2 Corinthians 3:16-18 (NASB):

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 (KJV):

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.

  1. Who is "the Lord"?
  2. What is meant by "the Spirit"?
  3. What is meant by "the Lord is the/that Spirit"?
  • 2
    The 'Spirit' referred to is, in context (2 Corinthians 3:8), the 'ministration of the spirit' which is contrasted with the 'ministration of death', which is, in turn, defined as that which is 'written and engraven in stones'. (Up-voted +1.)
    – Nigel J
    Apr 20 at 8:31
  • @HoldToTheRod - I appreciate the edit, but I'm afraid that in this case the word 'vail' was not a typo, please see this and this. Apr 21 at 3:44
  • Interesting...and sorry for the trouble. "Vail" caught my attention and I pulled up my KJV, which had it spelled "veil"...I wonder if my printing was trying to standardize spelling. Apr 21 at 3:46

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) Apr 20 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
    Apr 20 at 18:31

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
    – steveowen
    Apr 21 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? Apr 21 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. Apr 21 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. Apr 21 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? Apr 21 at 4:32

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.

Now, we obviously have:

  • The Holy Spirit is spirit
  • According to 2 Cor 3:18, Jesus is spirit
  • According to John 4:24, God is spirit

The Bible makes almost no attempt to tell us what "spirit" means. But we do know that heavenly angels are also described as "spirit" (Heb 1:14). 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.
    – steveowen
    Apr 20 at 10:33
  • 2
    @user48152 - that is false - the Greek is ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος which lacks the article. That is, no "the".
    – Dottard
    Apr 20 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.
    – steveowen
    Apr 20 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
    Apr 20 at 10:42
  • 1
    @user48152 - and the other texts I quoted do not exist - how do you harmonize them?
    – Dottard
    Apr 20 at 10:46

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 allows 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’ ’stuff’ is important - but it often needs some ‘unlearning’ - and for some, that’s impossible.

  • 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? Apr 20 at 19:26
  • 1
    @Spirit Realm Investigator Yes. They are all one, and the same. One with the Father.
    – Dave
    Apr 20 at 19:33

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