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2 Corinthians 3:9–11

“In this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory” (vv. 10–11).

Glory attended the old covenant between God and Israel. Scripture testifies to this in many ways. For example, the thunder, lightning, thick clouds, and trumpets on Mount Sinai as the Lord came to enact the old covenant signified His glorious presence (Ex. 19:16). In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul looks to the story of Moses’ having to cover his shining face, which reflected God’s glory after he met with the Lord, as proof of the glory of the old covenant (Ex. 34:29–35).

In arguing for the superiority of the new covenant to the old, therefore, the Apostle does not deny that the old covenant had an associated glory. In fact, he says directly in 2 Corinthians 3:9 that glory was present in the ministry of condemnation—the old covenant. But if this was true of the old covenant, how much more is it true of the new covenant (v. 9)? Here in verse 9, Paul calls the new covenant the “ministry of righteousness.” Given what he says about righteousness later in this epistle (see 5:21), the Apostle is thinking forensically or judicially. That is, Paul is referring to the declaration of righteousness that God pronounces on us based on the perfect righteousness of Christ, which is put on our accounts when we trust in Jesus alone for salvation. The new covenant is the ministry of righteousness because it provides the righteousness that the Lord demands for us to inherit eternal life through the perfect life, atoning death, and justifying resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 3:21–31; 4:16–25). The old covenant delivers the verdict of “unrighteous” to sinners, for we have not perfectly kept its demands, but the new covenant delivers the verdict of “righteous” to sinners who trust in Jesus because He has met God’s demands in our place. Thus, the new covenant is more glorious than the old covenant. It more clearly reveals our Creator’s justice and mercy.

While the old covenant had glory, the new covenant is so much more glorious that it makes the old covenant have no glory in comparison (2 Cor. 3:10). The new covenant so far exceeds the old in glory that we cannot really talk in the same breath about the two covenants’ each having glory. This helps us understand texts such as John 1:17, which says, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John is not denying the presence of grace and truth under the old covenant; it is just that the grace and truth of God are seen so much more clearly in Christ that we cannot really even compare the old covenant to Him. So it is with the glory of the new covenant when set alongside the glory of the old.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Matthew Henry comments, “As the shining of a burning lamp is lost, or not regarded, when the sun arises and goes forth in his strength; so there was no glory in the Old Testament, in comparison with that of the New.” It can be easy to forget the privilege we have in living under the greater glory of the new covenant, but let us not take it for granted. We have a far greater view of God’s glory in Christ than the old covenant saints ever enjoyed, so let us be grateful.


For Further Study
  • Exodus 40:34–38
  • Isaiah 40:1–5
  • Romans 9:1–5
  • Hebrews 3:3

Weeping, Sowing, and Harvesting

Removing the Veil

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From the August 2021 Issue
Aug 2021 Issue