‘Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men, 3. Manifested as being an 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 tables of flesh, those of the heart. 4. But such confidence have we through Christ toward God: 5. Not as if we were sufficient as of ourselves to think any thing of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God; 6. Who also has made us sufficient [to be] ministers of the new covenant, not of letter, but of Spirit: for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life. 7. But if the ministration of death in the letter, engraven on stones, came in glory, so that the children of Israel were not able steadfastly to look on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, [though a glory that was] to vanish away; 8. How shall not rather the ministration of the Spirit be in glory? 9. For if the ministration of condemnation was in glory, much more does the ministration of righteousness abound in glory. 10. For even that which has been made glorious has not had glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. 11. For if that which vanisheth away was in glory, much more is that which abideth in glory. 12. Having then such hope, we use great boldness of speech; 13. And not as Moses put a veil on his face, in order that the children of Israel might not steadfastly look to the end of that which was to vanish away: 14. But their understandings were blinded; for until this very day the same veil remaineth at the reading of the old covenant, without having it unveiled (or discovered), that it is vanished away in Christ. 15. But unto this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies upon their heart. 16. But whenever it shall have turned to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17. Now the Lord is the Spirit; but where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord the Spirit.’
This section has at first sight a somewhat parenthetical appearance, and introduces, in a manner that seems quite incidental, a subject not elsewhere discussed in either of the Epistles to the Corinthians—the difference in certain respects between the ministration of law and the ministration of the Gospel. Closer examination, however, shews that it was not done without reason, being intended to meet the unworthy insinuations, and incorrect or superficial views of the teachers, who by fair speeches, recommendatory letters or otherwise, had been seeking to supplant the apostle’s authority at Corinth. That a certain Judaistic leaven existed also among some of these, may not doubtfully be inferred from their calling themselves by the name of Cephas or Peter (1Co_1:12). And though the apostle had reason to conclude that the influence of those designing teachers had already received its death-blow from the effect produced by his first epistle, we cannot wonder that he should still have deemed it needful—though only as it were by the way—to bring out the higher ground which he had won for himself at Corinth, and the practical evidence this afforded of the Divine power of his ministry, being in such perfect accordance with the spiritual nature of the Gospel dispensation, and the superior glory that properly belonged to it. This, then, is the apostle’s starting-point—his own fitness or sufficiency as a minister of Christ: this, as to power and efficiency, is of God; it is proved to be so by the life-giving effects which it had produced among the Corinthians themselves, these having become like a living epistle of the truth and power of the Gospel; and this, again, the apostle goes on to shew, is the best of all testimonials, as being most thoroughly in accordance with the character of the new covenant, which in this very respect differs materially from the old.
Ver. 6. Passing over the two or three earlier verses which, for the purpose we have more immediately in view, call for no special consideration, the apostle, after stating at the close of ver. 5 that his sufficiency (ἱκανότης) was of God, adds, ‘who also has made us sufficient to be ministers’ (ἱκάνωσεν—not, as in the authorized version, ‘made us able ministers’), that is, has qualified us for the work of ministers, ‘of the new covenant.’ The καὶ must be taken in the sense of also, or thus too: our sufficiency in general is of God, who thus too has made us sufficient—in this particular line has given proof of His qualifying grace, by fitting us for the ministry of the new covenant. It is here first that the term ‘new covenant’ is introduced, suggested, however, by what had been said of the effects of the apostle’s ministry in ver. 3, as having constituted the members of the church at Corinth his recommendatory letter, written neither with ink, nor on tables of stone, but by God’s Spirit on the heart. The mention of tables of stone on the one side, and Spirit on the other, naturally called up the thought of the two covenants—the old and the new—the old, that which was established at Sinai, and which, as to its fundamental principles or terms, stood in the handwriting of the two tables; the new, that indicated by Jeremiah (Jer_31:31-34), according to which there was to be a writing of God’s law upon the hearts of men, an engraving on their inward parts. Of this new covenant the apostle speaks as a thing perfectly known and familiar to the minds of his readers: hence simply new covenant, without the article, not to be rendered ‘a new covenant,’ with Meyer, Stanley, and others, as if of something indeterminate, and there was still room for inquiry which new covenant. This cannot be supposed; it is rather assumed, that the readers of the epistle knew both what covenant the expression pointed to, and what was the specific character of the covenant. The definite article, therefore, may be quite appropriately used, the new covenant. But then, standing related as ministers to this new covenant, the apostle goes on to say, they were ministers (for διακόνους must be again supplied), not of letter, but of Spirit (not of γράμμα, but of πνεῦμα). The expression is peculiar, and can only be understood by a reference to the state of things then existing; for in themselves there is no necessary contrast between letter and spirit. The apostle himself elsewhere uses the word letter in the plural, in connection with sanctifying and saving effects: the τὰ ἱερὰ γράμματα, the sacred letters, or writings, he says to Timothy—meaning the Scriptures of the Old Testament—‘are able to make thee wise unto salvation.’ (2Ti_3:15.) And as letters are but the component parts of words, we may apply here what our Lord Himself affirmed of His words or sayings (ῤήματα), ‘The words which I have spoken to you are spirit and life.’ (Joh_6:63.) Hence, without pointing to any contrast between old and new, or outward and inward, we find Justin Martyr, or the author of ‘Expositio Fidei,’ denoting by the term a passage of Scripture, saying, in proof of the essential divinity of the Son and Spirit, ‘Hear the passage’ (ἄκουε τοῦ γράμματος, sec. 6); and Cyrill Alex, applies it specifically to the Scriptures of the New Testament, speaking of what is fitting according to the scope of the New Scripture (κατὰ τὸν τοῦ σέου γράμματος σκοπὸν) and ecclesiastical usage.’ (De Ador., L. xii.) Paul might, therefore, in perfect accordance with Greek usage, have spoken of himself as a minister of letter or word, if he had so qualified and used the expression as to shew that he merely meant by it the oral or written testimony of God in Christ, which he elsewhere characterizes as ‘the sword of the Spirit,’ and as ‘quick and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword.’ (Eph_6:17; Heb_4:12.) But putting, as he here does, letter in contrast with spirit, it is quite clear that the apostle had respect to the written testimony or law of God, considered by itself, and taken apart from all the spiritual influences with which, as given by Him, it was meant to be associated. And he was naturally led to this use of the term, with reference especially to Old Testament Scripture, by the undue, and, in many cases, exclusive regard paid, at and long before the Gospel era, by the Jewish authorities to the bare terms, or precise letter, of the written word. Their scribes (γραμματεῖς) had become very much men of the letter (γράμμα), as if every thing which a Divine revelation had to aim at might be accomplished by an exact and proper adherence to the terms in which it was expressed. Hence arose a contrariety between Rabbinism, the system of the scribes, and Christianity, but which might equally be designated a contrariety to the true scope and spirit of the old covenant itself: the aim of each was substantially one, namely, to secure a state of things conformable to the revealed will of God; but the modes taken to accomplish it were essentially different, according to the diversity in the respective modes of contemplation. ‘Christianity demanded conversion, Rabbinism satisfied itself with instruction; Christianity insisted on a state of mind, Rabbinism on legality; Christianity expected from the communication of the Holy Spirit the necessary enlightenment, in order to discern in all things the will of God, Rabbinism thought it must go into the minutest prescriptions to shew what was agreeable to the law; Christianity expected from the gift of the Holy Spirit the necessary power to fulfil the Divine will, Rabbmism conceived this fulfilment might be secured through church discipline.’ (‘Rabbinismus,’ in Hertzog, by Pf. Pressel.) The inevitable result was, that; ‘by the external position thus given to the law, there was nothing Divine in the heart; no repentance, faith, reformation, and hope, wrought by God’s Spirit; no kingdom of God within, but all merely external;’ and, in like manner, the prophets were viewed in a superficial manner, as if pointing, when they spake of Messias, to a mere worldly kingdom, no true kingdom of Heaven. But this senseless adherence to the letter was at variance, as we have said, not merely with Christianity, but with the teaching of the prophets, and the design of the old covenant itself (when taken in its proper bearing and connection). And hence (as Schöttgen long ago remarked, in his ‘Hor. Heb.,’ on the passage before us), by the letter is not to be understood the literal sense of the Divine word (in which sense many things in the Gospel were equally liable to abuse with those in the law, as the call of Christ to follow Him, to bear His cross, etc.), for that word, as having been given by the Spirit for the direction, not so much of man’s body as his soul, is mainly spiritual, and the law itself is expressly so called by the apostle in Rom_7:14. But by letter must be understood the outward form merely of what is taught or commanded in the word, as contra-distinguished from its spiritual import or living power—the shell apart from the kernel; and, in this sense, neither the apostles nor any true messengers of God, in earlier any more than later times, were ministers of the letter. Not even circumcision, Paul elsewhere says, was of this description, that is, as designed by God, and properly entered into on the part of the people: ‘Circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter;’ (Rom_2:29.) and the same might, of course, be said of all the precepts and ordinances of the law; none of them were intended to be taken and observed in what he calls ‘the oldness of the letter.’ (Rom_7:6.) So that it is utterly to mistake the apostle’s meaning here, to suppose that he draws a distinction betwixt the old and the new in God’s revelations; the distinction intended has respect mainly and primarily to a right and wrong understanding of these revelations, no matter when given; and only hints, though it cannot be said distinctly to express, a difference between law and Gospel in this respect—that letter or formal prescription had a more prominent place in the one than it has in the other. The meaning was given with substantial correctness by Luther in his marginal gloss—greatly better than by many later expositors—‘To teach letter is to teach mere law and work, without the knowledge of God’s grace, whereby every thing that man is and does becomes liable to condemnation and death, for he can do nothing good without God’s grace. To teach spirit is to teach grace without law and works [i.e., without these as the ground of peace and blessing], whereby men come to life and salvation.’
‘For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (quickeneth).’ This the apostle assigns as a reason why he and his fellow-labourers were ministers of the new covenant, in the sense just explained, not of letter but of spirit; when done otherwise, it is but a ministration of death. And this, whatever the nature of the word ministered, whether carrying the aspect of law or of Gospel. More obviously, the result took place with a ministration of law, since this consisted of requirements which were opposed to the natural tendencies of the heart, and which, when seriously looked into, demanded what man was not able of himself to perform; hence not peace and life, but trouble and death, were the inevitable consequence—although the law itself, if viewed in its proper connection, and taken as designed by God, as the apostle elsewhere testifies, ‘was ordained for life.’ (Rom_7:10.) But the Gospel, too, when similarly treated, that is, when turned either by preacher or hearer into a letter or form of requirement concerning things to be believed and done without any higher agencies being called into play, in reality achieves nothing more; it is, in such a case, as the apostle had stated but a few verses before, (Rom_2:16.) ‘a savour of death unto death;’ for to take up the yoke of Christ, to repent and be converted, to become new creatures and lay hold of everlasting life, is as far above nature as any thing in the law, and if isolated from the grace with which it ought ever to be associated, and in its bare terms pressed on men’s responsibilities and obligations, or by men themselves so taken, the result can only be deeper condemnation, death in its more settled and aggravated forms. (Mat_11:25; Joh_1:5; Joh_5:40; Joh_6:44, &c.)
From the preceding exposition, it will be seen that we cannot, with the older expositors (also Bengel, Meyer, Alford), identify letter with the old covenant, and spirit with the new; nor altogether hold, with Stanley, that letter here denotes ‘not simply the Hebrew Scriptures, but the more outward book or ordinance, as contrasted with the living power of the Gospel:’ we take it generally of outward book or ordinance, whether pertaining to Old or New Testament times. Only, as from the ostensible and formal character of the two dispensations, there was more of letter in the one, more of spirit in the other: what he says of the letter, and of its tendency to kill, admitted of a more ready and obvious application to the things of the old covenant, than to those of the new—an application the apostle proceeds immediately to make. The kind of killing or death (we may add) ascribed to the letter is certainly not, with some, and, among others, Stanley, to be understood of physical death, the common heritage of men on account of sin, but of the spiritual death, which consists in a painful sense of guilt, and the agonies of a troubled conscience. What is here briefly indicated in this respect is more fully developed in Romans 7., and the one passage should be taken in connection with the other.
Ver. 7. ‘But if the ministration of death in the letter, (Here there is a diversity in the copies, which are about equally divided between the singular and the plural form of the word: B D F G exhibit γράμματι, and א A C E K L γράμμασιν, the latter outweighing the others somewhat in number, but not much in authority, as the last three (E K L) belong to the ninth century; and the natural tendency was to change from γράμματι to γράμμασι, as a f lording a more obvious sense when coupled with ἐντετυπωμένη, since it would hardly do to say of the ten commandments, ‘engraven in letter,’ while ‘engraven in letters’ was quite simple. Hence also, in D, while at first hand it presents γράμματι, afterwards has this changed into the plural; and, both in its later form, and in E K L, ἐν is inserted before λίθοις, to help out the sense, which had been injured by joining ἐντετυπωμένη to γράμμασιν. This also accounts for the versions following this later form. But the whole has arisen from adopting an obvious and superficial, in preference to the real and only proper sense. It is of a revelation, not in letters, but in the letter that the apostle is speaking throughout, and the change to the plural here brings confusion into the whole passage. Lachmann and also Alford adopt γράμματι.) engraven on stones, came in glory.’—(The authorized version is unfortunate here.) We adopt, as stated in the note below, the reading γράμματι (instead of that of the received text, γράμμασιν) in the letter, and couple this immediately with what precedes, not with what follows. The first clause is, ‘If the ministration of death in the letter’—it being in this respect alone that the apostle is going to speak of it; to speak, that is, of the Decalogue in its naked terms and isolated position, as contemplated by a spirit utterly opposed to the Gospel—the spirit of Rabbinism already described. The law itself, so contemplated, is called a ministration of death, because, in its native tendency and operation, certain to prove the occasion of death; and there can be little doubt that it was from overlooking the peculiar or qualified sense in which the apostle thus spake of the law, that some copyists substituted the plural for the singular, and, instead of ‘ministration of death in the letter,’ took the meaning to be ‘ministration of death engraved in letters’—leaving the subsequent expression, in stones (λίθοις), as a mere appendage to the engraving. The change was altogether unhappy; for, first, it loses sight of that which renders the law a ministration of death—namely, its being viewed merely in the letter—and then the sense is weakened by a needless redundancy about the engraving: engraved in letters! how could it be engraved otherwise, if engraved at all! This was to be understood of itself, and adds nothing to the import; but the engraving in stones does add something, for it was the distinctive peculiarity of the ten commandments to be so engraved, as compared with the other parts of the Mosaic legislation. We therefore get the proper sense only by reading, ‘If the ministration of death in the letter, engraven on stones, came in glory.’ To speak of a ministration being engraven sounds somewhat strange; but it is to be understood as a pregnant expression for, ‘the law as ministered by Moses being engraven.’ And when said to have come in glory (ἐγενήθη ἐν δόξῃ), the meaning more fully expressed is, came into existence in glory, had its introduction so among the covenant-people. What sort of glory is meant, the apostle, before going further, explains by pointing specifically to the radiance which shone from the face of Moses when he returned from the mount with the two tables of the covenant, and which, though not actually the whole, might yet justly be regarded as the symbol of the whole, of that glory which accompanied the formal revelation of law. This glory was such that ‘the children of Israel were not able steadfastly to look on the face of Moses, because of the glory of his face [though a glory that was] to vanish away.’ The corresponding statement in the history is, that when ‘Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.’ (Exo_34:30.) Dazzled with the supernatural appearance, it seemed to them as if something of the majesty of Heaven now rested upon Moses, and they durst not approach to fix their eyes intently on the sight—though still the glory was but transient. The original record does not directly state this, but plainly enough implies it, as it associates the shining of Moses’ face only with his descent from the mount, and afterwards with his coming out from the Lord’s presence in the tabernacle: the children of Israel, it is said, saw it then, but not, we naturally infer, at other times—the shining gradually vanished away, till brightened up afresh by renewed intercourse with Heaven. The train of thought, then, in this case, is, that the law written upon tables of stone, which was the more special and fundamental part of the legislation brought in by Moses, was, when taken apart and viewed as a scheme of moral obligation, a ministration of death, because, while requiring only what was good, requiring what man could not perform; that still there was a glory connected with it as the revelation of God’s mind and will—a glory partly expressed, partly symbolized, by the radiance that occasionally shone from the face of Moses, dazzling and affrighting the Israelites, but, at the same time, a glory which was not abiding, one that, after a little, again disappeared.
Ver. 8. Having stated this respecting the glory of the law, which formed, in the sense explained, a ministration of death, the apostle asks, ‘How shall not rather the ministration of the Spirit be in glory?’ Why does he not say, the ministration of life, which would have been the more exact counterpart to the ministration of death? The chief reason probably was, that this might have created a false impression: a ministration of law taken in the letter, or simply by itself, can be nothing else for fallen man than a ministration of death; but there is no ministration in New Testament times which, with like regularity and certainty, carries life in its train. No doubt, if spirit here were to be understood directly and simply of the Holy Spirit (as Chrysostom, ‘He no longer puts what is of the Spirit, viz., life and righteousness, ἀλλ̓ αὐτὸ τὸ πνεῦμα, but the Spirit itself, which makes the word greater’), it might well enough be held to involve life—life would be its inseparable accompaniment, as death of unmitigated law; for in so far as the Spirit ministers, the result can only be in life and blessing. But the apostle could not thus identify his apostolic agency with the third person of the Godhead, and call it absolutely a ministration or service (διακονία) of the Holy Ghost as if ministration of the Spirit were all one with dispensation of the Spirit. In popular language they are often so confounded, but not in Scripture; and the expression in Gal_3:5, ‘He who ministereth (ἐπιχορηγῶν) to you the Spirit,’ points not to the apostle as a minister of the new covenant, but to God or Christ: it is He alone who can minister, in the sense of bestowing, the Holy Spirit. The ministration or service here meant is undoubtedly the evangelical ministry of the apostles and their followers—the teaching-function of the Gospel, as Meyer terms it, and called, he thinks, the ministration of the Spirit, because it is ‘the service which mediates the Holy Spirit.’ Strictly speaking, it is a ministration of word and ordinance, but such as carries along with it, in a quite peculiar degree as compared with former times, the regenerative, life-giving power of spiritual influence (the working of the Holy Ghost); and, named from this as its most distinctive feature, it is characterized as the ministration of the Spirit—much as a man is often called a soul, because it is from that more especially he derives what gives him his place and being in creation:—the Spirit, therefore, not hypostatically considered, but as a Divine power practically operative through word and ordinance in bringing life and blessing to the soul.
Vers. 9, 10.; ‘For if the ministration of condemnation was in glory, much more does the ministration of righteousness abound in glory.’ This is substantially a repetition of the same idea as that expressed in the immediately preceding passage—only with this difference, that the law in the letter is here presented in its condemnatory, instead of its killing, aspect—condemnatory, of course, not directly, or in its own proper nature, but incidentally, and as the result of men’s inability to fulfil its requirements. Accordingly, on the other side, righteousness is exhibited as the counterpart brought in by the Gospel: what the one requires, and from not getting becomes an occasion of condemnation, the other, through the mediation and grace of Christ, actually provides. A far greater thing, assuredly—hence in connection with it a surpassing glory; such, the apostle adds in ver. 10, that the glory which had accompanied the one might be regarded as nothing in comparison of the other.
Ver. 11. A still further aspect of the subject is here presented, one derived from the relative place of the two ministrations in respect to stability or continuance: ‘for if that which vanisheth away was in glory, much more is that which abideth in glory.’ In this form of the comparison, reference is had to what had been already indicated in the mention of the new covenant, implying that, with the introduction of this, there was a superseding or vanishing away of what went before. The two tables—the law in the letter, which is all one with the service or ministration of Moses—formed the material of a covenant, which was intended to last only till the great things of redemption should come; when a new covenant, and along with that a new service or form of administration, should be introduced, adapted to the progression made in the Divine economy. The former, therefore, being from its very nature transitory, could not possibly be so replete with glory as the other; the higher elements of glory must be with the ultimate and abiding.
Here properly ends the apostle’s contrast between the ministration of letter, and the ministration of spirit—for what follows is rather an application of the views unfolded in the passage we have been considering, than any additional revelation of doctrine. From the pregnant brevity of the passage, and the peculiar style of representation adopted in it, mistaken notions have often been formed of the apostle’s meaning—as if the contrast he presents were to be understood of the Old and New Testament dispensations generally, of all on the one side that was connected with the covenant of law for Israel, and what on the other is provided and accomplished for mankind in the Gospel of Christ. So understood, the passage becomes utterly irreconcilable both with the truth of things and with statements elsewhere made by the apostle himself. If the law as given by God, and intended to be used by the covenant people, was simply a service of condemnation and death, it could have had no proper glory connected with it, and Moses, instead of being entitled to regard and honour as the mediator that introduced it, would have been the natural object of repugnance and aversion. If also the doing or vanishing away spoken of had respect to the law in its substance, as a revelation of moral truth and duty, where could be the essential oneness of God’s moral character? and how could the apostle here assert that to be done away, the very thought of doing away with which he elsewhere rejects as an impiety? ‘Do we then,’ says he, ‘make void (καταργούμενον, put away, abolish, the very word in ver. 11 here) the law through faith? God forbid, yea, we establish the law’ (ἰστάνομεν, give it fixed and stable existence). (Rom_3:31.) The apostle, we may be sure, could not involve himself in such inconsistencies, nor could he mean to speak so disparagingly of the revelation of law brought in by Moses, if viewed in its proper connection, and kept in the place designed for it by the lawgiver. Moses himself, also, is a witness against the view under consideration; for he expressly declared that, if the people hearkened to the voice of God, they should live, and that he set before them life as well as death, blessing as well as cursing. (Exo_19:5-6; Deu_30:15-19.) But, certainly, he could not have said this, if he had had nothing to point to but the terms of a law, which required perfect love to God, and the love of one’s neighbour as one’s-self. This law branched out into the ten commandments, which were engraved on the tables of stone, and were by Moses ministered to the people at Sinai, taken apart and read in the letter of its requirements, could never be for fallen men the path way to life, and could only, by reason of their frailty and corruption, be the occasion of more certain and hopeless perdition. And here lay the folly of so many of the Jews, and of some Judaizing teachers also in the Christian church, that they would thus take it apart, and would thus press it in the letter, as a thing by which life and salvation might be attained. It is against this that the apostle is here arguing. He is exposing the idea of Moses being taken for the revealer and minister of life through the law he introduced, and as such the author of a polity which was destined to perpetuity. No, he in effect says, Moses, as the in-bringer of the law, did but shew what constituted life, but could not give it; he exhibited the pattern, and imposed the obligations of righteousness, but could not secure their realization; this was reserved for another and higher than he, who is the Life and the Light of men; therefore, only condemnation and death can come from understanding and teaching Moses in the letter—while still, his ministration of law, if considered as an ordinance of God, and with due regard to its place in the economy of Heaven—that is, in its relation to the antecedent covenant of promise, and its subservience to the higher ends of that covenant—has in it a depth, a spirituality and perpetual significance for the church, which constitute the elements of a real glory—a glory that was but faintly imaged by the supernatural brightness on the face of Moses. This is in truth what the apostle presently states, when shewing, as he proceeds to do, what the carnal Jews missed by their looking at the ministration of the old covenant merely in the letter, instead of finding in it, as they should have done, a preparation for the better things to come, and a stepping-stone to the higher form of administration which was to be brought in by Christ.
Ver. 12. ‘Having then such hope, we use great boldness of speech.’ He had said before, ver. 4, that he had such, or so great confidence toward God—on account of the grace and power which were made to accompany his ministrations; he knew and felt that he was owned by God in his work. Now, he says he has such hope—such, namely, as arises out of the surpassing greatness of the blessing and glory connected with the Gospel and its ministration of spirit, and this not passing away, but abiding and growing into an eternal fulness and sufficiency of both; so that hope, as well as confidence, here has its proper scope. And having it, he could be perfectly open and bold in his speech, as one who had nothing to conceal, who had nothing to gain by the ignorance or imperfect enlightenment of the people, who also needed to practise no reserve in his communications, because the great realities being come, the clear light was now shining, and the whole counsel of God lay open.
Ver. 13. ‘And not’—he adds, as a negative confirmation of what he had just stated, and also as an introduction to the notice he is going to take of the culpable blindness and carnality of the Jews—‘And not as Moses put a veil on his face (an elliptical form of expression for, and we do not put a veil on our face, or mode of manifestation, as Moses put a veil on his face), in order that the children of Israel might not steadfastly look to the end (or cessation) of that which was to be done away.’ The fact only, as already noticed, is mentioned in the history of the transaction, that Moses put a veil over his face, but not the purpose for which it was done—which is left to be inferred from the nature of the act, and the circumstances that led to its being done. Nor is it very distinctly indicated either here or in Exodus, whether the veil was put on by Moses while he addressed the people, or after he had done speaking with them. The authorized version, at Exo_34:33 expresses the former view. ‘And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face;’ but there is nothing in the original corresponding to the till; it merely states that he finished speaking with them, and put a veil on his face, which seems to imply, regarding that first discourse at least, that the veiling was subsequent to the speaking. And so the ancient versions give it (Sept. ἐπειδὴ κατέπαυσε λαλῶν ἐπέθηκεν ἐπὶ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ κάλυμμα; Vul. Impletisque sermonibus posuit veelamen super faciem suum). But as to the future, it is merely said that Moses took the veil off when he went in to speak with the Lord ‘until he came out;’ and when he came out and spake, the children of Israel perceived that his face shone: ‘And he put the veil upon his face again until he went in to speak with Him’ (vers. 34, 35). The natural impression, however, is, that the method adopted at first was still followed (though Meyer still takes the other view), namely, that Moses did not veil his countenance quite immediately when he came out, but only after he had spoken what he received to say to the people; and that the direct object of the veil was to conceal from the view of the people the gradual waning and disappearance of the super natural brightness of his skin. But viewing this brightness as a symbol of the Divine mission of Moses, the apostle ascribes to him a still further intention in the veiling of it—namely, that the children of Israel might not, by the perception of its transience, be led to think of the transitory nature of the service or ministration of Moses itself—for this, I think with Meyer, whom Alford follows, must be held to be the natural sense of the words, ‘in order that they might not steadfastly look πρὸς τὸ μὴ ἀτενίσαι- πρὸς τὸ, with the infinitive always denoting the purpose in the mind of the actor), (Mat_5:12; Mat_6:1; Mat_13:30; Eph_6:11; 1Th_2:9, etc.) to the end of that which was vanishing away (transitory).’ The vanishing-away or transitory (τοῦ καταργουμένου) here is a resumption of the same (τὸ καταργούμενον) in ver. 11; and which, as we there explained, was the service of Moses as the bringer in of objective, written law. There was a glory connected with this, indicated by the shining of his skin (the seal, in a manner, of his Divine authority), but as the symbol of the glory was transient, so also was the ministration itself; and Moses, the apostle would have us to understand, was aware of this; but lest the children of Israel should also perceive it and at the very time the service was introduced might begin to look forward to its cessation, he concealed from them the fact of the passing away of the external glory by drawing over it a veil. (I take the concealing to be the whole that is indicated by the veil as most indeed do. Alford would find also the idea of suspension or interruption; but this seems fanciful; for no ministry is perfectly continuous. St Paul’s was liable to suspension as well as that of Moses.) Many commentators have rejected this view, because appearing to them to ascribe something derogatory, a kind of dissimulation, to Moses, while legislating for the people, he wished to hide from them the provisional nature of that legislation, and its relation to the future coming and kingdom of the Messiah. But this is to extend the object of the concealment too far: what Moses did in respect to the veil, he doubtless did under the direction of God; and what is affirmed by the apostle concerning it is, that the service of Moses as the minister of law engraven on stones (with all, of course, that became connected with this), was to be thought of as the service which they were specially to regard and profit by, according to its proper intent, without needlessly forestalling the time when it should be superseded by another ministration, that of the Gospel. For the former was the kind of service meanwhile adapted to their circumstances; and to have shot, as it were, ahead of it, and fixed their eyes on the introduction of a higher service, would have but tended to weaken their regard to that under which they were placed, and rendered them less willing and anxious to obtain from it the benefits it was capable of yielding. But this did not imply that they were to be kept ignorant of a coming Messiah, or were not to know that a great rise was to take place in the manifestations of God’s mind and will to men; for Moses himself gave no doubtful intimation of this, (Deu_18:15-18.) and it was one of the leading objects of later prophets, to make still more distinct announcements on the subject, and foretell the greater glory of the dispensation which was to come. But even with these, a certain concealment or reserve was necessary; and though a mighty change was indicated as going to take place, and the passing away of the old covenant itself into another, which, in comparison of it, was called new, yet so carefully was the ministration of Moses guarded, and so strongly was its authority pressed during the time set for its administration, that one the very last words of ancient prophecy to the members of the old covenant was, ‘Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.’ (Mal_4:4.)
Ver. 14. At the same time, the language used by the apostle implies that this was not what should have been; it was an imperfect state of things, and involved a measure of blame; but the blame lay with the people, not with Moses. He could not make use of such boldness of speech, regarding Divine things, as was now done by apostles and preachers of the Gospel; he was even obliged to practise a kind of disguise, with the view of concealing the transitory nature of the ministration with which he was more peculiarly charged. And this for the sake of the spiritual good of the people themselves; because, considering their state of mind, more of insight in that particular direction might have turned to evil; and the ultimate reason follows: ‘But their understandings were hardened (νοήματα, thoughts=thinking powers, understandings).’ The connection is not, I conceive, that given by Stanley: ‘Nay, so true is this, that not their eyes, but their thoughts were hardened and dulled’— substantially concurred in by Alford, who takes ἀλλὰ in the sense of But also, and regards it as introducing a further assertion of their ignorance or blindness—blindness in respect to things not purposely concealed from them, but which they might be said to see: such modes of connection are somewhat unnatural, and scarcely meet the requirements of the case; for something is needed as a ground for what precedes as well as for what follows. I take it to be this: Moses practised the concealment and reserve in question, not as if it were what he himself wished, or thought abstractedly the best; but he did so because the understandings of the people were hardened, they had little aptitude for spiritual things, perfectly free and open discourse was not suited to them. And the apostle goes on to say, it was not peculiar to that generation to be so—it was a common characteristic of the covenant people (so Stephen also says (Act_7:51.)), ‘for until this day the same veil remains at the reading of the old covenant (that is, the book or writings of the covenant), without having it unveiled (discovered) that it (viz., the old covenant) is vanished away in Christ.’ Such appears to be the most natural construction and rendering of this last clause— ἀνακαλυπτόμενον being taken as the nominative absolute, and the vanishing or being done away being viewed, in accordance with the use of the expression in the preceding context, as having respect, not to the veil, but to the old covenant, or the ministration of Moses. Having been so used once and again, it manifestly could not, without very express warrant, be understood now of something entirely different. It is not, therefore, as in our authorized version, the veil which is done away in Christ, but the old covenant; and the evidence of the veil being still spiritually on the hearts of the Jews, the apostle means to say, consists in their not having it unveiled or discovered to them that the old does vanish away in Christ. This was a far more grievous sign of a hardened understanding in the Jews of the apostle’s time, than the hardening spoken of in the time of Moses; for now the disguise or concealment regarding the cessation of the Mosaic service was purposely laid aside; the time of reformation had come; and not to see the end of that which was transitory was to miss the grand design for which it had been given.
Vers. 15, 16. ‘But unto this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies upon the heart.’ This is merely to be regarded as an explanation of what was meant in the preceding sentence by the want of discernment, as to the cessation of the old covenant in Christ. It arose from a veil being, not upon Moses, or upon the book of the covenant (for the advance of the Divine dispensations had taken every thing of that sort out of the way), but upon their own heart. There was the real seat and cause of the blindness. ‘But (adds the apostle) whenever it shall have turned to the Lord, the veil is taken away’ (περιαιρεῖται, a different word from that in the preceding verse, and confining the application there made of καταργεῖται to the old covenant, not to the veil). There is a certain indefiniteness in the statement, and opinions differ concerning the subject of the turning—some taking it quite generally: when any one shall have done so; some supplying Moses as the symbol or representative of the old covenant: when application is made of this covenant to the Lord; others, and, indeed, a much greater number, understand Israel; with substantial correctness—though it seems better, with Meyer and Alford, to find the subject in the ‘their heart’ of the immediate context: when the heart of the people, whether individually or collectively, shall have turned to the Lord, then the veil as a matter of course is taken away, it drops off. The language undoubtedly bears respect to what is recorded of Moses when he went into God’s presence—as often as he did so putting off the veil; but it cannot be taken for more than a mere allusion, as the actions themselves were materially different.
Ver. 17. ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit.’ This is undoubtedly the natural and proper construction, taking spirit for the predicate, not (as Chrysostom, Theodoret, and several moderns) Lord; and the apostle is to be understood as resuming the expression in the preceding verse, and connecting it with what had been said before of spirit; q. d., Now the Lord, to whom the heart of Israel turns when converted, is the spirit which has been previously spoken of as standing in contrast to the letter, and the ministration of which has been given as the distinctive characteristic apostolic agency. By spirit, therefore, must here be understood, not the Holy Spirit hypostatically or personally considered—for in that case it could not have been so identified with the Lord (by whom is certainly meant Christ), nor would it properly accord with the sense of spirit, in verses 2Co_3:6 and 2Co_3:8—but the Spirit in His work of grace on the souls of men—or Christ Himself in His divine energy manifesting Himself through the truth of His Gospel to the heart and conscience, as the author of all spiritual life and blessing. So that it is the inseparable unity of Christ and the Spirit in the effect wrought by the ministration of word and ordinance, not their hypostatical diversity, which here comes into consideration: Christ present in power, present to enlighten and vivify,—that, as here understood by the apostle, is the Spirit (in contradistinction to the mere ‘form of knowledge and of truth in the law’); ‘but (the apostle adds—δὲ as the particle of transition from an axiom to its legitimate conclusion) where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’—not there in the local sense (for ἐκεῖ is wanting in the best authorities, à A B C D, also in the Syriac and Coptic versions, nor is its employment in such a manner quite in accordance with the usage of the apostle); but merely as, along with the substantive verb, declarative of a certain fact: the man who is spiritually conversant with Christ, who knows Him in the spirit of His grace and truth, there is for such an one a state of liberty—he is free to commune with Christ himself, and to deal with the realities of His work and kingdom, as at home in the region to which they belong, and possessing, in relation to them, the spirit of sonship. (Rom_8:15.) Not merely is the hardened understanding gone which prevents one from seeing them aright, but a frame of mind is acquired, which is in fitting adaptation to them, relishing their light and breathing their spirit.
Ver. 18. A still further deduction follows, the climax of the whole passage, rising from the matter discoursed of to the persons in whom it is realized: ‘but we all with unveiled face beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord the Spirit.’ The but at the beginning indicates a certain implied contrast to the state of others—the bondmen of the house of Israel, who knew not the Lord as the Spirit, and the spiritual liberty such knowledge brings, but it is otherwise with us. We all—that is, we who are Christians, not apostles merely, or Christian ministers and evangelists, for the expression is purposely made quite general, in order to comprehend, along with himself, the whole of those whose case the apostle is now handling—‘We all with unveiled face behold.’ The last reference to the veil had represented it as being upon the heart of the Israelites; for it was as hearers of the law that he then contemplated them; but now, as it is in connection with the sight that he is going to unfold the privilege of New Testament believers, he returns to the thought of the face in relation to the veil—the face of Moses having been veiled, indeed, to the people, but unveiled in the presence of the Lord, whence it received impressions of the glory that shone upon it from above. So we all—after the manner of Moses, though in a higher, because more spiritual, sense, but unlike the people for whom the glory reflecting itself on his countenance was veiled—‘behold in a mirror the glory of the Lord.’ I adhere to this as the most natural and also the most suitable sense of the somewhat peculiar word κατοπτριζόμενοι, as opposed to that of ‘reflecting as in a mirror,’ adopted by Chrysostom. Luther, Calov, also by Olshausen and Stanley. There is no evidence of the word having been employed in this sense. In the active, it signifies to ‘mirror,’ or shew in a glass; in the middle usually, to ‘mirror one’s-self,’ or; ‘look at one’s-self in a mirror,’ of which examples may be seen in Wetstein on the passage, but which is manifestly out of place here; and to turn the seeing one’s-self in a mirror, into reflecting one’s likeness from it, is to introduce an entirely new and unwarranted idea into the meaning. Nor could it, if allowable, afford an appropriate sense; for the mention of the unveiled face undoubtedly presents a contrast to the representation in vers. 2Co_3:14-16, and has respect to the free, untrammelled seeing of the Divine glory. There is also in Philo one undoubted use of the word in this sense ( Leg. Allegor., III. 33, μηδὲ κατοπτρισαίμην ἐν ἄλλῳ τινὶ τὴνσὴν ιδέαν ἤ ἐν σοί τῷ θεῷ, neither would I see mirrored in any other, etc.) The plain meaning, therefore, is, ‘We all with unveiled face (the veil having been removed in conversion) beholding in a mirror (or seeing mirrored) the glory of the Lord.’ The apostle does not say where or how this mirrored glory is to be seen, but he supplies the deficiency in the next chapter, when at 2Co_3:4 he speaks of the light, or rather shining forth of the Gospel of the glory of Christ (which Satan prevents natural men from perceiving), and at 2Co_3:6 (when speaking of the contrary result in the case of believers), he represents God as ‘shining in their hearts to the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ The glory, therefore, in so far as it is now accessible to the view of believers, is to be seen mirrored in the face or person of Jesus Christ, or, as it is otherwise put, in the Gospel of the glory of Christ—that is, the Gospel which reveals what He is and has done, and thereby unfolds His glory. This is now freely opened to the inspection of believers, and by beholding it with the eye of faith, we are transformed into the same image (τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα μεταμορφούμεθα, the accusative, according to some, to be explained as that of nearer determination; but better, perhaps, with Bernhardy, Meyer, and others, to be regarded as expressive of the form implied in the action of the verb, and so indirectly governed by it; but either way capable of being rendered into English only by the help of the preposition, ‘transformed into the same image’), the image, namely, of Christ’s glory seen in the mirror of His Gospel, the living impression of which on our hearts is all one with having Christ formed in them; (Gal_4:19.) hence, a deeper change than that which passed upon the skin of Moses, and indicative of a more intimate connection with the Lord; for it is now heart with heart, one spiritual image reproducing itself in another. And this from ‘glory to glory’—either from glory in the image seen, to glory in the effect produced, or rather perhaps from one stage in the glorious transformation to another, till coming at last to see Him as He is, we are made altogether like Him. (1Jn_3:3.) Very different, therefore, from an impression of glory, which was evanescent, always ready to lose its hold, and tending to vanish away. ‘Even as (the apostle adds) from the Lord the Spirit’—so, I think, the words should be rendered with Chrysostom, Theodoret, Luther, Beza, and latterly Stanley, Alford, seeing in them the same kind of identification of Lord and Spirit as in 2Co_3:17; not, with Fritzsche, Olshausen, De Wette, Meyer, ‘from the Lord of the Spirit,’ which would introduce at the close a new idea, and one not very much to the purpose here, for, in the only sense in which the expression can be allowed, the Lord has ever been the Lord of the Spirit—as much in Old Testament times as now. The English version, ‘from the Spirit of the Lord,’ is inadmissible, as doing violence to the order of the words. The meaning of the apostle in this closing sentence is, that the result is in accordance with the Divine agency accomplishing it—it is such as comes from the operation of Him who makes Himself know r n and felt through the vital energy of the Spirit—whose working is Spirit upon spirit—therefore penetrating, inward, powerful—seizing the very springs of thought and feeling in the soul, and bringing them under the habitual influence of the truth as it is in Christ. This is a mode of working far superior to that of outward law, because in its very nature quickening, dealing directly with the conscience, and with the idea of spiritual excellence, giving also the power to realize it in the heart and conduct.