2 Corinthians 3 – A Ministry of Glory & Letter Writing in the Greco-Roman World

Finger Pointing Up


Well God, we truly need to to thank you for giving us the ability to read and write because the world wouldn’t be as advanced as it is if we weren’t able to do so.

It’s a lot easier to get to understand You and Jesus since it is written and we can read it.

Yet, it can cause many problems so tomorrow we’ll look at…

2 Corinthians
A Ministry of Glory

1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?

“Do we begin again to commend ourselves?” – Paul is sensitive to the fact that virtually everything he wrote or said was liable to be twisted and used in a hostile manner by the false teachers in Corinth.

“Letters of commendation” – the appearance of vagrant impostors, who claimed to be teachers of apostolic truth, led to the need for the letters of recommendation. 

2 Ancient Egyptian
Ancient Egyptian literature was written in the Egyptian language from Ancient Egypt’s pharaonic period until the end of Roman domination.
It represents the oldest corpus of Egyptian literature. Along with Sumerian literature, it is considered the world’s earliest literature.

Writing in Ancient Egypt—both hieroglyphic and hieratic—first appeared in the late 4th millennium B.C. during the late phase of predynastic Egypt.

By the Old Kingdom (26th century B.C. to 22nd century BC), literary works included funerary texts, epistles and letters, hymns and poems, and commemorative autobiographical texts recounting the careers of prominent administrative officials. It was not until the early Middle Kingdom (21st century B.C. to 17th century B.C.) that a narrative Egyptian literature was created.

Paul needed no such confirmation; but others, including the Corinthian intruders, did need authentication and being themselves false, often resorted to unscrupulous methods for obtaining or forging letters of recommendation.

Which still happens today, for example, the Catholic and Mormon Bibles.

2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:

3 Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

“Not in tables of stone” – like the ten commandments.

“In fleshy tables of the heart” – Paul explains the significance of this contrast between the old and the new covenants in vv. 7-18.

4 And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:

5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;

“Our sufficiency is of God” – Answers the question in 2:16, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

“The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” – does not mean that the external, literal sense of Scripture is deadly or unprofitable while the inner, spiritual (mystical or mythical) sense is vital.

“The letter” is synonymous with the law as an external standard before which all people, because they are lawbreakers, stand guilty and condemned to death. 

3 Format
Format Features in Early Papyri

Therefore it is described as the “ministration of death” and the “ministration of condemnation” (vv. 7, 9).

On the other hand, the Spirit who gives life is the “Spirit of the living God” who, in fulfillment of the promise of the new covenant, writes that same law inwardly “in fleshly tables of the heart” (v. 3).

He thus provides the believer with love for God’s law, which previously he had hated, and with power to keep it, which previously he had not possessed.

4 Image of papyrus
Image of papyrus plant.
An Ancient Description of the Process
Paper is made from the papyrus plant by separating it with a needle point into very thin strips as broad as possible.

The choice quality comes from the center, and thence in the order of slicing. The (choice) quality in former times called ‘hieratic’ because it was devoted only to religious books has, out of flattery, taken on the name of Augustus, and the next quality that of Livia, after his wife, so that the ‘hieratic’ has dropped to third rank.

The next had been named ‘amphitheatric’ from its place of manufacture. At Rome Fannius’ clever workshop took it up and refined it by careful processing, thus making a first-class paper out of a common one and renaming it after him; the paper not so reworked remained in its original grade as ‘amphitheatic’.

Next is the ‘Saitic’, so called after the town where it is most abundant, made from inferior scraps, and from still nearer the rind the ‘Taeneotic’, named after a nearby place (this is sold, in fact, by weight not by quality).

The ’emporitic’, being useless for writing, provides envelopes for papers and wrappings for merchants. After this there is (only) the papyrus stalk, and its outermost husk is similar to a rush and useless even for rope except in moisture.

Paper of whatever grade is fabricated on a board moistened with water from the Nile: the muddy liquid serves as the bonding force.

First there is spread flat on the board a layer consisting of strips of papyrus running vertically, as long as possible, with their ends squared off.

After that a cross layer completes the construction. Then it is pressed in presses, and the sheets thus formed are dried in the sun and joined one to another, (working) in declining order of excellence down to the poorest.

There are never more than twenty sheets in a roll.

There is great variation in their breadth, the best thirteen digits, the ‘hieratic’ two less, the ‘Fannian’ measures ten, the ‘amphitheatic’ one less, the ‘Saitic’ a few less–indeed not wide enough for the use of a mallet–and the narrow ’emporitic’ does not exceed six digits.

Beyond that, the qualities esteemed in paper are fineness, firmness, whiteness, and smoothness.

The Emperor Claudius changed the order of preference. The excess fineness of the ‘Augustan’ paper was insufficient to withstand the pressure of the pen; in addition, as it let the ink through there was always the fear of a blot from the back, and in other respects it was unattractive in appearance because excessively translucid.

Consequently the vertical (under) layer was made of second-grade material and the horizontal layer of first-grade. He also increased its width to measure a foot.

There was also the ‘macrocolum’, a cubit wide, but experience revealed the defect that when one strip tears off it damages several columns of writing.

For these reasons the ‘Claudian’ paper is preferred to all others; the ‘Augustan’ retains its importance for correspondence, and the ‘Livian’, which never had any first-grade elements but was all second-grade, retains its same place.

Rough spots are rubbed smooth with ivory or shell, but then the writing is apt to become scaly: the polished paper is shinier and less absorptive.

Writing is also impeded if (in manufacture) the liquid was negligently applied in the first place; this fault is detected with the mallet, or even by odour if the application was too careless.

Spots, too, are easily detected by the eye, but a strip inserted between two others, though bibulous from the sponginess of (such) papyrus, can scarcely be detected except when the writing runs–there is so much trickery in the business!

The result is the additional labor of reprocessing.

Common paste made from finest flour is dissolved in boiling water with the merest sprinkle of vinegar, for carpenter’s glue and gum are too brittle. A more painstaking process percolates boiling water through the crumb of leavened bread; by this method the substance of the intervening paste is so minimal that even the suppleness of linen is surpassed.

Whatever paste is used ought to be no more or less than a day old. Afterwards it is flattened with the mallet and lightly washed with paste, and the resulting wrinkles are again removed and smoothed out with the mallet.

Preparation for Writing
After the papyrus had been processed and made into sheets (and usually sheets into rolls), it could then be used as a writing material.

Sometimes a scribe wrote on just one sheet and then rolled it up or folded it. Longer documents were written, at first, on a roll of papyrus in narrow columns. Since this could be cumbersome with a long document, papyrus came to be used in the form of the codex (ancestor to our modern book).

7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:

3:7-18 – Paul is defending his “ministry” of the new covenant in Christ and here compares the experiences of Moses, who mediated the old covenant of Sinai and his own as a minister of the new covenant.

But he now applies the word “ministry’ to the law that was “written…in tables of stone” and to the Spirit, who writes “in fleshly tables of the heart” (v. 3).

The point of comparison is the fading glory that shone on Moses’ face and the ever-increasing glory reflected in the faces of those who minister the new covenant. 

This contrast in regard serves to highlight the temporary and inadequate character of the old covenant and the permanent and effective character of the new covenant.

“Was glorious” – the law of the old covenant given at Sinai was in no way bad or evil; on the contrary, Paul describes it elsewhere as holy righteousness, good and spiritual (Rom 7:12, 14).

8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?

3:8-9 – “Ministration of the spirit…ministration of righteousness” – the ministry of the Spirit gives life instead of death.  “Righteousness” is here both objective (justification) and personal (sanctification).

9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.

10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.

11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech:

13 And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:

“Moses, who put a veil over his face” – the purpose of the veil was to prevent the Israel’s from seeing the fading of the glory.

14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.

15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.

16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.

17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

18 But 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.

“Are changed into the same image from glory to glory” – Christ Himself is the glory of God in the fulness of its radiance (Heb 1:3); His is the eternal and unfading glory, which He had with the Father before the world began (Jn 17:5).

We who believe rare made partakers of this glory by being gradually transformed into the likeness of Christ.  The reference here is to the process of Christian sanctification.

Letter Writing in the Greco-Roman World

In the Greco-Roman world letters allowed people to maintain contact with others across great distances.

5 The history of writing
The history of writing instruments by which humans have recorded and conveyed thoughts, feelings and grocery lists, is the history of civilization itself.
This is how we know the story of us, by the drawings, signs and words we have recorded.

The cave man’s first inventions were the hunting club (not the auto security device) and the handy sharpened-stone, the all-purpose skinning and killing tool.

The latter was adapted into the first writing instrument. The cave man scratched pictures with the sharpened-stone tool onto the walls of his cave dwelling.

The cave drawings represented events in daily life such as the planting of crops or hunting victories.

Various letter types have been identified, including family letters and letters of friendship, praise or blame, exhortation, and recommendation.

The Greco-Roman letter typically consisted of several parts, beginning with an introduction identifying the writer and recipients and expressing greetings.

A short statement of thanksgiving often followed the introduction, after which the author would present the main body of the letter.

The writer would conclude with wishes for good health and a statement of farewell.

Students in Greek schools were instructed in the conventions of letter writing, and scribes trained in the art of writing were available to help others compose letters.

The traditional letter form is visible in Paul’s letters, although he adapted it in several ways:

* He transformed the Greek greeting into an invocation of grace and peace.

* He often extended the thanksgiving section by including prayers to God.

* He employed a benediction in place of the traditional farewell.

In the use of this style, we see that God chose to communicate the New Testament message in a form familiar to its first recipients.

…“The Secret,” by Rhonda Byrne.

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