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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 3

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

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Verse 1

2 Corinthians 3:1. Do we begin again to commend ourselves? This is a plain indication that St. Paul had been blamed among them for commending himself; as the next clause seems to intimate that their false apostle had got himself recommended to them by letters, and so had introduced himself into that church.

Verse 2

2 Corinthians 3:2. Ye are our epistle, &c.— "I may well say, that you are yourselves our epistle, the best recommendation from God himself; his testimonial, as it were, written upon your hearts, in the glorious change by our means produced there: and the effects of it are so apparent in your lives, that I may say ye are known and read by all men, who know what you once were, and now are." Many copies, however, read, our hearts; but the Apostle seems to mean, that the change produced, not only in their external conduct, but in their inward temper, was so great, that all who could judge of it by intimate knowledge (and it is certain that some judgment may be formed,) must own it a great attestation to his ministry;—and in this view we may read your hearts. The enormities into which they were once plunged, (see 1Co 6:11; 1 Corinthians 6:20.) would much illustrate this argument. See the next verse: and see the introduction, or preface, to this chapter, for another view of the subject.

Verse 3

2 Corinthians 3:3. Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared The sense of St. Paul here is plainly this: that he needed no letters of commendation to them; but that their conversion, and the gospel written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of God in the tables of their hearts, by his ministry, and not in tables of stone; was as clear an evidence and testimony to them of his mission from Christ, as the law written in tables of stone was an evidence of Moses's mission: so that he [St. Paul] needed no other recommendation. This is what we are to understand by the verse; unless we will make the tables of stone to have no signification here. But to say, as he does, that the Corinthians, being written upon in their hearts, not with ink, but with the Spirit of God, by his instrumentality, was Christ's commendatory letter of him.—This being a pretty bold expression, liable to the exception of the captious part of the Corinthians, to obviate all imputation of vanity or vain-glory herein, he immediately subjoins what follows in the next verse.

Verses 4-5

2 Corinthians 3:4-5. And such trust have we, &c.— As if he had said, "But mistake me not, as if I boasted of myself. This so great boasting which I use is only my confidence in God, through Christ; for it was God who made me a minister of the gospel, who borrowed on me the ability for it; and whatever I perform in it is wholly from him." Πεποιθησις, trust, is a milder term for boasting. So St. Paul uses it, ch. 2Co 10:7 compared with 2 Corinthians 5:8. See also Romans 2:19. The word Λογιζεσθω, ch. 2Co 10:7 is used as here, [2 Corinthians 3:5.] for counting upon one-self. The clause should be rendered to reckon upon any thing as of ourselves: or, if the word λογισασθαι should rather be thought to signify here to discover by reasoning, then the Apostle's sense will run thus: "Not as if I was sufficient of myself,—by the strength of my own natural parts, to attain the knowledge of the gospel truths which I preach; but my ability herein is all from God." But, in whatever sense the word λογισασθαι is here taken, it is certain that τι, which is translated any thing, must be limited to the subject in hand; namely, the gospel which he had preached to them. Dr. Heylin renders these verses, And we are assured of this, through Christ, before God, 2 Corinthians 3:5. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to effect any thing by the strength of our own reason, but our sufficiency is from God, 2Co 3:6 who hath enabled us to be ministers, &c. See ch. 2 Corinthians 1:6.

Verse 6

2 Corinthians 3:6. Not of the letter, &c.— By expressing himself as he does here, St. Paul may be understood to intimate, that the New Testament, or Covenant, was also, though obscurely, held forth in the law; for he says he was constituted a minister of the Spirit, or spiritual meaning of the law, which was Christ, (as he tells us himself, 2 Corinthians 3:17.) and giveth life, while the letter killeth. But both letter and Spirit must be understood of the same thing,—viz. the letter of the law, and the spirit of the law: and, in fact, we find St. Paul truly a minister of the spirit of the law, especially in his epistle to the Hebrews, where he shews what a spiritual sense ran through the Mosaical institutionandwritings.Theletter killeth by pronouncing death, without any way of remission, on all transgressors; it leaves them under an irrevocable sentence of death: but the Spirit, that is Christ, (2 Corinthians 3:17.) who is a quickening Spirit, (1 Corinthians 15:45.) giveth life.

Verse 7

2 Corinthians 3:7. Which glory was to be done away: Καταργουμενην, done away, is applied here to the shining of Moses's face, and to the law, 2Co 3:11; 2 Corinthians 3:13. In all which places it is used in the present tense, and has the signification of an adjective, standing for temporary,—or of a duration whose end was determined; and is opposed to τω μενοντι, that which remaineth; that is to say, that which is lasting, and has no pre-determined end set to it; as 2Co 3:11 where the gospel dispensation is called το μενον, that which remaineth. This may help us to understand from glory to glory, 2Co 3:18 which is manifestly opposed to the glory done away in this verse, and so plainly signifies a continued lasting glory of the ministry of the gospel; which, as he tells us there, consisted in their being changed into the image and clear representation of the Lord himself; as the glory of Moses consisted in the transitory brightness of his face, which was a faint reflection of the glory of God appearing to him in the mount.

Verse 9

2 Corinthians 3:9. Ministration of righteousness Or, of justification. So the ministry of the gospel is called, because by the gospel a way is provided for the justification of those who have transgressed. But the law has nothing but rigid condemnation for all transgressors, and therefore is called here the ministration of condemnation.

Verse 10

2 Corinthians 3:10. For even that which was made glorious Though the shewing that the ministration of the gospel is more glorious than that of the law, be what St. Paul is treating of here, thereby to justify himself, if he has assumed some authority and commendation to himself in his ministry and apostleship; yet, in his thus industriously placing the ministry of the gospel in honour abovethat of Moses, may he not possibly have an eye to thejudaizing false apostle of the Corinthians, to let them see what little regard was to behad to that ministration, in comparison of the ministry of the gospel?

Verse 11

2 Corinthians 3:11. If that which is done away St. Paul here mentions another pre-eminence and superiority of glory in the gospel over the law; namely, that the law was to cease and be abolished, but the gospel to remain, and never to be abolished.

Verse 12

2 Corinthians 3:12. That we have such hope, That St. Paul, by these words, means the honourable employment of an apostle and minister of the gospel, or the glory belongingto his ministryin the gospel, is evident from the whole foregoing comparison which he has made between the ministry of the law and of the gospel, and not between the law and the gospel themselves. The calling of it hope instead of glory here, where he speaks of his having it, is the language of modesty, which more particularlysuited his present purpose; for the conclusion which in this verse he draws from what went before, plainly shews his design in this discourse to be, the justifying his speaking freely of himself and others. His argument is to this effect: "Having therefore so honourable an employment, as is the ministry of the gospel, which far exceeds the ministry of the law in glory;—though even that gave so great a lustre to Moses's face, that the children of Israel could not, with fixed eyes, look upon him;—I, as becomes one of such hopes, in such a post as sets me above all mean considerations and compliances, use great freedom and plainness of speech in all things which concern my ministry."

Verse 13

2 Corinthians 3:13. Could not steadfastly look, &c.— St. Paul is here justifying in himself, and to other ministers of the gospel, the plainness and openness of their preaching, which he had asserted in the preceding verse. These words therefore here must, of necessity, be understood, not of Moses, but of the ministers of the gospel; namely, that it was not the obscurity of their preaching, not any thing veiled in their way of proposing the Gospel, which was the cause why the children of Israel did not understand the law perfectly, and see Christ the end of it in the writings of Moses. What is said in the next verse plainly determines the words to this sense: "We the ministers of the Gospel speak plainly and openly, and put no veil upon ourselves, (as Moses did,) whereby to hinder the Jews from seeing Christ in the law; but that which now hinders them is a wilful blindness of their minds." This seems to be obviating an objection, which some of the Corinthians might make to the Apostle's boasting of so much plainness and clearness in his preaching; as much as to say, "If you preach the Gospel, and Christ contained in the law, with such a shining clearness and evidence, how comes it that the Jews are not converted to it?"—His reply is, "Their unbelief comes not from any obscurity in our preaching, but from a wilful blindness." See Romans 10:2-4. Some, instead of, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look, &c. read, denoting, that the children of Israel did not look, &c.

Verse 14

2 Corinthians 3:14. Untaken away—which vail is done away in Christ. Not discovered that in Christ it is done away. Castalio. Not uncovered, because in Christ [only] it is done away. Piscator, Bengelius, and Heylin.

Verse 15

2 Corinthians 3:15. When Moses is read, St. Paul possibly alludes here to the custom of the Jews, which continues still in the synagogue, that, when the law is read, they put a veil over their faces.

Verse 17

2 Corinthians 3:17. Now the Lord is that Spirit: Now where the Lord is, the Spirit is. Le Clerc. Now the Spirit is the Lord; and where that Spirit is, there is the liberty of the Lord. Wells. These words, according to Mr. Locke, relate to 2Co 3:6 where St. Paul says, he is a minister, not of the law, nor of the outside and literal sense, but of the mystical and spiritual meaning of it; which here he tells us is Christ. And he adds, there is liberty, because the Spirit is given only to sons, or those that are free. See Romans 8:15. This verse may be paraphrased, "Now the Lord Jesus Christ is that Spirit of the law of which I spoke before, to whom the letter of it was intended to lead the Jews; and it is the office of the Spirit of God, as the great agent in his kingdom, to direct the minds of men to it: and let him be universally sought in this view; for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty; a moral, liberal, and filial disposition, to which, under the influence and operation of the Spirit, the Gospel brings those who are subject to bondage under the imperfect dispensation of Moses."

Verse 18

2 Corinthians 3:18. But we all, with open face St. Paul justifies his freedom and plainness of speech, by his being made by God himself a minister of the Gospel, which is a more glorious ministry than that of Moses in promulgatingthe law. This he does from 2Co 3:6 to 2Co 3:12 inclusively: thence to the end of the chapter, he justifies his liberty of speaking, in that he, as a minister of the Gospel, being illuminated with greater and brighter rays of light than Moses, was to speak, as he did, with more freedom and clearness than Moses had done. This being the scope of St. Paul in this place, it is plain that all, from the words, which put a vail upon his face, 2Co 3:13 to the beginningof this verse, is a parenthesis; which being so read, the comparison between the ministers of the Gospel and Moses stands clear. "Moses with a veil covered the brightness and glory of God which shone in his countenance; but we, the ministers of the Gospel, with open countenances, reflecting as mirrors the glory of the Lord, &c." So Mr. Locke would understand the word κατοπτριζομενοι, and not beholding as in a mirror, because the comparison is between the ministers of the Gospel and Moses, and not between the ministers of the Gospel and the children of Israel. Now the action of beholding was the action of the children of Israel; but that of shining or reflecting the glory received in the mount, was the action of Moses; and therefore it must be something answering to that in the ministers of the Gospel, wherein the comparison is made; as is farther manifest in another express part of the comparison, between the veiled face of Moses, 2Co 3:13 and the open face of the ministers of the Gospel in this verse. The face of Moses was veiled, so that the bright shining or glory of God remaining on it, or reflected from it, might not be seen. But the faces of the ministers of the Gospel are open, that the bright shining of the Gospel, or the glory of Christ, may be seen. Thus the justness of the comparison stands fair, and has an easy sense. We are changed into the same image, imports, "The reflection of Christ from us is so bright and clear, that we are changed into his very image; whereas the light which shone in Moses's countenance, was but a faint reflection of the glory which he saw when God shewed him his back-parts." Exodus 33:23. From glory to glory means, "With a continued influx and renewing of glory;" in opposition to the shining of Moses's face, which decayed and disappeared in a little time. See on 2 Corinthians 3:7. The next clause should be rendered, even as from the Lord the Spirit; that is, "As if this irradiation of light and glory came immediately from the source of it, the Lord himself, who is that Spirit, whereof we are the ministers, 2Co 3:6 which giveth life and liberty, 2 Corinthians 3:17." The liberty there spoken of is παρρησια, mentioned 2Co 3:12 and the subject of St. Paul's discourse here:—as is further manifest from what immediately follows in the first six verses of the next chapter, wherein the attentive reader may find a clear comment on the present verse, which is there explained in the sense here given. It may be proper, however, to observe, that there are some who do not entirely agree with this interpretation. Dr. Doddridge paraphases the verse thus: "In consequence of the liberty enjoyed by virtue of the Gospel, we all, who have been so happy as suitably to welcome it, with unveiled face attentively beholding, as by a glass or mirror, the glory of the Lord reflected from his word, are transformed into something of the same resplendent image of the blessed Redeemer, whose shining face we there see. And the more steadfastly we behold this illustrious and amiableform, the more do we partake of it, proceeding gradually from glory to glory; and all this is as proceeding from the Lord the Spirit." Dr. Heylin observes, that instead of beholding as in a mirror, he thinks the original imports receiving as on a mirror. Theodoret, explaining this verse, says, "As clear water represents the face of those who look on it, so the pure heart becomes as it were a mirror and effigies of the divine glory." Therefore the transformation is not imputed ultimately to the seeing our God, but to his regard to us, whereby he impresses his image on the pure heart, as a polished mirror,while it persists in his presence steadily, and with an uninterrupted serenity. I think then that the verse before us may be thus rendered: We, on whom the unveiled face of the Lord impresses his glory, as on a mirror, are transformed into his resemblance, &c.

Inferences.—Who can forbear wishing, that the infinite importance of the Gospel message may be deeply impressed upon all who preach, and all who hear it? Life or death is in question,—eternal life or eternal death: and while it is from day to day reviving its thousands, it is to be feared, that in some places it is, by the righteous judgment of God on hard and impenitent hearts, aggravating the guilt and misery of its thousands.

How awful is the work of dispensing this Gospel! Who can pretend to be sufficient for such things as these? Who, that considers the nature and importance of the ministerial work, can undertake or pursue it but with fear and trembling? Yet, insufficient as they ought humbly to acknowledge themselves to be, to reckon upon any thing as from themselves, there is a sufficiency in God imparted to faithful ministers: In consequence of which, they are often made to triumph in Christ, borne on in a holy superiority to all the difficulties of their work, and seeing that their labour is not in vain in the Lord. Well may that support them under the discouragements which in other instances they feel, when the fruit of their labours does not immediately appear; yea, when the present state of many under their care is directly contrary to what they could desire. For their work is still with the Lord, and they are a sweet savour to God in them that perish, as well as in them that are saved. Let them therefore gird up the loins of their mind, and exert themselves with the utmost vigour; rejoicing in this, that God will on the whole be glorified, and they, faithful unto death, shall be finally accepted, and through his abundant grace be amply rewarded.

But, as they desire to secure this acceptance, they should never allow themselves, by any foreign mixtures, to adulterate the word of God; solicitous to speak it in its uncorrupted sincerity, as in the sight and presence of God, and as those who know it is not their business to devise a message out of their own heart, but to deliver what they have received of the Lord: so may they hope there shall not be wanting those, who, according to the view which the Apostle gives us of these Corinthians, shall appear as epistles written by the hand of Christ himself, in attestation of their commission from him.
That ministers may more cheerfully hope for and expect such an honour, we should pray that the Spirit of God may lead them into the true sense and meaning of Scripture; that they may not unprofitably amuse themselves and their hearers with vain and cold criticisms on the letter of it, so as to neglect and forget what is most spiritual in its design and meaning; but that they may, under the divine illumination, attain to the mind of the Spirit, and be enabled to make greater proficiency in unfolding and illustrating the important mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, and may be to multitudes a savour of life unto life.

Still full in our view stands the glorious glass of the Gospel, from which the lustre of the Redeemer's countenance is reflected: it is our duty daily to behold his image there, and contemplate it with an attentive eye, as being solicitous that we may wear some of those rays; yea, that we may wear them with still increasing lustre; that we may be transformed from glory to glory, and, reflecting these rays, shine as lights in the world.

It will greatly conduce to raise our minds to this laudable temper, if we frequently reflect on the excellence of the Christian dispensation, as a dispensation of the Spirit and of life; whereas the law was the ministration of death: and while from the glory attending the law we infer, with the Apostle, the super-eminent glory of the Gospel, we shall learn also the superior obligation under which it brings us to regard and obey it, and the proportionably greater danger of despising it. The law of Moses was soon to be abolished; the Gospel still remains, and shall remain to the end of time. Let us pray for its prosperity, and do our utmost to promote it; and let us earnestly plead with God, that whereas there is now a veil upon the face of the Jews, even to this day, when the sacred records are read among them, they may turn unto the Lord, and find the veil taken away: that so, by the conversion of Israel as a nation, there may be a glorious accession of evidence to Christianity; and that the Jews themselves may be happy in the blessing of him whom their fathers crucified, and whom they continue so unhappily to reject.

While defending so divine a cause, and enforcing so important a message, may the ministers of the Gospel use all becoming plainness of speech; and may all Christians know more of that liberty which the Spirit of the Lord gives; that God may in all things be glorified through Jesus Christ!

REFLECTIONS.—1st, To silence his traducers, the Apostle was compelled to protest his sincerity; and,

1. He apologizes for seeming thus to commend himself Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we as some others, the false Apostles, epistles of commendation to you from other churches, or letters of commendation from you, in order to gain credit and influence? No, we need them not, our conduct speaks for us. And ye yourselves are our epistle, our best letters testimonial, written in our hearts, in the deep affection that we bear you; some read your hearts, where their conversion bore an honourable testimony to the instrument of it; known and read of all men, who observe the work of God's grace evident in you through our labours; 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, the Author of all the gifts and graces which you possess; not in tables of stone, as the law of Moses, but in the fleshly tables of the heart, softened and renewed by grace, where the impression of the gospel-word is deep and effective. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward, that our ministry has been made thus effective to you, to God's glory, your benefit, and our own commendation.

2. He prevents any suggestion, as if he herein arrogated ought to himself. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves, who cannot from ourselves naturally produce one good thought, and much less by the mere power of our reasoning effect your conversion: no, but our sufficiency is of God, who alone furnishes us with ability, and crowns our labours with success. To him therefore should the praise of all be for ever ascribed. Note; The best of men have always the lowliest thoughts of themselves.

2nd, The Apostle runs a parallel between the Mosaical and Gospel dispensations, shewing the superior excellency of the latter, and the honour of those who were the ministers of it.

Who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament, furnishing us with abilities, and giving us success; not of the letter, not ministers of the law, which the Judaizing teachers so affect; but of the Spirit, of the Gospel, which the Holy Ghost accompanies with his divine energy: for the letter, the law, killeth, commanding an immaculate innocence which men cannot perform, and denouncing a curse on the least transgression; but the Spirit, the Gospel, attended with the quickening power of the Holy Ghost, giveth life, bringeth penitent sinners into a state of favour with God, and raises them to spiritual life.

But if the law, which was the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, when the two tables were delivered with such solemn pomp on Sinai, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses, for the glory of his countenance, so bright it shone, which glory was to be done away in a while; how shall not the ministration of the Spirit, in the Gospel, be rather glorious, which is attended with such mighty energy and quickening influence? And how much do its ministers also exceed in glory? For if the ministration of condemnation, which could only denounce wrath on the disobedient, be glory; how much more doth the ministration of righteousness, even of the righteousness of God by faith, exceed in glory? And they who minister this glorious gospel must as much excel the ministers of the law, as righteousness and eternal life are preferable to condemnation and wrath: for even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth, as stars disappear before the rising sun. For if that which is done away, as is now the case with the Mosaical dispensation, was glorious, and introduced with such majesty and splendor; much more that which remaineth, the Gospel dispensation, is glorious: its privileges and blessings are incomparably greater.

3rdly, The Apostle's observations from 2Co 3:12 to the conclusion of the chapter, make the inference from the foregoing comparison.

Seeing then that we have such hope in the superior excellence of the Gospel above the law, and trust in the divine power to make it effectual, we use great plainness of speech, freely delivering our message, and affecting no embellishments:—Not as Moses which put a vail over his face, to hide the splendor of his countenance, intimating thereby, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished; they, in general, stopped at the letter and the shadows, and perceived not that all was intended to lead them to Christ, that they might be justified by faith: but their minds were blinded, in general wilfully stupified, (επωρωθη ;) for not only then, but until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament; besides the natural vail of darkness on the minds of the wilfully impenitent, there was an obscurity in the revelation itself, as wrapped up in types and figures, which covered it in some degree from the truly pious; which vail is done away in Christ, in whom all the types and prophecies received their accomplishment, and who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, into whose hearts he shines with the light of his Gospel: but even unto this day, when Moses is read, the carnal Jews are so hardened through pride, prejudice, and sensuality, that the vail is still upon their heart, and they continue ignorant of him to whom the law and the prophets bear witness. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, either the heart of any individual among them, or the people in general in the last days, the vail shall be taken away, and they will see, know, and receive the true Messiah. Now the Lord Jesus Christ is that quickening Spirit, who alone can effect this mighty work: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, and the Gospel is truly embraced, there is liberty, freedom from darkness, guilt, and bondage, and access with boldness to a reconciled God. But we all with open face, who, through the illumination of the Spirit, have received the Gospel in the light and love of it, beholding there, as in a glass, or mirror, which distinctly reflects the person and the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image of the adored Jesus, from glory to glory, from grace to grace, (for grace is glory in a degree,) till, if faithful unto death, his likeness is most completely perfected in us to all eternity: and all this is effected even as by the Spirit of the Lord, or by the Lord the Spirit, the great and glorious Agent in this new creation, who is very God, and in the ministration of his Gospel effectually brings the faithful saints to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. Lord, thou Spirit of all grace, thus transform my soul into the Saviour's perfect image!

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/2-corinthians-3.html. 1801-1803.
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