2 Corinthians 3
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?

(1) Do we begin again to commend ourselves?—The MSS. present various readings: “Do we begin again to commend ourselves [Nay, not so], unless we desire [which we do not] letters of commendation;” but the Received text is sufficiently supported, and gives a clearer and simpler meaning. Here, again, we have to read between the lines. Titus has told St. Paul what has been said of him at Corinth. Referring, probably, to what he had said in his First Epistle as to the “wisdom” which he preached (1Corinthians 2:6), his having “laid the foundation” (1Corinthians 3:10), his dwelling on his sufferings (1Corinthians 4:11), his preaching without payment (1Corinthians 9:15) as a thing he gloried in, they had sneered at him as always “commending himself.” They had added that it was no wonder that he did so when he had no authoritative letters of commendation from other churches, such as were brought by other teachers. As soon as the words “We are not as the many” had passed his lips, the thought occurs that the same will be said again. He hears it said, as it were, and makes his answer.

Need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you?—We are left to conjecture who are thus referred to. Possibly some of the Apollos party had contrasted the letters which he had brought from Ephesus (Acts 18:27) with St. Paul’s want of them. Possibly the Judaising teachers who meet us in 2Corinthians 11:13 had come with credentials of this nature from the Church of Jerusalem. The indignant tone in which St. Paul speaks indicates the latter view as the more probable. The “letters of commendation” deserve notice as an important element in the organisation of the early Church. A Christian travelling with such a letter from any Church was certain to find a welcome in any other. They guaranteed at once his soundness in the faith and his personal character, and served to give a reality to the belief in the “communion” of saints, as the necessary sequel to the recognition of a Catholic or universal Church. It is significant of the part they had played in the social victory of the Christian Church that Julian tried to introduce them into the decaying system which he sought to galvanise into an imitative life (Sozomen. Hist. v. 16).

Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:
(2) Ye are our epistle written in our hearts.—This is an answer. They, the Corinthian converts, are written on his heart. In his thoughts and prayers for them he finds his true commendatory letter, and this a letter which is patent to the eyes of all men. In “known and read” we find the familiar play on the two words, epiginoskein and anaginoskein. (See Note on 2Corinthians 1:13.) All who knew St. Paul could read what was there written.

Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
(3) Forasmuch, as ye are manifestly declared.—The metaphor appears to shift its ground from the subjective to the objective. It is not only as written in his heart, but as seen and known by others, that they (the Corinthians) are as a letter of commendation. They are as a letter which Christ had written as with the finger of God. That letter, he adds, was “ministered by us.” He had been, that is, as the amanuensis of that letter, but Christ was the real writer.

Written not with ink.—Letters were usually written on papyrus, with a reed pen and with a black pigment (atramentum) used as ink. (Comp. 2John 1:12.) In contrast with this process, he speaks of the Epistle of Christ as written with the “Spirit of the living God.” It is noteworthy that the Spirit takes here the place of the older “finger of God” in the history of the two tables of stone in Exodus 31:18. So a like substitution is found in comparing “If I with the finger of God cast out devils,” in Luke 11:20, with “If I by the Spirit of God,” in Matthew 12:28. Traces of the same thought are found in the hymn in the Ordination service, in which the Holy Spirit is addressed as “the finger of God’s hand.”

Not in tables of stone.—The thought of a letter written in the heart by the Spirit of God brings three memorable passages to St. Paul’s memory:—(1) the “heart of flesh” of Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26-27; (2) the promise that the law should be written in the heart, which was to be the special characteristic of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-33); and (3) the whole history of the circumstances of the first, or older, covenant; and, from this verse to the end of the chapter, thought follows rapidly on thought in manifold application of the images thus suggested.

But in fleshy tables of the heart.—The better MSS. give in tables (or, tablets), which are hearts of flesh, reproducing the words of Ezekiel 11:19. The thought of the letter begins to disappear, and that of a law written on tablets takes its place, as one picture succeeds another in a dissolving view.

And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:
(4) Such trust have we.—The words carry us back to the expressions of 2Corinthians 3:2-3, perhaps, also, to the assertion of his own sincerity and sufficiency implied in 2Corinthians 2:16-17. He has this confidence, but it is through Christ, who strengthens him (Colossians 1:11).

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;
(5) Not that we are sufficient . . .—He had not used the word “sufficient” of himself, but it was clearly the implied answer to the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” In the Greek there are two different prepositions for the one “of” in English. “Not as though we are sufficient of ourselves to form any estimate as originating with ourselves,” would be a fair paraphrase. The habit of mind which led St. Paul to emphasise the shades of meaning in Greek prepositions to an extent hardly to be expressed in English, and not commonly recognised, it may be, in colloquial Greek, is seen again in Romans 11:36.

Is of God.—The preposition is the same as in the second of the two previous clauses. The sufficiency flows from God as its source: originates with him.

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) Able ministers of the new testament.—Better, perhaps, as keeping up the stress on the word that had been used in 2Corinthians 2:16, in the English as in the Greek, sufficient ministers. The noun is used as carrying out the thought implied in the “ministered by us” in 2Corinthians 3:3. In the “new covenant”—new, as implying freshness of life and energy—we have a direct reference, both to our Lord’s words, as cited in 1Corinthians 11:25, and given in the Gospel narrative of the Last Supper (see Notes on Matthew 26:28), and to Jeremiah 31:31. The Greek omits the article before all three words, “of a new covenant, one not of a written letter, but of spirit.” The idea of “spirit” comes from Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26-27.

For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.—The word “letter” (gramma) stands, not for what we call the literal meaning of Scripture, as contrasted with one which is allegorical or spiritual, but for the whole written code or law of Judaism. St. Paul does not contrast the literal meaning of that code with the so-called mystical exposition of it (a view which has often led to wild and fantastic interpretations), but speaks of the written code as such. So the plural “the writings, the Scriptures” (grammata), are used of the sacred Books of Israel (John 5:47; 2Timothy 3:15), and the scribes (grammateis) were those who interpreted the writings. The contrast between the “letter” in this sense and the “spirit” is a familiar thought with St. Paul (Romans 2:27-29; Romans 7:6). Of this written code St. Paul says that it “killeth.” The statement seems startlingly bold, and he does not here stop to explain its meaning. What he means is, however, stated with sufficient fulness in the three Epistles written about this time (1Corinthians 15:56; Galatians 3:10; Galatians 3:21; Romans 7:9-11; Romans 8:2-3, the references being given in the chronological order of the Epistles). The work of the Law, from St. Paul’s view, is to make men conscious of sin. No outward command, even though it come from God, and is “holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12), can, as such, do more than that. What was wanting was the life-giving power of the Spirit. The word here (as in Romans 2:27; Romans 7:6) appears to hover between the sense of “spirit” as representing any manifestation of the Divine Life that gives life—in which sense the words of Christ are “spirit and life” (John 6:63), and Christ Himself is a “quickening spirit” (1Corinthians 15:45, and 2Corinthians 3:17 of this chapter)—and the more distinctly personal sense in which St. Paul speaks of “the Spirit,” the Holy Spirit, and to which we commonly limit our use of the name of “the Holy Ghost” in His relation to the Father and Son. Of that Spirit St. Paul says that “it quickens:” it can rouse into life not only the slumbering conscience, as the Law had done, but the higher spiritual element in man—can give it strength to will, the healthy energy of new affections, new prayers, new impulses. If we cannot suppose St. Paul to have been acquainted with our Lord’s teaching, as recorded in John 6:63 (where see Note), the coincidence of thought is, at any rate, singularly striking.

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) But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious.—More accurately, engraved in a writing (i.e., in a written formula) upon stones. The word for “writing” is the same as the “letter” of the preceding verse, and the whole might, perhaps, be best translated, if the ministration of death in the letter, engraved upon stones, was glorious. The English version, by using the two participles, creates a false antithesis between “written” and “engraved,” and misses the sequence of thought indicated by the continued use of the word for “letter” or “writing.” For “was glorious,” more accurately, came into being with glory. The thoughts of the Apostle have travelled to the record of the circumstances connected with the giving of the Law as the foundation of the first covenant, and of them he proceeds to speak fully. We can almost picture him to ourselves as taking up his LXX. version of the Law, and reproducing its very words and thoughts.

So that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold . . .—The narrative in Exodus 34:29-35 records that when Moses came down from the mount with the second tables of stone, “the skin of his face shone,” and the “people were afraid to draw nigh unto him.” The English version—that “till Moses had done speaking with them he put a vail on his face,” and that “when he went in before the Lord he took it off until he came out”—suggests the thought that he appeared to the people, after the first manifestation of the unconscious glory, as a veiled prophet. It is doubtful, however, whether this is the natural meaning of the Hebrew, and Exodus 34:35 repeats the statement that the Israelites saw the glory. The LXX., Vulgate, and most modern versions give, “When he ceased speaking he put a veil on his face.” They saw the brightness, they shrank from it in awe, they were not allowed to watch it to the end and gaze on its disappearance. This was the sequence of facts that St. Paul had in his thoughts, and which he certainly found in the LXX.; and it is of this, accordingly, that he speaks. The children of Israel could not bear to look on the glory, even though it was perishing and evanescent. The English rendering, “which glory was to be done away,” reads into the participle a gerundial force that does not properly belong to it; and it may be noted that it is the first of the great English versions that does so, the others giving, “which is made void,” or “which is done away.” It would be better expressed, perhaps, by, which was in the act of passing away. The Greek word is the same as that on which our translators have rung so many changes in 1Corinthians 13:8-11. It was a favourite word with St. Paul at this period of his life, occurring twenty-two times in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, and three times only in his other Epistles.

It may be noted that the Vulgate rendering of Exodus 34:29, “ignorabat quod cornuta esset facies ejus” (he knew not that his face was horned”), has given rise to the representations of Moses with horns, or rays of light taking the place of horns, as in Michael Angelo’s statue in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli at Rome, and pictorial representations generally.

How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?
(8) How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?—Better, be more in glory. The ministration of the spirit—that which has spirit for its characteristic attribute, and proceeds from the Spirit and imparts it to others—is that which St. Paul claims as his ministry. The glory of the new covenant, must be as much above the glory of the old, as the living, life-giving Spirit is above the dead and death-bringing code which he speaks of as the “letter.”

For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.
(9) If the ministration of condemnation be glory . . .—Many of the better MSS. give the reading, if there be glory to the ministry of condemnation. The latter phrase takes the place here of “the ministry of death” in 2Corinthians 3:7. The “letter,” the “written law,” as such, works death, because it brings with it the condemnation which awaits transgressors. It holds out to them the pattern of a righteousness which they have never had, and cannot of themselves attain unto, and passes its sentence on them as transgressors. Contrasted with it is the ministration which has “righteousness” as its object and result, and therefore as its characteristic attribute—the “law of the Spirit of life”—a law written in the heart, working not condemnation, but righteousness and peace and joy (Romans 8:1-4).

For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.
(10) For even that which was made glorious had no glory.—More accurately, St. Paul reproducing the very tense which he found in the LXX. of Exodus 34:35, that which had been glorified has not been glorifiedi.e., has lost its glory.

In this respect . . .—The phrase is the same as in 2Corinthians 9:3; 1Peter 4:16. The English expresses it very fairly. “In this point,” as compared with the gospel, the Law has lost its glory; it is thrown into the shade by “the glory that excelleth.” The imagery seems to bring before us the symbolic meaning of the Transfiguration. Moses and Elijah appear in glory, but the glory of the Son of Man surpasses that of either. (Comp. Notes on Matthew 16:1-4.) The word for “excelleth” may be noted as peculiar to St. Paul among the writers of the New Testament.

For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
(11) For if that which is done away . . .—The Greek participle is in the present tense, “being done away,” or “failing,” expressing the same thought as the “decaying and waxing old” of Hebrews 8:13. The contrast between the transient and the permanent is expressed by the same Greek words as in 1Corinthians 13:8-11.

Glorious.—Literally, through glory, seen, as it were, through a medium of glory which surrounded it. The second “in glory” is meant, probably, to express a state of greater permanence.

Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:
(12) Seeing then that we have such hope.—The “hope” is in substance the same as the “confidence” of 2Corinthians 3:4; but the intervening thoughts have carried his mind on to the future as well as the present. He has a hope for them and for himself, which is more than a trust in his own sufficiency.

We use great plainness of speech.—The word so rendered expresses strictly the openness which says all, in which there is no reticence or reserve. It stands in contrast with the “corrupting the word” of 2Corinthians 2:17, and answers to the Apostle’s claim to have “kept back nothing that was profitable” in Acts 20:20. We, he practically says, need no veil.

And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:
(13) And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face.—The Apostle, it must be remembered, has in his thoughts either the LXX. version of Exodus 34:33, or an interpretation of the Hebrew answering to that version. (See Note on 2Corinthians 3:7.) What was the object of this putting on of the veil? The English version of that text suggests that it was to hide the brightness from which they shrank. But the interpretation which St. Paul follows presents a very different view. Moses put the veil over his face that they might not see the end, the fading away of that transitory glory. For them it was as though it were permanent and unfading. They did not see—this is St. Paul’s way of allegorising the fact stated—that the whole system of the Law, as symbolised by that brightness, had but a fugitive and temporary being.

Could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.—Better, look on the end of that which was perishing. Literally, the words state the fact, they could not see how the perishing glory ended. In the interpretation of the parable St. Paul seems to say that what was true of those older Israelites was true also of their descendants. They could not see the true end of the perishing system of the Law, its aim, purport, consummation. There is, perhaps, though most recent commentators have refused to recognise it, a half-allusive reference to the thought expressed in Romans 10:4, that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness;” or, in 1Timothy 1:5, that “the end of the commandment is love out of a pure heart.” Had their eyes been open, they would have seen in the fading away of the old glory of the decaying “letter” the dawn of a glory that excelled it. And in the thought that this was the true “end” of the Law we find the ground for the Apostle’s assertion that he used great plainness of speech. He had no need to veil his face or his meaning, for he had no fear lest the glory of the gospel of which he was a minister should fade away.

But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.
(14) But their minds were blinded.—The Greek verb expresses strictly the callousness of a nerve that has become insensible, as in Mark 6:52; Mark 8:17; Romans 11:7. Here, as applied to the faculties of perception, “blinded” is, perhaps, a legitimate rendering.

Remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament . . .—The words are better translated: the same veil remaineth in the reading of the old covenant; the fact not being revealed (i.e., by the removal of the veil) that it (the old covenant) is being done away in Christ The figure is passing through a kind of dissolving change. There is still a veil between the hearers of the Law and its true meaning; but the veil is no longer on the face of the law-giver, but on their hearts; and the reason of this is that, the veil not being withdrawn, they do not see that the glory of the older covenant is done away by the brightness of the new. It is doing violence to the context to refer to the veil the words “is done away,” which through the whole passage is applied to the Law itself; and in 2Corinthians 3:16 a new and appropriate word is used for the withdrawal of the veil. It is, the Apostle says, because the veil of prejudice and tradition hinders them from seeing the truth that the Jews of his own time still think of the Law as permanent, instead of looking on it as passing through a process of extinction. The “Old Testament” is clearly used, not, as in the modern sense, for the whole volume of the Law—Prophets and Psalms—but specially for the law which was the basis of the covenant. The other, but less adequate, rendering would be, the veil remaineth . . . unwithdrawn, for it (the veil) is abolished in Christ. If there was any authority for giving an active force to the middle form of the verb, we might translate with a perfectly satisfactory meaning, the same veil remaineth . . . not revealing the fact that it is being done away in Christ; but unfortunately there is no such authority. The English, “which veil is done away,” fails to give, in any case, the true force of the Greek.

But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.
(15) Even unto this day, when Moses is read . . .—The mention of Moses is decisive as to the meaning of the “Old Testament,” or covenant, in the previous verse. When he, as being read, speaks to the people now, St. Paul reasons, there is still a veil between him and them; but it is, to use modern phrase, subjective and not objective—on their heart, and not over his face. It has been suggested that there may be a reference to the Tallith, or four-cornered veil which was worn by the Jews in their synagogues when they prayed or listened to the Law, as a symbol of reverence, like that of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2, who covered their faces with their wings. It is, however, doubtful whether the use of the Tallith goes back so far; and even if its antiquity were proved, it has to be remembered that though it covered the head and ears—the symbol, perhaps, of seclusion—it did not cover the face.

Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.
(16) Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord.—Better, But when it shall turn. The allegorising process is still carried on. Moses removed the veil when he went into the tabernacle to commune with the Lord (Exodus 34:35); so, in the interpretation of the parable, the veil shall be taken away when the heart of Israel shall turn, in the might of a real conversion, to the Lord of Israel. The very word for “turn” is taken from the same context: “Moses called them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation turned to him” (Exodus 34:31).

Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
(17) Now the Lord is that Spirit.—Better, the Lord is the Spirit. The words seem at first inconsistent with the formulated precision of the Church’s creeds, distinguishing the persons of the Godhead from each other. We apply the term “Lord,” it is true, as a predicate of the Holy Spirit when we speak, as in the Nicene Creed, of the Holy Ghost as “the Lord, and Giver of life,” or say, as in the pseudo-Athanasian, that “the Holy Ghost is Lord;” but using the term “the Lord” as the subject of a sentence, those who have been trained in the theology of those creeds would hardly say, “The Lord” (the term commonly applied to the Father in the Old Testament, and to the Son in the New) “is the Spirit.” We have, accordingly, to remember that St. Paul did not contemplate the precise language of these later formularies. He had spoken, in 2Corinthians 3:16, of Israel’s “turning to the Lord;” he had spoken also of his own work as “the ministration of the Spirit” (2Corinthians 3:8). To turn to the Lord—i.e., to the Lord Jesus—was to turn to Him whose essential being, as one with the Father, was Spirit (John 4:24), who was in one sense, the Spirit, the life-giving energy, as contrasted with the letter that killeth. So we may note that the attribute of “quickening,” which is here specially connected with the name of the Spirit (2Corinthians 3:6), is in John 5:21 connected also with the names of the Father and the Son. The thoughts of the Apostle move in a region in which the Lord Jesus, not less than the Holy Ghost, is contemplated as Spirit. This gives, it is believed, the true sequence of St. Paul’s thoughts. The whole verse may be considered as parenthetical, explaining that the “turning to the Lord” coincides with the “ministration of the Spirit.” Another interpretation, inverting the terms, and taking the sentence as “the Spirit is the Lord,” is tenable grammatically, and was probably adopted by the framers of the expanded form of the Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 380). It is obvious, however, that the difficulty of tracing the sequence of thought becomes much greater on this method of interpretation.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.—The Apostle returns to the more familiar language. To turn to the Lord, who is Spirit, is to turn to the Spirit which is His, which dwelt in Him, and which He gives. And he assumes, almost as an axiom of the spiritual life, that the presence of that Spirit gives freedom, as contrasted with the bondage of the letter—freedom from slavish fear, freedom from the guilt and burden of sin, freedom from the tyranny of the Law. Compare the aspect of the same thought in the two Epistles nearly contemporary with this:—the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, those children being partakers of a glorious liberty (Romans 8:16-21); the connection between walking in the Spirit and being called to liberty (Galatians 5:13-16). The underlying sequence of thought would seem to be something like this: “Israel, after all, with all its seeming greatness and high prerogatives, was in bondage, because it had the letter, not the Spirit; we who have the Spirit can claim our citizenship in the Jerusalem which is above and which is free” (Galatians 4:24-31).

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
(18) But we all, with open face.—Better, And we all, with unveiled face.—The relation of this sentence to the foregoing is one of sequence and not of contrast, and it is obviously important to maintain in the English, as in the Greek, the continuity of allusive thought involved in the use of the same words as in 2Corinthians 3:14. “We,” says the Apostle, after the parenthesis of 2Corinthians 3:17, “are free, and therefore we have no need to cover our faces, as slaves do before the presence of a great king. There is no veil over our hearts, and therefore none over the eyes with which we exercise our faculty of spiritual vision. We are as Moses was when he stood before the Lord with the veil withdrawn.” If the Tallith were in use at this time in the synagogues of the Jews, there might also be a reference to the contrast between that ceremonial usage and the practice of Christian assemblies. (Comp. 1Corinthians 11:7; but see Note on 2Corinthians 3:15.)

Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord.—The Greek participle which answers to the first five words belongs to a verb derived from the Greek for “mirror” (identical in meaning, though not in form, with that of 1Corinthians 13:12). The word is not a common word, and St. Paul obviously had some special reason for choosing it, instead of the more familiar words, “seeing,” “beholding,” “gazing stedfastly;” and it is accordingly important to ascertain its meaning. There is no doubt that the active voice signifies to “make a reflection in a mirror.” There is as little doubt that the middle voice signifies to look at one’s self in a mirror. Thus Socrates advised drunkards and the young to “look at themselves in a mirror,” that they might learn the disturbing effects of passion (Diog. Laert. ii. 33; iii. 39). This meaning, however, is inapplicable here; and the writings of Philo, who in one passage (de Migr. Abrah. p. 403) uses it in this sense of the priests who saw their faces in the polished brass of the lavers of purification, supply an instance of its use with a more appropriate meaning. Paraphrasing the prayer of Moses in Exodus 33:18, he makes him say: “Let me not behold Thy form (idea) mirrored (using the very word which we find here) in any created thing, but in Thee, the very God” (2 Allegor. p. 79). And this is obviously the force of the word here. The sequence of thought is, it is believed, this:—St. Paul was about to contrast the veiled vision of Israel with the unveiled gaze of the disciples of Christ; but he remembers what he had said in 1Corinthians 13:12 as to the limitation of our present knowledge, and therefore, instead of using the more common word, which would convey the thought of a fuller knowledge, falls back upon the unusual word, which exactly expresses the same thought as that passage had expressed. “We behold the glory of the Lord, of the Jehovah of the Old Testament, but it is not, as yet, face to face, but as mirrored in the person of Christ.” The following words, however, show that the word suggested yet another thought to him. When we see the sun as reflected in a polished mirror of brass or silver, the light illumines us: we are, as it were, transfigured by it and reflect its brightness. That this meaning lies in the word itself cannot, it is true, be proved, and it is, perhaps, hardly compatible with the other meaning which we have assigned to it; but it is perfectly conceivable that the word should suggest the fact, and the fact be looked on as a parable.

Are changed into the same image.—Literally, are being transfigured into the same image. The verb is the same (metemorphôthè) as that used in the account of our Lord’s transfiguration in Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:2; and it may be noted that it is used of the transformation (a metamorphosis more wondrous than any poet had dreamt of) of the Christian into the likeness of Christ in the nearly contemporary passage (Romans 12:2). The thought is identical with that of Romans 8:29 : “Conformed to the likeness” (or image) “of His Son.” We see God mirrored in Christ, who is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and as we gaze, with our face unveiled, on that mirror, a change comes over us. The image of the old evil Adam-nature (1Corinthians 15:49) becomes less distinct, and the image of the new man, after the likeness of Christ, takes its place. We “faintly give back what we adore,” and man, in his measure and degree, becomes, as he was meant to be at his creation, like Christ, “the image of the invisible God.” Human thought has, we may well believe, never pictured what in simple phrase we describe as growth in grace, the stages of progressive sanctification, in the language of a nobler poetry.

From glory to glory.—This mode of expressing completeness is characteristic of St. Paul, as in Romans 1:17, “from faith to faith “; 2Corinthians 2:16, “of death to death.” The thought conveyed is less that of passing from one stage of glory to another than the idea that this transfiguring process, which begins with glory, will find its consummation also in glory. The glory hereafter will be the crown of the glory here. The beatific vision will be possible only for those who have been thus transfigured. “We know that we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1John 3:2).

Even as by the Spirit of the Lord.—The Greek presents the words in a form which admits of three possible renderings. (1) That of the English version; (2) that in the margin, “as of the Lord the Spirit”; (3) as of the Lord of the Spirit. The exceptional order in which the two words stand, which must be thought as adopted with a purpose, is in favour of (2) and (3) rather than of (1), and the fact that the writer had just dictated the words “the Lord is the Spirit” in favour of (2) rather than (3). The form of speech is encompassed with the same difficulties as before, but the leading thought is clear: “The process of transformation originates with the Lord (i.e., with Christ), but it is with Him, not ‘after the flesh’ as a mere teacher and prophet (2Corinthians 5:16), not as the mere giver of another code of ethics, another ‘letter’ or writing, but as a spiritual power and presence, working upon our spirits. In the more technical language of developed theology, it is through the Holy Spirit that the Lord, the Christ, makes His presence manifest to our human spirit.” (Comp. Notes on John 14:22-26.)

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers


2 Corinthians 2
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