2 Corinthians 3:1-11

Ministers of the New Covenant

1 1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, 2as some do, 3letters of recommendation to you, or from you?
2 4You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our[a] hearts, to be known and read by all.
3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of 5the living God, not on 6tablets of stone but on 7tablets of 8human hearts.[b]
4 9Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.
5 10Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but 11our sufficiency is from God,
6 who has made us competent[c] to be 12ministers of 13a new covenant, not of 14the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but 15the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if 16the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory 17that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end,
8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?
9 For if there was glory in 18the ministry of condemnation, 19the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.
10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.
11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

2 Corinthians 3:1-11 Meaning and Commentary

INTRODUCTION TO 2 CORINTHIANS 3

In this chapter the apostle clears himself from the charge of arrogance and self-commendation, and ascribes both the virtue and efficacy of his ministry, and his qualifications for it, to the Lord; and forms a comparison between the ministration of the Gospel, and the ministration of the law, showing the preferableness of the one to the other; and consequently how much more happy and comfortable the state and condition of the saints under the Gospel dispensation is, than under the legal one: on account of what the apostle had said in the latter part of the preceding chapter, concerning the excellency, usefulness, and success of the Gospel ministry, he foresaw an objection would arise; that he and his fellow ministers were proud and arrogant, and commended themselves, which was unseemly, and not agreeably to the character they bore; which objection he obviates, 2Co 3:1, by putting some questions, signifying that they were not guilty of vain boasting; nor did they need any commendations of their own, or others, nor any letters to recommend them, either from Corinth to other places, or thither: a practice which, he suggests, the false teachers made use of; and in 2Co 3:2 he gives the reason why they did not stand in need of such letters, because the members of the church at Corinth were their epistle or letter, declaring to all men the efficacy and success of their ministry among men; but lest he should be charged with arrogating to himself and others, he declares, 2Co 3:3 that though the Corinthians were their epistle, yet not so much theirs as Christ's; Christ was the author and subject, they only were instruments; the writing was not human, but the writing of the Spirit of God; and that not upon outward tables, such as the law was written upon, but upon the tables of men's hearts, which only God can reach; however, that they had been useful, successful, and instrumental in the conversion of souls, through the ministry of the word, that he was confident of, 2Co 3:4 though the sufficiency and ability to think, study, and preach, were not of themselves, and still less to make the word effectual for conversion and comfort, but of God, 2Co 3:5 wherefore he ascribes all fitness, worthiness, and ability to preach the Gospel, to the grace and power of God, by which they were made ministers of it; and hence he takes occasion to commend the excellency of the Gospel ministry above that of the law, which he does by observing their different names and effects; the Gospel is the New Testament or covenant, or an exhibition of the covenant of grace in a new form; the law is the Old Testament, or covenant, which is vanished away; which, though not expressed here, is in 2Co 3:14 the Gospel is spirit, the law the letter; the one gives life, and the other kills, 2Co 3:6 wherefore the apostle argues from the one to the other, that if there was a glory in the one which was only a ministration of death, as the law was, 2Co 3:7 then the Gospel, which was a ministration of spiritual things, and of the Spirit of God himself, must be more glorious, 2Co 3:8 and if that was glorious which was a ministration of condemnation, as the law was to guilty sinners; much more glorious must be the Gospel, which is a ministration of the righteousness of Christ, for the justification of them, 2Co 3:9 yea, such is the surpassing glory of the Gospel to the law, that even the glory of the law is quite lost in that of the Gospel, and appears to have none in comparison of that, 2Co 3:10 to which he adds another argument, taken from the abolition of the one, and the continuance of the other; that if there was a glory in that which is abolished, there must be a greater in that which continues, 2Co 3:11 and from hence the apostle proceeds to take notice of another difference between the law and the Gospel, the clearness of the one, and the obscurity of the other; the former is signified by the plainness of speech used by the preachers of it, 2Co 3:12 and the latter by the veil which was over Moses's face, when he delivered the law to the children of Israel; the end of which they could not look to, and which is a further proof of the obscurity of it, 2Co 3:13 as well as of the darkness of their minds; which still continues with the Jews in reading the law, and will do until it is taken away by Christ, 2Co 3:14 and that there is such a veil of darkness upon the hearts of the Jews, when reading the law of Moses; and that this continues to this day, is again asserted, 2Co 3:15 and an intimation given that there will be a conversion of them to the Lord, and then it will be removed from them, 2Co 3:16 and who that Lord is to whom they shall be turned, and by whom they shall have freedom from darkness and bondage, is declared, 2Co 3:17 and the happy condition of the saints under the Gospel dispensation, through the bright and clear light of it, is observed, 2Co 3:18 in which the Gospel is compared to a glass; the saints are represented as without a veil looking into it; through which an object is beheld, the glory of the Lord; the effect of which is a transformation of them into the same image by degrees; the author of which grace is the Spirit of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 3:1-11 In-Context

1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you?
2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.
3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.
5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,
6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end,
8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?
9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.
10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.
11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold,
13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.
14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.
15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.

Cross References 19

  • 1. 2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 10:12; 2 Corinthians 12:11
  • 2. [2 Corinthians 11:4]
  • 3. [Acts 18:27; 1 Corinthians 16:3]
  • 4. [1 Corinthians 9:2]
  • 5. See Matthew 16:16
  • 6. Exodus 24:12
  • 7. Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 7:3; Jeremiah 17:1
  • 8. Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26; [Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10]
  • 9. Ephesians 3:12
  • 10. [Ephesians 2:8]
  • 11. See 1 Corinthians 15:10
  • 12. Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23, 25; [2 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 5:18; 1 Timothy 1:12]
  • 13. Jeremiah 31:31; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 8:8, 13; [ver. 14; Hebrews 9:15]
  • 14. See Romans 2:27
  • 15. [John 6:63; Romans 8:2]
  • 16. ver. 9; See Romans 4:15
  • 17. ver. 13; Exodus 34:29-35
  • 18. ver. 7; [Hebrews 12:18-21]
  • 19. 2 Corinthians 11:15

Footnotes 3