<![if !vml]><![endif]> II Corinthians 3 talks
about those who serve and teach the word of the Creator: "who
also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but
of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."
Why does the letter of the
law kill? The letter kills when one doesn't keep it. If the Law were void it
would no longer kill. It also kills when one zero's in on the letter and
therefore misses the spirit or intent. The intent of the New Covenant is to
get believers to focus on the spirit or intent of the law not zero in on the
letter only. The Jews often focused on the letter and broke the law because
they did not see the full intent. We'll see that Paul says exactly this a few
verses later in this chapter.
What does it mean to be 'ministers
of the New Covenant'? The Greek word here is "diakonos".
It means "one who executes the commands of another, esp. of a master,
a servant, attendant, minister". (see Thayer's Greek Lexicon) Minister in this context is not a preacher
or the leader of a congregation, but a servant who ministers to his master's
wishes. Verse six is saying that God has empowered his servants to fulfill
the will of the New Covenant in the spirit as opposed to the letter.
According to its intent not just in the letter of the law.
By using 'the letter' Paul
makes the connection with the Law, the Law of Moses. Indeed Christianity
recognizes this and teaches that Paul here is showing the Law to be
substandard. Certainly this is true. But that doesn't mean it is to be
ignored. Paul doesn't say here that we should dismiss the law, but that our
Creator empowers us to live according to the spirit of the Law. One cannot
ignore the letter and still live by the spirit and intent. The letter is not
at cross-purposes with the spirit and intent, but only a subset or part of
the full intent.
The next verse, II Cor
3:7, is sometimes used to condemn the Ten Commandments written on stones as a
law of death. "But if the ministry of death, written and
engraved in stones, was
glorious , so that the children of Israel could not look steadily
at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which was passing
A careful reading will
find that it is not the Sinai Law or the Law of Moses that is under
discussion here. (If you don't know the difference between these laws click here
for an explanation.) The subject in verse 7 is the ministry of
Moses, as opposed to the ministry of Paul. It is referring to the function
Moses was performing.
this verse is a translation of the Greek word, "diakonia"
similar to minister in verse 6 above. It refers especially "to those
who execute the commands of others". Specifically, in this case, it
is the "office of Moses", (Thayer p137). The functionaries
in place to administer the law are passing away. Jesus Christ, our High
Priest replaced them. The Law is not the focus of this verse, but how it is
administered. Messiah is the minister, Paul is but His servant.
Verses 8-11, & 13 all
contrast Moses ministry, function or administration with the ministry,
function or administration of the spirit. Moses was the chief human judge of
Israel and it sometimes fell his lot to dictate the penalty for breaking of
the then current law. Too often that penalty was death.
Under the Sinai covenant
especially, there was often no other option but death. Even under the
administration of the Moab covenant, the law, death was required too.
Fortunately it was not always the death of the human involved. Later, during
Jesus life the administration was done by the Sadducees, or scribes, and the
Pharisees, "…The scribes and the Pharisees sit in
Moses' seat." (Mat
Before the Moab covenant,
Moses directly administered the covenant between God and Israel. As that law
was written, one could make restitution for stealing, or help restore someone
to health that one had a hand in injuring, but most other offenses resulted
in death. When the Moab covenant was confirmed Israel came under that law as
well as the Law of God (Deu 29:1). Atonement could be obtained with the blood
of an animal.
"All who sin apart from the
law will perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be
judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous
in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared
righteous." (Rom 2:12-13 NIV) They are not declared righteous
because they have kept the law perfectly, but because they have changed their
conduct, repented, and on the rare occasion when they miss the mark (sin)
they are forgiven by means of a blood sacrifice. Their sin is forgiven
preventing the separation from God that would typically be required. However
if they do not recognize Jesus blood as applying to them they can only be
forgiven by means of the sacrifice prescribed in the law. The Law was obviously
still very much in effect.
Paul then goes on to
explain that the gentiles that are not schooled in the law nevertheless have
some of God's law written
in their heart (vs 14-15) because in some ways they conduct
themselves according to the law. It is clear that having the law written in
the heart is evidenced by the believer doing that which is enjoined in the
With the new covenant, we
can accept Jesus blood as our atonement, which provides a better means of
forgiveness, i.e. grace, and sobers us and enables us to live according to
the spirit and intent of the Law. "Wherefore in all things it behoved him to
be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high
priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of
the people" (Heb 2:17). Jesus died to provide a better means
of forgiveness, and remission (releasing from the bondage of sin), not to
void ‘My Law’, which defines sin.
promises of the new covenant include especially forgiveness,
Jeremiah 31:34. "…For I will forgive their iniquity, and
their sin I will remember no more". Of course this follows
immediately after Jeremiah 31:31-33 where Hebrews 8 got the very concept of
the New Covenant.
We are not under the Law
of God as administered by Moses. We are not under the Law as administered by
the Levites. That law attempted to keep them in compliance with the original
Sinai covenant and especially the Covenant of the Lord, but Israel never
really ‘got it’. Since Jeshua/Jesus came He set the example and properly
interpreted the Law and the prophets. If we recognize Him as our High priest
and wish to take up His challenge to be perfect as the Father is perfect (Mat
5:48), we accept His sacrifice and go and sin no more.
On rare occasions a true
believer might still sin. If they do sin, sin will not own them, for they are
not under any law as written on paper, but we are under the administration of
Messiah. "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our
weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin."
(Heb 4:15) "He who says he abides in Him ought himself
also to walk just as He walked." (1John 2:6) Whom we obey is whose servants we are (Rom
6:16). Therefore we willingly yield ourselves to the Law of God. God forbid
that we would willingly sin. "I will put My law in their minds, and write
it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jer 31:33b, Heb 8:10b).
Under the Sinai law if
someone was not careful to protect his fellows from a known dangerous
situation and someone was killed as a result, the one responsible, who knew
of the situation, was liable for the death. In that case the one responsible
was to be put to death (Ex 21:29). Certainly the principle behind this law
still applies. If we are aware of and responsible for a dangerous situation,
which then results in someone’s death, the Sinai covenant dictates we be put
to death ourselves. "You shall not murder" (Ex
However, because of the
incredible grace and mercy of our Creator, we are not under the law as
written in the Sinai covenant or the Law of Moses, if we acknowledge Jesus as
Savior and repent of our own ways and diligently seek to live as He lived.
The covenant of the Lord is administered differently than it was under Moses
in the Sinai covenant. However if we grasp the new covenant we will have the
Law of God, the Covenant of the Lord, written in our heart. We will be
anxious to obey that law in the spirit and the letter. We will not be
careless and cause injury to anyone.
The New Covenant assumes
we know His Law and are anxious to obey or repent if we sin. To repent means
that we recognize we have made a fundamental error and wish to correct the
error and avoid it in the future.
We will keep dangerous
animals securely contained. We will drive our cars with courtesy and caution.
We will not allow hazardous situations to develop around our homes or in our
workplaces. We will properly handle dangerous substances. We will go to the
same lengths to honor all the other instruction of the Sinai covenant as
well. This demonstrates our love of God and love toward our neighbor in its
pure and full sense.
II Corinthians 3:14-16 is
interesting. Paul likens the veil that Moses had over his head, to the veil
that covered the Jews when reading the "Old Testament". (The Greek
word for testament is the same word used for covenant in Hebrews 8). Paul was
unaware the Hebrew scriptures would be called the ‘Old Testament’, since
there was not yet a ‘New Testament’ when he wrote II Corinthians. 'Old
Testament' here should really be translated ‘old covenant’. So when the Jews
read the ‘old covenant’, the Law or especially Deuteronomy, they didn’t
understand it. When we truly turn to the Lord that veil is taken away and we
can then understand what the law has been saying for thousands of years. Of
course nowhere does the Law of Moses indicate that the Covenant of the Lord is
to be cast aside. The covenant made in Moab is a different matter.
Law does tell us is how to love, honor and respect God and how to
respect and love our neighbor. It gives specific examples of how the
Patriarchs exercised faith, and recommends we do the same. It also gives bad
examples, so we can learn what not to do. It’s all there if one reads it
carefully and applies the principles, the spirit, of what is being said.
"…but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who also made us
sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the
Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."
(II Cor 3:5b-6) If we just read the instruction of the Sinai covenant for the
letter we will miss the point. For instance Exodus 23:19 tells us to not
seethe a kid in its mother's milk, which was a popular pagan tradition. If we
determine not to do that, but continue to pay homage to other pagan
traditions we will have obeyed in the letter, but still be liable for
worshiping other gods, because we have missed the spirit. Unfortunately, this
was much of the problem with ancient Israel. They read the letter, but missed
the spirit. The veil Paul spoke of prevented them from completely
understanding the intent of the law. The result was ultimately their death.
The Creator spelled things
out more clearly in the Moab covenant. "When the Lord your God cuts
off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace
them and dwell in their land, 30. Take heed to yourself that you are not
ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that
you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve
their gods? I also will do likewise.'" (Deu 12:29-30)
By accepting the New
Covenant that became available with the death of Jesus Christ we acknowledge
that we are guilty of sin that required a death penalty. He took that guilt
and paid that penalty Himself. If the law was not in force there would be no
guilt nor would a penalty be due. The Law of God still embodies the mind of
God. The Law of Moses details much of that law and adds stipulations intended
to help Israel stay within the bounds of the Law of God.
If we have the spirit of
God we relate to the Law of God the same way He does. It becomes an integral
part of how we think and how we conduct our lives. We are the Masters servant
in accomplishing the purpose intended in His Law, peace and love. The Law of God as written does not address
all possible applications in human life. It addresses samples. It is our job
to understand the spirit and intent, which can be done if the veil of
traditional teaching is lifted.
One cannot serve two
masters (Mat 26:24). If we determine to set our own will and preconceived
ideas aside to serve the Creator, He will give freely of His spirit which
will remove the usual pulls of our human nature. The promises
of the New Covenant will be realized resulting in a down
payment of the divine nature.