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.

Spiritualism and the New Testament: Paul: Galatians 5:16-25

Galatians 5:16-25

In the previous article (on Gal 4:21-31), we saw how Paul’s understanding of the Law is framed by a Flesh-Spirit dualism. This is part of a broader contrast between the old covenant (of the Torah regulations) and the new covenant (in Christ). The old covenant belongs to the flesh (despite what Paul says in Rom 7:14), while the new covenant is characterized by the Spirit (cf. Rom 7:6; 8:2ff). This same contrast is central to the discourse in 2 Cor 3:7-18 (discussed at length in a prior article and set of notes), though with the dualistic contrast defined there as Letter-vs-Spirit (cf. Rom 2:29).

Another point of contact between 2 Cor 3:7-18 and Gal 4:21-31 is the theme of freedom (e)leuqeri/a), which characterizes the new covenant, and is closely connected with the presence of the Spirit. In being set free (from bondage to the power of sin), believers in Christ are also freed from the binding authority of the old covenant (and its Torah). This is the sense of the freedom Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians and Galatians, while in Romans the emphasis is on freedom from the power of sin.

But this freedom creates a difficulty for believers. Without the Torah regulations, what guide is there for how one should think and act? What ethical and moral standards are believers to live by? Paul addresses this in the next section of Galatians (5:1-6:10), referred to (in rhetorical terms) as the exhortatio—that is, the section where the author/speaker exhorts his audience to action or to a decision; in a religious or philosophical context, as here, this may be accompanied by ethical-moral instruction (parenesis).

I divide and outline the exhortatio into three main sections, prefaced by a primary exhortation:

    • 5:1—Exhortation regarding freedom vs. slavery
    • 5:2-12—Exhortation/warning regarding the Law (circumcision)
      —vv. 2-6: The Law vs. Christ
      —vv. 7-12: Those who are influencing the Galatians to observe the Law
    • 5:13-25—Exhortation/warning regarding freedom in Christ, which specifically includes:
      —vv. 16-21: The works of the flesh
      —vv. 22-25: The fruit of the Spirit
    • 5:26-6:10—Instruction related to Christian freedom (“walking in the Spirit”)
      5:26-6:6: Dealing with fellow believers—the “law of Christ”
      6:7-10: Harvest illustration and concluding warning

Before proceeding to a discussion of the portion most relevant to Paul’s spiritualism, let us consider the main exhortation in verse 1, as it picks up with the previous freedom vs. slavery theme used throughout the arguments in chapter 4:

“To freedom (the) Anointed has set us free; therefore stand (firm) and do not again have held (down) on you a yoke of slavery”

The dative of th=| e)leuqeri/a| is best understood as a dative of goal or purpose, i.e. “to freedom” , “for freedom”, parallel to the expression e)p’ e)leuqeri/a| in verse 13. For Paul, there is a fundamental connection between freedom and the Spirit (as we saw in 2 Cor 3:17). The exhortation is expressed according to two verbs:

The first is active, exhorting the Galatians to action (or continuation of action); the second is passive, implying something which is done to them by others, but which the Galatians may be allowing to happen. The image related to slavery is especially vivid—that of someone holding a yoke down upon their shoulders. This expression (“yoke of slavery”) is found in 1 Tim 6:1; a burdensome “yoke” is related to the Law in Acts 15:10 (Peter speaking), which may be contrasted with ‘yoke of Christ’ (Matt 11:29f)—cf. a possible parallel in the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

Again, the question must be asked: what guidance is there for the believer without the Torah regulations? Paul gives us an initial answer in verse 5:

“For we, in/through (the) Spirit [pneu/mati], out of trust [e)k pi/stew$], look to receive from (God) (the) hope of justice/righteousness [e)lpi/da dikaiosu/nh$]”

This is another powerful declaration of Christian identity, bringing together in compact form several of the key terms and expression Paul has been using in Galatians. In particular, it is another clear statement of the fundamental premise that righteousness comes only through the Spirit and faith (in Christ), and not by observing the Law (indeed, quite the opposite!). And, more to the point, righteousness is defined, not by the Torah regulations, but by the guiding presence of the Spirit (“in/by the Spirit”). 

In verse 13, Paul goes on to warn the Galatians that freedom in the Spirit does not mean that believers can behave immorally. In fact, the ethical injunctions of the Torah are still valid, even if the injunctions themselves are no longer binding. Paul follows early Christian tradition (and Jesus’ own teaching) in summarizing all of the Torah instruction under a single command (or duty)—that of showing love to one another (the ‘love command’), vv. 14-15. Yet, even in this, believers are not bound by a command or law per se, for the simple reason that fulfilling our duty to love is achieved through the guiding presence of the Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5; 15:30; Col 1:8).

This brings us to Paul’s key teaching in verses 16-25, where he ties Christian ethics and morality specifically to the presence of the Spirit. The injunction (and declaration) in verse 16 comes straight to the point:

“Walk about in/by (the) Spirit, and you shall not complete (the) impulse of (the) flesh.”

We could fill out the literal meaning of the noun e)piqumi/a, in context, by saying “…the impulse [qu/mo$] of the flesh over [e)pi/] sin.” That is to say, the “flesh” (sa/rc) leads a person toward sin. Here Paul embeds within his exhortation and basic teaching (vv. 16-18, 23b-25) what is often described as a list (or catalog) of “vices and virtues” (vv. 19-23a). Such lists were traditional and basic to Christian instruction; Paul did not create these, but rather adapted them, drawing upon the traditional language and terminology, in his letters (lists of “vices” being much more common)—cf. Rom 1:19-31; 13:13; 1 Cor 5:10-11; 6:9-10; 2 Cor 12:20-21; Col 3:5, 8; also Eph 4:31; 5:3-4; 1 Tim 1:9-10; 2 Tim 3:2-5; Titus 3:3.

For other examples in the New Testament and early Christian literature, see Mark 7:21-22f par; 1 Pet 2:1; 4:3, 15; Rev 21:8; 22:14; Didache 2:1-5:2; Barnabas 18-20; the letter of Polycarp 2:2; 4:3; Hermas, Commandments 5.2.4, 6.2, 8.3-5; Similitudes 6; 9.15, etc. Of the many examples in Greco-Roman literature and philosophy, one of the earliest is in Plato’s Gorgias 524-525. Instances can also be cited from Hellenistic Judaism (works of Philo, etc) and the texts of the Qumran community, most famously the treatise of the “Two Spirits” in the Community Rule (1QS 4:3-11). For more on the subject, see the excursus in Betz, Galatians, pp. 281-3.

The list of ‘vices’ (vv. 19-21) are referred to specifically as “works of (the) flesh” (e&rga th=$ sarko/$), an expression clearly intended as parallel to “works of (the) Law” (e&rga tou= no/mou), Gal 2:16; 3:3, 5, 10. These are all generally actions, reflecting sinful, selfish and immoral behavior; and, even though the Law would appear to guard and regulate against such things, according to Paul it actually serves to make manifest and increase the very sinfulness expressed by this list. This is not to be taken as an exhaustive catalog (or checklist), but one that fairly comprehensively represents human wickedness.

Paul does not use the corresponding term “works of the Spirit” for the opposite list in vv. 22-23, but rather “fruit [karpo/$] of the Spirit” —for it is the Spirit that does the working (vv. 5-6), and, indeed, the items in the list are not actions, but rather personal characteristics, attitudes, and (one might say) modes of behavior, generally corresponding to the term virtue (a)reth/) in Greek philosophical and ethical thought.

Commentators have noted a formal difference in the lists—the “works of the flesh” show little clear order, perhaps intentionally reflecting the inherent disorder of carnal behavior and lifestyle; the “fruit of the Spirit”, on the other hand, can be grouped neatly into three sets of three (cf. the similar famous triad in 1 Cor 13:4-6). To see how these two lists fit in the overall structure of this section, I would suggest the following (chiastic) outline:

    • Exhortation: “walk [peripate/w] in the Spirit” (v. 16)
      • Conflict for believers: “flesh against the Spirit” and “Spirit against flesh” (v. 17)
        • Affirmation for believers: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under Law” (v. 18)
          • Works of the flesh (vv. 19-21)
          • Fruit of the Spirit (vv. 22-23a)
        • Affirmation for believers: If the fruit of the Spirit is present, “there is no Law” (v. 23b)
      • Resolution of conflict: the flesh has been crucified (with Christ) (v. 24)
    • Exhortation: “walk [stoixe/w] in the Spirit” (v. 25)

Because of the importance of verses 16-18 and 23b-25, these will be discussed in more detail in separate notes.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. On the Change of Names §§7-10

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

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

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

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

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

c. Allegorical Interpretation III.100-101

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

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

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

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

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

d. On the Special Laws I.41-50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

f. Questions and Answers in Exodus 2.29, etc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 20: 2 Corinthians 3:18 (concluded)

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note continued the discussion on verse 18; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:18, continued

“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.”

An important question, touched on briefly in the previous note, is exactly what it means for believers to “see” the glory of God. This is important for an understanding of Paul’s spiritualism, at least as it is expressed in the current passage. If our encounter with God is spiritual, taking place at the level of the Spirit, what is the significance of the motifs of “image” (ei)kw/n) and “form” (morfh/) that Paul uses, implying a visible or physical/material shape? Before addressing this in more detail, let us proceed with an examination of the final phrases of the verse.

“from splendor to splendor”
(a)po\ do/ch$ ei)$ do/can)

This compound prepositional phrase qualifies the main statement “we are transformed (into) the same image” (cf. the discussion in the previous note). This transformation (vb metamorfo/w) takes place “from” (a)po/) glory and “into/unto” (ei)$) glory. How should we understand the two occurrences of “glory” (do/ca) as they relate to each other?

1. One possibility is that Paul is furthering the contrast between the lesser glory of the old covenant and the far greater glory of the new covenant. This is certainly the context for how the word do/ca is used in verses 7-11, and follows the overall theme of the discourse. If the preposition a)po/ is used here in the sense of “away from”, then there would be little question that the fundamental idea was of believers moving away from the fading glory of the old covenant, and into the new glory found in Christ.

2. Another option is that the phrase emphasizes the continual (and progressive) process of transformation that takes place for believers in Christ. The verbal forms katoptrizo/menoi (“[behold]ing in a looking-glass”) and metamorphou/meqa (“we are [being] transformed”) are present forms, meaning they refer to actions (or conditions) that are currently taking place, and/or are ongoing.

3. A third possibility relates to both the concept of looking into a mirror and of being transformed. As we (believers) are transformed into the image reflected in the mirror, we shift from God’s glory (that we are beholding) to our glory (into which we are transformed). There are a number of places where Paul specifically refers to the glory of believers, though usually in relation to the promise of our future resurrectionRom 5:2; 8:18-25; 1 Cor 15:40-43; 2 Cor 4:17; Col 1:27; 3:4; cf. also 1 Cor 2:7. The image that we behold, and into which we are transformed, is, of course, Christ’s image—it is his glory that allows for us to partake in God’s glory; cf. Rom 8:29; 2 Thess 2:14.

4. Finally, one may understand the phrase primarily in a Christological sense. That is to say, we first encounter God’s glory through the glory of Christ, who is the image and reflection (as Son) of God the Father (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15; Rom 8:29). Thus, we proceed from the glory of Christ to the glory of God.

“even as from (the) Lord (the) Spirit”
(kaqa/per a)po\ kuri/ou pneu/mato$)

In my view, this final phrase is epexegetical; that is to say, it further explains the prior phrase. This is indicated by the use of the comparative particle kaqa/per, “very (much) as, just as, even as”. It also would seem to be confirmed by the parallel with the preposition a)po/:

    • “from splendor…” (a)po\ do/ch$…)
      “from (the) Lord…” (a)po\ kuri/ou…)

The double genitive expression kuri/ou pneu/mato$ is itself problematic. Does it represent a genitival chain, or are the nouns kur/io$ (“Lord”) and pneu=ma (“Spirit”) in apposition, both being governed by the same preposition (a)po/)? In the first instance, the phrase would be “from (the) Lord of (the) Spirit,” or “from (the) Spirit of (the) Lord,” which would match the expression in v. 17b. In the second instance, the phrase could be filled out two ways:

    • “from (the) Lord, (the) Spirit” or
    • “from (the) Lord (who is the) Spirit”

This corresponds with the statement in v. 17a, and it is to be preferred, I think. However, in my translation above, I have rendered the phrase quite literally (and flatly) as “from (the) Lord (the) Spirit”. Paul, indeed, may be attempting to combine both expressions of verse 17, relating (and identifying) “the Lord” with “the Spirit”.

In any case, the juxtaposition of the two prepositional phrases makes clear that our transformation “into glory” occurs through the Spirit. If Paul primarily has the future resurrection in mind (cf. above), then Romans 8:11 may provide a suitable parallel to his thought here:

“And if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of the dead dwells in you, the (One hav)ing raised (the) Anointed out of the dead also will make alive your dying bodies through His Spirit dwelling in you.”

However, I do not think that the spiritual transformation described in 2 Cor 3:18 can be limited to the future resurrection. Indeed, it is possible that the two occurrences of do/ca in the prior phrase (cf. above) could be understood as a contrast between the present glory and our future glory. Both are realized through the Spirit, but the present glory is experienced inwardly, in an invisible and immaterial manner within the body. Only with the future glory (of the resurrection) will our visible/material bodies finally be transformed by the Spirit.

This brings us to the question posed at the beginning of this note: what is the manner of our “seeing” God’s glory that brings about our transformation? In what way do we “see” that which invisible, when our encounter with God takes place in and through the invisible Spirit?

To begin with, as partial answer, it is to be emphasized that the “image” (ei)kw/n) that we behold in the mirror is the image of Jesus Christ, who, as mentioned above, is the image of God. Paul states this explicitly further on at 4:4 (cp. Col 1:15). The noun ei)kw/n occurs seven other times in Paul’s letters. In Rom 1:23, there is a negative (religious) contrast between the glory (do/ca) of God and idolatrous images made by human beings (cp. Wisd 13:16; 14:15ff; 15:5). The other six references are more relevant to our passage, where the word ei)kw/n is used in two specific contexts:

Based on Col 3:10, Paul seems to understand the Gen 1:26-27 tradition primarily in a noetic sense, in terms of the mind—knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. This line of interpretation is typical of the philosophical strands of Hellenistic Judaism, represented most notably in the writings of Philo of Alexandria and the deutero-canonical Book of Wisdom (e.g., 2:23; 7:26). Elsewhere, in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, the Divine Wisdom is identified specifically with the Spirit, as the source of our human reasoning and wisdom (cf. especially Job 32:8; Wisdom 7:7, 22; 9:17).

As previously noted, the only other use of the verb metamorfo/w by Paul is in Romans 12:2, where the transformation of believers takes place through “the renewing [a)nakai/nwsi$] of the mind [nou=$]”. This suggests that our ‘seeing’ in 2 Cor 3:18 should be understood in terms of knowledge (knowing), the way we think and perceive things internally. This aspect of Paul’s spiritualism corresponds with the noetic spiritualism of Philo, for example. But what is it that we come to know, and how does it relate to our experience of God through the Spirit? We will pick up this discussion in the next daily note, as we extend our exegetical study, beyond the discourse of vv. 7-18, to the continuation of Paul’s argument in 4:1-6.

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 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).

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 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 27: 2 Corinthians 3:9-11

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note discussed verses 7-8; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 3:9-11

As discussed in the previous note, 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 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 (cf. the previous note), 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?”

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 do/ca here as “esteem” (i.e. honor, dignity, grandeur, etc); more commonly it is rendered “glory”. Given the use of the traditional motif of the appearance of Moses’ face, it may be that an emphasis on the visual aspect of do/ca (i.e., “splendor”) would be at least as appropriate.

The noun kata/krisi$ (“judgment against”) is related to the realm of the old covenant which embodies, according to Paul, death. The Law (Torah) brings judgment, and confirms to human beings that they are in bondage to sin (and death). This noun (kata/krisi$) occurs only twice in the New Testament, nor is it used at all in the LXX; apart from this verse, Paul uses it later at 7:3. If this “judgment against” us is a product of the old covenant, the contrasting noun dikaiosu/nh (“right[eous]ness, justice”) is related to the new covenant of the Spirit. The noun dikaiosu/nh is, of course, especially prominent in Paul’s writings, with more than half of the NT occurrences found in the undisputed Pauline letters. This righteousness is “of God” (Rom 1:17; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21, etc), but Paul specifically connects it with the person of Jesus Christ, to whom believers are united through the Spirit. Especially noteworthy is the similar contrast between the Law and the ‘new covenant’ in Christ, expressed by Paul in Rom 10:3-4. In 2 Cor 5:21, the flip side of this relationship is emphasized, by which Paul declares that believers themselves come to be the “righteousness of God” in Christ.

As indicated above, the “glory” of the old covenant was marked by the shining of Moses’ face (in Exod 34:29-35), as Paul describes in v. 7, mentioning both: (a) the stone tablets on which the commands of the Law had been written, and (b) that the Israelites were not able to gaze directly at the glory in Moses’ face. This last detail is implied as the reason that the veil (ka/lumma) was introduced. The superiority of the new covenant is marked by use of the comparative/superlative adverb ma=llon (“more, greater”) and the verb perisseu/w (“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 (perf. 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 (cf. Rom 10:4). 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?”

As in verse 7 (cf. again the discussion in the previous note),  the key verb here is 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. It 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 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. There is also an interesting distinction in the use of prepositions:

    • the old covenant was (or came) through glory [dia\ do/ch$]
    • the new covenant is (and remains) in glory [e)n do/ch|]

The precise meaning of dia/ 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, beginning in the next note.

It is important to keep in mind the primary and contextual basis of this contrast between the old and new covenants—it is based upon the reality that the new covenant is manifest through the presence and power of the Spirit. Paul established this contrast in verse 3 (and again in verse 6), and it is reflective of a spiritualistic dualism that runs through his thought, and is certainly expressed, as such, in this passage. In what remains of the discourse, in verses 12-18, Paul expresses this spiritual principle through the interpretation (and application) of the Scriptural tradition in Exodus 34:29-35. It is to this interpretation that we turn in our next note.