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|New American Bible|
2002 11 11
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1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?
Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you?
You are our letter, 2
written on our hearts, known and read by all,
3 shown to be a letter of Christ administered by
us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone
but on tablets that are hearts of flesh.
4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward
Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take
credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from
who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a
new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the
Spirit gives life. 5
6 7 Now if the ministry of
death, carved in letters on stone, was so glorious that the Israelites could
not look intently at the face of Moses because of its glory that was going to
how much more 8 will the
ministry of the Spirit be glorious?
For if the ministry of condemnation was
glorious, the ministry of righteousness will abound much more in glory.
Indeed, what was endowed with glory has come to
have no glory in this respect because of the glory that surpasses it.
For if what was going to fade was glorious, how
much more will what endures be glorious.
Therefore, since we have such hope, 9
we act very boldly
and not like Moses, 10 who
put a veil over his face so that the Israelites could not look intently at the
cessation of what was fading.
Rather, their thoughts were rendered dull, for
to this present day 11 the same veil remains unlifted when
they read the old covenant, because through Christ it is taken away.
To this day, in fact, whenever Moses is read, a
veil lies over their hearts,
but whenever a person turns to the Lord the
veil is removed.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, 12
and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
13 All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the
glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to
glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.
1  Paul seems to allude to certain
preachers who pride themselves on their written credentials. Presumably they reproach
him for not possessing similar credentials and compel him to spell out his own
qualifications (⇒ 2 Cor 4:2;
⇒ 5:12; ⇒ 6:4). The
Corinthians themselves should have performed this function for Paul
(⇒ 2 Cor 5:12; cf ⇒ 2 Cor
12:11). Since he is forced to find something that can recommend him,
he points to them: their very existence constitutes his letter of recommendation
(⇒ 2 Cor 3:1-2). Others who engage in
self-commendation will also be mentioned in ⇒ 2 Cor
2 [2-3] Mention of "letters of
recommendation" generates a series of metaphors in which Paul plays on the
word "letter": (1) the community is Paul's letter of recommendation
(⇒ 2 Cor 3:2a); (2) they are a letter engraved on
his affections for all to see and read (⇒ 2 Cor 3:2b);
(3) they are a letter from Christ that Paul merely delivers
(⇒ 2 Cor 3:3a); (4) they are a letter written by the
Spirit on the tablets of human hearts (⇒ 2 Cor
3:3b). One image dissolves into another.
3  This verse contrasts Paul's
letter with those written . . . in ink (like the credentials of other
preachers) and those written . . . on tablets of stone (like the law of Moses).
These contrasts suggest that the other preachers may have claimed special
relationship with Moses. If they were Judaizers zealous for the Mosaic law,
that would explain the detailed contrast between the old and the new covenants
(⇒ 2 Cor 3:6;
⇒ 4:7-⇒ 6:10). If they
were charismatics who claimed Moses as their model, that would explain the
extended treatment of Moses himself and his glory (⇒ 2 Cor
3:7-⇒ 4:6). Hearts of flesh: cf Ezekiel's
contrast between the heart of flesh that the Spirit gives and the heart of
stone that it replaces (⇒ Ezekiel 36:26); the
context is covenant renewal and purification that makes observance of the law
4 [4-6] These verses resume
⇒ 2 Cor 2:1-⇒ 3:3. Paul's
confidence (⇒ 2 Cor 3:4) is grounded in his sense of
God-given mission (⇒ 2 Cor 2:17), the specifics of
which are described in ⇒ 2 Cor 3:1-3.
⇒ 2 Cor 3:5-6 return to the question of his
qualifications (⇒ 2 Cor 2:16), attributing them
entirely to God. ⇒ 2 Cor 3:6 further spells out the
situation described in v 3b and "names" it: Paul is living within a
new covenant, characterized by the Spirit, which gives life. The usage of a new
covenant is derived from ⇒ Jeremiah 31:31-33 a
passage that also speaks of writing on the heart; cf ⇒ 2 Cor
5  This verse serves as a topic
sentence for ⇒ 2 Cor
3:7-⇒ 6:10. For the contrast between letter
and spirit, cf ⇒ Romans 2:29;
[⇒ 3:7-⇒ 4:6] Paul now
develops the contrast enunciated in ⇒ 2 Cor 3:6b in
terms of the relative glory of the two covenants, insisting on the greater
glory of the new. His polemic seems directed against individuals who appeal to
the glorious Moses and fail to perceive any comparable glory either in Paul's
life as an apostle or in the gospel he preaches. He asserts in response that
Christians have a glory of their own that far surpasses that of Moses.
7  The ministry of death: from his
very first words, Paul describes the Mosaic covenant and ministry from the viewpoint
of their limitations. They lead to death rather than life (⇒ 2
Cor 3:6-7; cf ⇒ 2 Cor
4:7-⇒ 5:10), to condemnation rather than
reconciliation (⇒ 2 Cor 3:9; cf
⇒ 2 Cor 5:11-⇒ 6:10).
Was so glorious: the basic text to which Paul alludes is
⇒ Exodus 34:29-35 to which his opponents have
undoubtedly laid claim. Going to fade: Paul concedes the glory of Moses'
covenant and ministry, but grants them only temporary significance.
8 [8-11] How much more: the argument
"from the less to the greater" is repeated three times
(⇒ 2 Cor 3:8, 9,
⇒ 11). ⇒ 2 Cor 3:10
expresses another point of view: the difference in glory is so great that only
the new covenant and ministry can properly be called "glorious" at all.
9  Such hope: the glory is not
yet an object of experience, but that does not lessen Paul's confidence.
Boldly: the term parresia expresses outspoken declaration of Christian
conviction (cf ⇒ 2 Cor 4:1-2). Paul has nothing to
hide and no reason for timidity.
10 [13-14a] Not like Moses: in Exodus
Moses veiled his face to protect the Israelites from God's reflected glory.
Without impugning Moses' sincerity, Paul attributes another effect to the veil.
Since it lies between God's glory and the Israelites, it explains how they
could fail to notice the glory disappearing. Their thoughts were rendered dull:
the problem lay with their understanding. This will be expressed in
⇒ 2 Cor 3:14b-16 by a shift in the place of the
veil: it is no longer over Moses' face but over their perception.
11 [14b-16] The parallelism in these
verses makes it necessary to interpret corresponding parts in relation to one
another. To this present day: this signals the shift of Paul's attention to his
contemporaries; his argument is typological, as in 1 Cor 10. The Israelites of
Moses' time typify the Jews of Paul's time, and perhaps also Christians of
Jewish origin or mentality who may not recognize the temporary character of
Moses' glory. When they read the old covenant: the lasting dullness prevents
proper appraisal of Moses' person and covenant. When his writings are read in
the synagogue, a veil still impedes their understanding. Through Christ: i.e.,
in the new covenant. Whenever a person turns to the Lord: Moses in Exodus
appeared before God without the veil and gazed on his face unprotected. Paul
applies that passage to converts to Christianity: when they turn to the Lord
fully and authentically, the impediment to their understanding is removed.
12  The Lord is the Spirit: the
"Lord" to whom the Christian turns (⇒ 2 Cor
3:16) is the Spirit of whom Paul has been speaking, the life-giving
Spirit of the living God (⇒ 2 Cor 3:6,
8), the inaugurator of the new covenant and
ministry, who is also the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of the Lord: the Lord
here is the living God (⇒ 2 Cor 3:3), but there may
also be an allusion to Christ as Lord (⇒ 2 Cor
3:14, ⇒ 16). Freedom: i.e., from the
ministry of death (⇒ 2 Cor 3:7) and the covenant
that condemned (⇒ 2 Cor 3:9).
13  Another application of the
veil image. All of us . . . with unveiled face: Christians (Israelites from
whom the veil has been removed) are like Moses, standing in God's presence,
beholding and reflecting his glory. Gazing: the verb may also be translated
"contemplating as in a mirror"; ⇒ 2 Cor
4:6 would suggest that the mirror is Christ himself. Are being
transformed: elsewhere Paul speaks of transformation, conformity to Jesus,
God's image, as a reality of the end time, and even ⇒ 2 Cor
3:12 speaks of the glory as an object of hope. But the life-giving
Spirit, the distinctive gift of the new covenant, is already present in the
community (cf ⇒ 2 Cor 1:22, the "first
installment"), and the process of transformation has already begun. Into
the same image: into the image of God, which is Christ (⇒ 2
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