For some, 2 Corinthians 3:3-11, and especially verse 7, teaches that the Ten Commandments, which were written on tablets of stone, ceased to be in force and effect, when Jesus Christ died on the cross (compare Ryrie Study Bible, footnote to 2 Corinthians 3:7). However, a careful reading of the entire passage does not uphold such an erroneous teaching. In addition, you might want to study our booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound,” for a full explanation as to why the Ten Commandments are still to be obeyed today.
Let us review the entire passage of 2 Corinthians 3:3-11, in context:
“(3)… clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (4) And we have such trust through Christ toward God. (5) Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, (6) who has also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (7) But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, (8) how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? (9) For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. (10) For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. (11) For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.”
It is important that we carefully analyze this passage, so that we do not reach wrong conclusions. Quoting from pages 14 and 15 of our booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound”:
“… God made a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai. We read in Exodus 24 that the covenant was sealed with blood. When that happened, the covenant was final and could not be altered. The law of the covenant was written in a book, the ‘Book of the Covenant’ (verse 7; compare Hebrews 9:19-20). At that time, the sacrificial system was not a part of the law–those ritual provisions had not been given yet–and they were not written in the Book of the Covenant. The only sacrifice that is mentioned as a required sacrifice is the Passover (Exodus 23:18; Exodus 12). Yet, even this Passover sacrifice found its fulfillment in the death of Jesus Christ. Christians do not now offer lambs in sacrifice for Passover–rather, Paul shows: ‘For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us’ (1 Corinthians 5:7)… The covenant at Horeb originally did not include the sacrificial system. Neither did the Book of the Covenant contain such ritual regulations. But as time went on, ritual laws were added, including the laws regarding the Levitical priesthood and penalties or curses for violations of God’s spiritual law, and those did find their way into the Book of the Covenant, which is also called the Book of the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 28:58, 61; 29:20-21, 27, 29; 31:9).This Book of the Law was placed outside or beside the ark of the covenant (Deuteronomy 31:24-26). The tablets with the Ten Commandments, however, were placed inside the ark (Deuteronomy 10:4-5; Hebrews 9:4).
“Later, all the laws that had been written by Moses into the Book of the Law were engraved on massive stones (Deuteronomy 27:2-3, 8; Joshua 8:30-32, 34). The laws that were written on the stones included the Ten Commandments, along with the statutes and judgments, and also the rules and regulations regarding sacrifices and other rituals. We find a reference to those stones and the laws that had been engraved on them in 2 Corinthians 3:7-8, ‘But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious… how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?’
“The reference to the ministry of death includes the death penalty for violating God’s spiritual law. The penalties were first written in the Book of the Law of Moses and then engraved on massive stones. Since Christ died for us, we don’t have to pay the death penalty, if we repent of our sins and obtain forgiveness. In addition, the ritual sacrificial laws, which were among the laws written on stones, could not forgive sins–they only reminded the sinners of their sins. The Levitical priesthood was, in that sense, a ministry of death, as people would still not be able to obtain eternal life, even though they brought sacrifices.”
With this background, let us again carefully review verses 3 and 7 of 2 Corinthians 3. In verse 3, reference is made to the Ten Commandments, which were written “on tablets of stone.” Christians today are to keep the Ten Commandments in their hearts–that is, it is not sufficient to possess tablets of stone which include the Ten Commandments, but we have to internalize them and obey them “from the heart.”
Verse 7, however, does NOT refer to the Ten Commandments. As stated above, the “ministry of death, written and engraved on STONES,” refers to massive stones (compare again Deuteronomy 27:2-3, 8; Joshua 8:30-32, 34), on which ALL of God’s laws were written–not just the Ten Commandments, which are spiritual and eternal, but also temporary ritual laws regarding washing and sacrifices. While the two tablets with the Ten Commandments did not include any penalties, the subsequent massive stones did.
Let us compare the different Greek words which are used in verses 3 and 7, when describing the “tablets of stone” and the “ministry of death… engraved on stones.” The Greek word for “of stone” in verse 3 is, “lithinos” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, No. 3035), and means, literally, “made of stone” or formed out of stones. The word is used in Revelation 9:20, describing idols made out of stone. The Greek word for engraved “on stones,” in verse 7, is, “lithos” (Strong’s No. 3037), and it describes complete stones–not something made of stone. It is also rendered as “millstone” in Luke 17:2. The tablets with the Ten Commandments were taken from stones–the tablets did not constitute complete stones. But later, all of God’s laws–permanent as well as temporary rules–were engraved on complete, massive stones. To reiterate: The Ten Commandments were written on TABLETS OF STONE–the laws of the Book of Moses, including the penalties for sin, were engraved on COMPLETE, MASSIVE STONES.
The Ten Commandments, as well as other permanent and temporary laws, were WRITTEN in a book–the Book of the Law of Moses. Verse 7 makes reference to this fact, when it says, “…WRITTEN and engraved on stones.” Quite literally, the meaning is that all of the laws were first “reduced to writing” (“en grammasin” in Greek) and then “engraved” (“entupoo” in Greek) “on stones” (“en lithos” in Greek).
2 Corinthians 3:7-8 could be paraphrased as follows, to clarify the intended meaning:
“But if the ministry of death, which was first written in the Book of the Law of Moses and later engraved on massive stones, was glorious, even though it would cease one day–so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance (after he saw God’s form), which glory also passed away–how will the ministry of the Spirit, which will endure forever, not be more glorious?”
God’s true ministers today do not administer the death penalty for sin–they don’t fulfill the ancient Levitical priesthood’s role and function of a “ministry of condemnation” (2 Corinthians 3:9). Rather, God’s true ministry today teaches that sinning man can receive forgiveness of sin, through the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God’s ministry today also teaches that man must keep the Ten Commandments. Man can only do this, however, through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within him, which is received after repentance, belief and baptism. In other words, God’s ministry is a “ministry of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 3:9), teaching man how to obtain righteousness and how to live righteously. For further information on this critically important subject, please read our free booklet, “Baptism–A Requirement for Salvation?”
2 Corinthians 3:2-11 does not teach that the Ten Commandments are abolished. Quite to the contrary, the passage teaches that the Ten Commandments must be kept today. However, they must be kept in the Spirit, that is, they must be applied in our lives with their spiritual intent, as Christ clearly explained in Matthew 5-7. In doing so, we can escape death and inherit eternal life. If we refuse to do so, Christ’s warning in John 3:36 is still applicable for us today: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him (Revised Standard Version).”
Lead Writer: Norbert Link