2 Corinthians 3:4-11
4. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:
4. Fiduciam autem eiusmodi per Christum habemus erga Deum:
5. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.
5. Non quod idonei simus ex nobis ad cogitandum quicquam, tanquam ex nobis: sed facultas nostra ex Deo est.
6. Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
6. Qui nos fecit idoneos ministros Novi testamenti, 1 non literae, sed Spiritus: nam litera quidem occidit: Spiritus autem vivificat.
7. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:
7. Quodsi ministerium mortis in literis insculptum in lapidibus fuit in gloria, ita ut non possent intueri filii Israel in faciem Mosis propter gloriam vultus eius, quae aboletur:
8. How shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious?
8. Quomodo non magis ministerium Spiritus erit in gloria?
9. For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.
9. Si enim ministerium damnationis, gloria: quomodo non magis abundet (vel, excellat) ministerium iustitiae in gloria?
10. For even that which was made glorious, had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.
10. Etenim quod glorificatum fuit, in hac parte, non fuit glorificatum propter antecellentem gloriam.
11. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
11. Si enim quod aboletur, per gloriam: multo magis quod manet, erit in gloria.
There is, however, no doubt, that by the term
It is asked, however, whether God, under the Old Testament, merely sounded forth in the way of an external voice, and did not also speak inwardly to the hearts of the pious by his Spirit. I answer in the first place, that Paul here takes into view what belonged peculiarly to the law; for although God then wrought by his Spirit, yet that did not take its rise from the ministry of Moses, but from the grace of Christ, as it is said in John 1:17 --
The law was given by Moses;
but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
True, indeed, the grace of God did not, during all that time, lie dormant, but it is enough that it was not a benefit that belonged to the law. 14 For Moses had discharged his office, when he had delivered to the people the doctrine of life, adding threatenings and promises. For this reason he gives to the law the name of the letter, because it is in itself a dead preaching; but the gospel he calls spirit, because the ministry of the gospel is living, nay, lifegiving.
I answer secondly, that these things are not affirmed absolutely in reference either to the law or to the gospel, but in respect of the contrast between the one and the other; for even the gospel is not always
When Paul, however, calls himself a
The meaning of this passage, however, is as follows -- that, if the word of God is simply uttered with the mouth, it is an occasion of death, and that it is lifegiving, only when it is received with the heart. The terms
In the first place, he calls the law the
Let us now briefly examine those attributes of the law and the gospel. Let us, however, bear in mind, that he is not speaking of the whole of the doctrine that is contained in the law and the Prophets; and farther, that he is not treating of what happened to the fathers under the Old Testament, but merely notices what belongs peculiarly to the ministry of Moses. The law was
Here, however, a question arises: As the gospel is the odor of death unto death to some, (2 Corinthians 2:16,) and as Christ is a rock of offense, and a stone of stumbling set for the ruin of many, 23 (Luke 2:34; 1 Peter 2:8,) why does he represent, as belonging exclusively to the law, what is common to both? Should you reply, that it happens accidentally that the gospel is the source of death, and, accordingly, it the occasion of it rather than the cause, inasmuch as it is in its own nature salutary to all, the difficulty will still remain unsolved; for the same answer might be returned with truth in reference to the law. For we hear what Moses called the people to bear witness to -- that he had set before them life and death. (Deuteronomy 30:15.) We hear what Paul himself says in Romans 7:10 -- that the law has turned out to our ruin, not through any fault attaching to it, but in consequence of our wickedness. Hence, as the entailing of condemnation upon men is a thing that happens alike to the law and the gospel, the difficulty still remains.
My answer is this -- that there is, notwithstanding of this, a great difference between them; for although the gospel is an occasion of condemnation to many, it is nevertheless, on good grounds, reckoned the doctrine of life, because it is the instrument of regeneration, and offers to us a free reconciliation with God. The law, on the other hand, as it simply prescribes the rule of a good life, does not renew men's hearts to the obedience of righteousness, and denounces everlasting death upon transgressors, can do nothing but condemn. 24 Or if you prefer it in another way, the office of the law is to show us the disease, in such a way as to show us, at the same time, no hope of cure: the office of the gospel is, to bring a remedy to those that were past hope. For as the law leaves man to himself, it condemns him, of necessity, to death; while the gospel, bringing him to Christ, opens the gate of life. Thus, in one word, we find that it is an accidental property of the law, that is perpetual and inseparable, that it killeth; for as the Apostle says elsewhere, (Galatians 3:10,)
All that remain under the law are subject to the curse.
It does, not, on the other hand, invariably happen to the gospel, that it kills, for in it is
revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith, and therefore it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. (Romans 1:17,18.) 25
It remains, that we consider the last of the properties that are ascribed. The Apostle says, that the law was but for a time, and required to be abolished, but that the gospel, on the other hand, remains for ever. There are various reasons why the ministry of Moses is pronounced transient, for it was necessary that the shadows should vanish at the coming of Christ, and that statement --
The law and the Prophets were until John --
-- applies to more than the mere shadows. For it intimates, that Christ has put an end to the ministry of Moses, which was peculiar to him, and is distinguished from the gospel. Finally, the Lord declares by Jeremiah, that the weakness of the Old Testament arose from this -- that it was not engraven on men's hearts. (Jeremiah 31:32,33.) For my part, I understand that abolition of the law, of which mention is here made, as referring to the whole of the Old Testament, in so far as it is opposed to the gospel, so that it corresponds with the statement -- The law and the Prophets were until John. For the context requires this. For Paul is not reasoning here as to mere ceremonies, but shows how much more powerfully the Spirit of God exercises his power in the gospel, than of old under the law.
1 "Du nouueau Testament, ou, de la nouuelle alliance;" -- "Of the New Testament, or, of the new covenant."
2 "Non point que soyons suffisans;" -- "Not that we are sufficient."
3 "Pour le moins;" -- "At least."
4 See Institutes, volume 1. -- Ed.
5 Wiclif (1380) following, as he is wont, the Vulgate, renders the verse as follows: "Not that we ben sufficiente to thenke ony thing of us as of us: but oure sufficience is of God." -- Ed.
6 "La disposition, preparation, et inclination;" -- "Disposition, preparation, and inclination."
7 Charnock, in his "Discourse on the Efficient of Regeneration," makes an interesting allusion to Calvin's exposition of this verse. "Thinking," says he, "is the lowest step in the ladder of preparation; 'tis the first act of the creature in any rational production; yet this the Apostle doth remove from man, as in every part of it his own act, (2 Corinthians 3:5)
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.
The word signifies -- reasoning: no rational act can be done without reasoning; this is not purely our own. We have no sufficiency of ourselves, as of ourselves, originally and radically of ourselves, as if we were the author of that sufficiency, either naturally or meritoriously. And Calvin observes, that the word is not
8 "Lequel aussi nous a rendus suffisans ministres;" -- "Who also hath made us sufficient ministers."
9 It is justly observed by Barnes, that the rendering in our authorized version -- "Who hath made us able ministers" -- "does not quite meet the force of the original," as it "would seem to imply that Paul regarded himself and his fellow -- laborers as men of talents, and of signal ability; and that he was inclined to boast of it," while instead of this "he did not esteem himself sufficient for this work in his own strength, (2 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 3:5); and he here says, that God had made him sufficient: not able, talented, learned, but sufficient, (
10 "Mauuais et inconsiderez;" -- "Wicked and reckless."
11 "Il auoit affaire auec des gens qui sans zele preschoyent l'Euangile, comme qui prononceroit vne harangue pour son plaisir, et n'ayans que le babil, pourchassoyent par cela la faueur des hommes;" -- "He had to do with persons, who without zeal preached the gospel, like one that makes a harangue according to his own liking, and while they had nothing but mere talk, endeavored by this means to procure the applause of men."
12 "Es cœurs des auditeurs;" -- "In the hearts of the hearers."
13 "Crient et gazouillent;" -- "Cry and chirp."
14 "Il suffit, que ce n'estoit point par le moyen de la loy: car elle n'auoit point cela de propre;" -- "It is enough that it was not by means of the law; for it did not belong peculiarly to it."
15 "Au ministere de l'homme qui enseigne;" -- "To the ministry of the man that teaches."
16 "La doctrine de l'homme, c'est à dire, son ministere;" -- "The doctrine of the man, that is to say, his ministry."
18 "Dangereuse;" -- "Dangerous."
19 "De corrompre et desguiser le vray et naturel sens de l'Escriture:" -- "Of corrupting and disguising the true and natural meaning of Scripture."
20 "Can you seriously think the Scriptures," says Revelation Andrew Fuller, in his Thoughts on Preaching, "to be a book of riddles and conundrums, and that a Christian minister is properly employed in giving scope to his fancy in order to discover their solution?.... All Scripture is profitable in some way, some for doctrine, some for reproof, some for correction, and some for instruction in righteousness, but all is not to be turned into allegory. If we must play, let it be with things of less consequence than the word of the eternal God." -- Fuller's Works, volume 4:p. 694. The attentive reader cannot fail to observe, how very frequently our author exposes, in the strongest terms, the exercise of mere fancy in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1. p. 294. -- Ed.
21 "Vn propos et vn mot;" -- "A passage and a word."
22 Piscator brings out the comparison here drawn by the Apostle between the law and the gospel, as presenting eight points of contrast, as follows: --
1. Novi Testamenti. (New Testament.)
1. Veteris Testamenti. (Old Testament.)
2. Spiritus. (Spirit.)
2. Literae. (Letter.)
3. Vitae. (Life.)
3. Mortis. (Death.)
4. Inscriptum cordibus. (Written on men's hearts.)
4. Inscriptum lapidibus. (Written on stones.)
5. Semper durans. (Everlasting.)
5. Abolendum. (To be done away.)
6. Justitiae. (Righteousness.)
6. Damnationis. (Condemnation.)
7. Excellenter gloriosum. (Eminently glorious.)
7. Illius Respectu a[doxon. (Comparatively devoid of glory.)
8. Perspicuum. (Clear.)
8. Obscurum. (Obscure.)
Piscatoris Scholia in Epist. 2:ad Corinth. -- Ed.
24 "Elle ne nous pent apporter autre chose que condemnation;" -- "It can bring us nothing but condemnation."
25 Turretine, in his Institutes of Controversial Theology, (volume 2,) gives a much similar view of the matter, of which Calvin here treats. "Quando lex vocatur litera occidens, et ministerium mortis et condemnationis, (2 Corinthians 3:6, 7, 8, 9,) intelligenda est non per se et naturâ suâ, sed per accidens, ob corruptionem hominis, non absolute et simpliciter, sed secundum, quid quando spectatur ut fœdus operum, opposite ad fœdus gratiae;" -- "When the law is called a killing letter, and the ministry of death and condemnation, (2 Corinthians 3:6,7,8,9,) it must be understood to be so, not in itself and in its own nature, but accidentally, in consequence of man's corruption -- not absolutely and expressly, but relatively, when viewed as a covenant of works, as contrasted with the covenant of grace." -- Ed.
26 "Trop abiecte et contemptible:" -- "Excessively mean and contemptible."
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