What does 2 Corinthians 3:6 mean?
ESV: who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
NIV: He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
NASB: who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
CSB: He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
NLT: He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.
KJV: 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.
Paul is writing about confidence in his own ministry. He has been clear, though, that this is not the same as confidence in himself. He and his co-workers are not claiming that anything of value comes from them. His authority as an apostle is not based on his skill and knowledge and aptitude. It is based only on God's authority and power to act through him.
Paul now writes that God is the one who has made him and the other apostles and teachers sufficient—adequate or competent—to be ministers of the new covenant. When Paul uses the words "new covenant," he is contrasting their message of salvation through faith in Christ by God's grace with the Old Covenant message of salvation for Israel through following the law of Moses.
Paul adds that he and the others are not ministers of the letter, perhaps meaning the "letter of the law." In his old life as a Pharisee, Paul was a minister of the letter of the law, teaching Israelites to obey God's written words in the Old Covenant. Now, though, he has become a minister of the Holy Spirit. By this, he means that he teaches those who trust in Christ to live by the Spirit's power.
Paul adds that "the letter" kills. In other words, those who attempt to follow the law discover that they are unable to follow the law. They discover in themselves the sinfulness that keeps them from obeying God and condemns them to death. He put it this way in Romans 7:9–10, "I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me."
God's Spirit, on the other hand, truly gives life to those who trust in Christ under God's new covenant with all of humanity. God's Spirit comes to live with all who believe in Jesus. His presence becomes the evidence that we belong to God. Romans 8:11 says, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you."
Second Corinthians 3:1–6 poetically describes the only letter of recommendation Paul needs for his legitimacy as an apostle: the Christians in Corinth. Paul and his friends delivered Christ to them. The Corinthians are a letter written by Christ not with ink but with the Holy Spirit, not on tablets of stone but on human hearts. God is the one who has empowered Paul for the ministry and who sent him and his friends into the world to do it.
Second Corinthians 3 begins with Paul's insistence that Christ's presence in the hearts of the Corinthians should be all the evidence they need that his ministry is true. He compares the limited glory revealed by the Old Covenant between God and Israel with the far greater glory revealed by Christ to all who come to Him by faith. That glory is revealed only when the veil of unbelief is removed through Christ by the Holy Spirit's power. Those who see God's glory in Christ begin to be changed to become like Him.
Earlier chapters described the Corinthians' response to Paul's earlier instructions. Here, Paul once again defends the legitimacy of his role as an apostle of Christ. He then compares the old covenant of the law of Moses with the new covenant of faith in Christ. The old covenant revealed human sinfulness, God's condemnation, and the death required to pay for sin. The new covenant brings God's forgiveness for sin to all who trust in Christ, making it possible to look on His glory and to begin to be changed by it into the image of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. This launches Paul into a description of the value of the gospel, in contrast to the struggles of earthly life.
Second Corinthians returns to similar themes as those Paul mentioned in his first letter to this church. Paul is glad to hear that the church in Corinth has heeded his advice. At the same time, it is necessary for Paul to counter criticisms about his personality and legitimacy. Most of this text involves that subject. The fifth chapter, in contrast, contains comforting words which Christians have quoted often in times of hardship. Paul also details his expectations that the church in Corinth will make good on their promise to contribute to the needs of suffering believers in Jerusalem.
Accessed 2/25/2024 10:13:08 AM
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