2 Corinthians 3:6
who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
(a) Not of the letter. The old law covenant can be contrasted with the new covenant of the Spirit.
(b) The Spirit gives life. The written code condemns and kills in the sense that it inflames and empowers sin (Rom. 7:8, 11, 1 Cor. 15:56). In contrast, the new covenant reveals the life-giving work of the Spirit (Rom. 8:2).
2 Corinthians 3:7
But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was,
(a) The ministry of death. Because it empowers sin, the law is a death-dealing ministry. “The letter kills” (2 Cor. 3:6).
(b) In letters engraved on stones. Paul is referring to the Ten Commandments, but we may say the same thing about any set of rules that are written in stone. Rules suck the life out of your marriage, your family, your church. A blind adherence to principals will cause you to sacrifice friendships and crucify your brothers. Rule-based religion will destroy everything good in your life.
(c) Came with glory. When Moses came down from Mt Sinai, his face shone with the glory of God (Ex. 34:29).
We serve a God of order so any law-based system has a measure of glory. Even the most legalistic denomination may impress with its pomp and ceremony and vast cathedrals of stone. But this kind of glory, like the glow on Moses’ face, is only temporal.
2 Corinthians 3:8
how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?
There’s no glory in condemning sinners to death, but turning sinners into saints and raising the dead is glorious indeed!
2 Corinthians 3:9
For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.
(a) The ministry of condemnation. Look into the mirror of the law and you will feel condemned, every time. The law points out your faults and failings leaving you wretched and in despair (Rom. 7:24).
(b) Glory. The ministry of the law is holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12). It reflects the glory of a righteous God. However, its glory is limited because it has no power to make you holy, righteous, and good. All the law can do is reveal your need for a Savior.
(c) The ministry of righteousness is synonymous with the word of righteousness (Heb. 5:13) and the way of righteousness (Matt. 21:32, 2 Pet. 2:21). It is another label for the gospel of grace which reveals the righteousness that comes from God and is received by believing in Jesus (see entry for Php. 3:9).
(d) Abound in glory. The Holy Spirit will always seek to glorify Jesus the Righteous One (John 16:14). The Holy Spirit will always seek to convince you of your righteousness in Christ (John 16:8-10).
When you sin it takes no faith to look into the mirror of the law and agree that you made a mess. It takes faith to listen to the Holy Spirit and agree that in Christ you are as righteous and holy as he is! This is the good news that turns sinners into saints. This is the startling revelation that empowers you to go and sin no more.
2 Corinthians 3:14
But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.
(a) Their minds were hardened. The word for hardened means to petrify or turn into stone. Live by the law, and you’ll end up with rocks in your head. Rule-based religion literally makes people stupid.
When the Galatians reverted to the law, Paul called them crazy, foolish and stupid. (See entry for Gal. 3:3.) It’s foolish to think we can atone for our sins or earn God’s favor. It’s crazy to think imperfect people can live up to a perfect standard.
Further reading: “How religion makes us stupid”
(b) The same veil remains unlifted. When Jesus died on the cross he fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law bringing the old covenant to a conclusion. This was signified by the tearing of the temple veil (Matt. 27:51). But in the minds of some, the veil remains. It endures whenever Moses is read and people are put under law (see next verse).
(c) It is removed in Christ. The veil can only be lifted by a revelation of Jesus and his finished work.
2 Corinthians 3:15
But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart;
(a) Moses represents the law. A Moses-message is anything that promotes rules and regulations. “The law shows me how to live; it teaches me how to please the Lord.”
(b) A veil lies over their heart. The ministry of law blinds us to the grace of God because it causes us to focus on ourselves and our works instead of Jesus and his. “We are not under law but grace” (Rom. 6:14). Believers ought to have nothing to do with the law because living under law amounts to spiritual adultery. It’s cheating on Jesus (see Rom. 7:4).
2 Corinthians 3:16
but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
(a) Turns to the Lord. In the new covenant, repentance is often described as a return or turning to God (see entry for Acts 26:20).
(b) The veil is removed when we abandon Moses for Jesus. It is taken away when we give up trusting in our performance and rely wholly on his. Jesus is the end or culmination of the law for all who believe (Rom. 10:4). His cross is the exclamation mark at the end of the old covenant.
The Grace Commentary is a work in progress with new content added regularly. Sign up for occasional updates below. Got something to say? Please use the Feedback page. To report typos or broken links on this page, please use the comment form below.
- 2 Corinthians 3:6
- 2 Corinthians 3:7
- 2 Corinthians 3:8
- 2 Corinthians 3:9
- 2 Corinthians 3:14
- 2 Corinthians 3:15
- 2 Corinthians 3:16