Bibliotheca Sacra 154 (January-March 1997) 61-79.

          Copyright © 1997 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

                   PAUL'S COVENANTAL

                         CONTRASTS IN

                   2 CORINTHIANS 3:1-11

 

                                         Randall C. Gleason

 

Paul's remarks in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11 have captured the

interest of biblical scholars in several ways. Beginning with

Origen and continuing through the Middle Ages, many theolo-

gians justified going beyond the plain meaning of the "letter" of

Scripture to its allegorical "spiritual" message by appealing to

Paul's words, "For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor.

3:6).1 Although in different fashion, some modern scholars per-

sist in establishing their hermeneutical methodology on this key

text. Richardson says that "the most fruitful line of enquiry for a

biblical basis for hermeneutics" is in the letter/spirit contrast in 2

Corinthians 3 because of its "demand for interpretation at the in-

stigation of the Spirit."2 Steinmetz calls for a return to the me-

dieval theory of levels of meaning because the text truly "contains

both letter and spirit."3 More recently Hays advocates a reader

 

Randall C. Gleason is Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Interna-

tional School of Theology—Asia, Quezon City, Philippines.

 

1 For a thorough history of the interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3:6 to support an

allegorical hermeneutic by the Alexandrian school contrary to Antiochene under-

standing of it as a contrast between the Mosaic Law and the Holy Spirit, see

Bernardin Schneider, "The Meaning of St. Paul's Antithesis `The Letter and the

Spirit,' " Catholic Biblical Quarterly 15 (1953): 166–68, 170, 182–83; and E. F. Sut-

cliffe, "Jerome," in The Cambridge History of the Bible, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cam-

bridge University Press, 1969), 2:89–90. For a discussion of the use of this passage

in late medieval exegesis, see Karlfried Froehlich, "`Always to Keep the Literal

Sense in Holy Scripture Means to Kill One's Soul': The State of Biblical

Hermeneutics at the Beginning of the Fifteenth Century," in Literary Uses of Ty-

pology from the Late Middle Ages to the Present, ed. Earl Miner (Princeton, NJ:

Princeton University Press, 1977), 20-48.

2 Peter Richardson, "Spirit and Letter: A Foundation for Hermeneutics," Evan-

gelical Quarterly 45 (1973): 208-9.

3 David C. Steinmetz, "The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis," Theology Today

36 (April 1980): 37–38.



62   BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January–March 1997

 

response hermeneutic based on 2 Corinthians 3.4 Is a hermeneu-

tical method the issue behind Paul's letter/spirit contrast?

            Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3 between the Old and New

Covenants have also attracted attention regarding the role of the

Mosaic Law in the life of the Christian. Ryrie emphasizes that 2

Corinthians 3:7–11 teaches the end of the Ten Commandments,

since they "are a ministration of death" and, therefore are "in no

uncertain terms . . . done away (v. 11)."5 Theonomists reject this

claim. Bahnsen argues,

            The fact that the letter kills but the Spirit enlivens (2 Cor. 3:6) in

            no way discredits or stigmatizes the law.... The law exposes sin

            and demands death, but it was not designed to kill. The law came

            in glory (2 Cor. 3:7); not it, but our sin falls short of God's glory

            (Rom. 3:23). The surpassing glory of the new covenant is that it

            brings with it the spiritual power to comply with the glorious law

            of God.6

 

            What do Paul's distinctions between the Old and New Covenants

in 2 Corinthians 3 reveal about the relevance of the Old Testa-

ment Law for Christians today?

            Allusions in 2 Corinthians 3 to the Old Testament promise of

a New Covenant (Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:22–32) raise the ques-

tion of how the Old and New Covenants differ in the way they en-

able believers to live in obedience to God. Provence states, "Paul

implicitly contrasts not only the New Covenant with the Old but

also the heart of stone, representing the hardened will of man in

opposition to God, with the fleshly heart, representing the docile

and obedient new heart of the New Covenant."7 Do Paul's cove-

nantal contrasts imply that New Testament believers have a

sanctificational advantage over Old Testament believers?

            These issues will be addressed through this brief exposition of

the covenantal contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1–11 in view of the

 

4 Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scriptures in the Letters of Paul (New Haven, CT:

Yale University Press, 1989), 122–53. For a critique of Hays's exegesis, see Robert B.

Sloan Jr., "2 Corinthians 2:14–4:6 and ‘New Covenant Hermeneutics’—A Response

to Richard Hays," Bulletin for Biblical Research 5 (1995): 129–54.

5 Charles C. Ryrie, "The End of the Law," Bibliotheca Sacra 124 (July–September

1967): 243-44.

6 Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyte-

rian and Reformed, 1977), 171–72 (italics his). Bahnsen explains that Christian re-

constructionists or theonomists advocate "the normativity of the law of God in

Christian ethics today (cf. 2 Tim. 3:15–17), maintaining that the Old Testament

standing commandments have not been abrogated (cf. Matt. 5:17–19) even in matters

of crime and punishment (cf. 1 Tim, 1:8–10; Heb. 2:2)."

7 Thomas E. Provence, " ‘Who Is Sufficient for These Things?’ An Exegesis of 2

Corinthians II,15–III,18," Novum Testamentum 24 (1982): 61.



    Paul's Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11         63

 

historical background and argument of the epistle. Attention will

focus on the contrast between the letter and the spirit in verse 6.

 

              THE BACKGROUND OF 2 CORINTHIANS

Paul's concern for his third visit to Corinth provided the occasion

for the letter of 2 Corinthians. While in Macedonia he was

greatly comforted by the arrival of Titus with the news that the

Corinthians had responded to his "tearful letter" (2 Cor. 2:4) with

godly sorrow (7:9–10) and had demonstrated their loyalty to Paul

by disciplining an offending brother (7:12). However, there were

criticisms about Paul's change of itinerary to visit Macedonia be-

fore he visited Corinth. These complaints led some to accuse him

of being indecisive in a manner inappropriate for an apostle

(1:17). Therefore, as Paul anticipated his third visit to Corinth

(12:14; 13:1), he wanted to clear up these grievances by informing

them why he changed his original plans (1:15-17, 23; 2:12-13).

He explained that his delay was to give them time to prepare their

offering (8:6; 9:4) and to resolve their own problems (12:20-21), so

that when he came they all could be joyful (2:2-3) and avoid the

severe discipline of his apostolic authority (13:1-2, 10).

            Paul's opponents in 2 Corinthians were attacking his per-

sonal character in order to discredit his ministry before the

Corinthians. They said he lacked the proper credentials (3:1) of a

genuine apostle (11:5; 12:11-12), charged him with walking

"according to the flesh" (10:2), and accused him of inflated speech

(10:10) and demeaning himself by working (11:7). Paul identi-

fied these individuals as "false apostles" and "deceitful workers"

who were passing themselves off within the Corinthian church as

true apostles (11:13). He denounced them for "peddling the word of

God" (2:17) and promoting themselves with "letters of commen-

dation" (3:1). Who were these "false apostles" who were deter-

mined to destroy Paul's reputation? Few questions in New Tes-

tament studies have been more vigorously disputed. They were

not the same as those he encountered in 1 Corinthians, for there

Paul directed his polemics against those who fostered dissension

inside the church through their emphasis on worldly wisdom, lib-

erty, and tongues. But in 2 Corinthians he confronted Jews (11:22)

from outside the church who sought to discredit his apostolic au-

thority.8 Although 2 Corinthians has traces of the earlier "Christ"

party (2 Cor. 10:7; 11:3-4), the four factions mentioned in 1

Corinthians (1:12) are no longer in focus in 2 Corinthians.

 

8 The fact that they needed letters of commendation (3:1) and that Paul accused

them of having invaded another man's territory (10:13-16) clearly indicates that

they had come to Corinth.



64   BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 1997

 

            Some have viewed Paul's opponents as Jewish Gnostics who

were enthusiasts with ecstatic temperaments and libertine

ethics.9 However, in 2 Corinthians the issues between Paul and

his adversaries are not wisdom, spiritual gifts, and libertinism

as they were in 1 Corinthians but rather the nature of Paul's apos-

tolic authority. This change makes it highly unlikely that they

were Gnostic-pneumatics.10 Furthermore this view fails to ex-

plain either their insistence on letters of recommendation or their

concern for titles revered by the early Christian community (e.g.,

"apostle"). Both would seem unlikely for Gnostics who cared little

about either tradition or authority.11 Georgi proposes that Paul's

rivals in 2 Corinthians were Hellenistic Jews who traveled as

itinerant missionaries and claimed, as servants of Christ (i.e.,

"divine men"), to be spokesmen for God in the tradition of

Moses.12 He claims their chief characteristic as "divine men"

was the working of miracles (13:3). However, 2 Corinthians fails

to mention their miraculous works. And, as Harris points out,

"letters of commendation would hardly be necessary for such

wonder-workers whose deeds were their credentials?"

            Paul's opponents have traditionally been viewed as Judaizers

from Jerusalem who were promoting themselves as "apostles"

(11:13) and true Jews (11:22) while asserting that Paul was nei-

ther.14  As "servants of righteousness" (11:15) they were insisting

on the Law, and as "servants of Christ" (11:23) they were claim-

ing their teaching was nearer to that of Jesus Himself.15 How-

 

9 Rudolf Bultmann, The Second Letter to the Corinthians, trans. Roy A. Har-

risville (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1985), 146-47; and Walter Schmithals, Gnosticism

in Corinth, trans. J. E. Steely (Nashville: Abingdon, 1971), 293-95.

10 Murray J. Harris, "2 Corinthians," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed.

Frank E. Gaebelein, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 10:313; F. F. Bruce, 1

and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 173.

11 Dieter Georgi, The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians (Philadelphia:

Fortress, 1986), 5.

12 Ibid., 229. See also Gerhard Friedrich, "Die Gegner des Paulus im 2 Korinther-

brief," in Abraham, unser Vater, ed. Otto Betz, Martin Hengel, and Peter Schmidt

(Leiden: Brill, 1963), 181-215; and Colin Kruse, The Second Epistle of Paul to the

Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 46-48.

13 Harris, "2 Corinthians," 313.

14 See C. K. Barrett, Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New

York: Harper & Row, 1973), 30; Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 172-74; D. A. Carson,

From Triumphalism to Maturity: an Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10-13 (Grand

Rapids: Baker, 1984), 16-26; Harris, "2 Corinthians," 312-13; and Alfred Plummer,

A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the

Corinthians (Edinburgh: Clark, 1915), xxxvi-xli.

15 Among those who hold to this view, some like Plummer maintain that these Ju-

daizers did not have the approval of the Twelve but rather were commended by



     Paul's Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11.     65

 

ever, this view has come under attack because of Paul's silence on

circumcision, which the Judaizers in Galatia insisted on (Gal.

5:1-4). Furthermore it fails to explain how the legalism of the Ju-

daizers could find support within the Corinthian church known

for boasting of its freedom (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12; 8:9; 10:23). In spite of

these objections the view that these opponents were Palestinian

Jews who sought to bring the Corinthian believers under the Mo-

saic Law seems preferable. According to Harris their Pales-

tinian roots "may be inferred from the term Hebraioi (2 Cor.

11:22; cf. Phil. 3:5), which refers to Jews of Palestinian descent,

especially those whose linguistic and cultural heritage was

Palestinian, and perhaps from a claim they may have made to

have known Christ personally (cf. 5:16)."16

            Also in favor of this view is their claim that they were de-

scendants of Abraham (11:22), Paul's claim that their "gospel"

differed from his (11:4; cf. Gal. 1:6-9), and Paul's emphasis on

the New Covenant (3:6-9), which implies that they were wanting

to bring the Corinthians under the "old" Mosaic Covenant.

Though they may not have been the same as the Judaizers in

Galatia who insisted on circumcision (Gal. 6:12-13). and those in

Colossae who demanded the observance of holy days (Col. 2:16),

any attempt "to impose Jewish practices upon Gentiles as condi-

tions either for salvation or for the enjoyment of Christian fel-

lowship," as Harris aptly concludes, means Paul's opposition can

be "appropriately labeled Judaizing."17 Their discovery on ar-

rival in Corinth that many within the church were continuing in

immoral practices (12:21) would have intensified their desire to

oppose Paul because to them his teaching would seem to promote

licentious behavior. This would have further confirmed their de-

termination to promote the morality of the Law of Moses in order

to curb the impurity in the Corinthian church.

            Their reception by the Corinthian church can be understood

as the "Christ" party, whom they as "servants of Christ" (10:7;

 

those Jewish Christians in Jerusalem who wished to make the Law as binding as

the gospel (Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epis-

tle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, xxxviii.). Others like Baur maintain that they

were official delegates from the Jerusalem church under the authority of the

Twelve, especially Peter, and that they advocated the precedence of Jewish tradi-

tion and the authority of the Jerusalem church. See Ferdinand Christian Baur,

Paul the Apostle, trans. A. Menzies, 2d ed., 2 vols. (London: Williams and Norgate,

1875-76). Plummer's view is more likely due to the fact that Paul did not utter a

single word against the Jerusalem leaders who supposedly stood behind his

opponents.

16 Harris, "2 Corinthians," 313.

17 Ibid.



66   BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January–March 1997

 

11:3–4, 23) fostered and perpetuated. Their depreciation of Paul's

apostolic authority and insistence on the Mosaic Law would also

have been welcomed by the "Cephas" party (1 Cor. 1:12; 3:22; 9:5),

who extolled Peter as the foremost of the apostles and who like Pe-

ter may have been inclined to conform to the Jewish Law (Gal.

2:11–14). Also they would have been impressed by the commenda-

tion letters from Jerusalem, the center of Peter's ministry.18

            In summary, Paul's contrast between the Old and New

Covenants in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11 should be understood in view

of Judaizers from Palestine who stressed the priority of the Mo-

saic dispensation to discredit Paul's message and ministry in the

eyes of the Corinthian church.

 

           THE ARGUMENT OF 2 CORINTHIANS 3:1–11

 

A key to understanding 2 Corinthians 3:1–11 lies in its connec-

tion with 2:15–16. There Paul explained that the ultimate impact

of the minister of the gospel includes both salvation for those who

believe and death for those who reject his message. The mention

of these weighty responsibilities caused the apostle to exclaim,

"Who is adequate for these things?" (2:16b). In other words, "Who

is sufficiently competent to preach the gospel which may prove

fatal to those who hear it?"19 Paul's contrast between "we" and

"many" in 2:17 indicates that his question has two groups in

view: himself and his coworkers, and his opponents in Corinth.

Elsewhere in the epistle Paul indicated that these Judaizers oppos-

ing his ministry were asserting their competence for the min-

istry through "letters of commendation" (3:1) as "servants of

Christ" (10:7; 11:23) and as "descendants of Abraham" (11:22).

 

18 Their letters of commendation probably did not come from the "pillars" of the

Jerusalem church (i.e., James, Cephas, and John; Gal. 2:9), who would never en-

dorse their Judaizing program. Rather they came from the Pharisaic wing within

the church who wished to make the law as binding as the gospel (Acts 15:5, 24). Yet

Paul's opponents probably still appealed to the authority of the Twelve without

their authorization. Harris suggests this was because they "were unable to distin-

guish between the law-abiding conduct of the Twelve and legalistic teaching" (Har-

ris, "2 Corinthians," 334). Since the apostles continued to observe the Law, the Ju-

daizers mistakenly assumed that legalism was an essential part of the gospel.

19 The word "adequate" (i[kano<j) and its cognates are used fifty-four times in the

New Testament, nine of which are found in Paul's writings. Four of these occur in

2:14-3:18, which indicates the significance of this word in the immediate context. It

is used of persons to mean "competent, qualified, able" in the sense of being

"worthy" (Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-En-

glish Lexicon of the New Testamant and Other Early Christian Literature, 2d ed.,

rev. F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker [Chicago: University of Chicago

Press, 1979], 374), and in business matters it expressed the thought of "sufficient in

ability" (James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek

Testament [1930; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974], 302).



     Paul's Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11      67

 

            Contrary to the claims of his Judaizing opponents, Paul set

out in chapter 3 to establish his ability and sufficiency to minis-

ter. He began his apostolic defense in verses 1–3 by claiming that

his competence as a minister of the gospel is evidenced by nothing

less than the Corinthians themselves. They were his "letter of

commendation" (v. 2). Throughout the rest of the chapter (vv. 4–

18) he argued for his "adequacy" based on a series of contrasts.

These contrasts must be understood in light of the fact that the

Corinthians were struggling between Paul's definition of ade-

quacy and the Judaizers' adequacy. Paul concluded that the be-

liever's adequacy should be only in God (v. 5). But the major fo-

cus of his argument was his contrast between the Old and New

Covenants. This includes an extended exposition of what it

means to be a servant of the New Covenant by contrasting his

"New Covenant" ministry (v. 6) with the Judaizers' "Old Cove-

nant" ministry (v. 14). Paul pointed to these contrasts to show the

superior nature of his New Covenant ministry in its divine

origin, its life-giving power, and its surpassing glory.

 

            AN EXPOSITION OF THE CONTRASTS

                         IN 2 CORINTHIANS 3:1–11

Paul was aware that his opponents might twist his affirmation of

sincerity in 2:17 to be self-commendation. So he defended him-

self by referring to their use of letters of commendation to estab-

lish their own credibility among the Corinthians (3:1). He was

not disapproving of such letters, for they were a customary means

of providing credentials in the first century and he himself used

letters to commend others (e.g., Rom. 16:1; 1 Cor. 16:10–11; Phil.

2:19–24). Rather he asserted he was in no need of official letters

because the Corinthians themselves were letters read by every-

one. "To bring another letter would amount to a personal insult to

the Corinthians; it certainly would ignore the past and present

work of Christ in their hearts. They themselves were Paul's tes-

timonial, guaranteeing his apostolic status and authority."20 In

verse 2 Paul referred to the Corinthians as "our letter" (h[ e]pistolh>

h[mw?n), and he likened them to the letters of commendation carried

by the false apostles. However, lest anyone think he produced the

"letter," he referred in verse 3 to the Corinthians as a "letter of

Christ," thereby indicating that Christ was the author.21 Paul was

 

20 Harris, "2 Corinthians," 334.

21 Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St.

Paul to the Corinthians, 81.



68    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 1997

 

the messenger by whom the letter was "delivered" (diakonhqei?sa)

or perhaps the amanuensis by whom it was "inscribed."22 In ei-

ther case the fact that the changes in the lives of the Corinthians

were effected by the Holy Spirit indicated Paul's ministry was

empowered by God, and it provided irrefutable evidence that

Paul's "adequacy" was superior to that of his opponents.

 

WRITTEN NOT WITH INK, BUT WITH THE SPIRIT (v. 3)

Paul's statement that the "letter of Christ" was "written not with

ink, but with the Spirit of the living God" has been interpreted sev-

eral ways. Hughes and Plummer take this expression to mean

that, as Christ's epistle, the Corinthians were not written with

"perishable ink" but with the Spirit of God, "whose writing is dy-

namic and permanent."23 This emphasizes the contrast between

what is temporary and permanent. Reference to ink brings to

mind the perishable materials, such as papyrus, on which ink

was used. They would eventually decay. Harris, however, takes

this phrase to indicate the letter was of divine rather than human

origin.24 Harris's view fits with verses 4-5, which stress that the

believer's adequacy comes from God alone. Possibly both mean-

ings were intended by Paul because the issues of the permanence

of his ministry and the divine source of his adequacy appear

throughout the rest of the passage. In any case the evidence for

Paul's adequacy overshadowed the letters of his opponents.

 

NOT TABLETS OF STONE, BUT TABLETS OF FLESHLY HEARTS (v. 3)

At the end of verse 3 Paul continued the thought of writing by com-

paring the Corinthians to the stone tablets carried by Moses down

from Mount Sinai. He suggested that the Corinthians as a living

letter were superior to the letters brought by the Judaizers and also

to the tablets brought down from Sinai.25 "Tablets of stone" refers

to Exodus 31:18 where Moses spoke of two tablets on which the Ten

Commandments were "written by the finger of God." Paul's ref-

erence to "tablets of fleshly hearts" combines the thoughts of two

New Covenant passages in the Old Testament. From Jeremiah

31:31-33 he alluded to the promise that the Lord will write His

Law "on their hearts," and from Ezekiel 36:26 (cf. 11:19) Paul

 

22 Kruse, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, 90.

23 Philip E. Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1962), 89; Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Sec-

ond Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 81.

24 Harris, "2 Corinthians," 334.

25 Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St.

Paul to the Corinthians, 82.



     Paul's Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1–11           69

 

spoke of God's promise to "remove the heart of stone" and give Is-

rael "a heart of flesh." Combining the "writing" of Jeremiah with

the "stone" and "flesh" of Ezekiel, Paul formed an expression

with both ideas—"tablets of fleshly hearts." This expression is

therefore an undeniable allusion to the New Covenant. Paul had

in mind the contrast between the giving of the Mosaic Covenant

on Mount Sinai and the establishing of the New Covenant prophe-

sied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

            The meaning of Paul's expressions "tablets of stone" and the

"tablets of fleshly hearts" is found in both Old Testament pas-

sages to which they point. In Jeremiah 31:31–33 the prophet ex-

plained that the New Covenant, in contrast to the written code of

the Mosaic Covenant, would internalize the Law within their

hearts. "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will

write it" (Jer. 31:33). God promised to make His Law an instinc-

tive part of the nature of His people.

            The core of the new covenant is God's gift of a new heart (Ezek.

            36:25–27). Herein lies the sufficient motivation for obeying God's

            law. Basic to obedience is inner knowledge of God's will coupled

            with an enablement to perform it. . . . Since the inward dynamic

            was absent in the old covenant, it would not be effective. There

            must be an inner force, a new power.26

 

            The idea of spiritual enablement is confirmed by God's

promise through Ezekiel to "put My Spirit within you and cause

you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My

ordinances" (36:27). On the exchange of hearts in Ezekiel 36:26,

Keil states, "The heart of stone has no susceptibility to the impres-

sions of the word," whereas "the heart of flesh is a tender heart,

susceptible to the drawing of the divine grace."27

            The heart includes the mind as well as the emotions; it is in fact

            the seat of the personality, the inmost nature of man. The spirit

            is the impulse which drives the man and regulates his desires, his

            thoughts and his conduct. Both of these will be replaced and re-

            newed; the heart that is stubborn, rebellious and insensitive (a

            heart of stone) by one that is soft, impressionable and responsive

            (a heart of flesh), and the spirit of disobedience by the Spirit of

            God. . . . The implanting of God's Spirit within them will trans-

            form their motives and empower them to live according to God's

            statutes and judgments.28

 

26 Charles L. Feinberg, "Jeremiah," in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, 6

(1986):576.

27 C. F. Kell and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, n.d.), 9:153.

28 John B. Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL:

InterVarsity, 1969), 232 (italics his).



70     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 1997

 

            This granting of "a heart of flesh" is nothing less than the

moral transformation of a person's inner nature. The Old

Covenant failed to produce obedience because it was external and

was opposed by the internal, sinful nature within. God deter-

mined to correct this situation by internalizing His Law and

making it a part of the inward nature of His people. Therefore

this internal change of nature guaranteed through the New

Covenant to provide Israel greater ability to do what they had

failed to do in the past.

            Paul's allusion to God's enabling power associated with the

New Covenant further demonstrates the adequacy of his ministry

over that of his opponents. Since they were relying on obedience to

the Old Covenant, they based their adequacy on an external legal

code and consequent lack of sufficient ability to serve and obey

God. Paul indicated that his adequacy was superior because it

was based on the internalization of the Law according to the New

Covenant, which provided a change of the inner nature, includ-

ing both the desire and the ability to obey God.

 

THE LETTER KILLS, BUT THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE (v. 6)

Answering the question raised in 2:16, "Who is adequate for these

things?" Paul said, "Our adequacy is from God, 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" (3:5-6).

            Paul first described the adequacy of his ministry over that of

his Judaizing opponents by stressing that his adequacy origi-

nated from God rather than himself. Then he highlighted the dif-

ferences between ministries operating under the Old and New

Covenants by adding, "For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives

life." Paul's antithesis between letter (gra<mmatoj) and spirit

(pneu?ma) has been explained in various ways. The following

paragraphs discuss the five most common views.

            The literal and spiritual senses. This view is commonly as-

sociated with Origen and the Alexandrian school, who viewed the

"letter" of 2 Corinthians 3:6 as the literal sense of Scripture and

the "spirit" as the deeper, spiritual meaning of the sacred text.29

Origen felt that the literal sense contained "stumbling blocks"

(e.g., logical difficulties, impossibilities, fictitious historical

events, and others). God placed these elements in Scripture to

 

29 Illustrating from the writings of Origen, Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and

Cyril of Alexandria, Schneider carefully documents the consistent interpretation

of this passage by the Alexandrian school ("The Meaning of St. Paul's Antithesis

The Letter and Spirit,’" 166-68, 170, 182-83). This was also the view of Jerome

(Sutcliffe, "Jerome," 2:89-90).



    Paul's Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1–11     71

 

point the interpreter "to the need for a deeper understanding"

which he could only "reach by giving careful attention to context,

wording, and parallels."30 So the literal sense was considered in-

ferior and even misleading. Origen desired to unlock the mean-

ing of the hidden spiritual sense of Scripture, which he regarded

as more relevant to the spiritual life of the believer. This view

was followed during the Middle Ages by a number of medieval

interpreters, including the famed Scholastic theologian Peter

Abelard.31 However, most modern interpreters reject it for sev-

eral reasons.32 First, "spirit" (pneu?ma) is never used elsewhere in

the New Testament to refer to the deeper meaning of the text.33

Second, the context excludes the possibility of this interpretation

because pneu?ma is used throughout chapter 3 to refer to the Holy

Spirit as He carries out the promises of the New Covenant (3:3, 8,

17-18). Third, to interpret Paul's antithesis as proof for an alle-

gorical method misses the argument of the passage as a defense of

his ministry against Palestinian Judaizers seeking to reestab-

lish the Mosaic Law.

            The text as written and the Spirit as interpreter. This view is

commonly known as the "hermeneutical" interpretation because

it says the contrast between "letter" and "spirit" refers to the dis-

tinction between the written text and its interpretive key, the Holy

Spirit. Advocating this view, Barth states, "For in 2 Cor. 3 every-

thing depends on the fact that without this work of the Spirit

Scripture is veiled, however great its glory may be and whatever

its origin."34 Richardson summarizes Paul's intention in 2

Corinthians 3 by claiming that "Paul is emphasizing almost

solely the role of the Spirit as unveiler" and "in so doing he is

willing to separate rather sharply—more sharply perhaps than

most of us would be comfortable with—the gramma on which he

bases his message from the pneuma who unveils it."35 Richard-

son concludes that part of Paul's purpose in 2 Corinthians 3 "is to

give a foundation for hermeneutics in the life of the Church at

Corinth." Both Barth and Richardson support the "hermeneuti-

 

30 Karlfried Froehlich, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church (Philadel-

phia: Fortress, 1984), 18.

31 Schneider, "The Meaning of St. Paul's Antithesis ‘The Letter and Spirit,’ " 184.

32 One modern scholar who affirmed the medieval interpretation is E. B. Allo,

Saint Paul: Second epitre aux Corinthiens (Paris: n.p., 1936), 107-11.

33 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

and Other Early Christian Literature, 674-75.

34 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 1.2., ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (New

York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1956), 515.

35 Richardson, "Spirit and Letter," 214–15.



72    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 1997

 

cal" view by appealing to Paul's account of Moses in Exodus 34

where he described the lifting of the veil when he turned "to the

Lord" (2 Cor. 3:16). Since "the Lord is the Spirit" (v. 17), the impli-

cation is that the Spirit is needed to comprehend the meaning of

Scripture.

            However, Provence points out why this interpretation of

Paul's letter/spirit antithesis is unlikely. First, "it fails to ac-

count for the radical antithesis between" letter and spirit by por-

traying them not as "opposites but related to one another positively

as text and interpreter."36 Second, though "Paul does claim that a

veil lies upon the reading of the Old Covenant," it is "a veil of

hard-heartedness which hides not the meaning of the Bible, but

the glory of God."37 It seems preferable to say that the veil does not

hide the meaning of the text but rather obscures its effective appli-

cation to one's life and the willingness to accept it (1 Cor. 2:14).

This is confirmed by the fact that once the veil is lifted, personal

transformation results from the believer beholding the glory of

the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). Third, this interpretation fails to relate this

passage to Paul's argument against the Judaizers.

            The legalistic misuse of the Law and the Holy Spirit. Those

who hold to this interpretation maintain that the "letter" signifies

the legalistic misuse of the Law as a means of meriting salva-

tion.38 The Jewish distortion of the true intention of the Law is

contrasted with the "spirit," which signifies the proper under-

standing and use of the Law by the power of the Holy Spirit.

            Seeking to support this view that "letter" signifies the Law as

distorted and misused, Provence appeals to Romans 2:27–29:

"Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law

will condemn you who break the law through the letter [gra<mmatoj]

and circumcision. For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor

is circumcision something external and in the flesh. Rather, he

is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is circumcision

of the heart by the Spirit not by the letter [e]n preu<mati ou] gra<mmati].

His approval is not from men but from God" (Provence's transla-

tion). He asserts that when Paul accused the Jews (Rom. 2:27) of

breaking "the law through the letter and circumcision," he was

 

36 Provence, "Who Is Sufficient for These Things?" 63-64.

37 Ibid.

38 See Barrett, Second Corinthians, 113; C. E. B. Cranfield, "St. Paul and the Law,"

Scottish Journal of Theology 17 (March 1964): 57-60; Victor Paul Furnish, II

Corinthians, Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984), 200-201; Kruse, The

Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, 92-93; Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians,

Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1986), 55; and Provence, "Who Is

Sufficient for These Things?" 65.



    Paul's Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11          73

 

distinguishing the "letter" as the Law misunderstood as a means

to merit salvation from the "Law" as properly understood.39 How-

ever, the context of Romans 2 does not support this distinction.

            Paul has denounced here the open failure to observe what the

            law by any reading demands; and the Jewish transgressor of the

            law dia grammatos kai peritomes [though the letter and circumci-

            sion] is contrasted, not with the man who understands the true

            nature of the law or circumcision, but with the Gentile who ob-

            serves the righteous demands of the law though he possesses nei-

            ther the books of the law (cf. v. 14) nor circumcision (vv. 26f.).

            Hence, in this verse at least, "letter" is an abbreviated way of re-

            ferring, not to a perverted understanding of the commands of God,

            but simply to their possession in written form. . . . [The] negative

            ring to the words dia grammatos kai peritomes . . . is due to the

            fact that it is only the possession of the scrolls of the law, and

            only physical circumcision, which the Jew in question can claim in

            his favor, . . . while he lacks the righteous observance to which

            possession of the "letter" obligates. . . . [Thus] the fault lies in

            what he lacks, not in what he possesses.40

 

            Cranfield, meanwhile, builds his argument for the

"legalistic" meaning of letter by referring to Romans 7:6. He

contends that Paul's contrast between the "newness of the Spirit"

and the "oldness of the letter"

            does not oppose the law itself to the Spirit; for only a few verses

            later (7:14) Paul says that the law is "spiritual." The contrast is

            rather between the old way of the legalistic misunderstanding

            and misuse of the law, in which one was left with the letter

            bereft of the Spirit, and the new way of the right understanding

            and use of the law by the power of the Spirit.41

            According to the context of Romans 7, however, "letter" would

be better understood as referring to the true demands of the Ten

Commandments as indicated by mention of the tenth command-

ment, "You shall not covet" (Rom. 7:7). It is the "holy, righteous,

and good" Mosaic Law (v. 12), not the legalistic misuse of it,

which provides "sin" the opportunity to incite man to "covet" (v.

8). In this way the "letter" as the Old Testament Law resulted in

placing people in bondage to sin and death (8:2). Westerholm

aptly concludes that Romans 7:6

            does not speak of the misunderstanding of the legalist, but of the

            sin which inevitably results when man "in the flesh" is confronted

            by the demands of God. Hence, serving God by the "letter" should

 

39 Provence, "Who Is Sufficient for These Things?" 66.

40 Stephen Westerholm, "Letter and Spirit: The Foundation of Pauline Ethics,"

New Testament Studies 30 (1984): 234-35 (italics his).



74    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA /January-March 1997

 

            refer, not to the attempt to establish one's own righteousness,

            but to man's obligation under the old dispensation to carry out

            the concrete commands of the law of God—a situation which in

            fact led to obvious sin and death.42

 

            In addition, this view cannot be supported from the context of 2

Corinthians 3. Rather than alluding to a perversion of the Law,

Paul's reference to the ministry of death "engraved on stone"

(3:7) would more naturally refer to the Ten Commandments in-

scribed on stone tablets. And the references to a "ministry"

(diakoni<a) and a "covenant" (diaqh<kh) of which Moses was the

administrator (vv. 7, 14) would seem to rule out the possibility that

Paul was speaking of the Law as misinterpreted and distorted. If

he did have a perversion of the Law in mind, he would hardly

have attributed to it a degree of "glory" (v. 9). Paul would never

have spoken of the ministry of the "letter" in these terms if he

meant it was a distortion of the true intent of the Law.43

            Outward conformity versus inward obedience to the Mosaic

Law. Advocating this view, Hughes states, "The distinction here,

then, between the letter and the spirit indicates the difference be-

tween the law as externally written at Sinai on tablets of stone

and the same law as written internally in the heart of the Chris-

tian believer."44 One distinguishing characteristic of this view is

that Paul's antithesis is not understood as suggesting the end of

the Mosaic Law.45 Thus the change from the Old Covenant to the

New Covenant does not entail a change in the Law but rather a

change in the believer's ability to obey the Law. The contrast is

made between Old Testament saints who were able to obey the

Law only outwardly and New Testament believers who are now

enabled "to conform inwardly, in spirit, as well as outwardly, in

letter, to the demands of the law."48 Another feature of this view is

that "spirit" is understood as a reference not to the Holy Spirit but

 

41 Cranfield, "St. Paul and the Law," 56.

42 Westerholm, "Letter and Spirit," 238.

42 This is consistent with Paul's use of gra<mata in 2 Timothy 3:15, where it

clearly refers to the Old Testament Law properly understood.

44 Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 100 (italics his).

45 In a similar way Kaiser argues that Paul's antithesis there is between "two ways

of serving the Law of God," namely, outward versus inward obedience. He does this

in order to maintain that the "weightier matters of the Law" continue for Chris-

tians, who can observe them "inwardly" (Walter C. Kaiser Jr., "The Weightier and

Lighter Matters of the Law: Moses, Jesus, and Paul," in Current Issues in Biblical

and Patristic Interpretation, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1975], 187-88).

46 Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 101.



        Paul's Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11        75

 

to the internal conformity to the Mosaic Law. It is not surprising

that this is the position adopted by some theonomists who insist on

the New Testament believers' ongoing obligation to the details of

the Mosaic Law.47

            Though 2 Corinthians 3 does emphasize the inward dynamic

of the New Covenant, which internalizes God's Law by writing it

on the heart, this view does not adequately account for the fact that

the Law of the Mosaic Covenant, which "had glory" at one time,

now "has no glory on account of the glory [of the New Covenant]

that surpasses it" (3:10). Furthermore the words "new" (kaino<j)

and "old" (palaio<j), which modify "covenant" in verses 6 and 14,

contrast the completely new and better from the old and obsolete.48

Although some of the stipulations for enjoying the blessings of

both covenants may be similar (e.g., the Ten Commandments

are repeated in the New Testament, with the exception of Sabbath-

keeping), this does not imply that all the stipulations for one

should be expected of the other (Mark 7:18-19). Since they are

different covenants, it would be better to distinguish their

covenantal stipulations in terms of the "law of Moses" and the

"law of Christ" (1 Cor. 9:21). Also, to equate the "spirit" with in-

ternal conformity to the Mosaic Law contradicts the consistent

usage of pneu?ma throughout 2 Corinthians 3 as an obvious refer-

ence to the Holy Spirit (vv. 3, 8, 17-18).

            The Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Those who advo-

cate this view maintain that Paul's antithesis is a contrast be-

tween the basic characteristics of the Old and New Covenants.49

They understand that Paul used "letter" to signify living by the

Law under the Old Covenant and "spirit" to denote living by the

Holy Spirit under the New Covenant. Many reject this interpreta-

tion because to say that the Law of the Old Covenant "kills" gives

a radically negative assessment of the Sinai Covenant mediated

 

47 See Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 171-73.

48 This can be seen in Jesus' use of the words in His parables about the patching

of the old and new garments and the old and new wineskins (Matt. 9:16-17; Mark

2:21-22; Luke 5:36-37). In these parables Jesus taught that the old ways of the Old

Testament were obsolete in light of the new program He introduced. Paul used the

words in the same way to show the opposition between the old and new (Rom. 6:6;

Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9). Paul's usage also seems to suggest that the old and the new are

mutually exclusive. See Heinrich Seesemann, "palaio<j," in Theological Dictionary

of the New Testament, 5 (1967):719.

49 Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 190-91; Harris, "2 Corinthians," 335; Herman Rid-

derbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard De Witt (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 218-19; R. V. G. Tasker, The Second Epistle of Paul to the

Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), 62-63; and Stephen Westerholm, Is-

rael's Law and the Church's Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 212-13.



76    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1997

 

by Moses. It is felt that this approach contradicts Paul's state-

ments that the "law is holy . . . and righteous and good" (Rom.

7:12) and the "law is spiritual" (v. 14). However, viewing Paul's

antithesis as a covenantal contrast between life under the Law

and life by the Spirit seems to satisfy the demands of the context

for the following reasons.

            First, the purpose of the entire paragraph (2 Cor. 3:1–11) is to

contrast the New and the Old Covenants. On one side Paul pre-

sented the "Old Covenant" (v. 14) as "engraved" (v. 7) on "tablets

of stone" (v. 3) and as "the ministry of death" (v. 7) and "con-

demnation" (v. 9) mediated through "Moses" (v. 7), whose glory

"fades away" (v. 11). On the other side he presented the "New

Covenant" (v. 6) as "written . . . on tablets of human hearts" (v. 3)

and as "the ministry of the Spirit" (v. 8) and "righteousness" (v.

9) mediated "through Christ" (v. 4), whose glory "remains" (v.

11). Therefore to insert a new concept such as "legalism" or "the

Spirit as interpreter" into the passage would be foreign to the ar-

gument and violate the context.

            Second, the "letter" (gra<mmatoj) cannot refer to "legalism" be-

cause Paul tied its meaning specifically to the Ten Command-

ments within the Mosaic Covenant. In verse 7 he identified the

"letter" as "engraved on stones," which could refer only to the ten

laws written on the stone tablets Moses carried down from Mount

Sinai. This is confirmed by the parallel passage in Romans 7:6–

8 where the tenth commandment, "You shall not covet," is given

as an example of the "letter." Also only the Law of the Sinai

Covenant was delivered by Moses (2 Cor. 3:7).50 This corresponds

to Paul's use of gra<mmata in 2 Timothy 3:15, where the proper use of

the Old Testament is in view.

            Third, viewing the "letter" as a ministry of death (2 Cor. 3:7)

and condemnation (v. 9) which "kills" corresponds well with

what Paul wrote about the function of the Law in Romans 7:5–10.

There he picked up his argument back in 5:20, "The Law came in

that the transgression might increase." He explained how this

principle works by saying that the "sinful passions" are brought

out "by the Law" and eventually result in "death" within the

"members of our body" (7:5). However, to prevent anyone from

concluding that the Law is sinful (v. 7) Paul explained three

valuable functions of the Law. First, the Law reveals sin; for

apart from the Law a person would have no knowledge of sin (v.

 

50 Later Paul used "Moses" as a metonymy for the "letter" that was read to the

Israelites (3:15). This could only be a reference to the Mosaic Law of the Old

Covenant.



         Paul's Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11        77

 

7). Second, the Law provokes sin (v. 8). This further explains how

the Law reveals sin. The sinful nature or sin principle is lifeless

(dead) until the Law provokes it to commit acts of disobedience,

thereby becoming "utterly sinful" (v. 13). Only then can sin

clearly be recognized for what it is. This is confirmed elsewhere

in 4:15, "Where there is no law, neither is there violation" (cf.

5:13). Third, the Law judges sin (7:8-40), resulting in death for

the sinner because sin is deceitful (v. 11) and causes death (v. 13).

In this way a ministry based on the Law of the Mosaic Covenant is

described in 2 Corinthians 3 as "the letter" which "kills" by

bringing "death" and "condemnation." It "kills" because it de-

clares what God demands without giving sufficient power to ful-

fill it, and then pronounces the death sentence on all those who

break it.

            Fourth, the statement "the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6) is best

understood as referring to the transformation of life by the Holy

Spirit according to the New Covenant, as promised in Ezekiel

36:26-27. This is even more clearly seen in the Lord's promise,

"And I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life"

(Ezek. 37:14). This New Covenant promise concludes the vision

of the dry bones (vv. 1-14). After providing a fitting description of

the hopeless condition of the Jewish exiles in Babylon, this vision

presents the physical renewal of the bones with flesh and skin

through the preaching of Ezekiel. But when the bones receive

breath (vv. 9-10), this clearly portrays the spiritual renewal of the

people by the Spirit. It is this aspect of the New Covenant that Paul

had in mind when he declared, "The Spirit gives life" (2 Cor.

3:6). This meaning is further confirmed by Paul's concluding

statement, "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mir-

ror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same im-

age from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (v. 18).

Paul's point is that adequacy to minister is not determined by

outward conformity to Jewish Law, as the Judaizers were claim-

ing. To the contrary, the New Covenant provides a more adequate

ministry by energizing the believer through the transforming

work of the Holy Spirit to be inwardly conformed not to the Mosaic

Law but to "the glory of the Lord." Paul mentioned this life-giving

work of the Holy Spirit in other places in 2 Corinthians (e.g., 1:22;

4:10-12; 5:5, 15).

 

FADING GLORY VERSUS SURPASSING GLORY (vv. 7-11)

Paul's exposition of the New Covenant in contrast to the Old Cove-

nant ends with a discussion of the degree and nature of the "glo-

ry" related to each covenant. In this section Paul acknowledged



78    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA/ January—March 1997

 

the Old Covenant as glorious but fading away, and replaced by the

more glorious ministry of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:9–10). To stress its

temporary nature, three times (vv. 7, 11, 13) Paul referred to the

glory (do<ca) of the Old Covenant as fading (katargou<menon).51 The

word katarge<w means "to render something inoperative";52 there-

fore in this context the word indicates that the Old Covenant had

only a temporary function. "In this whole context [katagou<menon]

signifies the passing glory of the Old Covenant in general, not the

fading way of the shining on Moses' face."53 Since Paul referred

to the Old Covenant as being "engraved on stones" (v. 7), this

would necessarily include the Ten Commandments as part of the

Old Covenant (Exod. 34:28). Therefore, since the Old Covenant

no longer has glory because the glory of the New Covenant has

surpassed it (2 Cor, 3:10), the Ten Commandments have also

"faded away" (v. 11) and no longer function as stipulations of

blessing through the Old Covenant for believers today. The end of

the Law as a way of life is also indicated by the fading glory ex-

pressed in verse 13. Paul was saying that his adequacy as an

apostle and minister was based not on the temporary glory of the

Mosaic Covenant, which had already faded away, but on the sur-

passing glory of the New Covenant, which had replaced the for-

mer covenant. By showing the end of the Law system, Paul dealt a

devastating blow to the Judaizers who were basing the alleged su-

periority of their ministry on the Old Covenant.

 

                                     CONCLUSION

In 2 Corinthians Paul sought to defend his ministry from the ac-

cusation of the Judaizing "false apostles" who had infiltrated the

Corinthian church. In 3:1–11 Paul set forth a series of contrasts

between the Old Covenant on which the Judaizers based their

ministry and the New Covenant on which he based his ministry.

The thrust of these covenantal contrasts is that the New Covenant

provides divine enablement and has replaced the Old Covenant.

In this way Paul firmly established the superiority of his apostolic

ministry over that of his Judaizing opponents.

            Several theological implications may be gleaned from this

study. First, the use of this passage to justify a particular herme-

 

51 Homer A. Kent Jr., A Heart Opened Wide: Studies in Second Corinthians

(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982), 60.

52 J. I. Packer, "Abolish, Nullify, Reject," in The New International Dictionary of

New Testament Theology, 4 vols., 1:73.

53 Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 219, n. 28.



         Paul's Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11       79

 

neutical perspective concerning either a deeper spiritual mean-

ing of the text or to view the Holy Spirit as the divine interpreter

cannot be supported by the text. (Of course the Holy Spirit is in-

volved in the interpretation of Scripture,54 but that is not the point

Paul was making in 2 Corinthians 3:6). These interpretations ig-

nore the argument of Paul's apostolic defense and fail to compre-

hend his covenantal contrasts as a polemic against the Judaizing

"false apostles."

            Second, the use of this passage to advocate the end of the Mo-

saic Law for Christians fits well with Paul's argument against

the Judaizers. They were attempting to place the Corinthians un-

der bondage to the covenantal stipulations of the Mosaic Cove-

nant. Paul's discussion of the fading glory of the Old Covenant

was designed to show that those stipulations were temporary and

were replaced by the New Covenant. To ignore this fact as some

do is to assume erroneously like the Judaizers that Gentiles need

to observe part or all of the Law. Such an assumption violates the

temporary function of the Mosaic Law within the framework of a

covenant established between God and the nation Israel.

            Third, this study highlights the distinction under the Old and

New Covenants related to sanctification. The Old Covenant was

a "ministry of death" because it declared the will of God without

providing the power to fulfill it, and then pronounced the death

sentence on all those who broke it. The New Covenant is identi-

fied as "the ministry of the Spirit" and "of righteousness" because

it provides not only the enablement to become conformed to the

image of Christ but also the willingness to obey His will. This

places New Testament believers in a position far superior to Old

Testament saints regarding sanctification. Paul exhorted his

readers not to go back to life under an inferior covenant since

what they have under the New Covenant is far better. Rather they

should celebrate the glory of life in the Spirit under the New

Covenant.

 

54 See, for example, Roy B. Zuck, Teaching with Spiritual Power (1963; reprint,

Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 136-46.

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:                   z

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204          

www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu