August 2: John 6:63 (2)

John 6:63, continued

This set of notes is examining the saying of Jesus in John 6:63, from a Christological standpoint—that is, in terms of the Johannine Christology, as expressed (primarily) in the Gospel. This Christological aspect is largely established by the immediate context of the verse—particularly, the words of Jesus in vv. 61-62. However, in order to understand the significance of the Son of Man saying in v. 62, we must first examine the earlier parallel in 3:13. Here again I give vv. 12-15 in translation (cf. the previous note):

“If I told you (about) the (thing)s on earth, and you do not trust, how (then), if should tell you (about) the (thing)s above (the) heavens, will you trust? (For) indeed, no one has stepped up into heaven, if not the (one hav)ing stepped down out of heaven—the Son of Man. And, just as Moshe lifted high the snake in the desolate (land), so it is necessary (for) the Son of Man to be lifted high, (so) that every (one) trusting in him should hold (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e., eternal life].”

There are several points of emphasis here that are clearly relevant to the context of 6:62f, and form distinct parallels in terms of the Johannine theology and mode of expression. Let us consider each of these.

1. Jesus’ self-identification as the Son of Man. Throughout the Gospel Tradition, Jesus frequently refers to himself as “the Son of Man” (o( ui(o\$ tou= a)nqrw/pou), or identifies himself with that expression. In a number of the Son of Man sayings, the expression designates a heavenly figure, who functions as God’s chosen representative (in an eschatological setting), drawing upon a line of (Jewish) tradition based on Daniel 7:13-14. For more on this background, cf. Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed,” and the supplemental study on Dan 7:13-14 in relation to the Son of Man sayings. In other sayings, Jesus uses the expression in reference to his suffering and death. Both of these aspects are present in the Johannine sayings, including here in 3:13ff.

2. The use of a)nabai/nw/katabai/nw, in connection with the Son of Man figure. The Gospel of John regularly uses the common verbs a)nabai/nw (“step up”, i.e. come/go up) and katabai/nw (“step down,” i.e. come/go down) in a distinctive theological (and Christological) sense. The verb a)nabai/nw refers (or alludes) to the incarnation and mission of the Son—his “stepping down” to earth; similarly, the verb katabai/nw refers to the completion of his mission, and to his exaltation (“stepping up”) and return to the Father. Both verbs occur in the first Johannine Son of Man saying (1:51), and also here in 3:13ff. From a Christological standpoint, both verbs signify the heavenly origin of Jesus—as the Divine/eternal Son, sent to earth by God the Father. The use of the expression “Son of Man” conveys this aspect in traditional (eschatological and Messianic) language (cf. above).

3. Association with Moses traditions—fulfillment of the Moses figure-type. The context of 3:13 and 6:62, in each case, entails the application of ancient Moses-traditions to the person of Jesus. In 3:13ff, it is the ‘bronze serpent’ tradition (Num 21:9), while 6:62 (in its literary setting) is connected with the manna tradition(s) (Exod 16; Num 11:7-9; Deut 8:3ff), by way of the phrase “bread out of heaven” (6:31ff; Psalm 78:24-25; 105:40; Neh 9:15, 20). In each instance, the traditional motif and symbolism is applied to the person (and work) of Jesus, as the fulfillment of a type. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is associated, in a comparative way, with Moses (3:14; 6:32), indicating how he, as the true fulfillment of the figure-type, far surpasses Moses himself—cf. 1:17; 5:45-46; 7:19ff; 9:28-29. There are numerous other allusions, developing this same theme (comparing Jesus with Moses and/or the Torah); beyond this, the very conception of Jesus as the Messiah, in the Gospel of John, seems to be centered (primarily) on the Messianic Prophet figure-types (including Moses as “the Prophet” who is to come)—1:21, 25; 4:25ff; 6:14; 7:40; cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

4. Jesus’ fulfillment of the Tradition has the ultimate purpose of producing trust in him (leading to eternal life). This is clearly stated in 3:15 (continuing in vv. 16ff), and is equally prominent in the Bread of Life Discourse (6:27, 33, 35, 40, 47f, 51ff, 57-58), leading up to vv. 62-63 (cf. also v. 68).

With these important parallels in mind, let us turn to 6:62. We must keep in view the immediate context; in response to Jesus’ teaching (in the Discourse), some of his disciples declared: “This word [lo/go$] is hard—who is able to hear it?” (v. 60). The adjective sklhro/$ is typically translated “hard”, but fundamentally means “dry” (vb ske/llw, “be[come] dry”). The basic connotation is of the harshness of dry ground, etc; here, in the context of the Moses/Exodus traditions (cf. above), it almost certainly alludes to Israel’s experience during the desert/wilderness journey, when the people grumbled (for lack of food and water, etc). Indeed, this allusion would seem to be confirmed by the use of the verb goggu/zw (“murmur, mutter,” often in the sense of complaining, i.e., “grumble”); cf. LXX Exod 16:7; Num 11:1; 14:27, etc:

“And Yeshua, having seen [i.e. known] (with)in himself that his learners [i.e. disciples] were muttering [goggu/zousin] about this, said to them: ‘Does this trip you up?'” (v. 61)

The verb skandali/zw is a bit difficult to translate in English; it essentially refers to a person falling into a trap (or snare, ska/ndalon), with the verb skandali/zw denoting the cause of falling. It is typically used in a generalized and figurative sense for anything that can ‘trip up’ a person. In the New Testament, it occurs almost exclusively (26 of 29 occurrences) in the Gospel sayings/teaching of Jesus—in the Gospel of John, only here and in 16:1; for use outside of the Gospels, see 1 Cor 8:13; 2 Cor 11:29.

What is it that “trips up” (skandali/zei) the disciples? In the literary context (of the Bread of Life Discourse), it can only be Jesus’ teaching identifying himself with the “bread from heaven” (cf. the discussion in the previous note). Two aspects of this identification would have been particularly problematic: (1) the implication that Jesus has come down (vb katabai/nw) from heaven, and thus has a heavenly origin; and (2) that, as the true bread, it is necessary for a person to eat Jesus. On the latter point, Jesus clearly, in the Discourse, explains this in terms of trusting in him; even so, it would have been difficult for people at the time to have understood this application of the idiom. Even more provocative is the eucharistic language in vv. 51-58, which further elaborates the problematic idea of eating Jesus (as bread) in terms of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. When viewed from the standpoint of the original historical context—i.e., teaching Jesus would have given to his disciples and others at the time (see v. 59)—this would have made no immediate sense whatsoever. The thought of consuming a person’s flesh and blood would, indeed, have struck many in the audience as harsh (and offensive).

One can certainly sympathize with the disciples’ response. Jesus’ own response, in turn, is seemingly ambiguous and enigmatic:

“(And) if, then, you should observe the Son of Man stepping up (to) where he was at first…?” (v. 62)

This curious question will be examined in the next daily note.

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)

Saturday Series: 2 Corinthians 3:7-11

In continuing our contextual study of 2 Corinthians 3:18, we now turn to the beginning of the discourse that covers vv. 7-18. As previously noted (see last week’s study), the principal line of argument Paul is making would have come through clearly enough if he had followed v. 6a with 4:1ff. We shall consider just why Paul branches off with the discourse of vv. 7-18, what may have prompted him to develop his argument with such an expository flair.

The passage Paul expounds, the Scriptural tradition which he takes up, is found in Exodus 34:29-35.

2 Corinthians 3:7-11  

In this section, Paul 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 (masweh, LXX kálymma) over his face (v. 33); this was repeated each time Moses received communication in the presence of YHWH (vv. 34-35). 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” (dóxa).

In Greek, the word dóxa 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. Dóca is frequently used to render k¹»œ¼ (lit. “weight”) in Hebrew, a word which has a similar semantic range, especially when associated with YHWH.

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. The first two arguments (in vv. 7-9) involve the diakonía (“service, ministry”), that is, the administration of the covenant—in the case of the old covenant this began with Moses (and Aaron) and continued through the established priesthood and ritual apparatus (Temple, sacrificial offerings, purity regulations, etc), as well as through teaching and tradition. Note the contrast:

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

The characterization of the old covenant as “the ministry of death” is striking; for the uniquely Pauline view on the relationship between the Law, sin and death, read carefully Romans 5-7 (cf. the articles on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”), and note also in Gal 3:10-14, 19-22; 1 Cor 15:56.

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

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

Similarly, in verse 9:

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

Paul’s use of Exodus 34:29-35

How does Paul interpret and apply the Moses tradition in Exodus 34:29-35? The particular passage Paul expounds must be understood from the standpoint of its context in the book of Exodus.

The Background of the Tradition

The core of the book involves the establishment of the covenant, between YHWH and the people of Israel, which took place in the vicinity of Mount Sinai. In chapters 19-32, the covenant is established, and then is abrogated, when the people blatantly violate the terms of the agreement during the Golden Calf episode:

    • YHWH manifests Himself directly to the people, appearing through a storm-theophany, speaking the “ten words” (ten commandments) which form the basis for the Torah regulations—19:1-20:17
    • The people are overwhelmed and call on Moses to act as their (prophetic) representative; YHWH then manifests Himself to the people, through the mediation of Moses, and speaks further Torah, which comprise the terms of the covenant that Israel is obligated to follow—20:18-23:33
    • The covenant between YHWH and the people is ratified, through a rite (involving a sacrificial offering and ritual meal) on Mount Sinai; YHWH appears in glory before the representatives of the people—24:1-11
    • Again Moses ascends the mountain, where YHWH speaks to him the remainder of the Torah (the ceremonial/ritual regulations)—24:12-31:17
    • Moses receives the two tablets, written with the finger of God—31:18
    • The Golden Calf episode—Israel violates the covenant, Moses breaks the tablets (symbolizes the abrogation/annulment of the covenant), and the people are punished—32:1-35

Chapters 33-34 must be read in light of this narrative. Once the covenant is broken, Israel ceases to be YHWH’s people and He declares His intention to abandon them (33:1-6). It is only through Moses’ intercession (vv. 12-16), speaking with YHWH (as the people’s representative) directly in the Tent of Meeting (vv. 7-11), that the relationship is restored, and the covenant re-established.

In chapters 32-34, there are three primary themes, or motifs, all of which are prominent in chap. 32:

    • The role of Moses as leader and representative of the people before YHWH
    • The identity of Israel as the people of YHWH, and
    • The violation and invalidation of the binding agreement (covenant) between YHWH and His people

These same themes are developed in the narrative in chapters 33-34, focusing on Moses’ unique role as mediator (between YHWH and the people). With the dissolution of the covenant agreement, as narrated in chap. 32, a new situation maintains, which is indicated at the beginning of chap. 33 (verses 1-6). This may be summarized as follows:

    • Israel was God’s people
    • With the invalidation of the covenant, they are no longer treated as His people; indeed, it is God’s intention to establish a new covenant, with Moses (32:10)
    • Through Moses’ intercession there is a partial restoration (vv. 11-14)

At the start of chapter 33, Israel is still not regarded as God’s people. Note the language YHWH uses in speaking to Moses in verse 1:

“Go, go up from this (place), you and the people which you brought up from the land of Egypt…”

It is Moses, not YHWH, who “brought up” the people from Egypt. This almost certainly reflects the violation of the covenant, as echoed in the wording of 32:1. In place of Moses, the people seek for a different sort of tangible indication of God’s presence—namely, the Golden calf:

“Stand (up and) make for us God(s) which will go before us; for, see, this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has come to be for him [i.e. what has happened to him]!”

This wording is repeated in the exclamation at the creation of the Golden Calf: “These are your Gods, (O) Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (v. 4). Even so, there has been a partial restoration of the covenant; certainly, YHWH will honor the agreement established with Abraham, regarding the promised Land (33:1-3a, see Gen 15). However, He will not travel or reside in the midst of the people (vv. 3b, 5), a detail which would otherwise be fundamental to the identity of Israel as His people (and He as their God).

A detail often neglected by commentators is that the Tent described in vv. 7-11 is set up outside the camp. While it is possible that, originally, this was a neutral indication of the tent’s location (note the wording in v. 7), in the context of the narrative, it can only mean that YHWH is forced to meet with Moses away from the people, since he can no longer reside among them due to their violation of the covenant. This serves to deepen Moses’ role as the people’s representative before God. The encounter on Sinai, which took place in the general vicinity of the people at large, now becomes an entirely private event. The same dark cloud, which indicated the presence of YHWH at the top of Mt. Sinai, now descends, in less dramatic form, to appear at the entrance of the Tent, where God would meet/speak with Moses. Even though the people could still see the tent, and the cloud, they were cut off from the event (this is true even of Joshua, though he was within the tent itself, v. 11).

In verses 12-23, following the setting established by the tradition in vv. 7-11, Moses intercedes again for the people (vv. 12-13). YHWH agrees to lead the camp in its travels, which partially mitigates his earlier refusal to dwell among the people. At the same time, the people are brought closer to God from a different direction—through Moses’ request in verse 13 that he more completely reflect the presence of YHWH for the people: “Let me know your way(s) and know You…”. This is expressed again, in even more daring form, in verse 18: “Let me see your weight [k¹bœd]!” The Hebrew word k¹»œd (db)K*), which I have rendered literally as “weight”, when used of God, more properly refers to His manifest Presence; it is customarily translated “glory” in most English versions.

An example of such a theophany is the vision accorded Moses and the elders/leaders of Israel in 24:9-11 (“they saw the God of Israel…”, v. 10). As previous mentioned above, this theophany was related to the initial establishment of the covenant, just as with its re-establishment here. Moses is apparently asking for an even more direct and personal revelation by YHWH. This Presence had otherwise been covered by the dark cloud during Moses’ previous encounters.

There is thus a new theophany at Sinai, but it is revealed to Moses alone. This time Moses is to ascend entirely alone—there should be no one on or near the mountain at all (vv. 1-3). Moreover, special emphasis is given to the new set of stone tablets which were carved out by Moses (vv. 1, 4). In obedience, Moses follows this directive and encounters YHWH (vv. 4-9). The promised revelation, as noted above, is described as a spoken declaration, centered on the utterance of the Divine Name YHWH (hwhy), vv. 6-7. While this is referred to in terms of a vision, when the moment comes in the narrative it is described in terms of the spoken word. There can be no doubt, however, that the declaration in 34:6-7 is to be understood as the fundamental revelation of YHWH’s presence. Even more important, from the standpoint of the narrative, is that this theological message is central to the idea of the restoration of the covenant in chapters 34ff. The Presence of God becomes transferred and accessible to the people through the ministry of Moses.

The encounter reaches its climax with Moses’ request that YHWH take the people again as His own. And, indeed, in verses 10-26, God responds by establishing the covenant again with Israel, after which they are once again regarded as His people (compare with v. 10). There are, however, some important points of difference with this second covenant, as expressed through details often overlooked by commentators. First, it is a covenant with Israel and with Moses (v. 27, Moses’ name is given first). This indicates the enhanced role of Moses in ministering the covenant, and in communicating God’s word and presence to the people.

Second, the same basic idea is indicated by the difference in the character of the stone tablets which provide the written basis of the agreement. The first covenant was written on the tablets by the finger of God (31:18; 32:16); by contrast, the second is said specifically to be written by Moses (34:27-28). Some commentators are inclined to gloss over this apparent difference, or to attribute it simply to differences in the underlying traditions. While the latter is certainly possible, in my view it does not change the meaning of the difference in the overall narrative as we have it.

The remainder of chapter 34 further emphasizes, in vivid and dramatic fashion, the mediatorial role of Moses. The Divine Presence is marked and reflected on Moses’ own person (rays of light from his face), visibly and symbolically, as he descends from Mt. Sinai (vv. 29-30). In this glorified condition he communicates God’s instruction (Torah) to the people (vv. 31-33), a process which is repeated at regular points, at least until the Torah is complete and the communal Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) is built. Indeed, within the narrative structure and setting, this Torah (35:1-3) leads into specific instruction regarding the building of the Tent, through which the people would come to encounter YHWH. This is unquestionably meant as a parallel to the Tent “outside the camp” which only Moses would enter (34:34-35). After the great new Tent is established, God’s Presence fills it (40:34), effectively taking Moses’ place as the one who communicated the Presence to the people (v. 35). Here the Presence of YHWH would reside with Israel through all of the people’s travels (vv. 36-38).

This overview of the literary context of Exod 34:29-35 will help us to understand why Paul chooses it, and develops it in the way that he does. In next week’s study, we will examine carefully how the themes and motifs from the Exodus narrative are developed and applied within the context of 2 Corinthians.

(For further study on Exodus 32-34, see my earlier set of three Saturday Series studies on the passage; and for a detailed exegesis on 2 Cor 3:7-11, see my recent notes [part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”].)

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.

Spiritualism and the New Testament: Paul: 2 Corinthians 3

The first Pauline passage we examined was 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, within the wider context of 1:18-2:16 (extending into 3:1-3)—cf. the article and the supplemental series of exegetical notes. Paul emphasizes the role of the Spirit instructing believers in the wisdom of God; indeed, this wisdom is fundamentally spiritual in character. A key statement is the climactic declaration in verse 16: “but we hold (the) mind of (the) Anointed”. To this may be added the statement in v. 15: “the (one) with the Spirit judges all ([th]ese) things, and (yet) he is judged under no one” — “these things” referring to “the (thing)s of the Spirit” (ta\ tou= pneu/mato$).

Given the spiritualistic tenor and emphasis to Paul’s discussion, one might readily ask what is the place of the human teacher, as well as the role of external sources of religious (and moral) authority. The reason why Paul writes to the Corinthians as he does, is because, on the whole, they are not yet spiritually mature (“complete”), often thinking and behaving like one who does not possess the Spirit (3:1-3). But how would he write to them if they were mature? Would there be any need for him to write to them at all? Presumably, there would be more opportunity for exploring and expounding the “deep things of God” (2:10), but what would his role be, in this regard, if the people to whom he was writing were themselves being fully guided and instructed by the Spirit?

It is an interesting question to ponder. In general, it is fair to say that Paul’s spiritualism, to judge by the evidence from 1 Corinthians, was tempered by two main considerations:

    1. the manifestation of the Spirit within the confines of the Community, through specific ‘spiritual gifts‘ given to specific individuals.
    2. the unique role (and authority) of the apostle—that is, the missionary, sent and commissioned by Christ himself, who (first) proclaimed the Gospel in a region and helped to found the first congregations.

According to the first principle, expounded and applied in some detail by Paul in chapters 12-14, an individual believer would not rely wholly on the inner guidance and instruction of the Spirit; rather, one must also experience the Spirit as manifest within the Community, through the distinct spiritual gifts given to the various members.

The second principle—the role and place of the founding apostle—is given special attention by Paul in 2 Corinthians. One passage, in particular, relates the apostolic ministry to the wider experience of the Spirit’s presence and work among believers. As such, a careful examination of it should allow us to gain a better sense of Paul’s spiritualism, especially in relation to other (external) aspects of Christian ministry.

2 Corinthians 3

The passage under examination is the “new covenant” section in 2 Corinthians—3:1-18, the central portion of the wider section of 2:14-4:6. It is rather typical of Paul’s unique (and inspired) manner of expression, that the powerful theological component to his line of argument in this passage is not even central to the main point he is making. Indeed, here in 2:14-4:6 the focus is on Paul’s role and position as an apostle, in relation to the Corinthian congregations (i.e., the second of the two themes outlined above). The theological and expository excursus in 3:1-18 is simply a natural byproduct of Paul’s understanding of the Gospel and the nature of the Christian ministry. I will be exploring the passage, from a critical and rhetorical standpoint, in the Saturday Series studies during the remainder of January and February.

I will also be devoting detailed notes (a series of daily notes) to an exposition of the passage. But let us begin here with a focus on Paul’s references to the Spirit, and how they relate to the “new covenant” theme of the section. Let us begin with his statement in verse 3 (picking up from v. 2, in italics):

you are our e)pistolh/…being made to shine forth [fanerou/menoi] that you are (the) e)pistolh/ of (the) Anointed, being served under [i.e. by] us, (and) having been written not with black (ink), but with (the) Spirit of (the) living God, not on (the) flat surfaces of stones, but on (the) flat surfaces of hearts (of) flesh.”

Paul here makes a stark contrast between ordinary (physical/material) written letters and spiritual ones (for more, see the note on verses 2-3). This sort of dualistic language (and imagery) is typical of Paul’s spiritualism. But it is interesting to consider the way that this is introduced here.

The theme in verse 1-6 involves “letters of commendation”, the word sustatiko/$ being 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. The noun e)pistolh/ (epistol¢¡, i.e. ‘epistle’), which I left untranslated above, is derived from e)piste/llw (“set [forth] upon” a person, i.e. send to someone), related to a)poste/llw (i.e., send from someone). Here the e)pistolh/ refers ostensibly to a letter of introduction/recommendation. The point is that Paul and his fellow-missionaries, who preached the Gospel to the Corinthians, do not require any customary letter of introduction—the effect of the Gospel in their hearts is proof enough of his place as an apostle with them! It is a letter of Christ himself, whom Paul serves as a minister, written with the Spirit of the living God.

The expression “living God” (in Greek, qeo$ zw=n) derives from Old Testament usage (e.g. Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26, 36, etc). The inclusion of the modifying verbal adjective is primarily emphatic (cf. Matt 16:16; 26:63, etc), however it also refers to the life-giving power of God’s Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25; 6:8; Rom 8:1-11), and thus is central to the spiritualistic emphasis in Paul’s thought—the living Spirit being contrasted with the dead material thing. There is also implicit the traditional sense of the Spirit as the active manifestation of God among His people. In particular, we should draw attention to the metaphor of the “finger of God”, and the idea that the tablets of the Law (Torah) were written with the finger of God (Exod 24:12; 31:18; 34:1; Deut 9:10f). One is immediately reminded of the saying of Jesus in Luke 11:20 (discussed previously):

“But if (it is) in [i.e. with] the finger of God (that) I cast out the daimons, then the kingdom of God (has already) arrived upon you!”

The Matthean version (12:28) reads “Spirit of God”, instead of “finger of God”, evidence that the two expressions were essentially seen as synonymous. Almost certainly, Paul has this same correspondence in mind—i.e., the Spirit of God writes on the hearts of believers just as the finger of God wrote on the stone tablets. This establishes the thematic contrast of “letter vs. Spirit”, old/new covenant, that runs through the remainder of chapter 3.

It is interesting the way that the initial metaphor in v. 3 leads Paul so readily to the dualistic juxtaposition 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)

Paul specifically refers to himself (and others) as “servants of (the) new diaqh/kh” (v. 6). The noun diaqh/kh literally signifies the “setting through” of things (into an arranged order); in English idiom we would say “putting things in order”, i.e., in terms of a legal will/testament or other contractual agreement. In the LXX and New Testament, it typically is used in place of the Hebrew tyr!B=, which means a binding agreement; both Hebrew and Greek terms tend to be translated as “covenant”. The word diaqh/kh is relative rare in the Pauline letters, occurring 8 times, in Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans (+ once in Ephesians). Paul’s use of it is entirely traditional; apart from references to the Old Testament and Israelite history (Rom 9:4; 11:27; Gal 3:15, 17; 4:24), we have his citation of the Lord’s Supper tradition (1 Cor 11:25; cf. Luke 22:20 and Mk 14:24 v.l.).

As in the Lord’s Supper tradition, Paul here uses the expression kainh\ diaqh/kh (i.e. “new covenant”), terminology which goes back to Prophetic tradition (in the 6th/5th centuries B.C.) regarding the restoration of Israel in the New Age (Jer 31:31-34; cf. also 32:40; Ezek 11:19; 18:31; 34:25ff; 36:26; 37:26). Jesus, in his own way, was alluding to this in the Last Supper tradition, but it received much more precise exposition among early Christians in the period c. 30-60 A.D. The specific motif of the “pouring out” of the Spirit upon God’s people was part of the traditional restoration-theme. In previous notes, on the “Spirit of God in the Old Testament”, I discussed at length the role of the Spirit in the key restoration-prophecies of the exilic and post-exilic periods (in Joel, Deutero-Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah).

In the remainder of chapters 3 (vv. 7-18) Paul embarks on an exposition of the difference between the old and new covenants. He draws upon the Moses narratives and traditions in the book of Exodus; in particular, Paul takes a midrashic interpretive approach to Exodus 34:29-35, which describes Moses’ return from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets of the Covenant.

This contrast between the old and new covenants is centered on the idea of “glory” (do/ca). 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. The first two arguments (in vv. 7-9) involve the diakoni/a (“service, ministry”), that is, the administration of the covenant—in the case of the old covenant this began with Moses (and Aaron) and continued through the established priesthood and ritual apparatus (Temple, sacrificial offerings, purity regulations, etc), as well as through teaching and tradition. Note the contrast:

    • Vv. 7-8: service/ministry of death [h( diakoni/a tou= qana/tou]
      • service/ministry of the Spirit [h( diakoni/a tou= pneu/mato$]
    • Vers. 9: service/ministry of judgment against [h( diakoni/a th=$ katakri/sew$]
      • service/ministry of justice/righteousness [h( diakoni/a th=$ dikaiosu/nh$]

The characterization of the old covenant as “the ministry of death” is striking; for the uniquely Pauline view on the relationship between the Law, sin and death, read carefully Romans 5-7 (cf. the articles on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”), and note also in Gal 3:10-14, 19-22; 1 Cor 15:56. In vv. 7-8 here, the qal wa-homer argument is:

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

The old covenant came to have glory/esteem (perfect of the verb doca/zw), but now it has come to have no glory/esteem (again, with the perfect of doca/zw). It is hard to imagine a more antinomian statement by Paul—the old covenant, with its written Law, now has no glory. However, he makes clear that this is true only in one respect: because the glory of the new covenant goes so far beyond it (the verb u(perba/llw means to throw or cast something over/beyond, i.e. past a particular distance or measure). This is an important principle for understanding Paul’s apparently negative statements regarding the Law—its binding force has come to an end because of Christ. Indeed, the old covenant has come to an end, he makes this clear in verse 11, using the verb katarge/w—literally to “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render inactive, ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”, etc. The second verb is me/nw, “remain (in place), abide”. The contrast is clear enough: the old covenant ceases to be in effect, the new covenant remains and lasts; one is temporary, the other permanent.

The new covenant (kainh\ diaqh/kh) is governed by the Spirit (vv. 6-8), and not by the Torah; indeed, the Spirit takes the place of the Torah. This reflects, in my view, a clear spiritualistic tendency in Paul’s thought. However, the emphasis in 2 Cor 3:1-18 is on Paul and his fellow missionaries as ministers of this new covenant. In this light, in verses 12-18, he continues his contrast of old vs. new covenant, utilizing the motif of the covering (ka/lumma) that Moses kept over his face (cf. Exod 34:29-35) when he met with the people after speaking to God.

In the initial period of the old covenant, the people were wholly dependent on Moses as the prophet or spokesperson (ayb!n`) who communicated the word and will of God to them. Apostles and missionaries such as Paul served a similar role in the new covenant, but with a major difference: the communication of the Gospel of Christ took place without any covering, the ‘veil’ having been removed. The implication of this is that the people (i.e. believers) now are able to experience the presence and glory of God directly, without any intermediary. This is due to the fact that, with the communication (and acceptance) of the Gospel, believers receive the very Spirit of God. Paul’s wording in verse 16 is striking (and rather controversial) in this regard:

“But whenever (one) would turn about toward the Lord, the covering is taken (up from) around (him).”

This removal of the covering (symbolized by the veil of Moses) has two aspects in its meaning:

    • people are able to experience the full revelation of God, and
    • it signifies that the old covenant (of Moses and the Torah) has come to an end (cf. Rom 10:4)

The latter aspect means that believers in Christ are freed from the old covenant and its Torah, and this freedom (e)leuqeri/a) is due to our contact with the Spirit of God:

“And the Lord is the Spirit, and that which (is) of the Spirit of (the) Lord, (is) freedom [e)leuqeri/a].” (v. 17)

Insofar as we turn to God’s Spirit, we have complete freedom—meaning, in this context, primarily, freedom from the Law (Torah). Here the expression “Spirit of the Lord” presumably means the Spirit of God, though Paul does, on occasion, also use the expression “Spirit of Christ” (see the discussion at the beginning of the previous article). There can be no doubt, however, that the idea of turning to the Spirit of the Lord entails acceptance of the Gospel, and of conforming our lives to the presence of Christ dwelling in us.

This latter point is emphasized especially in the famous concluding words to this section (v. 18). Given the overall focus of the passage, 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 (and rather spiritualistic) 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.

This may be related to what I have referred to as the “democratization” of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration—the idea that God’s Spirit (and the prophetic spirit) would come upon all people, the nation as a whole, rather than upon specific chosen/gifted individuals. This was reflected most notably, for early Christians, by the citation of Joel 2:28-29 in Peter’s Pentecost speech (Acts 2:17-18). The reference to Moses, here in our passage, brings to mind the tradition in Numbers 11:16-30 (discussed in an earlier note), in which seventy elders were allowed to share in the prophetic spirit—the Spirit of YHWH—that had been upon Moses exclusively. For believers in Christ, the inclusivity extends even further—to all of God’s people, essentially fulfilling the very wish, expressed by Moses himself:

“…who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) <ya!yb!n+ [i.e. prophets], (and) that YHWH would give His spirit [j^Wr] upon them!” (Num 11:29)

Saturday Series: Acts 6:1-8:4 (continued)

Acts 6:1-8:4, continued

At the heart of the Stephen episode in Acts 6:1-8:4 is the great sermon-speech in chapter 7. Last week, we looked at this speech from the critical standpoint of the literary and thematic structure of the narrative. This establishes the overall setting and background of the speech, as well as the Narrative (Introduction) which precedes it in 6:8-15, according to the outline:

    • Narrative Introduction—the speech follows upon the main narrative (or first part of it) in 6:8-15, with the question of the High Priest to Stephen in 7:1.
    • Introductory Address (7:2-42a)—instead of Gospel kerygma, we find here a lengthy summary of Israelite history, from the call of Abraham to the Exodus and the incident of the Golden Calf.
    • Citation from Scripture (vv. 42b-43)—from Amos 5:25-27.
    • Exposition and Application (vv. 44-50), including a second Scripture citation (from Isa 66:1-2) which is parallel to the prior passage.
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 51-53), with a faint kerygmatic detail in v. 52b.
    • Narrative Summary—the narrative continues/concludes in 7:54-8:1a.

Our study this week will focus upon the speech proper.

Introductory Address (7:2-42a)

Stephen begins with a vocative address, similar to that of Peter in his great Pentecost speech (e.g., in Acts 2:14, 22, 29; see also the beginning of Paul’s address in Acts 22:1):

Ándres adelphoí kai patéres, akoúsate
“Men, Brothers and Fathers—hear!”

Instead of the kerygmatic (i.e., Gospel proclamation) phrases and statements found in the prior sermon-speeches of Acts, Stephen here delivers a lengthy summary of Israelite history in “deuteronomic style”, extending from the call of Abraham to the Exodus and the incident of the Golden Calf; for Old Testament parallels to such an historical summary, see Joshua 24; Psalm 78, 105; Ezekiel 20:5-44; Nehemiah 9:7-27, and also note the historical treatment given in the Damascus Document [CD] 2:14-6:1 (Fitzmyer, Acts, p. 364).

Nearly all commentators have noted that this is a curious way to address the question posed by the High Priest in v. 1; it also hardly seems an appropriate way for an accused man to offer defense (apologia) in a ‘trial’ setting. This has served as an argument in favor of the view that the Sanhedrin setting and framework to the speech is a secondary (and artificial) construction by the author of Acts (trad. Luke)—for more on this, see further below.

There is perhaps a tendency to gloss over this lengthy recital of Old Testament history; it can seem rather tedious, even irrelevant, in context. It may be tempting, indeed, to skip on ahead to verse 43ff, or even verse 54ff; however there are several reasons why it is important to include this section (and to read it carefully):

First, there is a rhetorical and narrative structure to the speech (see above) which is disrupted if one omits (or ignores) the historical summary; it is vital to a proper understanding of the speech as a whole.
Second, it is important to recognize the place that the Old Testament narrative had for early Christians and in their Gospel preaching; the way Paul references the Scriptures in his letters makes it clear that even Gentile converts must have been made familiar with the Old Testament and Israelite history as part of their basic instruction. Early Christians also saw themselves as fulfilling the history of Israel along with the promises God made to her, and so the Old Testament narrative was, in many ways, fundamental to Christian identity.
Third, the cumulative effect of the speech is lost if one ‘skips ahead’; in particular, the Scripture citation and exposition in vv. 43ff are climactic to the historical summary and really cannot be understood correctly outside of that context.

There are a number of ways one may outline this section; for a useful five-part outline, see Fitzmyer, Acts, p. 365. I have opted for a tripartite structure, as follows:

    • Abraham—the promise made by God to his people (vv. 2-8)
    • Joseph—the sojourn/exile of God’s people in the land of Egypt (vv. 9-16)
    • Moses—the exodus out of Egypt toward the land of promise (vv. 17-42a); this portion can be broken down further:
      (a) {the first forty years}—Moses in Egypt (vv. 17-22)
      (b) forty years—Moses visits his people in Egypt (vv. 23-29)
      (c) forty years—Moses receives revelation from God, with a promise to deliver the people from Egypt (vv. 30-34)
      —”This Moses”… who led Israel out of Egypt (vv. 35-37)
      —”This (Moses)” is the one who was with the congregation (of Israel) in the wilderness (vv. 38-39a)
      ** The Israelites refused to hear/obey (Moses) in the wilderness—turned to idolatry (the Golden Calf, vv. 39b-42a)
Abraham (vv. 2-8)

The first two sections (on Abraham and Joseph) are relatively straightforward summaries of passages from Genesis, with simplification and compression of detail. The summary of Abraham is taken from Genesis 11-12, with quotations or allusions from Psalm 29:3 and Deut 2:5, followed by references to Gen 17:8; 15:13-14 (LXX); Exod 3:12; Gen 17:10; 21:4. The key verse is v. 5, emphasizing God’s promise to Abraham’s descendents—Gen 17:8 (and 48:4); also Gen 12:7; 13:5; 15:18-20; 24:7. This theme of promise already appeared in Peter’s earlier speech (Acts 3:25), and will also be mentioned in Acts 7:17; 13:32; 26:6; the covenant promise to Abraham would play a key role in Paul’s writings (Galatians 3-4; Romans 4; 9:1-9ff). Verse 7 cites Exodus 3:12 (LXX), with one small difference: instead of “in/on this mountain” (en tœ¡ órei toútœ) we find “in this place” (en tœ¡ tópœ toútœ), which better fits the Temple context underlying the speech.

Joseph (vv. 9-16)

The section on Joseph draws on portions of Genesis 37-46, along with allusions to Psalm 105:21; 37:19; there are also references to Deut 10:22 and Exod 1:6 in verse 15, along with a conflation of Gen 23:16-20 and 33:19 in verse 16. The overall setting of Israel in Egypt naturally fits the theme of exile and the dispersion (Diaspora) of the Israelite/Jewish people—a motif which could already be seen with Abraham leaving his homeland, and sojourning to the land of promise.

Moses (vv. 17-42a)

This section (on Moses) is by far the most developed, demonstrating a clear rhetorical (and didactic) structure. Verses 17-34 adopt the (traditional) scheme of dividing Moses’ life (of 120 years) into three equal periods of 40:

    • forty years—Moses in Egypt (vv. 17-22) [drawn from Exodus 1-2]
    • forty years—Moses visits his people in Egypt (vv. 23-29) [from Exodus 2]
    • forty years—Moses receives revelation from God, with a promise to deliver the people from Egypt (vv. 30-34) [Exodus 3:1-10, direct quotations and paraphrase]

Vv. 23 and 30 begin with similar Greek expressions:

“and when/as forty years’ time was filled (up) [epl¢roúto] for him…” (v. 23)
“and forty years having been filled (up) [pl¢rœthéntœn]…” (v. 30)

It is also worth noting some key extra-biblical and/or traditional details mentioned in this section:

    • Moses’ beauty—Exod 2:2 [LXX]; Philo, Life of Moses I.9, 18; Josephus, Antiquities II.224
    • Moses’ learning—Philo, Life of Moses I.20-24; II. 1; Jos. Antiquities II.236 and eloquence—Philo, Life of Moses I.80; Jos. Antiquities II.271 (cf. also Sirach 45:3)
    • The Angel (of the Lord) in the burning bush—Exod 3:2 [LXX] (MSS D H P S 614 of Acts 7:30 read “of the Lord”)

The revelation by theophany (manifestation of God), i.e. His Presence—even if understood in Exod 3:1-10 as occurring through ‘Angelic’ mediation—is an important theme, as it closes this section on Moses’ life and leads into the forceful section in vv. 35-38ff with its emphasis on false worship and idolatry. Even so, it must be admitted (along with many commentators) that the precise point of the speech (taken through verse 34) is hard to see; it certainly does not answer the charges against Stephen, and appears on the surface to be a long (even irrelevant) digression. The tone of the speech, however, changes suddenly and dramatically with verse 35, with the repeated use of the demonstrative pronoun (hoútos, accusative toúton, “this [one]”).

“This (Moses)…” (vv. 35-38)—the speech moves from historical summary (in vv. 17-34, similar to the sections on Abraham/Joseph), to a series of statements extolling Moses’ role in the Exodus and wilderness period, drawing attention especially to the person of Moses by the repeated, staccato-like use of the the demonstrative pronoun (“this”). This not only represents forceful rhetoric, but also serves to draw a clear and unmistakable parallel between Moses and Jesus, as we shall see. Keep in mind a similar use of the demonstrative pronoun in referring to Jesus already in Acts 1:11; 2:23, 32, 36; 4:10-11; 5:31 (“this [one], this Jesus”; also “this name”, Acts 3:16; 4:17; 5:28); the Temple also has been referred to as “this place” (see Acts 6:13-14; 7:7).

    • V. 35—”this [toúton] Moses, whom they denied/refused… this (one) [toúton] God set forth (as) a leader and redeemer…”
    • V. 36—”this (one) [hoútos] led them out, doing marvels and signs…”
    • V. 37—”this [hoútos] is Moses, the (one) saying to the sons of Israel…”
    • V. 38—”this [hoútos] is the (one) coming to be in/among the called-out (people) in the desolate (land)…”

Verses 36-37 specifically emphasize Moses’ role in the Exodus—the deliverance of God’s people out of Egypt; in verses 38-39, the emphasis is on Moses’ role with the congregation (ekkl¢sía) of Israel in the wilderness. Verse 39 (beginning with the relative pronoun hós [dative hœ¡]) is transitional, stressing the disobedience of the people and leading into the section on the Golden Calf (vv. 40ff). The following details clarify the parallel drawn between Moses and Jesus:

    • the people denied/refused [¢rn¢¡sato] Moses (v. 35, see also 39ff) just as they denied Jesus (Acts 3:13, same verb)
    • “leader [árchœn] and redeemer [lytrœt¢¡s]” (v. 35) are titles similar to those applied to Jesus in Acts 3:15; 5:31 (cf. also 2:36)
    • Moses and Jesus are both “sent” by God (vb. apostéllœ) in v. 35; 3:20, 26
    • “wonders and signs” (v. 36) are parallel to the miracles of Jesus (2:22, cf. also 4:30)
    • Jesus as fulfillment of the “Prophet (to come) like Moses” from Deut 18:15 (cited v. 37, and in 3:22-23)
    • Moses was with the “called-out” people (ekkl¢sía) of Israel in the wilderness (v. 38), just as Jesus is with the “called-out” people (ekkl¢sía), i.e. the believers in Christ, the “church” —the word is first used in this latter sense in Acts 5:11, and occurs frequently from 8:1 on; it was used in the LXX in reference to the people gathering/assembling (to receive the Law, etc), especially in Deut 4:10; 9:10; 18:16.

The central theme of the theophanous revelation of God at Sinai (already emphasized in vv. 30-34) is brought out again here in verse 38—the closing phrase is especially significant, as it relates to one of the main charges against Stephen; it is useful, I think, to look at it in context with verse 39a:

“(this [Moses])… who [hós] received living lógia to give to us, to whom [hœ¡] our Fathers did not wish to become as (ones) who listen under [i.e. {are} obedient]…”

The neuter noun lógion, related to the more common lógos, (“account, word”), more properly refers to something uttered, i.e., “saying, announcement, declaration”; in a religious context especially it is often translated as “oracle”. For the idea of “living words/oracles” see Lev 18:5; Deut 32:46-47; note also a similar expression “the words/utterances of this life” in Acts 5:20.

The Golden Calf (vv. 39-42a)—the second half of verse 39 leads into the episode of the Golden Calf:

“…but they thrust (him [i.e. Moses]) away from (them) and turned in their hearts (back) to Egypt”

Verses 40-41 are taken from the account of the Golden Calf incident (Exod 32:1-6), emphasizing unlawful/inappropriate sacrifice (thysía, [ritual] slaughtering) and idolatry (worship of an image, eídœlon). Most important are the closing words of verse 41:

“…and they were happy [lit. of a good mind] in the works of their hands [en toís érgois tœ¡n cheirœ¡n autœ¡n]”

This last phrase introduces the idea of things “made with hands” (tied specifically to idolatry), which will play a vital role in the remainder of the speech.

In verse 39, it is stated that the people turned [estráph¢san] in their hearts (back to Egypt, and idolatry); now, in verse 42a, God turns [éstrepsen, same verb] and gives the people over [parédœken] for them to do (hired) service [latreúein, in a religious sense] to the “armies of heaven” (i.e. sun, moon, stars and planets). Of the many references warning against the consequences of image-worship, see for example, Hos 13:2-4; for a fundamental passage warning against worship of the celestial bodies, see Deut 4:16ff. On this idea of God giving/handing transgressors over to an even more serious form of idolatry, see Wisdom 11:15-16 and the famous passage in Romans 1:24-28; often there is the sense that the result (and punishment) of idolatry will resemble the very thing that was being worshipped (see Jer 19:10-13, etc).

The main Scripture citation (from Amos 5:25-27), along with the remainder of the speech, will be examined in next week’s study. I hope you will join me.

References above marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 31 (Doubleday / Yale: 1998).

The Old Testament in the Gospel Tradition: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (continued)

Isaiah 52:13-53:12, continued

Having concluded a detailed critical and exegetical study of the passage, verse by verse, in the recent daily notes, it remains to explore the specific lines of interpretation which may plausibly be applied to the figure of the Servant. I identify four primary lines of interpretation, each of which will be discussed in turn.

    1. The type-figure of Moses
    2. A specific Prophetic figure from history
    3. A collective figure for the Prophets of Israel
    4. A collective figure for the People of Israel

1. Moses. In an earlier article (on Isa 42:1ff) I discussed the strong possibility that the Servant of the Deutero-Isaian poems was patterned after the figure of Moses. It is worth summarizing the chief evidence for this:

    • Moses is specifically referred to as God’s “servant” (db#u#) on a number of occasions in Old Testament tradition: Exod 4:10; 14:31; Num 12:7-8; Deut 34:5; Josh 1:2, 7; 18:7; 1 Kings 8:53, 56; Psalm 105:26; Isa 63:11; Dan 9:11; Mal 4:4 [3:22]; Bar 2:28; cf. also Heb 3:5; Rev 15:3.
    • Moses was the pre-eminent Prophet and leader for the people of Israel, and possessed the spirit of prophecy (i.e., God’s Spirit); on this line of tradition, see my study on Numbers 11:10-30.
    • Moses led the people out of exile in Egypt, even as they are now to be led out their exile within the Babylonian empire; the return of the Exiles is clearly understood in the Deutero-Isaian poems as a ‘new Exodus’ (in chaps. 41-45, cf. especially 43:1-2, 16-17ff).
    • The role of bringing judgment to the nations, in the context of Israel’s release/return, would fit the archetypal pattern of Moses in his encounters with Pharaoh and the rulers of Egypt. This parallel applies more to 42:1ff, but see also the context of 52:14-15.
    • The servant functions as a judge and law-giver, which well fits the historical and traditional portrait of Moses.

I have discussed the parallels between 52:13-53:12 and the Moses traditions in the recent set of notes. Perhaps the strongest point is Moses role as intermediary and intercessor for Israel. By the very nature of this role (as YHWH’s servant) he identifies with the suffering of the people (cf. Exod 2:11ff; 3:7ff), and comes to bear their burdens, in many different ways, during the long Exodus journey through the wilderness (see esp. Num 11:10-14ff). On several occasions, Moses stood before YHWH on behalf of the people, interceding for them.

Two traditions are most pertinent to the argument here. The first is the Golden Calf episode, and its aftermath (Exod 32-34). The people broke the covenant bond in an egregious manner, and YHWH intended to destroy them in His anger, but Moses interceded for them (32:11-14, 30-34; 33:12-16; 34:8-9). In Exod 32:32, Moses essentially offers to taken upon himself the guilt (and punishment) that belonged to the people.

The second tradition to note is the episode at the “Waters of Strife [Meribah]” in Numbers 20. Provoked by the rebelliousness of the people, Moses speaks and acts in a way that does not give proper honor to YHWH; as a result, Moses shares the same punishment that fell upon the adult generation of the Exodus: he would die without entering the Promised Land. This may reflect the lines in our passage regarding the death of the Servant. On the possible allusions to Moses’ death and burial in the land of Moab (near Mt. Peor, Deut 34:5-8), cf. the recent note on verse 9.

If Moses is the type-pattern for the Servant figure, how should this be understood? There are several possibilities. Taking the scenario of the passage at face value, it would seem that Moses died and then was exalted to heaven. He then appeared before YHWH in the heavenly courtroom, where his righteous character and role as YHWH’s servant was confirmed, and he was then given a new heavenly position. Here he would continue in his role as the Servant, working and interceding on behalf of God’s people in the New Age (the period of the new covenant).

But could this association with Moses be merely figurative? On the one hand, a figurative interpretation would better fit the Deutero-Isaian theme of Israel’s restoration, which involves a new covenant and a renewed adherence to the Torah, echoing the ancient Moses/Exodus traditions (the Sinai covenant and the giving of the Law, cf. Exod 19-34). Subsequent Isaian poems and oracles (i.e., from chapters 56-66, so-called Trito-Isaiah) give special emphasis to the theme of the Law going out from Jerusalem, as a light to the nations (cf. on 42:5-9).

On the other hand, the passage seems to be dealing with a specific person—a person who, like Moses, will lead Israel back into the land (a “new Exodus”, cf. above) and play a central role in establishing the new covenant between YHWH and His people. In this regard, it is worth considering a particular eschatological tradition associated with Moses. Deuteronomy 18:15-19 records a prophecy regarding a “prophet like Moses” who will arise in Israel, essentially taking Moses’ place and functioning as a ‘new Moses’. By the 1st century B.C./A.D., this had developed into a clear belief in a Messianic prophetic figure, according to the figure-type of Moses, who would appear at the end-time, prior to the great Judgment.

This eschatological figure could be explained as Moses himself, having returned from heaven, or a separate Messianic Prophet patterned after Moses. Jesus was identified explicitly with this figure in Acts 3:22 (also 7:37), and there are other implicit references to “(the) Prophet” which likely have this same (Messianic) figure-type in mind (Jn 1:21, 25; 6:14; 7:40). For more on this subject, and on the identification of Jesus with Moses, cf. Part 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”.

2. A specific Prophet-figure. Along the same lines, the Servant may refer to another Prophet from the history of Israel/Judah. The overall context, and the specific wording in v. 8, strongly indicates that the Servant (and his generation) belongs to the past. If we look to the Exilic setting of the Deutero-Isaian poems, there is no obvious candidate known to us from the historical record of the 6th century. To be sure, Jeremiah suffered at the hands of the people (and their leaders), and Uriah was put to death by Jehoiakim for prophesying the judgment against Judah and Jerusalem (Jer 26:20-23). According to Jewish tradition, the prophet Isaiah himself was killed by king Manasseh, and one version of this involved his being sawn in half (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho §120; cf. Heb 11:37). There are other historical traditions regarding the Prophets suffering oppression, persecution and death (cf. below).

Since the Deutero-Isaian poems seem to view the restoration of Israel (the ‘new Exodus’), and the establishment of the new covenant with YHWH, to be imminent, it is unlikely that the suffering and death of the Servant is meant to be understood as occurring in the future. The orientation of the passage as referring to a past event (that is, prior to the 6th century Exilic time-frame) should be taken seriously. His suffering reflects the failures of Israel/Judah, their violation of the first covenant—the covenant established at Sinai.

3. A collective figure for the Prophets of Israel. A stronger argument can be made for viewing the Servant as a collective figure for the Prophets of Israel. He embodies all of the true Prophets, from Moses to those of the 6th century. His suffering (and death) reflects the suffering experienced by many of the Prophets, whose call to deliver messages of judgment against the people of Israel/Judah, including harsh rebuke and condemnation of the rich and powerful in society, naturally made them unpopular and a target for hostile and violent reaction. Elijah and Jeremiah are probably the most famous examples of Prophets who suffered oppression and persecution at the hands of the people (and their leaders). The tradition of Isaiah’s martyrdom was noted above; we also have Zechariah son of Jehoiada being stoned to death as one of many similar examples (cf. Matt 23:34-37 par; Heb 11:35-38). On the idea of the Servant being “pierced” (v. 5), we may mention again how Uriah was killed by the sword (Jer 26:23).

This interpretation has the advantage of not being bound to the historical details of any one Prophet. At the same time, most of the description in the passage could apply to any number of the Prophets—or of all of them, taken together.

4. A collective figure for the People of Israel. This is perhaps the line of interpretation that is favored by many, if not most, critical commentators today. In its favor is the fact that Israel/Judah is specifically referred to as YHWH’s “servant” (db#u#) at a number of points in the Deutero-Isaian poems (41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4). Moreover, the general context relates to YHWH leading His chosen people out of their exile. The formula is established in 41:8-9:

“But you, Yisrael, my servant [yD!b=u^],
you, Ya’aqob, whom I have chosen,
seed of Abraham my loved (one),
you whom I have seized from (the) ends of the earth,
and called from her corners,
you to (whom) I have said
‘You (are) my servant,
I have chosen you and will not reject you,’
—do not be afraid, for I (am) with you…”

The same basic formula is used in 42:1, only there Israel is not specifically identified as the “servant” (except in the LXX).

But if Israel is the Servant, then it is difficult to explain the relationship between the Servant and the people that runs through the passage. One possibility is that the Servant is limited to the righteous ones of Israel, who suffer at the hands of the wicked people. A better fit to the context of the passage would be the relationship between Israel and the nations. The nations (and their rulers) are referenced in 52:14-15, and, according to this line of interpretation, it is they—and not the people of Israel—who offer the testimony regarding the Servant in 53:2-6. The nations mistreat and oppress the Servant (Israel), and it is the people of Israel (or at least the righteous among them) who suffer vicariously and bear the guilt of the nations. Through this suffering, and with the Servant’s restoration in the New Age, justice and righteousness will be brought to the nations through him—that is, through the righteous ministry of the restored Israel. This legitimately reflects a key Isaian theme (cf. 2:2-4) that was developed in the Deutero- (and Trito-) Isaian poems.

Summary. In my view, the overall evidence from the Deutero-Isaian poems strongly favors the first and fourth interpretations above. That is, the Servant should be understood as either: (1) a Prophetic leader patterned after the figure of Moses, or (2) as a collective figure for the people of Israel.

It may be possible to combine these approaches, given the close relationship between Moses and the people in the historical tradition. Moses represents the people before YHWH, and YHWH before the people. He has a central and foundational role in establishing the covenant bond between YHWH and His people. Indeed, following the episode of the Golden Calf, with the violation of the covenant, Israel ceases to be the people of YHWH. It is only through the intercession of Moses, that the covenant is restored; Israel is once again considered to be the people of YHWH, but only in a qualified sense, through the personal mediation of Moses.

The Deutero-Isaian theme of the New Age (of Israel’s restoration) involves the return of Israel/Judah to the Land (i.e., a ‘new Exodus’), with the establishment of a new covenant (cf. the following 54:1-17). It thus makes sense that the Prophetic leadership of the people would likewise be understood as a “new Moses”.

To the extent that the Servant is related to the figure of Moses, there are several ways of understanding this (cf. above):

    • Moses continues to act as the Servant of YHWH, on behalf of the people, through his new (exalted) position in heaven
    • Moses serves as the symbolic pattern for the Prophetic leadership of Israel/Judah in the New Age
    • The association relates to the (eschatological) tradition of the “Prophet like Moses” who will appear to lead and guide Israel into the New Age. This could further be understood as: (a) Moses himself appearing from heaven, or (b) a new chosen Prophet who resembles Moses. There was a similar Messianic/eschatological tradition regarding the figure of Elijah. Cf. Part 3 of “Yeshua the Anointed”.

It still remains to explore how Isa 52:13-53:12 was applied to the person of Jesus—specifically his Passion (suffering and death). This we will do in the concluding portion of this article.

May 5: Isaiah 53:10

Isaiah 53:10

“But YHWH delighted to crush him, (and so) weakened (him);
if his soul would set (itself as bearing the) guilt,
he shall see (his) seed, he shall lengthen (his) days,
and (the) delight of YHWH will succeed in his hand.”

This verse summarizes the description of the Servant’s suffering and death, explaining how and why it happened. That is to say, it explains why YHWH chose to have His Servant suffer in this way. In the scenario of the passage, there seems to be a shift from the testimony of the people, to an argument that affirms the righteous character of the Servant. The important point in this regard involves the guilt (<v*a*) borne by the Servant. Why was the Servant punished by YHWH? It was not because he was deserving of the punishment, through his own guilt. However, as the wording in these lines is difficult, it is necessary to examine each component of the description carefully.

First, let us note the structure of the four lines. The ‘outer’ lines (1 and 4) emphasize the role of YHWH, while the ‘inner’ lines (2 and 3) focus on the role of the Servant. There is a thematic consistency to the framing lines on YHWH’s role, referring to His will and intention (to act) in terms of His “delight” (Jp#j@). The suffering and death of the Servant came about simply because YHWH wished it to be so. This is declared bluntly, and strikingly, in the first line:

“But YHWH delighted to crush him, (and so) weakened (him)”

The verb ak^D* (“crush”), also used in verse 5, alludes to the death (and burial) of the Servant. By “crushing” him, YHWH ultimately turns him into dust (cf. Psalm 90:3ff, a poem attributed to Moses by tradition). In order to bring about his death, the Servant first had to be weakened (vb hl*j*, cf. also in vv. 4-5). This idea of “weakness” often implies the presence of sickness, illness, disease, etc., though a person can similarly be ‘worn down’ (to the point of death) in other ways.

In the final line, the “delight” of YHWH is expressed in a different way. Instead of God’s will being directed against the Servant, it will come to be realized through him. The phrasing here is:

“and (the) delight of YHWH will succeed in his hand”

In other word’s YHWH places the authority (and power) to exercise His will in the hand of the Servant. The Servant thus comes to function like a heavenly Messenger (Angel). This would especially fit the figure of Moses, as a type-pattern for the Servant, since Moses functioned in a comparable way at points during his ministry on earth. In particular, we may note the way that the power of YHWH was given into his ‘hand’ to bring about the plagues on Egypt (cf. Exod 4:1-9, 21ff, etc; cf. also Num 10:13). All the more, then, would this Moses-Servant act as a powerful instrument of God’s will in his new heavenly position (following his death and exaltation). Much the same could be said of other major Prophetic figures, such as Elijah.

The central lines (2 and 3) focus on the role of the Servant in this process. While the suffering came about through the sovereign will of YHWH, the Servant still had a choice in how to respond to this. His response is indicated in line 2, though, admittedly, the phrasing is unusual:

“if his soul would set (itself as bearing the) guilt”
ovp=n~ <v*a* <yc!T* <a!

The first word is the conditional particle <a! (“if…”); this implies that what follows in line 3 will only occur if the condition in line 2 is met. The verb <yc!T* is best understood as a 3rd person feminine form, which indicates that ovpn~ (“his soul”) is the subject. Some commentators would emend this to a masculine form (<yc!y`), which would yield a more straightforward line (“if he will set his soul…”). In any case, the condition is that the Servant sets himself (his own soul) for guilt (<v*a*). It is not necessary to view <v*a* here in the specific ritual sense of a sacrificial offering for guilt. Rather, the point seems to be that the Servant willingly accepts that he himself bears the guilt of the people.

If he willingly places/sets his soul in this way, for this purpose, then the promises in line 3 will be realized for the Servant. There are two promises involved:

    • “he shall see (his) seed”
    • “he shall lengthen (his) days”

If the Servant has died (and been buried), how are either of these things possible? There are several aspects to this promise that should be considered. First, is the obvious sense of a long life on earth, during which one lives to see many children and descendants (“seed”). Second, the exaltation of the Servant makes it likely that a heavenly existence (future life) is in view for him. If the proposed setting for the passage—a scene in the heavenly court—is correct, then the Servant has to pass through the judgment of this court to enter into his new position as YHWH’s servant, in heaven. Third, there is the idea that the Servant’s life will continue in the person of his descendants, understood either in a literal/biological or figurative sense. Finally, we must also keep in mind the close connection between the Servant and the people of Israel, since Israel/Judah is also referred to as YHWH’s servant (db#u#) in Deutero-Isaiah (and elsewhere in the Old Testament). Many commentators would interpret the Servant of these Songs as a representation of the collective people of Israel. However, here the collective interpretation is difficult to maintain; the text seems to portray the Servant as a distinct individual, with a life/career on earth, and offspring/descendants, etc.

Again, it is worth considering the type-pattern of Moses. In spite of the suffering and oppression he experienced, including the judgment brought upon him by YHWH that fated him to die outside the Promised Land, Moses lived an unusually long time—120 years, according to Deut 34:7 (cp. Psalm 90:10). Also, an important component of the Moses/Exodus traditions is how the restored covenant between YHWH and Israel (following the Golden Calf episode) was entirely dependent upon the mediation of Moses. Having broken the binding agreement (covenant), Israel now could only be considered the people of YHWH in a qualified sense. Technically, they were Moses’ people, and related to YHWH only through Moses as their representative and intermediary. For more on the complex narrative that deals with this situation, Exodus 32-34 should be studied carefully (in the overall context of the book of Exodus, esp. chapters 19ff). Following Israel’s violation of the covenant, YHWH wished to eliminate the people entirely, and to replace them with the descendants of Moses (Exod 33:1, etc). The promise expressed in these traditions is that Moses’ descendants (his “seed”) would be vast, and would inherit the land. Even after the covenant was restored, the idea of Moses’ descendants, and their importance, remained established within Israelite and Old Testament tradition. It is possible that verse 10 deals with this idea.