2 Corinthians 3 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of 2 Corinthians 3)

Verse 1

[1] Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?

Do we begin again to recommend ourselves — Is it needful? Have I nothing but my own word to recommend me? St. Paul chiefly here intends himself; though not excluding Timotheus, Titus, and Silvanus.

Unless we need — As if he had said, Do I indeed want such recommendation?

Verse 2

[2] Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:

Ye are our recommendatory letter - More convincing than bare words could be.

Written on our hearts — Deeply engraven there, and plainly legible to all around us.

Verse 3

[3] Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

Manifestly declared to be the letter of Christ — Which he has formed and published to the world.

Ministered by us — Whom he has used herein as his instruments, therefore ye are our letter also.

Written not in tables of stone — Like the ten commandments. But in the tender, living tables of their hearts - God having taken away the hearts of stone and given them hearts of flesh.

Verse 4

[4] And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:

Such trust have we in God — That is, we trust in God that this is so.

Verse 5

[5] Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves — So much as to think one good thought; much less, to convert sinners.

Verse 6

[6] Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

Who also hath made us able ministers of the new covenant — Of the new, evangelical dispensation. Not of the law, fitly called the letter, from God's literally writing it on the two tables.

But of the Spirit — Of the gospel dispensation, which is written on the tables of our hearts by the Spirit.

For the letter — The law, the Mosaic dispensation.

Killeth — Seals in death those who still cleave to it.

But the Spirit — The gospel, conveying the Spirit to those who receive it.

Giveth life — Both spiritual and eternal: yea, if we adhere to the literal sense even of the moral law, if we regard only the precept and the sanction as they stand in themselves, not as they lead us to Christ, they are doubtless a killing ordinance, and bind us down under the sentence of death.

Verse 7

[7] But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:

And if the ministration of death — That is, the Mosaic dispensation, which proves such to those who prefer it to the gospel, the most considerable part of which was engraven on those two stones, was attended with so great glory.

Verse 8

[8] How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?

The ministration of the Spirit — That is, the Christian dispensation.

Verse 9

[9] For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.

The ministration of condemnation — Such the Mosaic dispensation proved to all the Jews who rejected the gospel whereas through the gospel (hence called the ministration of righteousness) God both imputed and imparted righteousness to all believers. But how can the moral law (which alone was engraven on stone) be the ministration of condemnation, if it requires no more than a sincere obedience, such as is proportioned to our infirm state? If this is sufficient to justify us, then the law ceases to be a ministration of condemnation. It becomes (flatly contrary to the apostle's doctrine) the ministration of righteousness.

Verse 10

[10] For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.

It hath no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excelleth — That is, none in comparison of this more excellent glory. The greater light swallows up the less.

Verse 11

[11] For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

That which remaineth — That dispensation which remains to the end of the world; that spirit and life which remain for ever.

Verse 12

[12] Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:

Having therefore this hope — Being fully persuaded of this.

Verse 13

[13] And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:

And we do not act as Moses did, who put a veil over his face - Which is to be understood with regard to his writings also. So that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly to the end of that dispensation which is now abolished - The end of this was Christ. The whole Mosaic dispensation tended to, and terminated in, him; but the Israelites had only a dim, wavering sight of him, of whom Moses spake in an obscure, covert manner.

Verse 14

[14] But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.

The same veil remaineth on their understanding unremoved - Not so much as folded back, (so the word implies,) so as to admit a little, glimmering light. On the public reading of the Old Testament - The veil is not now on the face of Moses or of his writings, but on the reading of them, and on the heart of them that believe not.

Which is taken away in Christ — That is, from the heart of them that truly believe on him.

Verse 16

[16] Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.

When it — Their heart.

Shall turn to the Lord — To Christ, by living faith.

The veil is taken away — That very moment; and they see, with the utmost clearness, how all the types and prophecies of the law are fully accomplished in him.

Verse 17

[17] Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Now the Lord — Christ is that Spirit of the law whereof I speak, to which the letter was intended to lead. And where the Spirit of the Lord, Christ, is, there is liberty - Not the veil, the emblem of slavery. There is liberty from servile fear, liberty from the guilt and from the power of sin, liberty to behold with open face the glory of the Lord.

Verse 18

[18] But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

And, accordingly, all we that believe in him, beholding as in a glass - In the mirror of the gospel.

The glory of the Lord — His glorious love.

Are transformed into the same image — Into the same love. From one degree of this glory to another, in a manner worthy of his almighty Spirit. What a beautiful contrast is here! Moses saw the glory of the Lord, and it rendered his face so bright, that he covered it with a veil; Israel not being able to bear the reflected light. We behold his glory in the glass of his word, and our faces shine too; yet we veil them not, but diffuse the lustre which is continually increasing, as we fix the eye of our mind more and more steadfastly on his glory displayed in the gospel.