This is taken from Answers to Objections by F. D Nichol.
Paul states that the “ministration of death, written and engraved in stones” was “done away.” Therefore the ten-commandment law, which was written on the tables of stone, has been done away. (See 2 Cor. 15-11)
Let us see what Paul really did say. The introduction to the passage before us finds Paul declaring to the Corinthian brethren: “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as you 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. 3:2, 3.
Here is the key to interpret the words that follow. His figure of speech is patently borrowed from the Scriptural contrast between the old and the new covenant, -Tables of stone- contrasted with “tables of the heart”, “ink” contrasted with “the Spirit of tile living God.” These Corinthians, he said, were “ministered by us.” By an easy transition Paul moves into a discussion of the two covenants by adding immediately that Christ “also hath made us able ministers of the new testament [covenant]; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” (The word ‘testament’ in this and almost all other instances in the New Testament does not have the meaning of a “will as made by a
testator in anticipation of death, but of covenant, and is so translated in the Revised Version.)
We might close the discussion right here, for our examination of the two covenants revealed clearly that the ratifying of the new covenant did not mean the abolishing of the, Ten Commandments. However, let us proceed.
“But if the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly 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? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more does the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: and not as Moses, which put a vale over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.” Verses 7-13.
Here is a series of contrasts, intended not so much to belittle the old dispensation as to glorify the new. It was ever Paul’s studied endeavor to prove that Christ and His ministry are the blazing glory beside which the spiritual glory of the former times seems pale. This argument by contrast particularly marks the book of Hebrews, which was written for the Jewish believers, who, until they accepted Christ, had thought that the glory of Sinai and the ministration of the divine law under the Jewish priests and rulers were the last word in heavenly glory. The contrasts that Paul seeks to make are essentially the same as the contrasts between the old and new covenants:
1. “The ministration of “death” versus ”the ministration of the spirit.”
2. “Ministration of condemnation” versus “ministration of righteousness.”
3. “Letter killes” versus -spirit gives life.”
4. “Was glorious- versus -exceed in glory.”
5. “Done away” versus “remains.”
Numbers one and two are simply variant expressions. The questions before its aie therefore:
1. What are these two ministrations?
2. What is meant by letter and spirit?
3. What is this relative “glory”?
4. What was “done away” and what “remains “?
The objector quickly answers: The “ministration of death” was that which was “written and engraved in stones,” and is Plainly the Ten Commandments. But not so quickly. Is it correct to speak of a “ministration” and a “law” as synonymous? No. It is correct to speak of the “ministration” or, as we would say, the administering of a law. The administering of the law is the means by which it is put in operation, and is riot to be confused with the law itself. Therefore, “the ministration of death,” or “the ministration of condemnation,” refers to the ministration, or the administering, of the law that was “written and engraved in stones.”
By a simple figure of speech the law is called death and condemnation. On a certain occasion in Elisha’s day the sons of the prophets gathered with him around a “great pot” in which had been cooked certain “wild gourds.” Evidently the gourds were poisonous, for one of those eating cried out: “There is death in the pot.” (See 2 Kings 1: 38-40) He meant, of course, that there was something in the Pot that would cause death, and substituting cause for effect, he cried out as he died. Paul had earlier said to the Corinthians, “The sting of death is sin: and the strength of sin is the law.” 1 Cor. 15:56. That is, if it were not for the law of God, which condemns those who violate it, there would be no sin, and hence no death in penalty for sin, “for where no law is, there is no transgression.- Rom. 4:15. Thinking on this fact and the contrasting fact that ”the law is holy . . . and
just, and good,” caused Paul to inquire: ”Was then that which is good made death unto me?” Here he speaks of the law as “death.” Now, how does Paul say that we escape from this “ministration of death”,- this “ministration of condemnation”? By abolishing the law of God? Listen to his words:
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of’ the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Rom. 8: 1-4.
We escape from “condemnation” through Jesus Christ, who changes our hearts so that “the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.” Paul describes this changed state as walking “after the Spirit,” and adds that “to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Verses 5, 6. Here is a state of “condemnation” and “death” changed to one of “no condemnation” but rather “life.” In other words, a ministration of condemnation and death exchanged for a ministration of the spirit and life. How evident that we are here discussing tile two covenants. And how evident also that Paul’s words in Romans 8 parallel his words in 2 Corinthians 3. That is the plain teaching of the Scripture.
The cold letter of the law as it appeared on the stone tables had no life-giving power. It could only point accusingly at every man, for all have sinned and come short of tile glory of God. An administration of the law based on its letter alone results only in death for violators. But an administration of it based on the forgiveness possible through the action of God’s Spirit on the heart results in life. The contrast between “letter” and “spirit” does not mean a contrast between an age of law and an age of freedom from all law. As we have already noted, when God’s Spirit is in control, the law’s requirements are carried out in our hearts.
What, now, of the “glory” mentioned by Paul? He plainly speaks of the relative glory of two ministrations. The justice and righteousness of God shone forth in awesome, even terrifying glory on Mount Sinai as He proclaimed His law. He stood there as a consuming fire. But how much greater the glory of God that bathed the earth with its life-giving rays where Christ came down to “save his people from their sins.” Matt. 1:21. Here was the glory of justice and mercy combined, for in dying for our sins our “transgression of the law” Christ revealed how God at one and the same time could “be just, and the justifier of hint which believes in Jesus.” Rom. 3:26. This brings us to the last question: What was “done away” and what “remains”? The question is really already answered. The glory attendant upon the giving of the law is so greatly excelled by the glory attendant upon the saving of men from its violation that Paul could appropriately speak of the first as -glorious” and the second as “the glory that excels.” But right here Paul weaves in an incident in connection with the giving of the law at Sinai to illustrate a point that he wishes to make in the verses that immediately follow this disputed passage. When Moses came down from the mount with the tables of stone in his hands, ”the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.” So Moses “put a vale on his face- while he spoke to the Israelites. (See Ex. 34:29-35) Paul refers to this: “The children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away.” 2 Cor. 3:7. He refers to this again in verse 11, saying it was “done away,” and then again in verse 13 in these words: “And not as Moses, which put a vale over his face, that the children of Israel could riot steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.” It was the glory of the former ministration, now ended, and not the law administered, that was “done away,” “abolished,” even, as by historical analogy, Paul reminds them that it was the glory on Moses’ face that was “done away.” The record declares that the veil was on Moses’ face, not on the tables of stone, that it was his face that shone and riot the tables of stone, and that it was the glory onhis face that faded, not the luster that ever surrounds the divinely written Ten Commandments.