2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2


The word "glory," meaning "splendor," occurs with higher frequency from 2 Corinthians 3:7 to 4:6 (fifteen times) than anywhere else in the New Testament. Paul compares the splendor of the Old Covenant with that of the New Testament in verses 7-11 which precede our text. Now, in verses 12-18 Paul will compare the difference in effect upon the respective viewers of this splendor. Verse 18 is the climax on this subject. Then, in verses 1-2 of chapter four, Paul stresses two facts: the preachers do not grow weary and they do not use the shabby methods which false preachers use.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. The Gospel is Mark 9:2-9. There we are reminded of the "glory," the splendor of Jesus' divinity. He is the source of all "glory." He gives the Gospel its "glory." The Christian already experiences the "glory" of Christ and the atonement. He is even transformed "from glory to glory," "from splendor to splendor" already in this life. There is much material in this text, perhaps more than can be handled in one sermon.

2 Corinthians 3:12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

"Therefore," in view of what was said in verses 7-11. The glory of the Old Covenant was temporary. The glory of the New Testament is permanent. "Hope" here is the objective use of this word. We have such a hope. This hope grows out of the enduring nature of the Gospel and reaches into all eternity. Place a comma after "hope." 

Now the main clause: "We are very bold." Thus RSV, TEV, NIV. Note that verse 13 continues verse 12. NASB reads: "We use great boldness in our speech and are not as Moses, etc." The ministry of the New Testament is being compared with that of Moses.

Concordia Bible With Notes: Not veiling what we teach under obscure types and symbols, as did the law of Moses, but declaring boldly, clearly, and freely the doctrines and duties of religion.
Lenski: Moses and the prophets had to leave much to the future when Christ should finally come.

We think that the word "hope" here points both to everlasting life and the enduring nature of this "glory." 

2 Corinthians 3:13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.

"We are not like" is "We do not do as." "Who would put" is "he used to place." For the record of this see Exodus 34:33,35. The veil kept the Children of Israel from seeing plainly the fulfillment of the New Testament.

Concordia Bible With Notes: That is, not clearly understand the meaning and design of the ceremonies and types of the Mosaic dispensation, which was appointed to pass away.
Kretzmann: Moses was aware of this transitoriness of the phenomenon; he realized that this fact symbolized the preparatory nature of the Old Testament ministry, and his action was in agreement with the will of God.
Lenski: The condemnation which Moses brings is done away with and reaches its end when the righteousness of Christ comes in. Romans 10:4. Paul says that the sons of Israel were not permitted to gaze upon this end: in fact, they never saw it at all, because they remained in unbelief.
Hughes: Moses used to veil his face to show them, by a kind of enacted parable, that it was their iniquities which rendered them unable, and unworthy, to behold such glory. The veiling of Moses' face was condemnation of the people.

The Old Covenant was a fading covenant. It was fading at Moses' time. Hebrews 8:13 informs us that it was growing old already in Jeremiah's day.

2 Corinthians 3:14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.

Read Exodus 34 in its entirety. The people at Sinai were a rebellious lot. "Were made dull" refers to the punitive justice of God on unbelief. God is the unstated agent. The subject is "their thoughts." Their thoughts despised God's Word, His Law and Gospel. And so their thoughts were hardened. They could no longer appreciate either Law or Gospel.

Hughes: The placing by Moses of a veil over his face was in itself an action symbolical of the veil of rebellion and unbelief which curtained the hearts of the people from the true apprehension of God's glory.
Rienecker: The Jews hold the law high and read it in their worship services and they do not see that it is the document which only pronounces their condemnation.

A frightening thought. However, because of the person and atonement of Jesus the veil is removed. Read Romans 10:4. Paul is implying that his kinsmen, the Jews, will have nothing to do with Christ.

Tasker: Few passages in the New Testament emphasize more strongly than this that the Old Testament Scriptures are only fully intelligible when Christ is seen to be their fulfillment.
Lenski: All the Jewish unbelief of Paul's own day is exactly like that unbelief manifested at Sinai.

Paul says "the same veil." Of course, Moses was no longer living at Paul's time, but the effect of the veil in Moses' and Paul's time on the Jews was the same. This is the most tragic thing in history.

2 Corinthians 3:15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.

RSV and AAT begin this verse with "Yes." This is such an astounding fact that Paul repeats himself. On this thought look at Acts 15:21. Paul was speaking of his own day but this verse can be applied to any generation of time until the end of the world. The Book of Concord refers to our text at least ten times. Here we quote two passages:

Tappert 125:133: By the 'veil' Paul means human opinion about the entire law, both the moral and the ceremonial; that is, hypocrites think that outward and civil works satisfy the law of God and that sacrifice and ritual justify before God ex opere operato 
Now as to the disclosure of sin, as long as men hear only the law and hear nothing about Christ, the veil of Moses covers their eyes, as a result they fail to learn the true nature of sin from the law, and thus they become either conceited hypocrites, like the Pharisees, or they despair, as Judas did, etc.
Kretzmann: The Jews will not acknowledge that the age before Christ was one of preparation, of type and prophecy only.
Lenski: What this veil is has been intimated, the stoniness of their unbelieving thoughts whenever they read the old covenant or Moses.

2 Corinthians 3:16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

No subject is stated. NKJV reads: "one." AAT and NIV have "anyone." NASB and RSV read "a man." KJV leaves it at "it." It is plainly implied that there are individual Jews who repent and are saved. "The Lord" clearly means "Christ." The veil is "taken away" means "taken away completely." Since the verb is in the singular this verse can in no way refer to a so-called mass conversion of the Jews. This verse is not a quotation of Exodus 34:34 but a beautiful allusion to it.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

KJV translates: "Now the Lord is that Spirit." The word "that" is not found in the original. Evidently KJV implies that "spirit" has the same meaning as in verse 6. A number of commentators take it this way. NKJV has changed this translation to read: "Now the Lord is the Spirit" identifying the word with the Holy Spirit. Most commentators take it that way. Since Pentecost the Holy Spirit has been telling mankind about the Lord, Jesus Christ.

TEV has a different understanding of this verse: "Now, 'the Lord' in this passage is the Spirit." We do not recommend this translation.

The members of the Trinity work in close harmony. Look at John 16:14. The gift of the Trinity, brought to us by the Holy Spirit is "freedom," freedom from sin, death, and the devil, freedom from the condemnation and restraint of the Law.

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

"We" must mean Paul, his helpers, the Corinthian Christians, and all Christians since that time. "With uncovered face" is dative of manner. "Reflect" has received much comment. Three translations are possible:  "Beholding as in a mirror." Thus KJV, NKJV, and NASB.  "Beholding the glory." Thus RSV.  "Reflecting the glory." Thus TEV, NIV, and AAT. We prefer the third. As the moon reflects the light of the sun, so the Christian reflects the glory of the Lord, the splendor of the Gospel.

"Are being transformed" means "we are constantly changed into the same image." Why say "same?" Because it is the image of the Lord Jesus.

Does "from glory to glory" refer to the progress of the Christian in his faith and knowledge in this life or does it refer to the life to come? Nestle Greek text notes Philippians 3:21 at this point. Evidently, like Franzmann, Nestle refers this growth in splendor to everlasting life. It would seem that most others take it of the present life. AAT translates: "Are changed from glory to glory to be like Him." RSV: "From one degree of glory to another." NIV: "Are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory." 

The last words in this verse mean that the growth in glory corresponds to the gift which comes from Jesus and the Holy Spirit. On this verse look at 1 Peter 1:4; Galatians 4:19; 1 John 3:2; Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24. The Book of Concord plainly applies this entire verse to the present life.

Tappert 273:27: Because the kingdom of God is righteousness, Romans 14:17, and life in the heart, therefore perfection means to grow in the fear of God, in trust in the mercy promised in Christ, and in devotion to one's calling. Paul also describes perfection, 2 Corinthians 3:18, thus: 'We are changed from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.'

2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.

In this verse, Paul is speaking of himself and his fellow pastors. Paul knows why he and his associates are in the ministry of the Gospel. It is because of the mercy of the Lord. And that is what keeps them going. The verb "not lose heart" or "not grow weary" occurs six times in the New Testament, five of which are found in the Pauline Epistles. Two are found in this chapter, verses 1 and 16. The sole example outside the Pauline corpus is found at Luke 18:8. Jesus spoke a parable concerning the constant necessity of prayer and that Christians should not grow weary of prayer. Why did the widow attain her objective? Because she did not grow weary. Why did she not grow weary? Because she had deep convictions. How can Paul say that they do not grow weary? Because they have deep convictions. They have deep convictions concerning their own calling. It is of the mercy of the Lord. They have deep convictions about their message. Jesus Himself had shone into the hearts of their hearers. They have deep convictions about their future. They look forward to the glories of everlasting life, verses 17-18.

Bengel: God's mercy by which the ministry is received, makes man active and sincere.
Lenski: We were only poor creatures, Paul says, until God's mercy reached us. He refers to their conversion . . . Their whole sufficiency is from God.

2 Corinthians 4:2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.

Hughes: Paul is contrasting himself with others whose behavior has been inconsistent with their claims to be ministers of Christ.

Paul is implying that people who use underhanded methods soon grow weary. They have no convictions. We are not saying that occasional weariness indicates use of underhanded methods. Here Paul includes his associates. He is not speaking of a certain occasion.

Plummer: Paul means that these practices are quite alien to the work of an Apostle.

"Secret" are the things one hides because one is ashamed of them. AAT translates: "But we have renounced the secret ways that anybody should feel ashamed of." 

Lenski: 'The hidden things of shame' are such as bring shame and disgrace when drawn out of hiding into public light . . . the genitive is thus qualitative 'shameful or disgraceful hidden things.'

Paul describes what he means by "the hidden things of shame." These "ways" include a person's entire conduct.

Rienecker: Paul describes the readiness to do anything. In an unfavorable sense, the words means cunning, craftiness, trickery.
Tasker: Not for Paul the subtleties of the unscrupulous politician or the subterfuges of the ingratiating salesman.
Plummer: Paul is not thinking of heathen vices but of the underhand methods of the false teachers.
Lenski: Craftiness has often been employed by the clergy; they have played politics in their conventions; they have gained -- or lost their ends, but always and always to their own great hurt and to that of the Church.

"Deception," this form is used only here in the New Testament. It means "to use deceit, to corrupt with error, to falsify, to corrupt." The commentators agree that "the word of God," as often, here means the Gospel. From what follows it appears that Paul is speaking about covering up the truth. The Gospel can so easily be adulterated or diluted. If one disturbs the doctrine of Christ's person or His work, the vicarious atonement, or the universality of the message, the Gospel is diluted.

"Setting forth the truth plainly" is the opposite of "the hidden things of shame." Here "truth" is the Gospel. It is the only lasting, genuine Truth.

Then Paul says: " commending ourselves to every conscience of people before God," which is the Greek way of saying "to the conscience of every person." 

Hughes: It is to God that every minister of the Gospel is ultimately and eternally answerable.
Tasker: it is the plain unadulterated Gospel of the grace of God revealed supremely in the death and resurrection of Christ that alone strikes home to his conscience. 'Repent and believe the gospel' must ever be the burden of one who is preaching 'in the sight of God.'
Lenski: Paul and his assistants dealt with every man as in the sight and presence of God . . . Truth needs no aids . . . If truth itself cannot win a conscience, what can you add to truth to make it win?

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 in no way implies that the Gospel was not found in the Old Testament or that the Gospel of the Old Testament was inferior to that of the New Testament. In this section Paul alludes to Exodus 34 several times. Read verses 6-7 of that chapter. Then note that Moses pleads with God for the stiff-necked Children of Israel. How does God react? In verses 10-11 God makes His covenant, His promise of the Gospel to His people. It is true, of course, that the Law of Moses, moral and ceremonial Law, served as a bondsman for the covenant people in the Old Testament. Look at Galatians 3:24. Luther's exegesis in his 1535 Commentary on Galatians, volume 26 of the American Edition, is a classic passage on the purpose and limitation of the Mosaic Law. At Romans 4:6 Paul informs us that the righteousness of faith in the New Testament is identified with the forgiveness of sins offered in the Psalms. Revelation 13:8 tells us that the sacrifice of Christ is retroactive to the beginning of time.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Epistle Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 60-63. Used with permission.

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