What is the “Ministration of Death” Paul spoke of?
By Peter Salemi
What did Paul mean when he said, “For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.” Does this mean the Law of God? Let’s examine this in greater detail.
The Apostle Paul speaking to the Corinthian Church said that God, “…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 Corinthians 3:6). What does the New Covenant consist of? “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
“Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:
“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
“And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31; Hebrews 8:8-9). The New Covenant consisted of the Law of God written in their hearts, not on tables of stone. Paul earlier said, “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 Corinth 3:3). The epistle was the New Covenant, the Law of God written on the hearts of converted people “ministered” by the Apostles of Christ.
Is this anything new however? No! God from the beginning wanted this to be so, “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deut 5:29).
“Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deut 11:18).
The Apostle Paul spoke of circumcision of the heart, he said, “But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Romans 2:29). The Law of God when given, God wanted the same thing in the days of Moses, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.” (Duet 10:16).
“not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life”
What does Paul mean by the statement above? What is the meaning of “not of the letter”? Many believe it means the “letter of the law,” meaning keeping the law by physical action only, for a physical people Israel. But the “law is Spiritual” (Rom 7:14), so what does he mean? Paul gives us the answer clearly in Romans the second chapter, “And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
“But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”(vv.27-29). Paul says those of the “letter” “transgress the law.” They are of “the flesh.” These are the carnal minded, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Rom 8:6-7). Those of the letter DO NOT keep the law of God. Paul said he by the letter, the outwardly, transgresses the law of God which is what sin is (1 John 3:4).
In Romans the seventh chapter the Apostle Paul again writes, “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law [of sin], did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.
“But now we are delivered from the law [of sin], that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”(Romans 7:5). Paul spoke of two natures in man, the law of God, and the law of sin (Romans 7:25). What law brings “fruit unto death”? The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). So what law is Paul speaking of? THE LAW OF SIN! Paul recognized the two natures in man, the spirit of God in him to serve the law of God, and the old sinful nature that served the law of sin, which is breaking God’s law. So we conclude as Paul does, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; [newness of spirit]; but with the flesh the law of sin [oldness of the letter].” (Romans 7:25).
The Israelites when they received the law of God at Sinai did not have faith, and they did not receive God’s law in their hearts and minds as we have quoted some of the scriptures above. Paul said, “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” (Hebrews 4:2). This law was given to a fleshly unconverted people. Paul said they were made ministers of the New Testament not ministers of a carnal minded sinful people like in Moses’ day. The churches were converted members that had God’s spirit and the law in their hearts and minds, the Israelites in the Old Testament did not.
Paul said “letter killeth.” The carnal fleshly mind kills you. Paul said the “wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23). That sin, “bring forth fruit unto death.” Sin itself, the very result and consequences of sin kills you. God when he comes to judge the world, those who do not repent of sin will be put to death by the lake of fire. But the “spirit” those that keep God’s law “giveth life.” Paul said, “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Rom 8:4-7). So Paul is basically saying here that they were ordained ministers of the New Covenant given to a people who have the spirit of God in their hearts, and obey the law of God being carved in their hearts and minds as opposed to Moses who gave the law to the Israelites but they received it not “mixed with faith.” They were a fleshly people unconverted, so the law was written on stone, and not their hearts.
Now Paul beings to describe Moses’ ministry. He says, “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:” (2 Corinth 3:7). The word “ministration” should read as it does in 1 Corinthians 12:5 as “administration.” (Strong’s #1248 “diakonia”). This word means, “1) service, ministering, especially of those who execute the commands of others
2) of those who by the command of God proclaim and promote religion among men
2a) of the office of Moses
2b) of the office of the apostles and its administration
2c) of the office of prophets, evangelists, elders etc.
3) the ministration of those who render to others the offices of Christian affection especially those who help meet need by either collecting or distributing of charities
4) the office of the deacon in the church
5) the service of those who prepare and present food” (Thayer’s Definitions). What was the “office of Moses”?
Moses was a judge, a ruler in Israel. “And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.” (Ex 18:13). The word judge in this passage means “A primitive root; to judge, that is, pronounce sentence (for or against); by implication to vindicate or punish; by extension to govern; passively to litigate (literally or figuratively): - + avenge, X that condemn, contend, defend, execute (judgment), (be a) judge (-ment), X needs, plead, reason, rule.” (Strong’s #8199, emphasis added). Judges were appointed to rule Israel.
James Strong & McClintock Cyclopedia under “Judge” says “(שׁוֹפֵט, shophet', usu. in the plur.,שׁוֹפְטַי, shophetim', rulers rather than magistrates, from שָׁפִט different from, דַּין to try a cause, see Gesenius, s.v.; compare Bertholdt's Theolog. Journ. 7, 1; Werner, in Rudelbach's Zeitschr. 1844, 3, 17; Sept., N. Test. Act_13:20, and Josephus, Ant. 6, 5, 4, κριταί; in Dan_3:2-3, a diff. Chald. term is employed,” The Judges were basically the government in Israel. Only they can carry out the death penalty, or avenge someone concerning a crime.
“Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment.” (Deut 16:18).
“If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.
“And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number.
“Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee” (Deut 25:1-3).
“A divine sentence is in the lips of the king: his mouth transgresseth not in judgment.” (Prov 16:10). This is the administration of Moses ruling over a fleshly unconverted people. Whereas the administration of the “spirit” Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1). Moses ministry is also called “ministration of condemnation” (v.9). Only the government can execute the death penalty on its people according to the Bible!
Let us carefully note that Paul is not discussing the law, but “the ministration” of the law. Back in the days of Moses the “administration” pronounced immediate death for presumptuous violations of the commandments. In Paul's day and under his ministry such was not the case. Please note that the difference lay not with the law but with the “ministrations.” Paul contrasts “the ministration of death” and “the ministration of the Spirit.” The “ministration of condemnation” was followed by “the ministration of righteousness.” There is all the difference in the world between the law itself and the administration of the law. When the administration of the Constitution changes from the Democratic Party to the Republican, the Constitution is not changed. It is left intact, so with the law of Ten Commandments.
The following texts clearly show what Paul meant by the term “ministration of death”; they also show that the law he referred to was the Decalogue:
“And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:16).
“Whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 31:15).
“For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death.” (Leviticus 20:9).
“And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:17).
“The adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10). In Moses' day Israel was called a “nation” and also “the church in the wilderness” (Numbers 14:12; Acts 7:38). The church and the nation were united under the immediate direction of God; it was a union of church and state. Such a regime is a theocracy. But the time came when the Israelites demanded a king to judge them “like all the nations.” In granting this request, the Lord said, “They have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (I Samuel 8:7). It was then that “the ministration of death” for civil offenses passed into the hands of kings and civil courts, and the theocracy was abolished. So the administration of death was God ruling over them through Moses administering the judgments of God for the transgression of sins over an unconverted people. This was the rule of the state!
The ministration of righteousness was the ministers that were made, “overseers, to feed the church of God,” (Acts 20:28). They were to “edify” the church of God as Paul says, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (Ephesians 4:11-13). This is the “ministration of Righteousness.” This was the rule of the Church!
The Glory of Moses
Now in that same verse it says, “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:” This administration “was glorious.” Vincent Word Studies says, “A very inadequate translation. Ἑγενήθη means came to pass or took place, not simply was. A glory passed from God to Moses, so that his face became shining. It is much more graphic and truthful to render ἐν δόξῃ literally, in or with glory, than to convert the two words into a single adjective, glorious. Rev., much better, came with glory.” (Emphasis added). Moses’ ministry came with the Glory of God! To let them see that he had communion with God, that he was in God’s presence, that is what the glory of God is, his presence! (Exodus 33:14-23). This is why Israel could not look upon Moses because the glory of God shone from him, and sinful man cannot stand in the presence of God.
Now the end of the verse says, “which glory was to be done away” Does this mean the law of God? Absolutely Not! Paul speaks of “two” things which was glorious, the administration and Moses’ face. Notice the word “glory” is in italic. It is not in the original Greek. This becomes important to understand what was done away. By adding the word “glory” at the end of the verse, people find it hard to figure out which was done away with. However, remove that word which does not belong there, and it becomes evident that Paul was saying that it was the glory of Moses’ face he was speaking of. Paul further proves this in the following verse:
“And not as Moses, which
put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look
to the end of that which is abolished:” (v.13). It says here that the
children of Israel could not stedfastly behold something, and that that
something was “abolished.” Yet when we go back and read the account in Exodus
34, we see that they did behold the tablets of stone in Moses’ hands.
What then was it that they could not “stedfastly behold?” It was the “face” of
“And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.” (Ex 34:35). Because they could not behold his face, for it “shone” –verse 34, Moses had to cover his face with a veil until he went back in to speak with God.
Notice verses 14-16:
“But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament; which vail is done away in Christ.
“But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.
“Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.” As we mentioned, the presence of God is his glory. God is a spirit. The Holy Spirit is what God is composed of, and that Spirit is given to the Christian (Romans 8:11). The Holy Spirit is his presence, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me…Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? ” (Psalm 51:11; 139:7). It is Christ in you.
Paul was saying in the beginning that they were ministers of the spirit and not of the flesh. The Jews in verse 14, their minds were still blinded because the veil that covered the glory of God was still in their hearts. There were still flesh and did not have the Holy Spirit in them. As it says in the book of Acts, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.”(7:51). The veil is done away not the law or the ministration, in Christ. The Jews, upon reading the Old Testament, still can’t see the glory of Jesus that shined on Moses, for they still have that veil covering the heart. Notice what Paul says, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinth 4:6). The Holy Spirit is that light that dwells in us, that we may understand God through Jesus Christ. Paul said when they convert, “Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.” Once that veil is taken away by receiving the Holy Spirit you can see the glory of God which is Jesus Christ, the same light that shine on Moses! Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament. Moses had the glory of Christ on him, and dwelt in the presence of the Lord. Today the presence of the Lord is in us, by the Spirit he has given us. (1 John 3:24).
Let’s go back and examine verses 8-11:
“How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?
“For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth 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 excelleth.
“For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.”
With this knowledge we can understand the above verses. “How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?” It should read “literally, ‘be rather (that is, still more, invested) in glory.’’’ (JFB Commentary). “The gospel, the ministration of life, must have still greater glory. It has glory now, and will have a fuller glory in the day of the Lord.” (Peoples New Test.). This verse Paul is saying that the administration of the church has the glory of God now with the Holy Spirit in our hearts, but it still has not come into its full fruition (more about this below).
As he says in the next verse, “For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.” The ministration of righteousness exceeds in glory why? Notice what Paul says in Hebrews, “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
“Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.
“For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.
“For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.
“And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;
“But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” (3:1-6). Moses was a “servant” in the house of God, but Jesus is its creator and designer. This creator and designer has more glory than the creation its self. The House of God, Israel was ruled by “a servant.” They did not want God to rule over them (see Exodus 20:19-21). Quoting Acts again, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.”(7:51). Whereas Jesus is directly ruling “over his own house” directly. He is the head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23). This is why the church “exceeds in glory.”
Paul goes on to say, “For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.” Even if Moses ministry did not have God ruling Israel directly, the administration alone would have excelled in glory anyways because it came from God, and got its instruction from God anyways.
Then Paul says, “For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.” What remained and what was done away? The administration of Moses in which the veil was done away in Christ, was glorious Paul is saying when we examine all the scriptures together. And that which remains is the glory of God that shines in the ministry of righteousness.
Ministration still Valid
The ministration of Moses was not done away, just the veil. Jesus said the leaders of Israel, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
“All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”(Matthew 23:2-3). The government of Israel was still a valid way to run a nation. Jesus said to obey the ministration; their authority was to be obeyed so long as it was not used to contradict the very Word of God itself, so long as their words were NOT CONTRARY to Scripture. The seat of Moses is the “‘the heirs of Moses’’’ (Robertson’s Word Pictures). Moses was a judge a ruler in Israel. In Exodus 18.13 we read, “And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses SAT to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.” Moses sat, judging the people. Obviously, then, he was sitting down – in a “seat” of some sort, as he exercised his authority, given to him by God. He JUDGED among the people!
Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, was concerned that Moses would wear himself out, handling so many people's problems. He asked him why he did this.
“And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to INQUIRE OF GOD: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I DO MAKE THEM KNOW YHE STATUTES OF GOD, AND HIS LAWS" (Exodus 18.15-16). Moses, in his “seat,” TAUGHT THE PEOPLE THE LAWS, COMMANDMENTS, AND STATUTES OF GOD! He was a ruler in Israel executing God’s Judgments!
Then the system of Judges was set up to govern Israel. Smaller and greater matters were handled by the judges and Moses, “And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.
“Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.
“Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God:
“And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.
“Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:
“And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.” (Ex 18:17-22). The church of God obeyed what Jesus said. Paul said, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.” (Rom 13:1), as long as it did not contradict the word of God! Paul called the government “the ordinance of God:” (v.2), and the rulers were “minister of God” (v.4).
One example, of those in power contradicting the word of God is in Acts. Those in Moses seat commanded the church, “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name?” (Act 5:28). The Apostles said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29).
Paul said that we have not seen the “ministration of Righteousness” in its full glory as of yet. When the kingdom comes, Christians will be resurrected into the family of God, and be clothed with the glory of God. At the end of the third chapter of 2 Corinthians Paul says, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (v.18). We are to be in the same image as Jesus, who comes in the glory of the Father (Matthew 16:27). Isaiah 60:1-3 says, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.
“For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
“And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” When Jesus comes, and the saints are resurrected in full glory, they will be kings and priests and will rule the earth with Christ in the Kingdom (Rev 5:10; 20:4). Because they will rule with Christ, the two administrations of church and state will be together again in God’s Theocracy, and both glories will be joined into one, and the glory of God will be in its full measure.
2 Corinthians 10:6 says, “And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.” Jesus said, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13). Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” When are salvation is brought into completion, then we will rule with Christ. Jesus said, “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
“And he shall rule them with a rod of iron;” (Revelation 2:26, 27). My God hasten that day! May God hasten that day!