2 Corinthians 3:2
You are our letter written in our hearts, known and read of all men:
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(2) Ye are our epistle written in our hearts.—This is an answer. They, the Corinthian converts, are written on his heart. In his thoughts and prayers for them he finds his true commendatory letter, and this a letter which is patent to the eyes of all men. In “known and read” we find the familiar play on the two words, epiginoskein and anaginoskein. (See Note on 2Corinthians 1:13.) All who knew St. Paul could read what was there written.

3:1-11 Even the appearance of self-praise and courting human applause, is painful to the humble and spiritual mind. Nothing is more delightful to faithful ministers, or more to their praise, than the success of their ministry, as shown in the spirits and lives of those among whom they labour. The law of Christ was written in their hearts, and the love of Christ shed abroad there. Nor was it written in tables of stone, as the law of God given to Moses, but on the fleshy (not fleshly, as fleshliness denotes sensuality) tables of the heart, Eze 36:26. Their hearts were humbled and softened to receive this impression, by the new-creating power of the Holy Spirit. He ascribes all the glory to God. And remember, as our whole dependence is upon the Lord, so the whole glory belongs to him alone. The letter killeth: the letter of the law is the ministration of death; and if we rest only in the letter of the gospel, we shall not be the better for so doing: but the Holy Spirit gives life spiritual, and life eternal. The Old Testament dispensation was the ministration of death, but the New Testament of life. The law made known sin, and the wrath and curse of God; it showed us a God above us, and a God against us; but the gospel makes known grace, and Emmanuel, God with us. Therein the righteousness of God by faith is revealed; and this shows us that the just shall live by his faith; this makes known the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, for obtaining the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The gospel so much exceeds the law in glory, that it eclipses the glory of the legal dispensation. But even the New Testament will be a killing letter, if shown as a mere system or form, and without dependence on God the Holy Spirit, to give it a quickening power.Ye are our epistle - compare 1 Corinthians 9:2. This is a most beautiful and happy turn given to the whole subject. The sense is plain. It is, that the conversion of the Corinthians, under the faithful labors of the apostle, was a better testimonial of his character and fidelity than any letters could be. To see the force of this, it must be remembered:

(1) That Corinth was an exceedingly dissolute and abandoned place (see the introduction to the First Epistle);

(2) That a large number of them had been converted, and a church organized;

(3) That their conversion, and the organization of a church in such a city were events that would be known abroad; and,

(4) That it had been accomplished entirely under the labor of Paul and his companions.

To their knowledge of him, therefore, and to his success there, he could confidently appeal as a testimonial of his character. The characteristics of this commendatory epistle, he proceeds immediately to state. The general sense is, that they were the letter of recommendation which God had given to him; and that their conversion under his ministry was the public testimonial of his character which all might see and read.

Written in our hearts - A few mss. and versions read thus, "your hearts;" and Doddridge has adopted this reading, and supposes that it means that the change produced not only in their external conduct, but in their inward temper, was so great, that all must see that it was an unanswerable attestation to his ministry. But there is not sufficient authority for changing the text; nor is it necessary. The sense is, probably, that this letter was. as it were, written on his heart. It was not merely that Paul had a tender affection for them, as Clarke supposes; nor was it that he regarded them as "a copy of the letter of recommendation from Christ written in his heart," according to the fanciful conceit of Macknight; but Paul's idea seems to have been this. He is speaking of the testimonial which he had from God. That testimonial consisted in the conversion of the Corinthians. This he says was written on his heart. It was not a cold letter of introduction, but it was such as, while it left him no room to doubt that God had sent him, also affected his feelings, and was engraved on his soul. It was to him, therefore, far more valuable than any mere letter of commendation or of introduction could be. It was a direct testimonial from God to his own heart of his approbation, and of his having appointed him to the apostolic office. All the difficulty, therefore, which has been felt by commentators in this passage, may be obviated by supposing that Paul here speaks of this testimonial or epistle as addressed to himself, and as satisfactory to him, In the other characteristics which he enumerates, he speaks of it as suited to be a letter commendatory of himself to others.

Known and read of all men - Corinth was a large, splendid, and dissipated city. Their conversion, therefore, would be known afar. All people would hear of it; and their reformation, their subsequent life under the instruction of Paul, and the attestation which God had given among them to his labors, was a sufficient testimonial to the world at large, that God had called him to the apostolic office.

2. our epistle—of recommendation.

in our hearts—not letters borne merely in the hands. Your conversion through my instrumentality, and your faith which is "known of all men" by widespread report (1Co 1:4-7), and which is written by memory and affection on my inmost heart and is borne about wherever I go, is my letter of recommendation (1Co 9:2).

known and read—words akin in root, sound, and sense (so 2Co 1:13). "Ye are known to be my converts by general knowledge: then ye are known more particularly by your reflecting my doctrine in your Christian life." The handwriting is first "known," then the Epistle is "read" [Grotius] (2Co 4:2; 1Co 14:25). There is not so powerful a sermon in the world, as a consistent Christian life. The eye of the world takes in more than the ear. Christians' lives are the only religious books the world reads. Ignatius [Epistle to the Ephesians, 10] writes, "Give unbelievers the chance of believing through you. Consider yourselves employed by God; your lives the form of language in which He addresses them. Be mild when they are angry, humble when they are haughty; to their blasphemy oppose prayer without ceasing; to their inconsistency, a steadfast adherence to your faith."

Your Christianity, and embracing of the gospel of Christ, your fiath and holiness, are instead of an epistle to me, to let the world know, both with what faithfulness, and with what blessing of God, and success upon my labours, I have preached the gospel; and you are such an epistle as I do not carry about in my pockets, or lay up in my closet, but it is written in my heart, where I carry continually both a thankful and honourable remembrance of you. Nor are you only taken notice of by me as a famous church, to the planting and watering of which God hath blessed my labours, and the labours of other ministers; but, as he saith to the Romans, Romans 1:8: Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world, so he saith here:

Ye are our epistle, known and read of all men; that is, all Christians take notice of you as a church to which God hath particularly blessed my ministry; so as I need no other recommendation than what I have from your receiving, and the proficiency you have made in, the gospel. Nothing so commends a minister as the proficiency of his people. Ye are our epistle,.... Here a reason is given why they stood in no need of letters of commendation, to or from the church at Corinth, because that church was their living epistle, and which was much preferable to any written one. The apostle calls them their epistle in the same sense, as they are said to be his "work in the Lord, and the seal of his apostleship", 1 Corinthians 9:1 they were so as persons regenerated by the Spirit and grace of God, in whose conversion he was an instrument; now it was the work of conversion in them, which was the epistle said to be

written in our hearts; some think it should be read, "in your hearts"; and so the Ethiopic version reads it; and it looks as if it should be so read, from the following verse, and from the nature of the thing itself; for the conversion of the Corinthians was not written in the heart of the apostle, but in their own; and this was so very notorious and remarkable, that it was

known and read of all men; everyone could read, and was obliged to acknowledge the handwriting; it was so clear a case, what hand the apostle, as an instrument, had in the turning of these persons from idols to serve the living God; and which was so full a proof of the divinity, efficacy, truth, and sincerity of his doctrine, that he needed no letters from any to recommend him.

Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:
2 Corinthians 3:2 f. This ironical excitement, 2 Corinthians 3:1, is succeeded by earnestness and pathos. Paul, as conscious of his deserts in regard to the Corinthians as he is faithful to his Christian humility (see 2 Corinthians 3:3), gives a skilful explanation of the thought contained in 2 Corinthians 3:1 : we need no letters of introduction either to you or from yo.

ἡ ἐπιστολὴ ἡμῶν] i.e. the letter (the letter of recommendation) which we have, have to show, namely, as well to you as from you. That we should understand both, is required by 2 Corinthians 3:1, and to this 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 are admirably suited, since what is said in them represents every letter of recommendation as well to the Corinthians as from them as superfluous. This in opposition to Flatt, Rückert, Osiander, and others, who are of opinion that Paul has reference merely to his previous ἐξ ὑμῶν, and (Rückert) that the πρὸς ὑμᾶς has been said only to hit his opponent.

ὑμεῖς ἐστε] in so far, namely, as your conversion, and your whole Christian being and life, is our work, redounding to our commendation. Comp. 1 Corinthians 9:2.

ἐγγεγραμμ. ἐν ταῖς καρδ. ἡμ.] A more precise definition of the manner of the ἐπιστολὴ ἡμῶν: inscribed in our hearts. This is the mode—adapted to the image—of conveying the thought: since we have in our own consciousness the certainty of being recommended to you by yourselves and to others by you. That you yourselves are our recommendation (to yourselves and to others) our own hearts tell us, and it is known by all. Paul did not write ὑμῶν, as א and a few cursives, also the Ethiopic, have the reading, which Olearius, Emmerling, Flatt, and especially Rinck (Lucubr. crit. p. 160), recommend to our adoption: for in that case there would result an incongruity in the figurative conception, since the Corinthians themselves are the letter. Besides, there were so many malevolents in the church. But the apostle’s own good consciousness was, as it were, the tablet on which this living Epistle of the Corinthians stood, and that had to be left unassailed even by the most malevolent. Of the love (comp. 2 Corinthians 7:3; Php 1:7) of which Chrysostom and others explain ἐν τ. καρδ. ἡμ. (comp. Wetstein: “quam tenero vos amore prosequar, omnes norunt”), there is no mention in the whole context. Emmerling is wrong, however, also in saying that ἐγγεγρ. ἐν τ. καρδ. ἡμ. is equivalent to the mere nobis inscriptae, i.e. quas ubique nobiscum gestamus, ut cognosci et legi ab omnibus possint. Just because what is written stands within in the consciousness, ἐν ταῖς καρδ. ἡμ.[157] is used.

The plural is neither to be explained, with Billroth, from the analogy of σπλάγχνα (without such usage existing), nor to be considered with Rückert and de Wette as occasioned by the plural of the speaking person (to whom, however, the plural hearts would not be suitable), but Paul writes in name of himself and of Timothy. Comp. also 2 Corinthians 4:6, 2 Corinthians 7:3, and see Calvin, who, however, in an arbitrary way (see 2 Corinthians 1:1) includes Silvanus also (2 Corinthians 1:19).

γινωσκομένη κ.τ.λ.] This appears to contradict the previous words, according to which the Epistle is written ἘΝ ΤΑῖς ΚΑΡΔΊΑΙς ἩΜῶΝ; hence Fritzsche, Diss. I. p. 19 f. (Billroth follows him), says that Paul “nonnulla adjicere, in quibus Corinthiorum potius, quam epistolae, cum qua eos comparat, memor esse videatur.” But he rather presents the thing as it is, and hence cannot otherwise delineate the image of the Epistle in which he presents it, than as it corresponds to the thing. In so far, namely, as Paul and Timothy have in their hearts the certainty of being recommended by the Corinthians themselves, these are a letter of recommendation which stands inscribed in the hearts of those teachers; and yet, since from the whole phenomenon of the Christian life of the church it cannot remain unknown to any one that the Corinthians redound to the commendation of Paul and Timothy, and how they do so, this letter is known as what it is, and read[158] by all men. The Epistle has therefore in fact the two qualities, which in a letter proper would be contradictory, and the image is not confounded with the thing, but is adapted to the thing. Rückert, who likewise (see above) finds for ἐν τ. καρδ. the reference to the apostle’s love, explains it: “In his heart they stand written … and where he himself arrives, there he, as it were, reads out this writing, when from a loving heart gives forth tidings everywhere, what a prosperous church the Lord has gathered to Himself in Corinth.” Comp. Chrysostom. But in that case the πάντες would not in fact be the readers—as yet they ought to be according to ὑπὸ πάντων ἀνθρ.—but Paul; and the thing would resolve itself into a self-recommendation, which is yet held to be disclaimed in 2 Corinthians 3:1.

[157] Olshausen thinks strangely that Paul refers to the official badge which the high priest wore on his heart, and on whose twelve precious stones stood engraven the twelve names of the children of Israel. This arrangement, he holds, Paul takes in a spiritual sense, and applies it to the relation of himself and other teachers to their spiritual children; they bore the names of these engraven on their hearts, and brought them always in prayer before God.—Sheer fancifulness, since the context has nothing pointing to a reference so entirely peculiar.

[158] Grotius: “prius agnoscitur manus, deinde legitur epistola.” Here γινωσκ. precedes; it is different in 2 Corinthians 1:13.2 Corinthians 3:2. ἡ ἐπιστολὴ ἡμῶν κ.τ.λ.: ye are our epistle. They are his credentials. Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:2, where he tells them that they are the “seal” of his apostleship. Note the emphasis laid on ἐπιστολή by its position in the sentence.—ἐγγεγραμμένη ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν: written in our hearts, i.e., in the heart of me, Paul (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:3); a somewhat unexpected, and, as it were, parenthetic application of the metaphor, suggested by the memory of his labours among them which had left an indelible impression upon his heart.—γινωσκ. καὶ ἀναγινωσκ. κ.τ.λ.: known and read of all men. This is the legitimate application of the metaphor, and is expanded in the next verse. The letter written on St. Paul’s heart was not open to the world; but the letter written on the heart of the Corinthians by Christ through St. Paul’s ministry was patent to the world’s observation, as it was reflected in their Christian mode of life. Facts speak louder than words. For the jingle γινωσκομένηἀναγινωσκομένη cf. Acts 8:30, γινώσκεις ἂ ἀναγινώσκεις, and see the note on 2 Corinthians 1:13 above.2. Ye are our epistle] See note on last verse.

written in our hearts] ‘Others bear their letters of commendation in their hands, we in our consciences, being fully aware that the existence of the Church of Corinth, due, under God, to us, is a sufficient authentication of the genuineness of our ministry.’ See 1 Corinthians 9:2. Olshausen, however, regards the words as referring to St Paul’s intercession for the Corinthians, just as the High Priest (Exodus 28:15-30) bore the names of the tribes of Israel on his breast when he went into the holy place to intercede with God. “The regenerate,” he adds, “are linked to the heart of their spiritual father by a spiritual bond.” See notes above, ch. 2 Corinthians 1:9, 2 Corinthians 2:3.

known and read of all men] See note on ch. 2 Corinthians 1:13. The play upon words so characteristic of the Apostle cannot be rendered into English.2 Corinthians 3:2. Ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν, in our hearts) Your faith was written in our heart, in which we carry about it and yourselves—a faith everywhere to be known and read. It was reflected from the heart of the Corinthians to the heart of the apostle.—πάντων, by all men) by you and others. This is an argument for the truth of the Gospel, obvious to all, to be derived from believers themselves [2 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 14:25].Verse 2. - Ye are our epistle. Their very existence as a Church was the most absolute "commendatory letter" of St. Paul, both from them and to them (comp. 1 Corinthians 9:2, "The seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord "). Written in our hearts. The expression has no connection with the fact that the high priest bore the names of Israel graven on the jewelled Urim, which he wore upon his breast. St. Paul means that others may bring their "letters of commendation" in their hands. His letter of commendation is the very name and existence of the Church of Corinth written on his heart. Known and read of all men. The metaphor is subordinated to the fact. All men may recognize the autograph, and in it were read the history of the Corinthian converts, which was written on the apostle's heart, and which therefore rendered the notion of any other letter of commendation to or from them superfluous and even absurd. The play on words (epigignosko and anagignosko) is similar to that in 2 Corinthians 1:13. Our epistle

The figure which follows is freely and somewhat loosely worked out, and presents different faces in rapid succession. The figure itself is that of a commendatory letter representing the Corinthian Church: "Ye are our letter." This figure is carried out in three directions: 1. As related to the apostles' own consciousness. The Corinthian Church is a letter written on the apostles' hearts. Their own consciousness testifies that that Church is the fruit of a divinely accredited, honest, and faithful ministry. 2. As related to the Corinthians themselves. The Church needs no letter to commend the apostles to it. It is its own commendation. As the visible fruit of the apostles' ministry they are a commendatory letter to themselves. If the question arises among them, "Were Paul and his colleagues duly commissioned?" - the answer is, "We ourselves are the proof of it." 3. As related to others outside of the Corinthian Church. The answer to the charge that the Corinthians have been taught by irregular and uncommissioned teachers is the same: "Behold the fruit of their labors in us. We are their commission."

At this point the figure again shifts; the letter being now conceived as written on the Corinthians' hearts, instead of on the hearts of the apostles: written by Christ through the apostles' ministry. This suggests the comparison with the law written on tables of stone, which are used as a figure of the heart, fleshy tables, thus introducing two incongruities, namely, an epistle written on stone, and writing with ink on stone tables.

Written in our hearts

See above. Compare Plato: "I am speaking of an intelligent writing which is graven in the soul of him who has learned, and can defend itself" ("Phaedrus," 276).

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