Criswell Theological Review 4.1 (1989) 21-37.
Copyright © 1989 by The
THE SUFFICIENCY OF PAUL,
MINISTER OF THE NEW COVENANT
DAVID E. GARLAND
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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
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
3 See the tables demonstrating the number of similar constructions and the cyclic
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.
22 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
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[
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
4 D. Georgi
(The Opponents of Paul in Second
tress, 1986] 233) contends that this was a catchword used by Paul's protagonists in
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;
ars Press, 1988) 148-53.
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
'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."
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
Social Conventions in
Paul’s Relations with the Corinthians (WUNT 2/23;
MGhr [Paul Siebeck], 1987) 259-77.
11 V. P. Furnish, 2 Corinthians (AB32a; New York: Doubleday, 1984) 245.
24 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
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
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
(see I Cor 15:9;
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).
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
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
16 G. Theissen,
The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity:
by J.. H. Schutz (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982) 38-39; see also C. Talbert, Reading
Corinthians (New York: Crossroad,
When he writes to
groundwork for a mission to
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
26 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
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
will make with the house of
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
31 has come to pass in the church at
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,
Georgi, Opponents 251; elaims that the opponents introduced the word gra<mma
into the discussion by calling their ministry a ministry of gra<mma.
"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
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;
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.
28 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
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
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;
& 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?
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.
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
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
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
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
30 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
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,
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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 (
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
32 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
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  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
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
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  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
opportunity for the Gentiles to believe (13).
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
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.
34 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
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
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
attempts to capture this by translating it: "Now the Lord of whom this passage speaks
is the Spirit." But
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."
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
36 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
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
 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,
44 L. Gaston, "Paul and the Torah in 2 Corinthians 3," Paul and the Torah (Van-
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
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
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
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