2 Corinthians 3:6
Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
Jump to: AlfordBarnesBengelBensonBICalvinCambridgeChrysostomClarkeDarbyEllicottExpositor'sExp DctExp GrkGaebeleinGSBGillGrayGuzikHaydockHastingsHomileticsICCJFBKellyKingLangeMacLarenMHCMHCWMeyerParkerPNTPoolePulpitSermonSCOTTBVWSWESTSK
(6) Able ministers of the new testament.—Better, perhaps, as keeping up the stress on the word that had been used in 2Corinthians 2:16, in the English as in the Greek, sufficient ministers. The noun is used as carrying out the thought implied in the “ministered by us” in 2Corinthians 3:3. In the “new covenant”—new, as implying freshness of life and energy—we have a direct reference, both to our Lord’s words, as cited in 1Corinthians 11:25, and given in the Gospel narrative of the Last Supper (see Notes on Matthew 26:28), and to Jeremiah 31:31. The Greek omits the article before all three words, “of a new covenant, one not of a written letter, but of spirit.” The idea of “spirit” comes from Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26-27.

For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.—The word “letter” (gramma) stands, not for what we call the literal meaning of Scripture, as contrasted with one which is allegorical or spiritual, but for the whole written code or law of Judaism. St. Paul does not contrast the literal meaning of that code with the so-called mystical exposition of it (a view which has often led to wild and fantastic interpretations), but speaks of the written code as such. So the plural “the writings, the Scriptures” (grammata), are used of the sacred Books of Israel (John 5:47; 2Timothy 3:15), and the scribes (grammateis) were those who interpreted the writings. The contrast between the “letter” in this sense and the “spirit” is a familiar thought with St. Paul (Romans 2:27-29; Romans 7:6). Of this written code St. Paul says that it “killeth.” The statement seems startlingly bold, and he does not here stop to explain its meaning. What he means is, however, stated with sufficient fulness in the three Epistles written about this time (1Corinthians 15:56; Galatians 3:10; Galatians 3:21; Romans 7:9-11; Romans 8:2-3, the references being given in the chronological order of the Epistles). The work of the Law, from St. Paul’s view, is to make men conscious of sin. No outward command, even though it come from God, and is “holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12), can, as such, do more than that. What was wanting was the life-giving power of the Spirit. The word here (as in Romans 2:27; Romans 7:6) appears to hover between the sense of “spirit” as representing any manifestation of the Divine Life that gives life—in which sense the words of Christ are “spirit and life” (John 6:63), and Christ Himself is a “quickening spirit” (1Corinthians 15:45, and 2Corinthians 3:17 of this chapter)—and the more distinctly personal sense in which St. Paul speaks of “the Spirit,” the Holy Spirit, and to which we commonly limit our use of the name of “the Holy Ghost” in His relation to the Father and Son. Of that Spirit St. Paul says that “it quickens:” it can rouse into life not only the slumbering conscience, as the Law had done, but the higher spiritual element in man—can give it strength to will, the healthy energy of new affections, new prayers, new impulses. If we cannot suppose St. Paul to have been acquainted with our Lord’s teaching, as recorded in John 6:63 (where see Note), the coincidence of thought is, at any rate, singularly striking.

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.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.

6. able—rather, as the Greek is the same, corresponding to 2Co 3:5, translate, "sufficient as ministers" (Eph 3:7; Col 1:23).

the new testament—"the new covenant" as contrasted with the Old Testament or covenant (1Co 11:25; Ga 4:24). He reverts here again to the contrast between the law on "tables of stone," and that "written by the Spirit on fleshly tables of the heart" (2Co 3:3).

not of the letter—joined with "ministers"; ministers not of the mere literal precept, in which the old law, as then understood, consisted; "but of the Spirit," that is, the spiritual holiness which lay under the old law, and which the new covenant brings to light (Mt 5:17-48) with new motives added, and a new power of obedience imparted, namely, the Holy Spirit (Ro 7:6). Even in writing the letter of the New Testament, Paul and the other sacred writers were ministers not of the letter, but of the spirit. No piety of spirit could exempt a man from the yoke of the letter of each legal ordinance under the Old Testament; for God had appointed this as the way in which He chose a devout Jew to express his state of mind towards God. Christianity, on the other hand, makes the spirit of our outward observances everything, and the letter a secondary consideration (Joh 4:24). Still the moral law of the ten commandments, being written by the finger of God, is as obligatory now as ever; but put more on the Gospel spirit of "love," than on the letter of a servile obedience, and in a deeper and fuller spirituality (Mt 5:17-48; Ro 13:9). No literal precepts could fully comprehend the wide range of holiness which LOVE, the work of the Holy Spirit, under the Gospel, suggests to the believer's heart instinctively from the word understood in its deep spirituality.

letter killeth—by bringing home the knowledge of guilt and its punishment, death; 2Co 3:7, "ministration of death" (Ro 7:9).

spirit giveth life—The spirit of the Gospel when brought home to the heart by the Holy Spirit, gives new spiritual life to a man (Ro 6:4, 11). This "spirit of life" is for us in Christ Jesus (Ro 8:2, 10), who dwells in the believer as a "quickening" or "life-giving Spirit" (1Co 15:45). Note, the spiritualism of rationalists is very different. It would admit no "stereotyped revelation," except so much as man's own inner instrument of revelation, the conscience and reason, can approve of: thus making the conscience judge of the written word, whereas the apostles make the written word the judge of the conscience (Ac 17:11; 1Pe 4:1). True spirituality rests on the whole written word, applied to the soul by the Holy Spirit as the only infallible interpreter of its far-reaching spirituality. The letter is nothing without the spirit, in a subject essentially spiritual. The spirit is nothing without the letter, in a record substantially historical.

This verse plainly openeth what he had said before, and lets us know what sufficiency of God that was of which he there spake. He hath (saith the apostle) not found, but made us sufficient. We were men before, and, through the creating power and providence of God, we had an ability to think and to speak; but God hath made us sufficient, by a supervening act and influence of his grace, to be ministers of the new testament, that is, of the gospel; which being the new revelation of the Divine will, and confirmed by the death of Christ, is called the new testament.

Not of the letter, but of the Spirit: by the letter, here, the apostle understandeth the law; for the law is called the letter, Romans 2:27 Romans 7:6: Who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law; that is: While thou, by some external acts, professest a subjection to the law (particularly by circumcision) in a multitude of other actions, (which are more valuable in the sight of God than those external acts), thou transgressest the law. The law, in opposition to the gospel, is called the letter, sometimes a dead letter; because it was only a revelation of the will of God concerning man’s duty, no revelation of God’s grace, either in pardoning men their omissions of duty, and doing acts contrary to duty, or assisting men to the performance of their duty. As the gospel is also called the Spirit, both in opposition to the carnal ordinances of the law, and because Christ is the matter, subject, and argument of it; and chiefly because, that the preaching of it is so far attended by the Spirit of grace, that where men do not turn their ears from the hearing of it, nor shut their eyes against the light of it, nor harden their hearts against the precepts and rule of it, it becomes (through the free grace of God) effectual to change their hearts, and to turn them from the power of Satan unto God, and to make them truly spiritual and holy.

For the letter (that is, the law) killeth; the law showeth men their duty, accuseth, condemneth, and denounceth the wrath of God against men for not doing their duty, but gives no strength for the doing of it. But the

spirit (that is, the gospel) giveth life: the gospel, in the letter of it, showeth the way to life; and the gospel, in the hand of the Spirit, or with the Spirit, working together with it, (the Holy Spirit using it as its instrument), giveth life; both that life which is spiritual, and that which is eternal, as it prepareth the soul for life and immortality.

Who also hath made us able ministers,.... This is an answer to the question in 2 Corinthians 2:16 who is sufficient for these things? no man is of himself; we are indeed sufficient for them, but not of ourselves; our sufficiency is of God, he hath made us able, or sufficient ministers: such ministers as are not of men's, but God's making, are sufficient ones; and none are sufficient but whom God makes so; and those he makes able and sufficient, by giving them spiritual gifts, fitting them for the ministry: and these are ministers

of the New Testament, or "covenant"; the covenant of grace, of which Christ is the Mediator and surety; called "new", not because newly made, for it was made with Christ from everlasting; nor newly revealed, for it was made known to Adam after his fall, and to all the Old Testament patriarchs, and was exhibited under the legal dispensation, though but darkly, in types, shadows, sacrifices, &c. which therefore waxing old is vanished away; and the covenant of grace is now more clearly revealed under the Gospel dispensation, free from all the obscurity it before laboured under; and therefore is called "new", as well as because it will always continue so, and never give way to another covenant: now the Gospel, and the ministry of it, is nothing else but an exhibition of the covenant of grace, its blessings and promises; and the work and business of those who are ministers of it is not to insist upon the covenant of works, the terms, conditions, obligations, promises, and threatenings of that covenant; but to open and explain the nature, promises, and blessings of the covenant of grace: for such who are fit and proper ministers, are ministers

not of the letter, but of the spirit; which is to be understood, not of any difference between the books of the Old and the New Testament, for a faithful minister of the word may and will bring forth things new and old, out of the one as well as the other; nor of the literal and allegorical, or mystical sense of the Scriptures, as if the latter and not the former was only to be attended to; nor of the difference of communicating the Gospel by letters, and preaching it by word of mouth; since both methods may be used for the spread of it, as were by the apostles themselves; but of the difference there is between the law and the Gospel. The law is "the letter", not merely because written in letters, for so likewise is the Gospel; but because it is a mere letter, hereby showing what is to be done or avoided, without any efficacy in it, or communicating any to enable persons to obey its commands, to give life to its observers, or either to sanctify or justify any who are under it, or of the works of it; it is a mere letter, as observed by an unregenerate man, who only regards the externals of it, being unacquainted with its spirituality. The Gospel is "the spirit"; see John 6:63 it contains spiritual things, and not things merely natural, moral, and civil, as does the law, but spiritual blessings and promises; it penetrates into the spirit and soul of man, and comes from, and is attended with the Spirit of God. The law is

the letter that

killeth, by irritating and provoking to sin, the cause of death, which though not the design and natural tendency of the law, and therefore not to be blamed, yet so it is, through the corruption of human nature; and by convincing of sin when the sinner is killed, and it dead in his own apprehension; and by not only threatening with death, but by cursing, condemning, and punishing with it:

but the Gospel is

the spirit, which

giveth life; it is a means in the hand of the Spirit of God, of quickening dead sinners, of healing the deadly wounds of sin, of showing the way of life by Christ, and of working faith in the soul, to look to him, and live upon him; it affords food for the support of the spiritual life, and revives souls under the most drooping circumstances. The apostle may allude to a distinction among the Jews, between the body and soul of the law; the words, they say, are , "the body of the law"; and the book of the law is the clothing; and besides these, there is , "the soul of the law"; which wise men look into (w).

(w) Zohar in Numb. fol. 63. 2.

{2} Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the {f} letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

(2) He amplifies his ministry and his fellows: that is to say, the ministry of the Gospel comparing it with the ministry of the Law, which he considers in the person of Moses, by whom the Law was given: against whom he sets Christ the author of the Gospel. Now this comparison is taken from the very substance of the ministry. The Law is as it were a writing in itself, dead, and without efficacy: but the Gospel, and new Covenant, as it were the very power of God itself, in renewing, justifying, and saving men. The Law offers death, accusing all men of unrighteousness: the Gospel offers and gives righteousness and life. The administration of the Law served for a time to the promise: the Gospel remains to the end of the world. Therefore what is the glory of the Law in comparison of the majesty of the Gospel?

(f) Not of the Law but of the Gospel.

2 Corinthians 3:6. Ὃς καὶ ἱκάνωσεν ἡμᾶς] ὅς, he who, in the sense of οὗτος γάρ. See Kühner, ad Xen. Mem. i. 2. 64; van Hengel, Annot. 220. And καί is the also of the corresponding relation (Baeumlein, Partik. p. 152), so that there is expressed the agreement between what is contained in the relative clause and what was said before: who also (qui idem, comp. Klotz, ad Devar. p. 636) has made us capable (ἀρκοῦσαν ἐχωρήγησε δύναμιν, Theodoret) as ministers, etc. According to Bengel, Rückert (comp. also de Wette, Osiander, Hofmann), the sense is: “that God has bestowed on him not only the ability mentioned in 2 Corinthians 3:5 but also the more comprehensive one of a διάκονος κ.τ.λ.” But in that case the words must have stood thus: ὃς καὶ διακόνους καινῆς διαθήκης ἱκάνωσεν ἡμᾶς. The notion of ἱκανότης is thrice put in front with the same emphasis. Of ἱκανόω (Colossians 1:12) only the passive, in the sense of to have enough, occurs in the (later) Greek writers, such as Dion. Hal. ii. 74, and in the LX.

διακόνους καινῆς διαθήκ.] as ministers of a new covenant (comp. Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 11:15; Luke 1:2), i.e. to be such as serve a new covenant, as devote to it their activity. Καιν. διαθ., without the article, is conceived qualitatively. The new covenant (Hebrews 12:24) of God with men, which is meant, is—in contrast to the one founded by Moses—that established by Christ, in which the fulfilling of the law is no longer defined as the condition of salvation, but faith on the atonement in Christ, 1 Corinthians 11:25; Romans 10:5 ff.; Galatians 4:24 ff.; Matthew 26:28.

οὐ γράμματος, ἀλλὰ πνεύμ.] is since Heumann usually (also by Billroth, Rückert, Ewald) regarded as governed by καινῆς διαθήκης (Rückert, “of a covenant, which offers not γράμμα, but πνεῦμα”), but without reason, since the sequel, by ἡ διακονία τοῦ θανάτου and ἡ διακ. τοῦ πνεύματος (2 Corinthians 3:7-8), rather points to the fact that Paul has conceived οὐ γρ. ἀλλὰ πν. as dependent on διακόνους (so also de Wette, Neander, Osiander, Hofmann), as an appositional more precise definition to the καινῆς διαθήκης: to be ministers not of letter (which we would be as ministers of the old covenant), but of spirit. Γράμμα characterizes the Mosaic covenant according to the specific manner in which it occurs and subsists, for it is established and fixed in writing (by means of the written letter), and thereby—although it is divine, yet without bringing with it and communicating any principle of inward vital efficacy—settled as obligatory. On the other hand, πνεῦμα characterizes the Christian covenant, in so far as its distinctive and essential mode of existence consists in this, that the divine living power of the Holy Spirit is at work in it; through this, and not through a written instrument, it subsists and fulfils itself. Comp. Romans 2:29; Romans 7:6; Hebrews 10:29; Hebrews 8:7 ff. Not letter therefore, but spirit, is that to which the teachers of the gospel minister, the power, whose influence is advanced by their labours;[159] οὐ γὰρ τὰ παλαιὰ τοῦ νόμου προσφέρομεν γράμματα, ἀλλὰ τὴν καινὴν τοῦ πνεύματος δωρεάν, Theodoret. It is true that the law also is in its nature ΠΝΕΥΜΑΤΙΚΌς (see on Romans 7:14), and its ΛΌΓΙΑ are ΖῶΝΤΑ (see on Acts 7:38), but it is misused by the power of sin in man to his destruction, because it does not furnish the spirit which breaks this powe.

ΤῸ ΓᾺΡ ΓΡΆΜΜΑ ἈΠΟΚΤΕΊΝΕΙ, ΤῸ ΔῈ ΠΝΕῦΜΑ ΖΩΟΠΟΙΕῖ] specifies quite simply the reason, why God has made them capable of ministering not to the letter, but to the spirit. It is therefore quite unnecessary to presuppose, with Fritzsche, Billroth, and Rückert, a suppressed intermediate thought (namely, that the new covenant is far more excellent). We may add that the γάρ does not extend also to what follows (2 Corinthians 3:7-8), so as to make the sentence ΤῸ ΓΡΆΜΜΑ Κ.Τ.Λ. merely introductory to the sequel, and the whole a vindication of the apostle’s referring his capacity of judgment to God. This view of Hofmann is connected with his interpretation of ΛΟΓΊΣ. ΤΙ, 2 Corinthians 3:5, and has besides against it the fact, that the weighty antithesis ΤῸ Γ. ΓΡΆΜΜΑ Κ.Τ.Λ. is neither adapted to be a mere introductory thought, nor betokened as being such, the more especially as it contains completely in itself the ground establishing what immediately precedes, and with 2 Corinthians 3:7 a new discussion begins, which runs on to the end of the chapter without a brea.

ἈΠΟΚΤΕΊΝΕΙ] does not refer to the physical death (Käuffer; ζωὴ αἰών. p. 75), in so far as that is the consequence of sin (Romans 5:12), and sin is occasioned and furthered by the law (Romans 7:9 ff; Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:56, al.). Against this interpretation it is decisive that according to Romans 5:12 ff. (see in loc.) bodily death is the consequence, extending to all, of Adam’s sin, and has, since Adam, reigned over all even before the law. Nor yet are we to understand spiritual (Billroth), ethical (de Wette, Krummel), or spiritual and bodily death (Rückert), or the mere sensus mortis (Bengel, comp. Neander), but according to Romans 6:21; Romans 6:23; Romans 7:5; Romans 7:9-11; Romans 7:13; Romans 7:24, eternal death,[160] the opposite of the eternal life, which, by means of the Holy Spirit becoming operative in the heart through the gospel, is brought about for man who is liable to eternal death (Romans 8:2; Romans 8:6; Romans 8:10-11)—which here (comp. John 6:63) is expressed by τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα ζωοποιεῖ, comp. on 2 Corinthians 2:16. How far the law works eternal death, is shown from Romans 7:5; Romans 7:7 ff.; comp. 1 Corinthians 15:56. Through its prohibitions, namely, it becomes for the power of sin in man the occasion of awakening evil desire, and therewith transgression sets in and the imputing of it for condemnation, whereby man is liable to eternal death, and that by means of the curse of the law which heaps up sin and produces the divine anger, see on 2 Corinthians 3:9; Galatians 3:10. Comp. Romans 4:15; Romans 5:202 Corinthians 3:6. ὃς καὶ ἱκάνωσεν κ.τ.λ.: who also (“qui idem”; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:8) made us sufficient as ministers of the New Covenant—[ministers] not of the letter (i.e., the Law), but of the Spirit; for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life. The Apostle’s opponents at Corinth were probably Judaisers (2 Corinthians 11:22), and thus the description of his office as the διακονία καινῆς διαθήκης leads him to a comparison and a contrast of the Old Covenant and the New. The “covenants” (Romans 9:4, Ephesians 2:12) between Jehovah and Israel were the foundation of Judaism. They began (not to speak of the Covenant with Noah) with the Covenant of Circumcision granted to Abraham (Genesis 17:2) and repeated more than once (Genesis 22:16; Genesis 26:3), which is often appealed to in the N.T. (Luke 1:72, Acts 3:25; Acts 7:8, etc.). This was not abrogated (Galatians 3:17) by the Covenant of Sinai (Exodus 19:5; cf., for its recapitulation in Moab, Deuteronomy 29:1), which, as the National Charter of Israel, was pre-eminently to a Hebrew “the Old Covenant”. The great prophecy of a Deliverer from Zion (Isaiah 59:21) is interpreted by St. Paul (Romans 11:27) as the “covenant” of which the prophet spoke in the next verse; and Jeremiah, in a passage (Jeremiah 31:31-33) from which the Apostle has just now (2 Corinthians 3:3 above) borrowed a striking image, had proclaimed a New Covenant with Israel in the future. The phrase had been consecrated to the Gospel, through its employment by Christ at the Institution of the Eucharist (Matthew 26:28, Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25); and in that solemn context it bore direct allusion to the Blood of Sprinkling which ratified the Old Covenant of Sinai (Exodus 24:8). It is of this “New Covenant” that St. Paul is a διάκονος (Christ is its μεσίτης, Hebrews 9:15); i.e., he is a διάκονος οὐ γράμματος ἀλλὰ πνεύματος, not of the letter of the Law (as might be wrongly inferred from his statement in 2 Corinthians 3:3 that the ἐπιστολὴ Χριστοῦ was “ministered” [διακονηθεῖσα] by him), but of the “Spirit of the living God” (2 Corinthians 3:3). This is a much more gracious διακονία, inasmuch as the Law is the instrument of Death (cf. Romans 5:20; Romans 7:9; Romans 8:2, in all which passages the Apostle brings into closest connexion the three thoughts of the Law, Sin, and Death), but the Spirit of God is the Giver of Life (see reff. and cf. Galatians 3:21, where he notes that the law is not able, ζωοποιεῖν, “to give life”). It will be observed that the article is wanting before καινῆς διαθήκης, as it is before γράμματος and πνεύματος; but we need not on that account with the Revisers translate “a new covenant”. The expression “New Covenant,” like the words “Letter” (for the Law) and “Spirit” for the Holy Spirit, was a technical phrase in the theology of the day; and so might well dispense with the article. The contrast between “letter” and “Spirit” here (so often misunderstood, as if it pointed to a contrast between what is verbally stated and what is really implied, and so justified an appeal from the bare “letter” of the law to the principles on which it rests) is exactly illustrated by Romans 7:6, where St. Paul declares that the service of a Christian is ἐν καινότητι πνεύματος καὶ οὐ παλαιότητι γράμματος, i.e., “in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter”. And (though not so plainly) the same contrast is probably intended in Romans 2:29. In St. Paul’s writings πνεῦμα, when used for the human spirit, is contrasted with σῶμα (1 Corinthians 5:3), σάρξ (2 Corinthians 7:1) and νοῦς (1 Corinthians 14:14), but never with γράμμα. This is a technical term for the “Law” (like γραφή, Scripture; cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7, ἐν γράμμασιν), and is properly set over against the “Spirit” of God, whose office and work were first plainly revealed in the Gospel.

6. Who also hath made us able ministers] None of the old English versions have given the threefold repetition of the word by St Paul, who writes, ‘Who hath made us sufficient ministers.’ The word St Paul uses signifies the having reached a certain standard of ability.

of the new testament] We must dismiss all notions here of the book called the “New Testament.” The word in the original (see note on 1 Corinthians 11:25) signifies both testament and covenant. The latter should be the rendering here. St Paul is contrasting the Mosaic with the Christian covenant. There is also no article. The Apostle’s meaning may be thus paraphrased: ‘Who hath endowed us with qualifications sufficient for us to become the ministers of a new covenant.’ It is not to the covenant, but to its newness, that the Apostle would here ask our attention.

not of the letter, but of the spirit] See Jeremiah 31:31-34, and Ezekiel 11:19, before cited. There is an obvious reference to these passages in the text. The difference between the old covenant and the new was that the former prescribed, the latter inspired; the former gave written precepts, the latter the power to fulfil them; the former laid down the rules, the latter brought man’s heart into the condition in which such rules became a part of his nature. “The old form was superseded by the principle. Instead of saying, ‘Thou shalt not say Fool, or Raca,’ Christ gave the principle of Love.” Robertson. The words ‘of the letter,’ and ‘of the spirit,’ however, depend not on the word covenant, but on the word ministers. See also Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:24 and notes. Also, for the expression, Romans 2:27; Romans 7:6. “What then, was not that law spiritual? How then did he say, ‘We know that the law is spiritual?’ Spiritual indeed, for it came from God, but it bestowed not a spirit” Chrysostom.

for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life] Quykeneth, Wiclif. Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:45. The formal enactment, whether positive or negative, can only kill. For while it makes no difference whatever in the condition of the man who fulfils it, it condemns him who disobeys or neglects to perform its precepts. See John 3:17-18; Romans 3:20; Romans 4:20; Romans 5:13; Romans 7:10. The spirit, the breath or influence proceeding from God, can only give life, since it comes from Him who is life, and by breathing into man a new heart, enables him to perform naturally, without the aid of any enactments, the things that are pleasing to God. “The law, if it lay hold of a murderer, putteth him to death; the Gospel, if it lay hold of a murderer, enlighteneth and giveth him life.” Chrysostom. Cf. John 6:63; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:45; Galatians 6:8; 1 Peter 3:18. Calvin remarks on a singular misconception of the meaning of this passage by Origen and others, who supposed that the reading of Scripture would be useless or even injurious, unless it were allegorically expounded. “Sensus ad Origenis damnata dogmata rejiciendus.” Estius.

2 Corinthians 3:6. Καὶ, also) An emphatic addition [to the previous assertion. Epitasis. Append.] He has given sufficiency to us, even the sufficiency of ministers of the New Testament, which demands much more in order to realize it [than ordinary sufficiency].—ἡμᾶς διακόνους, us ministers) Apposition.—καινῆς, new) An antithesis to old, 2 Corinthians 3:14.—οὐ, not) of the New Testament, i.e., not of the letter, but of the spirit, see Romans 7:6, and the following verses, with the annot.—γράμματος, of the letter) Even while Paul wrote these things, he was the minister not of the letter, but of the spirit. Moses in that his peculiar office, even when he did not write, was yet employed about the letter.—πνεύματος, of the Spirit) whose ministry has both greater glory, and requires greater ability [sufficiency].—ἀποκτείνει, kills): the letter rouses the sinner to a sense of death; for if the sinner had life, before the letter came, there would have been no need of quickening by the Spirit. With this comp. the following verse, of death.

Verse 6. - Who also. Either, "And he it is who;" or, "Who besides this power, has made us adequate ministers." Hath made us able ministers; rather, made us sufficient ministers. Of the new testament; rather, of a fresh covenant (Jeremiah 31:31). The "new testament" has not the remotest connection with what we call "The New Testament," meaning thereby the book - which, indeed, had at this time no existence. The word "testament" means a will, and in this sense implies neither the Hebrew berith nor the Greek diatheke, both of which mean "covenant." In one passage only of the New Testament (Hebrews 9:16, 17) does diatheke mean a "testament" or "will." For the thought, see Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:25; 1 Timothy 1:11, 12. Not of the letter, but of the spirit. In other words, "not of the Law, but of the gospel;" not of that which is dead, but of that which is living; not of that which is deathful, but of that which is life-giving; not of bondage, but of freedom; not of mutilation, but of self-control; not of the outward, but of the inward; not of works, but of grace; not of menace, but of promise; not of curse, but of blessing; not of wrath, but of love; not of Moses, but of Christ. This is the theme which St. Paul develops especially in the Epistles to the Romans and the Galatians (see Romans 2:29; Romans 3:20; Romans 7:6, 10, 11; Romans 8:2; Galatians 3:10; Galatians 5:4, etc.). Not of the letter. Not, that is, of the Mosaic Law regarded as a yoke of externalism; a hard and unhelpful "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not;" a system that possessed no life of its own and inspired no life into others; a "categoric imperative," majestic, indeed, but unsympathetic and pitiless. Both the Law and the gospel were committed to writing; each covenant had its own book; but in the case of the Mosaic Law there was the book and nothing more; in the case of the gospel the book was nothing compared to the spirit, and nothing without the spirit. Out of the spirit. That is, of the gospel which found its pledge and consummation in the gift of the Spirit. The Law, too, was in one sense "spiritual" (Romans 7:14), for it was given by God, who is a Spirit, and it was a holy Law; but though such in itself (in se) it was relatively (per aceidens) a cause of sin and death, because it was addressed to a fallen nature, and inspired no spirit by which that nature could be delivered (see Romans 7:7-25). But in the gospel the spirit is everything; the mere letter is as nothing (John 6:63). For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. This is one of the very numerous "texts" which have been first misinterpreted and have then been made, for whole centuries, the bases of erroneous systems. On this text more than any other, Origen, followed by the exegetes of a thousand years, built his dogma that the Scripture must be interpreted allegorically, not literally, because "the letter" of the Bible kills. The misinterpretation is extravagantly inexcusable, and, like many others, arose solely from rending words away from their context and so reading new senses into them. The contrast is not between "the outward" and the inward sense of Scripture at all. "The letter" refers exclusively to "the Law," and therefore has so little reference to "the Bible" that it was written before most of the New Testament existed, and only touches on a small portion of the Old Testament. Killeth. Two questions arise.

(1) What and whom does it kill? and

(2) how does it kill?

The answers seem to be that

(1) the letter - the Law regarded as an outward letter - passes the sentence of death on those who disobey it. It says, "He who doeth these things shall live in them;" and therefore implies, as well as often says, that he who disobeys them shall be cut off. It is, therefore, a deathful menace. For none can obey this Law with perfect obedience. And

(2) the sting of death being sin, the Law kills by directly leading to sin, in that it stirs into existence the principle of concupiscence (Romans 7:7-11; 1 Corinthians 15:56; Galatians 3:10, 21). But the spirit giveth life. This contrast between a dead and a living covenant is fundamental, and especially in the writings of St. Paul (Romans 2:27-29; Romans 7:6; Romans 8:11; Galatians 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:45). The Law stones the adulteress; the gospel says to her, "Go, and sin no more." 2 Corinthians 3:6Hath made us able ministers (ἱκάνωσεν ἡμᾶς διακόνους)

An unfortunate translation, especially in view of the conventional sense of able. The verb ἱκανόω from ἱκανός sufficient (see on Romans 15:23), means to make sufficient or fit. It occurs only here and Colossians 1:12. The correct sense is given by Rev., hath made us sufficient as ministers. Compare enabled (ἐνδυναμώσαντι), 1 Timothy 1:12.

Of the new testament (καινῆς διαθήκης)

See on Matthew 26:28, Matthew 26:29. There is no article. Render, as Rev., of a new covenant, in contrast with the Mosaic. See on Hebrews 9:15. Of course the term is never applied in the gospels or epistles to the collection of New-Testament writings.

Of the letter (γράμματος)

Depending on ministers, not on covenant. For letter, see on writings, John 5:47. Here used of the mere formal, written ordinance as contrasted with the Gospel, which is "spirit and life." Compare Romans 2:29; Romans 7:6.


See on Romans 5:12, Romans 5:13; see on Romans 7:9; see on Romans 8:2. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:56. "The living testimony borne to his authority in the Corinthian Church suggests strongly the contrast of the dreary, death-like atmosphere which surrounded the old, graven characters on which his opponents rested their claims" (Stanley).

2 Corinthians 3:6 Interlinear
2 Corinthians 3:6 Parallel Texts

2 Corinthians 3:6 NIV
2 Corinthians 3:6 NLT
2 Corinthians 3:6 ESV
2 Corinthians 3:6 NASB
2 Corinthians 3:6 KJV

2 Corinthians 3:6 Bible Apps
2 Corinthians 3:6 Parallel
2 Corinthians 3:6 Biblia Paralela
2 Corinthians 3:6 Chinese Bible
2 Corinthians 3:6 French Bible
2 Corinthians 3:6 German Bible

Bible Hub

2 Corinthians 3:5
Top of Page
Top of Page