself, which is of stone, but this is to be taken away and in place of it a heart of flesh is to be given (Ezekiel 36:26).

[1] If MS. authority is to decide the true reading here, there can be no doubt that it is this: “in fleshy tables, even hearts,” or “in tables that are hearts of flesh,” for the evidence of MSS. is overwhelming. But this is so unnatural, that though we would not (with Dr. Scrivener, in the second edition of his Biblical Criticism of the New Testament, p. 442) call it “a perfectly absurd reading,” we cannot but regard it, with Meyer, as a slip of the pen: “kardias sarkinais” passing easily into “kardiais sarkinais,” as Scrivener says, ‘by dint of the rhyming termination.’ Certainly Irenæus (2d century) read as in the received text, if we may trust the Latin rendering, and Origen (3d century); and with them nearly all the versions.

Verse 4

2 Corinthians 3:4. And such confidence have we through Christ. .. not that we are sufficient of (‘from’) ourselves to account anything as from (‘out of’) ourselves as though we were the source of our own success; but our sufficiency is from God;

Verse 6

2 Corinthians 3:6. who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant. The same word is in the original thrice repeated in different forms, and it might be rendered ‘not we are fit of our-selves. . . but our fitness is from God, who also fitted us to be ministers,’ etc. The expression “able ministers” in the Authorised Version is now unsuitable from its ambiguity, not of the letter meaning, not the letter of the law, as opposed to the spirit of the same law; but not of the law itself, considered as a code of duty, to be obeyed on pain of death, but of the spirit that word of the Gospel which, instinct with quickening power, “is spirit and life,” for the letter killeth cf. Romans 4:14, “the law worketh wrath,” and 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, “When the commandment came, gin revived, and I died; and the commandment which was unto life (in its primary intention) I found to be unto death” (through my breach of it).

From this the apostle is led into a lengthened contrast, extending to the end of the chapter, between the two dispensations, both in their essential character as killing and as quickening and, as a consequence from this, in that freedom and openness which are distinctive of the Gospel and its ministry, and the reverse of the law.

Verse 7

2 Corinthians 3:7. But if the ministration of death that of the law, which by reason of our inability to keep it, becomes to us a ministration of death, written ( Gr. ‘ in letters’) and engraven on stones, came with glory with a glory expressive of the righteous claims of Jehovah on His reasonable creatures, so that the children of Israel could not look stedfastly upon the face of Moses for the glory of his face. The allusion is to Exodus 34:30, all so awe-struck with the appearance of Moses when he came down from the Mount, that they were afraid to come nigh him, which glory was passing away was expressive only of what was transitory.

Verse 8

2 Corinthians 3:8. How shall not rather the ministration of the Spirit of that which is “spirit and life,” be with glory?

Verse 9

2 Corinthians 3:9. For if the ministration of condemnation is glory the law is glorious, even though in our case its effect is condemnation, much rather doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. Mark how the true sense of the important word “righteousness” here fixes itself by the contrast in the verse; for just as the one economy is first said to be that of “death,” the other that of “life,” so here the same contrast is presented as that of “condemnation” by the law and “righteousness” by the Gospel, which obviously means ‘justifying righteousness,’

Verse 10

2 Corinthians 3:10. For verily that which hath been made glorious hath not been made glorious in this respect i.e. ‘ hath had its glory eclipsed,’ by reason of the glory that surpasseth.

Verse 11

2 Corinthians 3:11. For if that which passeth away which was in its own nature but transitory, was with glory was ushered in with manifestations of awful glory much more that which remaineth the enduring economy is in glory. Now comes the application of all this.

Verse 12

2 Corinthians 3:12. Having therefore such a hope in the exercise of such a ministry, we use great boldness (or ‘openness’) of speech. It is the same word as is used in Mark 8:32, where the reference is to our Lord’s naked announcement of His death, which up to that time he had only darkly hinted. In like manner, the great truths now openly proclaimed in the Gospel lay concealed under the figures of the legal economy. But now that the substance has come, the wonders of grace in Christ Jesus may with all openness and boldness of speech be proclaimed.

Verse 13

2 Corinthians 3:13. And are not as Moses, who put a veil upon his face, that the children of Israel should not look stedfastly to the end of that which was passing away. Here again the reference is to what is said of Moses in Exodus 34:33-35. But as this is expressed with a little obscurity, critics are divided as to the meaning. In Exodus 34:33, our Version says, “And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.” But the LXX. translates, “And after Moses had ceased speaking to them, he put a veil on his face.” Most modern critics, taking this to be the true sense of the passage, and the apostle’s view of it too, understand him to mean that Moses, ere he closed his discourse, veiled his face, that the people might not see his radiance vanishing quite away. No one would naturally read the passage so, and it is far from natural; nor does the apostle say this. He says that Moses veiled his face that they “might not look stedfastly unto the end (τ ὸ τέλος) of that which was passing away;” that is, as we understand it, Moses, seeing they were afraid to come near him on account of his radiant countenance, veiled it while speaking to them (only removing the veil when he went in again before the Lord); and the import of what the apostle says, as we read his words, is, ‘Bright as was the glory of Moses’ economy, like that of his countenance when he came forth from having this disclosed to him from the excellent glory, and transitory as it was like the glory of his own countenance yet it was too bright for their gaze; nor was it fitting, with their spiritual incapacity, that they should see “to the end of it:” to them it behoved to be a veiled economy, like the veiled face of the lawgiver while giving it forth to them.’

Verse 14

2 Corinthians 3:14. but their minds ( Gr. ‘thoughts’) were hardened they were of blunted spiritual perception, for ( i.e. in proof of this) until this very day at the reading of the old covenant (their own Scriptures) the same veil remaineth unlifted; which veil is done away in Christ He being “the end of the law,” the key to all its enigmas, the substance of all its shadows.

Verse 15

2 Corinthians 3:15. But though “the darkness is past and the true light now shineth,” what avails this for those who will not see? for until this day, whensoever Moses is read, a veil (of voluntary obscurity) lieth upon their heart. Such is their spiritual obtuseness, that even after that which is perfect, permanent, and universal is come, they shut them-selves up in their fragmentary, provisional, temporary economy, and doat upon it, unable to see its inherent imperfection, not feeling the utter inadequacy of its provisions for meeting the deep wants of their own nature. Moses with them is everything, and Christ is nothing. When the Sun of righteousness arose with healing in His wings to them who feared God’s name, they, unprepared to welcome it, retreated into their own darkness, which they loved better.

Verse 16

2 Corinthians 3:16. But whensoever it ( i.e. their heart) shall turn to the Lord to the Lord Christ the veil is taken away the present tense, here used, signifying that it vanishes at once on their “looking on Him whom they pierced.”

Verse 17

2 Corinthians 3:17. Now the Lord the glorified Lord of the Church is the Spirit that quickening Spirit, who “by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven” makes the Gospel “spirit and life” to “as many as receive Him” (John 1:12-13; and see 2 Corinthians 3:6 above). ‘Where Christ is (says Bengel) there is the Spirit of Christ; where the Spirit of Christ is, there is Christ’ (Romans 8:9-11).

and where the Spirit of the lord is, there is liberty (Romans 8:15) the reverse of that “bondage” which is our apostle’s invariable characteristic of the legal economy.

Verse 18

2 Corinthians 3:18. But we all, with unveiled face, reflecting as a minor the glory of the Lord the Lord Christ, are transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit. In the 12th verse the apostle had said, “We are not as Moses, who put a veil on his face, that the children of Israel should not look stedfastly to the end of that which was passing away.” And we naturally expect he will next tell us what we are in contrast with Moses, in his veiled and transitory economy. And here at length, after several parenthetical explanations, we have it. Moses’ face was veiled, but ours is unveiled. And as Moses was in this but the visible expression of the economy he represented, and of all under it, so the “we” here are all who, believing, see this veil “done away in Christ.” [1] But the next clause involves some difficulty. For it must be admitted that the Authorised Version, “beholding,” gives the classical sense of the Greek word, when used, as here, in the middle voice; and some of the best interpreters (as Meyer) not only insist on this here, but judge any other to be unsuitable to the context. But if this last test is to decide the question, we think Dean Stanley has shewn that “beholding” here is quite unsuitable. Certainly Chrysostom, who takes “reflecting as a mirror” to be the true sense here, and who knew Greek usage, was not deterred from so taking it on account of the customary usage of the word; and since the word is used nowhere else either in the LXX. or N. T., we ought to be guided by what suits the context: so Erasmus, Luther, Bengel, Olshausen, Billroth, take it, are transformed (as in Romans 12:2; in Matthew 17:2, “transfigured”) into the same image from glory to glory. If anything could justify the rendering we have adopted, of “reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord,” it seems to be this. The allusion plainly is to Moses, whose face, beholding without a veil the glory of Jehovah, shone with such brightness that the people were afraid to come near him, and he had to veil himself when he spoke to them. He “mirrored” the glory which he beheld; he was “transformed” into it. But that was a purely visible and transitory glory, whereas we who believe, beholding with unveiled face the glory of Christ “in whom it hath pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell, and in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” mirror forth that glory; we are transformed into His image, not, however, all at once: it proceeds from stage to stage; the assimilation is a progressive one, until the transformation is complete. [2] But how is it carried on? The answer follows; even as from the Lord the Spirit. The “even as” here is not that of similitude, but of congruity; it is not ‘ like what the Lord the Spirit effects,’ but ‘this transformation advances majestically in a style befitting the Lord the Spirit to effect in us.’ Compare 2 Corinthians 2:17, “ as of sincerity, as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ;” and John 1:14, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of (such as became) the only begotten of the Father.” [3]

[1] Many expositors take the “we” here to mean the preachers of Christ, as contrasted with Moses personally as the giver forth of the law (so Erasmus, Estius, Bengel). But the fatal objection to this is, that in the very next clause the same “we” are said to be “transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” and this surely will not be restricted to the preachers of Christ

[2] The Greek expositors, followed by Estius. Bengel, Meyer, etc., take this to mean ‘from the glory of Christ to its imprint on us,’ which to us teems tame.

[3] Excellent interpreters vindicate the rendering of our Authorised Version “even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (the Vulgate, Erasmus, Calvin, Bengel). But this is not the usual sense of two genitives, neither having the article.

Another rendering the Lord of the Spirit” makes good Greek, and is advocated by Meyer, De Wette, Ostander, etc. But, as a title of Christ, it is totally unexampled; and though an appeal is made in support of it to Christ’s being the Giver or the Spirit, the two phrases are not similar, and it is incongruous with N. T. usage. The only other rendering, “the Lord the Spirit,” while it is the usual sense of two nouns so placed (such as “from God the Father,” Galatians 1:3, Gr.), is in more strict consistency with the immediate context than the others.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/2-corinthians-3.html. 1879-90.
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