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2 Corinthians Chapter 3

(What was done away with?)


       There are many passages in scripture commonly quoted off point and out of context to demonstrate that the Law of God is abolished.  This simply is not true.  2 Corinthians chapter 3 is one such passage, but a proper understanding will demonstrate that 2 Corinthians 3 supports the following of God's law. 

          In 2 Corinthians chapter 3 the Apostle Paul makes a few statements that can be easily misunderstood.  We need to always keep in mind the warning given us by the Apostle Peter regarding Paul's writings.  Peter said, "And think of the long-suffering of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul also has written to you according to the wisdom given to him as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable pervert, as also they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Pet. 3:15-16).  Peter is not refuting the writings of Paul, but warning us to make sure we have a correct understanding.  Peter says the, "unlearned and unstable pervert" the scriptures, which implies that Paul was apparently learned and stable.  We might ask, what was Paul learned and stable in?  Here is a quick resume of the Apostle Paul, he was, "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil. 3:5-6), and educated at the "feet of Gamaliel" (Acts 22:3).  The Apostle Paul was well educated in the Mosaic law.  He would be what we would call today a prosecuting attorney for he was sent out by the High Priest to prosecute the church (Acts 9:1-2).  We, however, have a hard time understanding his writings because we are "unlearned and unstable" in the Mosaic law.  Those who say Paul advocated the abolishment of the Mosaic law are "unlearned and unstable" in that law. It is important for us to use the Mosaic law to properly understand Paul's writings.  In so doing, we will see that he never once advocated the abolishment of God's law, but rather endorsed the proper understanding and practice of it.  With this in mind, lets take a look at 2 Corinthians chapter 3.

          The Apostle Paul states twice in chapter 3 that something is "done away" with or "abolished."  The confusion is with what exactly is done away with or abolished.  This statement is made in 2 Cor. 3:7 and 2 Cor. 3:13.  Here is the context of chapter 3.  Paul speaks here of the "new testament" which is not of "the letter, but of the spirit" (2 Cor. 3:6).  There is a difference between the old and new testament (covenants).  The difference is the Spirit of God in our hearts.  In the old covenant, the law was written on stone.  We were expected to follow it, but could not perform our duties.  The new covenant is based on the promise given to Abraham.  This promise is of the Holy Spirit.  The third chapter of the book of Galatians tells us so (Gal. 3:2-6).  What we need to remember is that the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law is not whether or not we should practice the law, but how we are empowered to practice the law.  The letter of the law is us practicing the law in our own power.  The spirit of the law is the Holy Spirit empowering us to practice the law.  We know this for the purpose of the spirit is to "cause [us] to walk in [His] statutes, and ... keep [His] judgments, and do them" (Eze. 36:27).  From the start, the Apostle is endorsing the practice of God's law, not by our might, but by the Holy Spirit.

          But if the law, which is here called the "ministration of death," was "glorious," how much more the "ministration of the spirit" will be glorious (2 Cor. 3:7-8).  This is the point of chapter 3.  Not to say the law is "done away" with or "abolished."  Since the law was glorious how much more will the spirit be.  Even though the law was a "ministration of death" because we could not fulfill our duties under it, it was still glorious.  It was so glorious that Moses face shone brightly as he received it.  How much more the "ministration of the spirit" be glorious because we now can fulfill our duties.  This is the entire point of chapter 3.  Since the law was glorious, even though we could not fulfill it, how much more will the spirit be glorious, because the spirit will help us fulfill it.  The confusion is caused by the last phrase of verse seven which says, "which glory was to be done away."  To properly understand this statement we need to understand Exodus chapter 34.

          In Exodus 34, Moses spoke face to face with the living God.  Something miraculous happened, which is what the Apostle is referencing here in 2 Corinthians 3.  Moses wrote, "And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him ... And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai.  And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.  But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out.  And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.  And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him" (Ex. 34:29, 32-35).  Here is the reference the Apostle is speaking of.  Moses' face shone brightly after speaking with God.  This causes him to put a vail over his face so the people could see him, until Moses went back to speak with God.  This miracle faded away, for Moses' face did not continue to shine forever.  The Apostle Paul is speaking of Moses face being "done away" with, not the law of God.  The Greek word used for "done away" is katargeō, which has many meanings, among which are "bring (come) to nought, put away (down), vanish away" (Strong's Concordance - G2673).  It is true that this word can mean abolish or make void, but the context here is clearly in reference to Moses' face vanishing away.  We should be careful not to interpret something as removing the law of God, which God Himself clearly stated would last "forever" (Ex. 12:14-17, Ex. 12:24, Ex. 27:21, Ex. 28:43, Ex. 29:28, Ex. 30:21, Ex. 31:16-17, Lev. 10:15, Lev. 16:29-31, Lev. 23:21, Lev. 23:31, Lev. 24:8, Deut. 5:29, Deut. 11:1, 2 Chron. 2:4, and many, many more).
          The rest of chapter 3 clearly confirms this understanding.  Paul states, "And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished" (2 Cor. 3:13).  Paul clearly references Moses' face, which he put a vail over.  From Exodus 34, we know that the children of Israel could not look to the face of Moses without the veil.  The children of Israel could not "stedfastly look" toward his face, which is what was "abolished."  The word for "abolished" is the same word for "done away" in verse 7.  A better translation of katargeō, here would be vanish away.  Clearly from the context of 2 Corinthians 3, Moses' shining face is that which was "done away" with or "abolished."  Obviously his face was not "abolished," but rather the glory of the LORD faded away from his face.  "Abolished" and "done away" is an unfortunate mistranslation of the word katargeō.  From the context of 2 Corinthians 3, a better translation clearly would be "vanish away."

          We always need to remember that God's law is "forever" and when it appears to say otherwise, we should error on the side of caution and believe what God clearly said.  2 Corinthians 3 clearly does not abolish the law of God, but rather uses the Glory of Moses' face as an example to show how much better the new covenant is than the old.  The Mosaic law is so glorious that Moses' face shown brightly as he received it, yet it was still an instrument of death because we could not follow it.  The new covenant is even more glorious in that we have the promised Holy Spirit to help us obey God and keep His commandments.  If the old covenant, which brought death to us because we could not fulfill it, was glorious, how much more the new covenant with the promise of the Holy Spirit be glorious.  With the new covenant we have the promise of the Holy Spirit to "cause [us] to walk in [His] statutes, and ... keep [His] judgments, and do them" (Eze. 36:27). 


By Steve Siefken

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV