Saturday Series: 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

After the exposition and application of Exod 34:29-25 in verses 7-11 (cf. the previous study), 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 [parr¢sía]…” (v. 12)

The word parr¢sía 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 (kálumma) over his face. 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 at all clear from the Exodus narrative (34:29-34); indeed, it seems to be Moses addressed the people without the veil, i.e. before putting it on (vv. 31-33). After he had communicated God’s word and will to the people, then he donned the covering, wearing it until the next time he encountered YHWH in the Tent of Meeting.

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 katargéœ (“make [something] cease working”, i.e. made inactive, render ineffective), which Paul uses on other occasions in relation to the Law, see the previous study on vv. 7-11. The word télos (“completion, finish, end”) is also used in reference to the Law, especially in Romans 10:4 (“Christ is the end [télos] 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 especially 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. It is in this light that Paul makes use of the veil motif from Exodus 34. His usage here would imply that Moses wore the covering so that the people would not see the reflected glory fade from his face. That glory was temporary; it shone on Moses’ face after his meeting with YHWH in the Tent, and then would fade, until the next encounter. This detail is not stated specifically in the narrative, but Paul seems to interpret the passage with it in mind.

Clearly, Paul gives to the Scriptural tradition a uniquely Christian interpretation, which 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 uses traditional Old Testament language here (of “turning [back] to the Lord [i.e. YHWH]”), though, in context, of course, turning to the Lord (YHWH) involves turning to the Lord (Jesus Christ), cf. Acts 3:19, etc.

In verse 17, Paul adds a third aspect to the word kýrios (“Lord”):

“And the Lord is the Spirit; and (the place) in which the Spirit of (the) Lord (is), (that is) freedom”

Here we reach the climax of Paul’s argument, with two central points of emphasis: (1) the Spirit (pneúma), which is the Spirit of God (and Christ), and (2) freedom (eleuthería). With regard to the last point, in Galatians Paul speaks of “freedom” specifically in terms of freedom from the Law (Gal 2:4; 4:21-31; 5:1ff, 13), while in Romans the emphasis is primarily on freedom from the power of sin (Rom 6:7-23; 8:2, 21), though this too is related to freedom from the Law (Rom 7:1-6). In 2 Corinthians 3, sin is not part of the discussion, but the Law is—the contrast between the old covenant, with its written (tablets of the) Law, and the new covenant makes it likely that freedom from the Law is to be affirmed here as well.

And yet, it is also clear that something more is meant: a freedom that is centered on the presence and power of the Spirit. Paul can identify the Spirit with either God (the Father) or Jesus Christ; generally, the emphasis is on the latter—the Spirit represents Christ and communicates his presence (and power) to believers, both individually and collectively. Just as believers are “in Christ”, so we live and walk “in the Spirit”; and, as Christ is in us, so the Spirit is in us. The presence of the Spirit means freedom—the same freedom that we have in Christ (Gal 2:4).

It has been somewhat puzzling to commentators just why Paul chooses to compare himself (and other apostles) with Israel as he does in 2 Cor 3:1-18. One may further ask why he breaks off from the main line of argument (at v. 6a) to embark on the discourse in vv. 7-18? Neither the Spirit-vs-letter dualism nor the pointed contrast between the old and new covenant appears to have been necessary for his discussion regarding the nature of the apostolic ministry. Why, then, does he step so boldly in that direction, beginning at v. 6b-7?

One theory is that his opponents were Jewish Christian “Judaizers”, as in Galatians (see also Phil 3:2ff). This would perhaps be supported by the context of 2 Cor 10-13 (see esp. 11:22ff). If there were influential “apostles” working at Corinth who stressed the importance of continuing to observe the old covenant, then the application of Exod 34:29-35 in 2 Cor 3:7ff is especially appropriate. In Jewish tradition, the “glory” (dóxa) associated with Moses and the Sinai covenant does not fade, but continues (forever)—see, for example, 2/4 Esdras 9:37; Deuteronomy Rabbah 11:3. Paul declares quite the opposite, in the sense that, with the coming of the new covenant (and its overwhelmingly greater glory), the old covenant has ceased to be active or effective any longer; on the use of the verb katargéœ to express this, see above.

However, there may be another reason for the illustration contrasting the old and new covenants; it has to do with an emphasis on external criteria which Paul seems to associate with his opponents, especially in chapters 10-13. Note how he begins the long polemical discussion in 10:7 with a reference to looking at things “according to the face” (katà prósœpon), i.e. according to outward appearance. Throughout, Paul feels compelled to compare himself with certain “extra important” (hyperlían, “over-abundant”) apostles, though it clearly makes him uncomfortable to do so (10:12ff; 12:11, etc). He emphasizes various missionary labors (10:1211:15, 27-29), physical hardships (11:23-33, also 6:4-10), special visionary experiences (12:1-7), miracles (“signs of an apostle”, 12:12), skill in speaking and writing (10:9-11; 11:6), but also his own natural ethnic-cultural and religious pedigree (11:22ff).

From all of this, we may infer that there were “apostles” at work among the Corinthians who could make claim to some of these sorts of things, and who may well have denigrated Paul’s own credentials and abilities. The reference in 3:1-6 to letters of introduction/commendation could indicate that these were itinerant or visiting missionaries (or dignitaries) who possessed (and/or relied upon) such letters to establish their external credentials as well. While Paul does engage in some rhetorical/polemical “competition” and comparison of credentials, it is important to note two key qualifying arguments he introduces in chapter 10 at the start:

    • that Paul and his associates (as true apostles) do not live and act “according to the flesh” (katà sárka), vv. 2-3—this expression is sometimes used specifically in the sense of sin and immorality, but here, more properly, it refers to a worldly manner of acting and thinking, worldly standards, etc., and, as such, is parallel with “according to the face” (katà prósœpon) in v. 7.
    • that his true “boasting” (as an apostle) resides in what God has given to him for the proclamation of the Gospel, vv. 8, 12ff; in this regard, note also the discussion in 12:7-10.

The connection between chapters 10-13 and 1-7, 8-9 remains much debated; however, this analysis may help to elucidate the force of Paul’s argument in 3:7-18. The old covenant was manifest in external form—written on tablets of stone, along with a visible aura of light which could be covered up by a veil—while the new covenant is internal and invisible (see also 4:16-18). The new covenant is written in the heart and its glory comes from within. For more on this aspect of the passage, you may wish to consult the recent series of exegetical notes on 2 Corinthians 3, as part of the study series “Spiritualism in the New Testament”. The notes are designed, in part, to elucidate the nature and extent of Paul’s spiritualism.

The Spirit operates from within, giving to believers freedom and the power to live according to God’s will; it is also the source of the apostles’ authority and boldness. That the new covenant does not depend on external criteria is confirmed by the famous conclusion in 3:18. One might expect Paul to end with another reference to the role of apostles—persons called to represent Christ and preach the Gospel—and yet, following the association of the Spirit and freedom in verse 17, he moves in an entirely different direction: “but we all…”

The glory of the old covenant was associated with a special person—Moses—who was set apart to represent God for the people; only he spoke directly with God, and the glory shone only from his face. How different is the new covenant, where every believer in Christ beholds the glory of the Lord, and is transformed, in a permanent manner, far greater than the transfiguration that Moses experienced. The true apostle and missionary does not emphasize his (or her) own abilities and accomplishments—ultimately the new covenant is administered and shared by all believers together.

The primary purpose of these studies was to examine the context of Paul’s famous declaration in verse 18. It is not possible here to expound the verse itself. I have done this recently, as part of the aforementioned set of exegetical notes. For a detailed exegesis of v. 18, please consult these notes.

Next week, we will round out this study of the context of verse 18 with an examination of what follows, in 4:1-6ff.

Moses in Philo and Paul (2 Cor 3:7-18)

In my recent notes on 2 Cor 3:7-18, I have mentioned on a number of occasions, some interesting parallels between Paul and Philo of Alexandria, in the way that certain Moses traditions are interpreted and applied. In this regard, I felt it worth examining the key Philonic passages in a bit more detail. The parallels most relevant to 2 Corinthians 3, particularly those involving the same Moses tradition (Exod 34:29-35) utilized by Paul, will be given special attention. In guiding the presentation here, I have consulted a recent study by Volker Rabens, “Pneuma and the Beholding of God: Reading Paul in the context of Philonic Mystical Traditions,” in The Holy Spirit, Inspiration, and the Cultures of Antiquity: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, eds. Jorg Frey, John R. Levison [part of the series Ekstasis: Religious Experience from Antiquity to the Middle Ages] (de Gruyter: 2014), pp. 293-329. This study is referenced as “Rabens” below.

Philo was a Jewish contemporary of Paul, and many of his surviving writings essentially function as commentaries on the Torah (Pentateuch), but providing a special kind of exposition of the Scriptural traditions—from a philosophical, religious-ethical, and mystical standpoint. In this regard, Philo’s treatment of the Moses traditions is similar to that of Paul in 2 Cor 3:7-18 (cp. 1 Cor 10:1-10ff). The main difference is that Paul, as a Christian, tends to interpret the Old Testament from a Christological standpoint. It is Paul’s Christology that informs and guides his interpretation, making it quite distinctive from Philo’s, regardless of the other interpretive features they may have in common.

Note: Most of the translations of Philo below are from the edition by C. D. Yonge, which is a reasonably literal rendering of the Greek (compared with the looser, and more readable, translation[s] in the LOEB volumes). The other translations, unless otherwise indicated, are my own.

a. On the Posterity and Exile of Cain §§12-13

A good example of the way that Philo expounds Scriptural tradition, applying the figure of Moses to the indvidual soul that is being purified and enlightened, is found in the treatise On the Posterity and Exile of Cain. Note, in particular, the way that Moses is associated with the idea of seeing God:

“(So) then, (upon) Cain, having removed himself from the face of God, justice, (the) upholder of honor against (the one)s without fear (of God), will execute justice; but Moses, to the (one)s knowing him, sets down under (their feet) a message most fine: ‘to love God and to listen to (Him) and to hold (close) to Him’ (Deut 30:20), for this is to be the life that, for truth, (has) both a good day and a long age. Most emphatically he calls (us) to the honor of the (One) thrice-desired and most worthy of love, saying (we are) to hold ourselves (close) to Him, placing along (to us) the (word of how this) holds together, one after the other, without division, of the harmony and union (that comes with) making (Him) our own. These (thing)s now he recommends to the others…but he himself unceasingly reaches for the seeing (of Him), and to be seen by Him, so that he seeks (for Him) to make knowingly clear His own nature (cf. Exod 33:18), being so hard to guess at, (so) that even at some time, having received a share of (the) do/ca without (anything) false, he might have firm trust in exchange for firmless doubt.” (§§12-13)

Philo here alludes to the same Moses traditions (in Exod 33-34) that Paul draws upon in 2 Corinthians 3. It is interesting the way that he plays on the range of meaning of the word do/ca. In Exod 33:18 (LXX), Moses asks God: “show to me your own do/ca,” referring to the glory/splendor of God’s presence. However, the fundamental meaning of do/ca has to do with the exercise of the mind—i.e., what a person thinks. In Philo’s application of the Scriptural tradition, the vision of God (His glory) is explained primarily in terms of a true knowledge of God. Moses thus serves as the type-pattern for the enlightened person who seeks the true knowledge that can only come from God Himself. This is stated, in more direct philosophical terms, a bit further on at §§15-16 of the same treatise:

“When, therefore, the soul that loves God seeks to know what the one living God is according to his essence, it is entertaining upon an obscure and dark subject of investigation (cf. Exod 20:21), from which the greatest benefit that arises to it is to comprehend that God, as to his essence, is utterly incomprehensible to any being, and also to be aware that he is invisible. And it appears to me that the great hierophant had attained to the comprehension of the most important point in this investigation before he commenced it, when he entreated God to become the exhibitor and expounder of his own nature to him, for he says, ‘Show me thyself;’ showing very plainly by this expression that no created being is competent by himself to learn the nature of God in his essence.” (Yonge translation)

To a large extent, Paul shares this noetic emphasis; cf. the recent note on 2 Cor 4:6 (and Paul’s use of the word gnw=si$, “knowledge” in that verse).

b. On the Change of Names §§7-10

Philo similarly brings together the motifs of Moses entering into the darkness to meet God (Exod 20:21) and his request to see God’s glory (Exod 33:18), in the treatise On the Change of Names. Again, his interpretation is very much cast in philosophical language and terminology. The attribute of Divine invisibility (and inscrutability) is emphasized at the opening of the passage in question (§§6-7); moreover, God is not perceived through the external senses—i.e., seen by ordinary light—but only to the mind within:

“When therefore you hear that God has been seen by man, you must consider that this is said without any reference to that light which is perceptible by the external senses, for it is natural that that which is appreciable only by the intellect should be presented to the intellect alone; and the fountain of the purest light is God; so that when God appears to the soul he pours forth his beams without any shade, and beaming with the most radiant brilliancy.” (Yonge translation)

As if to drive the point home, Philo makes the following declaration:

“You should not think (that) the (One) Being, who is in truth being, is taken down (in the mind) [i.e. comprehended] by any man. For we do not hold any instrument in ourselves by which we have power to bring (forth) an image of That (One), neither (any) sense-perception—for He is not (something) perceived (by the senses)—nor (even the) mind (itself).”

This means that even the mind, by its own power, is incapable of seeing God. Moses, who “sought to see clearly [thlaugw=$] the much-desired and only good”, that is, to glimpse somehow the “unseeable nature” of God, entered into the ‘darkness’ (Exod 20:21), being unable to see anything. It is at this point that Moses asks God to show Himself to him (33:18); however, even with the revelation of God’s glory to him, Moses still only sees the “back parts” of the living God’s essence.

c. Allegorical Interpretation III.100-101

This passage is part of a section commenting on the calling of Bezalel by God, giving to him wisdom and knowledge to serve as architect of the Tent-shrine (Exod 31:2). Philo interprets the figure of Bezalel as symbolizing the word (lo/go$) of God, by which He created and fashioned (as a builder) the world (§96). It functions as a type and pattern by which the created world was designed, and is thus referred to as God’s image (ei)kw/n). Humankind, in particular, was made according to this image (Gen 1:26), by which Philo primarily means the mind/intellect and the reasoning ability in human beings. This reasoning allowed people to conceive of God in various ways (§§97-99); from the pattern we perceive in the created world (including within ourselves), we are able to understanding something about the Creator (cp. Rom 1:19-20ff). However, in this way God is only perceived imperfectly, through His ‘shadow’ (skia/).

By contrast, Moses represents a “more complete” (telew/tero$) kind of philosopher, one initiated in the “great secrets” (ta\ mega/la musth/ria), and who would not perceive the Creator merely through the ‘shadow’ of created things (§100). Instead, he “receives a clear/distinct [e)nargh/$] impression” of the Uncreated One (lit. without coming-to-be, a)ge/nhto$). The adjective e)nargh/$ can refer to a visible manifestation of a deity; Philo draws upon this usage, but applies it to the vision of God at the spiritual level (of the intellect), in much the same way as Paul in 2 Cor 3:18ff (discussed in recent notes).

Indeed, just like Paul, Philo draws here again upon the Moses traditions in Exod 33-34—citing (again) the request by Moses in 33:18. True comprehension of God can only take place through a direct manifestation by God Himself. Indeed, Philo expounds Moses’ request as saying:

“…do not thou be manifested to me through the medium of the heaven, or of the earth, or of water, or of air, or, in short, of anything whatever of created things, and let me not see thy appearance in any other thing, as in a looking-glass, except in thee thyself, the true God. For the images which are presented to the sight in executed things are subject to dissolution; but those which are presented in the One uncreate may last for ever, being durable, eternal, and unchangeable. On this account God called Moses to him and conversed with Him.”
(§101, Yonge translation)

The words in italics translate katoptrisai/mhn, a form of the rare verb katoptri/zomai, also used by Paul in 2 Cor 3:18. It is derived from the noun ka/toptron (from the verb kaqora/w), and essentially refers to something a person looks down into—spec. a looking-glass or mirror. The middle (reflexive) form (katoptri/zomai) of the verb katoptri/zw denotes a person looking at one’s own reflection (in a mirror). However, both Philo and Paul use it in the sense of seeing God’s reflection. For Paul, Jesus represents a perfect reflection of God, while here Philo refers to the created world as providing only a partial and very imperfect reflection.

d. On the Special Laws I.41-50

A similar passage is found in On the Special Laws I.41-42ff:

“…that interpreter of the divine word, Moses, the man most beloved by God…besought God and said, ‘Show me thyself’ —all but urging him, and crying out in loud and distinct words— ‘that thou hast a real being and existence the whole world is my teacher, assuring me of the fact and instructing me as a son might of the existence of his father, or the work of the existence of the workman. But, though I am very desirous to know what thou art as to thy essence, I can find no one who is able to explain to me anything relating to this branch of learning in any part of the universe whatever. …for as the light is not known by the agency of anything else, but is itself its own manifestation, so also thou must alone be able to manifest thyself. For which reason I hope to receive pardon, if, from want of any one to teach me, I am so bold as to flee to thee, desiring to receive instruction from thyself.'” (Yonge translation)

A dialogue follows, between God and Moses, as God repeatedly states that it is impossible for any created being truly to comprehend the Divine Being. Even so, Moses desires the most complete and thorough understanding possible; to which God informs him:

“The powers which you seek to behold are altogether invisible, and appreciable only by the intellect; since I myself am invisible and only appreciable by the intellect. …not those which are already comprehended by the mind, but those which, even if they could be so comprehended, are still such that the outward senses could not at all attain to them, but only the very purest intellect.” (§46, Yonge translation)

Again we see the noetic emphasis of Philo: the purest vision of God possible to a human being is realized entirely by the mind/intellect. Paul shares this aspect of Philo’s spiritualism only in part, since the mind (nou=$) represents only one component of the ‘inner man’ that encounters God through the Spirit.

e. On the Migration of Abraham §§34-36, etc

There can be no doubt that Philo has in mind a distinct form of mystical philosophical experience, such as he describes (from his own experience) in On the Migration of Abraham §§34-36, when his mind is

“…filled with amazement at the power of the living God, by whom the womb of the soul is at times opened and at times closed up; and sometimes when I have come to my work empty I have suddenly become full, ideas being, in an invisible manner, showered upon me, and implanted in me from on high; so that, through the influence of divine inspiration, I have become greatly excited, and have known neither the place in which I was nor those who were present, nor myself, nor what I was saying, nor what I was writing; for then I have been conscious of a richness of interpretation, an enjoyment of light, a most penetrating sight, a most manifest energy in all that was to be done, having such an effect on my mind as the clearest ocular demonstration would have on the eyes.” (Yonge translation)

This mystical experience of ‘seeing’ God is mentioned or alluded to by Philo in a number of passages in other treatises. Both Philo and Paul express the idea that the renewal of the mind (cf. Rom 12:2) leads to a further (ethical-religious) transformation of the person. Thus, ‘seeing God,’ in a noetic sense leads to moral enlightenment and growth in virtue. Some of the notable Philonic passages are (cf. Rabens, p. 301): On the Embassy to Gaius §§4-5; Questions and Answers in Genesis 4.4, 25, 29, 140; Questions and Answers in Exodus 2.7; On the Unchangeableness of God §§3-4; On the Giants §§48-49; Noah’s Work as a Planter §§64-66; Who Is the Heir…? §§70-71; On Abraham §§57-59; On Rewards and Punishments §§41-48; On the Cherubim §§48-49; On Dreams I.148; II.228-33; On the Virtues §§163-4; 213-7.

f. Questions and Answers in Exodus 2.29, etc

Finally, we should consider how Philo interprets (and applies) the figure of Moses, both in terms of the traditions (a) regarding his prophetic inspiration, and (b) as the mediator who experienced the manifestation of God on mount Sinai/Horeb. Cf. Rabens, pp. 302-4.

In Questions and Answers in Exodus (2.29), Philo comments on Exodus 24:2, referring to the injunction that Moses alone is to approach God on the mountain:

“For when the prophetic mind becomes divinely inspired and filled with God, it becomes like the monad, not being at all mixed with any of those things associated with duality. But he who is resolved into the nature of unity, is said to come near God in a kind of family relation, for having given up and left behind all mortal kinds, he is changed into the divine, so that such men become kin to God and truly divine.” (LOEB translation [Ralph Marcus])

The visionary/revelatory encounter with God leads to Moses being “filled with the Spirit”. This is similar, in some respects, to Paul’s application of the Moses tradition(s) in 2 Cor 3:7-18, in the explicit association between ‘seeing God’ and the presence/activity of His Spirit.

Several passages in Philo’s Life of Moses express the same idea regarding Moses being filled by the Spirit, with the result that the Divine Spirit came to abide in him. We may note, in particular, 1.175:

“But after a short time he became inspired by God, and being full of the divine spirit and under the influence of that spirit which was accustomed to enter into him, he prophesied and animated them thus…” (Yonge translation)

Note also 2.69ff, where Moses’ prophetic inspiration is again associated specifically with his ascent upon the mountain (where he encounters God):

“For, having gone up into the loftiest and most sacred mountain in that district in accordance with the divine commands, a mountain which was very difficult of access and very hard to ascend, he is said to have remained there all that time without eating any of that food even which is necessary for life; and, as I said before, he descended again forty days afterwards, being much more beautiful in his face than when he went up, so that those who saw him wondered and were amazed, and could no longer endure to look upon him with their eyes, inasmuch as his countenance shone like the light of the sun. And while he was still abiding in the mountain he was initiated in the sacred will of God…” (2.70f, Yonge translation)

Finally, we may mention On the Giants §§53-55, which well summarizes Philo’s mystical-philosophical ideals, as represented by the figure of Moses:

“…among men in general, that is to say, among those who propose to themselves many objects in life, the divine spirit does not remain, even though it may abide among them for a very short time, but it remains among one species of men alone, namely, among those who, having put off all the things of creation, and the inmost veil and covering of false opinion, come to God in their unconcealed and naked minds. Thus also Moses, having fixed his tent outside of the tabernacle and outside of all the corporeal army, that is to say, having established his mind so that it should not move, begins to worship God, and having entered into the darkness, that invisible country, remains there, performing the most sacred mysteries; and he becomes, not merely an initiated man, but also an hierophant of mysteries and a teacher of divine things, which he will explain to those whose ears are purified; therefore the divine spirit is always standing by him, conducting him in every right way…” (Yonge translation)

March 3: 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6

[This is the final note in the series on 2 Corinthians 3, supplemental to the current exegetical study series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note concluded our discussion on 4:3-6; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

CONCLUSION (2 Cor 3:18; 4:6)

Following our discussion in the previous note, we shall now consider how Paul understands the seeing of God by believers. The focus will remain on the statements in 3:18 and 4:6 in light of Paul’s line of argument and exposition throughout the passage (2:14-4:6). Mention was made of the juxtaposition of the seeing/image motif with the fundamental idea of the believer’s encounter with God taking place spiritually, at the level of the Spirit. How, indeed, does one ‘see’ God in the Spirit?

In answering this question, we must begin with the overall context of the passage—namely, a description (and defense) of the apostolic ministry by Paul, with specific emphasis on the mission of proclaiming the Gospel. This is very much the focus in 2:14-17, and Paul returns to this point of reference at the conclusion of the passage (4:1-3); note, in particular, how 4:3 reflects the earlier wording in 2:15, as an example of the way that Paul deftly blends together the thematic strands of his discussion.

Thus, we may say that the process of ‘seeing’ God, begins with the believer receiving the Gospel of Christ. The ‘blindness’ of the world is defined specifically in terms of being unwilling (or unable) to accept the Gospel and to recognize its truth (4:3, par 3:14-15). The missionary/minister plays a vital role in bringing the light of the Gospel, at first, to the believer. Note, again, the parallel expressions used by Paul in 4:4 and 6:

    • the good message [eu)agge/lion] of the splendor of Christ //
      the knowledge [gnw=si$] of the splendor of God

The Gospel leads to the knowledge of God’s glory; for more on this parallelism, cf. the previous notes on vv. 3-6.

Once a person has received the Gospel, trusting in Jesus Christ, then he/she receives the Spirit. The locus of the Spirit’s presence within the person is usually referenced as the “heart” (kardi/a), as here in 4:6. Traditionally, the giving/sending of the Spirit by God is expressed in terms of liquid (water or oil) being poured. This would have been reinforced by the symbolism of the baptism-ritual. Paul fully embraces this imagery, referring repeatedly to believers receiving the Spirit in their hearts (Rom 5:5; 2 Cor 1:22; Gal 4:6; cf. also the context of Rom 2:29; 8:27; and here in 2 Cor 3:3ff). He does not often describe the presence and activity of the Spirit through light-imagery, but there can be little doubt that here in 4:6 the light that shines in the heart is the same as the Spirit that is poured, etc, into the heart (Rom 5:5). For a similar reference to light shining in the heart, cf. 1 Cor 4:5.

In a number of passages in his letters, Paul describes various aspects of the Spirit’s activity, in and among believers. Some of the key points may be summarized as follows:

Thus, according to Paul, the Spirit’s role within the believer covers the full range of religious experience. However, it is important to remember that the specific references to the Spirit here in 3:17-18 are fundamentally Christological—particularly in terms of our ‘seeing’ God through the Spirit. Indeed, the ‘image’ (ei)kw/n) which we see in the Spirit is Christ’s image. Paul makes explicit in 4:4 what is implied in 3:18, essentially explaining that “the same image” (th\n au)to/n ei)ko/na) which we behold—and into which we are transformed—is that of Christ as “the image of God” (ei)kw\n tou= qeou=, cf. also Col 1:15 and Rom 8:29).

What is specifically involved in this transformative beholding of the image of Christ? There are several key aspects which should be emphasized:

    • Noetic—i.e., the mind of the believer is transformed, to become like that of Christ himself. In this regard, Paul follows Philo’s application of the Moses traditions in Exod 34, even so far as his use of the mirror (ka/toptron) motif and the rare verb katoptri/zomai; cf. the discussion in the prior note. By allowing ourselves to be guiding by the Spirit within, the way we think is changed, and this leads to fundamental (ethical/moral) changes in the way we act. Cf. Rom 8:5-7; 12:2; 1 Cor 2:16; Phil 2:5; and note the context of Gal :16-25. See also the recent study in this series on 1 Cor 2:10-16.
    • Mimetic—along with the ethical transformation that comes from the renewal of our minds and allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit, there is the specific idea of following the example of Christ. The conscious imitation of Jesus should be viewed as a specific aspect of ‘walking in the Spirit’ (Gal 5:16, 25). Cf. Phil 2:5ff. Often Paul frames this in terms of following his own example, as he himself imitates Christ—1 Thess 1:6; 2:14; 1 Cor 11:1; 4:16; Phil 3:17.
    • Mystical Union—Paul defines the believer’s union with Christ in a very distinctive way, in terms of participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The key passage is Romans 6:3-4, but the idea is expressed all throughout his letters; most notably, cf. Rom 7:6; 8:2ff, 10-11ff; Gal 2:20; 5:24-25; 1 Cor 15:20-24ff, 49; 2 Cor 4:10-11; 5:14-21; Phil 1:21; 3:10-11. Paul’s association of this concept with the symbolism of the baptism ritual is quite clear; in addition to Rom 6:1-11, cf. Gal 3:26-27; Col 2:12. However, this union is realized through the presence and power of the Spirit.
    • Spiritual Union—Paul also hints at a union of the believer with God, realized through our union with Christ, in the Spirit. Cf. 1 Cor 6:17, and various allusions throughout his letters; typically, the idea is couched in terms of the future glory that awaits believers (with the resurrection).

The knowledge (gnw=si$) of God that begins with receiving the Gospel, culminates in the union of believers with God Himself (theosis). To ‘see’ God in this respect entails a conscious awareness, and a volitional (willing) exercise of our heart/mind. The greatest form of knowledge is union, illustrated by the idea of knowing fire. One can know something about fire by hearing it described; then, one can know it better by actually seeing it and feeling its warmth; it can be known even further once a person is burnt by it; however, one cannot fully know fire until one is united with it, being completed consumed by fire.

It is through Christ’s presence that we are able to ‘see’ God’s image in this way; and his presence is realized through the Spirit. Our ‘seeing’ does not take place through the eyes (or any of the senses), but is spiritual. So also our union with Christ (the Son), and so ultimately with God (the Father), is realized through the Spirit. This Christological and mystical dimension of Paul’s spiritualism is well expressed here, at the climax of his expository discourse, in 3:17-18. First, he emphasizes that “the Lord is the Spirit,” meaning that God can only be experienced through the Spirit—which is also the Spirit of His Son Jesus (Gal 4:6). This is clarified through the declaration in verse 18, which concludes emphasizing that our transformation (vb metamorfo/w) into the image of God (in Christ), takes place through the same Spirit of God— “…just as from (the) Lord (the) Spirit.”