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  • JAMIESON-FAUSSET-BROWN - 2CORINTHIANS 3
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    CHAPTER 3

    2Co 3:1-18. THE SOLE COMMENDATION HE NEEDS TO PROVE GOD'S SANCTION OF HIS MINISTRY HE HAS IN HIS CORINTHIAN CONVERTS: HIS MINISTRY EXCELS THE MOSAIC, AS THE GOSPEL OF LIFE AND LIBERTY EXCELS THE LAW OF CONDEMNATION.

    1. Are we beginning again to recommend ourselves (2Co 5:12) (as some of them might say he had done in his first Epistle; or, a reproof to "some" who had begun doing so)!
    - commendation--recommendation. (Compare 2Co 10:18). The "some" refers to particular persons of the "many" (2Co 2:17) teachers who opposed him, and who came to Corinth with letters of recommendation from other churches; and when leaving that city obtained similar letters from the Corinthians to other churches. The thirteenth canon of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) ordained that "clergymen coming to a city where they were unknown, should not be allowed to officiate without letters commendatory from their own bishop." The history (Ac 18:27) confirms the existence of the custom here alluded to in the Epistle: "When Apollos was disposed to pass into Achaia [Corinth], the brethren [of Ephesus] wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him." This was about two years before the Epistle,and is probably one of the instances to which Paul refers, as many at Corinth boasted of their being followers of Apollos (1Co 1:12).

    2. our epistle--of recommendation.
    - in our hearts--not letters borne merely in the hands. Your conversion through my instrumentality, and your faith which is "known of all men" by widespread report (1Co 1:4-7), and which is written by memory and affection on my inmost heart and is borne about wherever I go, is my letter of recommendation (1Co 9:2).
    - known and read--words akin in root, sound, and sense (so 2Co 1:13). "Ye are known to be my converts by general knowledge: then ye are known more particularly by your reflecting my doctrine in your Christian life." The handwriting is first "known," then the Epistle is "read" [GROTIUS] (2Co 4:2; 1Co 14:25). There is not so powerful a sermon in the world, as a consistent Christian life. The eye of the world takes in more than the ear. Christians' lives are the only religious books the world reads. IGNATIUS [Epistle to the Ephesians, 10] writes, "Give unbelievers the chance of believing through you. Consider yourselves employed by God; your lives the form of language in which He addresses them. Be mild when they are angry, humble when they are haughty; to their blasphemy oppose prayer without ceasing; to their inconsistency, a steadfast adherence to your faith."

    3. declared--The letter is written so legibly that it can be "read by all men" (2Co 3:2). Translate, "Being manifestly shown to be an Epistle of Christ"; a letter coming manifestly from Christ, and "ministered by us," that is, carried about and presented by us as its (ministering) bearers to those (the world) for whom it is intended: Christ is the Writer and the Recommender, ye are the letter recommending us.
    - written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God--Paul was the ministering pen or other instrument of writing, as well as the ministering bearer and presenter of the letter. "Not with ink" stands in contrast to the letters of commendation which "some" at Corinth (2Co 3:1) used. "Ink" is also used here to include all outward materials for writing, such as the Sinaitic tables of stone were. These, however, were not written with ink, but "graven" by "the finger of God" (Ex 31:18; 32:16). Christ's Epistle (His believing members converted by Paul) is better still: it is written not merely with the finger, but with the "Spirit of the living God"; it is not the "ministration of death" as the law, but of the "living Spirit" that "giveth life" (2Co 3:6-8).
    - not in--not on tables (tablets) of stone, as the ten commandments were written (2Co 3:7).
    - in fleshy tables of the heart--ALL the best manuscripts read, "On [your] hearts [which are] tables of flesh." Once your hearts were spiritually what the tables of the law were physically, tables of stone, but God has "taken away the stony heart out of your flesh, given you a heart of flesh" (fleshy, not fleshly, that is, carnal; hence it is written, "out of your flesh" that is, your carnal nature), Eze 11:19; 36:26. Compare 2Co 3:2, "As ye are our Epistle written in our hearts," so Christ has in the first instance made you "His Epistle written with the Spirit in (on) your hearts." I bear on my heart, as a testimony to all men, that which Christ has by His Spirit written in your heart [ALFORD]. (Compare Pr 3:3; 7:3; Jer 31:31-34). This passage is quoted by PALEY [Horæ Paulinæ] as illustrating one peculiarity of Paul's style, namely, his going off at a word into a parenthetic reflection: here it is on the word "Epistle." So "savor," 2Co 2:14-17.

    4. And--Greek, "But." "Such confidence, however (namely, of our 'sufficiency,' 2Co 3:5, 6; 2Co 2:16 --to which he reverts after the parenthesis--as ministers of the New Testament, 'not hinting,' 2Co 4:1), we have through Christ (not through ourselves, compare 2Co 3:18) toward God" (that is, in our relation to God and His work, the ministry committed by Him to us, for which we must render an account to Him). Confidence toward God is solid and real, as looking to Him for the strength needed now, and also for the reward of grace to be given hereafter. Compare Ac 24:15, "hope toward God." Human confidence is unreal in that it looks to man for its help and its reward.

    5. The Greek is, "Not that we are (even yet after so long experience as ministers) sufficient to think anything OF ourselves as (coming) FROM ourselves; but our sufficiency is (derived) FROM God." "From" more definitely refers to the source out of which a thing comes; "of" is more general.
    - to think--Greek, to "reason out" or "devise"; to attain to sound preaching by our reasonings [THEODORET]. The "we" refers here to ministers (2Pe 1:21).
    - anything--even the least. We cannot expect too little from man, or too much from God.

    6. able--rather, as the Greek is the same, corresponding to 2Co 3:5, translate, "sufficient as ministers" (Eph 3:7; Col 1:23).
    - the new testament--"the new covenant" as contrasted with the Old Testament or covenant (1Co 11:25; Ga 4:24). He reverts here again to the contrast between the law on "tables of stone," and that "written by the Spirit on fleshly tables of the heart" (2Co 3:3).
    - not of the letter--joined with "ministers"; ministers not of the mere literal precept, in which the old law, as then understood, consisted; "but of the Spirit," that is, the spiritual holiness which lay under the old law, and which the new covenant brings to light (Mt 5:17-48) with new motives added, and a new power of obedience imparted, namely, the Holy Spirit (Ro 7:6). Even in writing the letter of the New Testament, Paul and the other sacred writers were ministers not of the letter, but of the spirit. No piety of spirit could exempt a man from the yoke of the letter of each legal ordinance under the Old Testament; for God had appointed this as the way in which He chose a devout Jew to express his state of mind towards God. Christianity, on the other hand, makes the spirit of our outward observances everything, and the letter a secondary consideration (Joh 4:24). Still the moral law of the ten commandments, being written by the finger of God, is as obligatory now as ever; but put more on the Gospel spirit of "love," than on the letter of a servile obedience, and in a deeper and fuller spirituality (Mt 5:17-48; Ro 13:9). No literal precepts could fully comprehend the wide range of holiness which LOVE, the work of the Holy Spirit, under the Gospel, suggests to the believer's heart instinctively from the word understood in its deep spirituality.
    - letter killeth--by bringing home the knowledge of guilt and its punishment, death; 2Co 3:7, "ministration of death" (Ro 7:9).
    - spirit giveth life--The spirit of the Gospel when brought home to the heart by the Holy Spirit, gives new spiritual life to a man (Ro 6:4, 11). This "spirit of life" is for us in Christ Jesus (Ro 8:2, 10), who dwells in the believer as a "quickening" or "life-giving Spirit" (1Co 15:45). Note, the spiritualism of rationalists is very different. It would admit no "stereotyped revelation," except so much as man's own inner instrument of revelation, the conscience and reason, can approve of: thus making the conscience judge of the written word, whereas the apostles make the written word the judge of the conscience (Ac 17:11; 1Pe 4:1). True spirituality rests on the whole written word, applied to the soul by the Holy Spirit as the only infallible interpreter of its far-reaching spirituality. The letter is nothing without the spirit, in a subject essentially spiritual. The spirit is nothing without the letter, in a record substantially historical.

    7. the ministration of death--the legal dispensation, summed up in the Decalogue, which denounces death against man for transgression.
    - written and engraven in stones--There is no "and" in the Greek. The literal translation is, "The ministration of death in letters," of which "engraven on stones" is an explanation. The preponderance of oldest manuscripts is for the English Version reading. But one (perhaps the oldest existing manuscript) has "in the letter," which refers to the preceding words (2Co 3:6), "the letter killeth," and this seems the probable reading. Even if we read as English Version, "The ministration of death (written) in letters," alludes to the literal precepts of the law as only bringing us the knowledge of sin and "death," in contrast to "the Spirit" in the Gospel bringing us "life" (2Co 3:6). The opposition between "the letters" and "the Spirit" (2Co 3:8) confirms this. This explains why the phrase in Greek should be "in letters," instead of the ordinary one which English Version has substituted, "written and."
    - was glorious--literally, "was made (invested) in glory," glory was the atmosphere with which it was encompassed.
    - could not steadfastly behold--literally, "fix their eyes on." Ex 34:30, "The skin of his face shone; and they were AFRAID to come nigh him." "Could not," therefore means here, "for FEAR." The "glory of Moses' countenance" on Sinai passed away when the occasion was over: a type of the transitory character of the dispensation which he represented (2Co 3:11), as contrasted with the permanency of the Christian dispensation (2Co 3:11).

    8. be rather glorious--literally, "be rather (that is, still more, invested) in glory." "Shall be," that is, shall be found to be in part now, but fully when the glory of Christ and His saints shall be revealed.

    9. ministration of condemnation--the law regarded in the "letter" which "killeth" (2Co 3:6; Ro 7:9-11). The oldest existing manuscript seems to read as English Version. But most of the almost contemporary manuscripts, versions, and Fathers, read, "If to the ministration of condemnation there be glory."
    - the ministration of righteousness--the Gospel, which especially reveals the righteousness of God (Ro 1:17), and imputes righteousness to men through faith in Christ (Ro 3:21-28; 4:3, 22-25), and imparts righteousness by the Spirit (Ro 8:1-4).
    - exceed--"abound."

    10. For even the ministration of condemnation, the law, 2Co 3:7 (which has been glorified at Sinai in Moses' person), has now (English Version translates less fitly, "was made . . . had") lost its glory in this respect by reason of the surpassing glory (of the Gospel): as the light of the stars and moon fades in the presence of the sun.

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