PART 2: POINT BY POINT RESPONSE TO AN ADVENTIST CRITIC: 2 CORINTHIANS 3
by Elder Edwin M. Cotto (notes for the video response).
INTRO: This begins part 2 of our series responding to critic Chris Tucker (full article here: https://hearhisvoice.today/). The first question is: When was the Law established? 2 Cor. 3 is quoted. We continue to respond to this article in video/writing over the next few weeks. Contributions came from various SDAs.
SECTION 1: THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT
In verses 1-3 we have an introduction to a new section which contains an allusion to the Ten Commandments and the New Covenant:
- First, there were, apparently, “letters of recommendation” that ministers were caring at this time, possibly for the purpose of avoiding false teachers, but it seems like in Paul’s view, a true “letter of recommendation” was the changed lives of the people he ministered to which was evident outwardly (verses 1-2).
- The reason for their change is because they have the New Covenant. Verse 3 is using New Covenant language (in fact we are sure of this, because verse 6 says “new covenant”). It says that they’re lives are letters written by the Spirit in the heart, and not by ink on “tablets of stone,” an allusion or quick hint to the Ten Commandments.
- A good hermeneutical move is to always go to where the author is referring or alluding to, in order to better understand what he means. Paul is borrowing New Covenant language directly from the actual prophecy about the New Covenant in Jer. 31:30-33 (cf. Ezek. 36:26-27). In Jeremiah 31:33, we read that God will write His “laws” in their mind and hearts. Since Paul, while speaking about this New Covenant, alludes to the Ten Commandments (tablets of stone), the law in this prophecy is the Ten Commandments being written in another location, the mind and heart.
- The New Covenant is, therefore, a total transformation of the heart, where sins are forgiven and forgotten, God’s Law is written in the heart by the Spirit, and people begin to actually live righteous lives (cf. Jer. 31:34, Ezek. 36:26-27). The Law can only be obeyed by the power of God’s Spirit.
- Therefore, the lives of the Corinthian Christians are living manifestations of God’s law. It was not abolished for them (which Mr. Tucker repeatedly says). On the contrary, their lives manifest obedience to it.
- This is the immediate context, and obviously what follows after this will not mean that the Ten Commandments was abolished for the Christian, since it is written in their hearts. The change was in location, from tablets of stone to “fleshy tables of the heart.”
- QUESTION: However, if what follows will show that the Ten commandments were abolished for the Christian, why are they still playing a role in the lives of Christians? Provide examples. See: Eph. 6:1-3 (actually, the whole letter of Ephesians alludes to various commandments to not break them, see 4:25 28, 29, 31, 5:3-5, 6), Rom. 3:31, 7:7-12, especially verse 13).
SECTION 2: THE LETTER KILLS, THE MINISTRATION OF DEATH
- In verse 4, Paul says that he is fully confident that they are living New Covenant lives which manifest obedience to the Ten Commandments from the heart rather than from tablets of stones (verses 2-3), because his trust is “through Christ toward God” and not in the work they did for them.
- Nevertheless, God made Paul the minister of this New Covenant, not of the letter, which previously was on stone and ink, but of the Spirit, which is now the Law written in the heart (verse 6a).
- The last clause of verse 6, and also verses 7 and 9 speak of the Law as something that kills, brings death and condemns. Why?
- Paul does not here say how the Law kills, but he does in Romans 7:7-13. It kills by revealing the source of death, which is sin! Compared with Psalm 119:86-88:
“All Your commandments are faithful; They persecute me wrongfully; Help me! They almost made an end of me on earth, But I did not forsake Your precepts. Revive me according to Your lovingkindness, So that I may KEEP the testimony of Your mouth.” (Psa. 119:86-88. Note: Comparing the “commandments” here to Rom. 7:7, we learn that the specific laws that kill are the Ten Commandments, since Paul quotes from the tenth one to make his point).
- Psalm 119:86-88 may be referring to David’s enemies as the persecutors, but the clauses of each sentence indicate that the Law has a special function of revealing sin, especially when we compare them to Romans 7:7-13, which also speak of the commandments as something that kills, yet continues to be desirable by Paul.
- We learn from these references that: 1. The law kills in the sense that it reveals sin by pointing to our faults, and 2. This, however, should motivate us to obey it to be in harmony with it.
SECTION 3: TWO MINISTRATIONS: VERSE 9:
- The ministration of RIGHTEOUSNESS
- The ministration of CONDEMNATION
SECTION 4: WAS THE LAW ABOLISHED?
- LET US ASSUME THE TEXT MEANS THE LAW WAS ABOLISHED AS WELL. Various problems arise:
–ONE: The immediate context says it is written in the heart (verses 2-3, cf. Jer. 31:33).
–TWO: In Rom. 7:13 Paul asks, “Has then what is good (the commandment, verse 12) made death unto me?” His answer is a resounding, “certainly not!.”
-No, because Paul also wrote that faith establishes, rather then abolishes, the law (Rom. 3:31).
-No, because David, speaking of the same law that kills, views that as a good thing, and asks God to help him even more to keep it! (cf. Psa. 119:86-88).
- Compare verses 7 and 13 to Romans 3:21. Same Greek word: katargeo.
- The same Greek word in verse 7 is used in verse 13. Both mention what the Israelites could NOT look upon
SECTION 5: WHAT, THAN, WAS ABOLISHED?
- According to verses 7-13, the following things were abolished:
-The ministration under Moses which included the ministry under the Old Dispensation, including the tablets of stone and, by implication, the entire earthly Sanctuary service, to be replaced with the ministration of the Spirit, with fleshy tablets and, by implication, a heavenly Sanctuary (cf. Heb. 8:2).
-The face of Moses, his leadership, being replaced by the face of Christ, as the new High Priest.
- The tablets would not be necessary when its contents are lived out in the lives of believers. Christians should not be trying to measure up to standards that have not convicted their minds and transformed their thoughts. God wants people to want to do right, and He does this by writing His moral principles in their hearts as He previously wrote them on stone. The stones are no longer needed when its principles are lived and obeyed. Once again, believers would NOT insist on abolishing the Law if they truly have it written in the heart.
CONCLUSION: The critic asked, “When was the law established?” but this time quotes 2 Corinthians 3. According to the document we are examining, the law “ended at the cross for believers.” However, that is not what 2 Cor. 3 teaches. On the contrary, this chapter reinforces the Ten Commandments in a better way, as principles that are now written in the heart, rather than stone, under the New Covenant for believers.
This is what we get from the immediate context. The first three verses demonstrate what the lives of New Covenant believers look like. They have the Law of God written in the heart, and it is quite evident. They are, as Paul puts it, living epistles, “known and read by all men.” Paul borrows language from the New Covenant in Jer. 31:33 and alludes to the Ten Commandments when he mentioned the “tablets of stones.” In other words, these Corinthians believers have the Ten Commandments written in their hearts, as promised in the New Covenant prophecy, and everyone can see it by their lives and acts. We know it is “ten” commandments, which includes the fourth, because the “tablets of stone” contained ten, not nine. Therefore, all Ten Commandments are written in their hearts, and as the other nine are practiced both spiritually and practically, so with the fourth one. Anyone living the New Covenant experience, therefore, will not be going around claiming that the Law “ended for believers.”
The conclusion drawn is that the first few verses speak about the Law written in the heart and lived out by the Corinthians believers, what follows after verse 3, therefore, does not abolish the Law. A careful look at the remaining verses reveal that indeed something was abolished, and that was the old ministration of the Law under Moses, along Moses himself and the tablets of stone. The contents of the Law, however, were transferred to the heart. A comparison with verse 13 with the actual story Paul is talking about, found in Exo. 34:29-35, reveals that what was abolished was that which “the children of Israel could NOT look steadily at…” In Exo. 34, the tablets of stone were in plain view in the hands of Moses, but his face was covered. Nevertheless, there is no longer a need for the stone tablets, not that its contents are in the mind and hearts of New Covenant believers.
Not only does the immediate context not allow for the contents of the tablets to be abolished, Paul says in Rom. 3:31 that the Law is NOT made “void” to believers. The Greek word translated “void” is the same one translated “abolished” or “passing away” in 2 Cor. 3.
2 Cor. 3 also explains that the tablets of stone are referred to as the “ministration of death” and “condemnation.” This is because, as Paul explains elsewhere, the Ten Commandments reveal sin, and sin brings death (see Rom. 7:7-11, cf. James. 1:15). Nevertheless, the commandment that does this is considered “holy, just and good” and that which is good does NOT become death to believers (see verses 12-13). Of course, because as 2 Cor. 3 says, it is written in the heart.