2 Corinthians 3:7-18 – We are Confident Because We are Hopeful

Paul’s “new covenant” ministry is life-giving, hopeful, and glorious. This contrasts with the glory of Moses’ “old covenant” ministry which was hidden to Israel in the wilderness but is fully revealed in Christ.

The movement from “old covenant” to “new covenant” is not so much an abolition of the “old covenant,” or a sense that the Torah (law) was inferior ethically, or that it was not an authentic revelation of God, or that the Torah has no relevant meaning any longer, but rather that what was good about the “old covenant” is taken up into the “new covenant.” It is “new” in the sense of renewal, and it is “new” because it is internalized in the hearts of believers through the ministry of the Spirit. The law, rather than remaining on tablets of stone, is inscribed on the hearts of believers by the Spirit so that we are living letters of recommendations for Christ. The law did not remain on stone tablets. It became “new” through its inscription upon the hearts who trusted in the Lord by the work of the Spirit. In this way, the new covenant mediates the experience of the glory of God inwardly and progressively.

Paul’s rhetoric employs a typical argument current in ancient Judaism called qal va-homer. In English, it looks like this: “if X is Z, then how much more is Y also Z?” The argument assumes the reality of the first statement in order to affirm the greatness of the second.

  • If the ministry of death came in glory, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory?
  • If there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, how much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory!
  • If what was set aside came through glory, how much more has the permanent come in glory!

Paul does not deny the Mosaic ministry had glory. On the contrary, he affirms it. The glory of God radiated from the face of Moses after he encountered God on Mount Sinai and in the tent where Israel met God (the Tabernacle) as Exodus 34 tells us. The glory of the old covenant ministry, glowing on the face of Moses, was authentic. It was a genuine experience of God’s presence within Israel. God was truly present through the ministry of Moses. This should be celebrated rather than denigrated. At the same time, there is something that is filled with even more glory.

But if it was real, why does Paul call the ministry of Moses one of death, condemnation, and impermanence? Paul is not describing the “old covenant” itself or the Law (Torah). Rather, he is describing the effect of the ministry of the old covenant illustrated by the glory that appeared on the face of Moses.

Old Covenant MinistryNew Covenant Ministry
Ministry of DeathMinistry of the Spirit
Ministry of CondemnationMinistry of Justification
Transient GloryPermanent Glory

Why did this glory entail a ministry of death and condemnation? Why was it transient?

The problem does not lie with the Torah or the covenant itself. Rather, it lies in hard hearts. In the wilderness, Israel did not listen to Moses. Consequently, they could not gaze upon the glory of God without being consumed by it. As a result, Moses veiled his face so that Israel would not be consumed that glory. The glory on the face of Moses was real, but it was dangerous for the wilderness rebels. Moses hid it from the people lest they be consumed by it or perhaps lest they seek in the face of Moses the goal of their life with God.

That veil, Paul asserts, still covers the hearts of Israel in Paul’s own time. When Israel reads the “old covenant” (or, the Torah, or the tablets of stone), they do not see how God has acted in Christ for life and righteousness. It is hidden to them much like Moses’ veil hid the glory of God in the wilderness. Rather, with the same hard hearts as Israel in the wilderness, they read Moses in a way that fails to see the ministry of reconciliation that is grounded in the God who is in Christ reconciling the world to God’s own self.

In other words, the ministry of Moses was a ministry of death, condemnation, and transience because Israel’s hard hearts did not embrace the glory God revealed to them. Paul’s ministry is one of life, righteousness, and permanence because the veil is removed in Christ, and in this way the glory of God is experienced to an ever increasing degree.

This is the point of the question, “how much more . . .” If the glory on the face of Moses was authentic, how much is the glory of the ministry of the Spirit. Moses ministered in Israel to share the glory of God with Israel, though Israel did not receive it and Moses had to hide it under a veil. New covenant ministry—the ministry of reconciliation in which Paul is engaged—is the ministry of the Spirit who, in Christ, writes that glory on the hearts of people. The law is written on the hearts of believers through the new covenant, as Jeremiah 31:33 promised.

This is accomplished by the action of the Lord through the Spirit. The ministry of the Spirit, in contrast to the ministry of death, brings life, righteousness, and sanctification as we are transformed into God’s own image, and this is a permanent glory.

This is the sense in which “the Lord is the Spirit.” This is not a personal identity as if the Lord and the Spirit are the same person. Rather, Paul is commenting on Exodus 34:29-35. The “Lord” in the text of Exodus 34 is the experience of the Spirit in the present. The Spirit is the Lord in the sense that the Spirit is the one who ministers to believers as they experience the glory of God. The Lord is the Spirit who effects the good work of the ministry in the new covenant. This happens not through the ministry of Moses but through the ministry of the Spirit. The Spirit brings freedom from death, condemnation, and unrighteousness.

More specifically, the Spirit brings the freedom to gaze upon the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces. In other words, the glory that radiated from the face of Moses is now experienced in the lives of believers through their transformation into the image of Christ.

The veil is removed in Christ when one turns to the Lord by the ministry of the Spirit, and the glory of God is increasingly experienced through our transformation into the image of Christ. The glory increases as the transformation progresses. This is the process of sanctification whereby we are set apart, made holy, and become the righteousness of God through transformation into the image of Christ.

“Therefore,” Paul wrote, “since we have such a hope, we act with great boldness” (3:12).

The ministry of the new covenant is a bold one. It is a public announcement, a courageous assertion. We pursue this ministry because of the hope upon which it is grounded, that is, the glory of God revealed in Christ. By this we know that the God who raises the dead gives righteousness and life through the ministry of the Spirit, which is the ministry of the “new covenant.”

The same glory that shown on the face of Moses is revealed in Christ, and believers—as with unveiled faces—experience the glory of God in ever increasing ways such that the glory of God abounds more and more in the lives of people being transformed by the Spirit of God into the image of the Lord.

The glory increases. This text does not negate Moses’ experience of glory but points us to fuller and ever-increasing experiences of glory. There is continuity between the glory Moses revealed and the glory experienced in Christ. And the glory experienced in Christ is ever increasing as it reflects more and more the image of Christ, who is the glory and image of God.

Therefore, we boldly participate in this new covenant ministry because we have a sure hope grounded in the glory of God revealed in Christ.

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