Spiritualism and the New Testament: Paul: Romans 8:1-17ff

Romans 8:1-17ff

Romans 8 represents Paul’s most extensive and concentrated teaching on the Spirit. It is thus central to a proper understanding of his spiritualism. In this chapter, Paul touches upon many of the themes and ideas expressed in the earlier passages we have studied, bringing them together in a more systematic way. This article will focus on verses 1-11, while vv. 12-17, though included in the discussion below, will be dealt with in more detail in a set of supplemental daily notes.

Chapter 8 is the fourth, and final, major section of the probatio of Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39). The first three sections were:

    • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God)
    • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin

This last section (chapter 8) I would divide as follows:

    • Rom 8:1-30: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation)
      8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
      8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
      8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
      8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
    • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

Having just worked intensively through the relation between Law and Sin (see the article on Rom 7:7-25 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”), with the emphasis on the believer’s freedom (in Christ) from both, Paul now proceeds to discuss the life of the believer in the Spirit (of God and Christ). This thematic emphasis is, in some ways, parallel to the exhortation in Galatians 5:16-25 (discussed in the previous article in the current series)—believers who are freed from the binding force of the Law (and Sin), now live according to the power and guidance of the Spirit.

Two main themes are present in the discussion on the Spirit here in Rom 8:1-11:

    • The presence of the Spirit marks the New Covenant for God’s people (believers), taking the place of the Old Covenant Law (Torah) as the guiding and governing principle
    • The Spirit is tied to believers’ union with Jesus Christ, as symbolized in the baptism ritual
Verses 1-11

The theme of this section is the conflict for believers between the Spirit and the Flesh, introduced by Paul in Rom 7:14, but which is more familiar from the famous discussion in Gal 5:16ff. In Rom 7:7-25, human beings were dramatized as struggling with the flesh, but under the enslaving power of sin and the Law; now, having been delivered from the Law and sin, the struggle with the “flesh” (sa/rc) remains. This deliverance is defined according to two principal declarations in vv. 1-2:

“(So) then, now (there is) not any judgment against the (one)s in (the) Anointed Yeshua. For the law of the Spirit of life in (the) Anointed Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (vv. 1-2)

    1. “Now there is not any [ou)de/n] judgment against [kata/krima] the (one)s (who are) in (the) Anointed Yeshua” (v. 1)—addressed collectively to all believers, this describes the elimination of judgment (by God) against human beings (announced in Rom 1:18ff); this judgment was the result of violation of the Law by human beings, under the power of sin. This removal of judgment is the product of “justification”, of God “making (things) right” again for humankind, and, in particular, of making believers right and just in His eyes.
    2. “For the Law of the Spirit of life, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, has set you free from the Law of Sin and of Death” (v. 2)—the majority text reads “set me free”, by which Paul would be personalizing the matter, much as he does in 7:7-25—either way, the personal pronoun is representative of all believers.

The entirety of the old order of things—bondage of humankind under the power of sin, and the corresponding bondage under the power of the Torah (with its regulations regarding sin)—has been swept away for believers in Christ. We are truly set free from both—sin and the Torah. Paul plays on the word no/mo$, which typically in his letters refers to the Old Testment Law (Torah), though occasionally he uses the expression “the law [no/mo$] of God”, which has a wider meaning—i.e., the will of God for His people, as expressed (specifically) in the Torah. Paul uses the word in both of these ways here in vv. 1-11, but also in two specialized expressions:

    • the law [o( no/mo$] of the Spirit [tou= pneu/mato$] of life [th=$ zwh=$]
    • the law [o( no/mo$] of sin [th=$ a(marti/a$] and of death [kai\ tou= qana/tou]

Here we find also a new use of the word no/mo$ (“law”) in the expression o( no/mo$ tou= pneu/mato$ th=$ zwh=$ (“the Law of the Spirit of Life”)—pneu=ma here certainly referring to the (Holy) Spirit. In Galatians, the Spirit is seen as taking the place of the Law for believers (cf. Gal 5:16ff), and should be understood in this way here, but with the added emphasis on its sanctifying and life-bestowing power—Life contrasted with Death. The expression “the Law of Sin and Death” is an expansion of “the Law of Sin” in Rom 7:23-25; it reflects the dynamic of Sin and the Law at work, both against each other, and also working together according to God’s purpose (see esp. Rom 11:32). The expression should not be reduced simply to the “principle of sin”.

The formal parallelism shows that here “the Spirit” is parallel with “sin”, and is meant as an absolute contrast; in light of the overall discussion in Romans, this would be defined as “bondage under sin” vs. “freedom in the Spirit”. Thus, in addition to the Torah itself, there is a “law of the Spirit” and a “law of sin” —two great guiding principles for all of humankind. Believers in Christ follow the law of the Spirit, while all other people are bound to continue following the law of sin. The Torah, which previously played a kind of intermediary role between these two principles, no longer applies for believers. Since it is sin that leads to a sentence of judgment (kri=ma) from God, and believers are freed from the power of sin (and all its effects), there is no longer occasion for any such sentence to be brought down (kata/) against us. Life is the opposite of death, which would be the ultimate punishment (judgment) for sin.

In verses 3 and 4, this deliverance is described in terms of Christ’s sacrificial death:

“For the powerless (thing) of the Law [i.e. what the Law lacked power to do], in which [i.e. in that] it was weak through the flesh, God (has done), sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us—the (one)s not walking about according to (the) flesh, but according to (the) Spirit.” (vv. 3-4)

These powerful verses are dense with key elements of Pauline theology, expressed in language that can be difficult to translate (as the glosses in brackets above indicate). There are two especially important ideas that define Paul’s line of thought:

    • it is in the “flesh” (sa/rc) that the power of sin is localized and manifest in human beings, evident by a universal impulse toward sinful thoughts and actions; even for believers, this impulse to sin remains in the flesh (to varying degrees), though we are no longer enslaved by its power—i.e. we have the ability not to respond to the impulse
    • it was the sacrificial death of Jesus that enables believers to be free from the power of sin (and the judgment of God against sin)

Paul uses the verb katakri/nw (“judge against, bring down judgment [against]”), which is cognate to the noun kata/krima in verse 1 (cf. above), to make the point that the judgment against sin was realized in the death of Jesus—not against the human beings who sinned, but against sin itself, stripping it of its death-yielding power over humankind. The matter of the relationship of Jesus’ death to sin is highly complex, and cannot be discussed in detail here (cf. my earlier note on these verses [along with 2 Cor 5:19-21]). The main point of emphasis here, in term of Paul’s view of the role of the Spirit, is twofold:

    • Christ’s death freed humankind (believers) from the power of sin, located in the “flesh”
    • Believers are likewise freed from the Law—and we effectively fulfill the Law completely (and automatically) insofar as we “walk according to the Spirit” (cf. the previous article on Gal 5:16-25)

The remainder of this section, vv. 5-11, follows very much in line with Galatians 5:16-25, contrasting the Spirit with the flesh.

“For the (one)s being [i.e. who are] according to the flesh give mind (to) the (thing)s of the flesh, but the (one)s (who are) according to (the) Spirit (give mind to) the (thing)s of the Spirit. For the mindset of the flesh (leads to) death, but the mindset of the Spirit (leads to) life and peace, through (the fact) that the mindset of the flesh (means) hostility to God, for it is not put in order under the law of God, and (indeed) it is not able to be; and the (one)s being [i.e. who are] in (the) flesh are not able to please God.” (vv. 5-8)

These verses essentially expound the contrast between “walking according to the flesh” and “walking according to the Spirit”, the ethical and religious aspect being broadened to cover the anthropological (and ontological) dimension of humankind. We are dealing with two kinds of people: (1) faithful believers in Christ, and (2) all other human beings. The first group is guided by the Spirit, the second by the flesh (and the impulse to sin that resides in the flesh). This shows how deep the flesh vs. Spirit dichotomy (and dualism) was for Paul.

Paul’s use of the word translated “flesh” (sa/rc) is complex and highly nuanced; it primarily refers to the human body, and its parts, but especially in the sense that it is affected and influenced by the impulse (e)piqumi/a) to sin. Paul clearly believed that this impulse to sin still remained in the “flesh”, even for Christians (Gal 5:17), but the enslaving power of sin had been removed—believers now have the freedom and ability to choose to follow God’s will. This choosing is expressed by use of the word fro/nhma (vv. 6-7, also in v. 27), rather difficult to translate, but which indicates the exercise of the mind, both in terms of understanding and the will. In typically dualistic fashion, Paul contrasts the fro/nhma th=$ sarko/$ (“mind[edness] of the flesh”) with the fro/nhma tou= pneu/mato$ (“mind[edness] of the Spirit”).

“And (yet) you are not in (the) flesh, but in (the) Spirit, if indeed (it is that the) Spirit of God houses [i.e. dwells] in you. And if any (one) does not hold (the) Spirit of (the) Anointed, that (person) is not his [i.e. does not belong to Christ].” (v. 9)

The condition of being and “walking” (i.e. living/acting) in the Spirit depends on the Spirit being in the believer. The reciprocity of this relationship is stressed by Paul no less than in the Johannine writings. What is striking is the way that this is expressed by the dual identification of the Spirit as both “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ“. The latter expression is rare in Paul’s letters, but, as this verse indicates, “Spirit of Christ” is used interchangeably with “Spirit of God”, as though both refer equally to the same Spirit. For more on this point, see the supplemental notes on vv. 12-17 (and cf. also the earlier note on 1 Cor 6:17ff; 15:44-46).

In verses 9-11, Paul gives a threefold qualification of the Spirit:

    • the “Spirit of God” (pneu=ma Qeou=) which dwells (“houses”) in [e)n] believers (v. 9a)
    • the “Spirit of [the] Anointed {Christ}” (pneu=ma Xristou=), which likewise is in [e)n] believers (v. 10), but believers are also said to “hold” it (v. 9b)
    • the “Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua from the dead” (i.e. of God), which also dwells in [e)n] believers, and gives life to our mortal (lit. “dying”) bodies just as Christ was raised from the dead (v. 11)

Verse 10 is discussed further in a separate daily note; but here we may consider briefly vv. 10-11 as a unit:

“And if (the) Anointed (One is) in you, (then on one hand) the body (is) dead through sin, but (on the other hand) the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness. And if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of (the) dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised (the) Anointed out of (the) dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through His Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] (with)in you.” (vv. 10-11)

Again, the Spirit dwelling in the believer means Christ dwells in the believer, since the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Christ. This means that, when we are united with the exalted Jesus through faith (and symbolized by baptism), and his Spirit unites with our spirit, we are also united with the Spirit of God.

The baptismal symbolism involves our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul only alludes to this here, having addressed the point earlier in 6:1-11; indeed, it is one of the most distinctive aspects of his theology. The power of Christ’s death and resurrection is communicated to us through our union with his divine Spirit. The power of his death puts to death the sin in our “flesh”, while the power of his resurrection transforms our entire being with divine life, so that even our decaying bodies will be raised to new life—just as his own body was raised by the power of God’s Spirit. The Spirit is literally to be understood as the very life of God.

Verses 12-17

Verses 12-13 are transitional to vv. 14-17ff, but they also serve to bring the discussion on the Spirit in vv. 1-11 to a close. Paul’s statement in v. 13 could not be more direct or to the point:

“for if you live according to the flesh, you are about to die away, but if, in (the) Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you shall live.”

The contrast between the Spirit and the flesh continues in these verses, which likewise have strong parallels with Galatians:

    • V. 12: An exhortation not to live “according to the flesh” (kata\ sa/rka)—cf. Gal 5:16-17
    • V. 13: A reminder that living/acting according to the flesh leads to death, while the opposite leads to life—cf. Gal 6:7-8; for the idea of “putting to death the deeds of the body”, see Gal 5:24 (also 6:14)
    • V. 14-16: Declaration that through the Spirit believers are made sons/offspring of God—cf. Gal 3:26; 4:1-6 —in particular, verse 15 is extremely close to Gal 4:5-6
    • V. 17: The declaration follows that, if we are sons of God, then we are also his heirs—cf. Gal 3:29; 4:1ff (esp. verse 7); Paul adds here the detail that we are co-heirs (“ones receiving the lot together”) with Christ (see Rom 8:29)

These verses will be given a more detailed exegetical treatment in a set of supplemental notes.

Verses 18-25ff

The theme of believers as sons (and heirs) of God continues in this section with the hope (and promise) of future glory (new creation) that we have through the Spirit. In a truly beautiful, if somewhat enigmatic, passage, Paul describes all of creation as currently in the process of giving birth to something new— “the glory of the offspring of God” (v. 21). Believers are the “firstfruits” of this new creation, a process of our being realized as sons/children of God which will only be completed with our final resurrection and glorification— “the loosing of our bodies from (the bondage of death)” (v. 23). This also is ultimately the realization of salvation (“by [this] hope we are saved”, v. 24).

Verses 26-30

This section emphasizes that believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit, which Paul describes in two ways:

    • Vv. 26-27—The Spirit works on our behalf before God, described according to two richly detailed, compound verbs:
      sunantilamba/netai, “he takes (hold) together opposite (us)”, i.e. he helps and assists us “in our lack of strength”
      u(perentugxa/nei, “he reaches in (and) over (us)”, i.e. he meets us and intercedes on our behalf, specifically in the context of prayer, of “speaking out toward” God
    • Vv. 29-30—God works on our behalf; here Paul presents a schematic or chain of what could be called an “order of salvation”:
      proe/gnw, “he knew before(hand)”
      prow/risen, “he marked out before(hand)”
      e)ka/lesen, “he called”
      e)dikai/wsen, “he made right”, or “he made/declared just”
      e)do/casen, “he esteemed/honored [i.e. granted honor/glory]”

For more on description of the Spirit’s role in vv. 26-27, cf. my recent discussion in the “Notes on Prayer” feature (along with an earlier study); on the parallels with 1 Cor 2:10-16, cf. the article on that passage in the current series.

Saturday Series: 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

After the exposition and application of Exod 34:29-25 in verses 7-11 (cf. the previous study), using a series of qal wa-homer arguments to contrast the old covenant (and the Law) with the new, Paul returns to the primary theme of his role as an apostle:

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

The word parr¢sía indicates something “uttered with all (openness/boldness)”; it can refer specifically to speaking openly in public, or openly as “with boldness”, or some combination of the two. Paul contrasts the openness of ministers of the Gospel (such as he and his fellow missionaries), with Moses who put a covering (kálumma) over his face. The implication is that Moses put the veil over his face when he met with the people after speaking to God. However, this is not at all clear from the Exodus narrative (34:29-34); indeed, it seems to be Moses addressed the people without the veil, i.e. before putting it on (vv. 31-33). After he had communicated God’s word and will to the people, then he donned the covering, wearing it until the next time he encountered YHWH in the Tent of Meeting.

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

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

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

The idea here in 2 Cor 3:13 seems to be that the covering makes it so the Israelites cannot see that the old covenant has come to an end in Christ. It is in this light that Paul makes use of the veil motif from Exodus 34. His usage here would imply that Moses wore the covering so that the people would not see the reflected glory fade from his face. That glory was temporary; it shone on Moses’ face after his meeting with YHWH in the Tent, and then would fade, until the next encounter. This detail is not stated specifically in the narrative, but Paul seems to interpret the passage with it in mind.

Clearly, Paul gives to the Scriptural tradition a uniquely Christian interpretation, which is then applied in verses 14-16 to the people of Israel as a whole. Even as they continue in their religious devotion to the Law and the old covenant, a covering remains over their eyes (and their heart), and they cannot see that the old covenant finds it end (and fulfillment) in the person and work of Christ. There are exceptions, of course, as the number of Jewish believers (even in Paul’s time) attest, and as is expressed in verse 16: “but if they turn toward the Lord, the covering is taken (away from) around (their eyes)”. Paul uses traditional Old Testament language here (of “turning [back] to the Lord [i.e. YHWH]”), though, in context, of course, turning to the Lord (YHWH) involves turning to the Lord (Jesus Christ), cf. Acts 3:19, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Corinthians 3:7-11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Similarly, in verse 9:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 15: 2 Corinthians 3:18

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

2 Corinthians 3:18

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

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

“And we all”
(h(mei=$ de\ pa/nte$)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 14: 2 Corinthians 3:17 (continued)

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

2 Corinthians 3:17, continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Spiritual nature of the New Covenant

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

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

Saturday Series: 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

2 Corinthians 3:1-6

In this study of the famous declaration by Paul in 2 Cor 3:18, we are examining the historical and literary context of the verse. It is to be considered, as we are doing, within the literary context of the section spanning 2:14-4:6. In last week’s study, we looked at 2:14-17, along with the portions of the letter (1:3-2:13) leading up to it. Paul’s main purpose in writing has to do with a disruption in the relationship between he (as an apostle) and the Corinthian churches. He mentions at least one significant episode (2:5-11) which seems to have led to some tension in the relationship.

Another factor which was apparently affecting the relationship negatively was the influence at Corinth of certain apostolic rivals to Paul. Specific (but unidentified) opponents are addressed far more directly (and harshly) in chapters 10-13. Most likely the same people are being alluded to in chapters 1-7 (e.g., 2:17; 3:1ff; 5:12-13), even if, as many commentators believe, chapters 10-13 are part of a separate letter written later than chaps. 1-7.

Almost certainly, Paul would not have introduced the theme of “letters of commendation” here in 3:1-6 if there were not such apostolic ‘rivals’, exerting some influence at Corinth, who were outside of Paul’s immediate missionary circle of friends and co-workers. The wording of verse 1 is important, if a bit difficult to translate literally:

“Do we begin again to present ourselves (as ministers) of (good) standing? (surely) we do not need (letter)s (showing our good) standing sent to you, or from you?”

Paul uses both the adjective systatikós and the related verb suníst¢mi/sunistáœ, which literally means “stand [together] with”, in the sense of placing things (or people) 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. It was a well-developed literary form in Paul’s time, models of which are provided, for example, by Demetrius (2nd/1st century B.C.) and Libanius (4th century A.D.); see Furnish, p. 180. Traveling missionaries and ministers would typically carry such letters of recommendation, whenever possible, particularly when they were visiting congregations and homes in places where they were not (well) known. Paul offers commendatory passages in his letters for specific individuals—see Philemon; Romans 16:1-2; Philippians 2:29-30.

In the ancient world, which lacked modern-day high-speed communication, such practice was necessary to establish a person’s identity and credentials; it also could serve as a source of authority and legitimacy. Naturally enough, the more impressive or prestigious the letter of recommendation, the more influence it provided; even today, the right letter of recommendation still carries tremendous weight for prospective employers, and so forth. It is possible that Paul’s opponents included visiting “apostles” who possessed such letters and credentials.

In vv. 1-6, Paul argues that neither he nor his colleagues require written letters recommending them to the believers of Corinth, since they are already well known—that is to say, this written authentication is already there in the hearts of the believers, having been written by the very Spirit of God (v. 4). He is referring primarily to the work of preaching the Gospel, which the Corinthian believers accepted; as a result they themselves become “the epistle of Christ”, under the service/ministry of Paul and his fellow missionaries. In verse 2, some manuscripts understandably read “written on your [hymœn] hearts,” but the correct reading almost certainly is “written on our [h¢mœn] hearts” —that is, the Corinthian believers (collectively) are a spiritual ‘letter’ written on the hearts of Paul and his colleagues, which they carry with them everywhere they go. Paul is, of course, emphasizing both aspects of the relationship, in connection with the apostolic ministry of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. In verse 3, he specifically declares that the Corinthians are “an epistle of Christ”:

“…being made to shine forth [i.e. made manifest/apparent] that you are a (letter) sent (forth) [epistol¢¡] of (the) Anointed (One), having been written, not with black (ink), but with (the) Spirit, not on (the) flat surfaces of stones, but on fleshy hearts.”

It is interesting the way that this image leads Paul so readily to the dualistic juxtaposition contrasting the old and new covenants, in terms of “the written (word/letter) [to grámma]” and “the Spirit [to pneúma]”. 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)

This is instructive as an example of the way that Paul is able to move from addressing practical matters into a deeper level of theological and spiritual discourse. Indeed, the entirety of verses 7-18 is such an expository discourse, which is not essential to the primary point Paul is making in the passage. To see this demonstrated, try reading up to verse 6a and then jump ahead immediately to 4:1 and continue on from there. The passage, and the argument Paul is making, would flow rather smoothly even if 3:7-18 were not present.

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

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

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

The context of chs. 10-13 suggests that at least some of these opponents are Jewish Christians (11:21ff), as in Galatians (cf. also Phil 3:2ff and Col 2:11ff, 16-18), and this may inform the rhetorical approach in 2 Cor 3 as well. Already in 1 Corinthians (1:10-13ff), Paul is aware of certain tendencies toward factionalism among the believers at Corinth, whereby people identify themselves in relation to a prominent apostolic personality. We know that Apollos (see Acts 18:24-19:1) was a Jewish Christian apostle (missionary and traveling minister) who was active at Corinth (1 Cor 3:4-6; 4:6; 16:12). Paul treats Apollos as a legitimate fellow-minister, though one senses a certain tension in 1 Cor 3:4-6ff (compare the contrast between Apollos and the Pauline circle in Acts 18:24-19:1ff).

Paul felt that there was a special relationship between the apostolic missionary and those who came to believe as a result of his work, and he was certainly protective of the churches which he had helped to found. When he was not present, those churches were, at times, vulnerable to the influence of other traveling ministers, people over whom Paul did not have any control. The New Testament bears witness to a number of controversies involving ‘competing’ missionaries. In addition to the situations Paul addresses in his letters (especially in Galatians and 2 Corinthians), we have the noteworthy example of 1 John, in which the author is combating the influence of certain “false prophets”, who can be characterized as Christian ministers and prophet-teachers working (and traveling) throughout the territory of the Johannine churches (see especially the warning in 2 John 7-11).

If Paul’s apostolic ‘rivals’ among the Corinthians were indeed prominent Jewish Christians, then this might explain why he suddenly embarks on the discourse of vv. 7-18, contrasting the old and new covenants. It would be most appropriate if these people, like the opponents in Galatians, continued to emphasize the binding authority of the Torah regulations for believers in Christ. However, if such a ‘Judaizing’ tendency was present in the work of his rivals, one expect a clearer indication of this in the fierce polemic of chapters 10-13, akin to what we find in Galatians.

Perhaps more relevant to verses 1-6, is the possibility that Paul’s rivals possessed impressive letters of recommendation, perhaps even coming from the church(es) of Jerusalem. Some at Corinth might well have asked, “What sort of letters of recommendation does Paul carry, compared to these?” Instead, in this passage, Paul emphasizes a spiritual, rather than a written, pedigree. It is this emphasis on the Spirit that characterizes the entire New Covenant, and the apostolic ministry of proclaiming the Gospel. In next week’s study, we will examine the unique expository discourse that Paul embarks on (in verses 7-11ff), focusing on the Scriptural tradition(s) that he utilizes as the basis for his exposition.

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

February 3: 2 Corinthians 3:17

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

2 Corinthians 3:17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 2: 2 Corinthians 3:16

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

2 Corinthians 3:16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 1: 2 Corinthians 3:14-15

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

2 Corinthians 3:14-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 31: 2 Corinthians 3:12-13

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

2 Corinthians 3:12-18

Verses 12-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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