January 31: 2 Corinthians 3:12-13

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verses 9-11; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

Verses 12-13

After the exposition and application of Exod 34:29-35 in verses 7-11 (cf. the previous note), using a series of qal wa-homer arguments to contrast the old covenant (and the Law) with the new, Paul returns to the primary theme of his role as an apostle:

“Therefore, holding such (a) hope, we use much outspokenness [parrhsi/a]…” (v. 12)

The word parrhsi/a indicates something “uttered with all (openness/boldness)”; it can refer specifically to speaking openly in public, or openly as “with boldness”, or some combination of the two. Paul contrasts the openness of ministers of the Gospel (such as he and his fellow missionaries), with Moses who put a covering (ka/lumma) over his face. The noun ka/lumma in the LXX translates Hebrew hw#s=m^, which only occurs in Exod 34:33, and the meaning of which remains uncertain, having to be determined largely from the narrative context. It is presumably related to the noun tWs (cf. Gen 49:11), for which a cognate term is attested in Phoenician.

The implication is that Moses put the veil over his face when he met with the people after speaking to God; however, this is not entirely clear from the Exodus narrative (34:29-34)—it may be inferred from vv. 34-35, but at least once Moses addressed the people without the veil, i.e. before putting it on (vv. 31-33). Indeed, it is possible to read the narrative as indicating that Moses would regularly communicate the prophetic message to the people without a veil, only putting on the covering after he had spoken. Cf. the discussion below.

In 2 Cor 3:13, Paul essentially repeats what he said in verse 8, though here the language is more difficult, since he is effectively summarizing the entire line of argument from vv. 7-11 in a single verse:

“…and not according to (the way) that Moses set a covering upon his face, toward the sons of Israel (so that they) not stretch (to see) [i.e. gaze] into the end/completion of the (thing) being made inactive.”

For the verb katarge/w (“make [something] cease working”, i.e. made inactive, render ineffective), which Paul uses on other occasions in relation to the Law, see the previous notes on vv. 7-11. The word te/lo$ (“completion, finish, end”) is also used in reference to the Law, especially in Romans 10:4 (“Christ is the end [te/lo$] of the Law”); Paul typically means it in the sense of the termination of a period of time, or of the state of things at the end of such a period. Elsewhere, it is clear that the Law (Torah) of the old covenant is only binding and in force until the coming of Christ (see esp. the illustrations in Galatians 3-4 and in Romans 7:1-6).

The idea here in 2 Cor 3:13 seems to be that the covering makes it so the Israelites cannot see that the old covenant has come to an end in Christ. This uniquely Christian interpretation is then applied in verses 14-16 to the people of Israel as a whole: even as they continue in their religious devotion to the Law and the old covenant, a covering remains over their eyes (and their heart), and they cannot see that the old covenant finds it end (and fulfillment) in the person and work of Christ. There are exceptions, of course, as the number of Jewish believers (even in Paul’s time) attest, and as is expressed in verse 16: “but if they turn toward the Lord, the covering is taken (away from) around (their eyes)”.

Paul’s interpretation of the covering of Moses’ face, and the reason for it, is peculiar. Perhaps Paul is following the logic of the Exodus narrative, with the understanding that Moses put on the veil only after he had spoken to the people. They could see the radiant glory upon his face (while he spoke), but his covering of it with the veil was so that they would not see the glory fade (until his next encounter with YHWH). This line of interpretation, however, conflicts with the idea of the outspokenness of the apostolic ministers, whereby the point of contrast with Moses’ veil would seem to imply that Moses wore it when communicating the prophetic message (received from God) to the people.

As in verse 11, the substantive participle to\ katargou/menon (“the [thing] being made inactive/ineffective”) is neuter, implying that it relates, not merely to the Law (the Torah), but rather, in a general and comprehensive sense, to the entirety of the old covenant. This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

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