2 Corinthians 3:7 MEANING

2 Corinthians 3:7
(7) But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious.--More accurately, engraved in a writing (i.e., in a written formula) upon stones. The word for "writing" is the same as the "letter" of the preceding verse, and the whole might, perhaps, be best translated, if the ministration of death in the letter, engraved upon stones, was glorious. The English version, by using the two participles, creates a false antithesis between "written" and "engraved," and misses the sequence of thought indicated by the continued use of the word for "letter" or "writing." For "was glorious," more accurately, came into being with glory. The thoughts of the Apostle have travelled to the record of the circumstances connected with the giving of the Law as the foundation of the first covenant, and of them he proceeds to speak fully. We can almost picture him to ourselves as taking up his LXX. version of the Law, and reproducing its very words and thoughts.

So that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold . . .--The narrative in Exodus 34:29-35 records that when Moses came down from the mount with the second tables of stone, "the skin of his face shone," and the "people were afraid to draw nigh unto him." The English version--that "till Moses had done speaking with them he put a vail on his face," and that "when he went in before the Lord he took it off until he came out"--suggests the thought that he appeared to the people, after the first manifestation of the unconscious glory, as a veiled prophet. It is doubtful, however, whether this is the natural meaning of the Hebrew, and Exodus 34:35 repeats the statement that the Israelites saw the glory. The LXX., Vulgate, and most modern versions give, "When he ceased speaking he put a veil on his face." They saw the brightness, they shrank from it in awe, they were not allowed to watch it to the end and gaze on its disappearance. This was the sequence of facts that St. Paul had in his thoughts, and which he certainly found in the LXX.; and it is of this, accordingly, that he speaks. The children of Israel could not bear to look on the glory, even though it was perishing and evanescent. The English rendering, "which glory was to be done away," reads into the participle a gerundial force that does not properly belong to it; and it may be noted that it is the first of the great English versions that does so, the others giving, "which is made void," or "which is done away." It would be better expressed, perhaps, by, which was in the act of passing away. The Greek word is the same as that on which our translators have rung so many changes in 1 Corinthians 13:8-11. It was a favourite word with St. Paul at this period of his life, occurring twenty-two times in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, and three times only in his other Epistles.

It may be noted that the Vulgate rendering of Exodus 34:29, "ignorabat quod cornuta esset facies ejus" ("he knew not that his face was horned"), has given rise to the representations of Moses with horns, or rays of light taking the place of horns, as in Michael Angelo's statue in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli at Rome, and pictorial representations generally.

Verse 7. - The ministration of death. The ministration, that is, of the Law, of "the letter which killeth." St. Paul here begins one of the arguments a minori ad majus which are the very basis of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Written and engraven in stones; literally, engraved in letters on stones (Exodus 31:18). The reference shows that, in speaking of "the letter," St. Paul was only thinking of the Mosaic Law, and indeed specifically of the Decalogue. Was glorious; literally, occurred in glory, or, proved itself glorious. In itself the Law was "holy, just, and good" (Romans 7:12), and given "at the disposition of angels" (Acts 7:53); and its transitory glory was illustrated by the lustre which the face of Moses caught by reflection from his intercourse with God (Exodus 24:16). Could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses (Exodus 34:29, 30). St. Paul has been led quite incidentally into this digression in the course of defending himself by describing the nature of his ministry; but it bore very definitely on his general purpose, because his chief opponents were Judaists, whose one aim it was to bind upon the Church the yoke of Mosaism. That they could not "behold" the face of Moses is the hagadah, or traditional legend, derived from Exodus 34:30, which says that "they were afraid to draw nigh to him. The reader may recall the beautiful lines of Cardinal Newman-

"Lord l grant me this abiding grace -
Thy words and saints to know;
To pierce the veil on Moses' face,
Although his words be slow."
Because of the glory of his countenance. This circumstance is so often alluded to as to have become identified with the conception of Moses. The Hebrew words for "a ray of light" and "a horn" are identical; hence, instead of saying that his face was "irradiated," the Vulgate says, Cornnta erat ejus facies; and even in our version of Habakkuk 3:4 we find "And he had horns [i.e. 'rays of light'] coming out of his hand." To this is due the mediaeval symbol of Moses with horns, as in the matchless statue by Michael Angelo. Which glory was to be done away. The Greek might be expressed by "the glory - the evanescing glory - of his countenance." It was not "to be done away," but from the first moment they saw it it began to vanish. The verb "to do away," implying annulment, and the being abrogated as invalid, is a characteristic word in this group cf Epistles, in which it occurs twenty-two times. This illustrates the prominence in St. Paul's thoughts of the fact that the Law was now "antiquated" and "near its obliteration" (comp. Hebrews 8:13). But in dwelling on the brief and transient character of this radiance, St. Paul seizes on a point which (naturally) is not dwelt upon in Exodus 34.

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.But if the ministration of death,.... The apostle having observed the difference between the law and the Gospel, the one being a killing letter, the other a quickening spirit, enlarges upon it, and more, fully explains it; and proceeds to take notice of other things in which they differ; and to show the superior glory and excellency of the one to the other; for that by "the ministration of death", he means the law, as delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai, is clear from its being said to be

written and engraven in stones; as that was by the finger of God himself: rightly does the apostle say, that it was both "written" and "engraven"; for the two tables of the law are expressly said to be written with the finger of God, Exodus 31:18 meaning either the Spirit of God, who is sometimes so called, Luke 11:20 compared with Matthew 12:28 or the power of God, which at once caused this writing to exist; and it is in so many words affirmed, that "the writing" was "the writing of God"; and not of man, nor of any creature, no not of an angel, Exodus 32:16 yea, even the two tables which were hewn out by Moses, after the first were broken, were written upon by the Lord himself, and not Moses, Exodus 34:1. So that as the work of the tables was the work of God, and wonderfully made, the form of the letters, as Abarbinel (x) observes, were miraculously made by him; for this law was, , "in letters", as the apostle here says; and as it was written in the Hebrew language, very likely it was in the same form of letters now in use with the Jews; though some have thought that the Samaritan letters are the original ones: moreover, the law was not only written, but "engraved"; for so it is said, that the writing was graven upon the tables, Exodus 32:16 and though the word so rendered is no where else used but there, it is rightly rendered graven, as appears by the apostle in this place; and which may lie confirmed by the Targumist on that, who renders it by "engraven"; and by the Septuagint which signifies the same; and so in the book of Zohar (y), the letters are said to be "engraven" on the tables: and that the tables were tables of stone, it is certain; they are often so called, Exodus 24:12 wherefore the apostle very properly says, that the law was engraven "in stones"; but what stones these tables were made of cannot be said; the Jews, who affect to know everything, will have them to be precious stones, but what they were they are not agreed in; for though they generally say (z) they were made of the sapphire stone, and sometimes say (a) they were hewed out of the sapphire of the glorious throne of God; yet at other times they call them marble tables (b); and Aben Ezra (c) was of opinion, that the tables which Moses hewed were not of any precious stone, for he asks where should a precious stone of such size be found? though others pretend to say (d), that Moses in a miraculous manner was shown a sapphire quarry in the midst of his tent, out of which he cut and hewed the stones; but very likely they were common ones; however, certain it is, that the tables of stone, as written and engraven by the Lord himself, were made, as the apostle here says, "in glory", ; and so Jarchi on Exodus 32:16 "and the tables were the work of God", says, this is to be understood literally "and in" or "for his glory"; or by his glorious power he made them: now this law, though thus written and engraven, and glorious, it was "the ministration of death"; and is so called, because it threatened and punished the transgressors of it with a corporeal death; they that sinned against it died without mercy upon proper evidence and witnesses; every precept of it had this penalty annexed to it, in ease of disobedience; as the having any other goals but one, making of graven images, taking the name of God in vain, the violation of the sabbath, dishonouring of parents, murder, adultery, theft, and covetousness; instances there are of each of these being punishable by this law with a bodily death: and besides, it is the ministration of eternal death, the wages of sin the transgression of the law; which is that wrath of God, a sense of which it is said to work; the curse it threatens with and the second death or lake of fire it casts into: and may be said to be the "ministration" of it; as it shows persons they are deserving of it, pronounces the sentence of it on them, and will execute it upon them, if grace prevent not; now though it was the ministration of death, yet it

was glorious. There were many things which made it so; but what the apostle here particularly takes notice of is the glory that was upon the face of Moses, when he received it and brought it from the Lord, which was very great;

so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses, for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be done away. The history of this may be read in Exodus 34:29 it was a real visible glory that was upon the skin of his face, so that it shone again; it is said, "the skin of his face shone"; and this shining of his face the apostle very properly calls "the glory of his countenance": agreeably to the Septuagint version, which renders it, "the appearance of the skin, or colour of his face, was glorified"; and still nearer to the paraphrase of Onkelos, which is, "the splendour of the glory of his countenance was great"; and to the Targum of Jonathan, which also assigns the reason of it, and which seems to be the true one, "the splendour of the form of his countenance was glorious, because of the splendour of the glory of the majesty of God, at the time he talked with him". The Vulgate Latin version has led many wrong, to paint Moses with two horns, rendering it, "his face was horned", the Hebrew word having the signification of an horn in its derivative; because glory darted from him like horns, as rays of light do from the sun; see Habakkuk 3:4 and this brightness and glory were so very great, and so dazzling, that Aaron and the people of Israel were afraid to come nigh; which Jarchi, a Jewish writer, imputed to their sin, and shame, and fear, having worshipped the calf; but our apostle ascribes it to the lustre of his countenance, which was such that they could not steadfastly look upon it; they saw it indeed, as it is said in Exodus 34:35 yet they could not look wistly at it, nor bear the splendour of it; though this was only a glory, which was to continue but a while; according to the opinion of Ambrose (e), this glory continued on Moses's countenance as long as he lived; but be it so, it at last was done away: now this glory was put there to bear a testimony to the divine authority of the law, that it came from God, and was to be received at the hands of Moses, with awful reverence as from God, and to make them afraid of violating a law which came with such majesty and glory; and also to command awe and respect from the Israelites to Moses, whom they were inclined at every turn to treat with contempt, and to let them see that he had communion with God, which this was the effect of: now this was a circumstance which rendered the law glorious, and was expressive of a real glory in it; which, though as this on Moses's face, "was to be done away"; wherefore the apostle argues;

(x) In loc. (y) In Exod. fol. 35. 1.((z) Zohar ib. Targum Jon. in Dent. xxxiv. 12. (a) Targum in Cant. 1. 11. Targum Jon. in Exodus 31.18. (b) Targum Jon. in Deut. ix. 9, 10. (c) In Exodus 32.15. (d) Jarchi in Exodus 34.1. Pirke Eliezer, c. 46. (e) Comment. in Psal. cxix. 135.

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