Father Callan’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:1-6
Posted by Dim Bulb on May 22, 2016
This post opens with Fr. Callan’s brief summary of 2 Cor 3:1-6 followed by his commentary.
TO THE ACCUSATION OF ARROGANCE ST. PAUL OPPOSES THE MINISTRY COMMITTED TO HIM
A Summary of 2 Corinthians 3:1-6.
Often the Apostle had felt it necessary to speak to the Corinthians about himself and his authority. His enemies had made use of this to accuse him of boasting and arrogance, and thus tried to lead away the neophytes from one who, as they said, had to praise himself to get a following. Having, therefore, in the closing verses of the preceding chapter again spoken of himself and his ministry he is reminded of the sneer of his adversaries, and he consequently now, before going on with his general apology, takes occasion to tell his readers that he is in no need of self-recommendation, since the faithful themselves are his testimonial. If he speaks with assurance and authority it is because he has been divinely constituted a minister of the New Testament.
2 Cor 3:1. Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need (as some do) epistles of commendation to you, or from you?
Do we begin again, etc. This implies that the Apostle had already been accused of self-recommendation. Perhaps the reference is to such passages as 1 Cor. 2:16; 3:10; 4:9-16; 9:1-5, 15-22, etc., which might lead to such accusations. If chapters 10-13 is a part, or contains portions of the lost letter between 1 and 2 Corinthians the “again” here is easily understood; for in those chapters the Apostle felt constrained to indulge considerably in what his enemies called boasting.
Or do we need, etc., i.e., are St. Paul and his companions who founded the Corinthian Church in need of recommendation to, or by the faithful there? Does a father need recommendation to his own children? If a preacher who has not founded, or taken part in founding, a Christian community comes to them, letters of recommendation are indeed necessary (Acts 15:25-27; 18:27; 1 Cor. 16:10-11); but it is not so with the founder and spiritual father.
From you implies that the Judaizers got the Corinthians to give them commendatory letters.
2 Cor 3:2. You are our epistle, written in our hearts, which is known and read by all men:
The Corinthians themselves were to St. Paul and Timothy something far better than an ordinary letter of recommendation; they were the Apostle’s letter, written not with ink on perishable papyrus, but in lasting characters of love and affection on immortal souls.
Read by all men, i.e., all men could see the ties of affection that existed between St. Paul and the Corinthian faithful. This statement is rendered more literally true by the civil and social prominence of Corinth.
2 Cor 3:3. Being manifested, that you are the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, and written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshy tables of the heart.
Being manifested, etc., i.e., it is widely known that the Corinthian
faithful were converted by Christ, through the grace of the
Holy Ghost and the ministry of St. Paul and his companions.
Christ, therefore, is the principal author of the Apostle’s letter
of commendation, because it was His word and the grace of His Holy Spirit that brought the Corinthians to the faith.
With the spirit, etc. Christ, by the Spirit of the living and life- giving God, wrote on the hearts of the Corinthians through the preaching of the Apostles, a knowledge of the truths of faith which has been so fruitful in virtue and sanctity of life that it is entirely evident that the human agents of that divine message were true and genuine Apostles.
Tables of stone is a reference to the Ten Commandments which
were written in the desert, on two stone tables (Exod. 31:18; 32:15-16).
In the fleshy tables of the heart. Better, “On tables (that are) hearts of flesh.” The Vulgate cordis should be cordibus, according
to the best Greek.
2 Cor 3:4. And such confidence we have, through Christ, towards God.
And such confidence, etc. The Apostle means to say that his confidence that the faith of the Corinthians is a sure testimony of the validity of his Apostleship is felt even when he puts himself in the presence of God. His assurance did not come from his own merits or personal ability, but through the grace of Christ.
2 Cor 3:5. Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves: but our sufficiency is from God.
The preceding verse is now better explained. St. Paul means to say that solely of our natural strength and ability it is not possible that we should be able even to think, much less to wish or to do, anything supernaturally good and meritorious of life eternal. For the beginning, as well as the completion, of each and every salutary act we need the grace of God; and such is the doctrine of the Church against the Pelagians, who denied all need of grace, and against the Semi-pelagians, who denied the necessity of grace for the beginning of a salutary act (cf. St. Aug., De dono persev. 13; De praedest. sanct. 2; cont. duos epis. Pel. 8, etc.; St. Thomas, h. 1. ; Counc. of Orange, can. 7).
The words of ourselves, as of ourselves are to be connected with not that we are sufficient. Our whole sufficiency in supernatural things is from God, as from its primary and principal cause.
We are sufficient (Vulg., sufficientes simus) should be “we were
sufficient,” sufficientes essetnus, according to the best MSS.
2 Cor 3:6. Who also hath made us fit ministers of the new testament, not in the letter, but in the spirit. For the letter killeth, but the spirit quickeneth.
The Apostle and his companions have not only received all their supernatural sufficiency from God, but by Him also have they been enriched with the gifts necessary to be fit, i.e., competent, ministers of the New Covenant of grace established between God and man by Jesus Christ (Jer. 31:31 ff.; Heb. 8:8; 9:15).
Not in the letter, etc. “He has been urging the superiority of his own claims on their affection and obedience to those of his Judaizing opponents. He now points to the boundless superiority of the dispensation of which he is the minister to that which the Judaizers represent” (Plummer). The latter represent the Old Covenant, which was founded on the written law, indicating, indeed, the good to be done and the evil to be avoided, but without giving the necessary grace to fulfil its mandates. The New Covenant, on the contrary, which is the law of the Spirit, gives all the help required to observe its precepts. See on Rom. 4:15; 5:20; 7:7; 8:2-3.