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2 Corinthians 3:3

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ - Ye are in our hearts, and Christ has written you there; but yourselves are the epistle of Christ; the change produced in your hearts and lives, and the salvation which you have received, are as truly the work of Christ as a letter dictated and written by a man in his work.

Ministered by us - Ye are the writing, but Christ used me as the pen; Christ dictated, and I wrote; and the Divine characters are not made with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God; for the gifts and graces that constitute the mind that was in Christ are produced in you by the Holy Ghost.

Not in tables of stone - Where men engrave contracts, or record events; but in fleshly tables of the heart - the work of salvation taking place in all your affections, appetites, and desires; working that change within that is so signally manifested without. See the parts of this figurative speech:

  1. Jesus Christ dictates.
  • The apostle writes.
  • The hearts of the Corinthians are the substance on which the writing is made. And,
  • The Holy Spirit produces that influence by which the traces are made, and the mark becomes evident.
  • Here is not only an allusion to making inscriptions on stones, where one dictates the matter, and another cuts the letters; (and probably there were certain cases where some colouring matter was used to make the inscription the more legible; and when the stone was engraved, it was set up in some public place, as monuments, inscriptions, and contracts were, that they might be seen, known, and read of all men); but the apostle may here refer to the ten commandments, written by the finger of God upon two tables of stone; which writing was an evidence of the Divine mission of Moses, as the conversion of the Corinthians was an evidence of the mission of St. Paul. But it may be as well to take the words in a general sense, as the expression is not unfrequent either in the Old Testament, or in the rabbinical writers. See Schoettgen.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared - You are made manifest as the epistle of Christ; or you, being made manifest, are the epistle, etc. They had been made manifest to be such by their conversion. The sense is, it is plain, or evident, that ye are the epistle of Christ.

    To be the epistle of Christ - That which Christ has sent to be our testimonial. He has given this letter of recommendation. He has converted you by our ministry, and that is the best evidence which we can have that we have been sent by him, and that our labor is accepted by him. Your conversion is his work, and it is his public attestation to our fidelity in his cause.

    Ministered by us - The idea here is, that Christ had employed their ministry in accomplishing this. They were Christ‘s letter, but it had been prepared by the instrumentality of the apostles. It had not been prepared by him independently of their labors, but in connection with, and as the result of those labors. Christ, in writing this epistle, so to speak, has used our aid; or employed us as amanuenses (copyists).

    Written not with ink - Paul continues and varies the image in regard to this “epistle,” so that he may make the testimony borne to his fidelity and success more striking and emphatic. He says, therefore, that that it was not written as letters of introduction are, with ink - by traces drawn on a lifeless substance, and in lines that easily fade, or that may become easily illegible, or that can be read only by a few, or that may be soon destroyed.

    But with the Spirit of the living God - In strong contrast thus with letters written with ink. By the Spirit of God moving on the heart, and producing that variety of graces which constitute so striking and so beautiful an evidence of your conversion. If written by the Spirit of the living God, it was far more valuable, and precious, and permanent than any record which could be made by ink. Every trace of the Spirit‘s influences on the heart was an undoubted proof that God had sent the apostles; and was a proof which they would much more sensibly and tenderly feel than they could any letter of recommendation written in ink.

    Not in tables of stone - It is generally admitted that Paul here refers to the evidences of the divine mission of Moses which was given by the Law engraved on tablets of stone, compare 2 Corinthians 3:7. Probably those who were false teachers among the Corinthians were Jews, and had insisted much on the divine origin and permanency of the Mosaic institutions. The Law had been engraved on stone by the hand of God himself; and had thus the strongest proofs of divine origin, and the divine attestation to its pure and holy nature. To this fact the friends of the Law, and the advocates for the permanency of the Jewish institutions, would appeal. Paul says, on the other hand, that the testimonials of the divine favor through him were not on tablets of stone. They were frail, and easily broken. There was no life in them (compare 2 Corinthians 3:6 and 2 Corinthians 3:7); and valuable and important as they were, yet they could not be compared with the testimonials which God had given to those who successfully preached the gospel.

    But in fleshly tables of the heart - In truths engraved on the heart. This testimonial was of more value than an inscription on stone, because:

    (1) No hand but that of God could reach the heart, and inscribe these truths there.

    (2) because it would be attended with a life-giving and living influence. It was not a mere dead letter.

    (3) because it would be permanent. Stones, even where laws were engraved by the finger of God, would moulder and decay, and the inscription made there would be destroyed. But not so with that which was made on the heart. It would live forever. It would abide in other worlds. It would send its influence into all the relations of life; into all future scenes in this world; and that influence would be seen and felt in the world that shall never end. By all these considerations, therefore, the testimonials which Paul had of the divine approbation were more valuable than any mere letters of introduction, or human commendation could have been; and more valuable even than the attestation which was given to the divine mission of Moses himself.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    Even the appearance of self-praise and courting human applause, is painful to the humble and spiritual mind. Nothing is more delightful to faithful ministers, or more to their praise, than the success of their ministry, as shown in the spirits and lives of those among whom they labour. The law of Christ was written in their hearts, and the love of Christ shed abroad there. Nor was it written in tables of stone, as the law of God given to Moses, but on the fleshy (not fleshly, as fleshliness denotes sensuality) tables of the heart, Eze 36:26. Their hearts were humbled and softened to receive this impression, by the new-creating power of the Holy Spirit. He ascribes all the glory to God. And remember, as our whole dependence is upon the Lord, so the whole glory belongs to him alone. The letter killeth: the letter of the law is the ministration of death; and if we rest only in the letter of the gospel, we shall not be the better for so doing: but the Holy Spirit gives life spiritual, and life eternal. The Old Testament dispensation was the ministration of death, but the New Testament of life. The law made known sin, and the wrath and curse of God; it showed us a God above us, and a God against us; but the gospel makes known grace, and Emmanuel, God with us. Therein the righteousness of God by faith is revealed; and this shows us that the just shall live by his faith; this makes known the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, for obtaining the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The gospel so much exceeds the law in glory, that it eclipses the glory of the legal dispensation. But even the New Testament will be a killing letter, if shown as a mere system or form, and without dependence on God the Holy Spirit, to give it a quickening power.
    Ellen G. White
    This Day With God, 170.5

    In His prayer for His disciples shortly before His ascension, Christ said, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:20, 21). Oh, that these blessed words may be written by the finger of God upon every heart.—Manuscript 7, June 10, 1891, “Christian Service in the Living Church.” TDG 170.5

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    Ellen G. White
    This Day With God, 146.2

    When the law of God is written in the heart it will be exhibited in a pure and holy life. The commandments of God are no dead letter. They are spirit and life, bringing the imaginations and even the thoughts into subjection to the will of Christ. The heart in which they are written will be kept with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. All who love Jesus and keep the commandments will seek to avoid the very appearance of evil; not because they are constrained thus to do, but because they are copying a pure model, and feel averse to everything contrary to the law written in their hearts. They will not feel self-sufficient, but their trust will be in God, who alone is able to keep them from sin and impurity. The atmosphere surrounding them is pure; they will not corrupt their own souls or the souls of others. It is their pleasure to deal justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God. TDG 146.2

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    Ellen G. White
    This Day With God, 96.6

    O that our people could realize what advantages would be theirs if they would look constantly to Jesus! “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). He is our Alpha and our Omega. Pressing close to His side and holding communion with Him, we become like Him. Through the transforming power of the Spirit of Christ, we are changed in heart and life. His words are engraven on the tablets of the soul, and we are His witnesses, representing Him in the daily life.—Letter 47, March 28, 1903, to F. C. Gilbert, a Jewish minister working for his own people. TDG 96.6

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