Ἀρχόμεθα πάλιν ἑαυτοὺς συνιστάνειν; ἢ μὴ χρῄζομεν, ὥς τινες, συστατικῶν ἐπιστολῶν πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἢ ἐξ ὑμῶν;
Do we begin again ourselves to commend? or do we need as some letters of recommendation to you or from you?
Paraphrase: Now because we claim to preach the word of God in sincerity and that our preaching flows from our own saving union with Christ Himself (2 Corinthians 2:17), you might think that we are back to praising ourselves again, but I am actually quite disgusted with such self-commendation. I know that some of you are quite suspicious of my ministry because I do not carry any letters of recommendation with me. Do you want me to produce such letters? Have we really come to the point where my ministry is dismissed because I don’t have such letters?
For ἑαυτοὺς, see comment in BBG page 111.
For μὴ χρῄζομεν, see BBG 31.20.
Likely, the people mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:17 had letters of recommendation with them; cf 1 Corinthians 16:3; Acts 18:27. Hatch gives the history of the sophists here. Beet suggests that the travelling teachers (2 Corinthians 2:17) were Jewish teachers. source
ἡ ἐπιστολὴ ἡμῶν ὑμεῖς ἐστε, ἐνγεγραμμένη ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν, γινωσκομένη καὶ ἀναγινωσκομένη ὑπὸ πάντων ἀνθρώπων,
You are our letter, being written in our hearts, being known and read by all men.
Paraphrase: Well then, I will produce my letters of recommendation. My letters are not physical letters but are something far more persuasive. They are letters that anyone can read who is willing. Your life (1 Peter 1:18), having been transformed by the grace of God, is my letter of recommendation. Are you able to read it? It’s something on which I often reflect; it always lives in my heart and never fails to lead me to worship the amazing grace of God who transformed you from a life marked by sin and rebellion (Galatians 1:13) to a life filled with hope, peace, love and joy. (Romans 14:17) Does anyone want to know if I am really God’s apostle? I ask them simply to “read” the letter of your life. Be sure to read both what it was before you knew Christ and what it became after you were joined to Christ. This transformation (2 Corinthians 3:18) will show more clearly than any written letter that the gospel I preach has an amazing, transforming power that can only be from God Himself.
φανερούμενοι ὅτι ἐστὲ ἐπιστολὴ Χριστοῦ, διακονηθεῖσα ὑφ’ ἡμῶν, ἐνγεγραμμένη οὐ μέλανι ἀλλὰ Πνεύματι Θεοῦ ζῶντος, οὐκ ἐν πλαξὶν λιθίναις ἀλλ’ ἐν πλαξὶν καρδίαις σαρκίναις.
making manifest that you are a letter of Christ, being served by us, being written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not in tables of stone but in tables of hearts of flesh.
Paraphrase: In fact, I would go so far as to say that your transformed life is a letter of recommendation written to you by Jesus Himself, and you can’t get any higher than that. This is the “letter of recommendation” that I prize the most. Sure it’s not a letter written with paper and ink, but it is a letter written by the Holy Spirit Himself taking the things of Christ and “writing” them on your very heart. Isn’t it true that we take great pride in the fact that our law was written in stone? (Exodus 24:12) Think how much better it is, however, that the law of God can be written on our hearts by the Spirit of the living God. (Jeremiah 31:33)
Clearly, the new covenant involves a change in how God’s people are brought to obey the law of God. Witsius interacts with Cocceius on what this means here. The relationship between the old and new covenants is one of the most difficult questions in theology.
Πεποίθησιν δὲ τοιαύτην ἔχομεν διὰ τοῦ Χριστοῦ πρὸς τὸν Θεόν.
But such a trust we have through Christ with God.
Paraphrase: Now this is the basis for our confidence before God, not letters from you or anyone, but the work of Christ transforming the pitiful wreck which was your life to a life that sends forth a glorious fragrance to all. (Mark 5:15; 2 Corinthians 2:14)
οὐχ ὅτι ἀφ’ ἑαυτῶν ἱκανοί ἐσμεν λογίσασθαί τι ὡς ἐξ ἑαυτῶν, ἀλλ’ ἡ ἱκανότης ἡμῶν ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ,
Not that we are sufficient from ourselves to think anything as from ourselves, but our sufficiency from God.
Paraphrase: And please don’t misunderstand me here. It’s not my genius or hard work which has worked this transformation. On the contrary, I am nothing. (2Cor 12:11) It’s only the power of God working through me which made the difference. (John 15:5)
ὃς καὶ ἱκάνωσεν ἡμᾶς διακόνους καινῆς διαθήκης, οὐ γράμματος ἀλλὰ πνεύματος· τὸ γὰρ γράμμα ἀποκτέννει, τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα ζωοποιεῖ.
who even qualified us to be ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit makes alive.
Paraphrase: God is the One who called and equipped me to preach the good news of a new covenant of grace in Christ, not the old covenant of works which simply presented you with a list of demands which you had to keep in order to earn God’s favor. On the contrary, this new covenant gives you the Holy Spirit who works in you a new desire and a new ability to keep God’s perfect law. Now you are no longer worldly-minded but heavenly-minded. (Romans 8:5-7) You have the same Spirit in you who raised Jesus from the dead and who now, by that same power, gives you a new life. (Romans 8:11)
Εἰ δὲ ἡ διακονία τοῦ θανάτου, ἐν γράμμασιν ἐντετυπωμένη λίθοις, ἐγενήθη ἐν δόξῃ, ὥστε μὴ δύνασθαι ἀτενίσαι τοὺς υἱοὺς Ἰσραὴλ εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον Μωϋσέως, διὰ τὴν δόξαν τοῦ προσώπου αὐτοῦ, τὴν καταργουμένην,
πῶς οὐχὶ μᾶλλον, ἡ διακονία τοῦ πνεύματος ἔσται ἐν δόξῃ;
εἰ γὰρ τῇ* διακονία τῆς κατακρίσεως δόξα, πολλῷ μᾶλλον περισσεύει ἡ διακονία τῆς δικαιοσύνης δόξῃ!
καὶ γὰρ, οὐ δεδόξασται τὸ δεδοξασμένον ἐν τούτῳ τῷ μέρει, εἵνεκεν τῆς ὑπερβαλλούσης δόξης.
εἰ γὰρ τὸ καταργούμενον διὰ δόξης, πολλῷ μᾶλλον τὸ μένον ἐν δόξῃ!
Ἔχοντες οὖν τοιαύτην ἐλπίδα, πολλῇ παρρησίᾳ χρώμεθα,
καὶ οὐ καθάπερ Μωϋσῆς ἐτίθει κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ, πρὸς τὸ μὴ ἀτενίσαι τοὺς υἱοὺς Ἰσραὴλ εἰς τὸ τέλος τοῦ καταργουμένου.
Ἀλλὰ ἐπωρώθη τὰ νοήματα αὐτῶν. ἄχρι γὰρ τῆς σήμερον ἡμέρας, τὸ αὐτὸ κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τῇ ἀναγνώσει τῆς παλαιᾶς διαθήκης μένει, μὴ ἀνακαλυπτόμενον, ὅτι ἐν Χριστῷ καταργεῖται.
But their minds were hardened. For until the day of today, the same veil, at the reading of the old covenant remains, not being unveiled because in Christ, it is abolished.
Paraphrase: Now this is the sad reality. Every time the Jewish people read their Scriptures or hear it read to them, they can’t see the truth that these very Scriptures contain. It’s almost like they are blindfolded or have some veil over their eyes which prevents them from seeing and hearing the truth. The old covenant stays an old covenant and holds them in bondage. They never come to see the liberty and power of the New Covenant. If only they would come to Christ owning their sin and repenting of it. They would find to their amazement that this veil would lift, and they would see the glory of the New Covenant and all that it holds out for guilty sinners.
ἀλλ’ ἕως σήμερον, ἡνίκα ἂν ἀναγινώσκηται Μωϋσῆς, κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τὴν καρδίαν αὐτῶν κεῖται.
But until today, whenever Moses is read, a veil is placed on their heart.
Paraphrase: Until this point, however, there is no change. A veil has been placed on their heart, and they simply can’t come to a correct understanding of their great teacher, Moses.
ἡνίκα δὲ ἐὰν ἐπιστρέψῃ πρὸς Κύριον, περιαιρεῖται τὸ κάλυμμα.
But when he might turn to the Lord, the veil is taken off.
Paraphrase: I can assure you of this; the very moment any one of my countrymen would turn to Jesus in faith, that very moment, the veil would be removed from their eyes, and they would see that God has established a new covenant for His people, a covenant which gives us the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:3, 6), a covenant with a better Mediator, a covenant based on better promises than the old. (Hebrews 8:6)
Ὁ δὲ Κύριος τὸ Πνεῦμά ἐστιν· οὗ δὲ τὸ Πνεῦμα Κυρίου, ἐλευθερία.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord, liberty.
Paraphrase: Now let me be clear here. When we come to Jesus, we are in essence coming to the Holy Spirit since Christ is the great repository of the Spirit. He received the Spirit from the Father (Acts 2:33), and He baptizes His people in this Spirit, cleansing them from sin and evil and making them ready for the great marriage day. (Revelation 21:2)
ἡμεῖς δὲ πάντες, ἀνακεκαλυμμένῳ προσώπῳ, τὴν δόξαν Κυρίου κατοπτριζόμενοι, τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα μεταμορφούμεθα, ἀπὸ δόξης εἰς δόξαν, καθάπερ ἀπὸ Κυρίου, Πνεύματος.