2 Corinthians 3


The apostle shows, in opposition to his detractors, that the

faith and salvation of the Corinthians were sufficient

testimony of his Divine mission; that he needed no letters of

recommendation, the Christian converts at Corinth being a

manifest proof that he was an apostle of Christ, 1-3.

He extols the Christian ministry, as being infinitely more

excellent than that of Moses, 4-12.

Compares the different modes of announcing the truth under the

law and under the Gospel: in the former it was obscurely

delivered; and the veil of darkness, typified by the veil which

Moses wore, is still on the hearts of the Jews; but when they

turn to Christ this veil shall be taken away, 13-16.

On the contrary, the Gospel dispensation is spiritual; leads to

the nearest views of heavenly things; and those who receive it

are changed into the glorious likeness of God by the agency of

his Spirit, 17, 18.


Verse 1. Do we begin again to commend ourselves] By speaking

thus of our sincerity, Divine mission, &c., is it with a design to

conciliate your esteem, or ingratiate ourselves in your

affections? By no means.

Or need we-epistles of commendation] Are we so destitute of

ministerial abilities and Divine influence that we need, in order

to be received in different Churches, to have letters of

recommendation? Certainly not. God causes us to triumph through

Christ in every place; and your conversion is such an evident seal

to our ministry as leaves no doubt that God is with us.

Letters of commendation] Were frequent in the primitive Church;

and were also in use in the apostolic Church, as we learn from

this place. But these were, in all probability, not used by the

apostles; their helpers, successors, and those who had not the

miraculous gifts of the Spirit, needed such letters and they were

necessary to prevent the Churches from being imposed on by false

teachers. But when apostles came, they brought their own

testimonials, the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Verse 2. Ye are our epistle] I bear the most ardent love to

you. I have no need to be put in remembrance of you by any

epistles or other means; ye are written in my heart-I have the

most affectionate remembrance of you.

Known and read of all men] For wherever I go I mention you;

speak of your various gifts and graces; and praise your knowledge

in the Gospel.

Verse 3. Manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ] Ye

are in our hearts, and Christ has written you there; but

yourselves are the epistle of Christ; the change produced in your

hearts and lives, and the salvation which you have received, are

as truly the work of Christ as a letter dictated and written by a

man in his work.

Ministered by us] Ye are the writing, but Christ used me as

the pen; Christ dictated, and I wrote; and the Divine characters

are not made with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God; for

the gifts and graces that constitute the mind that was in Christ

are produced in you by the Holy Ghost.

Not in tables of stone] Where men engrave contracts, or record

events; but in fleshly tables of the heart-the work of salvation

taking place in all your affections, appetites, and desires;

working that change within that is so signally manifested without.

See the parts of this figurative speech: 1. Jesus Christ dictates.

2. The apostle writes. 3. The hearts of the Corinthians are the

substance on which the writing is made. And, 4. The Holy Spirit

produces that influence by which the traces are made, and the mark

becomes evident. Here is not only an allusion to making

inscriptions on stones, where one dictates the matter, and another

cuts the letters; (and probably there were certain cases where

some colouring matter was used to make the inscription the more

legible; and when the stone was engraved, it was set up in some

public place, as monuments, inscriptions, and contracts were, that

they might be seen, known, and read of all men;) but the apostle

may here refer to the ten commandments, written by the finger of

God upon two tables of stone; which writing was an evidence of the

Divine mission of Moses, as the conversion of the Corinthians was

an evidence of the mission of St. Paul. But it may be as well to

take the words in a general sense, as the expression is not

unfrequent either in the Old Testament, or in the rabbinical

writers. See Schoettgen.

Verse 4. Such trust have we] We have the fullest conviction

that God has thus accredited our ministry; and that ye are thus

converted unto him, and are monuments of his mercy, and proofs of

the truth of our ministry.

Verse 5. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves] We do not

arrogate to ourselves any power to enlighten the mind or change

the heart, we are only instruments in the hand of God. Nor was it

possible for us apostles to think, to invent, such a scheme of

salvation as is the Gospel; and if we even had been equal to the

invention, how could we have fulfilled such promises as this

scheme of salvation abounds with? God alone could fulfil these

promises, and he fulfils only those which he makes himself. All

these promises have been amen-ratified and fulfilled to you who

have believed on Christ Jesus according to our preaching;

therefore, ye are God's workmanship and it is only by God's

sufficiency that we have been able to do any thing. This I

believe to be the apostle's meaning in this place, and that he

speaks here merely of the Gospel scheme, and the inability of

human wisdom to invent it; and the words λογισασθαιτι, which we

translate to think any thing, signify, properly, to find any thing

out by reasoning; and as the Gospel scheme of salvation is the

subject in hand, to that subject the words are to be referred and

limited. The words, however, contain also a general truth; we can

neither think, act, nor be, without God. From him we have

received all our powers, whether of body or of mind, and without

him we can do nothing. But we may abuse both our power of

thinking and acting; for the power to think, and the power to

act, are widely different from the act of thinking, and the act of

doing. God gives us the power or capacity to think and act, but

he neither thinks nor acts for us. It is on this ground that we

may abuse our powers, and think evil, and act wickedly; and it is

on this ground that we are accountable for our thoughts, words,

and deeds.

Verse 6. Who hath made us able ministers] This is a more

formal answer to the question, Who is sufficient for these things?

προςταυτατιςικανος; 1Co 2:16. God, says the apostle, has

made us able ministers; ικανωσενημαςδιακονους, he has made us

sufficient for these things; for the reader will observe that he

uses the same word in both places. We apostles execute, under the

Divine influence, what God himself has devised. We are ministers

of the new covenant; of this new dispensation of truth, light, and

life, by Christ Jesus; a system which not only proves itself to

have come from God, but necessarily implies that God himself by

his own Spirit is a continual agent in it, ever bringing its

mighty purposes to pass. On the words καινηδιαθηκη, new

covenant, see the PREFACE to the gospel of St. Matthew.

Not of the letter, but of the Spirit] The apostle does not

mean here, as some have imagined, that he states himself to be a

minister of the New Testament, in opposition to the Old; and that

it is the Old Testament that kills, and the New that gives life;

but that the New Testament gives the proper meaning of the Old;

for the old covenant had its letter and its spirit, its literal

and its spiritual meaning. The law was founded on the very

supposition of the Gospel; and all its sacrifices, types, and

ceremonies refer to the Gospel. The Jews rested in the letter,

which not only afforded no means of life, but killed, by

condemning every transgressor to death. They did not look at the

spirit; did not endeavour to find out the spiritual meaning; and

therefore they rejected Christ, who was the end of the law for

justification; and so for redemption from death to every one that

believes. The new covenant set all these spiritual things at once

before their eyes, and showed them the end, object, and design of

the law; and thus the apostles who preached it were ministers of

that Spirit which gives life.

Every institution has its letter as well as its spirit, as

every word must refer to something of which it is the sign or

significator. The Gospel has both its letter and its spirit;

and multitudes of professing Christians, by resting in the LETTER,

receive not the life which it is calculated to impart. Water, in

baptism, is the letter that points out the purification of the

soul; they who rest in this letter are without this purification;

and dying in that state they die eternally. Bread and wine in the

sacrament of the Lord's Supper, are the letter; the atoning

efficacy of the death of Jesus, and the grace communicated by this

to the soul of a believer, are the spirit. Multitudes rest in

this letter, simply receiving these symbols, without reference to

the atonement, or to their guilt; and thus lose the benefit of the

atonement and the salvation of their souls. The whole Christian

life is comprehended by our Lord under the letter, Follow me.

Does not any one see that a man, taking up this letter only, and

following Christ through Judea, Galilee, Samaria, &c., to the

city, temple, villages, seacoast, mountains, &c., fulfilled no

part of the spirit; and might, with all this following, lose his

soul? Whereas the SPIRIT, viz. receive my doctrine, believe my

sayings, look by faith for the fulfilment of my promises, imitate

my example, would necessarily lead him to life eternal. It may be

safely asserted that the Jews, in no period of their history, ever

rested more in the letter of their law than the vast majority of

Christians are doing in the letter of the Gospel. Unto multitudes

of Christians Christ may truly say: Ye will not come unto me that

ye may have life.

Verse 7. The ministration of death] Here the apostle

evidently intends the law. It was a ministration, διακονια or

service of death. It was the province of the law to ascertain the

duty of man; to assign his duties; to fix penalties for

transgressions, &c.; and by it is the knowledge of sin. As man is

prone to sin, and is continually committing it, this law was to

him a continual ministration of death. Its letter killed; and it

was only the Gospel to which it referred that could give life,

because that Gospel held out the only available atonement.

Yet this ministration of death (the ten commandments, written

on stones; a part of the Mosaic institutions being put for the

whole) was glorious-was full of splendour; for the apostle refers

to the thunderings, and lightnings, and luminous appearances,

which took place in the giving of the law; so that the very body

of Moses partook of the effulgence in such a manner that the

children of Israel could not look upon his face; and he, to hide

it, was obliged to use a veil. All this was intended to show the

excellency of that law, as an institution coming immediately from

God: and the apostle gives it all its heightenings, that he may

compare it to the Gospel, and thereby prove that, glorious as it

was, it had no glory that could be compared with that of the

Gospel; and that even the glory it had was a glory that was to be

done away-to be absorbed, as the light of the stars, planets, and

moon, is absorbed in the splendour of the sun. See the notes on

the 7th chapter of Romans; and see those on Ex 19, 20, and

Ex 34:29, &c., where this subject is treated in all its details.

Verse 8. The ministration of the Spirit] The Gospel

dispensation, which gives the true spiritual sense of the law.

Be rather glorious?] Forasmuch as the thing signified is of

infinitely more consequence than that by which it is signified.

The THING bread will preserve a man alive; the WORD bread can

give life to nothing.

Verse 9. The ministration of condemnation] The law, which

ascertained sin, and condemned it to just punishment.

The ministration of righteousness] The Gospel, the grand

business of which was to proclaim the doctrine δικαιοσυνης, of

justification; and to show how God could be just and yet the

justifier of him who believeth in Jesus.

Exceed in glory.] For great, glorious, and awful as the law

may be, in its opposition to sin, which is a reproach to man, and

a dishonour to God; and in its punishment of sin; yet it must be

vastly exceeded by that system which, evidencing an equal

abhorrence of sin, finds out a method to forgive it; to take away

its guilt from the conscience, and remove all its infection from

the soul. That this could be done the law pointed out by its

blood of bulls and of goats: but every considerate mind must see

that it was impossible for these to take away sin; it is the

Gospel that does what the law signified; and forasmuch as the

performance of a promise is greater than the promise itself, and

the substance of a man is greater than the shadow projected by

that substance; so is the Gospel of Jesus Christ greater than the

law, with all its promises, types, ceremonies, and shadows.

Verse 10. For even that which was made glorious] The law,

which was exhibited for a time in great glory and splendour,

partly when it was given, and partly by the splendour of God in

the tabernacle and first temple; but all this ceased and was done

away; was intended to give place to the Gospel; and has actually

given place to that system; so that now, in no part of the world

is that law performed, even by the people who are attached to it

and reject the Gospel.

The glory that excelleth.] The Gospel dispensation, giving

supereminent displays of the justice, holiness, goodness, mercy,

and majesty of God.

Verse 11. For if that which is done away, &c.] Here is

another striking difference between the law and the Gospel. The

former is termed τοκαταργουμενον, that which is counterworked

and abolished; the latter τομενον, that which continues,

which is not for a particular time, place, and people, as the law

was; but for ALL times, all places, and all people. As a great,

universal, and permanent GOOD vastly excels a good that is

small, partial, and transitory; so does the Gospel dispensation,

that of the law.

Verse 12. Seeing-we have such hope] Such glorious prospects

as those blessings which the Gospel sets before us, producing such

confidence, as the fulfilment of so many promises has already

done, that God will still continue to work for us and by us;

We use great plainness of speech] πολληπαρρησιαχρωμεθα. We

speak not only with all confidence, but with all imaginable

plainness; keeping back nothing; disguising nothing; concealing

nothing: and here we differ greatly from the Jewish doctors, and

from the Gentile philosophers, who affect obscurity, and

endeavour, by figures, metaphors, and allegories, to hide every

thing from the vulgar. But we wish that all may hear; and we

speak so that all may understand.

Verse 13. And not as Moses] The splendour of Moses'

countenance was so great that the Israelites could not bear to

look upon his face, and therefore he was obliged to veil his face:

this, it appears, he did typically, to represent the types and

shadows by which the whole dispensation of which he was the

minister was covered. So that the Israelites could not

steadfastly look-could not then have the full view or discernment

of that in which the Mosaic dispensation should issue and


Verse 14. But their minds were blinded] By resting in the

letter, shutting their eyes against the light that was granted to

them, they contracted a hardness or stupidity of heart. And the

veil that was on the face of Moses, which prevented the glory of

his face from shining out, may be considered as emblematical of

the veil of darkness and ignorance that is on their hearts, and

which hinders the glory of the Gospel from shining in.

Until this day remaineth the same veil] They are still

ignorant of the spiritual meaning and intention of their own law,

called here παλαιαδιαθηκη, the old covenant. See the word

explained in the preface to St. Matthew.

In the reading of the Old Testament] Here is an evident

allusion to the conduct of the Jews in their synagogues: when they

read the law they cover their whole head with a veil, which they

term the tallith, veil, from talal, to cover; and

this voluntary usage of theirs, the apostle tells us, is an emblem

of the darkness of their hearts while they are employed even in

sacred duties.

Which veil is done away in Christ.] It is only by

acknowledging Christ that the darkness is removed, and the end and

spiritual meaning of the law discerned.

Verse 16. When it shall turn to the Lord] When the

Israelitish nation shall turn to the LORD Jesus, the veil shall be

taken away; the true light shall shine; and they shall see all

things clearly.

There is an evident allusion here to the case of Moses,

mentioned Ex 34:34.

When he came from the Lord, and spoke to the Israelites, he put

the veil over his face; but when he returned to speak with the

Lord, then he took off the veil. So, when the Israelitish nation

shall return to speak with and pray to the Lord Jesus, the veil

of darkness and ignorance shall be taken away from their hearts;

but never before that time. The words seem to imply: 1. That

there will be a conversion of the Jews to Christianity; and, 2.

That this conversion will be en masse; that a time will come when

the whole nation of the Jews, in every place, shall turn to

Christ; and then the Gentiles and Jews make one fold, under one

Shepherd and Bishop of all souls.

Verse 17. Now the Lord is that Spirit] In 2Co 3:6, 8, the

word τοπνευμα, spirit, evidently signifies the Gospel; so called

because it points out the spiritual nature and meaning of the

law; because it produces spiritual effects; and because it is

especially the dispensation of the Spirit of God. Here Jesus

Christ is represented as that Spirit, because he is the end of the

law for justification to every one that believes; and because the

residue of the Spirit is with him, and he is the dispenser of all

its gifts, graces, and influences.

And where the Spirit of the Lord is] Wherever this Gospel is

received, there the Spirit of the Lord is given; and wherever that

Spirit lives and works, there is liberty, not only from Jewish

bondage, but from the slavery of sin-from its power, its guilt,

and its pollution. See Joh 8:33-36, and the notes there.

Verse 18. But we all, with open face] The Jews were not able

to look on the face of Moses, the mediator of the old covenant,

and therefore he was obliged to veil it; but all we Christians,

with face uncovered, behold, as clearly as we can see our own

natural face in a mirror, the glorious promises and privileges of

the Gospel of Christ; and while we contemplate, we anticipate them

by desire and hope, and apprehend them by faith, and are

changed from the glory there represented to the enjoyment of the

thing which is represented, even the glorious image-righteousness

and true holiness-of the God of glory.

As by the Spirit of the Lord.] By the energy of that Spirit of

Christ which gives life and being to all the promises of the

Gospel; and thus we are made partakers of the Divine nature and

escape all the corruptions that are in the world. This appears to

me to be the general sense of this verse: its peculiar terms may

be more particularly explained.

The word κατοπτριζομενοι, catoptrizomenoi, acting on the

doctrine of catoptries, which we translate beholding in a glass,

comes from κατα, against, and οπτομαι, I look; and properly

conveys the sense of looking into a mirror, or discerning by

reflected light. Now as mirrors, among the Jews, Greeks, and

Romans, were made of highly polished metal,

(See Clarke on 1Co 13:12,)

it would often happen, especially in strong light,

that the face would be greatly illuminated by this strongly

reflected light; and to this circumstance the apostle seems here

to allude. So, by earnestly contemplating the Gospel of Jesus,

and believing on him who is its Author, the soul becomes

illuminated with his Divine splendour, for this sacred mirror

reflects back on the believing soul the image of Him whose

perfections it exhibits; and thus we see the glorious form after

which our minds are to be fashioned; and by believing and

receiving the influence of his Spirit, μεταμορφουμεθα, our form

is changed, τηναυτηνεικονα, into the same image, which we

behold there; and this is the image of God, lost by our fall, and

now recovered and restored by Jesus Christ: for the shining of the

face of God upon us, i.e. approbation, through Christ, is the

cause of our transformation into the Divine image.

DR. WHITBY, in his notes on this chapters produces six

instances in which the apostle shows the Gospel to be superior to

the law; I shall transcribe them without farther illustration:-

1. The glory appearing on mount Sinai made the people afraid of

death, saying: Let not God speak to us any more, lest we die;

Ex 20:19; De 18:16;

and thus they received the spirit of bondage to fear, Ro 8:15.

Whilst we have given to us the spirit of power, and love, and of

a sound mind, 2Ti 1:7;

and the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father! and to

this difference the Epistle to the Hebrews alludes, Heb 12:18-24.

2. Moses, with all his glory, was only the minister of the law,

written on tables of stone; the apostles are ministers of the

Gospel, written on the hearts of believers. Moses gave the Jews

only the letter that killeth; the apostles gave the Gospel, which

is accompanied with the spirit that gives life.

3. The glory which Moses received at the giving of the law did

more and more diminish, because his law was to vanish away; but

the glory which is received from Christ is an increasing glory;

the doctrine and the Divine influence remaining for ever.

4. The law was veiled under types and shadows; but the

Gospel has scarcely any ceremonies; baptism and the Lord's Supper

being all that can be properly called such: and BELIEVE, LOVE,

OBEY, the great precepts of the Gospel, are delivered with the

utmost perspicuity. And indeed the whole doctrine of Christ

crucified is made as plain as human language can make it.

5. The Jews only saw the shining of the face of Moses through a

veil; but we behold the glory of the Gospel of Christ, in the

person of Christ our Lawgiver, with open face.

6. They saw it through a veil, which prevented the reflection

or shining of it upon them; and so this glory shone only on the

face of Moses, but not at all upon the people. Whereas the glory

of God, in the face of Jesus Christ, shines as in a mirror which

reflects the image upon Christian believers, so that they are

transformed into the same image, deriving the glorious gifts and

graces of the Spirit, with the Gospel, from Christ the Lord and

Distributor of them, 1Co 12:5; and so, the glory which he had

from the Father he has given to his genuine followers, Joh 17:22.

It is, therefore, rather with true Christians as it was with Moses

himself, concerning whom God speaks thus: With him will I speak

mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the

similitude of the Lord (τηνδοξανκυριον, the glory of the Lord)

shall he behold; Nu 12:8. For as he saw the glory of God

apparently, so we with open face behold the glory of the Lord: as

he, by seeing of this glory, was changed into the same likeness,

and his face shone, or was δεδοξασμενη, made glorious; so we,

beholding the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ,

2Co 4:6, are changed into the same glory.

Thus we find that in every thing the Gospel has a decided

superiority over the law and its institutions.

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