2 Corinthians Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 3
1. Are we starting to recommend ourselves again? Or do we, like some, need letters of recommendation either to you or from you?
2. You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.
3. You make it clear that you are a letter from the Messiah placed in our care, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on human hearts.
Compare 1С 9:1-3; and see below, 10:13-16.
You are a letter from the Messiah placed in our care for safe delivery to God at the Final Judgment (compare Pp 1:6, 1 Ke 1:5~8). The phrase translated, "placed in our care," is, literally, "worked by us." The Greek for "worked" (or: "ministered," "served") is "diakoneo"; related words appear five times in vv. 6-9 and again at 4:1; all are translated by a form of "work" in order to bring out the force of Sha'ul's repeated use of the word. God wrote the Torah on stone tablets (Exodus 24:12, 31:18, 34:1; Deuteronomy 9:10-11); they are symbolized in Jewish decorative art by the familiar arch-shaped pair of panels containing the initial Hebrew words of the Ten Commandments.

On human hearts (literally, "on tablets [which are] hearts made of flesh"); the Tanakh uses the same imagery at Proverbs 3:3, 7:3 and Jeremiah 31:32(33), quoted in the following note. The prophet Ezekiel says that when God regathers the Jewish exiles and gives them the Land of Israel, he will "take the stony heart out of their flesh and will give them a heart of flesh" (11:19), "and I will put a new Spirit within you" (36:26). The contrast between stone and flesh (or the Spirit) is continued in vv. 6-11 and 14. 

4. Such is the confidence we have through the Messiah toward God.
5. It is not that we are competent in ourselves to count anything as having come from us; on the contrary, our competence is from God.
6. He has even made us competent to be workers serving a New Covenant, the essence of which is not a written text but the Spirit. For the written text brings death, but the Spirit gives life.
7. Now if that which worked death, by means of a written text engraved on stone tablets, came with glory — such glory that the people of Isra’el could not stand to look at Moshe’s face because of its brightness, even though that brightness was already fading away —
8. won’t the working of the Spirit be accompanied by even greater glory?
9. For if there was glory in what worked to declare people guilty, how much more must the glory abound in what works to declare people innocent!
10. In fact, by comparison with this greater glory, what was made glorious before has no glory now.
11. For if there was glory in what faded away, how much more glory must there be in what lasts.
12. Therefore, with a hope like this, we are very open —
13. unlike Moshe, who put a veil over his face, so that the people of Isra’el would not see the fading brightness come to an end.
This passage is often understood to teach that the New Covenant has more glory than the Torah. Whether it does depends on how one defines "Torah." The Greek word for "law" or "Torah" "nomos" is not used at all here or anywhere in 2 Corinthians; so that if one is going to make such a statement about "the Torah" on the basis of this passage, one must limit the meaning of "Torah" to the elements given in the passage. And here Sha'ul talks only about a written text which was engraved on stone tablets, which worked death, which worked to declare people guilty, and which came with temporary brightness that was already fading away (see last three paragraphs of this note). It is with this written text that he contrasts the New Covenant, which is accompanied by the Spirit, who writes on human hearts, who gives life, who works to declare people innocent, and who lasts. He makes his point with a kal v'chomer argument (Mt 6:30&N), stated in three different ways (vv. 7-8, 9, 11; compare Yn 1:17 and Ro 7:6). But there is more to the Torah than a written text, so that what Sha'ul says here about a written text does not necessarily apply to all that the Torah is. (See paragraph below on the New Covenant.)

Nevertheless, what Sha'ul does say is startling enough. How is it that the written text of the Torah brings death (literally, as in KJV, "the letter killeth")? Since Sha'ul himself calls the Torah "holy" (Ro 7:12), how can he say that it kills? He does not answer this question in his letters to the Corinthians but assumes they are already knowledgeable on the subject, both in the present chapter and at 1С 9:19-23, 15:56. But elsewhere he explains that the Torah can be said to bring death for at least four reasons:

(1) It prescribes death as the penalty for sin (Ro 5:12-21).

(2) In defining transgression it increases sin (Ga 3:21-31). which leads to death.

(3) Ii provides an opportunity for sinful people to pervert God's holy Torah into legal-ism, that is, a dead system of rules intended to earn God's favor even when followed without trusting God (Ro 3:19-31&NN, 7:1-25&NN. 9:30-10:10&NN; see also 1C9:19-23&NN).

(4) It does not have in itself (in its written text engraved on stone tablets, v. 7) the life-giving power of the Spirit which alone can make people righteous (Ro 8:1 -11, Ac 13:38-39&N).

One must understand the shock a Jew experiences in hearing the Torah called an instrument of death, since in Jewish understanding the Torah ministers not death but life. Yeshua was well aware of Jewish regard for the Torah as an instrument of life (Yn 5:39). In the Midrash Rabbah Rabbi L'vi is cited as saying,

"God sat on high, engraving for them tablets which would give them life." (Exodus Rabbah 41:1)

The prayer recited every time the Torah scroll is returned to the ark after being read in the synagogue quotes Proverbs 3:18: "It is a tree of life to those who take hold of it."

Proverbs is speaking about wisdom; but since the Torah contains God's wisdom, the Siddur applies those words to the Torah itself.

Here is Sha'ul's explanation of how the Torah, whose "letter killeth," can be at the same time a tree of life: but the Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit of God, who lives in believers (Ro 8:9. 1С 3:16) and who is God himself (vv. 16-18 below), gives life (or: "enlivens," "makes alive"). The crucial thing for everyone to know is that the Spirit gives life (Yn 6:63. Ro 8:2) to sinners who are "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ep 2:1, KJV). But for Jews it is also important to understand that only the Spirit of God gives life to the Torah itself, that is, to its "letter." Or, more precisely, it is when people are filled with the Holy Spirit of God given by Yeshua the Messiah that the Torah becomes for them a tree of life and not a ministration of death.

All these things are clarified by Ro 8:1-11, which is the best commentary on this passage: "There is no longer any condemnation [as prescribed in the Torah] awaiting those who are in union with the Messiah Yeshua. Why? Because the Torah of the Spirit, which produces this life in union with Messiah Yeshua, has set me free from the 'torah' of sin and death" (definable by this equation: God's "Torah of the Spirit" minus the Spirit equals "torah1' of sin and death).

"For what the Torah could not do by itself, because it lacked the power to make the old nature cooperate, God did by sending his own Son as a human being with a nature like our own sinful one. God did this in order to deal with sin, and in so doing he executed the punishment against sin in human nature, so that the just requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled in us who do not run our lives according to what our old nature wants but according to what the Spirit wants.... For the mind controlled by the old nature is hostile to God, because it does not submit itself to God's Torah.... But you, you do not identify with your old nature but with the Spirit — provided the Spirit of God is living inside you, for anyone who doesn't have the Spirit of the Messiah doesn't belong to him. However, if the Messiah is in you, then, on the one hand, your body is dead because of sin; but, on the other hand, the Spirit is giving life because God considers you righteous" (Ro 8:1-4,7,9-10).

The New Covenant spoken of in v. 6 is that of Jeremiah 31:30-33 (31-34), and the distinction Sha'ul draws is precisely the same as Jeremiah makes when he says that the new covenant will be "not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them... out of... Egypt,... but I will put my Torah in their inward parts and write it on their hearts." See Mt 26:28&N, MJ 8:6-13&NN. Thus, it cannot be that Sha'ul is saying that the New Covenant is more glorious than the Torah, because the New Covenant includes the Torah. which God puts "in their inward parts" and writes "on their hearts." According to MJ 8:6&N, the New Covenant itself "has been made Torah." Sha'ul speaks of the "Torah as upheld by the Messiah" (literally, "Torah of Messiah") at Ga 6:2&N and makes a similar allusion at 1С 9:2 l&N; therefore the Torah, in some form, is still in force. The distinction is between letter and Spirit, not Torah and Spirit.

Workers serving a New Covenant, the essence of which is not a written text but the Spirit, literally, "workers" (or: "ministers"; see v. 3N) "of a new covenant, not of letter but of Spirit." Verses 6-13 are part of Sha'ul's defence of his office. He claims that as an emissary of the Messiah, his ministry is more glorious than that of Moshe — and not only that, but more glorious than at the very moment of Moses' greatest glory, when his face shone so brightly as he descended Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:29-30; compare Mt 17:2), after seeing God's glory (Exodus 33:18-34:8), that he put a veil over his face (Exodus 34:33, 35). But if one acknowledges that the New Covenant has come, bringing with it the Messiah himself and the very Spirit of God, whose glory obviously exceeds that of stone tablets, then one should see that the ministry of its workers has greater glory than that of Moses' ministry.

The Tanakh does not say that the brightness was already fading away, or that it ever faded away. Indeed, in Jewish tradition, Moses' face remained bright until he died. Where did Sha'ul get this idea? Was there another tradition within Judaism along the lines Sha'ul expresses? I do not know of one.

We are very open, that is, sincere (1:12-14, 18; 2:17; 6:11), unlike Moshe, who veiled his face. The Aramaic expression, "to cover the face," signifies shame and mourning, while an uncovered head (v. 18) signifies confidence and freedom. In Sha'ul's midrash here, he uses what Moses did as an acted parable symbolic of hiddenness and insincerity without implying that Moses was devious, hypocritical or ashamed himself. His point, rather, is that we who believe the Gospel have assurance that the glory and brightness of our eternal salvation will never fade, so we have neither need nor desire to hide it. 

14. What is more, their minds were made stonelike; for to this day the same veil remains over them when they read the Old Covenant; it has not been unveiled, because only by the Messiah is the veil taken away.
15. Yes, till today, whenever Moshe is read, a veil lies over their heart.
16. "But, says the Torah, "whenever someone turns to Adonai, the veil is taken away" (Exodus 34:34)
17. Now, “Adonai” in this text means the Spirit. And where the Spirit of Adonai is, there is freedom.
18. So all of us, with faces unveiled, see as in a mirror the glory of the Lord; and we are being changed into his very image, from one degree of glory to the next, by Adonai the Spirit.
These verses must be read together with 4:3-6, which continue the discussion. Sha'ul mixes in a second metaphor: hardness of minds and hearts is combined with impaired vision and understanding. Their minds, the minds of unsaved Jewish people, were made stonelike (hard, unreceptive, stupefied; on this word, see Ro 11:7N), for to this day, Sha'ul's day, but still true in the present day. the same veil remains over them, so that when they read the Old Covenant, the Five Books of Moses, the Torah, they do not see that it points toward Yeshua the Messiah as its goal and fulfillment (Ro 10:4&N; on the illegitimacy of invidious comparisons between the Old and New Covenants see MJ 8:13&N). And the veil lies over their heart, singular, referring to the community as a whole, which resists being open to the truth of Yeshua and exerts social pressure against searching the scriptures to see if these things are so (Ac 17:9); although throughout history individual Jews have appeared who have been open to the Gospel and received it.

This passage is aimed directly at the resistance to Yeshua in the religion of non-Messianic Judaism. There is no animadversion here against Jews ethnically, racially, biologically, culturally, nationally as a people, or even religiously (in respect to other aspects of Judaism); least of all is there any implication that Jews with stonelike minds have less inherent mental ability. Rather, it is a spiritual veil, not a lack of intelligence, that prevents unsaved Jewish people from seeing that "the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah" (Ro 10:4). Yeshua himself made the same point to the religious stalwarts of his day: "You keep examining the Tanakh because you think that in it you have eternal life, and it keeps bearing witness to me! Yet you don't want to come to me in order to have life.... But don't think that 1 will be your accuser before the Father. Do you know who will accuse you? Moshe, the very one you have counted on! For if you really believed Moshe [that is, the Torah] you would believe me, because it was about me that he wrote. But if you don't believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?" (Yn 5:39-40.45-47&N.)

Surprisingly, relatively few Jewish writers on the New Testament have voiced much objection to these verses. The only Jewish responses I have personally experienced have been either direct denial or amused but ironic acceptance — "If it's a veil that keeps us from seeing Jesus, we can live with that." Pitiful!

But there is hope. In fact, Sha'ul uses a verse from the Torah itself, from the very passage that speaks about Moses' veil, to point to what that hope is; it is the same hope that Sha'ul wrote about in Ro 10:11, where he quoted Joel 3:5(2:32), "Everyone who calls on the name of Adonai will be delivered." The Hebrew of Exodus 34:34 reads, "But when Moses went in before Adonai to speak to him, he took the veil off until he came out;" in v. 16 Sha'ul applies the verse midrashically to anyone seeking the Lord. In v. 15 it is the Messiah who takes away the veil, and one is reminded of Lk 24:25-27,44-45, where Yeshua himself explained to his talmidim how the prophecies in the Tanakh apply to him. In v. 16 Adonai is the cause of the veil's removal, and in v. 17 it is explained that "Adonai" in this text means the Spirit. It is the Spirit who has the specific ministry of convicting of "sin, righteousness and judgment" (Yn 16:7-11): it is he who makes a Jew or a Gentile willing and able to see Yeshua in the Jewish Scriptures.

Now, "Adonai" in this text means the Spirit, literally, "Now the Lord is the Spirit" (on "Lord" see Mt l:20N, 7:21N). The phrase, "in this text," is not in this text; I have added it to clarify what I believe is Sha'ul's sense (see Section V of the Introduction to the JNT). This is an important verse for demonstrating the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit of Adonai is, there is freedom to function within the framework of Torah without being enslaved by it. And thus all of us, not just Sha'ul and his co-workers, but all believers, with faces unveiled, with open hearts, not stonelike but sincere and unclouded, see as in a mirror (compare 1С 13:12, Exodus 33:18-34:8) the glory of Adonai, and we are being changed into his very image, from one degree of glory to the next, by Adonai the Spirit (literally, "by the Lord, who is the Spirit" or "by the Lord, that is, the Spirit"). This is how the Spirit "gives life" (v. 6). 

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