16 but whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. [2 Corinthians 3:16-18, NASB]

16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. 17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 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. [2 Corinthians 3:16-18, KJV]

  1. Who is "the Lord"?
  2. What is meant by "the Spirit"?
  3. What is meant by "the Lord is the/that Spirit"?

6 Answers 6


I confess some uncertainty about Paul's intended meaning, but here's what I derive from the context.


Old & New Covenants

As Dave already pointed out, Paul is contrasting covenants--that is the focus of nearly the entire chapter. The last mention of spirit prior to the passage in question is in verses 6 & 8:

6 Who also hath 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.

7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven 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:

8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?

In colloquial terms, Paul is discussing what we would call today the "letter of the law" and the "spirit of the law." The law given through Moses was very "letter of the law" oriented, spelling out exceedingly numerous details. The new covenant brought by Jesus focused considerably less on the outward show and much more on the inner person, for example

There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. (Mark 7:15; see also verses 5-14 & 18-23)

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

It's not enough to check the boxes on outward appearances; one's heart, might, mind, and soul must be in the right place.

Spirit (pneuma) is that which gives life, and it is the new testament through Christ that gives life, progress, and purpose to the covenants, old and new; He gives life to the ordinances, He gives life to the plan & the people it transforms (a more expanded version of these thoughts here).


Process vs. Purpose

It is important to note what the Old & New Covenants have in common.

the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ (Galatians 3:24)

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden (Matthew 11:28)

The jots & tittles of how to get there may have been updated, but the destination--and the overarching purpose God has for His children--remains exactly the same.


The Resurrected Lord

Paul uses "Lord" repeatedly to refer to Jesus. The first verse of many of Paul's epistles calls this out specifically, but perhaps most notably Paul says:

5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)

6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ

Unless Paul disambiguates otherwise, I think we're pretty safe to assume that when he says "Lord" he means "Jesus Christ".

On the testimony of Luke 24:39 we know that Jesus has a resurrected body of flesh and bones, and in 1 Cor. 15:53-54 Paul tells us that resurrected bodies are incorruptible.

The word rendered "incorruptible" is ἀφθαρσία (from ἄφθαρτος), which connotes: indestructible, imperishable, undecaying, unending existence. On Paul's own testimony the resurrected Lord is embodied.


These are not the majuscules you're looking for

The capitalization of "Spirit" in its first usage in verse 17 (in most versions of 2 Cor. 3) is something I find unhelpful--the translators have added an interpretation to the text, and I am at least partially inclined to believe their interpretation got it wrong.

When Paul wants to refer to the "Spirit of the Lord" he knows how to do so unambiguously--in fact he does so twice in the next verse and a half; he also did so in verse 3 (I acknowledge, though, that Paul is at least occasionally ambiguous and leaves the readers to piece together his meaning by context).

Since the word πνεῦμα (pneuma) carries a variety of meanings (especially in Paul!) it needs to be disambiguated -- we see Paul doing this 3 times in this chapter, and again for different referents in 2 Cor. 2:13 & 7:13. The question is what context is given for the first use of "spirit" in verse 17? Without context the term is somewhat nebulous.

To give Paul the benefit of the doubt, I conclude that his first use of spirit in verse 17 refers not to the "Spirit of the Lord" at all, but to the same usage of the word found in verses 6 & 8 -- that these verses, which are part of the same thought as verse 17, provide the context we are looking for.

Then in the next two uses of the word he clarifies what Spirit he's talking about, because unlike verses 6, 8, and 17a, he's now talking about a specific Spirit.



  1. Who is "the Lord"? Jesus
  2. What is meant by "the Spirit"? That which gives life. In this instance, the new testament through Christ which breathes life into the covenants--its ultimate intent being to transform human beings and raise them to life eternal
  3. What is meant by "the Lord is the/that Spirit"? (see below)

I understand Paul to be saying not:

  • Jesus is a Spirit
  • Jesus is the Spirit
  • Jesus is that Spirit

But rather he's saying it is Jesus that brings life.

  • 1
    a useful and authentic answer that is guided more by the text not tradition.+1
    – Steve
    Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 1:11
  • What is meant by "the Spirit"? The spirit of the law--its ultimate intent to transform human beings - just to make sure that I'm getting what you are saying right: you see the spirit of the law as an abstract concept, not as the actual Holy Spirit of God, correct? If so, how do you interpret verse 3: 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. ? Is the 'Spirit of the living God' an abstract concept?
    – user38524
    Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 4:05
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator good question. Yes, I see Paul using "spirit" two different ways in this chapter. 1) spirit of the law (looking at intent rather than outward appearances) - I think it would be fair to call that an abstract concept. 2) Spirit of the Lord/living God (the Holy Ghost, not an abstract concept). Apparently most translators believe he's using the word 2 different ways as well, and distinguish via capitalization. A fair point I did not call out in my post is that in verse 3 Paul does appear to be referring to the Holy Ghost, not an abstract concept. Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 4:20
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator a summary of my read of how spirit is used in the chapter would be definition 1 used in verses: 6a, 6b, 8, 17a. Definition 2 used: 3, 17b, 18. Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 4:22
  • @HoldToTheRod - do you know if the concept 'spirit of the law' (definition 1) was unambiguously defined elsewhere in the Bible or known by the people at the time? We have plenty of unambiguous evidence for definition 2 (the Spirit of the living God, the Helper, the Comforter, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, Pentecost, the book of Acts, etc.). Do we have anything like that for definition 1, other than the capitalization (or lack thereof) in the chapter itself by the translators?
    – user38524
    Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 4:32

So also it has been written, became the first man Adam [unto eis] living soul; the last Adam [unto eis] quickening spirit. [EGNT (1) 1 Corinthians 15:45.]

Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first [humanity] is of the earth, earthy: the second [humanity] is the Lord from heaven. [KJV 1 Corinthians 15 : 46,47]

Note : It is anthropos in 46,47 so I have bracketed as 'humanity'. Aner is the Greek for an identifiable human individual, not anthropos.

Here Paul explains that the first humanity is come a living soul. But the second humanity (a last 'Adam', for there shall be no more) is come quickening spirit.

Adam was created of the dust of the ground and God breathed into him (via atmospheric oxygen) the 'breath of life' (for the life - the oxygen - is in the blood, from the lungs). He lives, but this is but organic life.

Adam needs the Tree of Life, to properly Live. But he did not partake, rather, tempted by Eve (who was mesmerised by a serpentine Spirit) he took of the knowledge of good and evil.

Later, God displayed what that knowledge really was, displaying it on stone tables for all to see. It is a covenant of death.

It is a ministration of death, as saith Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:8 :

Who also hath 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. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious . . . . . . . [2 Corinthians 3: 6,7 KJV]

In contrast to the 'letter' which 'killeth' and is 'written and engraven in stones' is the Spirit which 'giveth life'.

And the Lord is that Spirit.

ο δε κυριος το πνευμα εστιν [TR undisputed 2 Cor 3:17]

Now the Lord that Spirit is [Literal]

2 Corinthians 3:17 may (I would say should) be translated 'the Lord is that Spirit' since the Greek article is derived from, and can often be taken as, the demonstrative pronoun. (See Daniel B Wallace Beyond the Basics p208.)

Here, the title 'Lord' is given to the Holy Spirit as in other scriptures and here, also, as in other scriptures, we see the unity of deity. In another place, Jesus says 'I and the Father are one'. And here we see that the Lord (Jesus) who is 'come quickening spirit' is one with the lifegiving spirit who is the Holy Spirit.

Of course, only those who have repented and believed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and, thus, being justified, have received the Holy Spirit, will be aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit within themselves.

And that Spirit is he who 'speaks of Christ' for he speaks not of himself, he speaks of Christ, which Spirit is the Spirit of Truth.

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. [John 16:13.]

(1) I have quoted the EGNT - the Englishman's Greek New Testament as the word is 'become' or 'come' not 'made'. And it is 'unto', not being a past event but being an ongoing and forward-going reality.

  • Ecclesiastes 12:6-7: 6 before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. - If the breath of life is the oxygen in the blood, then, when someone dies, are you saying that physical oxygen returns to God?? That point in your answer doesn't make much sense to me. Otherwise, I think this is a good answer (+1)
    – user38524
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 14:13
  • 1
    RE: 1 Corinthians 15:46-47 - the context is clear. Paul is talking about mans body - not man! That’s why he used ‘anthropos’. There is no need to explain that. ‘Man’ is not his body. If you try to make it so, you will have issue(s) with ‘anthropos’.
    – Dave
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 18:31

Preliminary note: The Greek does not contain any article before either "Lord" or "spirit" and reads: ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος = "from Lord spirit".

First, the passage in 2 Cor 3:12-18 is about the mental fog that Judaizers have in understanding the New Covenant. Note V15, 16 -

And even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

"The Lord" here, as with almost every other place in the NT where this title is used in an unqualified way, is a direct reference to Jesus. Jesus is the key to understanding the New Covenant as this text makes clear.

There are a number of spirit beings in Scripture such as:


  • Heb 1:14 - Are not the angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

God the Father:

  • John 4:24 - God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The Lord Jesus:

  • 2 Cor 3:17, 18 - Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory, which comes from the Lord, [the] Spirit.

The Holy Spirit - obviously!


  • Rev 16:14 - These are demonic spirits that perform signs and go out to all the kings of the earth, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.

Thus, there are many spirit beings. The Bible reveals noting about what "spirit" is except that it is not flesh and blood.

Just as there are many distinct human beings, and many distinct animal beings, there are many distinct spirit beings.

The Bible makes almost no attempt to tell us what "spirit" means. This list does not necessarily exhaust the spirit category.

However, we do know that Jesus can walk through walls as during the meeting in the upper room after the resurrection; angels can appear as men with bodies such as when they visited Abraham, etc. Spirit Angels are capable of travelling from heaven to earth to deliver messages from heaven.

All this said, we still know almost nothing about what a spirit is.

  • According to Luke 24:39 Jesus said he was not a spirit - the text of 2 Cor 3:18 says He is THE spirit - not is spirit.
    – Steve
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 10:33
  • 2
    @user48152 - that is false - the Greek is ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος which lacks the article. That is, no "the".
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 10:35
  • You ignored that detail in your answer as per the Q, you also ignore the Luke detail and say whatever you want.
    – Steve
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 10:38
  • 2
    @user48152 - pardon? Are you suggesting that some fact I quoted is incorrect? - if so, please point it out I will be happy to correct it. Otherwise, do not make unsubstantiated accusations.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 10:42
  • 1
    @user48152 - and the other texts I quoted do not exist - how do you harmonize them?
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 10:46

2 Corinthians 3:

17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

What is THAT SPIRIT? Does this mean there is no THIRD PERSON in trinitarian view?

Ellicott answered:

Now the Lord is that Spirit.—Better, the Lord is the Spirit. The words seem at first inconsistent with the formulated precision of the Church’s creeds, distinguishing the persons of the Godhead from each other. We apply the term “Lord,” it is true, as a predicate of the Holy Spirit when we speak, as in the Nicene Creed, of the Holy Ghost as “the Lord, and Giver of life,” or say, as in the pseudo-Athanasian, that “the Holy Ghost is Lord;”

So your question has been around for ages.

but using the term “the Lord” as the subject of a sentence, those who have been trained in the theology of those creeds would hardly say, “The Lord” (the term commonly applied to the Father in the Old Testament, and to the Son in the New) “is the Spirit.” We have, accordingly, to remember that St. Paul did not contemplate the precise language of these later formularies. He had spoken, in 2Corinthians 3:16, of Israel’s “turning to the Lord;” he had spoken also of his own work as “the ministration of the Spirit” (2Corinthians 3:8).

Even Paul referred to his work as the work of the Spirit.

To turn to the Lord—i.e., to the Lord Jesus—was to turn to Him whose essential being, as one with the Father, was Spirit (John 4:24), who was in one sense, the Spirit, the life-giving energy, as contrasted with the letter that killeth.

The Spirit aspect of Jesus was emphasized and contrasted.

So we may note that the attribute of “quickening,” which is here specially connected with the name of the Spirit (2Corinthians 3:6), is in John 5:21 connected also with the names of the Father and the Son. The thoughts of the Apostle move in a region in which the Lord Jesus, not less than the Holy Ghost, is contemplated as Spirit. This gives, it is believed, the true sequence of St. Paul’s thoughts. The whole verse may be considered as parenthetical, explaining that the “turning to the Lord” coincides with the “ministration of the Spirit.”

i.e., do not over-generalize

Another interpretation, inverting the terms, and taking the sentence as “the Spirit is the Lord,” is tenable grammatically, and was probably adopted by the framers of the expanded form of the Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 380). It is obvious, however, that the difficulty of tracing the sequence of thought becomes much greater on this method of interpretation.

It is futile to isolate a single verse to attempt to prove or disprove any complex doctrine. At best a single verse can throw some weight to the doctrine one way or another. The lesson is this: Don't over-generalize.

Does 2 Corithians 3 17 say Jesus is the Holy Spirit?

That would be a case of over-generalization.


What is meant by "the Lord is the Spirit"?

There are two broad expressions of spirit.

  1. The literal stuff God is - He is not physical, He IS spirit.
  2. The inner operation of a person - in this case as directed and moved by God's provision of wisdom, power etc.

We'll see how it is the latter that Paul is referring to here. Jesus spoke of people being 'children of the devil'. He said to Peter, 'get behind me Satan'. These two examples amongst many others highlight the driving force, the inner spirit, working to direct these people to do what they did, to live the way they were. Both examples show the spirit of evil was the driving force in their decisions and attitudes. (They were not literally of evil)

When someone is allowing God to work in them for His glory and to bear fruit for His purposes, we say that they have God's spirit in them. We may be very specific as the NT often is with,

  • spirit of grace.
  • spirit of judgment.
  • spirit of truth, of love, joy, peace, etc.
  • spirit of mercy, grace or patience.

When Paul speaks of Jesus being the source of freedom, he does so because where Jesus is present, there is freedom. Jesus is present not in the flesh (as he was), but now in the spirit only. Where he dwells within a person (John 14:23), the reality of spiritual freedom is there too.

and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. v17

Jesus cannot be present without this freedom being there too! His whole life was lived to create freedom from evil, sin and death. he accomplished his mission perfectly - his new life is the symbol of freedom.

The whole passage explains the focus on what God is doing through His spirit and Jesus.

You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all people, 3revealing yourselves, that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

4Such is the confidence we have toward God through Christ... our adequacy is from God, 6who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.

7But if the ministry of death, engraved in letters on stones, came with glory... 8how will the ministry of the spirit fail to be even more with glory? 9For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness excel in glory.

13 we are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not stare at the end of what was fading away. 14But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 16 whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17Now the Lord is the spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the spirit.

To summarise,

  • God has a plan to draw all men to Himself. He did this by the letter of the law - (the Old Cov.) but this does not bring true life - only death, even though it came with great glory!
  • Now, by giving of His spirit, through this better covenant, people can indeed be given life - life eternal.
  • On what is the New Cov. based? On Jesus, his blood. His sacrifice brings us near to God and restores relationship permanently, hence the confidence. The 'law', is now written on hearts not stone.
  • There is a ministry - of the spirit. Eternal life is of the spirit - not the flesh. Jesus died in the flesh as a mortal man - he was raised in the spirit 1Pet 3:18.
  • the spirit is what gives life. The purpose of the spirit is to give life. Jesus is the means to this life.
  • There is a ministry of righteousness - another reference to the ministry of the spirit.

to the glory of God through us. 21Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22who also sealed us and gave us the spirit in our hearts as a pledge. 2Cor 1:20-

  • Again, Christ is the way, the spirit is the means to life.
  • We are not to be hindered or restricted by a veil of doubt, and hard unfaithful hearts. The veil of separation is removed in Jesus. The "Holy of Holies" is redundant. We sit with Christ at God's right hand because we are found in him (Eph 2:6) and no longer just on our own as sinners still needing a sacrifice for our guilt.

God sets us free by placing His spirit in us. He does this in and through Jesus. Essentially, Paul is saying they are accomplishing the same result. If Jesus has granted us the freedom of truth and love (not fear) he does so through God's spirit in us.

He has been exalted at the right hand of God, and has received the promise of the holy spirit from the Father, he has poured out this which you both see and hear. Acts 2:33

we ... are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory. 2Cor 3:18

As Jesus represents God perfectly, so fully and completely, Jesus is not guided and empowered by God's spirit as he was in the flesh. He is now spiritually alive, as God is. He is now the identical expression of God's spirit to the point that Paul can say, Jesus (the Lord) is the spirit!

He does not say that Jesus IS a spirit. In his own words, Jesus said he was not a spirit Luke 24:39.

God was IN Christ, reconciling the world to himself 2Cor 5:19

Jesus is holy and immortal, having life as the Father has life - because the Father gave him to have that life as He has. John 5:26

Jesus as the exalted son, is given all authority - as if it was God deciding, judging, now Jesus IS = the spirit doing God's bidding in all things. This the holy spirit could not do - only Jesus has his own will which was always subjected to God.

Jesus bears the same spirit as the Father, his God. Both Jesus and this spirit in us enable a freedom from slavery to sin. What the spirit does, Jesus does - the Lord IS the spirit!

Jesus, the Lord, is AS the spirit of God - representing Him perfectly forever more, just as the logos does and the provisions of the holy spirit God sends. No longer is the spirit a guiding force or expression of God's will in an imperfect human (remember Jesus attained perfection/completion), Jesus. the Lord, IS God's fullest expression of holy love, grace, truth and freedom.

As Jesus is God's logos made flesh - the logos embodied! Jesus is the fullest embodiment of God's spirit too - the Lord, the spirit. As the image of God Jesus was as a man, he now is the spiritual image and is drawing all men into that image -

all...are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the spirit.


In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul is contrasting covenants. Contrasting the Law, to what is now that Jesus has died. In fact this is a constant theme for Paul, in all his letters. Because it needs to be! The Law was for ‘flesh’. But now the Jews would need to change their view. And ‘learn’ about the “spirit” side of their relationship with God.

To understand ‘spirit’, the spirit, the Lord is spirit, - you need to consider the difference the cross made. Adam ate. His spirit died - instantly, as soon as he ‘ate’. From then, ‘man’ could only live ‘in the flesh’. Man received everything he needed ‘from outside of him’. That’s why they needed the Law written (on stone). But, the law ‘entices’ the flesh - because the ‘flesh’, post fall, is self righteous. ‘It’ wants to ‘do’. Unfortunately anything man ‘does’ for righteousness is ‘sin’. And the penalty for this is death - of the flesh!

But the cross, (or more specifically Jesus’s life of obedience.) allowed man to choose to be reborn - that is, spiritually reborn. And this recreated ‘man’s’ spirit, so that is is reunited to God, and this allows God, via or through mans spirit to once again to become a ‘source’ - for all man ‘needs’, that is - Life!

JOHN 6:63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.

How does mans ‘spirit’ receive what man needs? - through the ‘spirit’. His (mans) spirit receives from Gods spirit. The Holy Spirit. God can now, once again, interact with man directly, instead of via the ‘flesh’.

This whole aspect of ‘spirit’ will be quite [very?] difficult to understand until you understand what ‘man’ is (or isn’t). Man is not his body. And, you need consider exactly what difference being ‘reborn’ makes. It ‘fixes’, or reverses what happened to Adam. Adams ‘spirit’ died. But being reborn changes that. The cross gives us ‘life’. And like John says, that life comes from the spirit. And, the spirit is the Lord. We [can now] have life ‘in’ Christ.

Understanding this ‘spirit’ ’dimension’ is important - but it often needs some ‘unlearning’ of traditional doctrine.

  • Let me check if I understood your answer correctly. Your answers to the three questions in the OP would be: (1) Jesus, (2) the Holy Spirit and (3) Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the same being?
    – user38524
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 19:26
  • 1
    @Spirit Realm Investigator Yes. They are all one, and the same. One with the Father.
    – Dave
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 19:33

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