by Jerry Shugart
II. The New Testament Gives Life
"Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament (diatheke); not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor.3:6; KJV).
When we look at the words describing the New Diatheke (the spirit giveth life) we can understand that the ministry in question is preaching the gospel. That is the ministry which Paul speaks of here:
"But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
John Calvin certainly understood that Paul was speaking of the ministry to preach the gospel, writing the following:
"'Not of the letter but of the spirit'...There is, however, no doubt, that by the term 'letter,' he means the Old Testament, as by the term 'spirit' he means the gospel; for, after having called himself a 'minister of the New Testament,' he immediately adds, by way of exposition, that he is a 'minister of the spirit,' and contrasts the letter with the spirit" [emphasis added] (John Calvin, Commentary on Corinthians - Volume 2, Christian Classics Ethereal Library).
In the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary we read the following remarks on 2 Corinthians 3:6:
"spirit giveth life--The spirit of the Gospel when brought home to the heart by the Holy Spirit, gives new spiritual life to a man (Ro 6:4, 11)" [emphasis added] (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, Commentary at 2 Corinthians 3:6).
Therefore, we can understand that when Paul uses the word diatheke at 2 Corinthians 3:6 the meaning of that word is the "gospel."
Also, when we look at the beginning of the next chapter we can see Paul speaking of the same ministry and it is certain that that ministry is referring to preaching the glorious gospel of Christ:
"Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord" (2 Cor.4:1-4).
Paul's words "this ministry" are obviously pointing back to the "ministry" of 2 Cor.3:6 and it is evident that his words "this ministry" are in regard to the "manifestation of the truth," the preaching of "Christ Jesus the Lord"-- "the glorious gospel of Christ."
Albert Barnes wrote the following commentary on 2 Corinthians 4:1:
"Seeing we have this ministry - The gospel ministry, so much more glorious than that of Moses 2 Corinthians 3:6; which is the ministry by which the Holy Spirit acts on the hearts of people 2 Corinthians 3:8; which is the ministry of that system by which people are justified 2 Corinthians 3:9; and which is the ministry of a system so pure and unclouded, 2 Corinthians 3:9-11, 2 Corinthians 3:18" (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible; Commentary at 2 Corinthians 4:1).
In the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary we read: "seeing we have this ministry'The ministration of the Spirit' (2Co 3:8, 9): the ministry of such a spiritual, liberty-giving Gospel: resuming 2Co 3:6, 8" (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, Commentary at 2 Corinthians 4:1).
Homer Kent also understands the phrase "this ministry" is also referring to the same ministry mentioned at 3:6 and according to him that ministry was in regard to proclaiming the gospel of Christ:
"'This ministry' to which he referred was the ministry of the new covenant (3:6). It was the task of proclaiming and teaching the gospel of Christ, the glorious news that sins have been forgiven through Christ's death" [emphasis added] (Homer Kent, "The Glory of Christian Ministry: An Analysis of 2 Corinthians 2:14 -4:18," Grace Theological Journal 2.2 [Fall 1981], p.181).
Since we know that the words "this ministry" are referring to the preaching of the gospel and those same words are referring to the ministry mentioned at 3:6 then we know that both are referring to a ministry of the gospel.
It is the gospel which comes in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess.1:5) and it is the gospel which gives life, as witnessed by the following words of the Lord Jesus:
"It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (Jn.6:63).
So we can see that when Paul spoke of a ministry of a diatheke at 2 Corinthians 3:6 he was speaking of a "testament" and not a "covenant."
Next we will look at more information concerning the meaning of the word "testament."