2 Corinthians


4. The character of Paul's ministry, 3:1-6:13

i] A servant of the new covenant


Paul seeks to persuade the members of the Corinthian church to recognize him as their divinely appointed minister of the new covenant, a minister, not of law, but of grace.


i] Context: See 1:1-7. Paul has defended his apostolic integrity in 1:12-2:13, and, in what serves as the thesis of his letter / address, he proclaims the authenticity of his apostolic ministry in a statement of defense, 2:14-17. He now sets out to develop his thesis in a series of arguments running from 3:1-12:21. The thesis is primarily established in Paul's first argument, The Character of Paul's ministry, 3:1-6:13 (7:4, Barnett). These chapters evidence Paul's relief at the positive news conveyed by Titus that his apostleship is generally accepted by the church at Corinth. Yet, there are still some members who remain critical of Paul's ministry (Judaizers, members of the circumcision party??), and so Paul sets out to defend his ministry by establishing his role as a servant of the new covenant.

Paul's argument presents in three major parts:

*The authenticity of Paul's new covenant / gospel ministry, 3:1-4:6;

*An authentic gospel ministry entails suffering, 4:7-5:10;

*A proper response to authentic gospel ministry, 5:11-6:13.

Paul's defense of his new-covenant ministry is central to this letter. Both Barnett and Thrall argue that it covers 2:14-7:4. Both Thrall and Naylor argue that the second major element of this defense (apart from the thesis itself) covers 4:7-5:10: "Present distress and future glory", Thrall; "Earthly and heavenly homes", Naylor. Barnett sees it covering 4:16-5:10, "Hope in the face of dying and death." These notes propose that Paul's defense of his new covenant ministry is developed in three steps covering 3:1-6:13.


ii] Background: See 1:1-7.


iii] Structure: A servant of the New Covenant:

Paul does not need a letter of recommendation to authenticate is standing as an apostle of the new covenant, the Corinthian church itself is his recommendation, v1-3.

Paul's own confidence in his standing rests on his competence in gospel ministry, a competence that comes from God, v4-6.


iv] Interpretation:

In 3:1-3 Paul begins by stating that he is not into promoting testimonial letters for himself as is the case of some who presently minister in Corinth, v1. It is likely he is referring to the judaizers, nomist believers, possibly from the Jerusalem church, who promote law-obedience as the path to holiness. Unlike some, Paul is not blowing his own trumpet. Paul doesn't need to offer a testimonial for himself since the existence of the church in Corinth is it's own testimonial, v2-3. In v4-6 Paul confidently declares that he is competent to serve as a minister of the new covenant, a competency that comes, not from himself, but from God through Christ. Paul defines this ministry as one that is not of "the letter", of the law that kills, but of "the Spirit", of grace that enlivens.

Paul's declaration in these verses stems from his propositio, his summary statement of defense outlined in v14-17. "Who is qualified for such a task? .... In Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God."


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 3:1

Paul, a servant of the new covenant, v1-6: i] Paul's commendation is found in the existence of the Corinthian congregation, and certainly not from himself, nor from others, v1-3. It is always difficult, when defending our character, not to end up being charged with self-praise. Up to this point in his letter, Paul has spent time defending his integrity and so now he asks a rhetorical question, "are we beginning to commend ourselves again?" He has obviously faced this criticism, so he seeks to expose it. As Goudge puts it, "self-defense is almost impossible without self-commendation. Paul's opponents at Corinth made the former necessary, and then blamed him for the latter." Paul goes on to ask another rhetorical question: do the Corinthians actually require Paul to supply commendatory letters (presumably from the Jerusalem church) to support his apostleship? One hopes not, but obviously their behavior implies that they do.

sunistanein (sunistanw) pres. inf. "[are we beginning] to commend" - [do we begin] to commend, recommend (someone to someone else). The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "begin". Given the presence of h], "or", linking the two equative questions, it is likely that the negation mh, found in the second question, should be assumed in the first, giving the answer "no" to both questions. Paul wants to correct any thoughts that he is into recommending himself, or in need of the recommendation of others.

palin adv. "again" - again. Has Paul been charged before with a tendency toward self-commendation?

mh crh/zomen (crh/zw) pres. "do we need" - [or] surely not do we need.

w{V adv. "like" - like, as. Comparative.

tineV pro. "some people" - certain have need. Nominative subject of the assumed verb "to have need." "Some" seems more likely than Harris' "many", although note 2:17, oiJ pollow, "many".

sustatikwn gen. adj. "[letters] of recommendation" - of commendatory, recommendation, introduction [epistles, letters]. Genitive in agreement with epistolwn, "letters", which is a genitive of direct object after the verb crhzw, "to have need of." Such letters were common in the first century. Lietzmann suggests that Paul had no commendatory letters from the Jerusalem church to authorize his apostleship and that this was used against him by the opposition party in Corinth. On the other hand, it is quite possible that the judaizers, who were troubling the Corinthian church, had letters of commendation from that segment of the Jerusalem church inclined to promote nomism - law-obedience for sanctification.

proV + acc. "to" - to [you]. Spacial. Harris suggests "commendatory letters (twn) which are addressed to you", rather than "brought to you."

ex + gen. "from" - [or] from [you]? Expressing source / origin. The Corinthians themselves would be a source of testimonials for the nomist preachers, further bolstering their ministry as they sought to reorientate Paul's missionary churches to their version of law-based Christianity.


Of course, Paul can easily produce an evidence of his authority. "The Corinthian church does not make Paul an apostle, and his apostleship does not depend on them, but their existence is a visible sign of his apostleship", Barrett. The existence of the Christian fellowship at Corinth is a commendatory letter of Paul's apostleship for all believers to witness, and is one which has a special place in his deepest emotions.

hJmwn gen. pro. "[you yourselves are] our [letter]" - [the epistle of commendation] of us [you are yourselves]. The genitive is possessive. Note the unusual placement of the two pronouns next to each other, hJmwn uJmeiV, "our you". "Our letter you are", Barnett.

eggegammenh (eggrafw) perf. pas. part. "written" - having been written / inscribed. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting / qualifying "letter"; "a letter (which has been) inscribed on your hearts", Bruce. The perfect tense expresses the idea that the letter "cannot slip from our hearts, cannot be forgotten", Plummer.

en + dat. "on" - in, on. Local, expressing space / sphere; "on our very hearts", Cassirer.

hJmwn "our [hearts]" - [the hearts] of us. The genitive is possessive. The phrase expresses relationship of a paternal kind. The "our" is well attested, but some manuscripts have "your" and this is a more sensible reading. Paul's ministry among them is well known to them and this is his commendation.

ginwskomenh (ginwskw) pres. pas. part. "known" - being known. The participle, as with "being read" and "being manifested", v3, is adjectival, attributive, as with "written"; "an epistle which has been written on our hearts and which is being known and read by all men and a revelation that ....." The present tense is durative, possibly iterative.

anaginwskomenh (anaginwskw) pres. pas. part. "read" - [and] being read. cf., 1Cor.9:2. "You are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord", in the sense of Paul's evidence to the world.

uJpo + gen. "by [everyone]" - by [all men]. Expressing agency, as NIV. The evidence of the gospel, ministered by Paul and at work in the Corinthians, can be accessed by anyone who looks on.


Paul now extends the image of a commendatory letter. The Corinthian church itself is such a letter from Christ to the world. The existence of the church demonstrates the reality of the gospel - of God's purpose to gather a people to himself in Christ. This, in turn, validates Paul's apostolic ministry. Going on in v3b, Paul makes the point that "what is written is now no longer a commendatory letter, but the gospel which stands over against the law, and is written in men's hearts through the Spirit", Lietzmann. So, ultimately the gospel and its effects are Paul's authorization. And more than this, there is a sense where the Corinthian church itself replaces the "tablets of stone" as a witness to the new covenant, cf., Ezk.10:19, 36:26 - the tables of the law.

faneroumenoi (fanerow) pres. mid. part. "You show" - revealing. The participle is possibly adverbial, causal, "since you are manifested", or "because it is manifest that.....", possibly result, but more likely still adjectival, attributive, limiting / qualifying "letter"; see above. Heiring suggests the participle is middle, rather than passive, and therefore, the Corinthians are a "manifestment." The Corinthian church serves as a communication from Christ to the world.

oJti "that" - Introducing a object clause / dependent statement of cause expressing what is revealed / made manifest.

Cristou (oV) gen. "[a letter] from Christ" - [you are a letter] of christ. The genitive is ablative, expressing source / origin, as NIV, but possibly adjectival, possessive.

uJf (uJpo) + gen. "the result of [our]" - [having been ministered, served] by [us]. Expressing agency.

diakonhqeisa (diakonew) aor. pas. part. "ministry" - having been served. The participle is adjectival, attributive. limiting epistolh, "letter"; "a letter which has been ministered by us." Given that the Corinthian church is here described as "a letter", the sense is probably "delivered" or "supplied" by Paul's ministry team. "You are like a letter written by Christ and delivered by us", CEV.

eggegrammenh (eggrafw) perf. pas. pat. "written" - having been written. The participle is again adjectival, attributive, limiting "letter"; "a letter .... which has been written."

ou melani dat. adj. "not with ink" - not black, ink. The dative is probably instrumental", as NIV. Ink can we washed away, but the Spirit's inscription (the gospel), evident in the lives of the Corinthians, is permanent.

alla "but" - Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not ...., but ...."

pneumati (a atoV) dat. "with the Spirit" - with spirit. The dative is instrumental, expressing means, as NIV.

qeou (oV) gen. "of [the living] God" - of [a living] god. The genitive is adjectival, relational or possessive, possibly ablative, source / origin. The participle "living", zwntoV, genitive in agreement with "God", is adjectival, attributive, limiting "God"; "the God who is living" = "the living God."

en + dat. "on" - [not] in. Local, expressing space.

plaxin (ax axoV) dat. "tablets" - tablets [of stone] A writing tablet usually moulded out of clay; "of clay" = "made of clay."

all (alla) "but" - Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction; "not ..., but....".

sarkinaiV dat. adj. "human [hearts]" - [hearts] of flesh. The adjective limits "hearts" and together stand in apposition to "tablets", dative in agreement with "tablets". Written on human hearts as opposed to something written on stone. The evidence of the gospel written in the lives of the Corinthians, replaces the evidence of the of the old covenant written on stone (the Law / ten commandments).


ii] The ministry of the new covenant - a ministry of grace, not law, v4-6. Although Paul is not into self commendation, claiming for himself a self-sufficiency apart from God, he is, none-the-less, confident of his competence as a minister of the new covenant, and this through Christ, toward God. "The Spirit has changed the inner lives of the Corinthians, making them obedient from the heart to God, which is expressed in their observable behavior, v2-3, giving Paul confidence that as an apostle to the Messiah Jesus, the Son of God, whom he has proclaimed to the Corinthians, he is a minister of the covenant prophesied by Jeremiah / Ezekiel, in this long-awaited day of God's salvation", Barnett.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional connective, ie., for us introducing a new paragraph so not translated, as NIV, but possibly coordinative given the backward referencing toiauthn.

toiauthn pro. "such [confidence] as this" - such, of such a kind [confidence]. Referencing back; "he is confident that the very existence of the church in Corinth furnishes him with his apostolic credentials", Thrall, so Barrett, Barnett, ..

ecomen (ecw) pres. "is ours" - we have. The plural is probably "we apostles", but possibly "we members of the mission team."

pepoiqhsin (iV ewV) "confidence" - confidence, trust. Emphatic by position. Literally, "we have such confidence." "It is in full reliance upon God through Christ", Barclay.

dia + gen. "through" - through, by means of [christ]. Instrumental / agency; "by means of our union with Christ."

proV + gen. "before " - toward [god]. Spatial. Barrett suggests "in God", in that Paul would not be suggesting that he is relying on his own worth. His confidence is not self-confidence. So, his confidence before God is in God. "In the presence of God", Martin.


Paul goes on to categorically state that he does not regard himself as responsible for the effects of the gospel. The capacity of the apostolic team to understand and proclaim the gospel and to reap its harvest, comes from God, and God alone.

ouc .... all "not" - Setting up a counterpoint construction forming two contrastive clauses; "not ..... (alla) but ....."

oJti "that" - Here introducing an epexegetic clause explaining the nature of Paul's "confidence", v4, in the form of a qualification; "however, it is not that we are of ourselves competent ...", Cassirer. The syntax of the epexegetic clause is somewhat complex. It seems likely that Paul is making two points resting on the two prepositions apo and ex: a) "I am not of myself adequate", and b) "I do not regard anything as derived from myself", cf., Thrall.

iJkanoi adj. "[we are] competent" - [we are] sufficient, competent, capable, qualified, able, worthy. Predicate adjective. "There is nothing in us that allows us to claim that we are capable of doing this work", TEV.

af (apo) + gen. "in [ourselves]" - from [ourselves]. Expressing source, "out of, from" = "of ourselves."

logisasqai (logizomai) aor. inf. "to claim" - to consider, think, evaluate, reckon / claim, to put down to one's account. The infinitive is epexegetic, specifying the adjective iJkanoi, "competent, able." "Paul is not himself competent to consider anything as deriving from his own resources", Thrall.

ti "anything" - Accusative direct object of the verb "to count." Any part of Paul's apostolic ministry.

wJV "-" - like, as. Not a comparative here, rather modal / concessive; "as if / as though it were coming from ourselves."

ex + gen. "for [ourselves]" - out of, from [ourselves]. Expressing source / origin.

all (alla) "but" - Strong adversative the counterpoint construction noted above; "but on the contrary."

hJ iJkanothV (hV htoV) "competence" - the sufficiency, competence, capability [of us]. Nominative subject of an assumed verb to-be. The word is sometimes used of God, the All Sufficient One. Dodd suggests the word has covenantal links. Paul's missionary effort find its source and authority in God and thus is adequate for the task.

ek + gen. "from [God]" - is out of, from [god]. Expressing source / origin. As above, "is found in God."


Only God can take mere mortals and empower them as ministers of the gospel, "ministers", says Paul, of "a new covenant." Reference to the covenant springs from v3 where Paul speaks of the gospel written on "human hearts." The prophet Jeremiah, in his new covenant prophecy, speaks of the day when the law will be written on the heart rather than on stone, 31:31-34. The fulfillment of God's covenant promises, his agreed promises, is the substance of the gospel message. The agreement promises a renewed relationship with God, and in Christ that promise is realized. To hear and believe is to have the reality of this relationship inscribed in our hearts, in our inner beings, through the Holy Spirit. It is this life-giving message ("of the Spirit") which Paul and his apostolic team proclaim. They do not proclaim a message "of the letter", ie. a legalistic Christianity which assumes that a believers relationship with God depends on obedience to the law.

kai "and" - Probably here adjunctive; "who also gave us our sufficiency", Barrett.

o}V rel. pro. "he [has made us competent]" - who [made us competent, sufficient, enabled]. Functioning as the subject of the verb "to make [someone] sufficient", obviously "God", v5.

diakonouV (oV) "as ministers" - as ministers, servants, agents. Complement of the direct object "us" in a double accusative construction. The verb is carried from v3, so "to be ministers", ministers of the gospel.

diaqhkhV (h) gen. "of a [new] covenant" - of a [new] covenant, testament. The genitive may be objective, "agents for a new covenant", but possibly adjectival, either possessive, or relational; "in the interests of a new agreement", Goodspeed. The anarthrous (without an article) construction reflects Jer.38:31, LXX. In Biblical use it takes on the particular Hebrew meaning of an "agreement", particularly a one sided agreement between God and mankind. The covenant is possibly kainoV, "new", in that it is "fresh and effective, with plenty of time to run, in contrast with the old which is worn out and obsolete", Barnett. This statement assumes that there is more than one covenant, but there is really only one covenant, the covenant of divine grace, renewed, in ever increasing detail, up to its realization in Christ. So, it is more likely that "new" takes the sense renewed / refreshed, or even better, now, ie. "the time of God's favor, the time of salvation", the time promised of old to Abraham and his descendants, the time when it is possible for all humanity to be reconciled to God, and this time of covenant realization is a now time in and through Christ. So, here Paul is claiming to be a minister of the covenant' realization prophesied by Jeremiah, and inaugurated by Christ at the Last Supper.

ou ..... alla "not .... but ..." - A counterpoint construction forming two contrastive clauses; "not of letter but of Spirit."

grammatoV (a atoV) "of the letter" - of letter. The genitive is adverbial, reference / respect; "not with respect to the letter." Paul is most likely referring to the Mosaic Law here, the letter engraved on stone, v3, ie., the ten commandments. As suggested, the Corinthians possibly put weight on letters of recommendation to validate any ministry undertaken in their church. For Paul, his letter of recommendation is the Corinthians themselves, who are more properly a letter from Christ to the world. Continuing this negative vain, the letter now becomes the Law, or more particularly the nomistic teaching of the Law by members of the Judaizing party. Although not corrupt in itself, the Law is corrupted by the way nomists use it to further their Christian lives. When the Law is used to restrain sin and progress holiness it kills, whereas the gospel expedites the life-giving and freeing ministry of the Spirit.

pneumatoV (a atoV) "of the Spirit" - [but] of spirit. The genitive is adverbial, reference / respect; "but with respect to the Spirit."

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why the ministry of the new covenant is not of the letter, but of the Spirit.

to ... gramma (a atoV) "the letter" - the letter [kills]. Nominative subject of the verb "to kill." Here referring to the Mosaic Law, but again focusing on its improper use, namely to progress sanctification. In the Sinai covenant, the law, with its curse for disobedience, serves to reinforce the need to rely of divine grace for salvation, and this by making sin more sinful. The Law cannot restrain sin, it only enhances sin, and thus brings with it condemnation. Of course, the Law also serves to guide the fruit of faith, namely, love, but that is not the focus here. "For the written law brings death", Barclay.

zwopoiei (zwpoiew) "gives life" - [but the spirit] makes alive. "The Spirit of God alone can give life to the soul", Phillips.


2 Corinthians Introduction



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