The Second to the Corinthians 3:1-18

3  Are we starting to recommend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some men, letters of recommendation to you or from you?+  You yourselves are our letter,+ inscribed on our hearts and known and being read by all mankind.  For you are shown to be a letter of Christ written by us as ministers,+ inscribed not with ink but with the spirit of a living God, not on stone tablets+ but on fleshly tablets, on hearts.+  We have this sort of confidence toward God through the Christ.  Not that we of ourselves are adequately qualified to consider that anything comes from us, but our being adequately qualified comes from God,+  who has indeed adequately qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant,+ not of a written code,+ but of spirit; for the written code condemns to death,+ but the spirit makes alive.+  Now if the code that administers death+ and that was engraved in letters on stones+ came with such glory that the sons of Israel could not gaze at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face,+ a glory that was to be done away with,  why should the administering of the spirit+ not be with even greater glory?+  For if the code administering condemnation+ was glorious,+ how much more glorious would be the administering of righteousness!+ 10  In fact, even what had once been made glorious has been stripped of glory because of the glory that excels it.+ 11  For if what was to be done away with was brought in with glory,+ how much greater would be the glory of what remains!+ 12  Since we have such a hope,+ we are using great freeness of speech, 13  and not doing what Moses did when he would put a veil over his face+ so that the sons of Israel might not gaze intently at the end of what was to be done away with. 14  But their minds were dulled.+ For to this present day, the same veil remains unlifted when the old covenant is read,+ because it is taken away only by means of Christ.+ 15  In fact, to this day whenever Moses is read,+ a veil lies upon their hearts.+ 16  But when one turns to Jehovah, the veil is taken away.+ 17  Now Jehovah is the Spirit,+ and where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.+ 18  And all of us, while we with unveiled faces reflect like mirrors the glory of Jehovah, are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, exactly as it is done by Jehovah the Spirit.+

Footnotes

Study Notes

I am introducing: Or “I recommend.” Paul is apparently introducing Phoebe to the Christians in Rome for the purpose of encouraging them to accept her and to adopt the same attitude toward her that Paul had. (Ro 16:2) The Greek word used here is related to the Greek term Paul used at 2Co 3:1 in the expression “letters of recommendation.” In Bible times, such letters of recommendation were a common way of introducing people to strangers. Phoebe, who served as a minister in the Cenchreae congregation, may have carried Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.

letters of recommendation: In the first century C.E., people relied on letters from a credible source to introduce a stranger and to authenticate his or her identity or authority. (Ac 18:27; see study note on Ro 16:1.) Letters of this kind were common, and standard formulas for compiling them could be found in guides to letter writing. (Ac 28:21) At 2Co 3:1, Paul’s point is that he did not need such letters to or from the Corinthians to prove that he was a minister. He had helped them to become Christians and could therefore say: “You yourselves are our letter.”​—2Co 3:2.

You yourselves are our letter: This is Paul’s answer to the question he raises in the preceding verse. The implied answer is, “No, we do not need any written certificate authorizing us to be God’s ministers. You are our living letter of recommendation.” The Christian congregation in Corinth was evidence that Paul was a minister of God.

inscribed on our hearts: Paul carried the members of the congregation along with him in his affections. He had trained them to be public witnesses of God and Christ, so they were a letter on open display, known and being read by all mankind.

a letter of Christ written by us as ministers: Jesus Christ selected Paul to be “a chosen vessel” and “to bear [Christ’s] name to the [non-Jewish] nations” (Ac 9:15), and he used Paul as his minister in writing such a letter of recommendation. Every Sabbath, Paul preached in Corinth to win over both Jews and Greeks. (Ac 18:4-11) Paul could not have written such a letter on his own initiative, for Jesus had told his disciples: “Apart from me you can do nothing at all.”​—Joh 15:5.

on fleshly tablets, on hearts: Or “on tablets, on hearts of flesh” or “on tablets of human hearts.” The Law of Moses was written on stone tablets. (Ex 31:18; 34:1) In this context, the Law covenant is contrasted with the new covenant that was promised in Jeremiah’s prophecy, where Jehovah declares: “I will put my law within them, and in their heart I will write it.” (Jer 31:31-33) Ezekiel prophesied about the releasing of God’s people from Babylonian captivity, describing how Jehovah would remove “the heart of stone,” that is, the unresponsive heart, and give them “a heart of flesh,” that is, a soft, pliable, obedient heart, one sensitive to God’s guidance.​—Eze 11:19; 36:26.

our being adequately qualified comes from God: In this context, the Greek words rendered “adequately qualified” have the basic meaning “enough; sufficient; fit.” When used with reference to people, these terms may mean “competent; able; worthy.” (Lu 22:38; Ac 17:9; 2Co 2:16; 3:6) The whole phrase could be rendered: “It is God who causes us to be able to do this work.” One of these Greek terms is found at Ex 4:10 in the Septuagint, which relates how Moses felt inadequate to appear before Pharaoh. According to the Hebrew text, Moses said: “I have never been a fluent speaker [lit., “a man of words”].” However, the Septuagint translates this phrase “I am not adequately qualified.” Nevertheless, Jehovah qualified Moses for the commission. (Ex 4:11, 12) In a similar manner, Christian ministers are qualified by means of “the spirit of a living God.”​—2Co 3:3.

minister: Or “servant.” The Bible often uses the Greek word di·aʹko·nos to refer to one who does not let up in humbly rendering service in behalf of others. The term is used to describe Christ (Ro 15:8), ministers or servants of Christ (1Co 3:5-7; Col 1:23), ministerial servants (Php 1:1; 1Ti 3:8), as well as household servants (Joh 2:5, 9) and government officials (Ro 13:4).

my ministry: When Jesus was on earth, he commissioned his followers to make disciples of people of all the nations. (Mt 28:19, 20) Paul called this work “the ministry of the reconciliation.” In Paul’s words, “we beg” a world alienated from God to “become reconciled to God.” (2Co 5:18-20) Paul made the most of his Christian ministry to the nations, but at the same time, his earnest desire was that some Jews would also be moved to take the necessary steps to gain salvation. (Ro 11:14) The basic meaning of the Greek word di·a·ko·niʹa is “service” and the related verb is sometimes used in the Bible with regard to personal services, such as waiting on tables. (Lu 4:39; 17:8; Joh 2:5) Here it refers to the Christian ministry. This is an elevated form of service, that of ministering to the spiritual needs of others.

new covenant by virtue of my blood: Luke is the only Gospel writer to record that Jesus on this occasion referred to a “new covenant,” an allusion to Jer 31:31. The new covenant, between Jehovah and anointed Christians, was made operative by Jesus’ sacrifice. (Heb 8:10) Jesus here uses the terms “covenant” and “blood” in a way similar to the way Moses used the terms when acting as mediator and inaugurating the Law covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. (Ex 24:8; Heb 9:19-21) Just as the blood of bulls and goats validated the Law covenant between God and the nation of Israel, Jesus’ blood made valid the new covenant that Jehovah would make with spiritual Israel. That covenant went into effect at Pentecost 33 C.E.​—Heb 9:14, 15.

ministers: Or “servants.” The Bible often uses the Greek word di·aʹko·nos to refer to one who does not let up in humbly rendering service in behalf of others. (See study note on Mt 20:26.) Here Paul speaks of himself, Timothy, and all spirit-anointed Christians as “ministers of a new covenant.” (2Co 1:1) This means that among other things, they were serving its interests by preaching and teaching the good news in order to help others to come into the new covenant or to receive its benefits.​—See study note on Ro 11:13.

a new covenant: Through the prophet Jeremiah, Jehovah foretold “a new covenant” that would be different from the Law covenant. (Jer 31:31-34) The Law covenant was between Jehovah and natural Israel; the new covenant is between Jehovah and spiritual Israel. Moses was the mediator of the Law covenant; Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant. (Ro 2:28, 29; Ga 6:15, 16; Heb 8:6, 10; 12:22-24) The Law covenant was validated by animal blood; the new covenant was validated by the shed blood of Jesus, as Jesus pointed out when he mentioned “the new covenant” on the night before his death, Nisan 14, 33 C.E.​—Lu 22:20 and study note; 1Co 11:25.

not of a written code: Spirit-anointed Christians are not ministers of the Law covenant, some of which was written on tablets and later copied on scrolls. Rather, the new covenant is one of spirit, that is, God’s spirit. The written code condemned the Israelites to death, but ministers of the new covenant are led by God’s spirit to everlasting life. That spirit enables them to keep integrity and to cultivate the qualities needed to gain their eternal reward.​—2Co 1:21, 22; Eph 1:13, 14; Tit 3:4-7.

the code that administers death: This expression refers to the Mosaic Law. The Law made transgression, or sin, manifest. (Ga 3:19) Therefore, it could be said that it “condemns to death.” (2Co 3:6; Ga 3:10) The Law covenant foreshadowed the new covenant that was foretold by Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-33) and that Paul calls “the administering of the spirit” (2Co 3:8). The new covenant is superior to the Law covenant because those who are in the new covenant are followers of the Chief Agent of life, Jesus Christ. So the new covenant brings, not death, but life.​—Ac 3:15.

with such glory: In this passage (2Co 3:7-18), Paul discusses the superior glory of the new covenant compared with the glory of the old covenant. This is the theme of this part of his discussion, as is evident by the fact that in these verses, he uses Greek words that refer to “glory” or “to be glorious” 13 times. The Greek noun rendered “glory” originally meant “opinion; reputation,” but in the Christian Greek Scriptures, it came to mean “glory; splendor; grandeur.”

the code that administers death: This expression refers to the Mosaic Law. The Law made transgression, or sin, manifest. (Ga 3:19) Therefore, it could be said that it “condemns to death.” (2Co 3:6; Ga 3:10) The Law covenant foreshadowed the new covenant that was foretold by Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-33) and that Paul calls “the administering of the spirit” (2Co 3:8). The new covenant is superior to the Law covenant because those who are in the new covenant are followers of the Chief Agent of life, Jesus Christ. So the new covenant brings, not death, but life.​—Ac 3:15.

the code administering condemnation: Here again Paul refers to the Mosaic Law, which “condemns to death.” (2Co 3:6; see study note on 2Co 3:7.) Paul refers to the new covenant as the administering of righteousness. Spirit-anointed Christians who are in the new covenant shine with a spiritual glory that is far greater than the literal glory that accompanied the giving of the Mosaic Law. They do this by reflecting God’s qualities. The new covenant provides “forgiveness of sins” and “a royal priesthood” for the blessing of all mankind, so its benefits far exceed those of the Law covenant, which could not bring righteousness.​—Mt 26:28; Ac 5:31; 1Pe 2:9.

he would put a veil over his face: Paul explains that Moses wore a veil because of the fleshly thinking and the bad heart condition of the Israelites. (2Co 3:7, 14) The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and Jehovah wanted them to draw close to him. (Ex 19:4-6) Yet, unlike Moses, who spoke with Jehovah “face-to-face” (Ex 33:11), they were reluctant to gaze intently on what was merely a reflection of God’s glory. Instead of turning their hearts and minds toward Jehovah in loving devotion, they figuratively turned away from him.

sons of Israel: Or “the people of Israel; the Israelites.”​—See Glossary, “Israel.”

the public reading of the Law and the Prophets: In the first century C.E., this public reading was done “on every Sabbath.” (Ac 15:21) One feature of synagogue worship was the reciting of the Shema, or what amounted to the Jewish confession of faith. (De 6:4-9; 11:13-21) The Shema received its name from the first word of the first scripture used, “Listen [Shemaʽʹ], O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.” (De 6:4) The most important part of the service was the reading of the Torah, or Pentateuch. In many synagogues, the entire Law was scheduled to be read in the course of one year; in others, the program took three years. Portions of the Prophets were also read and explained. At the conclusion of the public reading, a discourse was given. It was after the public reading in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch that Paul was invited to speak words of encouragement to those assembled.​—See study note on Lu 4:16.

Moses: James referred to the writings of Moses, which included not only the Law code but also a record of God’s dealings with His people and the indications of His will that predated the Law. For example, God’s view on the consumption of blood, on adultery, and on idolatry can be plainly seen in the book of Genesis. (Ge 9:3, 4; 20:2-9; 35:2, 4) Jehovah thus revealed principles that are binding on all of mankind, whether Jew or Gentile. The decision recorded at Ac 15:19, 20 would not “trouble,” or make things difficult for, Gentile Christians by imposing on them the many requirements of the Mosaic Law. It would also show respect for the conscientious views held by Jewish Christians, who over the years had heard Moses . . . read aloud in the synagogues on every sabbath. (See study notes on Lu 4:16; Ac 13:15.) The recommended course would strengthen the bond between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

their minds were dulled: Because the Israelites at Mount Sinai did not have their hearts fully turned to Jehovah, “their minds,” or mental powers, “were dulled,” or lit., “were hardened.” The same was true of the Jews who continued to observe the Law after God, through Jesus, abolished it. They did not see that the Law pointed to Jesus. (Col 2:17) Paul uses the term veil figuratively in the sense of something that prevents people from seeing, or understanding. It was only by means of Christ, that is, only by recognizing him as the Messiah and exercising faith in him, that this veil could be taken away so that they could get a clear understanding of God’s purposes.​—Lu 2:32.

when the old covenant is read: Paul is speaking of the Law covenant recorded in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, which make up only part of the Hebrew Scriptures. He calls it “the old covenant” because it was replaced by “a new covenant” and was canceled on the basis of Jesus’ death on the torture stake.​—Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:13; Col 2:14; see study notes on Ac 13:15; 15:21.

a veil lies upon their hearts: The Jews rejected the good news that Jesus preached. As a result, when the Law was read, they did not perceive that it was leading them to Christ. Even though they read the inspired Scriptures, they had neither a proper heart attitude nor a spirit of faith and humility. The only way for them to have “the veil . . . taken away” would be to turn to Jehovah in humility and sincerity, in wholehearted submission and devotion, recognizing that a new covenant had been made operative.​—2Co 3:16.

when one turns to Jehovah: In this passage (2Co 3:7-18), Paul is discussing the excelling glory of the new covenant as compared with the Law covenant made with Israel through Moses as mediator. Paul is alluding to what is described at Ex 34:34. The Greek verb at 2Co 3:16 rendered “turns” means “to return; to turn back (around)” in a literal sense. (Ac 15:36) When used in a spiritual sense, it may denote turning or returning to God from a wrong way. (Ac 3:19; 14:15; 15:19; 26:18, 20) In this context, turning to Jehovah involves turning to him in humility and sincerity, in wholehearted submission and devotion, recognizing that a new covenant is in force. Since 2Co 3:14 shows that the symbolic veil is taken away “only by means of Christ,” turning to Jehovah would also include recognizing the role of Jesus Christ as Mediator of the new covenant.​—See App. C3 introduction; 2Co 3:16.

God is a Spirit: The Greek word pneuʹma is used here in the sense of a spirit person, or being. (See Glossary, “Spirit.”) The Scriptures show that God, the glorified Jesus, and the angels are spirits. (1Co 15:45; 2Co 3:17; Heb 1:14) A spirit has a form of life that differs greatly from that of humans, and it is invisible to human eyes. Spirit beings have a body, “a spiritual one,” that is far superior to “a physical body.” (1Co 15:44; Joh 1:18) Although Bible writers speak of God as having a face, eyes, ears, hands, and so forth, such descriptions are figures of speech to help humans understand what God is like. The Scriptures clearly show that God has a personality. He also exists in a location beyond the physical realm; so Christ could speak of “going to the Father.” (Joh 16:28) At Heb 9:24, Christ is said to enter “into heaven itself, so that he . . . appears before God on our behalf.”

the spirit of Jehovah: The expression “the spirit of Jehovah” (or, “Jehovah’s spirit”) occurs several times in the Hebrew Scriptures. (Some examples are found at Jg 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6; 15:14; 1Sa 10:6; 16:13; 2Sa 23:2; 1Ki 18:12; 2Ki 2:16; 2Ch 20:14; Isa 11:2; 40:13; 63:14; Eze 11:5; Mic 2:7; 3:8.) The expression “Jehovah’s spirit” is found at Lu 4:18 as part of a quote from Isa 61:1. There and in other Hebrew Scripture occurrences, the original Hebrew text uses the Tetragrammaton together with the word for “spirit.” The reasons why the New World Translation uses the expression “the spirit of Jehovah” in the main text, although available Greek manuscripts of Ac 5:9 read “the spirit of Lord,” are explained in App. C1 and C3 introduction; Ac 5:9.

Jehovah is the Spirit: This statement is similar to what Jesus said, as recorded at Joh 4:24: “God is a Spirit.” The Greek word pneuʹma is used here in the sense of a spirit person, or being.​—See Glossary, “Spirit”; and study note on Joh 4:24; see also App. C3 introduction; 2Co 3:17.

where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom: Paul here directs his fellow believers to the Source of true freedom, the Creator of all things, the only One who enjoys absolute and unlimited freedom. To enjoy true freedom, a person “turns to Jehovah,” that is, comes into a personal relationship with him. (2Co 3:16) The freedom that is associated with “the spirit of Jehovah” is more than liberation from physical slavery. “The spirit of Jehovah” brings liberation from enslavement to sin and death, as well as from slavery to false worship and its practices. (Ro 6:23; 8:2) God’s holy spirit also promotes true freedom by producing within Christians the qualities that are essential to freedom.​—Ga 5:22, 23.

the spirit of Jehovah: That is, Jehovah’s active force. (See study note on Ac 5:9.) The reasons why the New World Translation uses the divine name in the main text are explained in App. C1 and C3 introduction; 2Co 3:17.

be transformed by making your mind over: The Greek verb for “be transformed” is me·ta·mor·phoʹo. (Many languages have the term “metamorphosis,” which is derived from this Greek word.) The Greek word for “mind” used here basically denotes the capacity to think, but it can also refer to a person’s way of thinking or his attitude. The expression “making [the] mind over” indicates that a person changes his mental inclinations, innermost attitudes, and feelings. The extent of this change is illustrated by the use of the verb here rendered “be transformed.” The same verb is used at Mt 17:2 and Mr 9:2, where it says that Jesus “was transfigured.” (See study note on Mt 17:2.) This transfiguration was not a superficial change. Rather, it was a complete change in Jesus to the extent that he, the then future King of “the Kingdom of God,” could be described as “already having come in power.” (Mr 9:1, 2) This Greek word is also used at 2Co 3:18 regarding the spiritual transformation of anointed Christians. So when urging Christians to make their minds over, Paul was highlighting a continual inner transformation that would result in a completely new way of thinking that would be in harmony with God’s thoughts.

Jehovah is the Spirit: This statement is similar to what Jesus said, as recorded at Joh 4:24: “God is a Spirit.” The Greek word pneuʹma is used here in the sense of a spirit person, or being.​—See Glossary, “Spirit”; and study note on Joh 4:24; see also App. C3 introduction; 2Co 3:17.

reflect like mirrors: Ancient hand mirrors were made of such metals as bronze or copper, and many were highly polished so as to have good reflecting surfaces. Like mirrors, spirit-anointed Christians reflect God’s glory that shines on them from Jesus Christ. They are “transformed into the same image” conveyed by Jehovah’s Son. (2Co 4:6; Eph 5:1) Through holy spirit and the Scriptures, God creates in them “the new personality,” a reflection of his own qualities.​—Eph 4:24; Col 3:10.

the glory of Jehovah: The Greek word here rendered “glory” (doʹxa) originally meant “opinion; reputation,” but as used in the Christian Greek Scriptures, it came to mean “glory; splendor; grandeur.” The corresponding Hebrew term (ka·vohdhʹ) has the basic sense of “heaviness” and may refer to anything that makes a person or a thing seem weighty, or impressive. So God’s glory may refer to an impressive evidence of his almighty power. In the Bible, the Hebrew term for “glory” occurs along with the Tetragrammaton more than 30 times. Some examples are found at Ex 16:7; Le 9:6; Nu 14:10; 1Ki 8:11; 2Ch 5:14; Ps 104:31; Isa 35:2; Eze 1:28; Hab 2:14.​—See App. C3 introduction; 2Co 3:18.

from one degree of glory to another: Lit., “from glory to glory.” Spirit-anointed Christians reflect more and more of Jehovah’s glory as they make spiritual progress. They are transformed into God’s image that is reflected by his Son, “the Christ, who is the image of God.” (2Co 4:4) It is worth noting that the Greek verb rendered “transformed” (me·ta·mor·phoʹo) is also used by Paul in his letter to the Romans.​—See study note on Ro 12:2.

by Jehovah the Spirit: This rendering is in agreement with the first part of 2Co 3:17, where it says that “Jehovah is the Spirit.” (See study note.) However, it is also possible to render this phrase “by the spirit of Jehovah.” Grammatically, either rendering is correct.​—See App. C3 introduction; 2Co 3:18.

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