Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 67

Psalm 67

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsa (vv. 1-2, 4-8 [1, 3-7])

This short Psalm has a simple and appealing structure. A central hymn in verses 3-6 [2-5] is framed by a prayer-lyric at the opening (v. 2 [1]) and closing (vv. 7-8 [6-7]) of the Psalm. The closing lyric is similar, in a number of respects, to the opening, and thus functions in the manner of repeated refrain. The core hymn shares certain ideas and features in common with the prior Psalms 65 and 66. Most notably, the theme of the nations coming to praise the God of Israel, acknowledging His greatness and power, was prominent in Ps 65 (cf. the previous study).

Like the previous two Psalms (cf. also Pss 30, 45-46, 48), this Psalm is designated both a musical composition (romz+m!) and a “song” (ryv!). As I have noted, since virtually every Psalm could be called a “song”, it is not entirely clear precisely what (if anything) is distinctive in the use of the term ryv!. It has been suggested that it refers to a Psalm that was specifically sung in a ritual worship setting (in the Temple); if so, then the characterization of such Psalms as a religious hymns would be appropriate. This Psalm is also directed to be performed on stringed instruments (tonyg]n+), as also in the headings of Pss 4, 6, 54-55, 61 (and 76).

Psalm 67 also has the distinction of being one of the Psalms most completely preserved in the Qumran scrolls. This is due to the brevity of the Psalm, and the happy coincidence that the bulk of it is contained within the surviving fragments of 4QPsa.

Metrically, the Psalm follows a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, with only a couple of exceptions (noted below).

Verse 2 [1]

“Mightiest, show favor to us and bless us,
make your face to shine (and) come upon us!”

The opening verse is a prayer-couplet, introducing the hymn proper, calling upon God (YHWH) to bless His people—i.e., the Psalmist and the other righteous/faithful ones of Israel. Four verbs are used, two in each line, three jussives along with one (precative) perfect form (cp. on verses 7-8 below):

    • Line 1:
      (a) /n~j* (“show favor”); (b) Er^B* (“bless”)
    • Line 2:
      (a) roa (Hiphil, “make shine); (b) ht*a* (“come”)

I follow Dahood (II, p. 127) in reading wnta as Wnt*a* (“come [upon] us”), rather than MT WnT*a! (“with/to us”). As indicated above, it would then be understood as a perfect form of the verb ht*a* (“come”), cf. Job 3:25; it is read as a precative perfect, to match the three prior jussive forms. The shining of God’s face is parallel to the idea of “showing favor”, while God blessing His people is explained in terms of His presence (and nearness), “coming” upon them.

The use of the term <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest,” Elohim, i.e. ‘God’) in place of the Divine name hwhy (YHWH), marks this as another ‘Elohist’ Psalm.

Verses 3-4 [2-3]

“For (the) knowing in all (the) earth your path,
(and) in all (the) nations your saving help,
may the peoples throw you (praise), Mightiest,
let the peoples throw you (praise), all of them!”

These two matching couplets, which open the hymn proper, can be viewed grammatically as a single statement. The first couplet (v. 3) describes the nations of the earth coming to know (vb ud^y`) and recognize YHWH, both in terms of His “way” (Er#D#) and the saving help (hu*Wvy+) that He gives to His people. Here the word Er#D# (lit. indicating a trodden path) should be understood in the sense of God’s dominion over the earth. The setting of the foot (of the ruler) on his territory marks it as belonging to him, and under his ruling authority. For the theme of the nations witnessing the great deeds done by YHWH on behalf of His people (Israel), cf. the previous studies on Pss 65 and 66.

The second couplet (v. 4) twice calls upon all the peoples (<yM!u^) to give (lit. throw/cast, hd*y`) praise to YHWH. In the context of the first couplet, it is clear that this praise is in response to a recognition of YHWH’s sovereign power over the world, and of the mighty acts of salvation performed by Him (such as the great Exodus event at the Reed Sea, cf. Ps 66:6).

Verse 5 [4]

“May they be glad and cry (for joy), (the) nations,
for you judge (the) peoples (in) a level (place),
and (the) nations, you shall lead them in(to) the land.”

This verse is a 3-beat (3+3+3) tricolon, thus departing slightly (for dramatic effect) from the metrical pattern. Even in translation, the chiasm of the verse is rather obvious:

    • May…the nations [<yM!a%l=]
      • you judge the peoples [<yM!a^]
    • and the nations [<yM!a%l=]…

It is possible to parse the chiasm even more finely (cf. Dahood, II, p. 128):

    • May be glad and cry (out)
      (the) nations
      • for you shall judge /
      • (the) peoples (in) straightness
    • and (the) nations
      you shall lead into the land

The plural <yM!a%l= is more or less synonymous with <yM!u^ (“peoples”); however, to preserve the distinction here in v. 5 I have rendered the former as “nations” (like <y]oG in v. 3). A more literal translation might be “communities” or “assemblies” (i.e., assembled peoples).

There is likely a bit of wordplay at work in the second and third lines. The noun rovm! can be translated “straightness” (i.e., fairness, with justice), but it literally denotes a “level place”; thus, it could refer to the place where the judgment occurs, where the nations are gathered together—in other words, a depiction of the afterlife (or eschatological) judgment.

In the third line, the juxtaposition of Jr#a*B* (“in the earth/land”) with the verb hj*n` (“lead, guide”) can be understood two ways. First, the idea could be that YHWH, exercising His sovereign control over the world, will guide all of the nations on the earth, in a general way. Alternately, following upon the motif of the great Judgment (cf. above), the specific sense could be that God will lead the nations (the righteous ones) into the ‘land of the living,’ —that is, into the blessed/heavenly afterlife, along with the righteous of Israel.

Verse 6 [5]

“May the peoples throw you (praise), Mightiest,
let the peoples throw you (praise), all of them!”

Verse 6 repeats the couplet in v. 4 (cf. above), like a recurring refrain to the hymn.

Verses 7-8 [6-7]

“May the land give (forth) her produce,
may (the) Mightiest, our Mighty (One), bless us!
May (the) Mightiest bless us,
and may they fear Him,
all (the) ends of (the) earth!”

Verse 7 essentially matches verse 2, thus forming a frame for the hymn in vv. 3-6. It is a prayer asking YHWH to bless His people (and their land). The idea of material blessing, of output/produce (lWby+) from the land (Jr#a#), certainly is in mind (cp. 65:10-14, with the focus on God providing rain from heaven to make fertile the land). However, the possibility that Jr#a# in verse 5 was alluding to the blessed afterlife (i.e., the ‘land of the living’), could mean that the fertility of the land here should be understood in a similar sense.

In verse 8, a two-beat (2+2+2) tricolon is added to the couplet in v. 7, as a coda that brings the Psalm to a close. The two key themes of the Psalm are brought together: (1) a prayer for God’s blessing (line 1), and (2) the idea that the other nations would come to revere YHWH (as the one true God) along with Israel (lines 2-3). The meaning of Jr#a#, as I have translated it, shifts from the “land” (v. 7) to the cosmic/universal sense of “(the) earth” at the end of v. 8.

It is worth noting that, in the first line of v. 8, the Qumran manuscript 4QPsa has “May they [i.e. the nations] bless you, Mightiest,” rather than MT “May the Mightiest bless us.” The entire closing verse then would refer to the theme in the hymn (vv. 3-6), of the nations coming to worship YHWH:

“May they bless you, Mightiest,
and may they fear you [?],
all (the) ends of (the) earth!”

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).

February 22: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (cont.)

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note began the discussion on 4:3-6; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 4:3-6, continued

As part of our discussion in the previous note, we considered how Paul’s concluding statements in 4:4 and 6 help us understand the famous declaration in 3:18. In particular, he makes use of two parallel constructions, involving complex genitive-chains:

    • V. 4: “unto the…shining [vb au)ga/zw] (of)
      • the enlightenment [fwtismo/$]
        • of the good message
          • of the splendor [do/ca]
            • of the Anointed
              • who is (the) image of God
    • V. 6: “He shone [vb la/mpw] in our hearts
      • the enlightenment [fwtismo/$]
        • of the knowledge
          • of the splendor [do/ca]
            • of God
              • in (the) face of (the) Anointed

At the end of each genitival chain, a clause or phrase is added emphasizing that Jesus Christ reflects the glory of God. In the first instance, Jesus is called the “image” (ei)kw/n) of God, as in Col 1:15; Rom 8:29. In the context of the mirror (ka/toptron) motif in 3:18, this image certainly should be understood as a reflection of God’s own image. In the second instance, Paul again has the Moses tradition of Exod 34:29-35 in mind, the episode in which the glory of God was reflected (by way of a shining light/aura) on Moses’ face.

Like Moses, believers encounter God with faces uncovered, beholding in a mirror (katoptrizo/menoi) the glory of the Lord (3:18). This “mirror” is to be identified with the presence of Christ in the heart of the believer (“in our hearts,” 4:6). In our heart, we are able to behold directly the glory of God reflected, with perfect clarity, in the person of Christ. And, as we see, we are at the same time being transformed (metamorfou/meqa) into the same image.

This motif of light is more suitable for the experience of ‘seeing’ at the level of the Spirit. It is visible, but in a diffuse and essentially formless manner. The more abstract nature of light as an image (ei)kw/n) suggests that a deeper kind of ‘seeing’ is involved, properly represented by Paul’s use of the term gnw=si$ (“knowledge”) in 4:6. The parallel idiom of seeing/knowing is made especially convenient in Greek, since the verb ei&dw can mean both “see” and “know” almost interchangeably. The Gospel of John, in particular, makes considerable use of this dual-meaning, applying it, in a theological and Christological context, throughout the narrative. Paul is doing much the same here in our passage.

There can be little doubt that Paul has been influenced heavily by certain lines of Jewish tradition, including strands of mystical-philosophical thought and expression in Hellenistic Judaism, best seen in the writings of Philo of Alexandria and the deutero-canonical Book of Wisdom. In prior notes, I have discussed Philo’s use of the same Moses tradition (from Exod 33-34) that Paul has utilized here in 2 Cor 3:7-4:6, including use of the same rare verb katoptri/zomai and similar application of the mirror (ka/toptron) motif. Perhaps even closer to the language and thought of 3:18/4:6 is the declaration in Wisdom 7:25-26, where it is stated that Wisdom is:

“…an emanation of the splendor of the Almighty shining pure…
For it is a shining forth [a)pau/gasma] of eternal light [fw=$],
and a spotless mirror [e&soptron] of the working of God,
and (the) image [ei)kw/n] of His goodness”

The noun e&soptron refers to a glass that one “looks in(to)”, with virtually the same meaning as ka/toptron (‘looking-glass, mirror’).

All of these things stated above regarding the Divine Wisdom personified, Paul applies to the person of Christ. Just as important, the same Hellenistic Jewish traditions would identify Wisdom (and/or the Logos) with the Spirit of God (cf. Wisd 1:7; 7:7, 22; 9:17; 12:1). Philo, in particular, utilizes Moses as the paradigm for the mystical-philosophical experience of God filling the purified and enlightened soul with His Spirit. I will be discussing this further in an upcoming article in the “Ancient Parallels” feature on this site.

For Paul, of course, his understanding of the indwelling Spirit is fundamentally (and radically) different, in two respects: (1) its Christological orientation, and (2) it applies to all believers equally, regardless of one’s adeptness for mystical philosophy. To this, one may add the communal component, with Paul’s unique manner of expressing the idea of believers, collectively and united, as the “body of Christ”.

This brings us to the interpretive (and theological) question that we have slowly been addressing in these past few notes. How do believers “see” God (His glory), when the encounter takes place inwardly, and invisibly, through the Spirit? The answer to this question will go a long way, I think, toward elucidating the nature of Paul’s spiritualism. I have begun to answer the question, inductively, through the exegesis of 3:16-18 and 4:4-6 (consult the recent notes on these verses). This allows us to draw some further conclusions, and to gain a relatively clear picture of what Paul has in mind. However, in order to fill out the portrait, it will be necessary to draw upon several other passages in his letters. This we will do, in the next daily note, our final note in this series on 2 Corinthians 3.

February 21: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note continued the discussion on verse 18; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Returning from the discourse in 3:7-18 to his main line of argument, Paul picks up at 4:1-2 from where he left off (in 3:6a). He returns to his primary discussion of the apostolic ministry, and of his relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthian believers. He defends the boldness with which he speaks, and of his personal integrity as a minister. Unlike some of his apostolic rivals (so it is implied), Paul claims to preach the Gospel openly and honestly, not promoting himself (and his own interests), but rather working always in the service of God and for the good of those to whom he ministers (v. 5).

In verse 3, however, he folds back into the discussion some of the key themes and motifs introduced in the discourse. He utilizes again the motif of the “covering” (ka/lumma, vb kalu/ptw) from the Moses tradition (Exod 34:29-35); previously, it was applied to the Israelite/Jewish people, those who remained self-bound under the old covenant, not realizing that the old covenant has come to an end in the person of Christ. Now, he extends the metaphor to all people, adapting it to the earlier language of 2:15:

“But if, indeed, our good message is covered [kekalumme/non], it is covered in/among the (one)s perishing [a)pollume/noi$]” (4:3)

The “covering” motif is thus applied now to everyone who is unwilling (or unable) to accept the Gospel of Christ. All of humankind is under bondage to the power of sin (and death)—a point Paul expounds in some detail in Romans—and, thus, they are perishing. Only through acceptance of the Gospel and trusting in Jesus Christ, are people saved from perishing. This bondage is implied by Paul’s reference in verse 4 to “the god of this age” (o( qeo\$ tou= ai)w=no$)—cf. also 1 Cor 2:6ff; Gal 1:4; cp. John 12:31; 14:30; 1 Jn 5:19. The language reflects the eschatological dualism of early Christians, which was typical of the period and similar, in many respects, to what we find in the Qumran texts.

Unbelievers are literally those “without trust” (a&pisto$); God has allowed them to remain “blinded” by the world’s covering, the purpose of which is:

“…(so) as not to beam (forth) the (en)lightenment of the good message of the splendor of the Anointed…”

This simply means that the covering (that blinds the unbelievers) does not allow them to see the shining light of the Gospel. Three different words are used here related to the specific idiom of seeing (cf. the discussion on 3:18 in the previous two notes):

    • au)ga/zw—this verb denotes rays of (sun)light (sing. au)gh/) beaming forth, sometimes referring specifically to the sunrise at dawn (i.e., light shining through the darkness); the verb au)ge/w refers more simply to the shining of light, while au)ga/zw includes the idea of the illumination that comes from the radiating light, allowing people to see clearly.
    • fwtismo/$—derived from fw=$ (“light”) and the verb fwti/zw (“give light”), this noun refers specifically to the “illumination” that comes from the light; the translation “enlightenment” is accurate enough, and conveys the important noetic aspect of the light/seeing motif.
    • do/ca—in the context of the Sinai theophany and the Moses tradition, this noun (properly, “esteem, honor”) is best rendered “splendor,” or (more commonly) “glory,” as also in 3:18 (cp. its use in vv. 7-11); the Divine splendor is often understood (and visualized) in terms of a shining aura of brilliant light.

Paul uses a chain of genitives, but the main expression is “the (en)lightenment of the good message” (to\ fwtismo\$ tou= eu)agge/liou)—that is to say, the Gospel brings light (vb au)ga/zw) and enlightenment (fwtismo/$) to the person who receives it. The qualifying genitives that follow (“of the splendor of the Anointed”) can be understood two ways: (1) as a simple objective genitive (or genitive of content), referring to the content of the Gospel; or (2) as what we might call a genitive of destination. In the first instance, the Gospel message is fundamentally about the splendor of Christ—his death and resurrection, exaltation, and divine status/position as Son of God, etc. In the second instance, the Gospel leads the believer to the splendor of Christ (cp. the expression “way of salvation,” etc).

Both ways of reading the expression are valid; however, the idea of removing the covering, along with the tradition of Moses entering the Tent of Meeting (or the rock on mount Sinai) to encounter God, strongly suggests that, upon receiving the Gospel, believers are led/brought into an encounter with the “splendor of God,” which we experience through the “splendor of Christ.”

Indeed, Paul goes on to declare that the Anointed (Christ) is “(the) image [ei)kw/n] of God”, much as he does in Colossians 1:15 (cf. also Romans 8:29). This helps to explain what he means by the expression “the same image” in 3:18 (cf. the previous notes). As the very “image” of God, it stands to reason that Christ would display the same glory. This is expounded in more detail, further developing the light motif (and its association with Jesus), in verse 6:

“For (it is) God, the (One hav)ing said ‘Out of (the) darkness light shall shine,’ who shone (light) in our hearts toward (the en)lightenment of the knowledge of the splendor of God in (the) face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

To the three light-terms listed above, Paul here adds the verb la/mpw (“shine”), which has more or less the same meaning as au)ga/zw above. Indeed, the two constructions are similar, with comparable chains of genitives. Here in verse 6, the noun gnw=si$ (“knowledge”) holds the same place as eu)agge/lion (“good message,” Gospel) in v. 4. Because of this, many commentators would treat gnw=si$ here as synonymous with eu)agge/lion. In my view, this is incorrect. The parallelism in v. 6 is meant to convey a deeper level of meaning, which may be illustrated as follows:

    • Through the minister (as God’s) servant
      • the Gospel shines forth [vb au)ga/zw] light
        • which leads the believer =>
          • to the splendor of Christ
    • Through the action of God Himself
      • the Knowledge shines forth [la/mpw] light
        • which leads the believer =>
          • to the splendor of God

This Knowledge (gnw=si$) goes beyond the Gospel message, to the believer’s encounter with the image/face of Christ within, in the ‘heart’, at the level of the Spirit. This relates to the question posed in the previous note: how do believers “see” God, when the encounter takes place spiritually, inwardly and invisibly, through Spirit? A key to the answer is found in two details Paul introduces here at the conclusion of the passage: (1) the word gnw=si$ (“knowledge”), and (2) the motif of the “face” (pro/swpon). I will discuss the significance of these in the next daily note.

February 20: 2 Corinthians 3:18 (concluded)

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note continued the discussion on verse 18; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:18, continued

“And we all, with uncovered face, the splendor of (the) Lord (behold)ing in a looking-glass, are transformed (into) the same image, from splendor to splendor, even as from (the) Lord (the) Spirit.”

An important question, touched on briefly in the previous note, is exactly what it means for believers to “see” the glory of God. This is important for an understanding of Paul’s spiritualism, at least as it is expressed in the current passage. If our encounter with God is spiritual, taking place at the level of the Spirit, what is the significance of the motifs of “image” (ei)kw/n) and “form” (morfh/) that Paul uses, implying a visible or physical/material shape? Before addressing this in more detail, let us proceed with an examination of the final phrases of the verse.

“from splendor to splendor”
(a)po\ do/ch$ ei)$ do/can)

This compound prepositional phrase qualifies the main statement “we are transformed (into) the same image” (cf. the discussion in the previous note). This transformation (vb metamorfo/w) takes place “from” (a)po/) glory and “into/unto” (ei)$) glory. How should we understand the two occurrences of “glory” (do/ca) as they relate to each other?

1. One possibility is that Paul is furthering the contrast between the lesser glory of the old covenant and the far greater glory of the new covenant. This is certainly the context for how the word do/ca is used in verses 7-11, and follows the overall theme of the discourse. If the preposition a)po/ is used here in the sense of “away from”, then there would be little question that the fundamental idea was of believers moving away from the fading glory of the old covenant, and into the new glory found in Christ.

2. Another option is that the phrase emphasizes the continual (and progressive) process of transformation that takes place for believers in Christ. The verbal forms katoptrizo/menoi (“[behold]ing in a looking-glass”) and metamorphou/meqa (“we are [being] transformed”) are present forms, meaning they refer to actions (or conditions) that are currently taking place, and/or are ongoing.

3. A third possibility relates to both the concept of looking into a mirror and of being transformed. As we (believers) are transformed into the image reflected in the mirror, we shift from God’s glory (that we are beholding) to our glory (into which we are transformed). There are a number of places where Paul specifically refers to the glory of believers, though usually in relation to the promise of our future resurrectionRom 5:2; 8:18-25; 1 Cor 15:40-43; 2 Cor 4:17; Col 1:27; 3:4; cf. also 1 Cor 2:7. The image that we behold, and into which we are transformed, is, of course, Christ’s image—it is his glory that allows for us to partake in God’s glory; cf. Rom 8:29; 2 Thess 2:14.

4. Finally, one may understand the phrase primarily in a Christological sense. That is to say, we first encounter God’s glory through the glory of Christ, who is the image and reflection (as Son) of God the Father (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15; Rom 8:29). Thus, we proceed from the glory of Christ to the glory of God.

“even as from (the) Lord (the) Spirit”
(kaqa/per a)po\ kuri/ou pneu/mato$)

In my view, this final phrase is epexegetical; that is to say, it further explains the prior phrase. This is indicated by the use of the comparative particle kaqa/per, “very (much) as, just as, even as”. It also would seem to be confirmed by the parallel with the preposition a)po/:

    • “from splendor…” (a)po\ do/ch$…)
      “from (the) Lord…” (a)po\ kuri/ou…)

The double genitive expression kuri/ou pneu/mato$ is itself problematic. Does it represent a genitival chain, or are the nouns kur/io$ (“Lord”) and pneu=ma (“Spirit”) in apposition, both being governed by the same preposition (a)po/)? In the first instance, the phrase would be “from (the) Lord of (the) Spirit,” or “from (the) Spirit of (the) Lord,” which would match the expression in v. 17b. In the second instance, the phrase could be filled out two ways:

    • “from (the) Lord, (the) Spirit” or
    • “from (the) Lord (who is the) Spirit”

This corresponds with the statement in v. 17a, and it is to be preferred, I think. However, in my translation above, I have rendered the phrase quite literally (and flatly) as “from (the) Lord (the) Spirit”. Paul, indeed, may be attempting to combine both expressions of verse 17, relating (and identifying) “the Lord” with “the Spirit”.

In any case, the juxtaposition of the two prepositional phrases makes clear that our transformation “into glory” occurs through the Spirit. If Paul primarily has the future resurrection in mind (cf. above), then Romans 8:11 may provide a suitable parallel to his thought here:

“And if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead dwells in you, the (One hav)ing raised (the) Anointed out of the dead also will make alive your dying bodies through His Spirit dwelling in you.”

However, I do not think that the spiritual transformation described in 2 Cor 3:18 can be limited to the future resurrection. Indeed, it is possible that the two occurrences of do/ca in the prior phrase (cf. above) could be understood as a contrast between the present glory and our future glory. Both are realized through the Spirit, but the present glory is experienced inwardly, in an invisible and immaterial manner within the body. Only with the future glory (of the resurrection) will our visible/material bodies finally be transformed by the Spirit.

This brings us to the question posed at the beginning of this note: what is the manner of our “seeing” God’s glory that brings about our transformation? In what way do we “see” that which invisible, when our encounter with God takes place in and through the invisible Spirit?

To begin with, as partial answer, it is to be emphasized that the “image” (ei)kw/n) that we behold in the mirror is the image of Jesus Christ, who, as mentioned above, is the image of God. Paul states this explicitly further on at 4:4 (cp. Col 1:15). The noun ei)kw/n occurs seven other times in Paul’s letters. In Rom 1:23, there is a negative (religious) contrast between the glory (do/ca) of God and idolatrous images made by human beings (cp. Wisd 13:16; 14:15ff; 15:5). The other six references are more relevant to our passage, where the word ei)kw/n is used in two specific contexts:

Based on Col 3:10, Paul seems to understand the Gen 1:26-27 tradition primarily in a noetic sense, in terms of the mind—knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. This line of interpretation is typical of the philosophical strands of Hellenistic Judaism, represented most notably in the writings of Philo of Alexandria and the deutero-canonical Book of Wisdom (e.g., 2:23; 7:26). Elsewhere, in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the Divine Wisdom is identified specifically with the Spirit, as the source of our human reasoning and wisdom (cf. especially Job 32:8; Wisdom 7:7, 22; 9:17).

As previously noted, the only other use of the verb metamorfo/w by Paul is in Romans 12:2, where the transformation of believers takes place through “the renewing [a)nakai/nwsi$] of the mind [nou=$]”. This suggests that our ‘seeing’ in 2 Cor 3:18 should be understood in terms of knowledge (knowing), the way we think and perceive things internally. This aspect of Paul’s spiritualism corresponds with the noetic spiritualism of Philo, for example. But what is it that we come to know, and how does it relate to our experience of God through the Spirit? We will pick up this discussion in the next daily note, as we extend our exegetical study, beyond the discourse of vv. 7-18, to the continuation of Paul’s argument in 4:1-6.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 66 (Part 2)

Psalm 66, continued

The first part of this Psalm (vv. 1-12, discussed in the previous study) is a hymn to YHWH, in three stanzas, in which the Psalmist calls upon all people to worship and give praise to God. The emphasis is on the mighty deeds of YHWH, done on behalf of His people—particularly the Exodus event at the Reed Sea (specifically alluded to in stanzas 2 and 3).

The second part (vv. 13-20) is very different. It is divided into two sections, or stanzas; here, again, the Selah [hl*s#] pause-marker is an indicator of the poetic structure. The focus is now on a individual worshiper (note the shift to 1st person singular at v. 13). The first section describes a ritual scene, in which a devout worshiper presents a sacrificial offering (in the Temple) in order to fulfill a vow made to YHWH. The association between praise and fulfilling a vow is found with some frequency in the Psalms, and the ritual fulfillment can be expressed through the very sort of praise which the Psalmist has composed. This featured prominently at the beginning of Psalm 65 (cf. the earlier study).

The ritual setting fades from view in the second section, and the focus is, instead, on offering praise to God. The two aspects—sacrifice and praise—both relate to the idea that YHWH has answered the Psalmist’s prayer—a theme that occurs frequently in the Psalms, which often are framed within the context of prayer to God for deliverance, etc.

As in the first part of the Psalm, the meter tends to follow a 3-beat (3+3) couplet format, which is to be assumed (unless otherwise noted) in the analysis below.

Part 2: VERSES 13-20

Stanza 1: Verses 13-15
Verse 13

“I will go in(to) your house with (offering)s brought up,
(indeed,) I will fulfill to you (all) my vows—”

The setting is clear enough, as outlined above. A devout worshiper declares his/her intention to present sacrificial offerings to YHWH in the Temple (the house of God, “your house”). The noun hl*u), which literally signifies something (or someone) “going up”, usually refers to a (whole) burnt offering. The etymology may relate to the idea of making the offering “go up” (with smoke) to God as it is burnt in the altar-fire, or, possibly, to the more general concept of “bringing up” the offering to the altar (traditionally located at a high/elevated place). Regardless of the word’s etymology, the latter concept seems to be in view here—viz., focusing on the worshiper bringing the offering to God.

The offerings clearly are meant to fulfill (vb <l^v*) a vow (rd#n#) to YHWH. The idea is that a vow was made to God, to the effect that, if He answered the prayer, bringing deliverance in time of trouble, then the person would do such and such. As noted above, the theme of fulfilling a vow is relatively frequent in the Psalms (cf. the prior study on Ps 65, v. 2 [1]); often the vow is fulfilled through giving praise to God and proclaiming his greatness publicly to others (as in the second section, vv. 16-20, cf. below).

The plurals are intensive, as well as iterative; they describe the regular behavior of the righteous (who fulfill their vows), and also emphasize the generosity and lavish worship that the devout and faithful ones offer to God.

Verse 14

“that which my lips opened,
and my mouth spoke,
in the (time of) distress for me.”

Verse 14 follows conceptually (and, to some extent, syntactically) verse 13, continuing the line of thought; it could have been included with the prior verse. The six beats could certainly be treated as a 3-beat (3+3) couplet; however, I feel the poetic rhythm of a 2-beat (2+2+2) tricolon is more proper here. In the time of the Psalmist’s “distress” (rx^), he made a vow to God, that, if YHWH answered his prayer, and delivered him from his trouble, he would bring offerings to the Temple. The vow (rd#n#) designates, quite literally, a “consecrated” action. The Torah regulations regarding vow-offerings are found in Lev 7:16ff; 22:18-22; Num 15:3ff; 29:39; an entire tractate of the Mishnah (Nedarim) was devoted to the subject of vows.

The noun rx^ literally denotes something “tight” or “narrow”, as in the English idiom “in a tight spot,” or “to be in a bind”. Many Psalms are framed as a prayer to YHWH for deliverance from suffering or distress, danger and attacks from enemies, etc.

Verse 15

“(Offering)s of fatlings I will offer up to you,
with (the) rising smoke of rams—
I will offer up bull(s) with goats.”

Here the noun hl*u) (and the related verb hl^u*) seems to have in view the aspect of making the smoke (of the burnt offering) “go up” to God; the parallel noun tr#f)q= specifically denotes the rising of the fragrant smoke. The offerings of fat/plump animals (fatlings), of rams, bulls, and goats, taken collectively, are certainly lavish, and are here comprehensive in describing the kinds of offerings brought forward by the righteous. The generosity of the worshiper is also being described.

Metrically, this verse is an irregular 3+2+3 tricolon.

Stanza 2: Verses 16-20
Verse 16

“Come (and) hear, and I will recount,
(to) all you fearing (the) Mightiest,
that which He has done for my soul.”

The second section returns to the thematic setting of the earlier hymn (vv. 1-12), calling on people to hear of the great deeds of YHWH, and so to give Him the worship and praise that He deserves. In the hymn, the focus was upon what God has done for the Israelite people as whole; here, it is on the individual righteous one (the Psalmist)—that is, what God has done for him (“for my soul”). YHWH has answered the Psalmist’s prayer, delivering him in his time of distress. Every one who fears God, utilizing the adjective ar@y` (“fearing”) as a substantive adjective characterizing the righteous—i.e., “(the one)s fearing” God—will respond with praise to the Psalmist’s report (“I will recount [vb rp^s*]…”).

This initial verse is, taken loosely in its meter, a 3-beat tricolon.

Verse 17

“Unto Him (with) my mouth I called (out),
and sounds (of praise were) under my tongue.”

Here, the Psalmist describes his own praise that he gives to YHWH. This praise should be understood as parallel to the sacrificial offerings in section 1—both are offered up to God, as fulfillment of vow, following an answer to the Psalmist’s prayer. For a musician-composer, of course, an offering in music and song is particularly appropriate.

I follow Dahood (II, p. 124) in reading <mr as a plural form (= <ym!or), related to Ugaritic rm (“sound [of music]”). Probably, <mr here is meant as a parallel to the ritual offerings “brought/sent up” in section 1 (vv. 13-15); the root <wr has a comparable denotation “rise/raise (up)”, and can, in a context of religious worship, can refer to exalting/praising God.

Verse 18

“If I had looked (for) trouble with my heart,
my Lord would not have heard (me).”

The context makes clear that God has answered the Psalmist’s prayer. This is an indication of the faithfulness and loyalty of the Psalmist. There may be a dual-meaning to the language in line 1 (involving the verb ha*r* and the preposition B=):

    • “If I had seen trouble in my heart”
      i.e., if there were any wicked or mischievous tendency visible or present in his heart
    • “If I had looked (for) trouble with my heart”
      i.e., if he had carried a wicked intent, meaning that his apparent righteousness would have been a sham

The noun /w#a* fundamentally means “trouble”, often as a characteristic of the wicked—i.e., one who is out to cause/make trouble. There is no such wicked tendency or intent in the heart of the Psalmist, which is a sign that he is faithful/righteous, and so YHWH answers his prayer; if it were otherwise, God would not “hear” him when he prays.

Verse 19

“(But) surely (the) Mightiest has heard me,
He has been attentive to (the) voice of my prayer.”

This verse simply confirms what was implied in v. 18, and what was already confirmed by the context here in the Psalm—namely, the YHWH has heard (and answered) the Psalmist’s prayer. The noun hL*p!T= is a common Hebrew term denoting a prayer or petition made to God; it is relatively common in the Psalms, with nearly half of the Old Testament occurrences (32 of 77) found there.

Verse 20

“Blessed (be the) Mightiest,
who has not turned away my prayer,
nor His goodness (away) from me!”

The meter of this verse is irregular, as a 2+3+2 tricolon, to match the 3+2+3 tricolon in v. 15 at the end of the first sections; such irregular tricola more commonly occur at the close of a poem (or stanza). Because God has answered the Psalmist’s prayer, that means He has not “turned (away)” (vb rWs) from it. The noun ds#j# in the third line means “goodness” (or “kindness”); however, as I have mentioned repeatedly in these studies, it often connotes faithfulness and loyalty, in relation to a covenant bond, such as between YHWH and His people. When YHWH answers the prayer of His loyal servant, providing protection and deliverance, He is fulfilling His covenant obligation, and is thus demonstrating faithfulness/loyalty to the bond. By not turning away the Psalmist’s prayer, God has not turned away that covenant-loyalty; indeed, YHWH is ever faithful to the binding agreement, and so is worthy of blessing and praise.

Dahood (II, p. 125) offers a different reading of the final word ytam (MT yT!a!m@, “from me”), vocalizing it yT!a@m!, as a verbal form denominative of ha*m@ (“hundred”), and thus meaning “do (something) a hundred times”. The final line would then read something like: “and (so) I declare His goodness a hundred times!” Cp. Psalm 22:26 [25], where Dahood finds the same denominative verb, in a similar context.

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).

Saturday Series: 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 (cont.)

2 Corinthians 3:7-11

Paul’s use of Exodus 34:29-35, continued

Last week, we examined the Old Testament tradition (Exod 34:29-35) that is utilized and interpreted by Paul in 2 Cor 3:7-18. In our study, we considered the place of this tradition in its historical and literary context. We may summarize that analysis by pointing out a number of key themes in the Exodus narrative that are relevant to Paul’s exposition: 

    • The establishment of God’s covenant with His people at mount Sinai
    • The people’s violation of the covenant, resulting in the establishment of a second, ‘new’ version of the covenant
    • The place of Moses as a mediator of this covenant
    • The contrast between God’s revelation to the people (in the original covenant) and his manifestation to Moses alone (in the second covenant)
    • The covenant is accompanied by a theophany in which people behold the glory of God; in the re-established covenant, only Moses beholds the glory
    • The covenant (in both versions) is represented by the Torah (= the terms of the covenant) written on stone tablets

These themes are applied by Paul in several important ways. Most notably, he focuses on the re-established covenant, following the Golden Calf incident. In this ‘second’ version of the Sinai covenant, Moses plays a much greater role as mediator of the agreement between YHWH and the people. As noted above, it is Moses alone who beholds the glory of YHWH in the second Sinai theophany. And, following this initial revelation, Moses encounters God in the Tent of Meeting, which is located outside of the camp, and thus in a place that is cut off from the people. The people only see God’s glory as it is reflected, in a partial and temporary way, on the face of Moses.

In this regard, it is worth pointing out again the contrast Paul makes between the old and new covenants, in vv. 7-9ff—the old covenant mediated through Moses and the ‘Law of Moses’ (i.e., the Torah regulations), contrasted with the new covenant in Christ:

    • Vv. 7-8: service/ministry of death [h¢ diakonía tou thanátou]
      • service/ministry of the Spirit [h¢ diakonía tou pneúmatos]
    • Vers. 9: service/ministry of judgment against [h¢ diakonía t¢s katakríseœs]
      • service/ministry of justice/righteousness [h¢ diakonía t¢s dikaiosýn¢s]

In vv. 7-8, the comparative (qal wa-homer) argument is:

“If the ministry of death came to be in (such) esteem [dóxa]… how will the ministry of the Spirit not (even) more be in esteem?”

Similarly, in verse 9:

“If (there was) esteem in the ministry of judgment against (us), how (much) more is the ministry of justice/righteousness over (and above this) in esteem?”

I have translated dóxa here as “esteem” (i.e. honor, dignity, grandeur, etc); more commonly it is rendered “glory” (see above).

As indicated above, the “glory” of the old covenant was marked by the shining of Moses’ face, as Paul describes in v. 7a, mentioning both: (a) the stone tablets on which the commands of the Law had been written, and (b) the nature of the reflected glory in Moses’ face. This last detail is implied as the reason that the veil or face covering (kálymma) was introduced. Both the stone tablets (the first pair of which was broken by Moses) and the face covering represent the limitations of the old covenant and its temporary nature.

In the Exodus narrative (34:29-35), it is indicated that Moses would don the covering after he had communicated God’s word to the people, when the glory of his theophanous encounter with YHWH was still reflected on his face. Paul draws upon a point that is implied in the narrative—namely, that when Moses put on the covering, the glory was fading, and would only be reflected again on his face after the next time he encountered YHWH (in the Tent of Meeting). The reflected glory (of the old covenant) was thus only temporary, a fact that was symbolized by the covering itself. By contrast, the new covenant of the Spirit is permanent, and without any limitations; thus no such ‘covering’ is needed.

The superiority of the new covenant is also marked by use of the comparative/superlative adverb mállon (“more, greater”) and the verb perisseúœ (“to have [in excess] over [and above]”). This is specified even more precisely in verse 10:

“For (indeed) the (thing) having come to be esteemed (now) has been made of no esteem, in this part [i.e. in this respect]—because of the overcasting glory/esteem”

The old covenant came to have glory/esteem (perfect tense of the verb doxázœ), but now it has come to have no glory/esteem (again, with the perfect of doxázœ). By this, Paul further emphasizes the temporary nature of the old covenant. With the coming of Christ, the old covenant has come to an end (Rom 10:4) and is no longer in effect for believers in Christ. The old covenant, with its written Law, now has no glory.

It is hard to imagine a more antinomian statement by Paul. However, he makes clear that this is true only in one respect: because the glory of the new covenant goes so far beyond it. The verb hyperbállœ means to throw or cast something over/beyond, i.e. past a particular distance or measure. This is an important principle for understanding Paul’s apparently negative statements regarding the Law—its binding force has come to an end because of Christ. He says much the same thing, in a more personalized context, in Philippians 3:7-11: all that was of value in his prior religious life (under the Law and the old covenant) he now regards as mere rubbish in comparison with Christ. To neglect or ignore this overwhelming Christocentric emphasis leaves the commentator with no hope of properly understanding Paul’s thought.

If there was any doubt that, in his mind, the old covenant has come to an end, he makes this clear in verse 11:

“For if the (thing) being made inactive/ineffective (was) through glory, how (much) more (is) the (thing) remaining in glory?”

The first verb is katargéœ, literally to “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render inactive, ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”, etc. This word appears already at the end of verse 7 (and will be used again in vv. 13-14); for its use by Paul elsewhere (with regard to the Law), see Rom 3:31; 4:14; 7:2, 6; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11; and also Eph 2:15.

The second verb is ménœ, “remain (in place), abide”. The contrast is clear enough: the old covenant ceases to be in effect, the new covenant remains and lasts; one is temporary, the other permanent. There is also an interesting distinction in the use of prepositions:

    • the old covenant was (or came) through glory [diá dóx¢s]
    • the new covenant is (and remains) in glory [en dóx¢]

The precise meaning of the preposition diá is uncertain; it could be instrumental (“by means of glory, accompanied by glory”), or could indicate purpose (“because of glory”). Both are possible, but the context of verse 10 suggests the latter—if so, then the idea might be that the glory of the old covenant is ultimately fulfilled in the glory of the new. This will be discussed further when we turn to examine verses 12-18 in next week’s study. Once we have analyzed those verses—again, from a critical standpoint, and in light of the overall context of the passage—we will gain a much clearer sense of Paul’s thought and purpose in the climactic declaration of v. 18.

(For further study and a detailed exegesis on 2 Cor 3:7-11, see my recent notes [part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”].)

February 17: 2 Corinthians 3:18 (continued)

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note continued the discussion on verse 18; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:18, continued

“And we all, with uncovered face, the splendor of (the) Lord (behold)ing in a looking-glass, are transformed (into) the same image, from splendor to splendor, even as from (the) Lord (the) Spirit.”

In dealing with Paul’s use of the rare verb katoptri/zw (discussed in the previous note), I mentioned how the verb is typically used (as it is here) in the reflexive middle voice (katoptri/zomai), where it would mean “behold oneself in a mirror”. Thus, the implication is that we, as believers, see ourselves in the mirror. Paul may, indeed, have something of this in mind, in terms of the transformation of believers (cf. below)—that is, we see ourselves being transformed. At the same time, both the syntax of the verse, and the context of the Moses tradition (Exod 34), clearly indicate that Paul is primarily referring to believers seeing God.

It is possible to explain—and essentially harmonize—both aspects of the mirror-motif, once we understand that the mirror (ka/toptron) here is to be identified with the person of Jesus Christ. To see how Paul expresses and develops this idea, let us continue our exegesis of the verse.

“the same image”
(th\n au)th\n ei)ko/na)

Syntactically, the expression “the same image” is the predicate object of the verb that follows (metamorfo/w, discussed below), preceding it in the clause. However, it also relates to the prior verb (katoptri/zomai), indicating what it is that believers see in the mirror. Given the basic idea of looking into a mirror, we might well assume that this “self(-same)” (au)to/$) image refers, indeed, to the reflected image of ourselves—i.e., our own reflection. But, again, in light of the theological context of beholding God—His glory—the situation is clearly more complicated. Paul here only implies what he states more explicitly further on at 4:4—that Christ “is the image [ei)kw/n] of God” (cf. also Col 1:15). Thus, it is Christ’s image that we see, and it only corresponds to our own reflection as we are transformed into his image.

There is no doubt that “the same image” that we are transformed into, is parallel—and essentially synonymous—with the earlier predicate “the splendor [do/ca] of the Lord”. If Christ is the image of God, then it stands to reason that he reflects God’s glory. Again, Paul makes this more explicit at the close of the section, speaking of the “splendor [do/ca] of Christ” in 4:4, and of the “splendor of God” being present “in the face of [Jesus] Christ” (4:6). Cf. also 8:23; 2 Thess 2:14; 1 Cor 2:8; Col 1:27.

“we are (being) transformed”

This is the main verb of the verse, with the central clause thus being: “we are transformed (into) the same image”. The verb is metamorfo/w, a compound of the base verb morfo/w (“form, shape,” derived from morfh/), with a prefixed preposition (meta/, in the sense of “after, across”) implying a change or shift from one form/shape to another. The English word “transform” is a concise and accurate translation.

There are only three other occurrences of the verb in the New Testament, two of which are in the Synoptic Transfiguration episode (Mark 9:2; par Matt 17:2). In that instance, it is a change to the visible/physical appearance and form (morfh/) that is involved. However, as with the verb “transform” in English, metamorfo/w can be used in a more abstract and figurative sense, referring to a change that takes place within a person, that is not visible. One can speak of a moral/ethical transformation, for example, and so philosophers might utilize metamorfo/w (or the related noun metamo/rfwsi$) in this way. This is essentially how Paul uses the verb in Rom 12:2, locating transformation in the mind (nou=$). Interestingly, even though Philo shares with Paul the idea of personal transformation through seeing/beholding God, he does not use the verb metamorfo/w in this noetic and ethical-religious sense (cp. Life of Moses I.57; On the Special Laws IV.147, etc).

Elsewhere in his writings, Paul makes use of the comparable verb summorfo/w (or summorfi/zw), meaning “conform”, to have or share a similar form with another. In Phil 3:10, Paul refers specifically to believers “being conformed” to the death of Jesus, one of several key passages where he expresses the idea of our participation in the death (and resurrection) of Christ. The related adjective su/mmorfo$ is used in Phil 3:21, and also in Rom 8:29; the latter reference is particularly relevant for an understanding of Paul’s thought here in 2 Cor 3:18:

“…for, th(ose) whom He knew beforehand, He also marked out beforehand, (to be) conformed [summo/rfou$] (to) the image of His Son”

The destiny of believers in Christ is to share the same form (morfh/) and image (ei)kw/n) with him, which requires a transformation. The verb metamorfo/w emphasizes the change, while summorfo/w focuses on our likeness to the image (into which we are changed).

An interesting point here is that, though Paul is clearly stressing the spiritual nature of our encounter with God—in this new covenant of the Spirit—he also utilizes the terms morfh/ and ei)kw/n, implying a visible/physical shape, as well as the specific idiom of seeing. We may thus ask what it means for believers to ‘see’ the glory of God through the mirror of Christ. This we will explore in the next daily note, the concluding note on 2 Cor 3:18.


February 16: 2 Corinthians 3:18 (continued)

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note began the discussion on verse 18; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:18, continued

“And we all, with uncovered face, the splendor of (the) Lord (behold)ing in a looking-glass, are transformed (into) the same image, from splendor to splendor, even as from (the) Lord (the) Spirit.”

 The first two phrases were examined in the previous note; we now proceed with the third phrase, in which Paul begins to explain something of what having an “uncovered” face means for believers in Christ.

“the splendor of (the) Lord”
(th\n do/can kuri/ou)

Paul states the predicate object of the phrase before the verb, which is essentially a verb of seeing, cf. below. Believers in Christ are able to see God’s “splendor” (do/ca). The noun do/ca was discussed in the earlier note on verse 7; Paul uses it 11 times in the discourse—eight times in vv. 7-11 (including at least once in each verse), and three more times here in v. 18. I would typically translate do/ca as “esteem” or “honor”; however, when used of God, especially in the context of a theophany, the idea of “splendor” is more appropriate.

There can be no doubt that Paul has the theophany in Exodus 34 in mind, where YHWH reveals Himself to Moses, in response to Moses’ request in 33:18: “Make [i.e. allow] me, please, to see your dobK*” —in the LXX this reads “Show to me your do/ca.” In the Old Testament, Greek do/ca has roughly the same semantic range as Hebrew dobK*, and, in the context of the manifestation of God (theophany), both mean “splendor, glory”. In 34:1-8, YHWH manifests Himself to Moses on mount Sinai, providing a parallel to the original theophany in chaps. 19-20 (also ch. 24). This second theophany, to Moses alone, corresponds with the re-establishment of the covenant, through the special mediation of Moses.

Paul’s draws heavily in vv. 7-18 upon this historical-theological tradition, as we have discussed. The honor/splendor of the new covenant far surpasses that of the old covenant; and, along with this, it is experienced by God’s people (believers) in a very different way. In place of the mediation of a single individual, with only a partial/limited reflection of the Divine glory, now all the people—that is, all believers—experience and behold God’s glory directly, without any human mediation.

As discussed in the prior note, the term ku/rio$ (“Lord”) in vv. 16-18 refers principally to God the Father (YHWH); however, the Christological aspect of the use of ku/rio$, so common among early Christians, does finally come into view here as well, as we shall see.

“(behold)ing in a looking-glass”

The subject of this verb is still “we all” from the beginning of the verse: “we all…(behold)ing in a looking-glass the splendor of (the) Lord…” The verb is the rare katoptri/zw, derived from the noun ka/toptron, and difficult to translate literally (with precision) in English. The noun ka/toptron is essentially derived from the compound verb kaqora/w (fut. kato/yomai), “look down (on),” or, more generally, “look upon, behold”. The neuter noun thus refers to something one looks upon, and came to denote specifically the “looking-glass” (or mirror) in which one looks upon the image (of oneself); it can also mean, more abstractly, the mirrored “reflection” itself. The verb katoptri/zw, typically in the reflexive middle voice katoptri/zomai, thus refers to beholding (oneself) in a mirror.

The noun ka/toptron does not occur in the New Testament, and only once (Exod 38:8 [26]) in the LXX; the verb katoptri/zomai is not used in the LXX, and occurs only here in the NT. It is also relatively rare elsewhere in Greek literature of the period, but there are several occurrences in the papyri (e.g., P. Oxy XIII 1609 19; Syll 80264), and is used once by Philo of Alexandria (Allegorical Interpretation III.101). Philo also uses the noun ka/toptron 15 times, in a philosophical-theological context that is relevant to an understanding of Paul’s usage of the mirror-motif.

Indeed, Philo draws upon the common (and ancient) mystical idea of the human mind or soul as the ‘mirror’ in which one beholds the Divine. In the ancient world, mirrors were typically made of polished metal and could easily become tarnished; thus, philosophers and mystics naturally emphasized the need to ‘polish’ the mirror of one’s soul—through ascetic discipline, turning away from vices and the vain things of this world, cultivating virtue, etc. Once purified, the soul is able to see clearly the image of God reflected there. For examples of Philo’s use of ka/toptron in this regard, cf. On the Migration of Abraham 190; On Flight and Finding 213; On Abraham 153; On the Decalogue 105; On the Contemplative Life 78. As mentioned above, the only occurrence of the noun in the LXX is in Exod 38:8, referring to the construction of the bronze wash-basin, made out of the mirrors donated by Israelite women. Philo naturally emphasizes this, interpreting the ‘mirrors’ of these virtuous women as representing the “beauty of their souls” (On the Life of Moses II.137, 139; cf. also On the Migration of Abraham 98).

The physical/material world of creation itself also reflects the Divine, but in a partial and less perfect way. This is stressed by Philo in his lone use of the verb katoptri/zomai, in Allegorical Interpretation III.101. Notably, he, like Paul, uses the verb in the context of the Moses tradition in Exodus 34 (and the request by Moses in 33:18, cf. above). Moses asks that he might see God Himself directly, and not through the medium of any created thing in the world, which would mean seeing only an imperfect reflection:

“let me not see in a looking-glass [katoptrisai/mhn] your appearance [i)de/a] in any other thing, (but) only in you (yourself), the (true) God”

From the standpoint of Philo’s philosophical spiritualism, this ‘direct’ vision of God can only take place through the eternal and immaterial mind/soul, which comes from God Himself, insofar as it has been purified from sin, freed from passions and from attachment to the temporal/created things of the world.

Paul shares something of this noetic and ethical-religious approach, but differs radically from Philo in his distinctive Christian view of the presence of the Spirit in and among believers. This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

For help in locating the occurrences of the noun ka/toptron in Philo, I have made use of The Philo Index: A Complete Greek Word Index to the Writings of Philo of Alexandria, by Peder Borgen, Kåre Fuglseth, and Roald Skarsten (Eerdmans/Brill: 2000).

February 15: 2 Corinthians 3:18

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verse 17; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:18

“And we all, with uncovered face, the splendor of (the) Lord (behold)ing in a looking-glass, are transformed (into) the same image, from splendor to splendor, even as from (the) Lord (the) Spirit.”

This concluding verse (of the discourse in vv. 7-18) is so rich and profoundly splendid, as a statement on its own, that it is easy to read it out of context. It is important to understand it thoroughly from the standpoint of Paul’s entire line of thought and argument here in chapter 3. This is best done, I believe, by looking closely at each specific word and phrase. Because of the level of detail required by such an approach, it will be necessary for our exegesis of verse 18 to take place over several daily notes.

“And we all”
(h(mei=$ de\ pa/nte$)

The force and scope of the adverb pa=$ (“all”) here could be disputed. Given the focus in chapter 3 on Paul’s role as a minister (of the new covenant), one might be inclined to limit the sense of pa=$ here to “all of us who are ministers.” This, however, would be incorrect, ignoring, among other factors, the central theme in chaps. 1-7 of the relationship between Paul (as apostle) and the Corinthian congregations. The bond of unity between missionary and church is the Spirit—which is the same unifying bond of the new covenant itself.

Thus, when Paul says “all of us,” he means “all of us who are believers, who are united in Christ (through the Spirit)”. Paul tends to use the adverb pa=$ in such a universal, comprehensive sense. In the immediate context of 2 Corinthians, cf. 1:1; 2:3, 5, where he is referring to all believers in Corinth, or to all believers everywhere (3:2).

In terms of the discourse in vv. 7-18, there is also the important parallel between the Israelite people and believers, established in vv. 14-16; this is complementary to the similar parallel between the believer and Moses in vv. 13 and 17. The relationship between Moses and Israel (in the old covenant) is fundamentally different from the relationship between the apostolic minister (e.g., Paul) and the community of believers. It was only Moses who had a direct encounter with God, in a place from which the rest of the people were cut off. The Israelites could only experience the revelatory word and accompanying glory of God through the personal mediation of Moses. By contrast, in the new covenant, apostle and community are united and experience the word and glory of God the same way, through the Spirit, without any distinction.

“with uncovered face”
(a)nakekalumme/nw| prosw/pw|)

This is essentially a prepositional phrase, but with an absent preposition (e)n, cp. 2:10; 4:6; 5:2) implied by the use of the dative case. It is a qualifying phrase, preceding and anticipating the main clause later in the verse. The word translated “uncovered” is a verbal adjective, a passive participle of the verb a)nakalu/ptw (“uncover”), which occurs only here (and earlier in v. 14) in the New Testament. It literally means “take up the cover”, but has virtually the same sense as the more common a)pokalu/ptw (“take the cover [away] from”); both verbs essentially mean “uncover” (rel. to the base verb kalu/ptw, “cover”).

Paul’s use of the verb in verse 14 provides the key point of contrast (cf. the discussion in the earlier note): Israelites and Jews, as a whole, have a “covering” (ka/lumma) over them, since they continue to operate under the old covenant (palaia/ diaqh/kh), not realizing that in Christ the old covenant has ceased to be operative (vb katarge/w), replaced by a new covenant (kainh/ diaqh/kh, v. 6). We should pay attention to Paul’s exact wording:

“…the same covering…[of the old covenant] remains, not being uncovered, that in (the) Anointed {Christ} is made inactive”

The expression “the same covering” is a way for Paul to apply the tradition of the veil over Moses’ face to the Israel/Jewish people as a whole. He places them in a congregational setting, implying worship in the synagogue, when the Torah (= the Scriptures) of the old covenant is read out. The parallel with Christian congregations (of the new covenant) is obvious.

Paul uses the same participle, but the use of the negative particle (mh/) emphasizes the point of contrast between the old and new covenant:

    • “not being uncovered” (mh\ a)nakalupto/menon) [v. 14]
    • “having been uncovered” (a)nakekalumme/nw|) [v. 18]

There are other subtle differences in how Paul uses the verb. Both participles are neuter, but they have different subjects, with distinct points of reference. In verse 14, the subject is the covering (ka/lumma) itself, and the participle has true verbal force. When the covering is taken away, then the person realizes that the old covenant is no longer in effect, and no longer feels compelled to live under its restrictions.

This is the condition that is described in verse 18, where the subject of the participle is the face (pro/swpon) of the believer. The believer now lives in the new covenant of the Spirit and has complete freedom (e)leuqeri/a, v. 17), being freed from the restrictions and limitations of the old covenant. In verse 14, the participle is in the present tense, indicating a situation (the covering remaining) that currently prevails for people (Israelites and Jews); in v. 18, by contrast, the perfect tense is used, indicated an action (removal of the covering) that has already taken place, with the effects of it (i.e., the freedom in the Spirit) continuing for believers in present.

It is the face of believers that is uncovered, referring to the Moses tradition (Exod 34:29-35) that Paul expounds in the discourse (cf. the prior notes, and the recent Saturday Series study on the Exodus passage). Believers—that is, the people as a whole (“all of us,” cf. above)—now fulfill in the new covenant the comparable role that Moses alone held in the old covenant. There are thus two points of difference: (1) there is no longer any covering, and (2) all the people now experience the revelation and glory of God’s presence.

What this means specifically for believers will be considered in the next daily note, as we continue through verse 18.

February 14: 2 Corinthians 3:17 (continued)

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verse 17; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:17, continued

“Now, the Lord is the Spirit; and the (place) at which the Spirit of the Lord (is), (there is) freedom.”

As mentioned in the previous note, it is necessary to supplement our discussion of verse 17 by addressing three specific points:

    1. The theological and Christological significance of Paul’s repeated identification of the Spirit with “the Lord”
    2. The relation of the key word “freedom” (e)leuqeri/a) with the earlier term “outspokenness” (parrhsi/a) in verse 12, and
    3. A further consideration on the spiritual nature of the new covenant in Christ
1. The Spirit and “the Lord”

In each of verses 16-18, Paul mentions “the Lord” ([o(] ku/rio$); and, significantly, in both 17 and 18 the term ku/rio$ is associated specifically with pneu=ma (“[the] Spirit”). Two questions naturally come to mind: (1) does ku/rio$ refer to God the Father (YHWH) or to Jesus? and (2) what is the relationship between the Spirit and the “Lord”?

The early Christian view of Jesus, especially in light of his exaltation to heaven (i.e., the exaltation-Christology), meant that the term ku/rio$ (“Lord”) could be used equally in reference to God the Father and to Jesus (the Son). There are a number of places in the New Testament where, as here (vv. 16-18), the reference is somewhat ambiguous, and could be understood either way. Paul typically uses ku/rio$ in reference to Jesus; however, the context of the Exodus 34 tradition, with the specific parallel to Moses (and the old covenant), suggests that here Paul primarily has God (YHWH) in mind. This would seem to be confirmed by a comparison of his use of the verb e)pistre/fw in 1 Thess 1:9, where the same sort of traditional language—viz., of Israel turning (back) to God (qeo/$)—is used (cp. Luke 1:16f).

As mentioned in the previous note, the statement in v. 17— “the Lord is the Spirit” (o( ku/rio$ to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin)—is reminiscent of Jesus’ declaration to the Samaritan woman in the Johannine discourse (4:24): “God (is) Spirit” (pneu=ma o( qeo/$). Neither statement should necessarily be regarded as an absolute theological declaration; rather, the point of emphasis is that God is only to be experienced, truly, in a spiritual way, at the level of the Spirit. This is fundamental to the spiritualism in both the Pauline and Johannine writings (the latter still to be discussed).

Thus, the main point is that believers in Christ (in the new covenant) encounter God through the Spirit, at the level of the Spirit. We may discern a certain kind of expository and theological development in the three occurrences of the term ku/rio$ in vv. 16-18:

    • V. 16—the traditional motif of people turning to God, in faith and repentance; this applies to both the old and new covenants.
    • V. 17—Paul emphasizes that, in the new covenant, believers experience God at the level of the Spirit, through the abiding presence of God’s Spirit.
    • V. 18—Paul begins to explain, in a revelatory manner, the dynamic of this spiritual experience of God for believers in Christ.

Verse 18 (and thus the entire discourse of vv. 7-18) concludes with the beguilingly ambiguous genitival pairing of the same words ku/rio$ and pneu=ma. Part of the richness of this concluding verse is that the phrase a)po\ kuri/ou pneu/mato$ can be understood (and translated) several different ways. This is further complicated by the fact that the Christological aspect of Paul’s use of ku/rio$ also comes to the fore in v. 18, a point which will be discussed further in the upcoming note(s) on v. 18.

2. The relation of e)leuqeri/a to parrhsi/a

Paul’s use of the word e)leuqeri/a (“freedom”) is parallel to his earlier use of parrhsi/a (“outspokenness”) in v. 12 (cf. the earlier note). In verse 12, parrhsi/a is clearly intended as a characteristic of the new covenant; however, the associative contrast there with the covering (ka/lumma) over Moses’ face (characterizing the old covenant) is somewhat misleading. It suggests that, because of the veil over his face, Moses was not able to speak to the people with the same kind of boldness and openness as can Christian ministers (like Paul).

Paul’s line of interpretation is actually rather different, as becomes apparent by what follows in vv. 13-17. He draws upon the specific idea, clearly expressed in the narrative of Exod 34:29-35, that Moses communicated God’s word to the people with his face uncovered, with people able to see the radiance of the divine glory reflected on his face. The implication is that this reflected glory was only temporary, and would fade; thus Moses put the covering over his face after he spoke to the people, only removing it the next time that he encountered God (in the Tent of Meeting). Paul very much emphasizes the temporary nature of the glory on Moses’ face, and that it would fade/disappear. This explains aspects of Paul’s logic in vv. 13-14ff which have puzzled commentators.

As we come to vv. 16-17, we now see the significance of Paul’s application of the Moses tradition. In the new covenant, the glory is not temporary, but permanent—thus there is no need for a covering any longer. More importantly, the divine glory is now experienced through the Spirit—not in a particular place (such as the Tent of Meeting) or time, nor by one chosen individual only; rather, all believers experience it, and do so continuously, all the time. The removal of the covering means freedom—the ability to experience (and to reflect) God’s glory all the time, without restriction.

As discussed in the previous note, the idea of freedom (e)leuqeri/a) is specifically associated with the Spirit elsewhere in Paul’s letters—especially in Galatians 5 and Romans 8. In those passages, the sense of freedom for believers is two-fold: (1) it means freedom from bondage to the power of sin, and (2) it means freedom from the binding authority of the Torah (of the old covenant). While Paul certainly has these (negative) aspects in mind here, he also is emphasizing the positive aspect of the freedom believers have to speak out with boldness, openly, fulfilling the prophetic role of declaring the word and will of God. In the context of 2 Corinthians 3, Paul is thinking primarily of the role of the apostolic missionary proclaiming the Gospel, but at the close of the discourse here he expands the scope of his message to include the experience of all believers.

With regard to the connection between freedom (e)leuqeri/a) and outspokenness (parrhsi/a), there is an interesting parallel to be found in the writings of Paul’s Jewish contemporary, Philo of Alexandria. Indeed, Philo wrote an entire treatise touching upon the subject, entitled “Every Good Man is Free” (Peri tou panta spoudaion eleuqeron einai). According to Philo, true freedom is experienced by a person whose life is regulated by the law (§§45-46)—but with the “law” defined as:

“…right reason…not an ordinance made by this or that mortal, a corruptible and perishable law, a lifeless law written on lifeless parchment or engraved on lifeless columns, but one imperishable, and stamped by immortal nature on the immortal mind.” (LOEB translation)

Elsewhere in the same treatise, he notes that a person does not acquire boldness and freedom in speaking (parrhsi/a) from external circumstances, but only from “the free and noble disposition of soul, which God has made of such a nature as never to be subdued by external circumstances” (§149). The person who remains free and secure through reason and virtue “is able to say with all freedom [parrhsi/a]” that they have not been taken captive by the “accidental things” of this world (§152). Cf. Furnish, p. 237a.

3. The Spiritual nature of the New Covenant

Philo’s spiritualism (such as we may call it) differed from Paul’s in that his focus was philosophical, defining “spirit” (pneu=ma) primarily in terms of the mind (nou=$) and the exercise of the reasoning/rational ability, given to human beings by God. For Paul, in addition to this basic “spirit”, there has been given to believers the abiding presence of God’s own Spirit, understood also as the Spirit of Christ. Believers are united with God through the Spirit in a way that goes beyond the philosophical and religious-ethical spiritualism expressed by Philo. To be sure, there are noetic and ethical aspects to Paul’s understanding of the Spirit, but they are secondary, or supplemental, to the primary aspect. We may actually describe this aspect, with more precision, as being two-fold—both mystical and Christological. This will be discussed further as we proceed to explore verse 18, beginning in the next daily note.

References above marked “Furnish” are to Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians, Anchor Bible [AB] Vol. 32A (1984).