Does 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 teach that the Lord Jesus is the same Person as the Holy Spirit? The text reads: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (ESV). This passage makes reference to to pneuma (“the spirit”) and kuriou pneumatos (“spirit of [the] Lord”) but does not explicitly allude to “the Holy Spirit.” In fact, the Bible makes a clear distinction between Jesus and the Holy Spirit as separate divine Persons (13:14; John 14:26; etc.).
The Greek word pneuma (“spirit”) is employed in various ways in the NT, including wind (John 3:8), breath (2 Thess. 2:8), both righteous and wicked spirit beings (Matt. 8:16; Heb. 1:14), the essence of God (John 4:24), the Holy Spirit (Matt. 4:1), and the inner person (Acts 7:59; 17:16); the context must therefore determine its usage.
In the third chapter of 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul, having alluded to his own restless “spirit” [pneuma] (2:13), metaphorically describes the Corinthian church as an epistle of Christ, not literally written with ink or on stone but on human hearts with the “spirit” of the living God (v. 3). It is not the physical writing but the spiritual message of Christ’s new covenant that makes spiritual life accessible (v. 6). In vv. 7-16 Christ’s new covenant system (“the ministry of the spirit” [v. 8] = “the ministry of righteousness” [v. 9]) is contrasted with the physical, external, ritualistic and obsolete old-covenant-system of Moses (“the ministry of death” [v. 7] = “the ministry of condemnation” (v. 9]).
When Paul says, “now the Lord is the spirit” (v. 17), which spirit has he been talking about? His theme has not been the Holy Spirit per se but the source of spiritual life, emanating from “the living God” (v. 3) “through Christ” (v. 4). The new covenant of Jesus Christ, in contrast to the old covenant of Moses, is now the source of spiritual life (v. 6). Note the contrast: “the ministry of death” (v. 7) vs. “the ministry of the spirit” (v. 8). It is the Lord [Christ], not Moses, who is the life-giving spirit.--Kevin L. Moore