You Can Provide Clean Water to Persecuted Christians

2 Corinthians 3 Study Notes


3:1 The false apostles who had upset the Corinthians had produced letters of recommendation. Paul had never felt the need to ask for recommendations, as the implied “no” answers to the two questions asked in this verse make clear.

3:2-3 The spiritual transformation of the Corinthians was endorsement enough for Paul. In their own person, they were spiritual letters, written by the Spirit on the tablet of Paul’s heart. Literal letters, written with ink on paper or even on tablets of stone, could not compare with changed lives. The reference to stone tablets would remind readers of the Ten Commandments and the old covenant (see note at v. 7; cp. Dt 9:9).

3:4 The confidence that Paul described in this verse does not refer to self-confident arrogance or false humility.

3:5 There is no sufficiency for true Christian ministry except from God. This verse answers the question at the end of 2:16.

3:6 The word for ministers is also translated as “deacons,” a broad term that does not refer to a professional class of clergy or priests. The new covenant was prophesied in Jr 31:31-33, established by Jesus’s death in Lk 22:20, and ministered by Paul. The letter kills refers to the law of the old covenant, which was not designed to give life. It only revealed sin (Rm 7:7-12). The Spirit takes the proclamation of the gospel and creates new life by faith (Rm 8:10; 10:17).

3:7 The ministry that brought death refers to the old covenant made at Mount Sinai. Its effect was condemnation and death, not justification and life. This was not the fault of the old covenant but of sinners who were unable to meet its demands (Rm 7:13). The Ten Commandments were written with letters on stones (Ex 31:18). With God as the source of the law, it was right for its human mediator to have something of God’s glory about him (see Ex 34:29-35).

3:8-9 The phrases ministry that brings righteousness and ministry of the Spirit refer to the new covenant, resulting in righteousness through the indwelling Spirit.

3:10-11 One way in which the old and new covenants contrast is in the degree of glory connected with each. In the natural order, the glory of the moon (which wanes every month) is no glory at all in comparison with the unfading sun.

3:12 If the ministry of the Spirit can have greater splendor than Moses’s ministry, then its ministers can have greater boldness (Garland).

3:13 Paul concluded that the main purpose of Moses’s veil was to prevent the Israelites from observing the fading of the old-covenant glory. The law was designed by God with a built-in obsolescence (Gl 3:24-25; Heb 8:13).

3:14 Another purpose of a veil is to keep the veiled person from seeing outside. Paul implies that the first-century Jews who had not believed the gospel were unable to recognize the fading, temporary nature of the old covenant, even when their Scriptures were read.

3:15-16 The phrase a veil lies over their hearts refers not to a literal veil but to a spiritual impairment. One of the great difficulties Jews have had historically in coming to Jesus as Messiah is to acknowledge that he has surpassed the fading old covenant. The passive verb in the veil is removed refers to the sovereign work of God.

3:17 This is an important Trinitarian text emphasizing the close relationship between the Son and the Spirit. In Rm 8:9 “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ” appear to be interchangeable.

3:18 Paul included all believers among the unveiled, whose glory, having begun in the new covenant, can never fade. It moves from glory (on earth, in regeneration, justification, and sanctification) to glory (in heaven, in glorification).