The Expository Files.

The New Covenant

2 Corinthians 3:6-18


As Paul seeks to defend the integrity of his ministry in the Second Corinthian epistle, he affirms this sincerity and boldness in preaching the gospel (1:12; 2:17; 3:12). He affirms that his adequacy is from God, as  a minister of a New Covenant (3:4-5). He affirms that he does not lose heart as a minister of Christ (4:1-2). What was the secret of such confidence?

2 Corinthians 3:6-18 is a text full of comparisons as Paul seeks to explain the superior nature of the New Covenant, and thus of his ministry. The secret of Paul's boldness as a minister is to be found in his concept of the more glorious New Covenant and his opportunity to preach it.

The New Covenant is more glorious because of its superior function in God's redemptive purpose (vs. 6-10). The Old Covenant, written in letters engraved on stones, was a "ministry of death" (v.7) and a "ministry of condemnation" (v.9). The New Covenant, by contrast, is a "ministry of the Spirit" (v.8) and a "ministry of righteousness" (v.9). The Old Law was a revelation of God's glory, but it was not a full disclosure of God's redemptive purposes. Human beings could never be justified by the works of the Law (Galatians 2:16). It could only bring condemnation. The Law of Moses was added because of transgressions "until the seed should come" (Galatians 3:19). Christ, however, enacted a "better covenant" upon "better promises" (Hebrews 8:6), the forgiveness of sins. The Law pointed forward to something so superior, the ministry of righteousness, that its own glory, however brilliant, was surely to be exceeded.

The covenant of which Paul was a minister is also more glorious because of its permanence. "For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious" (v.11). Paul appeals to an incident in the life of Moses and uses it allegorically to demonstrate both the reality and the transience of the glory of that occasion. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his face shone because he had been speaking with God. After he finished speaking, he put a veil over his face, to remain until his next visit with Jehovah (Exodus 34:29-35). The veil hid the fact that the brightness of his face was fading (vs. 7,13). The antitype, Paul argues, is that the glory of the Old Covenant is now fading away, being superceded by a New Covenant with greater glory, even as the brightness of the moon fades before the splendor of the rising sun. The Old Law was a tutor to lead us to Christ, "but after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Galatians 3:24-25). It was taken away and nailed to His cross (Colossians 2:14). The New Covenant is more glorious because it now remains.

Third, the New Covenant is more glorious because of the benefits it brings. "Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech" (v.12). To Paul, the New Covenant provided hope which the Old could not.

It provides revelation, or enlightenment (vs. 13-16). Appealing again to the example of Moses, Paul declares that there is a "veil" that lies over the hearts of those who still cling to the Old Covenant. It is a veil of hardness of heart and blindness to the truth, because they refuse to see Jesus as the Christ who has fulfilled the Law and its purpose. Satan uses every means to "blind the minds of the unbelieving" so that the gospel remains veiled to the perishing (2 Cor. 4:3-4). But through Christ the veil is removed, and believers are able to see the "light of the gospel" (cf. Acts 26:18).

The more glorious covenant offers liberation. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (v.17). Paul warned the Galatians to "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1). The gospel offers man the opportunity to be free from the Law, from sin, and from condemnation. Why cling to that which is less glorious?

Finally, the more glorious covenant effects transformation. He declared, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed [from metamorphoo] into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (v.18). As we behold the Lord, His life, His teachings, and His love for us, a "metamorphosis" takes place in us. Our priorities, our values, and our characters take on a new form as we focus our attention on the Christ revealed in the gospel. We can become partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4), conformed to the image of the Son of God (Romans 8:29). And Paul says that is exceedingly glorious -- "from glory to glory."

Thus Paul affirms his devotion to the more glorious covenant of Christ. Like Paul, let us cling to that more glorious covenant, so that we can say, "since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart" (2 Corinthians 4:1).
 By Dan Petty
From Expository Files 1.1; January, 1994