What Does “The Letter Killeth” Mean? 

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 (2 Corinthians 3:6, KJV)

Few passages in scripture differentiate the Law from grace as 2 Corinthians 3:6. In this verse, Paul says the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. The letter killed the Jews in the desert, and it continues to destroy the spiritual lives of many believers today.

The term letter in this passage refers to the written text of the Law. In the Old Testament, the Law led to the physical death of many Israelites. In fact, of the roughly 600,000 men (not including the women and children) who left Egypt for the land flowing with milk and honey, only two—Joshua and Caleb—made it into Canaan. The rest of the people died in the desert; they disobeyed the Law, were punished and died. The Law killed them.

God’s Law brings blessings with obedience and judgment (often physical death) with disobedience. When God gives us laws to keep, the weakness of our flesh almost guarantees that we will break His laws and bring about judgment on ourselves. So, the Law means death because someone will break that Law and invite divine judgment. In contrast to the Law, the Holy Spirit gives life to sinners who believe in Jesus. 

The Law killed the Israelites physically. Today, it continues to kill many believers spiritually. Few things deaden our spiritual lives or destroy our relationship with God as the law mentality, legalism, or attempting to earn God’s favor by our ability. 

The letter killed them and will kill us if we fall from grace.


How does the Law kill?

Apply the Word

The Law almost killed the Galatians spiritually had Paul not sharply rebuked them (Galatians 3:1-3). Today, it continues to kill the joy and peace of many. In some instances, it has killed ministries. The letter killeth: it killed and continues to kill. Rest in the Savior.

Apply the Word

Ask the Spirit to help you die completely to the Law (Romans 7:4).  

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