Notes & Commentary:

Ver. 1. The apostle had been obliged, in different parts of his first epistle, to say some things to his own advantage, in order to maintain the dignity of his ministry against false teachers, who had endeavoured to lessen his authority. He is again obliged to shew the excellency of his ministry, and the superiority of the gospel over the law of Moses. (Theodoret) — We have not need, he says, of commendatory letters, like those false teachers: we have only to say that we founded the Church of Corinth, and we shall be sufficiently known. Your religion, your piety, and your virtues are renowned in the whole world. (ver. 2.) This is our letter: we have no need to speak: the effects speak for themselves. But still this is not our doing; for we are not sufficient to think any thing of ourselves. (ver. 5.) This letter is not of our writing; we could only do the same as Moses in the old law, prepare the tables, (ministered by us) it was God himself that wrote the ten commandments, and it is God himself that has written this our letter, by implanting his faith in your hearts. (Calmet)

Ver. 2. You are our epistle, better, and of greater force, than any commendatory epistle, written and engraven in my heart, by the love and affection I bear you. You may also be looked upon as the epistle of Christ, because of your zeal for the Christian religion, written upon the soft and fleshy tables of your tender affections, with which you have received, and kept his precepts; and not like the precepts of the law, which were engraven on tables of stone, which the hard-hearted Jews did not keep. (Witham)

Ver. 3. Though the Scriptures be of the Holy Ghost, the proper book of Christ’s doctrine is in the hearts of the faithful, the true mansions of the holy Spirit. Hence St. Irenæus says: “If the apostles had left no writings, ought we not to follow the order of tradition they delivered to the persons to whom they committed the Churches? How many barbarous nations have received and practised the faith without any thing written in ink and paper? (lib. iii. chap. 4.)

Ver. 5-6. To think any thing of ourselves, that may deserve a reward in heaven. — But Christ hath made us fit ministers of his New Testament by the Spirit: for the letter of the Old Testament killeth, but the Spirit of the New Testament giveth life. (Witham) — The letter. Not rightly understood, and taken without the spirit. (Challoner) — This verse, (6th) refers to that in the last chapter, where he says: And for these things who is so fit? Who is so capable of such a ministry? It is God alone who gives us strength, light and grace. I am far from giving a part only to God, and a part to myself. It all exclusively belongs to him. (St. Chrysostom)

Ver. 7. Now if the ministration of death: he meaneth the former[1] law, which by giving them a greater knowledge, and not giving graces of itself to fulfil those precepts, occasioned death, was notwithstanding glorious, accompanied with miracles on Mount Sinai, and so that the Israelites, when Moses came down from the mountain, could not bear the glory of his countenance, which he was forced to cover with a veil, when he spoke to them. Shall not the ministration of the Spirit in the new law, which worketh our sanctification and salvation, abound with much greater glory? especially since the old law was to be made void, and pass away. — Neither was that glorified, or to be esteemed glorious, in comparison of the new law, the blessings of the new so far surpassing those of the old law. (Witham) — If the law of Moses, written on tables of stone, which was only able to cause death, inasmuch as it gave us light sufficient to know what was right, though it did not give us strength or graces to comply with the obligations imposed by it; if this law, nevertheless, was accompanied with so much glory, that Moses was obliged to put a veil over his face, what must we think of the ministry of the Spirit, and of the glorious duties of the apostleship? How ought our glory to be manifest, and who is fit for such an undertaking. If I thus extol the excellency of my ministry, do not imagine that I attribute any thing to myself. I am unworthy of this office, which so far surpasseth that of Moses, that his glory (ver. 10.) could not be truly called glory, when compared with this of ours, which so far excelleth his. (Calmet) — The letter of the New Testament also, not truly taken or expounded by the Spirit of God, which is in his Church, must in the same manner be said to kill. See St. Augustine, serm. 70. & 100. de tempore. & l. de spirt. & lit. chap. 5. 6. & dein.

Ver. 12. Having therefore such hope, we use much confidence and assurance, and need not conceal God’s promises, nor put a veil over our face, as Moses did, the children of Israel not being able to look on the face[2] of that which is made void, meaning on that passing glory of Moses, to whom the law was given, and of that law, and all that belonged to it, which was only to last till the coming of Christ, and which is now made void. The reading of the ordinary Greek is now different, viz. that they looked not on the end of that which is now made void, meaning by the end, on Christ, who was the end of the law, which now by his coming is abolished and made void, as it was always designed to be. (Witham)

Ver. 13. The apostle here informs the Corinthians that the apostles speak with confidence, without any veil, discovering to men mysteries hidden from the foundation of the world; not like Moses, who put a veil on his face that the Israelites might not look steadfastly, or might not discover the weakness and short duration of the law, which was represented by the light that surrounded his face, and which quickly passed away. St. Paul here gives the allegorical explanation of the light and veil on the face of Moses. (Estius)

Ver. 14-15. But the senses and minds of the Jews have been dulled, hardened, and blinded, so that to this day we may say the veil remains over their eyes and minds, and hearts; that is, the greatest part of them understand not Moses’ books, prophecies, and those things that were figures of Christ. But they shall understand them, and the veil shall be taken off, when they shall be converted before the end of the world. (Witham)

Ver. 17. Now the Lord is a Spirit. Many expound it, the Spirit is the Lord. And where this Lord and this Spirit is, there is liberty; i.e. by this Spirit, they who are sanctified are freed from the slavery of sin and the devil. (Witham) — We must recollect what he had said before, that the letter killeth and that the Spirit giveth life; that by the Spirit was meant the gospel, and by the letter was meant the law of Moses. Here he says that God is the Spirit, in opposition to the law of Moses; that he is the Author of the liberty of the children of God, in the new law; that in the new law are found the true adorers in spirit and truth, in opposition to the spirit of servitude which animated the Jews. (Calmet)

Ver. 18. We all, beholding,[3] &c. i.e. we who have been called to the faith of Christ, have received a greater knowledge; and we hope and believe to be hereafter transformed into the same image, and to be in some measure like unto God, whom we shall see and enjoy, when we pass from the less glory of grace and sanctification in this life, which is the seed of glory, to the state of a more perfect glory and happiness in heaven, says St. Augustine. (Witham)


[1] Ver. 7. Ministratio mortis, diakonia thanatou. Thus, says St. Chrysostom, he calls the law, ton nomon legei. p. 584.

[2] Ver. 12. In faciem ejus quod evacuatur; but the common Greek copies, and also St. Chrysostom, eis to telos, in finem.

[3] Ver. 18. St. Augustine, de gloriâ fidei in gloriam speciei, de gloriâ, quâ Filii Dei sumus, in gloriam, quâ similes ei erimus, quoniam videbimus eum sicuti est.

Bible Text & Cross-references:

He needs no commendatory letters. The glory of the ministry of the New Testament.

1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need (as some do) epistles of commendation to you, or from you?

2 You are our epistle, written in our hearts, which is known and read by all men:

3 You being made manifest, that you are the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, and written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God: not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart.

4 And such confidence we have, through Christ, towards God:

5 Not that we are sufficient to think any thing of ourselves, as of ourselves: but our sufficiency is from God:

6 Who also hath made us fit ministers of the new testament: not in the letter, but in the Spirit: for the letter killeth: but the Spirit giveth life.

7 Now if the ministration of death, engraven with letters upon stones, was glorious; so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses, for the glory of his countenance, which is done away:

8 How shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather in glory?

9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory: much more the ministration of justice aboundeth in glory?

10 For even that which was glorious in this part was not glorified, by reason of the glory that excelleth.

11 For if that which is done away, was glorious: much more that which remaineth is in glory.

12 Having, therefore, such hope, we use much confidence:

13 *And not as Moses put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel might not steadfastly look on the face of that which is made void,

14 But their senses were made dull. For, until this present day, the self-same veil, in the reading of the old testament, remaineth not taken away, (because in Christ it is done away.)

15 But even until this day when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.

16 But when they shall be converted to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.

17 *Now the Lord is a Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

18 But we all, beholding the glory of the Lord with face uncovered, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.



13: Exodus xxxiv. 35.

17: John iv. 24.