2 Corinthians 3:6
ESV - 6 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.
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The "letter" (that is, the written Law given by God, as recorded in the Old Testament books of Exodus through Deuteronomy) is said to "kill" because, although the requirements of the Law itself are good, humans are universally sinful, and are thus incapable of the perfect obedience to the Law that would be required for the attainment of eternal life in God's holy presence. By contrast, the "Spirit" (that is, God the Holy Spirit) graciously gives humans the gift of faith in Christ's sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection (rather than in their own imperfect actions) as the only means to have their sins forgiven by God and to receive eternal life (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Spirit also then indwells them after they have accepted that merciful gift, as a pledge of their eternal life to come.
The Holy Spirit is referring to a very specific 'letter' here, (Biblical Greek: 'gramma'), which is a legal document detailing our debts to the Torah each time we violate one of its ordinances. The Torah gives us specific instructions on how to 'settle' these debts with acts of 'restoring equality' towards our fellow man, (the basis of GOD's law is 'Love your neighbor EXACTLY as you love yourself'). Jews had a tough enough time fulfilling this while the Temple was operating, but pagans had no hope at all, since they were not even permitted into the Temple, yet the same 'debts' were being accrued. Jews had a way to 'mitigate' the effects of their sin, (slow the approach of returning judgment), while pagans did not. They existed inside inescapable cycles of hatred and self-destruction. Once the Temple was destroyed, even hope ended. GOD's goal as our Messiah upon the cross was to 'cancel the certificate of debts' against all individual men and their tribes, while secondarily 'uniting Jews and pagans' into one new group, tearing down the wall of enmity existing between them from ancient times, (Ephesians 2:14-16, Colossians 2:14-15). “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. "And I have other sheep, which are not from this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd." (John 10:14-16). We should NOT conclude from this phrase that all 'letters' are somehow deadly to us and that 'Spirit' is the new replacement. That is, we are not somehow 'lawless' through the Holy Spirit. The same word 'gramma,' refers to 'formal education' itself and also to the divine education that is literally 'written' upon our flesh and blood hearts, (a fascinating mystery of scripture): "You are our letter, having been written in our hearts, known and read by all men, being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, ministered to by us, having been written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of hearts of flesh." (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). This is the same 'flesh and blood' that 'CANNOT inherit the kingdom of GOD' (1 Corinthians 15:50). So our physical bodies are somehow a 'disposable writing storage unit,' yet this 'old gramma' is a treasure stored here until our resurrection into our new bodies, (2 Corinthians 4:6-7). That makes our 'old fleshly bodies' a kind of 'seed' to be planted with 'writing' similar to what exists inside the 'heart' of a plant, including the specific perimeters of its structural designs, history of past growth and its many unique traits, (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-44). The 'DNA' (so to speak), of our future glorified bodies is already 'written' inside our flesh and blood bodies right now through the Holy Spirit. This 'treasure' is being stored there to be 'planted,' 'cultivated' and 'born.' This 'gramma' (called an 'epistle' when written by Spirit), is stored in a 'disposable' unit so GOD alone gets the glory for this treasure once it is finally revealed. Strangely, the presence of this 'gramma' is what also 'kills' because dying is part of its design, just like with a plant. The 'seed' must die, dry out and then be planted before its 'hidden design' can fulfill itself. So is the seed really 'dead' at all? Scripture seems to indicate that 'death' only REALLY happens if the seed is never 'planted.' The 'writing' only matters if the treasure is released, otherwise it just 'rots' and we never get to see its hidden designs. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that prevents this from happening, which is why He says here that He alone 'gives life' and not the 'writing' itself. Without the 'writing' there is no 'stored treasure,' but without the Spirit we never actually get to experience it. So the 'letter alone kills' but the combination of the two is what fully reveals eternal life.
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