2 Corinthians 3:6-11

2 Corinthians 3:6-11

Old v. New Covenant

Out with the old, in with the new. That idiom sums up a key truth from Paul, as he continues his defense of his own apostleship. Paul’s concern in these verses is to demonstrate to the Corinthians that he is an apostle. His concern is not to tease out all the differences between the Old Covenant and the New. However, because (1) he does speak succinctly about the differences, and (2) the typical Christian reader of 2 Corinthians nowadays wrestles more with these differences than the apostleship of Paul, let’s consider the differences as set forth in all of chapter 3, highlighting vv. 6-11. In the two posts following this one, we’ll address Paul’s boldness and freedom from the New Covenant (vv. 12-17), then the transformative nature of the New Covenant (v. 18). But for now, let’s look at the major differences between the Old and the New Covenants. Here’s a summary of the differences:

Old/Mosaic Covenant New Covenant
Of the letter (v. 6), carved in stone (vv. 3, 7) Of the Spirit (v. 7), on human hearts (v. 3)
Associated with Moses (v. 7) Associated with the Spirit (v. 8)
Kills (vv. 6-7) Enlivens (v. 6)
Glorious (v. 7) More glorious (v. 8)
Was brought to an end (v. 7) Permanent (v. 11)
Condemnation (v. 9) Righteousness (v. 9)
Glory terminated (v. 10) Surpassing glory (v. 10)
Veiled hearts & minds (vv. 13-14) Lifts veil (v. 16)
  Provides Spirit-wrought freedom (v. 17)
  Provides hope (v. 12)
  Emboldens its members (v. 12)
  Transformative (v. 18)


What’s of first importance is that Paul is not contrasting the Old Testament with the New Testament. Paul is no Marcionite. He’s not telling us to do away with the Old Testament. That would be odd and contradictory for Paul, for he often (this passage included!) uses the Old Testament as a foundation or a proof for his arguments. Of second importance, and in line with what was just said, is the fact that Paul has in mind the Mosaic Covenant. That fact is clear from his references to Moses and the Mosaic era (vv. 3, 7, 13-16). Indeed, at several points in chapter 3, Paul either alludes to or quotes from Exodus 31-34. Third, and writing parenthetically, the Mosaic Covenant was still part of the Covenant of Grace. It was not the case that people during the Mosaic period were saved by keeping the law. God’s covenant with Moses was a gracious covenant, one that was connected back to the gracious Abrahamic Covenant (Ex. 2:23-25; 20:2; Deut. 7:7-8; 9:1-12).

With those brief comments being made, there is nevertheless a strong contrast that Paul makes between the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant. That Paul alludes to or quotes from OT passages that speak on the New Covenant is clear (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Ezek. 11:19; 36:26). We’d be wrong, therefore, to flatten out the Mosaic and New Covenants, making no distinction. Based on these verses in chapter 3, the differences touch on death v. life, evanescence v. permanence, and veil v. clarity. The Mosaic Covenant killed. It brought death. It condemned. This, however, was not a defect in the Covenant itself. The law is holy. It’s an expression of the holiness of God (Rom. 7:7, 12). The law promised life. But the problem was with sinful man (Rom. 7:13). The one under the law who does not abide by the law is cursed (Deut. 27:26; 30:17-18; James 2:10). The law that promised life, if it’s not obeyed perfectly, brings death (Rom. 7:9-11).

At the same time, this covenant was a glorious one (v. 7). It was not inherently un-glorious. God established this covenant with his people, so it can’t be anything but glorious. Paul reasons, then, in this way: if the former covenant was glorious, and it brought death, how much more glorious is the New Covenant, which brings life! The New Covenant was the fulfillment of the Covenant of Grace begun in Genesis 3:15 and established from eternity past among the members of the Trinity (in the Covenant of Redemption). Certainly, when the New comes, the Old passes away. Certainly, the New Covenant is more glorious than the Old. The New Covenant is better because the Old Covenant was temporary. The New is here to stay. Now is the time when the Old was not. However, there is not a time when the New will not be. The Old began with evanescent Moses; the New is with the eternal Spirit. This Spirit gives life, not death. This Spirit renews hearts of stone and rewrites God’s law on hearts of flesh. This Spirit applies righteousness to the covenant member through the substance of the covenant, which is Christ the Righteous One.

Finally, notice the veil in vv. 12-16. Moses didn’t need the veil. The people did. When Moses came down from the mountain to give them God’s Word, they needed his glorious face to have a covering. But in the New Covenant, there is greater clarity of revelation. There’s not a new gospel in the New Covenant. People in the Mosaic Covenant were saved by grace through faith in Christ. Moses, Jesus said, wrote of Christ (John 5:46). But that was seen through types and shadows (tabernacles, priests, sacrifices, purity laws, etc.). In the New Covenant, God has lifted the veil by showing us the Son, who is Light. It’s only natural, of course, that when the Old has come to an end (v. 10), the New has come in its place permanently and with surpassing glory (vv. 10-11).