Criswell Theological Review 4.1 (1989) 21-37.

          Copyright © 1989 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission. 








                                   DAVID E. GARLAND

                        Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

                                   Louisville, KY 40280



W. C. Van Unnik calls 2 Corinthians 3 one of the most "interest-

ing portions" of Paul.1 As interesting as it might be, many who try to

grasp the nuances of Paul's argument may feel at times that they have

a veil over their minds. It is a passage fraught with exegetical per-

plexities. A. T. Hanson goes so far as to say that this is "the Mount

Everest of Pauline texts as far as difficulty is concerned--or should we

rather call it the sphinx among texts, since its difficulty lies in its

enigmatic quality rather than its complexity?"2 In spite of its difficul-

ties, this text gives us an entree into Paul's view of the ultimate

significance of his ministry as a mediator of the New Covenant.

            The issue that Paul is addressing in 2:14-4:6 is his sufficiency as a

minister of the New Covenant.3 He raises the question in 2:16: "Who is

sufficient for these things?" The answer he apparently got from the

interlopers at Corinth was, "We are, and you are not." These rivals

have made inroads in the church by vaunting their sterling credentials

and their stirring spiritual prowess and have brought Paul's apostolic


            1 W. C. van Unnik "'With an Unveiled Face,' An Exegesis of 2 Corinthians iii

12-18," NovT 6 (1963) 152.

            2 A. T. Hanson, "The Midrash in II Corinthians 3: A Reconsideration," JSNT 9

(1980) 19.

            3 See the tables demonstrating the number of similar constructions and the cyclic

(ABA) pattern in 2:14-4:1-6 in J. Lambrecht, "Structure and Line of Thought in 2 Cor

2:14-4:6," Bib 64 (1983) 344-80, particularly 348-53. See also T. E. Provence, "'Who is

Sufficient for These Things?' An Exegesis of 2 Corinthians ii 15-iii 18," NovT 24 (1982)

56-58; E. Richard, "Polemics, Old Testament, and Theology: A Study of I Cor., III,

I-IV, 6," RB 88 (1981) 352-53; and M. Carrez, La Deuxieme Epitre de Saint Paul aux

Corinthiens (CNT 8; Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1986) 89.




legitimacy into question. They have eloquence, visions, and an authori-

tative bearing they consider to be worthy of so powerful a gospel.

They also have letters of commendation (from whom, we can only

guess) that authorize their activity (3:1). Paul will grant some of the

criticism leveled against him--in person, he may appear to some as

weak (10:10), ineloquent, and inelegant (1 Cor 4:11-13)--but he will

not concede that he is insufficient for his apostolic ministry. Faced

with the rival claims of these interlopers and the distressing deteriora-

tion of his relationship with the Corinthians, he vigorously defends

himself as one who is sufficient (i!kanoj)4 through God for his ministry:

"not that we are sufficient (i!kanoi) from ourselves to claim anything;

our sufficiency (i[kano<thj) comes from God who makes us sufficient"

(i[ka<nwsen,  3:5-6a).

            The problem is that the Corinthians have misunderstood Paul

(they have understood only "in part," 1:13-14), and he wants them to

understand him fully (5:11-12) so that his relationship with them will

not only be preserved but solidified. Paul must also contend against

rival braggarts who have measured themselves by human standards

(10:12), boasted quite beyond appropriate limits (10:13-18), and un-

dermined his credibility. He therefore finds himself in the unpleasant

position of having to praise himself to restore their confidence in him

(12:11), and he must do this in a manner that is both inoffensive

according to accepted social conventions of the times and congruent

with the gospel of the crucified Christ. In the thematic statement in

1:12-14, he asserts that he has manifested godly sincerity in his min-

istry and that they have every reason to be proud of him (literally, "to

have a boast"). In 5:12, he writes: "We are not commending ourselves

again but giving you cause to be proud of us, so that you may be able

to answer those who pride themselves on a man's position and not on

his heart." This provides the context for understanding his comments

in 2:14-4:6.6 In this section he is providing grounds for their pride in

him. This is his boast in the Lord (1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17). In the

process of defending himself, he lays out for us his view of the

surpassing splendor of the ministry of the New Covenant in which we

all share.


            4 D. Georgi (The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians [Philadelphia: For-

tress, 1986] 233) contends that this was a catchword used by Paul's protagonists in

Corinth to assert their worthiness and divine qualities.

            5 See Plutarch's treatise, On Praising Oneself Inoffensively.

            6 See J. T. Fitzgerald, Cracks in an Earthen Vessel: An Examination of the

Catalogues o f Hardships in the Corinthian Correspondence (SBLDS 99; Atlanta: Schol-

ars Press, 1988) 148-53.


             Garland: THE SUFFICIENCY OF PAUL                23


Paul's Sufficiency (2:14-17)

            Paul begins his defense in this section by thanking God for his

ministry and by contrasting himself with those whom he castigates as

merchants of the gospel.” Like so many shady sophists, they peddle

their religious wares for their own material gain (see 10:7, 12; 11:5,

21-23). They are no better than hucksters because they handle the

gospel as if it were cheap merchandise to be hawked at a fair booth.

Paul may be alluding to the peddler's tendency to adulterate the

product to cheat the buyer (see Isa 1:22 LXX; Sir 26:29); because, in 4:2,

he insists that he has “renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways."7

Paul himself neither dilutes the gospel to increase profits nor modifies it

to make it more palatable because he refuses to accept financial

support for his ministry. Or, by referring to them as “peddlers,” he may

be implying that they have simply reduced preaching the gospel to a

trade. They were simply in “the business of preaching. . . without any

ultimate concern.”8 The allusion to his rivals who did demand support

from the church would not have been lost on his readers. Paul is not in

the “apostle trade”; he has his ministry by the mercy of God (4:1), and

it has ultimate significance both for himself and the world. He

therefore commends himself as a man of sincerity, commissioned by

God, and who, before God, speaks in Christ (2:17) with confidence

(3:4) and boldness (3:12) and is displayed publicly for all to see (2:14).9

            When Paul commends himself in an attempt to restore his rela-

tionship with the Corinthians,10 he leaves himself open to the charge

of being “presumptuous and brazen in dealing with them”11 (see 3:1;

4:2; 5:12; 6:4; 10:12, 18). Paul responds to this by asserting that his

cboldness” is not attributable to self-interest, conceit, or personal


            7 Provence, "Who is Sufficient?" 59, writes: "The 'watered' down gospel of the

'many' was neither offensive enough to lead to destruction nor powerful enough to lead

to salvation (cf. I Cor. i 18). Paul's gospel was such a word, however, since it was a

pure gospel from God."

            8 J. I. H. McDonald, "Paul and the Preaching Ministry: A Reconsideration of

2 Cor. 2:14-17 in its Context," JSNT 17 (198.'3) 42.

            9 The word qriambeu<ein customarily was used in the context of the victory parade

of the conquering general when prisoners of war were led about in utter humiliation

prior to their execution. If this is the meaning that Paul intends, he portrays himself as

"the very showpiece of God's triumph"; but instead of being downcast and defeated,

he gives thanks to God. He gives thanks because his submission to God has resulted not

in his annihilation but his salvation. See Fitzgerald, Cracks 161-62; and S. Hafemann,

Suffering and the Spirit (WUNT 2/19; Tubingen: Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1986) 18-39.

            10 On the social aspects of self-commendation, see P. Marshall, Enmity in Corinth:

Social Conventions in Paul’s Relations with the Corinthians (WUNT 2/23; Tubingen:

MGhr [Paul Siebeck], 1987) 259-77.

            11 V. P. Furnish, 2 Corinthians (AB32a; New York: Doubleday, 1984) 245.




achievements but "to the splendor of the ministry which he serves."

He goes so far as to compare himself and his ministry to Moses and

his ministry.12 When he asks who is sufficient to be a servant of a

ministry that has such a life-and-death impact on the lives of others,

one should recall the qualms Moses expressed when God called him

to lead Israel out of bondage. In the interpretive translation of the

LXX, Moses says, "I am not worthy" (i!kanoj or "sufficient"; Exod

4:10). Paul says as much himself, because he is keenly aware of his

own personal frailty given his awesome role as a sweet fragrance of

life to some but as a putrid stench of death to others.13 He is not

worthy,14 not because he fails to measure up to the superapostles

(11:5; 12:11), but because he fails to measure up to Christ in whom he

speaks. In the case of Moses, God assured him that the "one who gave

a mouth to man" will "open your mouth" and will "teach you what

you are to say" (Exod 4:11-12). In the case of Paul, God does much

the same thing (see 12:9); but Paul goes on to say that God works

through him in a far more glorious way than God ever did through

Moses because the ministry of the Spirit is far more glorious.

            Therefore, Paul's answer to his question in 2:16, "Who is sufficient

for these things?" is that he is, but only through the grace of God. His

confidence rests in God who gave him both his ministry in the New

Covenant (see I Cor 15:9; Col l:12) and his sufficiency, not in himself.

The fitness of Paul is primarily related to the message that he has been

sent out by God to preach. Consequently, fleshly heritage or accom-

plishments (Phil 3:4), religious powers (2 Cor 10:2), or the affirmation

of humans--things his opponents paraded before others--mean



Paul's Letter of Recommendation (3:1-3)

            Paul's rivals have apparently sought to manufacture their own

sufficiency with commendatory letters from third parties to ensure


            12 I disagree with those who claim that his appeal to Moses is attributable to his

rivals' identification with Moses as a divine man. See Georgi, Opponents 254-58; and

M. Theobald, Die uberstromende Gnade. Studien zu einem paulinischen Motivfeld

(FzB 22; Wurzburg, 1982) 202. This is an extreme case of mirror reading whereby one

imaginatively constructs the views of Paul's opponents from his every argument in the


            13 This is a priestly image rather than one associated with the triumphal procession

and reflects Paul's belief that he is in priestly service of God (see Rom 15:16). The one

who persecuted the church has been transformed into a life-giving fragrance (see Sir

39:13-14; 24:15; 2 Bar 67:6). How people respond to his message will lead them either

to life or death.

            The rabbis viewed the law as an odor of life (b. Ta’an. 7a; Yoma 72b; Sabb. 88b;

Erub. 54a), but Paul argues that the law can only be associated with death.

            14 The same word appears in 1 Cor 15:9, "I am not worthy to be an apostle" (see

Matt 3:11; 8:8; Luke 7:6).

                        Garland: THE SUFFICIENCY OF PAUL      25


that they receive both a warm reception and material assistance.15

Paul did not depend on the recommendations of others. Since he did

not receive his apostleship by the vote of man, or his gospel by the

teaching of man (Gal 1:1, 11-12), he did not need the credentials,

patronage, or golden opinions of man to carry out his commission. If

God made him sufficient to serve as an apostle, he does not need a

second opinion from humans. Paul would not have been more of an

apostle with an apostle certificate or a note from a pillar apostle in his

bag. In fact, letters of recommendation would only have been useful

where Christians had already been established, and Paul's policy was

to venture only into pioneer mission territory (Rom 15:20). He iden-

tifies this as his kanw<n, his jurisdiction, in 10:13, 16. As the first mis-

sionary to come to Corinth (10:14), letters vouching for him from

notable Christians would have hardly done him any good since there

were no Christians there to be impressed.16 In this situation, only the

power of the word could be effective. Apparently, the rivals only

poached on the work of others (see 10:15-16; 11:12) and never

launched a church themselves. Therefore, they required the recom-

mendations of others to gain a foothold in churches that were already


            Since Paul believes that God alone can validate a ministry (10:18),

he first points to the founding of the Corinthian church as evidence of

his sufficiency for the apostolic task. He contends that he does have a

letter of recommendation, so to speak, in the Corinthians (3:2); their

very existence is a testimony to his sufficiency. The Corinthians are his

"workmanship in the Lord" and "the seal of his apostleship in the

Lord" (1 Cor 9:1-2). Mindful that they were created "in the Lord," he

clarifies his statement that they are "our letter" (3:2) and says that they

are "Christ's letter delivered (diakonhqei?sa) by us" (3:3). He is the

courier, and the letter is written by Christ on Paul's heart.17 This letter


            15 Paul does not condemn the practice of using commendatory letters because he

composed them for others to create friendship between the one recommended and the

recipient (Rom 16:1-2), to establish those recommended in a position of authority

(2 Cor 8:16-24; Phil 2:19-23; Col. 4:7-9), to appeal to his friendship with the recipient to

forgive the one recommended (Phlm), and to declare his support for the one recom-

mended (Phil 2:25-30). See also 1 Cor 16:3, 10; and Acts 9:2; 15:23-29; 18:27; 22:5. What

troubles him about his rivals' letters of commendation is that they used them to oppose

and exclude him. See Marshall, Enmity 128.

            16 G. Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays in Corinth, trans.

by J.. H. Schutz (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982) 38-39; see also C. Talbert, Reading

Corinthians (New York: Crossroad, 1987) 143. When he writes to Rome to lay the

groundwork for a mission to Spain, he recognizes that he will be going to an estab-

lished church outside of his sphere of influence. But he does not gather kudos from

others; instead, he lays out the gospel that he preaches so that they can see for

themselves his insight into the mysteries of God.

            17 The verse contains a textual variant, "your hearts" or "our hearts." The manu-

script evidence overwhelmingly supports the reading "our." This would be similar to



is vastly superior to any that his opponents might possess because it is

the work of the Spirit. If the rivals wish to compare letters, what is

written by the Spirit far outclasses anything penned in ink. Their

letters have a human author; Paul's, a divine author. Their letters are

visible to only a few; his is visible to one and all.

            In 3:3c, Paul changes tack slightly by asserting that this letter has

been inscribed on human hearts and not on stone tablets. Papyrus or

parchment would seem to be a more appropriate comparison at this

point, since the letters of his rivals would hardly have been etched in

stone. But Paul refers to stones because he wants to move on to a

comparison between his ministry for Christ and Moses' ministry for

the law. His real concern is to give the grounds for "the confidence we

have through Christ before God" (3:4), and he wants to contrast the

giving of the law that was engraved on stones (Exod 31:18; 32:16;

34:.1; Deut 9:10) with the promise of the New Covenant that will be

inscribed on hearts. Jeremiah prophesied: "This is the covenant which

I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I

will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and

I will be their God and they will be my people" (Jer 31 :3; see also

Ezek 11:19; 36:26). God prefers living hearts to dead stones because

they can better communicate what the purposes of the living God are

for humanity and what the presence of the life-giving Spirit is able to

do. In effect, Paul audaciously declares in 3:3 that the prophecy of

Jeremiah 31 has come to pass in the church at Corinth through his



Letter Versus Spirit (3:4-6)

            Paul leads into his contrast between the ministry of the New

Covenant and that of the Old in 3:7-18 by stating that "the letter kills

and the Spirit gives life" (3:6b; see Rom 2:29; 7:6). This seems to be a

negative evaluation of the law which Paul identifies as "spiritual" in

Rom 7:14. Cranfield, in his comments on Rom 7:6, seeks to explain

this apparent contradiction by arguing that "letter" refers to the mis-

use of the law: "'Letter' is rather what the legalist is left with as a

result of his misunderstanding and misuse of the law. It is the letter of

the law in separation from the Spirit."18 Similarly, Barrett argues that


his statement in 4:6: "For it is God who said, 'Let light shine out of the darkness,' who

has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the

face of Christ." See W. Baird, "Letters of Recommendation: A Study of II Cor 3:1-3,"

JBL 80 (1961) 166-72.

            Notice that the verbs ("having been inscribed") are perfect participles and stand

opposed to "ephemeral human recommendations," see E. Richard, "Polemics.." 346.

            18 C. E. B.Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark,

1975) 339'-40.

            Georgi, Opponents 251; elaims that the opponents introduced the word gra<mma

into the discussion by calling their ministry a ministry of gra<mma.

                    Garland: THE SUFFICIENCY OF PAUL    27


"letter" refers to the way Paul viewed his Jewish contemporaries'

understanding and application of the law; it is man-made religion that

does not penetrate to the heart.19 This interpretation assumes that

humans turn God's law into a written code of behavior by which they

mistakenly seek to attain their own righteousness. From Paul's per-

spective, this can lead only to death (Rom 7:5-7; 1 Cor 15:56).

Therefore, the reason that the letter kills is that one is deceived into

believing that life and righteousness can be found through obedience

to legal prescriptions (Rom 7:11) when in fact they can be found only

in Christ (see Phil 3:9).20

            While these statements are true, they do not explain this verse

because misunderstanding or misapplication of the law is not men-

tioned at all in 3:6. This interpretation ignores the fact that Paul

specifically contrasts God's inscribing the law on stones with God's

inscribing it on human hearts through the Spirit (3:3).21 He contrasts

an external code with an indwelling power. The "letter" refers to

what is merely written. It is ineffectual because it cannot produce life,

obedience, or righteousness but can only pronounce a death sentence

on those who fail to obey it (see Gal 3:10, 21). With only the letter, the

people shrivel into dry bones and desperately need the Spirit to

revive them (see Ezek 37:4-6, 14) and empower them (see Rom

8:1-11). The Spirit therefore completes God's action in giving the law.

The Spirit gives life and enables the old to become new (5:17; Eph

4:22, 24; Col 3:9-10).


The Ministry of Stone Versus the Ministry of the Spirit (3:7-18)

            In 3:7-18, Paul examines the giving of the law recorded in Exodus

34 and what it reveals about the ministry of Moses. He is not con-

cerned that the rivals "have overstressed the Old Testament and

understressed the newness of Christ" as Best, for example, contends.22

At this point, he is not countering the false teaching of those stirring

up the congregation against him but justifying his own boldness (3:12)

and confidence (3:4) as a worthy apostle of the new covenant (3:6) by


            19 C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, (HNT;

New York: Harper & Row, 1973) 113. He argues from 3:3 that the contrast is "between

human opinion and performance, and the work of God by his Spirit" (112). Paul did

not intend to suggest that the OT law was merely a human instrument; it was inspired

by God (Rom 7:14)--"but it was easy to misuse it" to make oneself feel superior to


            20 Furnish, 2 Corinthians, 201 notes that existence that is centered entirely on

something human is cut off from the true source of life and can only die. Origen took

this as a justification for his allegorical method and an argument against literal interpre-

tation (for a fuller discussion, see Furnish, 2 Corinthians 199-200), and some moderns

have misused this as a proof text for arguing against moral constraints.I'

            21 G. Schrenk, "gra<fw," TDNT 1 (1964) 765-67.

            22 E. Best, 2 Corinthians (Int.; Atlanta: John Knox, 1987) 28, 30, 32, 33.



contrasting his ministry, a ministry of the Spirit, with that of Moses, a

ministry of the letter. Nor should these verses be regarded as an

independent "midrash" inserted parenthetically into the text, as some

have proposed;23 they are an integral part of Paul's defense of his

sufficiency as an apostle of Christ.24

            Paul has already said that the letter kills, and now he expands on

that statement with a most surprising exposition of Exod 34:28-35. He

begins with what he considers to be an undeniable fact that the Old

Covenant was accompanied with glory (do<ca), a key word that

occurs thirteen times in 3:7-4:6 (the verb form occurs twice).25 Paul's

argument runs, if splendor attended a ministry which was only

chiseled in stone, how much more must be the splendor of the

ministry of the Spirit. The refrain, "put if . . . how much more," pulses

through these verses as Paul contrasts "the ministry of death" with

"the ministry of the Spirit" (3:7), "the splendor of the ministry of

condemnation" with "the splendor" of "the ministry of righteousness"

(3:9), and that which is "annulled" (or "fading") with that which is

"permanent" (3:11). He then concludes with a somewhat enigmatic

explanation of why Moses veiled himself before the sons of Israel

whereby he contrasts his own boldness with Moses' cautious reserve.

With this interpretation of Exodus 34, Paul demonstrates that the

boldness (3:12), freedom (3:17), and glory (3:18) that he lays claim to

have nothing to do with his personal characteristics but have every-

thing to do with the intrinsic splendor of the ministry he serves. He

knows himself to be a flawed vessel but one that contains a perfect

treasure (4:7). The glory he claims is not the empty glory (kenodoci<a)

that self-applause or the acclamation of others bestows; it is the glory

that God bestows on all those who serve in the ministry of the Spirit.

Because he knows himself to be a minister of the glorious New

Covenant and an ambassador of Christ (5:20), Paul can respond to the

question, "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?" (3:1) with

the bold assertion, we can "commend ourselves to every person's

conscience before God" (4:2). He can do this because of the glory of

the ministry he serves.


            23 H. Windisch, Die zweite Korintherbrief (MeyerK 6; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck

& Ruprecht, 1924) 105, contended that 3:7-18 was a pre-existing midrash on Exodus 34.

It is therefore only tangentially related to Paul's argument. This view has been accepted

by S. Schulz, "Die Decke Moses. Untersuchungen zu einer vorpaulinischen Uberlie-

ferungin 2 Kor. 3:17-18," ZNW 49 (1958) 1-30; and D. Georgi, Opponents, 264-71. See

arguments against this view in M. Hooker, "Beyond the Things That Are Written?

St. Paul's Use of Scripture," NTS 27 (1982) 295-309.

            24 See n 3 above.

            25 "Glory" may refer to the power of God (see Rom 6:4), the outward manifesta-

tion of God, God's character, or the transforming power of God.

                        Garland: THE SUFFICIENCY OF PAUL                29


The Ministry of Death Versus the Ministry of the Spirit (Life) (3:7-8)

            It is astounding that a Jew would ever have identified the Sinai

experience as a ministry (diakoni<a) of death (3:7). Jews proclaimed

that it was just the opposite; the law gave life. A later Rabbi expressed

it this way: "while Israel stood below engraving idols to provoke their

Creator to anger. . . , God sat on high engraving tablets which would

give them life" (Exod. Rab. 41:1).26 As a Pharisee, Paul was no

different from any other devout Jew who searched the law and the

prophets because he believed he had life in them (see John 5:39). But

after his encounter with the risen Lord (4:6), he came to realize that

the law bore witness to Christ (compare John 5:47). He was con-

vinced that the righteousness of God had been manifested in Jesus

Christ apart from law (see Rom  3:22; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21). He also

must have reasoned that if salvation comes only through Christ, then

salvation could not come through the written law. If the law does not

lead to life, then it must lead to death (Rom 7:10; Gal 3:21; 1 Cor

15:56) .

            Because of his faith in Christ, Paul came to view the law-holy,

righteous, and good as it was (Rom 7:12)--as a ministry of death. To

say that it was engraved in letters on stones (3:7) is simply another

way of saying that the letter kills (3:6). But this ministry of death

came with evident splendor. When Moses came down from Sinai with

the tablets of the law, his face radiated from the residual rays of the

divine glory (3:7). Paul argues, if glory accompanied something that

leads to death, how much more glory will accompany the ministry of

the Spirit that leads to life (3:8)?


The Ministry of Condemnation Versus the Ministry of Righteousness


            In 3:9, Paul identifies Moses' covenant as the ministry of condem-

nation and contrasts it with the ministry of righteousness. When the

people of Israel sinned, Moses could valiantly attempt to intercede on

their behalf but was helpless to remove either their guilt (Exod 32:31-

33) or his own. The law that he gave them only condemns, which is

why Paul can characterize it as a ministry of death (Rom 3:19-20; Gal

3:10). The Spirit, on the other hand, acquits (Rom 5:16, 18; 8:1)

because Christ not only intercedes for the condemned (Rom 8:26, 34),

his death atones for their sins (Rom 3:21-26; 2 Cor 5:21). The law

demands obedience; the Spirit gives it. The law would eliminate

sinners by sentencing them to death; the Spirit would illuminate them


            26 See also Sir 11:11; Wis 6:18; Pss Sol 14:2; 2 Bar 38:2; and other texts cited in

Str-B 3:129-32.



by revealing the glory of the Lord (3:18), the truth of God (4:2), and

the promise of the resurrection (4:13-14). If a ministry that could lead

only to condemnation possessed glory, how much more glory must

the ministry that leads to righteousness possess?


Impermanent Glory Versus Permanent Glory (3:10-11) :

            Paul's interpretation of Exodus 34 infers that the glory that ac-

companied the ministry of Moses was either a fading glory or a glory

that was to be annulled. The verb katargei?n can mean "to fade" or

"to disappear" and is translated that way in the RSV, NEB, TEV, and

NIV. It can also mean "to nullify," “to annul,” or "to pass away." The

latter is the meaning it normally has in Paul27 and is the translation

employed by the KJV ("to be done away," 3:7; "to abolish," 3:11). In

my opinion, Paul plays on the double meaning of this verb to make a

further distinction between the ministry of Moses and the ministry of

the Spirit. The glory on Moses' face faded (3:7), and for Paul this

betokened the fact that the covenant of the law that he presented to

Israel was to be annulled (3:11) with the coming of Christ. The

covenant of the letter was only transitory (see Gal 3:19-25; Rom 10:4)

and can now be identified as "old" (3:14; see Rom 7:6).

            Once again, Paul argues a fortiori that if the Old Covenant that

was to be annulled had glory, how much greater would be the glory

of the new, abiding covenant (3:11). This has significant implications

for the status of the Old Covenant and its glory. When the new

comes, the old is transcended. The gospel with its forgiveness based

on grace and direct access to God is God's ultimate word. Lambrecht

writes: "When compared with the overwhelming new glory, the

so-called glory of the Old Covenant is no glory at all."28 And

Plummer remarks: "When the sun is risen, lamps ceased to be of



A Veiled Minister Versus An Unveiled Minister (3:12-15)

            Paul now reaches the main contention of his interpretation of

Exodus 34. If the ministry of the Spirit has a greater splendor, so do

its ministers. He expresses this in 3:12, "Therefore, having such a hope

we exercise much boldness" (parrhsi<a).30 This "boldness" is immedi-

ately evident as he now audaciously compares himself to Moses.


            27 So Furnish, 2 Corinthians, 203.

            28 Lambrecht, "Structure," 356.

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

St. Paul to the Corinthians (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1915) 91.

            30 Boldness (parrhsi<a) was the upshot of the coming of the Spirit in Acts (Acts

2:29; 4:13, 29, 31; 28:31). Van Unnik, "'With Unveiled Face'," 160, notes that boldness

was not greatly treasured in the ancient world because it meant "speaking without

                        Garland: THE SUFFICIENCY OF PAUL                31


Moses ministered with a veil covering the glory reflected in his face;

Paul is unveiled, beholding the glory of the Lord and being trans-

formed from one degree of glory to another (3:17).

            Paul develops the imagery of the veil from the account of how

Moses' face shone with a divine radiance when he left the presence of

God on Sinai (Exod 34:29-34). His luminous appearance so terrified

the people that they fled from him, but he was able to coax them to

return and presented them with the commandments of the Lord.

After Moses finished speaking with them, he then placed a veil over

his face. The texts does not tell us explicitly why Moses did this,31 but

Paul's interpretation finds great significance in the inference that Moses

habitually32 wore a veil when he met with the people. In 3:7, he notes

that the ministry of death came with such splendor "so that the sons

of Israel were not able to gaze intently at the face of Moses because

of the glory of his face which was fading." In 3:13, he says that Moses

placed a veil over his face, "so that the sons of Israel would not gaze

intently on the end of that which was being annulled" (or "fading").

For Paul, this is further proof of the superiority of the New Covenant,

but it raises a number of exegetical questions. What exactly is it that

was being abolished (or fading)? And why did Moses veil his face?

            One prominent view takes the participle in 3:13 (tou? katargou-

me<nou) to mean "to fade" and identifies what was fading as the glory

on Moses' face. Moses veiled his face to prevent Israel from seeing

that glory wane. Bruce, for example, argues that Moses veiled his face

when he left the presence of God so that the Israelites should not see

that his was only a fading glory that needed constant recharging.33

Barrett concludes similarly that Moses veiled his face "that they might

not see the glory come to an end and thus be led to disparage Moses

as being of no more than temporary importance." He goes on to say:

"Moses acted as he did not with a view to concealing the truth but in

order to persuade the children of Israel to accept it; they would be

more likely to do so if they did not see the end of the glory."34


restraint about the most painful things," "not mincing words." It was, however, the

characteristic of the true friend and not the flatterer (see 1 Thess 2:2; Phlm 8; Phil 1:20).

As Paul uses the term, "It describes the courage with which he is emboldened, as an

apostle, to exercise his ministry openly and without fear" (Furnish, 2 Corinthians, 231).

And Hanson ("Midrash," 15) observes that it required boldness to claim "that God has

been uniquely revealed in the human form of Jesus Christ."

            31 According to Philo, Vito Mos. 2.14.70, their eyes could not "stand the dazzling

brightness that flashed from him like the rays of the sun." See also Ps.-Philo 12:1.

            32 e]ti<qei is imperfect, while the LXX has the aorist e]pe<qhken.

            33 F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1977) 121; see also idem, I & II Corinthians (NCB; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971) 192.

            34 C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New

York: Harper & Row, 1973) 120. So also W.C. van Unnik, "'With Unveiled Face'," 161.



This interpretation comes up against the fact that the noun "glory"

(do<ca) is feminine and the participle (tou? katargoume<nou) is either

neuter or masculine.35 But aside from that, it attributes some measure

of subterfuge on the part of Moses for putting the veil on before the

people. If not guilty of outright deceit, he was at least hiding some-

thing from them; and it seems most unlikely that Paul would have

construed Moses' actions so negatively.36

            It is my view that Paul uses the glory that faded from Moses' face

as a figure for the Mosaic covenant that would eventually be annulled.

The key for understanding how Paul interprets Moses' intentions is the

verb a]teni<zein, "to gaze intently," which occurs only in vv 7 and 13 in

Paul's letters. Unfortunately, it is usually translated "see" (RSV) or

"look" (KJV). But if it is translated with its usual meaning, "to gaze

intently," it can be interpreted to mean that Moses did not simply

want to prevent them from seeing the glory that was radiating from

his face dim, he wanted to keep them from fixing their attention on

something that was only passing; namely, the covenant that Paul has

described as written on tablets of stone (3:3,7), as something that kills

(3:6), as a ministry of death and condemnation (3:7, 9), and as some-

thing that is being annulled (3:11). The people could easily mistake

what was to be annulled as something permanent and as their ulti-


            35 C. J. A. Hickling ("The Sequence of Thought on II Corinthians, Chapter Three,"

NTS 21 [1974] 391) contends that the Israelites would not have been surprised that

Moses' radiance began to fade the longer he was away from the source of the glory,

which makes it unlikely that Moses would have tried to hide that fact. Later rabbis

declared, however, that the brightness remained until his death (see Str-B 515).

            36 In this interpretation, Moses prevents Israel from seeing the truth by veiling his

face, and the result is that their minds become hardened. In 4:4, Paul claims that Satan

blinds minds to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ

which would imply that Moses acted like Satan by causing the blindness of Israel. Even

as bold as Paul is in his interpretation, this could hardly have been Paul's conclusion.

            Furnish (2 Corinthians, 232) contends that Moses veiled his face "in order to keep

the Israelites from seeing the extinction of the splendor that was being annulled." This,

he claims, explains why Moses was so timid. It was not because he attempted to .

deceive the people but because he knew that his ministry was destined to pass away.

            Many other views have been proposed to explain the significance of the veiling.

One interpretation, worthy of serious consideration, contends that Moses hid his face

for reverential reasons because he did not want to profane the glory of God that was

too sacred for human gaze (Windisch, Zweite Korintherbrief, 119; Hickling, "Se-

quence," 391). The problem with this view is that Paul does not draw any special

attention to its sacredness but to the fact that it was being annulled or fading. A. T.

Hanson ("The Midrash in II Corinthians 3: A Reconsideration," JSNT 9 [1980] 3-28~

interprets the veiling to signify that Moses viewed the pre-existent Christ in the

tabernacle; and the reason he put on the veil "was to prevent the messianic glory from

being seen by the Israelites." This was because Moses knew it was part of the divine

plan that Israel would be blinded and not believe in the Messiah so that it would give

opportunity for the Gentiles to believe (13).

                 Garland: THE SUFFICIENCY OF PAUL    33


mate hope because of the glory that attended the giving of the law.

Paul assumes in his interpretation that Moses recognized that his

ministry of the letter would be annulled in spite of its great glory and

attempted to prevent the people from focusing on what was only

impermanent. Therefore, in Paul's view, Moses did not don the veil to

con the people but to try to prevent them from riveting their attention

only on what was destined to be transcended.37 This best explains the

"but" (a@lla) in 3:14: "but their minds were hardened" (compare Deut

29:4; Isa 6:10; 29:10). It indicates that Moses' attempt failed. The

people misconceived things, and they remain deluded as evidenced

by the fact that they still keep their gaze focused only on the letter.

            Paul applies the veil figure to explain the unbelief of the majority

of Jews in his day. The veil now becomes a blindfold.38 When they

read the old covenant, they do not recognize that it is old. They still

look to Moses and not to Christ as the final say because they fail to see

that the coming of Christ extinguishes whatever glory Moses had.

They fail to recognize that Christ is the end of the law (Rom 10:4),

that he has inaugurated a New Covenant, and that he embodies the

true glory of God. They see Christ only from the perspective of flesh

(kata> sa<rka, 5:16) and do not recognize that in him everything that is

old passes away (5:17).

            Paul's conviction that salvation only comes through Christ governs

his interpretation of Exodus 34. As a way of salvation, the ministry of

the letter has been abrogated. As promise, it has been fulfilled. As

something temporary, it has been replaced by that which is perma-

nent. The new covenant that was prophesied in Jeremiah 31 has

arrived and replaced the old covenant, and the veil "is abolished" in

Christ (katargei?n, 3:14).39. For Paul, the law be properly read and

understood only in Christ because only in Christ can one see that the


            37 See J.-F. Collange, Enigmes de la deuxieme epitre de Paul aux Corinthiens

(SNTSMS 18; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972) 96-97; and R. P. Martin,

2 Corinthians (WBC 40; Waco, TX: Word, 1986) 68, who writes, "the fading glow on

Moses' face betokened the temporary nature of nomistic religion. But the Jews, both in

Moses' day and a@xri ga>r th?j sh<meron ('until the present day'), have shown their

obtuseness by looking to Moses as the final embodiment of God's salvation."

            38 See Rom 11:7-8, 25, where Paul states that Israel has been given a spirit of

stupor and that a hardening (pw<rwsij) has come upon some of them.

The veil image may be derived from the practice of veiling the Torah scrolls in

their niche in the synagogue and/or from the veiling of the head in prayer.

            39 Even though the verb katargei?n is used elsewhere in the passage for the

annulment of the Old Covenant (3:7, 11, 13) and a different verb for removing a veil

(periairei?n) appears in 3:16, the "veil" and not "the Old Covenant" is the subject of the

verb, because "the same veil" is the subject of the previous clause, and there is no

indication that the subject has changed. The present tense implies that it is in process of

being abolished. If it were referring to the Old Covenant, one would expect the aorist,

since it has already been abolished with the coming of Christ.



New Covenant has indeed replaced the Old. But Paul has identified

all of this as the ministry of the Spirit (3:8), and he now turns to the

role of the Spirit in unveiling the truth and transforming darkness into

light (see 4:6).


The Lord is the Spirit (3:15-18)

            Paul affords a note of hope by asserting that the veil/blindfold

can be removed by turning toward the Lord (3:16). This is his inter-

pretation of Exod 34:34. As Moses took off the veil literally when he

went in before the Lord, so this will happen figuratively to anyone

who comes to the Lord. It is much debated among scholars as to

whom Paul means by "the Lord,"40 but I take the expression "turn to

the Lord" as simply another way of referring to conversion, which

entailed belief in Jesus as Lord (see 1 Cor 6:17; 12:3, where "the Lord"

refers to Christ). In 3:14, Paul says that the veil is annulled in Christ;

and it would seem logical to assume that in 3:16 he also has Christ in

mind when he says, "whoever turns to the Lord, the veil is removed."

Verse 17 continues: "Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit

of the Lord is, there is freedom."41 By specifically referring to the

Spirit at this point, Paul returns to the central theme of the passage,

the ministry of the Spirit. When one believes, one enters into the


            40 "The Lord" has been taken to mean God, Christ, or the Spirit. Those who argue

that "Lord" refers to God contend that 3:16 is a citation of Exod 34:34 which has

Yahweh in view and point to a similar expression in 1 Thess 1:9 which clearly refers to

God. See, for example, J. D. G. Dunn, "2 Corinthians III. 17- The Lord is the Spirit,"

NTS 21 (1970) 309-20. The problem with this view is that it implies that Paul believed

that the Jews had not turned to God. As Paul saw things, this was not their failure. He

affirms that Israel had a zeal for God but claims that it was unenlightened precisely

because they had not believed in Christ (Rom 10:1-4).

            Those who argue for the Spirit point to the emphasis on the Spirit in the context

and the statement in 3:17 that the Lord is the Spirit. See, for example, E. Wong, "The

Lord is the Spirit," ETL 61 (1985) 48-72. But the idea of turning to the Spirit never

occurs elsewhere in Paul's writings.

            One must be mindful when interpreting this passage that Paul is not concerned

here, as Hooker, "Beyond," 301, points out, "with the niceties of trinitarian theology"

(compare Rom 8:9-14).

            41 Some take "the Lord" to be an explanation of who "the Lord" is in Exod 34:34,

the passage that Paul is interpreting (compare Gal 4:25;- 1 Cor 10:4); and the NEB

attempts to capture this by translating it: "Now the Lord of whom this passage speaks

is the Spirit." But E. Schweizer, "pneu<ma," TDNT 6.419, argues that the Lord refers to

the exalted Christ, and Spirit refers to "the mode of existence" of the Lord. This best

explains the expression, "Spirit of the Lord" in 3:18; it depicts "the power'" in which the

Lord encounters the community. Schweizer writes, ".In so far as Christ is regarded in

His significance for the community, in His powerful action upon it, He can be identified

with the pneuma. In so far as He is also Lord over His power, He can be differentiated

from it, just as the I can be distinguished from the power which goes out from it."

                        Garland: THE SUFFICIENCY OF PAUL                35


sphere of the Spirit (Gal 3:2); and when one reads the law with the aid

of the Spirit, one is able to penetrate beyond the letter and perceive

its true significance as pointing to Christ. The Spirit leads one to see

the necessity of giving oneself over to the ministry of reconciliation,

and this is precisely what happened to Paul himself after his encoun-

ter with Christ. When the light shone in his heart, his benighted vision

cleared, and he saw the face of God in the Son of God (see 4:4). As is

clear from these verses, he also began to read the law in a radically

different way, and one can understand why on five different occasions

the synagogue subjected him to the discipline of the lash (11:24).

            Paul has stressed the Spirit's operation on hearts versus that of ink

on stone tablets (3:3), the Spirit's giving of life versus the letter's

meting out a death sentence (3:6), and now he emphasizes the Spirit's

freedom. In the immediate context, the freedom he is talking about is

freedom from the veil. In the age of the Spirit, there is no call for

veils, which is what marks the contrast between Paul and Moses. Paul

does not veil himself or his gospel but makes things evident and

spreads the knowledge of God (2:14; 4:6) for all to see (3:2). The

uncovered face of Paul that looks up to God also turns uncovered to

others. Freedom therefore would be parallel to the boldness in 3:12.

            But freedom also entails the freedom of access to God for all who

turn to the Lord. In 3:18, Paul certifies that "we all," with unveiled

face, are able to behold in a glass42 the glory of the Lord (contrast

Exod 40:35; 1 Kgs 8:11). The "we all" contrasts with the one Moses. In

the age of the Spirit, no one has to wait outside the tent while another

enters into the presence of God only to get a glimpse of a veiled

reflection of God's glory that is destined to fade away. In contrast to

the one who reads God's revelation in the Old Covenant with a veiled

mind, the Christian sees firsthand the self-revelation of God in the

person of Christ (see 4:4,6). What is more, believers are changed into

the likeness they see.43 As Moses radiated the glory of God, so do all


            42 For a summary of the lexical evidence for katoptrizo<menoi, see J. Dupont, "Le

Chretien, miroir de la grace divine, d'apres 2 Cor. 3, 18," RB 46 (1949) 393-411. In the

usage of the period, the word meant "behold"; but Dupont argues in spite of this that

Paul uses the word idiosyncratically to mean "to reflect" as a mirror does. This would

mean that Christians reflect the glory of God just as the unveiled Moses did. But the

contrast is not between Christians and Moses but between Christians who behold the

glory of God and Jews who cannot because their hearts are veiled. Paul uses the word

"to behold as in a glass" because in this world what we see is only the reflected image

of God. The direct vision of God will come only at the end when we will we see "face

to face" (1 Cor 13:12). See J. Lambrecht, "Transformation in 2 Cor 3,18," Bib 64 (1983)


            43 See Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 15:49; Phil 3:21; Mark 13:43. J. A. Fitzmyer ("Glory

Reflected on the Face of Christ [2 Cor 3:7-4:6] and a Palestinian Jewish Motif," TS 42



who turn toward the Lord. But Paul notes that this transformation is

the work of the Spirit (literally "from the Lord of the Spirit," 3:18),

and this means that there are significant differences from what hap-

pened to Moses and what happens to Christians. First, the changed

condition of Christians need not and should not be concealed because

the glory they reflect is a permanent one and should be a permanent

testimony to the world. Second, the glory does not fade, as it did with

Moses, but only increases from one degree of glory to another. One

must be careful, however, not to think of this glorious transformation

in terms of a human appraisal of what glory is. This was his bone of

contention with his rivals. We are transformed into the likeness of

Christ, but Christ was crucified! Paul asserts that Christ's glory can be

seen in him, but it can be seen precisely in his afflictions, persecutions,

and the wasting away of his outer nature (4:7-18). For Paul, the glory

of the Lord is paradoxically manifested in his own life by the fact that

he always carries in his body the death of Jesus (4:10).


Paul's Ministry (4:1-6)

            In 4:1-6, Paul sums up his defense: "Having such a ministry we

do not lose heart, . . . but in open manifestation of the truth commend

ourselves to the conscience of every person before God" (4:1-2). In

the preceding verses he has contrasted his own ministry with that of

Moses. Moses did not act boldly but was timid, as is clear from his use

of a veil. Paul is bold and faces all openly. Moses' ministry was to be

annulled; Paul has God's ultimate word which is permanent. The

glory of Moses was reserved for him alone; the glory of the Lord is

bestowed on all who turn to the Lord. Moses' transfiguration was only

temporary; the transfiguration of Christians will only increase from

one degree of glory to another.44 Now, Paul briefly contrasts himself


[1981] 630-44) shows that "transfiguration by vision" need not be derived from a Greco-

Roman religious motif (compare Apuleius Metamorphoses XI) but was at home in a

Palestinian environment, namely, Qumran.

            44 L. Gaston, "Paul and the Torah in 2 Corinthians 3," Paul and the Torah (Van-

couver: University of British Columbia Press, 1987) 151-68, is an example of many who

are less than comfortable with this apparent dismissal of Judaism by Paul. This un-

compromising insistence on Christ as the absolute truth does not sit well with a

pluralistic age. Paul was not interested in fostering better relations with his fellow Jews

but converting them, and he was not averse to disturbing their religious sensitivities.

The fact is that he gave his life for his kindred in the flesh, suffering the synagogue

discipline of the 39 lashes, and venturing to Jerusalem, against the advice of all who

loved him, in hopes that he might save some of them (Rom 11:14). The fears of his

friends proved to be well-founded, and Paul was eventually martyred for the faith and

because of his concern for his brethren (Rom 9:1-5). He did this because of his

conviction that they were dead wrong about God and about Christ. Christ was not an

              Garland: THE SUFFICIENCY OF PAUL                37


with those who employ disgraceful (literally, "the secrets of shame"),

guileful, and underhanded means and who adulterate the word of

God to gain followers (4:2; see 11:3-4, 13-15). He commends himself

as one who does not preach himself but Jesus Christ as Lord (4:5) and

who has humbled himself as the Corinthians' slave for the sake of

Christ (4:5). But he will not be servile when it comes to the glory of

his ministry. In this he will boast--a boast that rests in the Lord. He

does not do this to inflate himself but to reestablish the mutual

confidence he formerly shared with the Corinthians. He hopes that

they will now understand him better and recognize his sufficiency in

the ministry of the Spirit.


alternative plan for Gentiles, but the only way for all humankind. Some today might

label this as dogmatic intolerance, but it is not anti-semitism nor anti-Judaism. Paul

fervently believes that the true hopes of Judaism have been fulfilled by Christ. To hold

fast to the old would be like insisting on trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a

decayed Santa Maria when free tickets are available for a flight on the Concorde.




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