Since certain verses in 2 Corinthians 3 are often cited and given applications out of context, we are presenting below a few comments on this whole chapter as related to the law and new covenants.
2 Corinthians 3:1 – Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as do some, letters of commendation to you or from you?
There were those who were making the false charge that Paul had appointed himself as an apostle, and was thus commending himself as such. — 2 Corinthians 5:12; 10:8.
Paul is saying his commendation as an apostle came through Christ, and he did not need a letter of commendation from the church in Corinth, nor did he need a letter of commendation from anyone else so as to speak to the Christians in Corinth as an apostle. — 2 Corinthians 12:11; Galatians 1:17-19.
2 Corinthians 3:2 — You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men.
Paul is saying that the Corinthian Christians are themselves a testimony that he was an apostle, since he had brought so many of them to Christ.
2 Corinthians 3:3 — being revealed that you are a letter of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tablets of stone, but in tablets that are hearts of flesh.
The Corinthians Christians serve as a testimony of Paul’s ministry, not by anything written on tablets of stone, but rather what had become written in the tablets of their heart. By this he also begins to bring into focus the Law covenant, which was written on stones, and he contrasts what is written with the spirit of Yahweh with that written by means of the human hand through Moses. “The Spirit of the living God” parallels “spirit of the Lord” or “spirit of Yahweh” in 2 Corinthians 3:17, denoting the influence, power, of God’s holy spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:4 – Such confidence we have through Christ toward [Yahweh].
The testimony of Paul’s work with the Corinthian brothers adds to Paul’s confidence that he is not a false apostle, and that his repentance toward Yahweh through Jesus had been accepted, and that he was indeed appointed by God and Jesus as an apostle. The turning, the repentance, is toward Yahweh, through Christ. The turning is not toward Christ, but toward the God and Father of Jesus through Jesus.
2 Corinthians 3:5 – Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves; but our sufficiency is from [Yahweh].
Paul did not claim his salvation from sin and death by obedience to the Law, which would meant that his sufficiency would have been of himself, but rather he claimed that which had been provided by Yahweh, as shown in the next verse.
2 Corinthians 3:6 — Who also made us sufficient as servants of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Paul contrasts the new covenant with that of the Old Law Covenant through Moses, and shows that the Law Covenant kills, it condemns, since sinful flesh cannot obey that Law.
2 Corinthians 3:7 – But if the service of death, written engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the children of Israel could not look steadfastly on the face of Moses for the glory of his face; which was passing away.
The service of the Law Covenant is called “the service of death,” since it was weak because of the sinful flesh, and thus, rather than bringing anyone to life, it condemned the one seeking life through that Law to death. And yet, the Law Covenant itself “came with glory;” it was the light by which one could have life if one could obey that light. But due to the bondage of corruption that is upon mankind by means of Adam’s sin, that which would have been to life, became death.
2 Corinthians 3:8 – Won’t service of the Spirit be with much more glory?
The spirit here is the promised spirit of the new covenant, the power, or reckoning of which, is attained by “tasting” of power of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5), when the spirit will be poured out upon all peoples. (Jeremiah 30,31) The new creation that comes through the blood of the new covenant does not fall short of the glory of Yahweh, and is thus with much more glory than trying to attain righteousness through the Law Covenant, for no one was ever justified, made straight, by that Law so that he could say that he did not fall short of the glory of Yahweh. — Romans 3:23.
2 Corinthians 3:9 – For if the service of condemnation has glory, the service of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.
The law condemns, but the Law is the light of Yahweh (Proverbs 6:23), by which, if one should obey that Law, he would live. Jesus obeyed that Law and became the light of Yahweh amongst men. (John 1:4,5) The law, having its own glory, while it provided a typical glory toward those under the Law, did not provide the glory of a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), which does not fall short of the glory of Yahweh.
The service of righteousness is first of all, the service of Jesus, who became our righteousness, and secondarily, of all who are justified through his righteous blood, and who, as new creatures, are thus servants of righteousness.
2 Corinthians 3:10 – For most assuredly that which has been made glorious has not been made glorious in this respect, by reason of the glory that surpasses.
That which has been made glorious through faith in Jesus surpasses the glory of the Law Covenant, since the Law Covenant proved ineffectual to restoring those under the Law to the glory of God due to the sinful flesh. — Romans 8:3.
2 Corinthians 3:11 – For if that which passes away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
That which is passing away is the Law Covenant. It does not pass away as long as there is still one Jew who is under that Law. Each Jew who turns toward Yahweh in repentance, through Christ, becomes dead to the Law, and for that one, the Law has passed away.
2 Corinthians 3:12 – Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness of speech.
By what has been given to him through Christ, Paul claims the right to speak boldly by means of the spirit that had been given to him, not just as new creature, but as an apostle of Christ.
2 Corinthians 3:13 and not as Moses, who put a veil on his face, that the children of Israel wouldn’t look steadfastly on the end of that which was passing away.
The reference is to when Moses came down from the mountain after he had seen the glory of Yahweh. His face shone with the brightness of the glory of Yahweh, so that, he covered his face that the glory would not shine upon, and that the people could gaze upon, the glory of Yahweh. Paul is using that veil as a figure of how the Jew could not bring himself into the glory of Yahweh by means of keeping the Law.
2 Corinthians 3:14 – But their minds were hardened, for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains, because [by means of] Christ it passes away.
2 Corinthians 3:15 – But to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.
The obstructive veil is still upon the Jew to this day, who reads the Law, for his heart is hardened without Christ, being of sinful nature, and unable to bring himself into the righteousness that is not short of the glory of God. The law condemns, because of man’s sinful condition, it does not justify, and thus it cannot bring anyone into the righteousness that does not fall short of the glory of God. — Romans 3:20; 8:3; Galatians 2:16; 3:11.
The veil is a reference to the veil that Moses put over his face after receiving the ten commandments, since his face was aglow from having seen the glory of Yahweh. (Exodus 34:29-35) That veil is being used as type to demonstrate how the Jew who is still alive to the Law continues to fall short of the glory of Yahweh. — Romans 3:23.
A veil causes blindness (2 Corinthians 4:4), but here it is used more as a obstruction to the glory of Yahweh; they have not been made free from the law of sin and death. — Isaiah 60:1; Romans 8:2.
2 Corinthians 3:16 – But whenever one turns to [Yahweh], the veil is taken away.
One turns to Yahweh [not to Jesus] through repentance, through faith in the blood of Jesus, not by works of the Law. — Matthew 13:15; Mark 4:12; Luke 1:16; Acts 3:13,19,20; 20:21; 26:20; Hebrews 6:1.
2 Corinthians 3:17 – Now [Yahweh] is the spirit and where the spirit of [Yahweh] is, there is liberty.
Contrary to the way many use this verse, in either claiming that Jesus is a spirit being, or that God is a spirit being, the word “spirit” in in the first instance is not referring to the substance of God or Jesus, but rather of spirit, the one behind the New Covenant, which brings freedom, not just from the condemnation of the Law, but also from the condemnation of sin and death through Adam, through the blood of Jesus. Yahweh, through his holy spirit, can be said the spirit of the New Covenant, since the holy spirit belongs to Yahweh. It would not be proper, however, to turn that around so as to say, “The [holy] spirit is Yahweh.”
Nevertheless, as the “spirit” is used in 2 Corinthians 3:3 as belonging to the living God, likewise, the same in 2 Corinthians 3:17, where the spirit is identified as the spirit of Yahweh.
2 Corinthians 3:18 – But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of [Yahweh], are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from [Yahweh], the spirit.
“We all” here evidently means all the Jews who have become dead to the Law through Christ, although every Christian, whether he was ever a Jew under the Law or not, having become a new creation, he is with unveiled face as as to behold the glory of Yahweh. The latter part of the verse, however, can only apply to the Jew, who having been a servant of the Law, passes from the glory of that servitude into the glory of service to the New Covenant, so that he, as a new creation, does not fall short of the glory of the image of God. The Jew still reads that Law, and is thus still condemned by that Law, and world is corrupted and under the bondage of corruption, and thus we know that Law has not yet “passed away”, nor have the present heavens and earth passed away, giving way the age to come where there will no longer be the bondage of corruption (the crooked condition), but rather there will righteousness, straightness. (Ecclesiastes 1:15; 7:13; Matthew 5:18; 2 Peter 3:10,13) At the present time, it is only to those who taste of the blessing of that age to come through faith in Christ who are a new creation, and for whom the old has passed away, so that the new creature in this age is counted — through faith — as though belonging to that day yet to come. — 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Hebrews 6:5; Revelation 21:1-5.