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Bible Q

How should 2 Corinthians 3:17 be translated?

Q. Should this verse read “the Lord is the Spirit” (ESV etc.) or “the Lord is that Spirit” (KJV)?

2 Co.3:12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one [4] turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord [5] is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, [6] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
[4] 3:16 Greek he
[5] 3:17 Or this Lord
[6] 3:18 Or reflecting the glory of the Lord

There is no manuscript variation in 3:17; all Greek texts read “the Lord is the spirit” ( ὁ δὲ κύριος τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν), but there is a “the” (τὸ) in the text, unlike “God is spirit” ( πνεῦμα ὁ θεός ) in John 4:24, (which is probably to be read simply as “God is light” “God is love”, and so on) the phrase in 3:17 does not mean “the Lord is spirit”. Nor is the “the” (τὸ) a “that” (ἐκεῖνος) so the reading “the Lord is the spirit” is more natural.

The reading of the Douay-Rheims Bible “the Lord is a spirit”, seems without any justification.

The reason for the KJV “the Lord is that Spirit” may have been to distinguish from the Trinitarian idea of a personal “Holy Ghost” or “Holy Spirit” as third person of the Trinity; since it would contradict the doctrine of the Trinity to have “the Lord [Jesus] is the [Holy] Ghost”. Or it may just have been for ease of reading, to connect 3:3 3:6 3:8 with 3:17 and 3:18:

2 Co 3:3 And you show that you are a letter from 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.

3:6  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.

3:8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?

But if the view is taken that “spirit” is used figuratively, which is the normal Old Testament and New Testament use, then to say “the Lord is the spirit” or “that spirit” comes to much the same conclusion: Christ is “the/that” spirit in 3:3, 3:6, 3:8.

This is not saying anything more, in fact saying much less, than the parallel between 1 John 2:1 where Christ is called the “Comforter” as the “Spirit of truth” is called the “Comforter” in John ch.14, 15, 16. (see also Who or what is the Advocate or Comforter?). So ultimately the spirit, if personified, in 2Co.3 must also be Jesus himself.

Who else would it be?

2Co.3:17 Now the Lord is the/that Spirit [mentioned above 3:3-3:8], and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.


Versions with “the Spirit” include: Wycliffe 1395, The Bishop’s Bible 1568, RV 1885, Darby 1890, ASV 1901, RSV, NASB, NIV, NRSV, ESV
Versions with “that Spirit” include: KJV 1611
Versions with “a spirit” include: Tyndale 1534 “The Lorde no dout is a sprete”, Douay-Rheims

3 Replies to “How should 2 Corinthians 3:17 be translated?”

  1. Hi, wouldn’t 1 Cor 15:45 prove that Jesus is indeed a SPIRIT now and not a material being?

    “And so it is written , The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [the risen Christ] was MADE a quickening [life-giving] SPIRIT.”

    Even though He appeared to have flesh and bones after His resurrection and before His ascension, Jesus Himself says that “a spirit does NOT have flesh and bones like you see Me have”.

    Notice here that Jesus never actually said that He was NOT a spirit, but rather, “a spirit does not have flesh and bones like you SEE that I [ appear to?] have”.

    I other words, I believe that Jesus only appeared to have flesh and bones [He used that old body that God did not allow to see corruption] in order to convince His disciples that He was the real risen Jesus and not just a SPIRIT, masquerading as the risen Jesus.

    This seems to agree with this 2 Co 3:17 as well as:

    2 Cor 5:16
    “though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.”

    We no longer know Him after the flesh but rather as the “comforter”, or SPIRIT, as that is what He truly IS, a SPIRIT.

    Any thoughts?


    • Hi Jeremy,

      Well, Jesus made it clear that he was risen in the same crucified body, now glorified. Phil 3 said, Jesus will transform our lowly bodies into glorious body like His own. So Jesus is indeed a glorified human being, that is one of the most central tenet of Christianity. We must be careful to consider the context of 1 Cor 15:45, Paul is contrasting mortality and immortality, weakness and power, natural body and spiritual body, dishonor and glory, and, therefore, soul and spirit. The fact is that God is Spirit (John 4:24), One Substance, 3 Persons. The Second person took on human flesh, and was raised in glorified human body, and will forever be so. Bible makes it clear that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to the wilderness to be tempted (it does not make sense to say he led himself). And that Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to us (He doesn’t send Himself either).



      • I think it quite reasonable to say that Jesus had a (glorified) body after he was raised. It seemed to be able to do things like appear in locked rooms, and just generally to appear where not expected. That seems more than what our bodies are capable of. However, we don’t know so much about what form he took after going up into heaven. I don’t think he would need a body like ours while in heaven (though I would expect him to have a body when revealed to humans, like to Stephen, Paul and John).

        It is certainly true that the Bible describes God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in different ways and as performing different roles. It is certainly true that Jesus was a human who was glorified as a result of perfect obedience to God. But as to whether the Trinity is needed to explain these facts, see