Chapter 3 of this second epistle to the Corinthian church gives Paul’s defense of his authority in and of from God further weight, as he stresses that not only is he not seeking to appeal to or please men by his words, but that God has written that upon the hearts of those he is writing to, so much so, that they are “our letter of recommendation,” and the weight of this letter of recommendation is not even their own testimony (although such is implicit in a secondary sense), but the fact that the law of God has been written on their hearts as surely and more effectually than it was on the tablets of the decalogue (vv. 1-4), and that is the entirety of the foundation for Paul and his companions confidence, which confidence has, as its sufficiency, God, and which confidence is communicated in all that they suffered, will suffer, are consoled in, and share with the Corinthians for the sake of their being built up in the grace of God.
These things are all done for the sake of revealing that glory of God in Christ which is shown to be beyond comparison, by the use of such comparison, first, to that ministry of the law of God written on stone, which Paul calls both glorious, yet, in his comparison to the present ministry of life (“ministry of the Spirit,” v. 8) which has written the law of God upon the tablets of the Corinthians’ hearts, he also calls “the ministry of death” (v. 7). Another comparison is made with a view to the passing of the glory revealed in the Old Covenant as compared to the New; the former is said to have shown forth the glory of God, yet is said to be “the ministry of condemnation;” the latter is shown to be superior in that it is not only showing the glory of God as well, but further and more so, in displaying His righteousness, and therefore, what was seen as glory in the Old is shown, by such contrast with the New, as having “no glory at all.” Indeed, the first glory is shown to have resulted in death, in that the letter, apart from the Spirit, can only kill (vv. 7-10; cf. v. 6b). It is the surpassing superiority of the glory of the New that makes null and void, by the contrast the apostle draws, that glory which was revealed in the Old; it is not that there was no glory revealed in the Old, but that such glory was not intended, by God, to be of any permanence, whereas the glory given in the New is without end (v. 11).
Paul’s use of metaphor to teach the Corinthians (and us) of the reality of the glory of God’s grace in Christ Jesus is strong in this chapter; actually, it is stronger than metaphor, it is typological. The type of the veil over Moses’ face is actually a type, which has echoes in the New Testament (Matthew 27:50-51), so that those who read Paul’s words in this epistle would well know that a literal veil in a literal temple, both of temporal construction, represented the Old Covenant ending and the glory of the everlasting covenant – the New Covenant – having been brought in by the redemptive work of our Lord, inaugurated. This is further alluded to in the Old Testament (Isaiah 25:6-7). Of this passage, Calvin comments, on v. 7, “Here also commentators differ, for by the word covering is meant the disgrace with which believers are covered in this world, so that the glory of God is not seen in them; as if he had said, “Though many reproaches oppress the godly, yet God will take away those reproaches, and will make their condition glorious. I pass by other interpretations; but, in my opinion, the true meaning is, that the Lord promises that he will take away the veil by which they were kept in blindness and ignorance; and therefore it was by the light of the gospel that this darkness was dispelled.
In that mountain. He says that this will be in mount Zion, from which also the light of the word shone on the whole world, as we have already seen. (Isaiah 2:3) This passage, therefore, must unavoidably be referred to the kingdom of Christ; for the light did not shine on all men till Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, arose, (Malachi 4:2) who took away all the veils, wrappings, and coverings. And here we have another commendation of the gospel, that it dispels the darkness, and takes away from our eyes the covering of errors. Hence it follows, that we are wrapped up and blinded by the darkness of ignorance, before we are enlightened by the doctrine of the gospel, by which alone we can obtain light and life, and be fully restored. Here, too, we have a confirmation of the calling of the Gentiles, that is, of our calling; for not only the Jews, but all nations, which formerly were buried in every kind of errors and superstition, are invited to this banquet” (Calvin – Commentary on Isaiah – 1551), while Gill has it that the doctrines of man are intended, which result in darkened understanding and ignorance (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible – 1690-1771); both senses may be held together, although I favor Calvin’s more. Here again, we see the harmonious organic whole and richness of the Scriptures, and even with Gentile converts, since, the Scriptures of the New Testament being not yet complete, they would be conversant with the existing Scriptures which the apostles and appointed elders and teachers of the New Testament used to teach from, even using the Old Testament Scriptures in such Holy Spirit breathed New Testament Scripture as they wrote – this was a common manner of using Old Testament Scripture, which may be said to repute strongly those who deny that there was any such usage of metaphor, allegory and typology, since the New Testament is replete with such usage from our Lord, the apostles, and other writers of the New Testament.
The doctrine of maturing in the grace of the Lord (v. 18) is taught by the apostle strongly in the last vv. of this chapter. We see how the progression from suffering and despair, to trusting in the Lord, sharing the hope that is divinely given through such suffering to those who will suffer in like manner (and in any manner), to a joyous expounding of the radiant grace of God in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ, as evidenced by the Spirit in Scripture through the agency of the apostles and prophets – this is that “freedom in the Lord” which is taught to us by our Lord and His apostles – the freedom to revel in and celebrate, worshipfully, thankfully, all that God has done for His glory, which self-glorification includes His love of His saints, in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul triumphantly declares that it is the Lord Jesus Christ who removes this veil from our understanding and shines that glory He alone procured, which gracious glory will transform us into His perfect likeness, as to His humanity, in eternal blessedness with our God; that is, the freedom which He so dearly purchased for us, and which His Spirit so graciously applies to us. Although Paul is presenting these truths to us as an apostle of Christ, it must be seen that he is doing so largely in his capacity not only as an apostle, but to show the ongoing reservoir of these great doctrines in the functioning of his role as an elder to the church, which function is continued (true apostolic succession is of the doctrine of the apostles as delivered to the church by those who are elders, both for the church catholic and for the local covenant communities, as we noted above) in the eldership of the church universal and in particular, each local body of that catholic church (1 Corinthians 3:1-11).
SDG – Bill