2 Corinthians 3:7

7 The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away.

2 Corinthians 3:7 Meaning and Commentary

2 Corinthians 3:7

But if the ministration of death
The apostle having observed the difference between the law and the Gospel, the one being a killing letter, the other a quickening spirit, enlarges upon it, and more, fully explains it; and proceeds to take notice of other things in which they differ; and to show the superior glory and excellency of the one to the other; for that by "the ministration of death", he means the law, as delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai, is clear from its being said to be

written and engraven in stones;
as that was by the finger of God himself: rightly does the apostle say, that it was both "written" and "engraven"; for the two tables of the law are expressly said to be written with the finger of God, ( Exodus 31:18 ) meaning either the Spirit of God, who is sometimes so called, ( Luke 11:20 ) compared with ( Matthew 12:28 ) or the power of God, which at once caused this writing to exist; and it is in so many words affirmed, that "the writing" was "the writing of God"; and not of man, nor of any creature, no not of an angel, ( Exodus 32:16 ) yea, even the two tables which were hewn out by Moses, after the first were broken, were written upon by the Lord himself, and not Moses, ( Exodus 34:1 ) . So that as the work of the tables was the work of God, and wonderfully made, the form of the letters, as Abarbinel F24 observes, were miraculously made by him; for this law was, (en grammasi) , "in letters", as the apostle here says; and as it was written in the Hebrew language, very likely it was in the same form of letters now in use with the Jews; though some have thought that the Samaritan letters are the original ones: moreover, the law was not only written, but "engraved"; for so it is said, that the writing was graven upon the tables, ( Exodus 32:16 ) and though the word so rendered is no where else used but there, it is rightly rendered graven, as appears by the apostle in this place; and which may lie confirmed by the Targumist on that, who renders it by (qyqx) , "engraven"; and by the Septuagint (kekolammenh) , which signifies the same; and so in the book of Zohar {y}, the letters are said to be (wpylgta) , "engraven" on the tables: and that the tables were tables of stone, it is certain; they are often so called, ( Exodus 24:12 ) ( 31:18 ) ( 34:1 ) ( Deuteronomy 9:9 Deuteronomy 9:10 ) ( 10:1 ) wherefore the apostle very properly says, that the law was engraven "in stones"; but what stones these tables were made of cannot be said; the Jews, who affect to know everything, will have them to be precious stones, but what they were they are not agreed in; for though they generally say


F26 they were made of the sapphire stone, and sometimes say F1 they were hewed out of the sapphire of the glorious throne of God; yet at other times they call them marble tables F2; and Aben Ezra F3 was of opinion, that the tables which Moses hewed were not of any precious stone, for he asks where should a precious stone of such size be found? though others pretend to say F4, that Moses in a miraculous manner was shown a sapphire quarry in the midst of his tent, out of which he cut and hewed the stones; but very likely they were common ones; however, certain it is, that the tables of stone, as written and engraven by the Lord himself, were made, as the apostle here says, "in glory", (egenhye en doxh) ; and so Jarchi on ( Exodus 32:16 ) "and the tables were the work of God", says, this is to be understood literally (wdwbkbw) , "and in" or "for his glory"; or by his glorious power he made them: now this law, though thus written and engraven, and glorious, it was "the ministration of death"; and is so called, because it threatened and punished the transgressors of it with a corporeal death; they that sinned against it died without mercy upon proper evidence and witnesses; every precept of it had this penalty annexed to it, in ease of disobedience; as the having any other goals but one, making of graven images, taking the name of God in vain, the violation of the sabbath, dishonouring of parents, murder, adultery, theft, and covetousness; instances there are of each of these being punishable by this law with a bodily death: and besides, it is the ministration of eternal death, the wages of sin the transgression of the law; which is that wrath of God, a sense of which it is said to work; the curse it threatens with and the second death or lake of fire it casts into: and may be said to be the "ministration" of it; as it shows persons they are deserving of it, pronounces the sentence of it on them, and will execute it upon them, if grace prevent not; now though it was the ministration of death, yet it

was glorious.
There were many things which made it so; but what the apostle here particularly takes notice of is the glory that was upon the face of Moses, when he received it and brought it from the Lord, which was very great;

so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face
of Moses, for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be
done away.
The history of this may be read in ( Exodus 34:29 Exodus 34:30 Exodus 34:35 ) it was a real visible glory that was upon the skin of his face, so that it shone again; it is said, "the skin of his face shone"; and this shining of his face the apostle very properly calls "the glory of his countenance": agreeably to the Septuagint version, which renders it, "the appearance of the skin, or colour of his face, was glorified"; and still nearer to the paraphrase of Onkelos, which is, "the splendour of the glory of his countenance was great"; and to the Targum of Jonathan, which also assigns the reason of it, and which seems to be the true one, "the splendour of the form of his countenance was glorious, because of the splendour of the glory of the majesty of God, at the time he talked with him". The Vulgate Latin version has led many wrong, to paint Moses with two horns, rendering it, "his face was horned", the Hebrew word having the signification of an horn in its derivative; because glory darted from him like horns, as rays of light do from the sun; see ( Habakkuk 3:4 ) and this brightness and glory were so very great, and so dazzling, that Aaron and the people of Israel were afraid to come nigh; which Jarchi, a Jewish writer, imputed to their sin, and shame, and fear, having worshipped the calf; but our apostle ascribes it to the lustre of his countenance, which was such that they could not steadfastly look upon it; they saw it indeed, as it is said in ( Exodus 34:35 ) yet they could not look wistly at it, nor bear the splendour of it; though this was only a glory, which was to continue but a while; according to the opinion of Ambrose F5, this glory continued on Moses's countenance as long as he lived; but be it so, it at last was done away: now this glory was put there to bear a testimony to the divine authority of the law, that it came from God, and was to be received at the hands of Moses, with awful reverence as from God, and to make them afraid of violating a law which came with such majesty and glory; and also to command awe and respect from the Israelites to Moses, whom they were inclined at every turn to treat with contempt, and to let them see that he had communion with God, which this was the effect of: now this was a circumstance which rendered the law glorious, and was expressive of a real glory in it; which, though as this on Moses's face, "was to be done away"; wherefore the apostle argues;

F24 In loc.
F25 In Exod. fol. 35. 1.
F26 Zohar ib. Targum Jon. in Dent. xxxiv. 12.
F1 Targum in Cant. 1. 11. Targum Jon. in Exod. xxxi. 18.
F2 Targum Jon. in Deut. ix. 9, 10.
F3 In Exod. xxxii. 15.
F4 Jarchi in Exod. xxxiv. 1. Pirke Eliezer, c. 46.
F5 Comment. in Psal. cxix. 135.

2 Corinthians 3:7 In-Context

5 It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.
6 He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.
7 The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away.
8 Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life?
9 If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God!

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. Or ministry; also in 3:8, 9, 10, 11, 12 .
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