on 2-corinthians 3 :6
Who hath made us able ministers - This is a more formal answer to the question, Who is sufficient for these things? προς ταυτα τις ἱκανος; 1 Corinthians 2:16. God, says the apostle, has made us able ministers; ἱκανωσεν ἡμας διακονους, he has made us sufficient for these things; for the reader will observe that he uses the same word in both places. We apostles execute, under the Divine influence, what God himself has devised. We are ministers of the new covenant; of this new dispensation of truth, light, and life, by Christ Jesus; a system which not only proves itself to have come from God, but necessarily implies that God himself by his own Spirit is a continual agent in it, ever bringing its mighty purposes to pass. On the words καινη διαθηκη, new covenant, see the Preface to the gospel of St. Matthew.
Not of the letter, but of the Spirit - The apostle does not mean here, as some have imagined, that he states himself to be a minister of the New Testament, in opposition to the Old; and that it is the Old Testament that kills, and the New that gives life; but that the New Testament gives the proper meaning of the Old; for the old covenant had its letter and its spirit, its literal and its spiritual meaning. The law was founded on the very supposition of the Gospel; and all its sacrifices, types, and ceremonies refer to the Gospel. The Jews rested in the letter, which not only afforded no means of life, but killed, by condemning every transgressor to death. They did not look at the spirit; did not endeavor to find out the spiritual meaning; and therefore they rejected Christ, who was the end of the law for justification; and so for redemption from death to every one that believes. The new covenant set all these spiritual things at once before their eyes, and showed them the end, object, and design of the law; and thus the apostles who preached it were ministers of that Spirit which gives life.
Every institution has its letter as well as its spirit, as every word must refer to something of which it is the sign or significator. The Gospel has both its letter and its spirit; and multitudes of professing Christians, by resting in the Letter, receive not the life which it is calculated to impart. Water, in baptism, is the letter that points out the purification of the soul; they who rest in this letter are without this purification; and dying in that state they die eternally. Bread and wine in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, are the letter; the atoning efficacy of the death of Jesus, and the grace communicated by this to the soul of a believer, are the spirit. Multitudes rest in this letter, simply receiving these symbols, without reference to the atonement, or to their guilt; and thus lose the benefit of the atonement and the salvation of their souls. The whole Christian life is comprehended by our Lord under the letter, Follow me. Does not any one see that a man, taking up this letter only, and following Christ through Judea, Galilee, Samaria, etc., to the city, temple, villages, seacoast, mountains, etc., fulfilled no part of the spirit; and might, with all this following, lose his soul? Whereas the Spirit, viz. receive my doctrine, believe my sayings, look by faith for the fulfillment of my promises, imitate my example, would necessarily lead him to life eternal. It may be safely asserted that the Jews, in no period of their history, ever rested more in the letter of their law than the vast majority of Christians are doing in the letter of the Gospel. Unto multitudes of Christians Christ may truly say: Ye will not come unto me that ye may have life.
on 2-corinthians 3 :6
Who also hath made us able ministers ... - This translation does not quite meet the force of the original. It would seem to imply that Paul regarded himself and his fellowlaborers as people of talents, and of signal ability; and that he was inclined to boast of it. But this is not the meaning. It refers properly to his sense of the responsibility and difficulty of the work of the ministry; and to the fact that he did not esteem himself to be sufficient for this work in his own strength 2 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 3:5; and he here says that God had made him sufficient: not able, talented, learned, but sufficient ἱκάνωσεν ἡμᾶς hikanōsen hēmas; he has supplied our deficiency; he has rendered us competent, or fit; if a word may be coined after the manner of the Greek here, "he has sufficienced us for this work." There is no assertion, therefore, here, that they were people of talents, or special ability, but only that God had qualified them for their work, and made them by his grace sufficient to meet the toils and responsibilites of this arduous office.
Of the New Testament - Of the new covenant (note, Matthew 26:28), in contradistinction from the old covenant, which was established through Moses. They were appointed to go forth and make the provisions of that new covenant known to a dying world.
Not of the letter - Not of the literal, or verbal meaning, in contradistinction from the Spirit; see the notes on Romans 2:27, Romans 2:29; Romans 7:6. This is said, doubtless, in opposition to the Jews, and Jewish teachers. They insisted much on the letter of the Law, but entered little into its real meaning. They did not seek out the true spiritual sense of the Old Testament; and hence, they rested on the mere literal observance of the rites and ceremonies of religion without understanding their true nature and design. Their service, though in many respects conformed to the letter of the Law, yet became cold, formal, and hypocritical; abounding in mere ceremonies, and where the heart had little to do. Hence, there was little pure spiritual worship offered to God; and hence also they rejected the Messiah whom the old covenant prefigured, and was designed to set forth.
For the letter killeth - compare notes on Romans 4:15; Romans 7:9-10. The mere letter of the Law of Moses. The effect of it was merely to produce condemnation; to produce a sense of guilt, and danger, and not to produce pardon, relief, and joy. The Law denounced death; condemned sin in all forms; and the effect of it was to produce a sense of guilt and condemnation.
But the spirit giveth life - The spirit, in contradistinction from the mere literal interpretation of the Scriptures. The Spirit, that is, Christ, says Locke, compare 2 Corinthians 3:17. The spirit here means, says Bloomfield, that new spiritual system, the gospel. The Spirit of God speaking in us, says Doddridge. The spirit here seems to refer to the New Testament, or the new dispensation in contradistinction from the old. That was characterized mainly by its strictness of Law, and by its burdensome rites, and by the severe tone of its denunciation for sin. It did not in itself provide a way of pardon and peace. Law condemns; it does not speak of forgiveness. On the contrary, the gospel, a spiritual system, is designed to impart life and comfort to the soul. It speaks peace. It comes not to condemn, but to save. It discloses a way of mercy, and it invites all to partake and live. It is called "spirit," probably because its consolations are imparted and secured by the Spirit of God - the source of all true life to the soul. It is the dispensation of the Spirit; and it demands a spiritual service - a service that is free, and elevated, and tending eminently to purify the heart, and to save the soul; see the note on 2 Corinthians 3:17.
on 2-corinthians 3 :6