2 Corinthians 3

2 Cor. 3:1 need we...epistles of commendation?

Bruce R. McConkie

"It appears from 2 Cor. 3:1 that the practice prevailed among the primitive saints of introducing faithful members of the Church from one group of saints to another by means of epistles of commendation or letters of commendation. That is, the saints were commended, introduced, or recommended to the various local churches by these written certifications. These would correspond to 'recommends' in modern times." (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], 230.)

2 Cor. 3:3 written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart

Paul is speaking about a process of internalization, whereby discipleship is defined not by our ability to follow a set of rules, but by our ability to internalize all the principles of righteousness. Only the Lord can soften our hard hearts so he can write the law in our hearts by the power of the Spirit. Jeremiah and Ezekiel both prophesied that this would happen in the latter-days. 'I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: And they shall be my people, and I will be their God' (Ezek. 11:19-20). 'After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people' (Jer 31:33). (see commentary for Luke 11:20)

How can the law be written in our hearts? To me, this has reference to temple work. When we go to the temple and hear the same things over and over again, what is happening? Isn't the Lord writing his law in our hearts? And why is the repetition so important? Isn't it because we can't write down the temple ceremony? Hence, the new and everlasting covenant is 'written not with ink.' Rather, the repetition allows the law to be written in our minds and in our hearts. Benjamin makes a similar temple reference when he reminds the people to 'retain the name written always in your hearts' (Mosiah 5:12, emphasis added). The temple is where the Lord writes his law upon the fleshy tables of our hearts, because this is where the Lord can teach us how to walk in his statutes and keep his ordinances that we will be worthy to be called his people.

2 Cor. 3:6 God hath made us able ministers of the new testament

"'Testament' here is a Greek legal term (diatheke) for the binding promise of a will, but it was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for God's covenant with Israel. Thus, Paul's 'new testament' is the Lord's new covenant with the Saints wherein their sins are forgiven through the atonement of Christ. And 2 Corinthians 3 takes its joyful tone not from the disappearance of divine commands but from the rejoicing of the believer that the 'letter'-the searching by study and the multiplicity of Mosaic rules-had been replaced by Christ's atonement and gospel, in which 'my yoke is easy, and my burden is light' (Matt. 11:30). The King James Version uses 'covenant' and 'testament' interchangeably as Paul teaches that the work of Christ fulfills the laws of Moses." (Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 134.)

2 Cor. 3:6 the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life

Spencer J. Condie

"There are few gospel principles which are in greater tension than the spirit of the law and the letter of the law, and resolving this tension is by no means an easy task. Those who prefer broad and general interpretations of scripture are fond of quoting Paul's statement to the Corinthians, 'For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life' (2 Cor. 3:6, see also Rom. 9:31 - 32; D&C 88:34). Jacob also warned of the danger of rule followers who look 'beyond the mark,' like those who adhered to the law of Moses in such meticulous detail that they failed to recognize the Messiah whose coming had been anticipated by the law (Jacob 4:14).

"Those who gravitate toward a rule-following mentality are fond of quoting the Book of Mormon description of Helaman's faithful two thousand and sixty stripling warriors, who 'did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness' (Alma 57:21)...

"The Savior, ever exemplifying the perfect balance between eternal principles, chastened the scribes and Pharisees of His day with the following unvarnished candor: 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone' (Matt. 23:23)." (In Perfect Balance [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993], 97.)

Neal A. Maxwell

"Clearly...perspective...includes learning how to distinguish between what is big and what is small. The eminent historian Will Durant wrote of that human yearning for the perspective 'to know that the little things are little, and the big things big, before it is too late; we want to see things now as they will seem forever-`in the light of eternity`.' Thus, without passing through mortality, how else will we learn to discern successfully what the 'weightier matters of the law' really are (Matthew 23:23)? How else, too, will we get the practical and needed experience showing us that 'the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life' (2 Corinthians 3:6)?" (If Thou Endure It Well [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 8.)

Gordon B. Hinckley

"To all who hold positions of leadership, to the vast corps of teachers and missionaries, to heads of families, I should like to make a plea: In all you do, feed the spirit-nourish the soul. '. . . the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.' (2 Cor. 3:6.)

"I am satisfied that the world is starved for spiritual food. Amos prophesied of old:

'Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
In that day shall the fair virgins and the young men faint for thirst.' (Amos 8:11-13.)

"There is hunger in the land, and a genuine thirst-a great hunger for the word of the Lord and an unsatisfied thirst for things of the spirit. Ours is the obligation and the opportunity to nourish the soul." (Conference Report, October 1967, Afternoon Meeting 89-90.)

John H. Groberg

"[Faced with news that two sisters were guilty of adultery] I immediately called a special meeting with my counselors, explained the situation, and said, 'This has got to stop.'

"They condescendingly nodded their heads and replied, 'Well, after you have been here a while, you'll understand. You'd better just leave it alone.' It was one of those times, especially as I look back, when I felt the hand of the Lord very clearly.

"I replied, 'I've been here long enough. What they are doing is wrong. I'm going to talk to them again and tell them either they leave these men or they are out of the Church.'

"My counselors replied, 'You can't do that! They are very prominent families and you will wreck the Church!'

"'Their evil will wreck the Church if we don't,' I replied.

"Still, I had to consider their counsel. I knew there was a risk, but I knew what was right. After prayer, I still felt strongly so I told my counselors we should go and talk to the two women and their families and give them the choice. They shook their heads and would not come, so I went alone.

"I told the women, 'You either drop this, quit it completely, or you are out of the Church.'

"Each in turn said, in essence, 'You can't do that. My dad is So-and-So,' or 'My brother is So-and-So.'

"I said, 'I not only can, but I will.'

"I told my counselors what I had done and they both said the same thing, 'You just can't do that. You've got to be more understanding; you've got to be more loving and kind.'

"I replied, 'I have been. I've given them both two chances, and they won't respond.'

"When they could see I was determined to do something, one of them said, 'Well, you still can't do it. You don't have the authority. You've got to go according to the handbook. Have you read the General Handbook of Instructions?'

"I had to admit that I had not read the handbook. In fact, I didn't even know such a book existed. But I knew what was right and I didn't have to have a handbook to tell me that. I gave the two women a third warning and explained what they had to do. They refused to do it, so I said, 'Okay then, you are out of the Church.' They replied, 'Does that mean we are excommunicated?'

"I replied, 'I don't know exactly what that word means. All I know is that you are no longer members of the Church.' They repeated that I couldn't do that, and I told them I already had. I told my counselors of my action, and they both shook their heads. I announced in the next leadership meeting that these two were no longer members of the Church. There were many looks of disbelief.

"To begin with, there was anger and bitterness. It seemed I had made an already bad situation worse, but soon a very interesting thing began to happen. Several people quietly and almost unbelievingly whispered, 'Is it true that So-and-So are no longer members of the Church?'

"'That's right,' I replied. 'They are no longer members.'

"Everyone knew what the girls had been doing, so when they were actually cut off from the Church, other members started to shape up. The dire prediction that people would quit coming to church proved wrong. In fact, the opposite occurred. People started coming back to church, confessing their sins, and asking for forgiveness. Within a few weeks, things were not only better, they were markedly better-and the Spirit was stronger! A remarkable transition began taking place, and everything started to improve.

"The missionaries started being more cooperative with the local leaders and more helpful to one another. The members not only came to meetings but also started to smile and speak nicely to one another. We were still not making much progress with the school, but we were at least talking about it more. There continued to be a lot of opposition, but it did not seem to have the same effect as it did before. We felt we were finally moving ahead.

"One of the strong testimonies I have of doing what is right regardless of opposition is that over a period of not many weeks, order started to come into the Ha'apai District. I began to learn a great lesson: The scriptures say, 'The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life' (2 Corinthians 3:6). Maybe I didn't follow the letter in that I did not have a handbook, but I knew what the Spirit was directing me to do; I was sure the handbook would have directed me to do what I did, for the handbook is written under the direction of the Spirit. I learned that if you follow the direction of the Spirit and do what is right, you turn the responsibility over to the Spirit-and it gives life.

"In effect, the Spirit said, 'You did what I asked you to do, now I will do my part,' and it did. It breathed life into the district; it breathed life into the members; it energized the missionaries; and it softened the hearts of our enemies. I didn't work any harder, nor did I do anything very different, but things just started to change for the better." (In the Eye of the Storm [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993], 159-160.)

2 Cor. 3:12 we use great plainness of speech

Ironic, isn't it, that Paul declares that he uses 'great plainness of speech.' If he uses great plainness of speech, why are his epistles so hard to understand? Peter said Paul's writings were 'hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction' (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

To be fair, much of Paul's epistles are written with great plainness of speech, but this was not always his practice. The greatest proponent of plain speech is beloved Nephi who declared 'my soul delighteth in plainness' (2 Ne. 25:4) and truly his writings are easy to understand. Furthermore, Nephi taught us that even Isaiah is easy to understand if studied with 'the spirit of prophecy' (2 Ne. 25:4). The same can be said of Paul and his epistles. Even Paul's difficult passages can be understood by 'the spirit of prophecy.'

2 Cor. 3:13 Moses...put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not...look

"Moses descended Mount Sinai twice with the law of the Lord in his hands. The first descent ended with Moses destroying the tablets of stone upon which the law was written (see Exodus 32:19). On the second descent Moses came 'with the two tables of testimony in [his] hand,' but he did not realize 'that the skin of his face shone while [the Lord] talked with him' (Exodus 34:29). The rulers of Israel were afraid to approach Moses because of his appearance. He therefore 'put a vail on his face' until he had finished speaking with them (v. 33). When Moses entered the tabernacle to speak with the Lord, 'he took the vail off' (v. 34).

"Fifteen hundred years later the Apostle Paul lamented that the Israelites of his day could not see the glory of the gospel of Christ because a 'vail [was] upon their heart' when they read the books of Moses (2 Corinthians 3:15). He said that the veil that blinded their minds in the days of Moses 'until this day remaineth . . . untaken away in the reading of the old testament' (v. 14). Nevertheless, he gave the children of Israel a solution to that problem: 'When [their heart] shall turn to the Lord,' he said, 'the vail shall be taken away' (v. 16).

"With the veil taken away, we see that every whit of Moses' writings contains a witness of the Savior. For example, Paul explained that the very creation of the world, recorded by Moses, was in similitude of the Son of God. Referring to the first day of the Creation, he said, 'God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ' (2 Corinthians 4:6).

"As we have seen in the Old Testament, both events that are symbolic and events that are literal point us to Christ when our understanding is opened and the veil is removed from off our hearts and minds. Thus prepared, we can also see events recorded in the New Testament as being in similitude of Christ." (Robert England Lee, The Lord of the Gospels: The 1990 Sperry Symposium on the New Testament, ed. by Bruce A. Van Orden and Brent L. Top, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1991], 102)

2 Cor. 3:17 where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty

Bruce C. Hafen

"Satan will try to persuade us that submission to God will cost us our liberty, when in reality, it is only by yielding our hearts to God that we can possibly know the unbounded freedom of sanctification. (See Helaman 3:35.) 'Know the truth,' said he who was and is the Truth, 'and the truth will make [us] free.' (John 8:32.) Enslaved fools for the sake of Christ? No, for only 'where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.' (2 Corinthians 3:17; emphasis added.)" (The Belonging: The Atonement and Relationships with God and Family Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], 137.)

Gordon B. Hinckley

"The gospel is not a philosophy of repression, as so many regard it. It is a plan of freedom that gives discipline to appetite and direction to behavior. Its fruits are sweet and its rewards are liberal...'Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.' (Gal. 5:1.) '. . . where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.' (2 Cor. 3:17.)" (Conference Report, April 1965, Afternoon Meeting 78.)

Neal A. Maxwell

"The Church is constantly concerned with one of the ultimate dimensions of freedom that is freedom from sin. We share the world's concerns with political and economic freedom, the more visible and traditional dimensions of freedom. Paul said, however, 'Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.' (2 Corinthians 3:17.) Jesus said, 'The truth shall make you free.' (John 8:32.) It is so easy to become imprisoned in the single well-lit cell of one impulse and one appetite." (Notwithstanding My Weakness [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981], 100.)

Ezra Taft Benson

"Our system was founded on the idea that God has endowed us with rights that are inalienable, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As the offspring of God, we share a common paternity that makes us literally brothers and thus gives us a common destiny. When this truth sinks into the human heart, men demand their inalienable rights. It is as the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, 'Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.' ("2 Cor. 3:172 Corinthians 3:17.)" (This Nation Shall Endure [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 118.)

2 Cor. 3:18 we...are changed into the same image

Some have said that with time, a happy husband and wife will begin to look like each other. In the gospel, we know that unity of purpose brings a unity of countenance as well. Though the facial features may be different, the overall impression is one of glory and unity. Hence, 'when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is' (1 Jn. 3:2). This can only come through a process of purification, for 'every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure' (1 Jn. 3:3, see also commentary for 3 Ne. 24:3). Elder McConkie noted: "As a mirror reflects the likeness of a person, so the saints should reflect the image of Christ, and as they progress in obedience and personal righteousness, they attain this image; by the power of the Spirit, they become like Christ." (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:416)

"For Latter-day Saints the focal point of this life must be coming to Christ and beginning the process, but we also look forward to that greater moment in eternity when we shall finally be like him (1 John 3:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18). And toward that glorious day as faithful sons and daughters we consecrate ourselves in the everyday unfolding of our lives, that by our labors we might close the gap between us. When we use the term coming to Christ in describing conversion, it is a figure of speech that describes our intent and our desires. But the ultimate realization of coming to Christ is in actually closing the distance between us by becoming what he is through doing what he does." (Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ: The Parable of the Divers and More Good News [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 69 - 70.)