By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: Does 2 Corinthians 3:17,18 teach that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are identical in some way? Is “the Spirit” directly referring to Jesus or the Holy Spirit? Are Jesus and the Holy Spirit so closely related in work that one can be put for the other?
Reply: The passage inquired about reads: “Now the Lord is the Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17,18).
It is true that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one. This is not to say that they are one and the same person, but they are one in the same sense that the Father and the Son are one (Jn. 10:30). The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are separate persons but they are deity. They compose the Godhead. They are God in three persons. They are one in purpose, each performing and functioning in harmony with the other. It is questionable, however, that “the Lord is the Spirit” has reference here to Jesus being identified in some way with the Holy Spirit.
In order to have a clearer understanding of this difficult passage, we should notice verse 6. Here Paul had declared that God had made him and the other apostles sufficient as “ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” The old covenant was given in letters engraven on stone; it was a law of letters. The new covenant, though also written, is a spiritual law (Rom. 8:2). Paul is contrasting the law of letters which could only bring condemnation and death (Rom. 7:7-11; 1 Cor. 15:56), with the”new covenant which gives us life (Rom. 2:27-29; 6:4,11; 8:2, 10,11; 1 Cor. 15:45; Gal. 5:18). It was the former that was being enforced by Paul’s opponents. This being the case, it seems more in harmony with the context, that as Moses stood for the “letter” of the old covenant which he gave, “the Lord” (Christ) is the spirit of the new covenant of which He is the author. It gives us liberty. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). Three laws are mentioned in Romans 8:1-4: the law of the Spirit of life, the law of sin and death and the law of Moses. The law of the Spirit of life (the gospel, or the new covenant) makes men free from the law of sin and death. The law of sin and death is set forth in 7:23. To be a captive of this law is to be dead spiritually; therefore, it is the law of sin and death. Sin reigns and the inevitable result is death (Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 6:23). The law of Moses (the third law, Rom. 8:3) could not free men from the law of sin and death because its sacrifices could not take away sin (Heb. 10:4). The spirit that gives life is Christ (2 Cor. 3:17). He sets men at liberty (Lk. 4:18), and this He does by the truth (Jn. 8:32).
There is no doubt that “the Lord” is Christ Jesus in this passage. He was declared to be both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:37) and from that time on it is probable that every mention of the term “Lord” refers to Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:5; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:7 etc.)
In view of the context, it is more plausible that “the Spirit” in 2 Corinthians 3:17,18 refers to Jesus rather than the Holy Spirit.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 21, p. 645
November 6, 1986