2 Corinthians 3:1-18
E. Paul and the Ministry of the New Covenant - 3:1-18
1. the Corinthians: Paul's commendation in New Covenant ministry - 3:1-3
Paul may well have felt somewhat awkward following his comments in 2:14-17, thinking that it sounded self-serving and boastful. Perhaps his accusers would use vv. 14-17 to say: "Well, there he goes again, commending himself to you, just like we warned." Paul's use of the word "again" in v. 1 does not mean he was actually guilty of self-advertisement on some earlier occasion, but that his opponents had accused him of it, possibly because of what he had written in such passages as 1 Cor. 4:16 and 11:1 ("be imitators of me").
a. the letters of commendation - v. 1
The "many" (2:17) who peddled the Word of God are the "some" (3:1) who promoted themselves and gained a foothold in Corinth on the strength of letters of commendation. Paul does not deny the validity of using such letters in certain circumstances, but insists that he does not need them when it comes to his relationship with the Corinthians.
Cf. Acts 15:25-27; 18:27 (Paul spent 1 ½ years with the Corinthians; how could they possibly now require such letters of him?); 1 Cor. 16:10-11; Rom. 16:1-2; Col. 4:10.
b. the lives of the Corinthians - vv. 2-3
Cf. Mt. 5:13-16; Phil. 2:14-15; 1 Pt. 2:11-12.
"If it is a letter of recommendation you desire," says Paul, "you are it!" In other words, the best evidence of Paul's apostolic credentials are the Corinthians themselves. Needless to say, this is a remarkable statement given the disloyalty and inconsistency in their behavior and especially in their relationship to Paul. Notwithstanding their failures, Paul still maintained confidence in the genuineness of the work of the Spirit in their lives. Barnett:
"The 'letter' written not on paper but in people –the Corinthian messianic assembly – is Christ's visible commendation of Paul, the church's founder. The church is the Lord's commendation of him" (166).
2. God: Paul's adequacy in New Covenant ministry - 3:4-6
a. the adequacy of God - vv. 4-5
b. servants of a New Covenant - v. 6
This contrast has been misunderstood. It does not mean that the Law of Moses is sinful (cf. Rom. 7:12-14), nor does it allude to two principles of interpretation: literal vs. spiritual. Far less does it have reference to the distinction many make between spirit and doctrine. The contrast in view becomes evident when one examines the nature of the New Covenant and contrasts it with the Old Covenant. In sum, the Law of Moses was imposed from without on a rebellious people, the result of which was death. The New Covenant, on the other hand, is inscribed on the very hearts of its recipients, all of whom, from least to the greatest, will "know the Lord" (Jer. 31:33-34). All participants in the New Covenant are provided with the inner power to fulfill its dictates. The Old Covenant made no such provision. Its dictates confronted a people whose hearts were stone. The effect of God's commandments on unchanged (stony) hearts is condemnation and death. Thus, spiritually speaking, the OC "killed" and made it, therefore, "a ministry of death" (v. 7a). Clements describes it this way:
"Suffice it to say here that in Paul's view the law was inadequate, because it could only prescribe what men ought to do; it did not have the moral power to enable them to do it. . . . What Paul means is that the law was a purely external moral code; such a code, though it may be very successful in exposing people's sin, is no use at all for cleansing people's sin. What people need, if they are to be delivered from condemnation of sin, is an internal moral renewal. The law must not just be written in stone; the Spirit must write it on the heart" (59).
3. the superiority of the New Covenant ministry - 3:7-18
[Excursus on the New Covenant
First, what is the New Covenant? Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:25-28.
· Internalization of God's law (cf. v. 3) ("I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it" Jer. 31:33a)
· Unbroken fellowship with God ("I will be their God, and they shall be My people" Jer. 31:33b)
· Unmediated knowledge of God ("And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them" Jer. 33:34a)
· Unconditional forgiveness of sins ("for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" Jer. 33:34b).
Second, to whom was the New Covenant promised? Jer. 31:31; Heb. 8:8.
Third, in whom is the New Covenant fulfilled? Five answers have been given.
(1) The New Covenant was given exclusively for ethnic Israel and will therefore be fulfilled only in her at the end of the age when Israel as a nation is saved. The Church has no part in the blessings of this covenant.
(2) There are two New Covenants, one for ethnic Israel and one for the Church. This view was first proposed by several dispensationalist scholars from Dallas Theological Seminary.
(3) There is only one New Covenant, for Israel, in which the Church shares spiritually. I.e., those blessings in the covenant which pertain to salvation are equally enjoyed by the Church, but those that pertain to earthly prominence in the land belong solely to Israel.
(4) There is only one New Covenant. The Church, being the historical continuation of the believing remnant within Israel, is the recipient of its blessings. Thus, both believing Jews and believing Gentiles, the latter of whom have been graciously included in the covenants of promise (Eph. 2:12), together and equally enjoy the fulfillment of all aspects of the New Covenant. According to this view, there is a biblical expectation of a mass salvation among the Jewish people who will then be incorporated into the Church, the body of Christ.
(5) There is only one New Covenant, of which the Church, which has replaced Israel in the purposes of God, is the recipient. This is commonly referred to as Replacement Theology. According to this view, there is no biblical expectation of a mass salvation among the Jewish people.
(6) There are two covenants, one for the Jewish people and one for those (whether Jew or Gentile) who embrace Jesus as Messiah. The latter comprise the Church. The former are Jews who need not believe that Jesus is the Messiah but who relate savingly to God via Judaism.
One's decision on this question will be determined by the interpretation of Luke 22:20 (Mt. 26:28; Mark 14:24); 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Hebrews 8:6-13; 9:15; 10:15; 10:19ff.
a. the surpassing glory of the New Covenant - vv. 7-9
See Exod. 34:29-35
1) the passing glory of the Mosaic ministry - v. 7
The fading glory on Moses' face was a symbol of the transience of the Mosaic covenant.
2) the surpassing glory of the NC ministry - vv.8-9
b. the surpassing permanence of the New Covenant - vv. 10-11
"Just as the moon and the stars, though they are themselves bright and spread their light over all the earth, yet vanish before the greater brightness of the sun, so the Law, however glorious in itself, has no glory in the face of the Gospel's grandeur" (Calvin).
c. the surpassing power of the New Covenant - vv. 12-18
1) the permanence and abiding glory of the New Covenant prompts us to speak boldly, and not like Moses - vv. 12-13
What follows is Paul's interpretative commentary on the experience of Moses as described in Exod. 34:29-35.
a) the boldness of NC ministry - v. 12
b) the concealment of OC ministry - v. 13
Paul is pointing to "the veil on Moses' face as masking an already-being-abolished glory, whose function was to point forward to the greater and permanent glory of the new covenant (vv. 4-13)" (Barnett, 192).
This assertion concerning the fading glory of the Mosaic or Old Covenant alerts us to the fact that it was a temporary covenant with a built-in obsolescence. How does this affect the viewpoint known as Theonomy?
2) veiled hearts and hardened minds - vv. 14-15
What the Jews fail to see is that the Old Covenant really is old, having been surpassed and fulfilled in the New Covenant instituted by Jesus. These verses are similar to Paul's discussion in Romans 11:7-10,25-27.
3) unveiled hearts and enlightened minds - vv. 16-17
The phrase "the Lord is the Spirit" (v. 17) has caused great confusion. Options:
· On the one hand, this verse has been pointed to as clear evidence of the Holy Spirit's deity: the Spirit is Lord.
· On the other hand, some have taken it as a denial of the doctrine of the Trinity because it identifies the Spirit and Jesus, thereby eliminating any personal distinction between them. But whereas there is an identity of sorts between the Lord and the Spirit, it is not so absolute as to obliterate any personal differentiation between the two, for the Spirit whom he in some way identifies with the Lord is said in v. 17b to be the Spirit "of the Lord."
· Some argue that "Spirit" = "spirit". In other words, Jesus is the embodiment of or is characterized by that principle, i.e., "spirit", which is found in the New Covenant.
· Others simply point to the Trinitarian mystery articulated by Jesus in John 10:30 and leave it at that.
· Gordon Fee suggests that the "Lord" in v. 16 to whom a person now "turns" in faith is the Spirit, i.e., the energizing power of the New Covenant. Therefore, when Paul comes to v. 17 he is simply making this identification explicit: "Now, the Lord that I just mentioned in v. 16, the one to whom a person turns in faith, is none other than the Spirit himself" (v. 17a).
4) the transforming power of the NC Christ - v. 18
Paul's mirror analogy suggests that we see the "glory of the Lord" indirectly, "mirrored", as it were, in "the face of Jesus" who is "the image of God." But where exactly do we "see" or "behold" that glory? Paul saw the glory of God on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 22:11 ["the glory of that light"]; 26:13). In 4:3-6 he suggests that God shines the glory of that light "in our hearts" through "the gospel." Thus as Barnett explains, "paradoxically, therefore, Paul's readers see the glory of Christ as they hear the gospel, which in turn gives the knowledge of God" (206).
Note: It is important to point out that Paul's "mirror analogy" is not meant to suggest that we see the glory of Christ indistinctly or in a distorted way, but indirectly "as over against our eschatologically seeing him 'face to face.' The imagery, therefore, is something quite positive, and it worked for Paul precisely because it allowed him to postulate a real 'seeing,' yet one that in the present age falls short of actually seeing the Lord 'face to face' as it were" (God's Empowering Presence, 317).
a) sanctification comes as/because we behold the glory of God; the more we know him and behold him (cf. Ps. 27:4) in the splendor of his glory, the more we are changed into the very image of Jesus himself, in whose face God's glory has shined or is reflected (4:4,6)
b) sanctification consists of inner transformation (the verb "transformed" = metamorphoumetha, used of the "transfigured" Christ in Mark 9:2; Mt. 17:2 = transformation of the inner, essential person; thus it consists of more than merely the doing of deeds; see Rom. 12:2)
c) sanctification is progressive (from one stage of glory [first "seen" in the gospel when we turn to Christ] to another [that final glory of the glorified Jesus, whose glory we will see on the final day])
d) sanctification is by grace (we "are being transformed", the agent of which is the Spirit of Christ)
Beholding is a way of becoming. That is to say, you become like that which you behold! We will take on the characteristics, values, and qualities of that which we most cherish and to which we devote our hearts and minds.
The final phrase has been variously translated, the last option being the most likely:
· "even as by the Spirit of the Lord"
· "even as from the Spirit which is the Lord"
· "even as from sovereign spirit"
· "even as from the Lord who is spirit"
· "even as from the Lord of the spirit"
· "even as from the Lord (who is) the Spirit"