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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

Among the charges preferred by the false teachers against the Apostle, was that of indulging in self-praise. He defends himself against this charge, for which he might have given some grounds in the seventeenth verse of the preceding chapter, as well as in chapter 9 of his first Epistle, by retorting upon his adversaries, and showing that he did not, like them, require any recommendation with the Corinthians. For, having been converted by his ministry, they were his letters patent, or, more properly speaking, the Epistle of Christ himself who, by the ministry of the Apostle, engraved on their hearts, with the grace of the Holy Ghost, the characters of true sanctity (verses 1–3). The glory of all this he refers to God, through whose grace alone, man can elicit even as much as a single good or supernatural thought, conducive to salvation (4, 5). And to God he acknowledges his obligation for his call to the exalted function of the Apostolic ministry. He contrasts this ministry with that of Moses, and he shows the superior excellence of the former (6). He shows that the glory attached to his own ministry, so incomparably surpasses that attached to the ministry of Moses, that the glory of the latter might, comparatively speaking, be termed no glory at all (7, 8, 9, 10). His ministry, and the new covenant, excelled the Mosaic on another ground also—viz., on the ground of perpetuity (11). His practical conclusion from the hope of the glory attached to his ministry is, to preach the gospel openly, and with much boldness of speech (12), and not act, as did Moses, who placed a veil upon his face, when speaking to the people (13). He explains the mystical signification of this veil, which signified the spiritual blindness of the Jews, who see not Christ represented in the beaming effulgence of the face of Moses (14, 15). It is only by believing in Christ, that this veil will be taken away (16). He says that the Lord is the spirit to whom he has been referring, as distinguishing the Covenant of grace from that of Moses; he it is that removes the veil of darkness and obstinacy (17). The Apostle concludes the second number of the antithesis, instituted at verse 13, and shows how clearly the revelation of God has been made by the Holy Spirit to the ministers of the gospel beyond that of Moses, so that they can, like so many suns, enlighten others (18).

Paraphrase

1. Is it to be inferred from the foregoing (2:17), that we are again anxious to praise ourselves and be commended to your favour? Or, do we require commendatory letters to you or from you (as is the case with some others)?

2. We require no such recommendation; you yourselves, converted to the faith through our labours and ministry, are a sufficient recommendation of us, and a proof of our true apostleship, written on our hearts (owing to our anxiety for you). You are our letters patent, known to all men, since the several nations of the earth, with which you hold relations of commerce, know us, to be your Apostle.

3. It should rather have been said, that, by your faith and good works, it is made manifest regarding you, that you are the Epistle of Christ himself, on whom, as on a chart, are inscribed his sacred laws and precepts written by our ministry; not with ink, but with the grace of the Holy Ghost, which has impressed, on you the characters of true sanctity; not on tables of stone, but on the softer and more pliant tablets of the heart.

4. And this confidence and matter for glorying in you as our converts before God, we have not from any merits of our own, but from the merits of Christ.

5. We glory in our ministry and its successful issue with you, not that we are sufficient of ourselves, from our own natural strength to elicit even a good thought of the supernatural order—a thought conducive to salvation—much less perform a good work of the same kind, since all our sufficiency, in that respect, must come from the grace of God.

6. Who, among the other gifts bestowed upon us, has also rendered us fit ministers of the new testament, not of the written law given by Moses, but of the spiritual covenant of grace, which grace is given to be abundantly dealt out to others. For, the law of Moses, written on tables of stone, is of itself the occasion of death in its infraction, and by stimulating concupiscence; but the spiritual covenant vivifies, by the charity and grace which it communicates to our hearts.

7. For, if the ministry of announcing a law which served as the occasional cause of death, a law engraven in letters with the finger of God on tables of stone, were glorious in its effects, so much so that the children of Israel could not look on the face of Moses on account of the bright effulgence beaming from his countenance, an effulgence which has passed away with Moses himself:

8. How much greater shall not the glory be, that is reserved in the life to come, for those employed in announcing the covenant of grace, which imparts the abundant gifts of the Spirit?

9. But if, I say, the ministration of the law which was the occasion of damnation, was glorious, how much more glorious shall be the office of announcing the law which confers true justice and sanctity (in the fulness of that bliss after which inanimate nature itself sighs, the glory of the adoption of the sons of God)?—Rom. 8:19.

10. For, indeed, should we institute a comparison, we might truly say that the glory attached to the ministry of Moses was no glory at all, compared with that of the Apostolic ministry, or the new covenant, on account of the supereminent glory of the latter.

11. Another respect in which appears the superiority of the new ministry and covenant over the old—viz., its perpetuity. For if the old covenant and its ministry, although transitory, were glorious, much more glorious shall be the covenant and its ministry, which are to last to the end of time.

12. Animated, then, with the hope of such glory, arising from preaching the gospel, the practical resolve which we Apostles come to is, to preach it openly and undisguisedly, with much freedom and boldness of speech.

13. Nor do we in preaching, act as Moses did, who put a veil on his face when he spoke to the people, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look on his countenance effulgent with the rays of glory, which glory is now destroyed.

14. This veil on the face of Moses mystically signified the blindness of the Jewish people, and the dulness of perception under which they labour; for, unto the present day, this same veil, of which the veil of Moses was a type, is unremoved, while they are reading the Old Testament, because it can be removed only by Christ, in whom they refuse to believe.

15. But even to the present day, while Moses is read in their synagogues, this veil of spiritual blindness is placed on their hearts.

16. But when they shall be converted to the Lord, this veil shall be removed.

17. Now, the Lord is the spirit to whom we have been referring throughout, as distinguishing the new covenant from the old (and hence, the conversion of Israel to the Lord signifies the adoption of the spiritual covenant, which is the inheritance of the sons of promise in the New Testament). And where the spirit of the Lord is, there is to be found exemption from blindness of intellect, from obstinacy of will, and obduracy of heart (and hence, it is only by becoming Christians, that the veil of darkness and mental obstinacy shall be removed from the Jews).

18. But we Apostles and ministers of the gospel, unlike Moses (verse 13), receiving in ourselves as in a mirror, with face uncovered, i.e., openly and undisguisedly, the glorious revelation of God, are transformed into the same likeness which we saw in the mirror; from the brightness of his glory reflected on us to the brightness which we also reflect on others; we are thus transformed, like so many suns, enlightening others, in a manner becoming the spirit of the Lord, which is the spirit of liberty, freeing us from mental darkness and obstinacy (verse 17).

Commentary

1. “Again,” has reference to chapter 9 of the First Epistle, where he is forced, in his own defence, as well as here, to refer to his labours and privations. “Epistles of commendation,” were propably letters of introduction, or, the tesseræ hospitalitatis common among the Greeks, Romans, and Jews, and in frequent use in the primitive Church. (“As some do,”) viz., the false teachers, who made this a charge against the Apostle, of which they themselves alone were guilty.

2. “Written on our hearts.” Owing to our anxiety and affection for you. “Which is known and read,” &c., may also mean, it is known and read by all that you are engraven on our hearts, in consequence of our constant mention and remembrance of you in every place.

3. He corrects his assertion, to the effect that they were his Epistle; they were rather “the Epistle of Christ,” whose law is written on their hearts. “The Epistle of Christ” may also mean the Epistle written by Christ, and of which Christ is the principal author. The former, which is adopted in the Paraphrase, is the interpretation of the Greeks. The latter interpretation, wherein it is insinuated that the Corinthians, or, rather the fruits of their conversion to the faith, are the work of Christ, better suits the following words:—“Ministered by us,” i.e., written by our ministry as a subordinate agent. “Not with ink,” with which human instruments are ordinarily written, “but with the spirit,” &c., i.e., the grace of the Holy Ghost. “Not in tables of stone,” like the Law of Moses, to which these words are evidently allusive, “but in the fleshy tablets,” &c. The word “fleshy,” is opposed to hard, stony, impenetrable; but not to spiritual. The Apostle is most probably alluding to the difference between both testaments referred to, chapter 31, of Jeremiah, and quoted in the Epistle to the Hebrews (8:8). How many are there, alas! whose hearts, harder than adamant, always resist the inspirations of the Holy Ghost. How fervently should we pray, not to be delivered over to an impenitent heart—to a spirit of obduracy and insensibility in the ways of God!

4. The Apostle boasts before God for having been made the instrument in the conversion of the Corinthians, not through any merits of his own, but through the merits of Christ. He claims no merit for himself, notwithstanding his immense labours and boundless success in the propagation of the gospel and conversion of the world. “Dens, qui universum mundum B. Pauli Apostoli prædicatione docuisti,” is the language of the Church (January 25). What a lesson is here conveyed to such as wish that their most trifling efforts in the cause of religion should be bruited abroad, and that a twofold glory should redound to themselves!—“receperunt mercedem suam.”

5. This passage has been adduced by St. Augustine and the Council of Orange to refute the errors of the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians, and to show the necessity of divine grace for performing a good action or for eliciting a good thought conducive to salvation. It is of supernatural actions the Apostle here speaks; for he is treating of works appertaining to the Apostolic ministry of preaching the gospel. “Of ourselves as of ourselves;” i.e., of our own natural strength, and independent of any other assistance.

6. “Who also,” i.e., who, among the other blessings bestowed on us, “hath made us fit ministers of the new testament.” This has reference to the sixteenth verse of the preceding chapter, “and for these things who is so fit?” “Not in the letter” (the Greek is, οὐ γράμματος ἀλλὰ πνευματος, not of the letter, but of the spirit), i.e., not ministers to announce the mere letter of the Law of Moses, viewed in itself, and without grace; but to announce a spiritual covenant, which administers abundant grace. “For the letter killeth.” The Apostle here views the letter without the spirit, as he views science without charity—(Epistle 1, chap. 7), and in this sense “the letter kills,” because it gives no grace of itself to fulfil the precepts which it imposes. Again, “it kills,” by becoming the occasional cause of spiritual death, inasmuch as it stimulates, by the very prohibition, to its transgression, and excites concupiscence, as the Apostle expressly declares in his Epistle to the Romans.

In this passage the Apostle undertakes to show the superiority of the Christian law and ministry over the Mosaic. This is directed against the false teachers, who wished to unite the Mosaic with the Christian law.

7. “Glorious,” is understood by some of the frightful appearances, the thunder, lightnings, &c., which were manifested on Sinai. It is more probable, however, that it refers to the effect produced on the countenance of Moses by his converse with God (as in Paraphrase). The Greek of this verse runs thus:—εν γραμματι ευτετυπωμενη λιθοις εγεννηθη ἐν δοξῃ, engraven on letters on stones, be in glory, &c. The meaning, according to which, might be, if the ministry of announcing a law which, in letters, or taken literally, is the occasion of death, and engraven on stone, &c. “Which is done away,” refers to “the glory of his countenance,” as is evident from the Greek, δοξαν καταργουμενην. This effulgence on the face of Moses has passed away with himself.

8. The Apostle refers to the future glory, in a special manner reserved for the ministers of the gospel before all the other elect—the glory of the children of God. What encouragement and consolation are held out here to the labourers in the cause of the gospel, amidst all the perils and arduous toils of their ministry!

9. In this verse is conveyed, in different language, the idea expressed in the two preceding verses. The “glory” to which he refers, is that reserved for us, in the life to come, and after which manimate creation itself sighs.—(Romans 15:17).

10. “In this part,” that is, in respect of comparison. The glory and ministry of Moses, compared with that attached to the new covenant, was no glory at all.

11. He institutes a comparison between both covenants and their respective ministries under another head—viz., that of permanency or perpetuity. The new ministry and covenant are to last to the end of time, while those of Moses are transient, being a mere introduction to a covenant and ministry of better hope.

12. Having shown the superior excellence of the gospel ministry, he proceeds to point out the proper mode of exercising that ministry, a subject on which he treats as far as chapter 7. The first distinguishing trait of the evangelical ministry is intrepidity; and the practical lesson which it ought to inspire should be to teach us to preach the gospel openly, with freedom of speech. This is the meaning of the Greek word corresponding with “confidence,” παῤῥησία.

13. “That the children of Israel could not look steadfastly on the face of that which is made void; for which the Greek reading is, εἰς τὸ τὲλος τοὖ καταργουμένου, so that the children … on the end of that which is made void. The meaning of which is, that the children of Israel, on account of the veiled and mysterious manner in which Moses spoke (which was signified by the veil covering his face, to conceal the glory beaming from his countenance), did not see Christ, who is “the end of the law” (Romans 10:5), in whom all its figures are accomplished, and by whose grace all its recepts are fulfilled. Others, by “the end,” understand the extremities of the face of Moses, which would appear to be the meaning attached to it by the Vulgate translation. “On the face of that which is made void.” The word “which” is also referred by the Vulgate, quod evacuatur, to the veil which covered the face of Moses, as if it were meant, that the veil of Jewish darkness was destroyed, and totally removed by the gospel and the clear revelation of Christ. The interpretation in the Paraphrase is, however, more in accordance with verse 11, which refers it to the brilliancy emanating from the face of Moses.

14. The Apostle, in this verse and the following, points out the mystical signification of the veil which Moses wore on his face after having conversed with the Lord on Mount Sinai. It was a type of the blindness of heart of the Jewish people. And he says, that the same blindness and obduracy, typified by the veil of Moses, is, to the present day, placed on the hearts of the Jews, whilst reading the SS. Scriptures in their synagogues on each successive Sabbath; because this spiritual blindness and obduracy of heart is to be removed by Christ only, in whom they refuse to believe. “The self-same veil,” i.e., the antitype of the veil of Moses—viz., blindness of heart.

15. In this verse there is a repetition, in plainer terms, of the idea conveyed in the preceding.

16. Some commentators, among whom is Estius, understands the words, “converted to the Lord,” not of the Jewish people (as in Paraphrase), but of Moses representing and prefiguring the Christian people, and they understand the words thus:—But when he (Moses) converted himself to the Lord, he took off the veil. This construction is admitted by the Greek reading, επιστεψη προς κύριον. According to them, then, the meaning is:—“As Moses turning from the Lord to the people, and wearing a veil, was a type of the Jews of old, that is, of the incredulous Israel, so the same Moses, taking off his veil when conversing with the Lord, was a type of spiritual Israel, the Christian people, who clearly contemplate the mysteries of faith.”

17. “The Lord is a spirit.” In Greek, το πνευμα, the spirit, i.e., the spirit which distinguishes the new from the old covenant. The consequence deducible from this is shown in the Paraphrase. “Liberty,” i.e., exemption from blindness of intellect and obduracy of heart, such as that (signified by the veil of Moses) under which the Jews laboured.

18. “But we all.” In the Paraphrase this is made to refer to the ministers of the gospel, whom the Apostle has been throughout comparing with Moses, and whose ministry he has been exalting above the Mosaic. The word “beholding” is interpreted in the Paraphrase to mean, receiving as in a mirror; a signification warranted by the Greek, κατοπτριζομενοι, which is taken passively, and accords better with the rest of the interpretation in the Paraphrase, which confines the words, “we all,” to the ministers of the Gospel. Others make the words, “we all,” extend to all Christians—all the children of the new testament. And “beholding” will mean seeing as in a mirror—a signification admitted by the Greek word, which may be taken in either a passive or a middle signification. Then the words will mean:—But we all, Christians, beholding the glorious mysteries and revealed truths of God in a mirror “with open face,” i.e., openly and undisguisedly—unlike the children of Israel, who saw the resplendent face of Moses covered with a veil—are transformed in a manner becoming the spirit of God to the same likeness which he saw in the mirror, as the face of Moses partook of the brilliancy of the angel which he saw. “From glory to glory,” so as to advance more and more in brightness and resemblance to the image pictured or reflected in the mirror of God’s revelation; for all Christians are bound to aspire to perfection resembling that of God. The words, “from glory to glory,” may also mean from the brightness of Christian revelation here (for although obscure, it is bright compared with the revelation made to the Jews); to the brightness of heavenly vision hereafter. In the Paraphrase they have been interpreted, from the brightness of his glory reflected on us (Apostles) to the brightness which we also reflect on others. “As by the spirit of the Lord.” The word “as,” καθώσπερ, means a way becoming the spirit of the Lord, who removes all mental obscurity and obstinacy; for, “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (verse 17). The words “by the spirit of the Lord,” may be also translated from the Greek, ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος, by the Lord, who is the sprit, to whom reference has been made in the foregoing.








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