2 Corinthians, Chapter 3 Discussion Notes

Discussion Notes for 2 Corinthians

Chapter 3

[alert-announce]Feel free to help with these notes by using the comment area at the end of this post, i.e. “Verse 1 – {your comments}” or “Verses 1-3 – {your comments}”[/alert-announce]


An Epistle – 2 Corinthians 3:1-3


1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you?

  • [JD]  Verse 1 would be difficult to appreciate if it were not for verses 2-3.  
    1. It seems many people were apparently speaking out against the apostle Paul, and maybe those traveling with him.  
    2. For the Corinthian brethren to be persuaded by these attacks or take part in the attacks would be a great insult to the apostle Paul.
    3. There should be no reason for Paul to seek epistles (letters) of commendation on his behalf.  (In the beginning of his work, this was necessary in Jerusalem.  However, Paul’s work should have spoken for itself, as the next verses will show.)

2 You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men;

  • [JD]  Consider the ESV rendering:
    1. “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.”
    2. The ESV adds “of recommendation” to make a direct connection with the letters of recommendations referenced in verse 1.
    3. To make the connection the verse 3, Paul is essentially saying his work with the Corinthians and their obedience is the “commendation” for which they may have been looking.

3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.

  • [JD]  The salvation of the Corinthians came as a result of Jesus Christ, therefore they were “an epistle of Christ.”  We might make a connection with Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 3:7, “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.”
  • [JD]  We might say this salvation was “ministered” by Paul and others.   The NASB reads, “cared for by us” whereas the ESV reads, “delivered by us.”  The HCSB reads, “produced by us.”  
  • [JD]  This “epistle” or letter of Christ was not written on “tablets of stone” but on the heart.  Might there be a connection with Paul’s statement to the brethren Rome when he wrote, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered” (Romans 6:17).
  • [WW] Paul is alluding to a several OT ideas:
    1. “Stone tablets” almost certainly invokes the idea of the tablets of law given to Moses
    2. “Heart tablets” (and their contrast with stone tablets) appears to be an allusion to Ezek 11:19; 36:26-27, where God promised to remove the heart of stone within the people and replace it with a heart of flesh. (Also, he puts a “new spirit” within them)
    3. Also, writing the law on the hearts invokes the language of Jer 31:31-34 (as noted below)

Sufficiency – 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

4 And we have such trust through Christ toward God.

5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,

  • [JD] The ESV reads, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,”
    1. While the apostles revealed the mystery, the new covenant, it was not of their own doing.  The work was from the Holy Spirit.

6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

  • [JD] The apostles sufficiently revealed or made known the “new covenant” as was prophesied in Jeremiah 31.
  • [JD]  Questions for consideration:
    1. Is “the letter” referring to the law of Moses, thereby connecting “the letter kills” with Romans 7:7-10?
      • [WW] It appears so. If we are to see “new covenant” as an allusion to Jer 31, then Jer 31’s “old covenant” seems like an obvious referent for the “letter” here (although I do think the application can be extended).
      • One of the things that made the old covenant flawed (among other things) was the fact that it was merely a pen-and-paper “say-so” document. It repeatedly exhorted the people to put the word on their hearts (Deut. 4:9, 29, 39; 5:29; 6:6; 11:18; 30:14; 32:46), but didn’t actually put the word on their hearts. They were being taught “know the Lord!” (Jer 31:34), but they did not actually know him, contrary to Jeremiah’s ideal.
        1. A child circumcised on the eighth day could not “choose” the law, and subsequently did not have the law on his heart. He merely met a physical requirement with no inward transformation.
      • By contrast, Christ comes to fulfill the law (Matt 5:17-20).
      • One of the purposes of his sacrifice (among other things) is to compel us to be transformed–writing said law on our hearts. Hence the language of 3:16–when a person turns to the Lord, the “veil” over the heart is taken away.
    2. Is “the Spirit gives life” referring to the mystery of salvation which the apostles revealed by the Holy Spirit?
      • [WW] I think the statement refers to more than just the Spirit’s revelatory work. If we could sum up the Spirit’s total work in one sentence actually, this would be it: The Spirit “gives life”
        1. Word “spirit” means “breath” which is necessary for life (cf. Isa 42:5; Jms 2:26)
        2. The Spirit was present at creation when life was created (Gen 1:2)
        3. Prophets depicted outpouring of Spirit as a way of “rejuvenating” creation (Isa 32:13-18; 44:3-4)
        4. God’s Spirit needed to give life to dry bones (Ezek 37:14)
        5. Jesus’ words are “spirit and life,” and it is the Spirit who gives life (John 6:63)
        6. Spirit associated with Jesus’ resurrection (Rom 1:4; 8:11)
        7. A good case can be made to translate 1 Pet 3:18 as “put to death by the flesh, but being made alive by the Spirit”
      • Based on this, I think the Spirit giving us life has a double meaning (sim. to Jesus’ “two resurrections” in John 5:25-29)
        1. The Spirit gives us spiritual life right now by making us alive in Christ (a “new life” that begins at our baptism, per Eph 2; Rom 6; Col 3; etc.)
        2. The Spirit will have a future hand in raising us from the dead (per Rom 8:11; Gal 6:8)

Ministries – 2 Corinthians 3:7-11

7 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away,


8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?


9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.


10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels.


11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.


A Veil Removed – 2 Corinthians 3:12-18


12 Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—


13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.


14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.


15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.


16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.


17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.


18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.



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