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The Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians: Chapter 3

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1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our a Other ancient authorities read your hearts, to be known and read by all; 3and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

4Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

7Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, b Gk on stones came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, 8how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! 10Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; 11for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!

12Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that c Gk of what was being set aside. 14But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.


a Other ancient authorities read your

b Gk on stones

c Gk of what

Text Commentary view alone

3.1–4.6 : Ministers of the new covenant of Spirit.

1–6 :

Initial consideration of Paul's relationship to the Corinthians.

1 :

Letters of recommendation, conventional introductions for itinerant missionaries to the writer's friends and wider circles; see Acts 18.27 . Romans 16 is one such letter of recommendation for Phoebe. Paul's lack of such letters was seen as a deficiency; see also 5.12 .

2–3 :

Instead of producing a recommendation, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he was the founder of the Corinthian church and calls the church our letter … of Christ. Mention of Spirit recalls the Corinthians' conversion experience; see Gal 3.2–3 . Tablets of stone … tablets of human hearts contrasts the Ten Commandments (Ex 20.1–17; 24.12; 31.18; 34.1 ) with the new covenant of Jer 31.31–33 .

4 :

Confidence, see v. 12 and 1.12–14n.

5–6 :

Competence, see 2.15–16n.

7–11 :

The controlling imagery is Moses' changed countenance in Ex 34.29–35 , which Paul interprets using a rabbinic method of argumentation, from the lesser to the greater.

7 :

Ministry of death, existence under the law of Moses.

12 :

Boldness, see v. 4 and 1.12–14n.

13 :

Paul interprets the veil of Moses as covering up the transitory nature of the glory that was being set aside.

14–15 :

The veil becomes a metaphor for unenlightenment. Old covenant refers not to the Hebrew Bible in general but to the Sinai covenant (Ex 24.7 ) or to the law (2 Chr 34.30 ), see also Moses (2 Chr 25.4; Mk 12.26; Acts 15.21 ).

16–17 :

Paul's reinterpretation of Ex 34.34 , resulting in the Spirit removing the veil, with contrast to the veiled “minds” in vv. 14–15 .

18 :

Glory of the Lord parallels the Lord, the Spirit (also vv. 16–17 ). Transformed, see Rom 12.2 ; image, see Rom 8.29; 1 Cor 15.49; Col 3.10 . From one degree of glory to another reflects belief in the GrecoRoman world that an encounter with the divine transforms the beholder into its image.

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