Understanding Paul

(Number Six)

2 Corinthians 3:3-11, has been cited to “prove” that the Ten Commandments have been done away.  The motive behind the argument is the attempt to annul the weekly Sabbath – the seventh day of the week.  While most professing Christians believe in the moral law (enumerated by the Ten Commandments), they regard the Seventh-Day Sabbath as irrelevant for modern society.

An examination of the passages mentioned above will dispel this false idea.

Paul tells the Corinthians:  “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” (2 Cor. 3:3).  Paul informs these brethren that the way they live is the demonstration of the power and love of the Spirit of God within them.  It is not the end result of what was written on tables of stone.  Paul differentiates between the spirit and the letter of the law.

Consider this:  The Ten Commandments were written on two tables of stone by the finger of God.

Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the LORD thy God to wrath in the wilderness: from the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came unto this place, ye have been rebellious against the LORD.  Also in Horeb ye provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD was angry with you to have destroyed you.  When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights, I neither did eat bread nor drink water:  And the LORD delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them was written according to all the words, which the LORD spake with you in the mount out of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly.  And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the two tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant. (Deut. 9:7-11)

Paul then explains that his ministry was not of the letter of the law, but of the spirit.   “And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:  Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;  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” (2 Cor. 3:4-6).  What this means is that the New Testament administration was not intended to exercise the power of life and death over those who violated the Law.

Now we come to the crux of the argument.  The Apostle Paul speaks of the administration of death which was written and engraven on stones.  “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:  How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious” (2 Cor. 3:7-8)?  Were these stones the ones which contained the Ten Commandments — the ones written by the finger of God?  Many seem to think so, but what is the truth?  Question:  Were there other stones written containing laws that required death for disobeying the Law of God?  What about laws involving murder, adultery, kidnapping, rape?  Were laws like these found in the Old Testament?

Notice these passages:

And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day.  And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaister them with plaister: And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee. Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaister them with plaister.  And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them.  Thou shalt build the altar of the LORD thy God of whole stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God:  And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the LORD thy God.  And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly. And Moses and the priests the Levites spake unto all Israel, saying, Take heed, and hearken, O Israel; this day thou art become the people of the LORD thy God.  Thou shalt therefore obey the voice of the LORD thy God, and do his commandments and his statutes, which I command thee this day. (Deut 27:1-10)

In Exodus, chapters 21-23, we find laws that are called judgments.  These are judicial decisions based on the statutes (laws found in the Law of Moses).  “Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal, As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.  And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel” (Josh. 8:30-32).  The Civil Law required the death penalty for a number of crimes that we would call capital offenses.  This was the administration of death to which Paul referred in 2 Corinthians 3:7.  It was glorious in the sense that when enforced, it created a safe society.  Christians are now called out of this world, and the glory of the New Testament far exceeds those which were extant during the Old Testament period. The law engraved on whole stones was not the Ten Commandments written by the finger of God – the Ten Commandments existed from Creation.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 is a text that has led many to believe that Christians go to heaven when they die — an idea absolutely contrary to what Christ taught.  Jesus said that “. . . no man has ascended up to heaven but He that came down from heaven” (John 3:13).  Since the Bible does not contradict (John 10:35), Paul would not state anything that was contrary to what Christ said.

So, what is Paul saying in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10?

For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:  If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.  For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. (vv. 1-4)

What was this house, this tabernacle, to which Paul refers?  Consider the following statement by the Apostle Peter:  “Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance;  Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me” (2 Pet. 1:13-14).   Both Paul and Peter stated that the physical body we now possess is our present tabernacle, but an eternal one awaits us.  Mature Christians long for this house, that is, the spiritual body that will be received at the Resurrection.  Paul tells us, “. . . There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:44).  Paul also wrote:  “If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked” (2 Cor. 3:3).  What does this mean?  The answer:  A white robe of righteousness is the attire of the resurrected saints.  “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.  And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints”(Rev.19:7-8).  The Laodiceans are admonished:  “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see” (Rev. 3:18).  To be unclothed means to be unrighteous; only the righteous will attain to the Kingdom of God. “And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them” (Rev 7:13-15). “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14).

Paul continues his statement in 2 Corinthians 5:

Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:  (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)  We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:6-10)

What did he mean in these verses?  The answer:  While we are in this fleshly body, we are not in the Lord’s presence.  Our desire is to be with the Lord, but while we are not, we struggle to attain righteousness, as He is righteous.  This is because we will all be judged according to our works.  The question then is:  When will we be with the Lord?  Jesus said He has prepared a place for us (John 14:1-2). The Apostle John wrote:  “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.  Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.  And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).  “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:  Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:3-4).

What is this divine nature that will enable us to see God as He is?  God’s nature is described in Revelation:  “And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.  His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;  And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.  And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength” (Rev. 1:13-16). In this fleshly body, man cannot look at God and live.  “And he [God] said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (Ex. 33:20).  Yet, John said we shall see Him as He is, but man must first be given a divine nature.

Job spoke of the time he would see God, when he would never again be flesh and blood.  “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:  And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet [without] my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26).   Paul explained, “For our [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:  Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).  “And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:  And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads” (Rev. 22:3-4).  Paul described when this change would take place.  He wrote: “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.  For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:2-4).   “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).   Christ much earlier had promised: “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt.13:43).   Paul expressed one more thought in Philippians 1:23-24.  “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:  Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”  While he anticipated the Kingdom of God, he knew that his death and subsequent entrance into that Kingdom were entirely in the hands of God.

While the Authorized Version is a literary masterpiece, like all translations it has mistakes.  The original Hebrew and Greek texts were inspired by God, but translations are the works of men.  Most of the mistranslations in the Authorized Version are minor, but a few are egregious, for example, Acts 12:4, and 1 John 5:7-8.  One mistranslation quite unnoticed is found in 2 Corinthians 6:2.  It is quoted from Isaiah 49:8, which reads:  “Thus saith the LORD,  In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee . . . .”   Notice that we have italicized the article “a.”  This is because the Hebrew text does not have the definite article “the” before the words “day of salvation.”  The quote in 2 Corinthians 6:2, however, does, making it say:  “(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation).”  The use of the word “the,” in the above sentence, is a misquote.  It should be translated “now is a day of salvation.”

Why is this important?  The answer is that by use of the word “the,” a false impression is given regarding God’s plan of salvation.  The word “the” implies that this dispensation is the only time when men can be saved.  Knowledgeable Bible students know better.  They know that salvation during this time period is limited to only those who are called.  They also know there are two great time periods ahead when salvation will be available to millions, people who have never had a previous chance.  For a complete explanation please refer to our website article entitled, “God’s Holy Days — For Christians Today?”  What is not generally realized is that God is not trying to save the world at this present time. The time period in which we live — this present dispensation — is the time of the harvest of the first fruits when only a few by comparison have been called of God and given the opportunity for salvation. They are the ones who have received the Holy Spirit. If they overcome, they will be resurrected when Christ returns. When God gets ready to save the world, it will be saved.