2 Corinthians 3 Commentary


The servant and the message (3:1-18)

Some of the teachers who came to Corinth brought with them letters of recommendation from their home churches, and claimed that these letters gave them authority to teach. Paul carried no such letters, with the result that his opponents suggested he had no right to teach. Paul replies that pieces of paper do not guarantee the truth of people’s ministry. A better means of judging is by the fruit of their work. The Corinthian church, which is the fruit of Paul’s work in Corinth, is all the recommendation he needs. This is the work of the Spirit of God, and is far greater recommendation than a mere letter. The gospel produces fruit that no set of laws can produce (3:1-3).

Paul has confidence in his ministry, but it is a confidence that rests in God, not in himself. What changes people is the gospel, not any personal ability that Paul might have (4-5). He is a servant of the new covenant, by which the Spirit of God gives believers new life within. The old covenant (the law of Moses) set out written laws, but in the end it brought death, because the people were unable to keep it (6).

The contrast between the old covenant and the new is now illustrated by reference to the story in Exodus 34:29-35. When Moses, after receiving the law from God, came down from the mountain, his face shone with a brightness that reflected the glory of God. His face was so bright that he had to cover it with a cloth, as the people were afraid to approach him. Paul’s point is this: if the covenant that brought condemnation and death came with glory, how much more glory must the new covenant have which brings righteousness and life (7-9). If the covenant that was temporary came with glory, how much more glory must the new covenant have which is permanent (10-11).

After Moses had been away from the presence of God for a while, the brightness of his face faded, but the veil over his face prevented Israelites from seeing this fading brightness. To Paul, this fading brightness symbolized the fading away and eventual end of the old covenant. The permanence of the new covenant, by contrast, gives Paul confidence in all that he says and does (12-13).

In a sense there is still a veil that belongs to the old covenant. It is the veil that covers the minds of the Jews, for they read the Old Testament but refuse to see Christ as its fulfilment. Consequently, they cannot properly understand it (14-15). When Moses went in before the Lord he removed the veil.

Similarly, when Jews turn to Jesus Christ, the veil is removed. Through the work of the Spirit, Christ sets them free from the bondage of sin and the law (16-17). Christians also must make sure that there is no veil between them and their Lord. The better they know Christ personally, the more they will be changed so that they become increasingly like him (18).

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