Study Notes—Chapter 3
letters of recommendation: In the first century C.E., people relied on letters from a credible source to introduce a stranger and to authenticate his or her identity or authority. (Ac 18:27; see study note on Ro 16:1.) Letters of this kind were common, and standard formulas for compiling them could be found in guides to letter writing. (Ac 28:21) At 2Co 3:1, Paul’s point is that he did not need such letters to or from the Corinthians to prove that he was a minister. He had helped them to become Christians and could therefore say: “You yourselves are our letter.”—2Co 3:2.
You yourselves are our letter: This is Paul’s answer to the question he raises in the preceding verse. The implied answer is, “No, we do not need any written certificate authorizing us to be God’s ministers. You are our living letter of recommendation.” The Christian congregation in Corinth was evidence that Paul was a minister of God.
inscribed on our hearts: Paul carried the members of the congregation along with him in his affections. He had trained them to be public witnesses of God and Christ, so they were a letter on open display, known and being read by all mankind.
a letter of Christ written by us as ministers: Jesus Christ selected Paul to be “a chosen vessel” and “to bear [Christ’s] name to the [non-Jewish] nations” (Ac 9:15), and he used Paul as his minister in writing such a letter of recommendation. Every Sabbath, Paul preached in Corinth to win over both Jews and Greeks. (Ac 18:4-11) Paul could not have written such a letter on his own initiative, for Jesus had told his disciples: “Apart from me you can do nothing at all.”—Joh 15:5.
on fleshly tablets, on hearts: Or “on tablets, on hearts of flesh” or “on tablets of human hearts.” The Law of Moses was written on stone tablets. (Ex 31:18; 34:1) In this context, the Law covenant is contrasted with the new covenant that was promised in Jeremiah’s prophecy, where Jehovah declares: “I will put my law within them, and in their heart I will write it.” (Jer 31:31-33) Ezekiel prophesied about the releasing of God’s people from Babylonian captivity, describing how Jehovah would remove “the heart of stone,” that is, the unresponsive heart, and give them “a heart of flesh,” that is, a soft, pliable, obedient heart, one sensitive to God’s guidance.—Eze 11:19; 36:26.
our being adequately qualified comes from God: In this context, the Greek words rendered “adequately qualified” have the basic meaning “enough; sufficient; fit.” When used with reference to people, these terms may mean “competent; able; worthy.” (Lu 22:38; Ac 17:9; 2Co 2:16; 3:6) The whole phrase could be rendered: “It is God who causes us to be able to do this work.” One of these Greek terms is found at Ex 4:10 in the Septuagint, which relates how Moses felt inadequate to appear before Pharaoh. According to the Hebrew text, Moses said: “I have never been a fluent speaker [lit., “a man of words”].” However, the Septuagint translates this phrase “I am not adequately qualified.” Nevertheless, Jehovah qualified Moses for the commission. (Ex 4:11, 12) In a similar manner, Christian ministers are qualified by means of “the spirit of a living God.”—2Co 3:3.
ministers: Or “servants.” The Bible often uses the Greek word di·aʹko·nos to refer to one who does not let up in humbly rendering service in behalf of others. (See study note on Mt 20:26.) Here Paul speaks of himself, Timothy, and all spirit-anointed Christians as “ministers of a new covenant.” (2Co 1:1) This means that among other things, they were serving its interests by preaching and teaching the good news in order to help others to come into the new covenant or to receive its benefits.—See study note on Ro 11:13.
a new covenant: Through the prophet Jeremiah, Jehovah foretold “a new covenant” that would be different from the Law covenant. (Jer 31:31-34) The Law covenant was between Jehovah and natural Israel; the new covenant is between Jehovah and spiritual Israel. Moses was the mediator of the Law covenant; Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant. (Ro 2:28, 29; Ga 6:15, 16; Heb 8:6, 10; 12:22-24) The Law covenant was validated by animal blood; the new covenant was validated by the shed blood of Jesus, as Jesus pointed out when he mentioned “the new covenant” on the night before his death, Nisan 14, 33 C.E.—Lu 22:20 and study note; 1Co 11:25.
not of a written code: Spirit-anointed Christians are not ministers of the Law covenant, some of which was written on tablets and later copied on scrolls. Rather, the new covenant is one of spirit, that is, God’s spirit. The written code condemned the Israelites to death, but ministers of the new covenant are led by God’s spirit to everlasting life. That spirit enables them to keep integrity and to cultivate the qualities needed to gain their eternal reward.—2Co 1:21, 22; Eph 1:13, 14; Tit 3:4-7.
the code that administers death: This expression refers to the Mosaic Law. The Law made transgression, or sin, manifest. (Ga 3:19) Therefore, it could be said that it “condemns to death.” (2Co 3:6; Ga 3:10) The Law covenant foreshadowed the new covenant that was foretold by Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-33) and that Paul calls “the administering of the spirit” (2Co 3:8). The new covenant is superior to the Law covenant because those who are in the new covenant are followers of the Chief Agent of life, Jesus Christ. So the new covenant brings, not death, but life.—Ac 3:15.
with such glory: In this passage (2Co 3:7-18), Paul discusses the superior glory of the new covenant compared with the glory of the old covenant. This is the theme of this part of his discussion, as is evident by the fact that in these verses, he uses Greek words that refer to “glory” or “to be glorious” 13 times. The Greek noun rendered “glory” originally meant “opinion; reputation,” but in the Christian Greek Scriptures, it came to mean “glory; splendor; grandeur.”
the code administering condemnation: Here again Paul refers to the Mosaic Law, which “condemns to death.” (2Co 3:6; see study note on 2Co 3:7.) Paul refers to the new covenant as the administering of righteousness. Spirit-anointed Christians who are in the new covenant shine with a spiritual glory that is far greater than the literal glory that accompanied the giving of the Mosaic Law. They do this by reflecting God’s qualities. The new covenant provides “forgiveness of sins” and “a royal priesthood” for the blessing of all mankind, so its benefits far exceed those of the Law covenant, which could not bring righteousness.—Mt 26:28; Ac 5:31; 1Pe 2:9.
he would put a veil over his face: Paul explains that Moses wore a veil because of the fleshly thinking and the bad heart condition of the Israelites. (2Co 3:7, 14) The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and Jehovah wanted them to draw close to him. (Ex 19:4-6) Yet, unlike Moses, who spoke with Jehovah “face-to-face” (Ex 33:11), they were reluctant to gaze intently on what was merely a reflection of God’s glory. Instead of turning their hearts and minds toward Jehovah in loving devotion, they figuratively turned away from him.
sons of Israel: Or “the people of Israel; the Israelites.”—See Glossary, “Israel.”
their minds were dulled: Because the Israelites at Mount Sinai did not have their hearts fully turned to Jehovah, “their minds,” or mental powers, “were dulled,” or lit., “were hardened.” The same was true of the Jews who continued to observe the Law after God, through Jesus, abolished it. They did not see that the Law pointed to Jesus. (Col 2:17) Paul uses the term veil figuratively in the sense of something that prevents people from seeing, or understanding. It was only by means of Christ, that is, only by recognizing him as the Messiah and exercising faith in him, that this veil could be taken away so that they could get a clear understanding of God’s purposes.—Lu 2:32.
when the old covenant is read: Paul is speaking of the Law covenant recorded in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, which make up only part of the Hebrew Scriptures. He calls it “the old covenant” because it was replaced by “a new covenant” and was canceled on the basis of Jesus’ death on the torture stake.—Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:13; Col 2:14; see study notes on Ac 13:15; 15:21.
a veil lies upon their hearts: The Jews rejected the good news that Jesus preached. As a result, when the Law was read, they did not perceive that it was leading them to Christ. Even though they read the inspired Scriptures, they had neither a proper heart attitude nor a spirit of faith and humility. The only way for them to have “the veil . . . taken away” would be to turn to Jehovah in humility and sincerity, in wholehearted submission and devotion, recognizing that a new covenant had been made operative.—2Co 3:16.
when one turns to Jehovah: In this passage (2Co 3:7-18), Paul is discussing the excelling glory of the new covenant as compared with the Law covenant made with Israel through Moses as mediator. Paul is alluding to what is described at Ex 34:34. The Greek verb at 2Co 3:16 rendered “turns” means “to return; to turn back (around)” in a literal sense. (Ac 15:36) When used in a spiritual sense, it may denote turning or returning to God from a wrong way. (Ac 3:19; 14:15; 15:19; 26:18, 20) In this context, turning to Jehovah involves turning to him in humility and sincerity, in wholehearted submission and devotion, recognizing that a new covenant is in force. Since 2Co 3:14 shows that the symbolic veil is taken away “only by means of Christ,” turning to Jehovah would also include recognizing the role of Jesus Christ as Mediator of the new covenant.—See App. C3 introduction; 2Co 3:16.
Jehovah is the Spirit: This statement is similar to what Jesus said, as recorded at Joh 4:24: “God is a Spirit.” The Greek word pneuʹma is used here in the sense of a spirit person, or being.—See Glossary, “Spirit”; and study note on Joh 4:24; see also App. C3 introduction; 2Co 3:17.
where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom: Paul here directs his fellow believers to the Source of true freedom, the Creator of all things, the only One who enjoys absolute and unlimited freedom. To enjoy true freedom, a person “turns to Jehovah,” that is, comes into a personal relationship with him. (2Co 3:16) The freedom that is associated with “the spirit of Jehovah” is more than liberation from physical slavery. “The spirit of Jehovah” brings liberation from enslavement to sin and death, as well as from slavery to false worship and its practices. (Ro 6:23; 8:2) God’s holy spirit also promotes true freedom by producing within Christians the qualities that are essential to freedom.—Ga 5:22, 23.
the spirit of Jehovah: That is, Jehovah’s active force. (See study note on Ac 5:9.) The reasons why the New World Translation uses the divine name in the main text are explained in App. C1 and C3 introduction; 2Co 3:17.
reflect like mirrors: Ancient hand mirrors were made of such metals as bronze or copper, and many were highly polished so as to have good reflecting surfaces. Like mirrors, spirit-anointed Christians reflect God’s glory that shines on them from Jesus Christ. They are “transformed into the same image” conveyed by Jehovah’s Son. (2Co 4:6; Eph 5:1) Through holy spirit and the Scriptures, God creates in them “the new personality,” a reflection of his own qualities.—Eph 4:24; Col 3:10.
the glory of Jehovah: The Greek word here rendered “glory” (doʹxa) originally meant “opinion; reputation,” but as used in the Christian Greek Scriptures, it came to mean “glory; splendor; grandeur.” The corresponding Hebrew term (ka·vohdhʹ) has the basic sense of “heaviness” and may refer to anything that makes a person or a thing seem weighty, or impressive. So God’s glory may refer to an impressive evidence of his almighty power. In the Bible, the Hebrew term for “glory” occurs along with the Tetragrammaton more than 30 times. Some examples are found at Ex 16:7; Le 9:6; Nu 14:10; 1Ki 8:11; 2Ch 5:14; Ps 104:31; Isa 35:2; Eze 1:28; Hab 2:14.—See App. C3 introduction; 2Co 3:18.
from one degree of glory to another: Lit., “from glory to glory.” Spirit-anointed Christians reflect more and more of Jehovah’s glory as they make spiritual progress. They are transformed into God’s image that is reflected by his Son, “the Christ, who is the image of God.” (2Co 4:4) It is worth noting that the Greek verb rendered “transformed” (me·ta·mor·phoʹo) is also used by Paul in his letter to the Romans.—See study note on Ro 12:2.
by Jehovah the Spirit: This rendering is in agreement with the first part of 2Co 3:17, where it says that “Jehovah is the Spirit.” (See study note.) However, it is also possible to render this phrase “by the spirit of Jehovah.” Grammatically, either rendering is correct.—See App. C3 introduction; 2Co 3:18.