February 3: 2 Corinthians 3:17

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verse 16; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:17

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

The expository declaration by Paul in verse 17 builds upon the statement in v. 16 (cf. the previous note), by which the detail of the Moses tradition in Exod 34:34 is applied to believers in Christ. When a person turns to God—which, for Paul, means accepting the Gospel and trusting in Christ—the “covering” is removed from one’s mind and heart. In vv. 14-15, the veil over Moses’ face was applied to the Israelite/Jewish people as a whole, and to their inability (and/or unwillingness) to recognize the new covenant that is now in effect (replacing the old covenant) in the person of Jesus Christ. Now, in verse 16, while this interpretive aspect is maintained (that is, believing Israelites and Jews have the covering removed), Paul also reverts back to the motif of Moses’ visionary encounter with YHWH. The believer in Christ, in a sense, fulfills the figure-type of Moses.

And what is the nature of this visionary encounter for believers? Paul offers an explanation here in verse 17, when he declares that “the Lord is the Spirit” (o( ku/rio$ to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin). One is reminded of the Johannine statement made by Jesus (to the Samaritan woman) in John 4:24: “God is Spirit” (pneu=ma o( qeo/$). In my view, both the Pauline and Johannine lines of tradition reflect a fundamental spiritualism, though with rather different points of emphasis. Here, for Paul, the emphasis, and his reason for identifying “the Lord” with the Spirit, is twofold: (1) it builds upon the dualistic contrast between the old and new covenants which runs through the discourse, and (2) it makes clear that the believer’s encounter with God takes place in/through the Spirit.

It is difficult to say whether this encounter is to be understood as qualitatively different from Moses’ encounters with YHWH in the Tent. Since the same “Lord” (ku/rio$) is involved, probably we should understand both encounters as spiritual in nature—that is, encounters with God’s Spirit. The difference lies elsewhere, in two primary respects: (a) the effect of the believer’s encounter is permanent and abiding, and (b) it applies to every believer, not merely to chosen minister(s) like Moses. Both of these points will be developed by Paul in verse 18.

The second part of the declaration in verse 17 introduces the theme of freedom (e)leuqeri/a). This is somewhat unexpected, as it is a theme that Paul has not really dealt with in the discourse thus far. The context suggests that we should understand its introduction here in two ways:

First, the idea of freedom relates to the immediate context of Jewish believers having the Mosaic “covering” removed from their hearts and minds. When this occurs they are freed to recognize the truth and reality of the new covenant in Christ. Second, we should look to Paul’s use of the noun e)leuqeri/a (and the related verb e)leuqero/w) in Galatians and Romans. In Christ, and through the presence of the Spirit, believers are freed from bondage to the power of sin (and death), and, at the same time, freed from the binding authority of the Torah regulations of the old covenant. The emphasis on freedom from the Torah is, quite naturally, more prominent in Galatians (esp. 5:1ff, 14; also 2:4; 4:21-31), but is also part of the discussion in Romans (7:1-6; 8:2, etc). The broader soteriological aspect of freedom from sin and death is a fundamental component of the exposition in Romans (5:12-17ff; 6:6-10ff, 15-23; 8:21, etc). The complex relationship between the Law, sin, and death in Paul’s thought is expounded in chapter 7, in particular; note also the way that the two aspects of the bondage/freedom motif are joined together in 8:2ff.

Both in Romans and Galatians, this freedom for believers is specifically defined in terms of the abiding presence and power of the Spirit. The main passages are the climactic exposition in chapter 8 of Romans (beginning with the declaration in verse 2), and the ethical-religious instruction in chapter 5 of Galatians (especially vv. 16-25, which will be discussed in an upcoming article in this series). The centrality of the Spirit in this regard is also emphasized here in verse 17:

“and where [ou!] the Spirit of (the) Lord (is), (there is) freedom”

In other words, this freedom is realized when believers encounter and experience the Spirit of the Lord. This verse is seminal to an understanding of the spiritualism of Paul, and needs to be examined further (in the next daily note). Three specific points will be discussed:

    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

February 2: 2 Corinthians 3:16

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verses 14-15; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:16

Verse 16, continues the statement from verse 15 (cf. the previous note):

“…but whenever (anyone) should turn about (back) to (the) Lord, the covering is taken (from) around (him).”

The verb e)pistre/fw, “turn upon/about,” is often used, in the LXX and NT, in the specific ethical-religious sense of a person turning back (i.e., returning) to God, implying repentance and a renewed commitment to following Him; cf. Deut 4:30; Psalm 22:27; Isa 19:22; Luke 1:16; Acts 9:35; 14:15; 15:19; 26:20, etc. There is, of course, a certain ambiguity in an early Christian use of the noun ku/rio$ (“Lord”), since it can refer to both God (YHWH) and Jesus Christ, almost interchangeably. Normally, when he uses ku/rio$, Paul refers to Jesus, but the Old Testament setting of the discourse in vv. 7-18—the Moses tradition(s) in Exodus 34:29-35—increases the likelihood that ku/rio$ here (without the definite article) refers to God (YHWH). Even so, from Paul’s standpoint, turning to God meant accepting the Gospel and turning to Jesus, so both aspects of the term ku/rio$ in early Christianity need to be considered here.

The verb form e)pistre/yh| is subjunctive and singular, and refers to any time that an individual Israelite or Jew turns to God by accepting the Gospel of Jesus. Paul tended to begin his missionary work in a city or region by first speaking to Jews in the synagogue, and many of the churches that were established as a result of the apostolic mission contained a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers. This certainly was the case in major urban centers such as Ephesus and Rome, though less so in a thoroughly Greek city like Corinth. Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians especially emphasizes the theme of unity between Jewish and Gentile believers.

When a person accepts the Gospel, the “covering” (ka/lumma) is taken away from around him. Paul makes use of the relatively rare compound verb periaire/w, with the prefixed prepositional element peri– denoting the removal of something all around. The covering is removed from around the person’s mind and heart (vv. 14-15), allowing them to accept the Gospel and trust in Jesus. The passive of the verb should probably be understood as a divine passive (passivum divinum), in which God is the implied actor.

The associated tradition of the veil covering Moses’ face, in context, also means that the removal of the covering allows the believing Israelite or Jew to recognize that the old covenant has passed, having coming to its end (and fulfillment) in the person of Jesus. There is now a new covenant, which is no longer governed by the binding authority of the Torah regulations. This goes a step beyond simply recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, and there can be no doubt that Paul’s view of the Law, as expressed in his letters, has proven to be problematic for many Jewish Christians (and even non-Jewish Christians) down to the present day.

In verse 16, Paul may be giving a clever interpretive spin on Exodus 34:34, in which it is narrated how Moses would remove the covering from his face before going into the Tent to communicate with God. In the LXX, the same verb (periaire/w) is used; this verb is rare in the New Testament, and is used nowhere else by Paul, so it is likely that the wording derives from the LXX of Exod 34:34. This is significant, in light of what follows in vv. 17-18, as Paul is clearly drawing upon the similar idea of a direct visionary encounter, between believers and God, in the new covenant. It is to this that we shall turn in our next daily note.

February 1: 2 Corinthians 3:14-15

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verses 12-13; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:14-15

The ‘veil’ (ka/lumma) covering Moses’ face (cf. the previous note on vv. 12-13) finds its parallel in the hardening of the hearts and minds of the Israelite people:

“But their minds were hard(ened) as stone; for, until th(is) day today the same covering remains over the a)na/gnwsi$ of the old diaqh/kh, the covering not being (lift)ed up, that is made inactive in (the) Anointed” (v. 14)

The minds of the people of Israel, as a whole, were literally made “hard as stone” (vb pwro/w), a traditional metaphor, usually applied (as in v. 15) to a person’s heart (e.g., Exod 4:21; 14:17 et al; Deut 15:18; 1 Sam 6:6; Job 41:24; Prov 28:14; Isa 63:17, etc). Mind and heart refer equally to a person’s reasoning and ability (and willingness) to understand; Paul also uses the terms, specifically, in relation to acceptance of the Gospel and trust in Jesus, and certainly the same is intended here. Theological tradition alternates between attributing such hardening to a person’s own rebellious tendencies and the overriding power of God’s sovereignty. Early Christians famously applied the prophecy in Isaiah 6:9-10ff in a similar manner, as a way of explaining how so many Israelites and Jews could refuse to accept the Gospel of Jesus—cf. Mark 4:12 par; John 12:40; Acts 28:26-27 (Paul speaking), and see also Paul’s discussion in Romans 11:7-8ff.

The blindness/dullness of vision that comes from the veil (over Moses) is thus matched by the hardness of mind/heart that has come upon the people—and it is a hardness that has lasted, from Paul’s standpoint, “until [a&xri] this day today”. Both metaphors illustrate the inability (and/or unwillingness) of Israelites and Jews to trust in Jesus as God’s Anointed (Messiah). They continue to devote themselves to the old covenant, unaware that the old covenant (of Moses, Sinai, and the Torah) has come to an end in Jesus Christ. Paul makes the point more directly (and famously) in Romans 10:4, but there can be no doubt that he saying the same thing here in verse 14:

“the old covenant [palai/a diaqh/kh]…is made inactive [katargei=tai] in (the) Anointed”

The same verb (katarge/w), meaning “cease working,” i.e., be(come) inactive/ineffective, was used earlier in the passage—cf. the prior notes on vv. 7, 11, and 13. This the first (and only) time in the New Testament that the specific expression “old covenant” (palai/a diaqh/kh) is used, though it is, of course, implied by the expression “new covenant” (kainh/ diaqh/kh), as in verse 6. I have translated the adjective palaio/$ above as “old”, in order to preserve the contrast with the “new” covenant; however, the adjective properly denotes something in the past, at times also carrying the specific sense of being (or becoming) worn out. With the coming of Christ and the Gospel, the time of the old covenant has passed, and there is no question but that, in Paul’s mind, the new covenant replaces the old.

The noun a)na/gnwsi$, which I left untranslated above, derives from the verb a)naginw/skw (used in verse 15, cf. below), which literally means “know again” —or, if one treats the prefix a)na– as an emphatic/intensive element, it can denote “know accurately,” or something similar. It typically refers to knowing something through the reading (and hearing) of it. Thus, Paul is here referring to the public reading of the Scriptures (the Torah) in the synagogue. The motif is not limited to the Law (that is, the Torah regulations), but applies to the entirety of the Scriptures of the old covenant (i.e., the Old Testament). Probably the books of the Torah are specifically in mind; with Paul’s sense of irony, he may be envisioning the reading of the very Moses tradition (Exod 34:29-35) that involves the veil over Moses’ face. Even as this story is read, a veil covers the people of Israel, and, as a result, they are unable/unwilling to recognize that the old covenant as come to an end in Christ. Paul states this rather directly in verse 15:

“…but (even) until today, whenever Moshe is known again (through the reading of him), a covering [ka/lumma] lies stretched over their heart”

Here “Moses” is a comprehensive figure representing the Torah regulations, the books of the Torah (the Scriptures), and the old covenant as a whole. The verb kei=mai (“lay out, stretch [out]”) suggests that the covering upon Moses’ face is turned into a much larger garment, capable of encompassing many people.

This certainly reflects the experience of Paul (and other early Christians), that many, if not most, Israelites and Jews had rejected the Gospel, or had otherwise not (yet) come to trust in Jesus. There were, of course, a good number of Israelites and Jews who had accepted the Gospel—including Paul himself and many other Jewish Christians. Paul recognizes this and holds out hope that many more might yet come to believe, alluding to this in verse 16, which we will examine in the next daily note. On the Pauline expectation of a great end-time conversion of Israel, cf. my article on Romans 9-11 in the series “Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament”.

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.

January 26: 2 Corinthians 3:7-8

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verse 6; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:7-11

The declaration in verse 6b (discussed in the previous note) provides the springboard for the discourse that follows in verses 7-18. Paul embarks on an exposition, much in the Rabbinic style, drawing upon traditions associated with a specific Scripture passage (Exodus 34:29-35). This is typical of the early Christian use of Scripture, in a homiletic and expository setting, to support and confirm the truth of the Gospel. In this instance, Paul adopts this approach to expound upon his view of the apostolic ministry.

However, it is not at all clear just why Paul embarks on this expository discourse at this point. He could have made his point by following verse 6a with what he says in 4:1ff, without suffering any loss to his basic line of argument. What, then, prompted him to branch off onto the discourse of vv. 7-18? This will be considered further as we proceed with our exegesis.

Verses 7-8

“Now if the ministry of death in letters engraved on stones came to be in (such) esteem [do/ca], so as (for) the sons of Yisrael not to be able to (look) straining at the face of Moshe, through the splendor of his face th(at is) being made inactive [katargoume/nhn], how shall not (all the) more the ministry of the Spirit be in esteem [do/ca]?”

Verses 7-8 clearly develop the contrastive juxtaposition of old vs new covenant from v. 6—represented by the contrast of “letter” vs Spirit—including the additional contrast from v. 6b, of the “letter” that kills, and the Spirit that makes alive. Both points of contrast are combined here, with the complex expression “the service of death in letters having been engraved on stones. ” The idea of letters written on stone comes from the initial contrast in verse 3, establishing a contrastive dualism that runs through the entire discourse.

These verses also introduce two key elements of the discourse: (1) the verb katarge/w, and (2) the tradition of Moses’ face from Exod 34:29-35.

The verb katarge/w literally means “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render inactive, ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”, etc. I have translated it above as “make inactive,” but “make ineffective” might be more appropriate. This word is something of a special Pauline term; of the 27 NT occurrences, all but two are in the Pauline letters, being concentrated in the letters of 1 Corinthians (9), 2 Corinthians (4), Galatians (3) and Romans (6). All 4 occurrences in 2 Corinthians are in the passage we are considering (here in v. 7 and again in vv. 11, 13-14). Paul uses it here in reference to the idea of the annulment (and/or replacement) of the old covenant (and the Torah). 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.

In this section, Paul also takes a midrashic interpretive approach to Exodus 34:29-35, which describes Moses’ return from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets of the Covenant. In v. 29-30 it is narrated that the skin of Moses’ face shone with an aura, indicating that he had been in the presence of God and that YHWH had spoken with him. Once Moses communicated to the people what had been revealed to him, he put a veil or curtain/covering (hw#s=m^, LXX ka/lumma) over his face (v. 33); this was repeated each time Moses received communication in the presence of YHWH (vv. 34-35). I will be discussing Paul’s use of this tradition in more detail in my Saturday Series studies on 2 Corinthians 3.

Paul draws upon this narrative and uses it as a way to compare and contrast the old and new covenants, centered on the idea of “glory” (do/ca). In Greek, the word do/ca has the basic meaning of “what one thinks” about something, how it is considered or regarded, often in the (positive) sense of “reputation, renown, honor, esteem, dignity”, etc. It can also carry the more objective meaning “appearance”, including various visual phenomena, especially involving light, brightness, and so forth. It can be applied to God in both primary senses—(1) as the esteem and honor which is (to be) accorded to him, and (2) the brightness and visual phenomena which is manifested by his presence. Do/ca is frequently used to render dobK* (lit. “weight,” i.e., worth, value, and figuratively as “honor, esteem,” etc) in Hebrew, a word which has a similar semantic range, especially when associated with YHWH. I have translated it above as “esteem,” though the visual aspect of “splendor” would be just as appropriate, especially in the Scriptural context of the appearance of Moses’ face; typically the translation “glory” is used.

In 2 Cor 3:7-11, Paul makes use of a series of qal wa-homer arguments—a traditional (Jewish) principle of interpretation, which argues from the lesser to the greater: if something is true in this (lesser) case, then how much more is it to be so regarded in the (greater) case. According to this mode of argument (a fortiori), Paul is working from the basic assumption that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant which God established with Israel at Sinai.  This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

Of special significance is the the way that Paul summarizes the entirety of the Sinaitic covenant—the old covenant—by the term “death” (qa/nato$). This stems from the wording in v. 6b, with his statement that the “letter” kills, but it also functions as a shorthand for Paul’s distinctive, complex (and controversial) view regarding the nature and purpose of the Torah. This was discussed briefly in the previous note, and will be mentioned again as we continue through the passage; for a detailed study on the subject, consult my series on “Paul’s View of the Law”. On the relationship between the Law, sin, and death in Paul’s thought, read carefully Romans 5-7 (cf. the articles on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25), and note also in Gal 3:10-14, 19-22; 1 Cor 15:56.

Death, of course, being antithetical and opposed to life, means that, by implication, the old covenant (and the Torah) are essentially opposed to the Spirit. The consequences of this line of logic are startling, especially when we consider Paul’s statement in Romans 7:14 that the Law (that is, the Torah of the old covenant) is spiritual (pneumatiko/$). We will have occasion to give further consideration to this antithetical juxtaposition of the new covenant (of the Spirit) and the old covenant as we continue through this series of notes.

January 25: 2 Corinthians 3:6

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verses 4-6a; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:6

 Verse 6a was considered briefly in the previous note, as part of the discussion on vv. 4-5; indeed, v. 6a represents the second part of a statement that begins with verse 5, and should be presented as a single sentence:

“Not that from ourselves are we fit to count anything as (coming) out of ourselves, but (rather) our fitness (to serve comes) out of God, who indeed (has) made us fit (to be) servants of a new diaqh/kh, not of (the) letter, but of (the) Spirit”

Paul describes the (true) apostle as a servant (dia/kono$) of a “new covenant” (kainh/ diaqh/kh). The noun diaqh/kh literally means something “set/put through,” the action being expressed in English idiom as “putting (things) in order”, and can refer to a (last) will or testament, but also to any number of other kinds of agreements or arrangements made between parties. The word is used to translate Hebrew tyr!B=, which denotes a binding agreement, and is typically translated in English as “covenant”.

The idea of a “new covenant” between God and His people is part of a line of Prophetic tradition, from the exilic and post-exilic periods, expressed most clearly in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The concept developed in Jewish tradition, so that, by the 1st century B.C./A.D., the Qumran Community could use it as a self-designation, referring to themselves as the faithful ones of the end-time (cf. CD 6:19; 18:21; 19:33f; 20:12). Early Christians more or less adopted the concept in the same way, though with the distinctive and special connection to the person of Jesus. The Gospel tradition of Jesus’ words at the ‘Last Supper’ (Mark 14:24 par) certainly were highly influential on early Christian thought; Paul cites this tradition in 1 Cor 11:25, but never uses the actual expression “new covenant” elsewhere in his letters, apart from the passage here. Indeed, the expression only rarely occurs elsewhere in the New Testament (Hebrews 8:8; 9:15; cf. 12:24).

Paul is beginning to develop the dualistic contrast established in verse 3 (cf. the discussion in the prior note), now contrasting the old and new covenants, in terms of “the written (word/letter) [to\ gra/mma]” and “the Spirit [to\ pneu=ma]”. See how this contrast in made, twice, in vv. 1-3 and 4-6:

    • Commendatory letters for apostles—believers under their ministry
      • written in the heart
        • contrast with being written in tablets of stone (v. 3)
    • Confidence for apostles before God—ministers of a new covenant
      • of the Spirit
        • contrast with the written word (v. 6)

When examining verses 7-11, it will be necessary to consider just why Paul makes this connection here between his apostolic ministry and the old covenant established with Israel. For the time being, we should focus upon the formulation in verse 6, where, after identifying himself (and his colleagues) as “servants/ministers of a new covenant“, Paul adds:

“…not of (the) written (word), but of (the) Spirit; for the written (word) kills off, but the Spirit makes alive

The portion in bold represents verse 6b, a striking (and somewhat unexpected) addition to the statement made in vv. 5-6a. It is unexpected because nothing up to this point in the letter prepares us for it, but also because the main point Paul is making would come through just fine if he had followed v. 6a with 4:1ff. At first glance, not only v. 6b, but the entire discourse in vv. 7-18, seems unnecessary to his line of argument. In the next note, we will consider what may have prompted Paul to branch off onto this discourse.

To someone unfamiliar with Galatians and Romans, verse 6 would be a most surprising declaration, especially his statement that the “written (word) kills” —that is, the Law, specifically in its written form, brings death. Paul explains and expounds this idea in Romans 5-7 (note, in particular, Rom 7:7ff); even so, it must have been rather shocking to believers at the time—as it still is for many today. For the particular identification of the Law with the written word (gra/mma), see Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6, and note also Col 2:14. In Rom 2:27-29 and 7:6 there is the same contrast between the Spirit and the written word.

How are we to understand this stark distinction between the written word and the Spirit? On the surface, it would seem to raise question as to the authority and role of Scripture itself. But one must be cautious about proceeding in this direction; Paul is referring primarily to the written record of the Law (in the Pentateuch), which is also, secondarily, expounded and declared in the Prophets (and Psalms)—this accords squarely with Jewish and early Christian tradition. It is noteworthy how rarely Paul cites the Old Testament Scriptures for the purpose of instruction; his usage is limited mainly to (prophetic) support of the Gospel—and his particular exposition and application of the Gospel.I have discussed the subject in recent studies on the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura in the “Reformation Fridays” feature on this site.

To this must be added Paul’s remarkable teaching regarding the fundamental purpose of the Law—which is to bring knowledge and awareness of sin (Rom 3:20); that is to say, it makes fully manifest the reality that human beings are enslaved under the power of sin (Gal 3:19ff, also Rom 7:7ff). Without a recognition of God’s saving work in Christ, even those scrupulously observing the commands of the Law (and studying Scripture) remain fully in bondage under sin. In this sense, the Law leads to death, not life (Rom 7:9-11ff). This Paul will explain again in more detail, continuing with verses 7-11, which I will discuss in the next daily note.

January 24: 2 Corinthians 3:4-6a

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verses 2-3; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:4-6a

“And such (is the) assurance we hold through the Anointed toward God.” (v. 4)

The conjunction de/ relates verse 4 to vv. 1-3 (see the discussion in the previous note). Thus, when he speaks of “such assurance” (pepoi/qhsi$ toiau/th$), Paul is referring to the commendatory ‘letters’ he and his fellow missionaries possess, written upon their hearts by the Spirit of God. Indeed, it is a letter sent out (e)pistolh/) that belongs to Jesus Christ himself. Paul carries this ‘letter’ wherever he goes, as an apostolic missionary, a servant of Christ.

The noun pepoi/qhsi$, derived from the perfect form of the verb pei/qw (“persuade”), occurs only in Paul’s letters in the New Testament, including three more times in 2 Corinthians—1:15; 8:22; 10:2; also Phil 3:4 and Eph 3:12. The verb can carry the more general sense of “trust, rely (upon),” and the noun essentially denotes “assurance, confidence”. The polemic (and apologetic) use of the noun in 10:2 is significant, since it relates to Paul’s status as an apostle, in which he defends himself against claims that he has been “walking according to the flesh”. Instead, Paul has confidence that he has conducted himself in a manner worthy of a true apostle. A similar association with the “flesh” (sa/rc) in Philippians 3:4 would seem to confirm that Paul’s apostolic rivals at Corinth (or those who were influencing the Corinthian believers) were Jewish Christians (cf. 11:22). The polemic in chapters 10-13 is in many ways similar to that of Galatians, and this may help to explain why Paul suddenly embarks on the discourse in 3:6b-18.

As a true apostle, Paul’s assurance/confidence is “toward God” (pro\$ to\n qeo/n); he holds this assurance, not through his own merit, but “through the Anointed” (dia\ xristou=). It was Christ who commissioned and “sent forth” (root meaning of the verb a)poste/llw) Paul as an apostle, equipping him to communicate the Gospel by the presence and power of the Spirit. Believers who responded to the Gospel came to possess the same Spirit, uniting them with Paul; indeed, Paul’s status as a founding apostolic missionary gives a special aspect to that spiritual bond. This is the point he makes in vv. 2-3, and underlies the entire argument of chapters 1-7.

“Not that from ourselves are we fit to count anything as (coming) out of ourselves, but (rather) our fitness (to serve comes) out of God…” (v. 5)

Paul makes clear a point elucidated above—namely, that the assurance he holds as a true apostle (before God) come through Christ, which means that ultimately God Himself is the source. The key term here in verse 5 is the adjective i(kano/$, from the verb i(kne/omai, which essentially means “come to a (particular) place (or point).” It can be used in the general sense of “reaching the proper point,” e.g., in one’s ability, or when something should be done, etc.

The adjective i(kano/$ is common in the Gospels and Acts, but rare in the rest of the New Testament—occurring just six times, but all in the Pauline letters, five of which are in 1 and 2 Corinthians (1 Cor 11:30; 15:9; 2 Cor 2:6, 16). The earlier occurrence in 2:16 is most relevant, since it relates specifically to the question of who is “fit” (or “competent,” “worthy”) to be an apostle, communicating the Gospel message that leads to life (for those who accept it) and death (for those who do not). Here, Paul essentially answers his earlier question: the true apostle is not fit/worthy of the position through his/her own abilities, etc, but through the power of God’s Spirit.

The related noun i(kano/th$ (“fitness, worthiness, ability”) occurs nowhere else in either the New Testament or LXX. It represents an abstraction of the fundamental idea conveyed by the adjective, the noun being more appropriate to indicate something that is given to the believer from God.

Paul’s statement continues in verse 6:

“…who indeed (has) made us fit (to be) servants of a new diaqh/kh, not of (the) letter, but of (the) Spirit”

The verb translated “made fit” is i(kano/w, related of course to the adjective i(kano/$ and noun i(kano/th$ in v. 4. How was Paul “made fit” by God? It can only be through the Spirit given to him, from which he was specially gifted to proclaim the Gospel and function as an apostolic missionary. Only a Spirit-gifted minister could serve to administer a “new covenant,” based on the Spirit.

Here, then, Paul is beginning to develop the dualism introduced in verse 3, contrasting the “letter” with the Spirit. As I noted, this is fundamental to the spiritualism of Paul. For this reason, it is necessary to discuss verse 6 in a bit more detail, which we will do in the next daily note.

January 23: 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

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

2 Corinthians 3:1-6

Verses 2-3

You are our (letter) sent out, having been written on our hearts—being known, and being known again (through reading), by all men, being made to shine (forth) that you are (the letter) of (the) Anointed sent out, (hav)ing been served under [i.e. by] us—having been written, not with black (ink), but with (the) Spirit of (the) living God, (and) not on (the) flat surfaces of stones, but on (the) flat surfaces of fleshy hearts.”

Paul prepares the way for his 2 Corinthinans 3 discourse with this statement in verses 2-3. It is a relatively complex sentence, as the translation above indicates, and the syntax of which I outline below.

The theme in verse 1-6 involves “letters of commendation”; the word sustatiko/$ is derived from suni/sthmi/sunista/w (“stand [together] with”), in the sense of placing things together (and presenting them) in front of someone. As a technical term, it came to be applied to letters a person carried, introducing him/her to another group or in a place where he/she was not known. In the ancient world, which lacked modern-day high-speed communication, such practice was necessary to establish a person’s identity and credentials; it also could serve as a source of authority and legitimacy.

Naturally enough, the more impressive or prestigious the letter of recommendation, the more influence it provided; even today, the right letter of recommendation still carries tremendous weight for prospective employers, and so forth. It is possible that Paul’s opponents included visiting “apostles” who possessed such letters and credentials.

In vv. 1-6, he argues that neither he nor his colleagues require written letters recommending them to the believers of Corinth (v. 1), since they are already well known—that is to say, this written authentication is already there in the hearts of the believers, having been written by the very Spirit of God (v. 3). He is referring primarily to the work of preaching the Gospel, which the Corinthian believers accepted; as a result they themselves become “the epistle of Christ”, under the service/ministry of Paul and his fellow missionaries.

It is important to understand the reference to the Spirit in verse 3 within the context of vv. 1-6 as a whole. Let us begin, in particular, with the immediate context of the sentence in vv. 2-3. I would outline the syntax of this sentence as follows:

    • “You are our e)pistolh/
      • having been written [e)ggegramme/nh] on our hearts
        • being known [ginwskome/nh]
          and being known again [a)naginwsokme/nh]
          by all men
        • being made to shine forth [fanerou/menoi]
          • that you are the e)pistolh/ of Christ
            having been administered by us
      • having been written [e)ggegramme/nh]
        • not with black ink,
          but with the Spirit of the living God
        • not on tablets of stone,
          but on tablets of fleshy hearts.”

The structure is governed by repeated use of passive participles, modifying the subject u(mei$ (“you” [plural]) and the corresponding predicate noun of the main declaration, e)pistolh/ (singular). The passive participles here (for the most part) agree with the noun e)pistolh/ (feminine singular), which designates a letter “sent upon [i.e. to]” (vb e)piste/llw) someone. Often, this noun is simply transliterated in English as “epistle” (epistol¢¡).

At the first level, the two main modifying participles are the two occurrences of e)ggegramme/nh (perfect passive particple of the verb gra/fw, “write”), which characterizes the letter (e)pistolh/), naturally enough, as “having been written”. The first participial clause is: “having been written on our hearts” (e)ggegramme/nh e)n tai=$ kardi/ai$ h(mw=n). The parallel in the second participial clause is: “having been written…on tablets of hearts of flesh” (e)ggegramme/nhe)n pla/cin kardi/ai$ sarki/nai$).

In between these two clauses, at a secondary (subordinate) level, the subject is further modified by the passive participles:

    • ginwskome/nh (“being known”)
      / a)naginwskome/nh (“being known again”)
    • fanerou/menoi (“being made to shine forth”)

What has been written is “made known” (ginw/skw); the compound verb a)naginw/skw (“made known again”) is added by Paul to convey the idea of something being made known by reading. The verb a)naginw/skw essentially means “read” —that is, to know something again, by reading it (and re-reading it) in written form. People everywhere are able to ‘read’ the letter, as Paul and his fellow missionaries travel about, since the ‘letter’ is written in their hearts.

What has been written is further made to “shine forth” (fanero/w)—that is, its meaning and significance is made known. It becomes apparent to everyone who ‘reads’ this ‘letter’ that Paul and his fellow missionaries are simply servants administering (i.e., carrying/transmitting) the letter. In fact, the letter belongs to their master, Jesus Christ—it is an e)pistolh\ Xristou=, a letter “of (the) Anointed (One)”.

This brings us to the second (and final) participial clause, involving the main participle e)ggegramme/nh (“having been written”). Here, Paul expounds the relatively simple idea of a letter “written on the heart” by way of a dualistic contrast:

    • “not with black (ink)” (ou) mela/ni)
    • “but with (the) Spirit…” (a)lla\ pneu=mati…)

A normal physical/material letter (written with ink on paper, etc) is contrasted with a spiritual letter. This basic contrast reflects the essential spiritualism of Paul, and we gain a rather clear sense of its power and place in his thought by the way that he so quickly leaps to the profound and inspired (in every sense) discourse that follows in the remainder of chapter 3.

The full expression “…(the) Spirit of (the) living God” requires comment. The language is rooted in Old Testament tradition (e.g., Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 1 Sam 17:26, 36; 2 Kings 19:4, 6; Psalm 42:3; 84:3; Isa 37:4, 17; Hos 2:1 [1:10]), as rendered in the Greek of the LXX, and occurs elsewhere in the New Testament, either with the definite articles (Matt 16:16; 26:63; Rev 15:7) or without (Acts 14:15; Heb 3:12; 9:14; 10:31; 12:22; Rev 7:2). For other occurrences in the Pauline letters, see 1 Thess 1:9; 2 Cor 6:16; Rom 9:26; and also 1 Tim 3:15; 4:10. Cf. Furnish, p. 182.

Paul’s use of the expression has particular significance here, as he is emphasizing two important aspects of the Spirit: (1) it is the Spirit of God, and (2) it is living (and life-giving). The first point may be obvious, but it reflects a fundamental premise of Christian spiritualism that is often overlooked: by possessing the Holy Spirit, believers in Christ have direct access to the abiding presence of God’s very Spirit. The second point is more immediately relevant to Paul’s discussion, since it anticipates his contrast in verse 6 between the letter that kills (i.e., brings death) and the Spirit that gives life (lit. makes [a]live, vb zwopoie/w).

The parallel contrast that Paul makes, at the close of verse 3, is just as important as the first contrast (between ordinary ink and the Spirit):

    • “not on tablets of stone” (ou)k e)n placi\n liqi/nai$)
    • “but on tablets of fleshy hearts” (ou)k e)n placi\n kardi/ai$ sarki/nai$)

The use of the adjective sa/rkino$ (“of flesh, fleshy”) is somewhat surprising, given Paul’s dualistic contrast elsewhere in his letters between the Spirit and the flesh (sa/rc). This can be explained, in part, from that fact that, once again here, he is drawing upon Old Testament tradition—cf. Ezek 11:19 and 36:26 (see also Jer 31:33), contrasting a “heart of stone” with the “heart of flesh” that Israel will possess in the New Age (of the ‘new covenant’). In that line of Prophetic tradition, the New Age of Israel’s restoration is characterized by the special presence of God’s Spirit on His people.

Even so, we might expect that an immaterial, spiritual aspect of the human “heart” (kardi/a) would be emphasized here. Instead, God writes with His Spirit upon a heart of flesh. This is distinctive of the early Christian understanding of the relationship of the Spirit to the believer. As a human being, the believer possesses the Spirit within a body of flesh. Paul took a special interest in this seeming paradox, and develops the idea, expounding it at a number of points in his letters. Some of these passages will be discussed in upcoming articles and notes in this series.

Our exegesis will continue, in the next daily note on verses 4-5.

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

January 21: 1 Corinthians 3:1-3

[This series of notes, on 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, is part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. The previous note dealt with 2:16; and see the initial note with links to earlier notes covering 1:18-2:6; cf. also the main article.]

1 Corinthians 3:1-3

Before concluding this series of daily notes (focusing on 1 Corinthians 2:10-15), it is necessary to study briefly the opening of the section which follows (3:1-4:21), in which Paul applies the arguments of 1:18ff more directly to the situation at Corinth. To begin with, the parallel between 2:6 and 3:1 is unmistakable, and must be noted:

“And we speak wisdom among the (one)s (who are) complete…” (2:6)
“And I was not able to speak to you as (one)s with the Spirit…” (3:1)

This allows us to supplement the earlier conclusions regarding a proper interpretation of 2:6a more precisely: the ones who are “complete” essentially = the ones who “have the Spirit”. However, the distinction in 2:6-16 was between those who have the Spirit and those who have (only) the soul/spirit of a human being—the contrast of the adjectives pneumatiko/$ and yuxiko/$ being that of believer vs. non-believer. Here in 3:1ff, on the other hand, Paul is speaking directly to believers, which means that he now gives a somewhat different nuance to the adjective pneumatiko/$ (“spiritual”). To the basic sense of “one who has (received) the Spirit”, we must add the connotation of “one who thinks/acts according to the Spirit“. This is confirmed by Paul’s use of the more familiar contrast between “Spirit” and “flesh”, with its strong moral/ethical implication. The Corinthian believers are not living out (i.e. thinking and acting according to) their identity as believers who have the Spirit. We can capture this through a careful translation of v. 1:

“And I, brothers, was not able to speak to you as (one)s of the Spirit [pneumatikoi/], but (rather) as (one)s (still) of the flesh [sarki/noi], as infants in (the) Anointed {Christ}.”

This “fleshly” manner of thinking/acting is marked by the very divisions (“rips/tears”) in the Community mentioned in 1:10ff, along with jealously, quarreling and partisan/sectarian identity (“of Paul”, “of Apollos”, etc). Paul actually makes use of two related adjectives:

    • sa/rkiko$ (sárkikos)—generally belonging to, or characterized by, the flesh (sa/rc)
    • sa/rkino$ (sárkinos)—more specifically, something made of, or constituted by, the flesh

The second of these is used initially in v. 1, followed by the first (twice) in v. 3. The adjective sa/rkino$ (sárkinos) carries the more neutral sense of a physical human being (i.e. made of flesh). It is used by Paul, somewhat metaphorically, in 2 Cor 3:3, while in Rom 7:14 it preserves the moral/ethical sense of the spirit vs. flesh distinction; the only other NT occurrence is in Heb 7:16. The adjective sa/rkiko$ (sárkikos) is a bit more common, used by Paul in 1 Cor 9:11; 2 Cor 1:12; 10:4 and Rom 15:27; the only non-Pauline occurrence in the NT is 1 Pet 2:11. It is likely that the specific use of sa/rkino$ in 3:1 is due to the earlier usage of the adjective yuxiko/$ (psychikós) in 2:14. There would seem to be a progression of terms involved, which narrows the focus of Paul’s discussion:

    • yuxiko/$ (2:14)—one who has the inner life-breath (“soul”) of a human being, but has not received the Spirit of God
    • sa/rkino$ (3:1)—a human being who is “made of flesh”, i.e. in his/her physical and sensual aspect
    • sa/rkiko$ (3:3)—a person who thinks/acts “according to the flesh” —that is, fundamentally in a sinful, selfish or “immature” manner

The progression involves a kind of natural and logical consequence:

    • The person without the Spirit is merely a human being, and is not able to be guided by the power and direction of the Spirit
    • He/she is left to be guided by his/her own natural impulses and inclinations, which tend to be dominated by physical and sensual concerns
    • As a result, the person tends to act, and ultimately think, in a selfish and sinful manner

This again allows us to refine a basic conclusion regarding Paul’s terminology in 2:6a: the ones who are “complete” are defined, in a negative sense by the opposite—those who think and act in a “fleshly” manner are “incomplete”.

January 20: 1 Corinthians 2:16 (cont.)

[This series of notes, on 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, is part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. See the initial note with links to earlier notes covering 1:18-2:6; cf. also the main article.]

1 Corinthians 2:16

In yesterday’s note, I looked at the first part of this verse, the citation from Isa 40:13 (LXX); today I will examine the second part, with Paul’s concluding declaration:

“…and (yet) we hold the mind of (the) Anointed {Christ}”

There are four components to this statement, beginning with the (emphatic) pronoun h(mei=$ (“we”), to be discussed below. The remaining three elements are:

    • de/ (“and/but”)—a conjunctive particle with an adversative sense, establishing a contrast with what is stated in the quotation of Isa 40:13. There the rhetorical question (“who knows/knew the mind of God?”) carries the obvious (implied) answer of “no one”. For the relation of the context of Isa 40:12-13 with 1 Cor 2:10ff, cf. my discussion in the previous note. Paul’s declaration may be (re)formulated as: “Of course, no one knows (or can have known) the mind of the Lord (God) Himself, and yet we do hold the mind of the Lord (Christ)!”
    • nou=$ xristou= (“[the] mind of [the] Anointed”)—as I indicated in the prior note, many witnesses read “mind of [the] Lord [kuri/ou]”; if original, then Paul is certainly making use of the wordplay involving ku/rio$, which can be understood as “the Lord (YHWH)” or “the Lord (Jesus Christ)”, interchangeably, by early Christians. The expression “mind of Christ” does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament (nor “mind of Jesus”, or anything similar). Perhaps the closest we come is in Philippians 2:5:
      “This (work)ing of (the) mind must (be) in you which also (was) in (the) Anointed Yeshua {Jesus Christ}”;
      though here Paul uses the verb frone/w rather than the noun nou=$. For more on this verse, cf. below. There are a number of points of contact between 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 and Romans 7-8, especially 8:26-27, which has the parallel expression “mind [fro/nhma] of the Spirit”.
    • e&xomen (“we hold”)—the verb e&xw is often translated more generally as “have”, i.e. “hold (in one’s possession)”; however, here it seems useful to retain the more concrete and fundamental sense of holding something. This preserves contact with the basic context of Isa 40:12-13, with its concept of measuring—it is impossible to contain the Spirit/Mind of the Lord in a measuring-vessel, etc, and yet we hold the mind of the Lord (Christ) within (and among) us. That this occurs through the presence and work of the Spirit is confirmed both by the overall context of 1 Cor 2:10ff as well as the parallel expressions mentioned above:
      • “the mind [nou=$] of Christ” (v. 16)
      • “the working of (the) mind [frone/w]…which was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5)
      • “the mind [fro/nhma] of the Spirit” (Rom 8:27)

Paul’s argument in Phil 2:1-5ff is similar to 1 Cor 1:18-2:16, in several important respects:

Finally, something must be said regarding the use of the pronoun “we” (h(mei=$) in v. 16. Often there is a certain ambiguity regarding Paul’s use of the 1st person plural in his letters; it can be understood three ways:

    • As a (rhetorical) reference to Paul himself, essentially = “I”
    • As a (collective) reference to Paul and his fellow ministers
    • Collectively, and generally, of (all) believers

So, when Paul says “we have the mind of Christ”, he could be saying:

    • I have the mind of Christ” (cf. 7:40, etc), in which case it brings us back to the start of his argument and the autobiographical aspect of 1:14-17; 2:1-5
    • “We (the inspired apostles, etc) have the mind of Christ”, which generally fits the context of 2:1-7 and 3:4ff
    • “We (all believers) have the mind of Christ”

The overall emphasis of 1:18-4:21, in my view, decisively favors the latter interpretation. Recall that the initial emphasis in the narratio (1:11-17) was that believers should not be relying on the status and gifts/abilities of prominent ministers (such as Paul and Apollos, etc), but should rather be trusting in (a) Christ and the message of the Gospel, and (b) the presence and work of the Spirit—these two being closely connected. What follows in 3:1 only confirms this view, as Paul laments the fact that is not able to speak to the Corinthians as ones who are “complete” (2:6)—they are not thinking and acting according to their true identity (in Christ), as those who are “spiritual” (i.e. who have the Spirit).

However, it is possible that there is a progression or development in 2:1-16, which I would chart as follows:

    • “I came to you” (vv. 1-5)—Paul himself, as the founding apostle, proclaiming the Gospel message (“the secret of God”)
    • “We speak…” (vv. 6-9)—Paul and his fellow ministers, those who first preached the Gospel among the Corinthians and worked to establish congregations, etc
    • “To us…revealed…” (vv. 10-12)—transitional, emphasizing the work of God and the giving of the Spirit to believers
    • “We speak these things…” (vv. 13-15)—Believers as ministers, those gifted to speak and interpret the “deep things of God”, especially apostles, prophets and teachers, etc
    • “We hold the mind of God” (v. 16)—All believers, united with Christ, who have received the Spirit of God (and Christ)

The progression is from the (initial) proclamation of the Gospel of Christ (vv. 1-2) to the unity of believers in Christ (v. 16). This point will be touched on further in the next daily note.