Lesson 2
Part I: St. Paul's Relationship with the Corinthian Christians
Chapters 3-4
A New Covenant and a New Ministry

Holy Lord,
We understand that our human insufficiencies point us to Your sufficiency when Your grace revives our repentant hearts. You entrusted the Old Covenant Church with the written code of the Law, but You entrust us with the gifts of the Spirit. The old Law condemned sinners, but the New Covenant Law of love and faith in Jesus Christ redeems sinners by forgiving sins and restoring us to fellowship with You. Through God the Son, we have the hope of our redemption. When we turn to Jesus, we see the glory of the New Covenant Law in the face of the Savior who imparts His righteousness to us through the Sacraments. Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us, Lord, in our study of St. Paul's Second Letter to the Church in Corinth. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

+ + +

Paul bears witness not only to their love but also to their good works, since by their behavior they can demonstrate to everybody the high worth of their teacher. What letters would have done to gain respect for the apostle, the Corinthians achieve by their life and behavior. The virtues of disciples commend the teacher more than any letter.
St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 6.1

In 2 Corinthians 2:14-17, Paul used the images of triumph and aroma to describe his ministry. Now, he uses the metaphor of a letter of recommendation to remind the Corinthians of his part in founding their community and their positive response to his preaching of the Gospel. Their faith is like a personal letter from Christ, written with the Spirit of God, unlike letters written in ink that fade. Then, he will refer to a "new covenant" that came about through God's pouring forth of His life-giving Spirit. Moses had the written code of the Law but not the Spirit or the promise of eternal life. Christ is the greater than Moses because He entrusted us with the gifts of the Spirit, and it was Jesus Christ who empowered Paul through the Holy Spirit, making him an apostle of a glorious New Covenant that bears the promise of eternal life.

2 Corinthians 3:1-6 ~ The Spirit Gives Life
3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all, 3 shown to be a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh. 4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that of ourselves we are qualified to take credit for anything as coming from us; rather, our qualification comes from God, 6 who has indeed qualified us as ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life.

Paul began a discussion of the New Covenant ministry and his role in it in 2:14, and that discussion will continue until 7:4. The first part his discussion focuses on the New Covenant and its new ministry whose principal fruit is the Spirit-empowered transformation of Christians into the "image of God" after the likeness of Jesus Christ

Paul continues the discussion of the New Covenant and its ministry in this part of his letter by asking two rhetorical questions concerning ministers presenting letters of recommendation. His questions presuppose a negative answer:

  1. Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?
  2. Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you?

St. Paul may be alluding to certain preacher/evangelists who are visiting Christian communities and taking pride in carrying their "letters of recommendation." Perhaps some in the community have questioned Paul as to why he does not have similar letters. Letters of recommendation were common in Paul's day (cf., e.g., Acts 9:2; 15:22-30).

Question: What does Paul write is the only recommendation he and his team of ministers need?
Answer: The only recommendation Paul and his fellow ministers need is the conversion and faith of the Corinthian Christians.

Paul's reference to self-commendation occurs several times in his letter. Paul uses it in two ways. He uses self-commendation in the negative sense when he denies that he commends himself (3:1; 5:12), and he writes negatively of those missionaries who commend themselves (10:12). However, in two places Paul does commend himself in 4:2 and 6:4, intending self-commendation as something positive. So, is Paul playing the hypocrite? No, the evidence is in the Greek where Paul makes a subtle distinction between his positive and negative uses of self-commendation:

  1. In the Greek when he is referring to negative self-commendation, the reflex pronoun "before" is placed before the verb "commend," inferring self-commendation with emphasis on the "self." This form of commending is comparing yourself with others and elevating yourself above others. Paul considers this kind of self-evaluation in boasting about accomplishments as unkind and untruthful because it does not acknowledge God's work in your life.
  2. In the Greek when he is writing positively about self-commendation, he puts the reflexive pronoun after the verb, making the accent on "commend" instead of "self." In this way, the self-commendation is for a person living in union with the truth of the Gospel (see 4:2). Paul also commends God's ministers when he and they suffer hardships for the sake of others (see 6:4-10) by living in the image of Christ (4:4).

In this passage, Paul writes that self-commendation means nothing. It is only God's commendation that matters (4:6; 10:18).
Question: The question of "letters of recommendation" generates what series of metaphors in which Paul defends himself to the Christian community he founded using the word "letter" in verses 2-3?

  1. They are Paul's letter of recommendation (verse 2a).
  2. They are a letter engraved on his affections for all to see and read (verse 2b).
  3. They are a letter from Christ of the Gospel of salvation that Paul delivered to them (3a).
  4. They are a letter written by the Holy Spirit on the tablets of human hearts (3b).

The Corinthian Christians are like a personal letter written in the Spirit, unlike letters written in ink. Their conversion and continuing faith in Jesus Christ are, therefore, the basis of Paul's confidence in Christ since, through Paul's ministry, the Holy Spirit has written the law of love on their "hearts of flesh."

Question: What comparison is Paul making when he writes about letters "written in ink" and what was "written on stone" in verse 3? See Ex 24:12; 31:15-16.
Answer: St. Paul compares the Old Covenant Law of Moses, "written in ink," and the Law "written on stone," a reference to the tablets of the Ten Commandments, to the letter of the Spirit written on receptive hearts.

The reference to "hearts of flesh" (verse 3) is probably a reference to Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36. In Jeremiah 31:31, God promises the day will come when He establishes a New Covenant that is unlike the Sinai Covenant and in which He will write His Law on the hearts of His people (Jer 31:33). God also gave Ezekiel, a contemporary of Jeremiah, a prophecy of spiritual purification and covenant renewal. The prophet contrasts the heart of stone of the Old Covenant Law with the heart of flesh that God's Spirit will give when He replaces their hearts of stone. The Spirit will give a covenant purification that cleanses God's people of all impurities in a promise of the Sacrament of Baptism and the indwelling of the Spirit who transforms hearts: For I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees (Ez 36:24-27).

Covenant renewal and spiritual purification that makes observance of the law possible was the context of the Ezekiel passage, but Paul uses it as a contrast between the Old and New Covenants. Perhaps those who have come to cause trouble for Paul are Judaizers who are zealous for the observance of Mosaic Law, like those who visited the Christian community in Antioch. They stirred up trouble by telling the Gentile Christians they couldn't be saved unless they were circumcised and became Jews (Acts 15:1-2). It was a disturbance that led to the Council of Jerusalem and the Apostolic decree that observances of rituals of like circumcision in Mosaic Law were no longer binding on New Covenant Christians (Acts 15:6-35).(2)

not of letter but of spirit; for the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life.
In verse 6, contrasting "letter" and "Spirit," Paul says it is the "Spirit" that gives life and not the "letter" of the Old Covenant Law. Paul writes that he is the minister of a new and more perfect covenant generated not by obedience to the "letter" of the old Law but by the Holy Spirit who gives new life through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. This work of the Spirit in Paul's preaching and in the faith of the Christian communities he establishes is Paul's "recommendation."

2 Corinthians 3:7-11 ~ Contrasting Two Covenants and Two Ministries
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone was so glorious that the Israelites could not look intently at the face of Moses because of its glory that was going to fade, 8 how much more will the ministry of the Spirit be glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation was glorious, the ministry of righteousness will abound much more in glory. 10 Indeed, what was endowed with glory has come to have no glory in this respect because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was going to fade was glorious, how much more will what endures be glorious.
Underlining added for emphasis.

A key word in this passage is doxa, "glory," as Paul contrasts and compares the New Covenant and its ministry with the old Sinai Covenant and its ministry, pointing out the glory of the new over the old. Another key word is the Greek word katargeo in the passive voice (verses 7, 11, 13, 14), translated as "fade" in verses 7, 11, and 13, but in the NAB translated as "dull" in verse 14.
Question: How many times is the word glory/glorious used between verses 7-11 and what does this intended repetition suggest? See the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture."
Answer. It is repeated ten times, a number once again symbolizing the perfection of God's divine plan in the perfection of God's divine order in the events of salvation history.

Paul uses an argument from lesser to greater with the repeat of "how much more" (twice) and "much more" three times in verses 8, 9, and 11. The Old Testament reference in these verses is to when Moses received the Ten Commandments of the Sinai Covenant in letters carved on stone (Ex 32:16) and later covered his face after exposure to the glory of God's presence gave his face a divine radiance (Ex 34:30-35). Paul's point is that what only seemed glorious in the Old Covenant is surpassed in the New. The difference in "glory" between the Old and New Covenants is so great that only the New Covenant and its ministry can truly be called "glorious."

Paul contrasts the New Covenant with the Old in three ways:

  1. The Law of the Old Covenant yielded a ministry of death (verse 7), while the life in the Spirit empowers the New covenant (verse 8).
  2. The Old covenant resulted in a ministry of condemnation, while the New Covenant through the Spirit enacts the ministry of righteousness (verse 9).
  3. The Mosaic Law of the Old Covenant was temporary (verses 10-11; Gal 3:23-25), but the New Covenant is eternal (verse 11).

Paul's contrasts emphasize the point he made in verse 6 that only the Holy Spirit enables us to obey the just requirements of the Law, thereby giving the gift of eternal life. The old Law was good in that it put God's people on the path to life by identifying the consequences of sin and providing temporal blessings (Dt 30:15-18). However, it was imperfect because it only showed the requirements of the Law but did not have the grace of the Spirit to fulfill them. It only led to death because intentional sin, which it could not remove (Num 15:30-31), made it a law of bondage. It did not have the power of the Spirit to erase the penalty of sin that separated mankind from full communion with God in Heaven (CCC 1963) and condemned all to the abode of the dead (CCC 632-33). The New Covenant has the perfection of the new Law of divine grace here on earth through the power of the Holy Spirit (Heb 8:8; Jer 31:31-34; CCC 1965-66).

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 ~ The Most Holy Trinity Transforms Us With His Glory
12 Therefore, since we have such hope, we act very boldly 13 and not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites could not look intently at the cessation of what was fading. 14 Rather, their thoughts were rendered dull [faded], for to this present day the same veil remains unlifted when they read the old covenant, because through Christ it is taken away. 15 To this day, in fact, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit. Underlining added for emphasis.

Paul continues by comparing his ministry with the ministry of Moses, offering an interpretation of Moses' veil in verses 12-16.
Question: Why does Paul write that Moses covered his face with a veil?
Answer: Moses placed a veil over his face after the people saw his face reflecting the radiance of God's glory. He did this not to hide the glory, but the keep their faith from fading with the fading radiance of his face and to cause them to continue to fear disobeying him because of the "veil over their hearts" that disposed them to acts of rebellion.

Next, in verses 17-18, Paul describes the Holy Spirit's continuing work of transforming Christians into the glorious "image of God." It is an image that was lost in Adam's fall from grace but restored by Jesus. In verse 18, Paul repeats the word "glory" three times; it is the number of the Trinity.

Chapter 4

The "god of this world" may refer neither to the devil nor to another creator, as the Manichaeans say, but to the God of the universe, who has blinded the minds of the unbelievers of this world. In the world to come there are no unbelievers, only in this one.(2)
St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 8.2

2 Corinthians 4:1-6 ~ The Integrity of Paul's Ministry
1 Therefore, since we have this ministry through the mercy shown us, we are not discouraged. 2 Rather, we have renounced shameful, hidden things; not acting deceitfully or falsifying the word of God, but by the open declaration of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even though our gospel is veiled, it is veiled for those who are perishing 4 in whose case the god/God [theos] of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as our slaves for the sake of Jesus. 6 For God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of [Jesus] Christ.

In this part of his letter, Paul commends his ministerial conduct to the Corinthians in which he is not discouraged because he proclaims the Gospel openly through his preaching and humble service as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God (4:1-6).

3 And even though our gospel is veiled, it is veiled for those who are perishing ...
Paul picks up the allusions to "veiled" and "unveiled" from the last chapter. The Holy Spirit "unveils" the Gospel for those who accept Christ with a pure and humble heart. However, Paul writes the Holy Spirit veils the truth of the Gospel and the glory of Christ from the unbelievers whose unbelief will condemn them to eternal death. This statement recalls what Paul wrote in 2:15-16 that the Gospel is like an odor of death that leads to death for those who view Paul's suffering and humble service as foolishness and weakness.

4 in whose case the god/God [theos] of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Who is the "god of this age" or the "god of this world"? The Greek word translated as "age" is aion which can denote an age or era. There are two theories concerning this verse:

  1. Paul is referring to Yahweh, God the Father, Creator and ultimate Ruler of the world.
  2. Paul is referring to Satan as the "ruler of the world" that is captive to sin.

The Gospel of John refers to Satan as the "prince" or "ruler of the world" in John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; and Paul makes the same statement in Ephesians 2:2. Paul mentions Satan in several other passages in this letter to include 2 Corinthians 2:11; 11:14; and 12:7.

The majority of the early Church Fathers, among them Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrosiaster, and John Chrysostom, believed Paul was writing about God Himself. It was their argument that only God is truly God of this world and every age. The Church Fathers like Cyril of Jerusalem and Ambrosiaster favored this interpretation for theological reasons. Theos is the Greek word for "god." If Satan is called theos in 4:4, then it is a statement that refutes monotheism. It seems reasonable to assume that, when St. John refers to Jesus as the theos of Creation in John 1:1-3 and 17-18, and by Paul in Titus 1:3-4, those verses refer to Him as the true God. Therefore, the early Church Fathers argued that we shouldn't see Satan as the "god of this world" in 2 Corinthians 4:4, and we should interpret the phrase as a reference to the One True God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Nowhere else in Scripture is Satan referred to as theos. However, in 1 Corinthians 10:19-20, Paul applies the word theos to false, pagan gods, for entities he later refers to as demons, and he uses the same term for something that a people allow to have a controlling power them as in Philippians 3:19. These references are to what Paul denounces as false, but Satan is an entity that exists and the apply the title theos to him, the Fathers of the Church argue, is truly unthinkable.

has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
But would the true God blind the eyes of unbelievers from embracing the truth about Jesus Christ as verse 4 continues?
Question: Has God ever blinded the truth from unbelievers who stood in opposition to His Divine Plan? See Exodus 7:1-5, 13; Isaiah 6:9-10 and 29:10; Mt 13:13-17; Jn 12:40, Acts 28:26-27. What did Paul write in 4:3?
Answer: Yes, that is what God did to the Egyptians in Exodus, and Isaiah writes exactly that in Isaiah 6:9-10 and 29:10. Jesus quotes the verses from Isaiah 6:9-10 in Matthew 13:14-15, applying it to His time, and Paul just wrote in 4:3 that our Gospel is veiled for those who reject Christ.

Paul also writes about God blinding or confusing unbelievers in Romans 11:7-8, quoting Isaiah 29:10 and Psalm 69:23-24: What then? What Israel was seeking it did not attain, but the elect attained it; the rest were hardened, as it is written: "God gave them a spirit of deep sleep, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day." And David says: "Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes grow dim so that they may not see, and keep their backs bent forever." Is Paul then writing about unbelievers in the present age compared to unbelievers in the former age in 2 Corinthians 4:4? And is Satan still the "ruler of this age" with the resurrection of the Christ or has Christ defeated Satan to reclaim creation? In 1 John 3:8, St. John writes that the Son of God came "to destroy the works of the devil," and Jesus told the short parable in Matthew 12:29 about tying up "the strong man" and taking his property, referring to His victory over Satan.

Biblical scholars who believe Paul is referring to Satan point out that Paul's reference to being in darkness is specifically associated with Satan and Satanic powers (Acts 26:18; Eph 6:12). They also point out that Paul's reference to spiritual blindness is used many times in the New Testament (Eph 5:8, 11; Col 1:13; 1 Jn 2:11) and supports Satan as the "god of this world." Paul contrasts darkness and blindness with both the glory of God and the person of Jesus Christ. Those who prefer the interpretation that the "god of this age" is Satan argue that if God Himself were the one doing the blinding, the contrast doesn't seem to make sense. Modern commentators are more apt to accept the "Satan" interpretation. The Church has not pronounced for either theory.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12 ~ The Paradox of Christian Ministry
7 But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.

4:7-5:10 begins the second part of Paul's extended discussion on apostleship (2:14-7:4). When Paul writes about "earthen vessels" in verse 7, the image recalls Jeremiah's object lesson of the clay jar in the potter's hands in Jeremiah 18:1-6. Whenever the clay vessel turned out badly, the potter tried again, making another vessel. Then the word of God came to Jeremiah saying, "Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done?" The lesson is that God is the author of life who created Adam from the clay of the earth, and He has the power to destroy or restore according to whether His people disobey Him or fulfill His plans.

Our fragile human bodies are the earthen vessels or instruments God uses to continue His Divine Plan for humanity. But, what is the treasure these vessels hold? The context of Paul's earlier passage in 4:1-6 suggests three possibilities:

  1. "This ministry" of the New Covenant (4:1).
  2. "The Gospel of the glory of Christ" (4:4).
  3. "The knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Christ" (4:6).

However, the "treasure" could refer to all three since they are all interrelated.

Question: How might we compare Paul to the man in Jesus' Parable of the Treasure in Matthew 13:44?
Answer: Like the man in the parable, Paul found a "treasure" in His belief in Jesus Christ, in the Gospel of salvation, and in preaching the Gospel. He gave up everything else in life to possess this treasure.

Paul's body is a fragile "earthen vessel" that experiences suffering in his ministry (verses 10-11), yet the paradox is that glory is revealed through suffering in Christ's life and in Paul's as he risks death in his ministry to bring knowledge of eternal life to the Corinthians.


Paul lists four pairs of participles to illustrate his point in verses 8-9. Paul's list of sufferings in 4:8-9 is the first of four lists in his letter (also see 6:4-10; 11:23-33; 12:10). Some of these hardships he passively endures and others he willingly takes on. In each pairing of verses 8-9, the first participle refers to Paul's suffering and the second to God's deliverance:

  1. afflicted in every way, but not constrained
  2. perplexed, but not driven to despair
  3. persecuted, but not abandoned
  4. struck down, but not destroyed

In the Greek text, verse 10 is the continuation of the sentence that began in verse 7. In this verse, Paul offers his interpretation of his constant endurance of sufferings and hardships.
Question: To whom does Paul unite his experiences of affliction, perplexed, persecuted, and being struck down?
Answer: He links these sufferings in his life to what happened to Jesus writing, For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Paul sums up the effect of his apostolic existence in verse 12. Paul concludes that through his sufferings for the sake of the Gospel the Corinthians benefit. There are two possible ways in which the Corinthian Christians benefit:

  1. They benefit from Paul's willingness to offer them Christ's self-giving love that makes him their "slave" (verse 5).
  2. In uniting his suffering with Christ's redemptive suffering on the altar of the Cross, his suffering on their behalf has redemptive value for the Corinthians. God's grace comes to the community through "the life of Christ" within Paul (verse 10).

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 ~ The Promise of Eternal Glory
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed, therefore I spoke," we too believe and therefore we speak, 14 knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence. 15 Everything indeed is for you, so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God. 16 Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. 5:1 For we know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven.

In verse 13, Paul quotes from Psalm 116 from the Septuagint Greek translation in which the psalmist, a righteous man, tells his story of suffering. The psalmist identifies himself as God's "slave/servant" and the child of God's maidservant (Ps 116:16). Twice he refers to an event in which he suffered (116:6, 10), describing his suffering in vivid terms as he was caught in "the cords of death" and the "snares of Sheol/Hades" seized him (116:3). Nearing death, he cries out "O Yahweh, save my life!" (116:4), and promises to praise Yahweh by raising "the cup of salvation" and fulfilling his vows to Yahweh "in the presence of all his people" (116:13). Finally, near the end of the psalm, the righteous, suffering man cries out that the death of one of God's holy ones is precious before the Lord (116:15), and vows, "I will offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of Yahweh" (116:16). In quoting from the words of the psalm, Paul evokes the entire story of the faithful, righteous suffer who has served as God's slave and has trusted in God to deliver his soul from death.

Question: Whose suffering to bring about a "sacrifice of thanksgiving" in "the name of Yahweh" is depicted in Psalm 116 does Paul have in mind by referring to this Psalm? See Paul's passage in Phil 2:5-11 in which Paul uses some of the same imagery from this psalm.
Answer: For Paul, Jesus Christ is the righteous slave/servant of God in Psalm 116:

  1. He is God's Suffering Servant born from God's handmaiden, the Virgin Mary.
  2. He cried out to God from the Cross of suffering.
  3. He raised "the cup of salvation" "in the presence of all His people" in the Last Supper.
  4. He continues to offer a "sacrifice of thanksgiving" in the Eucharist, a Greek word that means "thanksgiving."
  5. He was caught in the "cords of death," but God rescued Him from Sheol.

Like the psalmist, St. Paul clearly proclaims his faith by affirming his belief in the promise of life beyond the limit of human death (2 Cor 4:10-11) and the life-giving effect of his preaching the Gospel to the communities of the Christian faithful (2 Cor 4:14-15).

Question: When Paul writes with confidence: 14 knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence, what conviction concerning the teachings of Christ is he expressing?
Answer: Paul is expressing his conviction that God will present him and the Corinthian Christians to Jesus at His Second Advent and in the Last Judgment.

Question: In 4:15-5:1, in a series of contrasts, how does St. Paul explain the extent of his faith in the afterlife despite the temporal sufferings Christians must endure in the present?
Answer: He contrasts:

  1. The "outer self" to the "inner self."
  2. The present "light affliction" that is temporal to "eternal glory."
  3. The temporal, earthly bodies compared to resurrected, eternal bodies.

Life is already present and revealing itself, but life will outlast the present experience of suffering and dying because life is eternal (verses 17-18). He urges them not to become discouraged, despite the experience of death that all humans must face. He contrasts one's "outer self," meaning what the individual is subject to in earthly perception and observation in the temporal body, to the "inner self" that is the interior and hidden self which undergoes renewal, as he writes, "being renewed day by day" by divine grace to be ready to receive an immortal, resurrected body (verse 16).

Paul suggests that a process is at work. The renewal is already taking place even as one moves toward death in one's life journey. Paul and other Christians already have a share in the life of Jesus through the Sacrament of Christian Baptism and the Eucharist. But we only recognize this by faith as we journey through "light affliction" that "is producing for us an eternal weight of glory" (verse17). In 5:1, Paul calls our earthly bodies a "tent," meaning a temporary structure. St. Peter uses the same descriptive term for the perishable human body in 2 Peter 1:13, I think it right, as long as I am in this "tent," to stir you up by a reminder, 14 since I know that I will soon have to put it aside, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me.

Death will destroy our temporal bodies, but that doesn't matter because we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven (5:1). That eternal "dwelling place" is life in the Spirit that we will experience in Heaven at the end of our earthly lives, and the promise of the bodily resurrection at the end of time. This contrast recalls Jesus' saying about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the construction of another "building not made with hands" in Mark 14:58; it is a prediction applied to Jesus' own body (Jn 2:20) and our bodies on the day Christ returns to raise the dead to new life in imperishable bodies.

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
It is a sign of wisdom to maintain a proper perspective in acknowledging what is truly important in life and what choices we make in the present means to our future happiness. Probably the greatest failure of contemporary culture is the failure to accurately plan for the future; not the temporal future but one's eternal future. How should Christians view their present life? What "investments" should they make to ensure a happy future? What do we need for our final journey and what material concerns or activities can hold us back or derail the journey to our final destination? Most at risk are young people because they seem to lack an appreciation of the fact that the choices they make can have eternal consequences. The Sacrament of Confirmation is an additional preparation for that journey. What is the significance of that Sacrament? See CCC 1285-1321 and the document "A Letter to Young People Receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation."

1. The words "new covenant" are only found in the Bible eight times in Jer 31:31; Lk 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:6; Heb 8:8 (quoting Jer 31:31), 13; 9:15; 12:24. Some translations add "new" to the word "covenant" in Mt 26:28 and Mk 14:24, but the word "new" is not in the oldest Greek texts in those passages.

2. Manichaeism is a heresy introduced in the third century AD by a Persian named Mani or Manes (c. 2(1)5-275 AD) who denied the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. Manes taught his followers that he received a higher form of divine truth than taught by Christ. The Manichaean dualistic doctrine professed that there were two gods where were the ultimate sources of creation: the one good and the other evil. God is the creator of all that is good, and Satan is the creator of all that is evil. The Manichaeists believed that man's spirit is from God, but his body is from the devil. Therefore, they denied personal responsibility for one's evil actions, reasoning that a human cannot be held responsible for evil acts he/she commits since evil acts are not due to one's free will but to the dominance of Satan's power over one's life. Others, like the heretic Manes, have taught that they received and passed on a higher order of divine truth than taught by Christ to His Apostles and His Church. They including Mohammed (d. 639AD) the founder of Islam, the nineteenth century Americans Joseph Smith, 19th century founder of Mormonism, and Mary Baker Eddy, the late 19th century founder of the Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2017 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson
(* indicated that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the catechism citation):

2 Cor 3:3 CCC 700
2 Cor 3:6 CCC 859
2 Cor 3:14-16 CCC 1094*
2 Cor 3:14 CCC 702*
2 Cor 3:17 CCC 693, 1741
2 Cor 4:4 CCC 1701*
2 Cor 4:6 CCC 298*, 2583*
2 Cor 4:7 CCC 1420
2 Cor 4:14 CCC 989*
2 Cor 5:1 CCC 1420