2 Corinthians 3:5
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(5) Not that we are sufficient . . .—He had not used the word “sufficient” of himself, but it was clearly the implied answer to the question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” In the Greek there are two different prepositions for the one “of” in English. “Not as though we are sufficient of ourselves to form any estimate as originating with ourselves,” would be a fair paraphrase. The habit of mind which led St. Paul to emphasise the shades of meaning in Greek prepositions to an extent hardly to be expressed in English, and not commonly recognised, it may be, in colloquial Greek, is seen again in Romans 11:36.

Is of God.—The preposition is the same as in the second of the two previous clauses. The sufficiency flows from God as its source: originates with him.

2 Corinthians 3:5-6. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves — For this great work of converting sinners, and creating them anew; or so much as to think any thing as of ourselves — To form even right views of the gospel and divine things, much less to communicate such views to others, and less still to render them effectual to men’s salvation. But our sufficiency is of God — To whom we do and must ascribe whatever qualifications we have for our office, and whatever success we have in it; who also hath made us — His apostles and others whom he hath sent into the work; able ministers — Greek, ος ικανωσεν ημας διακονους, literally, who hath made us fit, or sufficient; ministers of the new testament — Or covenant, rather, as διαθηκη is generally rendered. See the Introduction to the New Testament, p. 3. That Isaiah , 1 st, Of the covenant of grace, made with man after the fall; a covenant which makes provision for pardoning his guilt, renewing his depraved nature, and strengthening his weakness; purposes for which the former covenant, that of justice, established before the fall, made no provision; man, while in innocence, not needing it: 2d, And more especially, the new covenant here means the last and best dispensation of the covenant of grace, that made through the Messiah come in the flesh, in opposition to the two former dispensations of the covenant of grace, the Patriarchal and Mosaic. Not of the letter — Not of the law, fitly called the letter, from God’s writing the best part of it on the two tables; but of the spirit — Of the gospel dispensation, written on the tables of our hearts by the Spirit. Or rather, the apostle means that the true ministers of Christ are not merely ministers of the letter even of the gospel covenant; they not only bear testimony to, and enforce the literal knowledge of it, or that which is in mere theory, but the spiritual or experimental knowledge of it: that is, they not only endeavour to communicate to their hearers just, clear, and full views of the gospel in all its parts, but to bring them to have a lively and operative faith in its doctrines, producing in them a change of nature; to possess its graces, enjoy its privileges, and practise its duties. For the letter killeth — The law, the Mosaic dispensation, seals in death those who still cleave to it; but the spirit — The gospel, instrumental in conveying the Spirit of God to those who receive it with a true and lively faith; giveth life — Both spiritual and eternal. Yea, if we adhere to the literal sense even of the moral law, if we regard only the precept and the sanction, as they stand in themselves, not as they lead us to Christ, they are doubtless a killing ordinance, and bind us down under the sentence of death. Nor is this all that the apostle means: but if we rest in the literal and merely notional knowledge of the new covenant itself, it not only will not justify and save us, but will condemn us to a greater death than that to which we were exposed by the sin of Adam: our condemnation will be aggravated, and our future misery increased through our misuse, or abuse rather, of so gracious a dispensation, a remedy provided in great mercy and love for the healing of our spiritual disorders and the saving of our souls. In other words, if we content ourselves with having right views of the gospel, of its truths and duties, privileges and blessings, and do not receive them in true repentance, living faith, sincere love, and new obedience; if we be satisfied with understanding the nature of the graces of God’s Spirit, and of justification, regeneration, and sanctification, and remain without the real possession and enjoyment of these blessings, the light we have, and our correct ideas of these things, will only render us the more inexcusable before God, and expose us to greater wrath than could have come upon us, if we had not been favoured with that knowledge and these advantages. On the other hand, the spiritual and experimental knowledge of the new covenant in all its branches, the knowledge communicated by the Holy Spirit, giveth life. It quickens the soul, before dead to God and divine things, dead in a state of guilt, depravity, and weakness; it justifies the ungodly, sanctifies the unholy, unites to God those who had been alienated from his life, stamps them with his image, communicates to them his nature, and renders them spiritually minded, which is life and peace. And while it imparts the life of grace, it gives a title to, a meetness for, and a foretaste of, the life of glory. To spread this spiritual, experimental, and practical knowledge of the new covenant, therefore, is the chief concern, and endeavour of every true minister of Christ; and for this work every such a one is qualified by being savingly made acquainted with its nature, excellence, and glory, in consequence of which he can and will not only speak justly and clearly concerning it, but with zeal, fervency, and deep concern, that his message may be properly received and obeyed by all who hear him. Understanding the doctrines, possessing the graces, practising the duties, and enjoying the privileges of this new dispensation himself, he speaks with sincerity and pathos; speaks what he knows, and testifies what he has seen, or experienced; and his words, proceeding from the heart, and uttered with feeling, seldom fail to reach the heart: while in the mean time, his spirit and conduct, his holy tempers, words, and actions, strongly recommend his doctrine, and powerfully enforce all his exhortations, the Lord Jesus, according to his promise, being with him in all his ministrations, and giving efficacy to the word of his grace.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.Not that we are sufficient of ourselves - This is evidently designed to guard against the appearance of boasting, or of self-confidence. He had spoken of his confidence; of his triumph; of his success; of his undoubted evidence that God had sent him. He here says, that he did not mean to be understood as affirming that any of his success came from himself, or that he was able by his own strength to accomplish the great things which had been effected by his ministry. He well knew that he had no such self-sufficiency; and he would not insinuate, in the slightest manner, that he believed himself to be invested with any such power, compare note on John 15:5.

To think anything - (λογίσασθαι τι logisasthai ti). The word used here means properly to reason, think, consider; and then to reckon, count to, or impute to anyone. It is the word which is commonly rendered impute; see it explained more fully in the note on Romans 4:5. Robinson (Lexicon) renders it in this place, "to reason out, to think out, to find out by thinking." Doddridge renders it, "to reckon upon anything as from ourselves." Whitby renders it, "to reason; as if the apostle had said, We are unable by any reasoning of our own to bring people to conversion. Macknight gives a similar sense. Locke renders it, "Not as if I were sufficient of myself, to reckon upon anything as from myself:" and explains it to mean that Paul was not sufficient of himself by any strength of natural parts to attain the knowledge of the gospel truths which he preached. The word may be rendered here, to reckon, reason, think, etc.; but it should be confined to the immediate subject under consideration. It does not refer to thinking in general; or to the power of thought on any, and on all subjects - however true it may be in itself but to the preaching the gospel. And the expression may be regarded as referring to the following points, which are immediately under discussion:

(1) Paul did not feel that he was sufficient of himself to have reasoned or thought out the truths of the gospel. They were communicated by God.

(2) he had no power by reasoning to convince or convert sinners. That was all of God.

(3) he had no right to reckon on success by any strength of his own. All success was to be traced to God. It is, however, also true, that all our powers of thinking and reasoning are from God; and that we have no ability to think clearly, to reason calmly, closely, and correctly, unless he shall preside over our minds and give us clearness of thought. How easy is it for God to disarrange all our faculties, and produce insanity! How easy to suffer our minds to become unsettled, bewildered, and distracted with a multiplicity of thoughts! How easy to cause every thing to appear cloudy, and dark, and misty! How easy to affect our bodies with weakness, langor, disease, and through them to destroy all power of close and consecutive thought! No one who considers on how many things the power of close thinking depends, can doubt that all our sufficiency in this is from God; and that we owe to him every clear idea on the subjects of common life, and on scientific subjects, no less certainly than we do in the truths of religion, compare the case of Bezaleel and Aholiab in common arts, Exodus 31:1-6, and Job 32:8.

5. The Greek is, "Not that we are (even yet after so long experience as ministers) sufficient to think anything OF ourselves as (coming) FROM ourselves; but our sufficiency is (derived) FROM God." "From" more definitely refers to the source out of which a thing comes; "of" is more general.

to think—Greek, to "reason out" or "devise"; to attain to sound preaching by our reasonings [Theodoret]. The "we" refers here to ministers (2Pe 1:21).

anything—even the least. We cannot expect too little from man, or too much from God.

I would not have you think that we judge ourselves sufficient to work a change in the hearts of men; we are so far from that, that we have no sufficiency so much as to think one good thought, which is the lowest human act. Though the subject, upon which the apostle is here discoursing, be a sufficiency to work a work of grace in the hearts of men; yet here is a strong proof to prove the impotency of man’s will unto any thing that is truly and spiritually good: for though the apostle declares here his own and all other ministers’ insufficiency to the change of any man’s heart, yet he proveth it by an argument, concluding from the lesser to the greater; for if they be not sufficient of themselves, and as of themselves, to think any thing which is truly and spiritually good, they are then much less sufficient for so great a work as the conversion of souls. Nor doth that term,

as of ourselves, any thing alter the matter; for if we can think good thoughts, in any sense,

as of ourselves, it is not

of God, in the sense which the apostle is speaking of; who is not here speaking of God as the God of nature, (from whom indeed we derive our power of thinking), but as the God of grace, from whom we derive our power of thinking holy thoughts, and such as are truly and spiritually good. The apostle determineth all our sufficiency to spiritually good actions to be from God, our sufficiency to the lowest (which is thinking good thoughts) as well as to those of the highest sort; amongst which must those actions be accounted, by which men are made workers together with God, in the bringing of souls out of darkness into marvellous light; opening their eyes, turning them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, Acts 26:18. Our sufficiency to think any thoughts, or to do any natural or moral actions, is from God, as he is the God of nature. But it appeareth from all the preceding discourse, that our apostle is here speaking of that sufficiency which floweth from God through the mediation of Christ: our power of thinking floweth from the providence of God towards all men; and if that had been all which the apostle had meant in saying,

our sufficieney is from God, it had been no more than what they might have learned from the heathen philosophers, who would have acknowledged, that all men’s sufficiency to natural actions is from the Divine Being, or the first Mover. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves,.... Though we are sufficient for this work to which God has called us, and have such trust and confidence that he has blessed and owned us, and done such great things by us; yet we do not ascribe anything to ourselves, to any power of ours, to any self-sufficiency in us: for "we are not sufficient of ourselves" neither for the work of the ministry, nor for the conversion of sinners, nor for faith and hope in God, nor for any spiritual work whatever; not even to think anything as of ourselves; any good thing, either for our own use and benefit, or for the advantage of others; we are not able of ourselves to meditate with judgment and affection upon the word of God, to study the Scriptures, to collect from them things fit for the ministry; and much less with freedom and boldness to speak of them to edification; and still less able to impress them upon the heart: for though you who are the epistle of Christ are ministered by us, yet not by any power and self-sufficiency of ours;

but our sufficiency is of God; to think, to speak, and to act for his glory.

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our {e} sufficiency is of God;

(e) In that we are proper and able to make other men partakers of so great a grace.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2 Corinthians 3:5. Now comes the caveat, for which 2 Corinthians 3:4 has prepared the way,—the guarding against the possible objection, that Paul considered himself (and Timothy) as originator of the ability for apostolic working. οὐχ ὅτι is therefore not to be taken as equivalent to on ὅτι οὐχ (Mosheim, Schulz, Emmerling), nor is πέποιθα to be supplied again after οὐχ (Emmerling); but we have here the quite common use of οὐχ ὅτι for οὐκ ἐρῶ, ὅτι. See on 2 Corinthians 1:24. Rückert finds in οὐχ ὅτι κ.τ.λ. a reason assigned for the πρὸς τὸν θεόν, or an explanation of it: “In thus speaking, I would not have it thought that,” etc. But if in πρὸς τ. θεόν there was meant to be conveyed the same idea as was further explained in 2 Corinthians 3:5, Paul would have expressed himself quite illogically, and in explaining or assigning a reason for it he must have written ὅτι οὐχ. No; the course of thought is: “With this πεποίθησις, however, I do not wish to be misunderstood or misconstrued: I do not mean by it, that we are of ourselves sufficient,” etc. With this connection πρὸς τὸν θεόν is not at variance; for by it God was not yet meant as author of the adequate ability (2 Corinthians 3:5 shows this very point), but as producer of the result.

λογίσασθαί τι] to judge anything (censere). The context furnishes the more precise definition which Paul had in view. 2 Corinthians 3:2-4; 2 Corinthians 3:6. He denies, namely, that of himself he possesses the ability to settle in his judgment the means and ways, and, in general, the mode of discharging his apostolic duties. If he has just been speaking in 2 Corinthians 3:2-4 with so much confidence of his prosperous and successful labour in Corinth, yet it is by no means his own ability, but the divine empowering, which enables him to determine by his own judgment anything regarding the discharge of his vocation. Accordingly, we can neither approve the meaning arbitrarily given to τί, aliquid praeclari (Emmerling; van Hengel, Annot. p. 219), nor agree with Hofmann, who, in consistency with his reference of πεποίθησις to 2 Corinthians 2:14-17, makes the apostle guard against the misconstruction that this, his πεποίθησις, rests on ideas which he forms for himself—on an estimate of his official working, according to a standard elaborated by his own mind. Even apart from that erroneous reference of the πεποίθησις, the very expression ἱκανοί would be unsuitable to the meaning adopted by Hofmann, and instead of it a notion of presumption would rather have been in place; the prominence given to ἱκανοτής by its being used thrice can only concern the ability which regulates the official labour itself. The dogmatic exposition, disregarding the context, finds here the entire inability of the natural man for all good. See Augustine, de dono persev. 13, contra Pelag. 8; Calvin: “non poterat magis hominem nudare omni bono.” Comp. Beza, Calovius, and others, including Olshausen. The reference also of the words to the doctrinal contents of the preaching, which was not derived from his own reflection (Theodoret, Grotius, de Wette, Neander, and others), is not suggested by the connection, and is forbidden by the fact that ἀφʼ ἑαυτῶν does not belong to λογίσασθε at all (see below). This also in opposition to Osiander, who finds the meaning. “not human, but divine thoughts lie at the root of the whole of my official work.”

ἀφʼ ἑαυτῶν] has its assured place after λογίσ. τι (see the critical remarks). The contrast that follows (ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ) decides what it belongs to in sense,—namely, not to λογίσασθαί τι, but to ἱκανοί ἐσμεν,—so that ἱκανοί ἐσμεν λογίσασθαί τι is to be considered as going together, as one idea. Mistaking this, Rückert thinks that either Paul has placed the words wrongly, or the order given by B C א (see the critical remarks) must be preferred.

On ἀφʼ ἑαυτοῦ, from one’s own means, nemine suppeditante, see Wetstei.

ὡς ἐξ ἑαυτῶν] sc. ἱκανοὶ ὄντες λογίσ. τι, a more precise definition of the ἀφʼ ἑαντ. inserted on purpose (making the notice thoroughly exhaustive). The proceeding from (ἀπό) is still more definitely marked as causal procession (ἐκ): as from ourselves, i.e. as if our ability to judge anything had its origin from ourselves. Wolf arbitrarily refers ἀπό to the will, and ἐξ to the power; and Rückert wrongly connects ἐξ ἑαυτ. with λογίσ. τί; it is in fact parallel to ἀφʼ ἑαυτ. Paul is conscious of the ἱκανὸν εἶναι λογίσασθαί τι, and ascribes it to himself; but he denies that he has this ἱκανότης of himself, or from himsel.

ἡ ἱκανότης ἡμῶν] sc. λογίσασθαί τι.

Rückert finds in our passage, especially in ἀφʼ ἑαυτῶν, an allusion to some utterances, unknown to us, of opponents, which, however, cannot be proved from 2 Corinthians 10:7, and is quite a superfluous hypothesis.2 Corinthians 3:5. οὐχ ὅτι ἱκανοί κ.τ.λ.: not that we are sufficient of ourselves to judge anything as from ourselves; sc., to judge rightly of the methods to be followed in the discharge of the Apostolic ministry; there is no thought here of the natural depravity of man, or the like. For the constr. οὐχ ὅτιcf. 2 Corinthians 1:24 and reff. λογίζεσθαι is here used in its widest sense of carrying on any of the ordinary processes of reasoning (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:7, 2 Corinthians 12:6). The repetition ἀφʼ ἑαυτῶνἐξ ἑαυτῶν emphasises the statement of the need of God’s grace. St. Paul’s habit of dwelling on a word and coming back to it again and again (an artifice which the Latin rhetoricians called traductio) is well illustrated in this passage. We have ἱκανοί, ἱκανότης, ἱκάνωσεν; γραμμα (following ἐγγεγραμμένη in 2 Corinthians 3:2); διακονηθεῖσα, διάκονος, διακονία; and δόξα eight times between 2 Corinthians 3:7-11. With the sentiment ἡ ἱκανότης ἡμῶν ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ, cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10 and chap. 2 Corinthians 12:9.5. Not that we are sufficient] We here return to the idea touched upon in ch. 2 Corinthians 2:16, but then passed over on account of St Paul’s eagerness to assert the purity of his motives.

of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves] The two prepositions translated ‘of’ here are not the same in the Greek. The former signifies ‘from’ simply, but not excluding the idea of origination in some source outside us. The latter signifies ‘out of’ as from an original source.

but our sufficiency is of God] Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9.2 Corinthians 3:5. [16] Λογίσασθαι, to devise [to think]) to obtain by thinking, much less to speak or perform. There seems to be here something of a mimesis [allusion to the words of the persons whom he refutes. Append.] For they do not think, whom God moves: i.e., they frame or work out nothing by their own thinking, 2 Peter 1:21.—τὶ) anything; even the least thing.

[16] Ἐσμὲν, we are) even yet at this very hour.—V. g.Verse 5. - Not that we are sufficient of ourselves. He here reverts to the question asked in 2 Corinthians 2:16. He cannot bear the implication that any "confidence" on his part rests on anything short of the overwhelming sense that he is but an agent, or rather nothing but an instrument, in the hands of God. To think anything as of ourselves. He has, indeed, the capacity to form adequate judgments about his work, but it does not come from his own resources (ἀφ ἑαυτῶν) or his own independent origination (ἐξ ἑαυτῶν); comp. 1 Corinthians 15:10. But our sufficiency. Namely, to form any true or right judgment, and therefore to express the confidence which I have expressed. Is of God. We are but fellow workers with him (1 Corinthians 3:19).
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