Paul’s Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11 -- By: Randall C. Gleason

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 154:613 (Jan 1997)
Article: Paul’s Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11
Author: Randall C. Gleason


Paul’s Covenantal Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-11

Randall C. Gleason

[Randall C. Gleason is Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, International School of Theology—Asia, Quezon City, Philippines.]

Paul’s remarks in 2 Corinthians 3:1–11 have captured the interest of biblical scholars in several ways. Beginning with Origen and continuing through the Middle Ages, many theologians justified going beyond the plain meaning of the “letter” of Scripture to its allegorical “spiritual” message by appealing to Paul’s words, “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6).1 Although in different fashion, some modern scholars persist in establishing their hermeneutical methodology on this key text. Richardson says that “the most fruitful line of enquiry for a biblical basis for hermeneutics” is in the letter/spirit contrast in 2 Corinthians 3 because of its “demand for interpretation at the instigation of the Spirit.”2 Steinmetz calls for a return to the medieval theory of levels of meaning because the text truly “contains both letter and spirit.”3 More recently Hays advocates a reader

response hermeneutic based on 2 Corinthians 3.4 Is a hermeneutical method the issue behind Paul’s letter/spirit contrast?

Contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3 between the Old and New Covenants have also attracted attention regarding the role of the Mosaic Law in the life of the Christian. Ryrie emphasizes that 2 Corinthians 3:7–11 teaches the end of the Ten Commandments, since they “are a ministration of death” and, therefore are “in no uncertain terms…done away (v. 11).”5 Theonomists reject this claim. Bahnsen argues,

The fact that the letter kills but the Spirit enlivens (2 Cor 3:6) in no way discredits or stigmatizes the law…. The law exposes sin and demands death, but it was not designed to kill. The law came in glory (2 Cor 3:7); not it, but our sin falls short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23). The surpassing glor...

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