The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 22, 2016

This post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief overview of all of 2 Cor 3 followed by his comments on verses 1-6. Text in purple inidcates his paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on. Text in red, if any, are my additions.

A BRIEF SUMMARY OF 2 CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 3

Among the charges preferred by the false teachers against the Apostle, was that of indulging in self-praise. He defends himself against this charge, for which he might have given some grounds in the seventeenth verse of the preceding chapter, as well as in chapter 9 of his first Epistle, by retorting upon his adversaries, and showing that he did not, like them, require any recommendation with the Corinthians. For, having been converted by his ministry, they were his letters patent, or, more properly speaking, the Epistle of Christ himself who, by the ministry of the Apostle, engraved on their hearts, with the grace of the Holy Ghost, the characters of true sanctity (2 Cor 3:1–3). The glory of all this he refers to God, through whose grace alone, man can elicit even as much as a single good or supernatural thought, conducive to salvation (2 Cor 3:4-5). And to God he acknowledges his obligation for his call to the exalted function of the Apostolic ministry. He contrasts this ministry with that of Moses, and he shows the superior excellence of the former (2 Cor 3:6). He shows that the glory attached to his own ministry, so incomparably surpasses that attached to the ministry of Moses, that the glory of the latter might, comparatively speaking, be termed no glory at all (2 Cor 3:7-10). His ministry, and the new covenant, excelled the Mosaic on another ground also—viz., on the ground of perpetuity (2 Cor 3:11). His practical conclusion from the hope of the glory attached to his ministry is, to preach the gospel openly, and with much boldness of speech (2 Cor 3:12), and not act, as did Moses, who placed a veil upon his face, when speaking to the people (13). He explains the mystical signification of this veil, which signified the spiritual blindness of the Jews, who see not Christ represented in the beaming effulgence of the face of Moses (2 Cor 3:14-15). It is only by believing in Christ, that this veil will be taken away (2 Cor 3:16). He says that the Lord is the spirit to whom he has been referring, as distinguishing the Covenant of grace from that of Moses; he it is that removes the veil of darkness and obstinacy (2 Cor 3:17). The Apostle concludes the second number of the antithesis, instituted at verse 13, and shows how clearly the revelation of God has been made by the Holy Spirit to the ministers of the gospel beyond that of Moses, so that they can, like so many suns, enlighten others (2 Cor 3:18).

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?

1. Is it to be inferred from the foregoing (2:17), that we are again anxious to praise ourselves and be commended to your favour? Or, do we require commendatory letters to you or from you (as is the case with some others)?

“Again,” has reference to chapter 9 of the First Epistle, where he is forced, in his own defence, as well as here, to refer to his labours and privations. “Epistles of commendation,” were propably letters of introduction, or, the tesseræ hospitalitatis common among the Greeks, Romans, and Jews, and in frequent use in the primitive Church. (“As some do,”) viz., the false teachers, who made this a charge against the Apostle, of which they themselves alone were guilty.

2 Cor 3:2 You are our epistle, written in our hearts, which is known and read by all men:

2. We require no such recommendation; you yourselves, converted to the faith through our labours and ministry, are a sufficient recommendation of us, and a proof of our true apostleship, written on our hearts (owing to our anxiety for you). You are our letters patent, known to all men, since the several nations of the earth, with which you hold relations of commerce, know us, to be your Apostle.

“Written on our hearts.” Owing to our anxiety and affection for you. “Which is known and read,” &c., may also mean, it is known and read by all that you are engraven on our hearts, in consequence of our constant mention and remembrance of you in every place.

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 fleshly tables of the heart.

3. It should rather have been said, that, by your faith and good works, it is made manifest regarding you, that you are the Epistle of Christ himself, on whom, as on a chart, are inscribed his sacred laws and precepts written by our ministry; not with ink, but with the grace of the Holy Ghost, which has impressed, on you the characters of true sanctity; not on tables of stone, but on the softer and more pliant tablets of the heart.

He corrects his assertion, to the effect that they were his Epistle; they were rather “the Epistle of Christ,” whose law is written on their hearts. “The Epistle of Christ” may also mean the Epistle written by Christ, and of which Christ is the principal author. The former, which is adopted in the Paraphrase, is the interpretation of the Greeks. The latter interpretation, wherein it is insinuated that the Corinthians, or, rather the fruits of their conversion to the faith, are the work of Christ, better suits the following words:—“Ministered by us,” i.e., written by our ministry as a subordinate agent. “Not with ink,” with which human instruments are ordinarily written, “but with the spirit,” &c., i.e., the grace of the Holy Ghost. “Not in tables of stone,” like the Law of Moses, to which these words are evidently allusive, “but in the fleshy tablets,” &c. The word “fleshy,” is opposed to hard, stony, impenetrable; but not to spiritual. The Apostle is most probably alluding to the difference between both testaments referred to, chapter 31, of Jeremiah, and quoted in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb 8:8). How many are there, alas! whose hearts, harder than adamant, always resist the inspirations of the Holy Ghost. How fervently should we pray, not to be delivered over to an impenitent heart—to a spirit of obduracy and insensibility in the ways of God!

2 Cor 3:4 And such confidence we have, through Christ, towards God.

4. And this confidence and matter for glorying in you as our converts before God, we have not from any merits of our own, but from the merits of Christ.

The Apostle boasts before God for having been made the instrument in the conversion of the Corinthians, not through any merits of his own, but through the merits of Christ. He claims no merit for himself, notwithstanding his immense labours and boundless success in the propagation of the gospel and conversion of the world. “Dens, qui universum mundum B. Pauli Apostoli prædicatione docuisti,” is the language of the Church (January 25). What a lesson is here conveyed to such as wish that their most trifling efforts in the cause of religion should be bruited abroad, and that a twofold glory should redound to themselves!—“receperunt mercedem suam.”

2 Cor 3:5 Not that we are sufficient to think any thing of ourselves, as of ourselves: but our sufficiency is from God. 

5. We glory in our ministry and its successful issue with you, not that we are sufficient of ourselves, from our own natural strength to elicit even a good thought of the supernatural order—a thought conducive to salvation—much less perform a good work of the same kind, since all our sufficiency, in that respect, must come from the grace of God.

This passage has been adduced by St. Augustine and the Council of Orange to refute the errors of the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians, and to show the necessity of divine grace for performing a good action or for eliciting a good thought conducive to salvation. It is of supernatural actions the Apostle here speaks; for he is treating of works appertaining to the Apostolic ministry of preaching the gospel. “Of ourselves as of ourselves;” i.e., of our own natural strength, and independent of any other assistance.

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.

6. Who, among the other gifts bestowed upon us, has also rendered us fit ministers of the new testament, not of the written law given by Moses, but of the spiritual covenant of grace, which grace is given to be abundantly dealt out to others. For, the law of Moses, written on tables of stone, is of itself the occasion of death in its infraction, and by stimulating concupiscence; but the spiritual covenant vivifies, by the charity and grace which it communicates to our hearts.

“Who also,” i.e., who, among the other blessings bestowed on us, “hath made us fit ministers of the new testament.” This has reference to the sixteenth verse of the preceding chapter, “and for these things who is so fit?” “Not in the letter” (the Greek is, οὐ γράμματος ἀλλὰ πνευματος, = ou grammatos alla pneumatos = not of the letter, but of the spirit), i.e., not ministers to announce the mere letter of the Law of Moses, viewed in itself, and without grace; but to announce a spiritual covenant, which administers abundant grace. “For the letter killeth.” The Apostle here views the letter without the spirit, as he views science without charity—(1 Cor 7), and in this sense “the letter kills,” because it gives no grace of itself to fulfil the precepts which it imposes. Again, “it kills,” by becoming the occasional cause of spiritual death, inasmuch as it stimulates, by the very prohibition, to its transgression, and excites concupiscence, as the Apostle expressly declares in his Epistle to the Romans.

In this passage the Apostle undertakes to show the superiority of the Christian law and ministry over the Mosaic. This is directed against the false teachers, who wished to unite the Mosaic with the Christian law.

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