2 Corinthians 3:7 – “…the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone…”
The words ‘ministry of death’ could leave the impression Paul had a negative view of the law. However, if we look at the whole chapter, we find Paul drawing upon the glory of the law to help his readers understand that the ministry of the Spirit was even more glorious.
“Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:7-9)
The terms ‘ministry of death’ and ‘ministry of condemnation’ describe one aspect of God’s law; the aspect of revealling the death penalty for breaking it. (Romans 4:5, 5:13, 6:23, 7:7) The penalty for sin is death. Please see the section on Romans 3:20 for numerous other purposes of God’s law in addition to revealing the death penalty.
Now if we zoom out to include the previous verse, we find Paul referring directly to the new covenant.
“…who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)
Paul is directly invoking the language of the new covenant given through Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Let’s review what the prophets said.
“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
If Paul was arguing that God’s law was abolished, these would have been the worst prophecies to cite. Rather than showing a change in the law, Paul is fully aligned with the prophets in speaking of a change in the heart. The Spirit writes God’s one and only law on a transformed heart. This heart transformation then causes one to walk in God’s statutes, keep his rules and carefully obey.
According to 119 Ministries: “Scripture does not teach that God’s law was a problem and thus we needed a new law. Scripture teaches that our hearts were a problem and we needed a new heart.”