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 22: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (cont.)

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note began the discussion on 4:3-6; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

2 Corinthians 4:3-6, continued

As part of our discussion in the previous note, we considered how Paul’s concluding statements in 4:4 and 6 help us understand the famous declaration in 3:18. In particular, he makes use of two parallel constructions, involving complex genitive-chains:

    • V. 4: “unto the…shining [vb au)ga/zw] (of)
      • the enlightenment [fwtismo/$]
        • of the good message
          • of the splendor [do/ca]
            • of the Anointed
              • who is (the) image of God
    • V. 6: “He shone [vb la/mpw] in our hearts
      • the enlightenment [fwtismo/$]
        • of the knowledge
          • of the splendor [do/ca]
            • of God
              • in (the) face of (the) Anointed

At the end of each genitival chain, a clause or phrase is added emphasizing that Jesus Christ reflects the glory of God. In the first instance, Jesus is called the “image” (ei)kw/n) of God, as in Col 1:15; Rom 8:29. In the context of the mirror (ka/toptron) motif in 3:18, this image certainly should be understood as a reflection of God’s own image. In the second instance, Paul again has the Moses tradition of Exod 34:29-35 in mind, the episode in which the glory of God was reflected (by way of a shining light/aura) on Moses’ face.

Like Moses, believers encounter God with faces uncovered, beholding in a mirror (katoptrizo/menoi) the glory of the Lord (3:18). This “mirror” is to be identified with the presence of Christ in the heart of the believer (“in our hearts,” 4:6). In our heart, we are able to behold directly the glory of God reflected, with perfect clarity, in the person of Christ. And, as we see, we are at the same time being transformed (metamorfou/meqa) into the same image.

This motif of light is more suitable for the experience of ‘seeing’ at the level of the Spirit. It is visible, but in a diffuse and essentially formless manner. The more abstract nature of light as an image (ei)kw/n) suggests that a deeper kind of ‘seeing’ is involved, properly represented by Paul’s use of the term gnw=si$ (“knowledge”) in 4:6. The parallel idiom of seeing/knowing is made especially convenient in Greek, since the verb ei&dw can mean both “see” and “know” almost interchangeably. The Gospel of John, in particular, makes considerable use of this dual-meaning, applying it, in a theological and Christological context, throughout the narrative. Paul is doing much the same here in our passage.

There can be little doubt that Paul has been influenced heavily by certain lines of Jewish tradition, including strands of mystical-philosophical thought and expression in Hellenistic Judaism, best seen in the writings of Philo of Alexandria and the deutero-canonical Book of Wisdom. In prior notes, I have discussed Philo’s use of the same Moses tradition (from Exod 33-34) that Paul has utilized here in 2 Cor 3:7-4:6, including use of the same rare verb katoptri/zomai and similar application of the mirror (ka/toptron) motif. Perhaps even closer to the language and thought of 3:18/4:6 is the declaration in Wisdom 7:25-26, where it is stated that Wisdom is:

“…an emanation of the splendor of the Almighty shining pure…
For it is a shining forth [a)pau/gasma] of eternal light [fw=$],
and a spotless mirror [e&soptron] of the working of God,
and (the) image [ei)kw/n] of His goodness”

The noun e&soptron refers to a glass that one “looks in(to)”, with virtually the same meaning as ka/toptron (‘looking-glass, mirror’).

All of these things stated above regarding the Divine Wisdom personified, Paul applies to the person of Christ. Just as important, the same Hellenistic Jewish traditions would identify Wisdom (and/or the Logos) with the Spirit of God (cf. Wisd 1:7; 7:7, 22; 9:17; 12:1). Philo, in particular, utilizes Moses as the paradigm for the mystical-philosophical experience of God filling the purified and enlightened soul with His Spirit. I will be discussing this further in an upcoming article in the “Ancient Parallels” feature on this site.

For Paul, of course, his understanding of the indwelling Spirit is fundamentally (and radically) different, in two respects: (1) its Christological orientation, and (2) it applies to all believers equally, regardless of one’s adeptness for mystical philosophy. To this, one may add the communal component, with Paul’s unique manner of expressing the idea of believers, collectively and united, as the “body of Christ”.

This brings us to the interpretive (and theological) question that we have slowly been addressing in these past few notes. How do believers “see” God (His glory), when the encounter takes place inwardly, and invisibly, through the Spirit? The answer to this question will go a long way, I think, toward elucidating the nature of Paul’s spiritualism. I have begun to answer the question, inductively, through the exegesis of 3:16-18 and 4:4-6 (consult the recent notes on these verses). This allows us to draw some further conclusions, and to gain a relatively clear picture of what Paul has in mind. However, in order to fill out the portrait, it will be necessary to draw upon several other passages in his letters. This we will do, in the next daily note, our final note in this series on 2 Corinthians 3.

February 21: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6

[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 4:3-6

Returning from the discourse in 3:7-18 to his main line of argument, Paul picks up at 4:1-2 from where he left off (in 3:6a). He returns to his primary discussion of the apostolic ministry, and of his relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthian believers. He defends the boldness with which he speaks, and of his personal integrity as a minister. Unlike some of his apostolic rivals (so it is implied), Paul claims to preach the Gospel openly and honestly, not promoting himself (and his own interests), but rather working always in the service of God and for the good of those to whom he ministers (v. 5).

In verse 3, however, he folds back into the discussion some of the key themes and motifs introduced in the discourse. He utilizes again the motif of the “covering” (ka/lumma, vb kalu/ptw) from the Moses tradition (Exod 34:29-35); previously, it was applied to the Israelite/Jewish people, those who remained self-bound under the old covenant, not realizing that the old covenant has come to an end in the person of Christ. Now, he extends the metaphor to all people, adapting it to the earlier language of 2:15:

“But if, indeed, our good message is covered [kekalumme/non], it is covered in/among the (one)s perishing [a)pollume/noi$]” (4:3)

The “covering” motif is thus applied now to everyone who is unwilling (or unable) to accept the Gospel of Christ. All of humankind is under bondage to the power of sin (and death)—a point Paul expounds in some detail in Romans—and, thus, they are perishing. Only through acceptance of the Gospel and trusting in Jesus Christ, are people saved from perishing. This bondage is implied by Paul’s reference in verse 4 to “the god of this age” (o( qeo\$ tou= ai)w=no$)—cf. also 1 Cor 2:6ff; Gal 1:4; cp. John 12:31; 14:30; 1 Jn 5:19. The language reflects the eschatological dualism of early Christians, which was typical of the period and similar, in many respects, to what we find in the Qumran texts.

Unbelievers are literally those “without trust” (a&pisto$); God has allowed them to remain “blinded” by the world’s covering, the purpose of which is:

“…(so) as not to beam (forth) the (en)lightenment of the good message of the splendor of the Anointed…”

This simply means that the covering (that blinds the unbelievers) does not allow them to see the shining light of the Gospel. Three different words are used here related to the specific idiom of seeing (cf. the discussion on 3:18 in the previous two notes):

    • au)ga/zw—this verb denotes rays of (sun)light (sing. au)gh/) beaming forth, sometimes referring specifically to the sunrise at dawn (i.e., light shining through the darkness); the verb au)ge/w refers more simply to the shining of light, while au)ga/zw includes the idea of the illumination that comes from the radiating light, allowing people to see clearly.
    • fwtismo/$—derived from fw=$ (“light”) and the verb fwti/zw (“give light”), this noun refers specifically to the “illumination” that comes from the light; the translation “enlightenment” is accurate enough, and conveys the important noetic aspect of the light/seeing motif.
    • do/ca—in the context of the Sinai theophany and the Moses tradition, this noun (properly, “esteem, honor”) is best rendered “splendor,” or (more commonly) “glory,” as also in 3:18 (cp. its use in vv. 7-11); the Divine splendor is often understood (and visualized) in terms of a shining aura of brilliant light.

Paul uses a chain of genitives, but the main expression is “the (en)lightenment of the good message” (to\ fwtismo\$ tou= eu)agge/liou)—that is to say, the Gospel brings light (vb au)ga/zw) and enlightenment (fwtismo/$) to the person who receives it. The qualifying genitives that follow (“of the splendor of the Anointed”) can be understood two ways: (1) as a simple objective genitive (or genitive of content), referring to the content of the Gospel; or (2) as what we might call a genitive of destination. In the first instance, the Gospel message is fundamentally about the splendor of Christ—his death and resurrection, exaltation, and divine status/position as Son of God, etc. In the second instance, the Gospel leads the believer to the splendor of Christ (cp. the expression “way of salvation,” etc).

Both ways of reading the expression are valid; however, the idea of removing the covering, along with the tradition of Moses entering the Tent of Meeting (or the rock on mount Sinai) to encounter God, strongly suggests that, upon receiving the Gospel, believers are led/brought into an encounter with the “splendor of God,” which we experience through the “splendor of Christ.”

Indeed, Paul goes on to declare that the Anointed (Christ) is “(the) image [ei)kw/n] of God”, much as he does in Colossians 1:15 (cf. also Romans 8:29). This helps to explain what he means by the expression “the same image” in 3:18 (cf. the previous notes). As the very “image” of God, it stands to reason that Christ would display the same glory. This is expounded in more detail, further developing the light motif (and its association with Jesus), in verse 6:

“For (it is) God, the (One hav)ing said ‘Out of (the) darkness light shall shine,’ who shone (light) in our hearts toward (the en)lightenment of the knowledge of the splendor of God in (the) face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

To the three light-terms listed above, Paul here adds the verb la/mpw (“shine”), which has more or less the same meaning as au)ga/zw above. Indeed, the two constructions are similar, with comparable chains of genitives. Here in verse 6, the noun gnw=si$ (“knowledge”) holds the same place as eu)agge/lion (“good message,” Gospel) in v. 4. Because of this, many commentators would treat gnw=si$ here as synonymous with eu)agge/lion. In my view, this is incorrect. The parallelism in v. 6 is meant to convey a deeper level of meaning, which may be illustrated as follows:

    • Through the minister (as God’s) servant
      • the Gospel shines forth [vb au)ga/zw] light
        • which leads the believer =>
          • to the splendor of Christ
    • Through the action of God Himself
      • the Knowledge shines forth [la/mpw] light
        • which leads the believer =>
          • to the splendor of God

This Knowledge (gnw=si$) goes beyond the Gospel message, to the believer’s encounter with the image/face of Christ within, in the ‘heart’, at the level of the Spirit. This relates to the question posed in the previous note: how do believers “see” God, when the encounter takes place spiritually, inwardly and invisibly, through Spirit? A key to the answer is found in two details Paul introduces here at the conclusion of the passage: (1) the word gnw=si$ (“knowledge”), and (2) the motif of the “face” (pro/swpon). I will discuss the significance of these in the next daily note.

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.

February 17: 2 Corinthians 3:18 (continued)

[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.”

In dealing with Paul’s use of the rare verb katoptri/zw (discussed in the previous note), I mentioned how the verb is typically used (as it is here) in the reflexive middle voice (katoptri/zomai), where it would mean “behold oneself in a mirror”. Thus, the implication is that we, as believers, see ourselves in the mirror. Paul may, indeed, have something of this in mind, in terms of the transformation of believers (cf. below)—that is, we see ourselves being transformed. At the same time, both the syntax of the verse, and the context of the Moses tradition (Exod 34), clearly indicate that Paul is primarily referring to believers seeing God.

It is possible to explain—and essentially harmonize—both aspects of the mirror-motif, once we understand that the mirror (ka/toptron) here is to be identified with the person of Jesus Christ. To see how Paul expresses and develops this idea, let us continue our exegesis of the verse.

“the same image”
(th\n au)th\n ei)ko/na)

Syntactically, the expression “the same image” is the predicate object of the verb that follows (metamorfo/w, discussed below), preceding it in the clause. However, it also relates to the prior verb (katoptri/zomai), indicating what it is that believers see in the mirror. Given the basic idea of looking into a mirror, we might well assume that this “self(-same)” (au)to/$) image refers, indeed, to the reflected image of ourselves—i.e., our own reflection. But, again, in light of the theological context of beholding God—His glory—the situation is clearly more complicated. Paul here only implies what he states more explicitly further on at 4:4—that Christ “is the image [ei)kw/n] of God” (cf. also Col 1:15). Thus, it is Christ’s image that we see, and it only corresponds to our own reflection as we are transformed into his image.

There is no doubt that “the same image” that we are transformed into, is parallel—and essentially synonymous—with the earlier predicate “the splendor [do/ca] of the Lord”. If Christ is the image of God, then it stands to reason that he reflects God’s glory. Again, Paul makes this more explicit at the close of the section, speaking of the “splendor [do/ca] of Christ” in 4:4, and of the “splendor of God” being present “in the face of [Jesus] Christ” (4:6). Cf. also 8:23; 2 Thess 2:14; 1 Cor 2:8; Col 1:27.

“we are (being) transformed”

This is the main verb of the verse, with the central clause thus being: “we are transformed (into) the same image”. The verb is metamorfo/w, a compound of the base verb morfo/w (“form, shape,” derived from morfh/), with a prefixed preposition (meta/, in the sense of “after, across”) implying a change or shift from one form/shape to another. The English word “transform” is a concise and accurate translation.

There are only three other occurrences of the verb in the New Testament, two of which are in the Synoptic Transfiguration episode (Mark 9:2; par Matt 17:2). In that instance, it is a change to the visible/physical appearance and form (morfh/) that is involved. However, as with the verb “transform” in English, metamorfo/w can be used in a more abstract and figurative sense, referring to a change that takes place within a person, that is not visible. One can speak of a moral/ethical transformation, for example, and so philosophers might utilize metamorfo/w (or the related noun metamo/rfwsi$) in this way. This is essentially how Paul uses the verb in Rom 12:2, locating transformation in the mind (nou=$). Interestingly, even though Philo shares with Paul the idea of personal transformation through seeing/beholding God, he does not use the verb metamorfo/w in this noetic and ethical-religious sense (cp. Life of Moses I.57; On the Special Laws IV.147, etc).

Elsewhere in his writings, Paul makes use of the comparable verb summorfo/w (or summorfi/zw), meaning “conform”, to have or share a similar form with another. In Phil 3:10, Paul refers specifically to believers “being conformed” to the death of Jesus, one of several key passages where he expresses the idea of our participation in the death (and resurrection) of Christ. The related adjective su/mmorfo$ is used in Phil 3:21, and also in Rom 8:29; the latter reference is particularly relevant for an understanding of Paul’s thought here in 2 Cor 3:18:

“…for, th(ose) whom He knew beforehand, He also marked out beforehand, (to be) conformed [summo/rfou$] (to) the image of His Son”

The destiny of believers in Christ is to share the same form (morfh/) and image (ei)kw/n) with him, which requires a transformation. The verb metamorfo/w emphasizes the change, while summorfo/w focuses on our likeness to the image (into which we are changed).

An interesting point here is that, though Paul is clearly stressing the spiritual nature of our encounter with God—in this new covenant of the Spirit—he also utilizes the terms morfh/ and ei)kw/n, implying a visible/physical shape, as well as the specific idiom of seeing. We may thus ask what it means for believers to ‘see’ the glory of God through the mirror of Christ. This we will explore in the next daily note, the concluding note on 2 Cor 3:18.


February 16: 2 Corinthians 3:18 (continued)

[These notes are part of the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note began 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.”

 The first two phrases were examined in the previous note; we now proceed with the third phrase, in which Paul begins to explain something of what having an “uncovered” face means for believers in Christ.

“the splendor of (the) Lord”
(th\n do/can kuri/ou)

Paul states the predicate object of the phrase before the verb, which is essentially a verb of seeing, cf. below. Believers in Christ are able to see God’s “splendor” (do/ca). The noun do/ca was discussed in the earlier note on verse 7; Paul uses it 11 times in the discourse—eight times in vv. 7-11 (including at least once in each verse), and three more times here in v. 18. I would typically translate do/ca as “esteem” or “honor”; however, when used of God, especially in the context of a theophany, the idea of “splendor” is more appropriate.

There can be no doubt that Paul has the theophany in Exodus 34 in mind, where YHWH reveals Himself to Moses, in response to Moses’ request in 33:18: “Make [i.e. allow] me, please, to see your dobK*” —in the LXX this reads “Show to me your do/ca.” In the Old Testament, Greek do/ca has roughly the same semantic range as Hebrew dobK*, and, in the context of the manifestation of God (theophany), both mean “splendor, glory”. In 34:1-8, YHWH manifests Himself to Moses on mount Sinai, providing a parallel to the original theophany in chaps. 19-20 (also ch. 24). This second theophany, to Moses alone, corresponds with the re-establishment of the covenant, through the special mediation of Moses.

Paul’s draws heavily in vv. 7-18 upon this historical-theological tradition, as we have discussed. The honor/splendor of the new covenant far surpasses that of the old covenant; and, along with this, it is experienced by God’s people (believers) in a very different way. In place of the mediation of a single individual, with only a partial/limited reflection of the Divine glory, now all the people—that is, all believers—experience and behold God’s glory directly, without any human mediation.

As discussed in the prior note, the term ku/rio$ (“Lord”) in vv. 16-18 refers principally to God the Father (YHWH); however, the Christological aspect of the use of ku/rio$, so common among early Christians, does finally come into view here as well, as we shall see.

“(behold)ing in a looking-glass”

The subject of this verb is still “we all” from the beginning of the verse: “we all…(behold)ing in a looking-glass the splendor of (the) Lord…” The verb is the rare katoptri/zw, derived from the noun ka/toptron, and difficult to translate literally (with precision) in English. The noun ka/toptron is essentially derived from the compound verb kaqora/w (fut. kato/yomai), “look down (on),” or, more generally, “look upon, behold”. The neuter noun thus refers to something one looks upon, and came to denote specifically the “looking-glass” (or mirror) in which one looks upon the image (of oneself); it can also mean, more abstractly, the mirrored “reflection” itself. The verb katoptri/zw, typically in the reflexive middle voice katoptri/zomai, thus refers to beholding (oneself) in a mirror.

The noun ka/toptron does not occur in the New Testament, and only once (Exod 38:8 [26]) in the LXX; the verb katoptri/zomai is not used in the LXX, and occurs only here in the NT. It is also relatively rare elsewhere in Greek literature of the period, but there are several occurrences in the papyri (e.g., P. Oxy XIII 1609 19; Syll 80264), and is used once by Philo of Alexandria (Allegorical Interpretation III.101). Philo also uses the noun ka/toptron 15 times, in a philosophical-theological context that is relevant to an understanding of Paul’s usage of the mirror-motif.

Indeed, Philo draws upon the common (and ancient) mystical idea of the human mind or soul as the ‘mirror’ in which one beholds the Divine. In the ancient world, mirrors were typically made of polished metal and could easily become tarnished; thus, philosophers and mystics naturally emphasized the need to ‘polish’ the mirror of one’s soul—through ascetic discipline, turning away from vices and the vain things of this world, cultivating virtue, etc. Once purified, the soul is able to see clearly the image of God reflected there. For examples of Philo’s use of ka/toptron in this regard, cf. On the Migration of Abraham 190; On Flight and Finding 213; On Abraham 153; On the Decalogue 105; On the Contemplative Life 78. As mentioned above, the only occurrence of the noun in the LXX is in Exod 38:8, referring to the construction of the bronze wash-basin, made out of the mirrors donated by Israelite women. Philo naturally emphasizes this, interpreting the ‘mirrors’ of these virtuous women as representing the “beauty of their souls” (On the Life of Moses II.137, 139; cf. also On the Migration of Abraham 98).

The physical/material world of creation itself also reflects the Divine, but in a partial and less perfect way. This is stressed by Philo in his lone use of the verb katoptri/zomai, in Allegorical Interpretation III.101. Notably, he, like Paul, uses the verb in the context of the Moses tradition in Exodus 34 (and the request by Moses in 33:18, cf. above). Moses asks that he might see God Himself directly, and not through the medium of any created thing in the world, which would mean seeing only an imperfect reflection:

“let me not see in a looking-glass [katoptrisai/mhn] your appearance [i)de/a] in any other thing, (but) only in you (yourself), the (true) God”

From the standpoint of Philo’s philosophical spiritualism, this ‘direct’ vision of God can only take place through the eternal and immaterial mind/soul, which comes from God Himself, insofar as it has been purified from sin, freed from passions and from attachment to the temporal/created things of the world.

Paul shares something of this noetic and ethical-religious approach, but differs radically from Philo in his distinctive Christian view of the presence of the Spirit in and among believers. This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

For help in locating the occurrences of the noun ka/toptron in Philo, I have made use of The Philo Index: A Complete Greek Word Index to the Writings of Philo of Alexandria, by Peder Borgen, Kåre Fuglseth, and Roald Skarsten (Eerdmans/Brill: 2000).

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 63 (Part 1)

Psalm 63

Dead Sea MSS: 4QPsa (vv. 2, 4 [1, 3])

We have here a prayer-Psalm with certain lament features, such are to be found in a number of the Psalms we have studied thus far. From the standpoint of the thematic structure, it is possible to divide the Psalm two ways. First, one many isolate a main section (vv. 4-9), in which the Psalmist affirms his devotion to YHWH. This is preceded by a plea for blessing, for an experience of the Divine Presence (vv. 2-3); and it is followed by an imprecatory petition, calling down a curse upon the wicked (vv. 10-12).

Another possibility is a three-part structure, working from the repeated mention of “my soul” (yv!p=n~) in vv. 2, 6, and 9. Based on this dividing principle, there would be three stanzas of unequal length (vv. 2-5, 6-8, 9-12), each of which begins with a reference to the Psalmist’s soul desiring/longing for YHWH. It may be possible to combine this division with the thematic structuring mentioned above. We may thus speak of two main stanzas, juxtaposing the emphasis on prayer for blessing (vv. 2-5) and the call for a curse on the wicked (vv. 9-12). The shorter central stanza (vv. 6-8) is transitional, developing the main theme of the Psalmist’s devotion to YHWH.

Metrically, the Psalm tends to follow a 3-beat (3+3) couplet pattern, though not consistently so; places where the poetic rhythm differs or is irregular will be noted.

The heading marks this as yet another musical composition (romz+m!) “belonging to David”. The additional contextual information, “in his [i.e. David’s] being in (the) outback [i.e. ‘wilderness’] of Yehudah,” alludes to the David tradition(s) narrated in 1 Samuel 22, 23.

Stanza 1: VV. 2-5 [1-4]

Verse 2 [1]

“Mightiest, you my Mighty (One), I seek you at dawn;
(indeed,) my soul thirsts for you,
my flesh faints (with longing) for you,
like a dry land exhausted by no water.”

The initial <yh!l)a$ marks this as another ‘Elohist’ Psalm, in which the plural title <yh!l)a$ (“Mightiest [One],” Elohim, i.e. ‘God’) has been substituted for the Divine name hwhy (YHWH).

In the MT as we have it, a long 4-beat couplet in the opening line is followed by a 3-beat triad (3+3+3). For a slightly different approach to the division of these lines, cf. Dahood (II, p. 96f). In the first line, the verb rj^v* is denominative (from rj^v^, “dawn”) and refers to doing something at dawn (or early in the morning). The sense of longing conveyed in the following lines makes it appropriate to fill in the act of seeking—i.e., “I seek you at dawn”. This establishes the setting for the first stanza.

The first two lines of the triad that follows form a synonymous couplet: “my soul thirsts for you / my flesh faints for you”, with the verbal parallel of am^x* (“thirst”) and Hm^K* (“[be] faint”); the latter verb occurs only here in the Old Testament, and its meaning must be determined from the context, and by possible cognates in other Semitic languages (Syriac, Arabic). The juxtaposition of soul and “flesh” (i.e., body) is comprehensive, indicating how the Psalmist’s entire person, his whole being, longs for YHWH’s presence.

I take the initial preposition (B=) in the fourth line to have comparative force (cf. Dahood, II, p. 97); in other words, the Psalmist is comparing his longing to that of a dry desert land longing for water. The association with the David tradition indicated in the heading (cf. above) may have been due to reading B= here in its common locative sense—i.e., “in a dry land”. I also tentatively follow Dahood in revocalizing MT [y@u* (a masculine adjective which does not agree with the feminine noun Jr#a#) as an infinitive ([y)u*), “(being) exhausted”. The land is exhausted because of its lack of water, indicated here by the privative adverbial particle yl!B=

Verses 3-5 [2-4]

“So in (the) holy (place) I (would) gaze on you,
to see your strength and your weight—
for good is your kindness (more) than (my) life,
(and the) lips (that) praise you—
so will I bless you in (all) my life,
in your name I will lift my palms.”

The complex poetic syntax of vv. 3-5 demands that they be treated as a unit. Again, my translation does not adequately capture the meter, which requires some explanation. Verses 3 and 5 are essentially parallel couplets, each with a 3-beat (3+3) meter, and each beginning with the emphatic particle /K@ (“thus, so”). These couplets frame an idealized scene of worship:

    • so [/K@] in the holy place I (would) gaze on you,
      to see your strength and your weight…
    • so [/K@] will I bless you in (all) my life,
      in your name I will lift (up) my palms

The Psalmist responds to a vision of YHWH in the (Temple) sanctuary, much like the prophet Isaiah in the famous visionary scene of Isa 6. I understand the perfect verb form ;yt!yz]j& (lit. “I have gazed [on] you”), as a precative perfect, reflecting the Psalmist’s wish for the future expressed as something that has already occurred.

The grandeur and glory of the Divine presence is described using the standard terms of zu) (“strength”) and dobK*—this latter word itself is often translated “glory,” but literally means “weight”, typically in the sense of “worth” (i.e., the value of something); the two terms together refer to the overwhelming greatness of YHWH.

Indeed, so overpowering is the experience of YHWH’s presence, that the Psalmist must give worship (vb Er^B*) with all of his being. The preposition B= in the expression “in my life” (yY`j^B=) could mean either “during my life” or “with (all) my life”. The fundamental meaning of the verb Er^B* suggests a gesture of worship (i.e., bowing, bending the knee), but can also refer to speech (i.e., “blessing” with the mouth). The parallel of lifting up of one’s palms would seem to confirm an act or gesture; in any case, we are dealing with a comprehensive state of worship that encompasses the whole person, and continues throughout his/her life. Such a thorough sense of devotion to YHWH is a characteristic of the righteous, and identifies the Psalmist as one of the righteous.

The middle couplet (v. 4) lies at the heart of this worship scene. It is distinct both in its irregular (3+2) rhythm and in its peculiar syntax. The first line establishes a comparison, between YHWH and the Psalmist. The comparison is made through the preposition /m! (“from”), used in a comparative sense; this usage is difficult to translate, requiring in English something like “(more) than”. The specific comparison is between the ds#j# (“kindness, goodness”) of YHWH and the entirety of the Psalmist’s person. Again the plural noun <yY]j^ (“life, living”) is used, referring to the Psalmist’s life (just as in v. 5). The noun ds#j# often is used in a covenantal context, connoting faithfulness and loyalty; it is typically used this way in the Psalms, as an attribute of YHWH—viz., His loyalty to the covenant.

Not only is God’s loyalty and goodness, etc, greater than the Psalmist’s own life, but it far surpasses his ability to find words fitting enough to express praise for it (vb jb^v*). As a minor grammatical note, even though the suffixed noun yt^p*c= (“my lips”) is feminine (a dual form), the corresponding verb is a masculine plural (WjB=v^y+, “they shall praise”); this, however, is by no means unusual (cf. Prov 5:2; 10:8, etc).

There is an interesting poetic symmetry in verse 5 that is worth commenting on (cf. also Dahood, II, p. 98); there is a certain chiastic structure to the lines:

    • I will bless you
      • in my life/living
      • in your name
    • I will lift my hands

The implication is that the Psalmist’s life (yj^) is to be realized in the presence of YHWH Himself. Here, God’s manifest presence, in relation to His people, his expressed through His name (<v@). This is typical of Old Testament and Israelite religious theology, and is tied to the ancient Near Eastern understanding of the significance of names and naming; for more on this, see my earlier discussion in the series “And You Shall Call His Name…”. It is quite possible that the idea of the blessed life in heaven is in view here, and that the vision in the “holy place” may refer, not so much to a ritual setting in the Temple, but to the heavenly dwelling of YHWH.

(The remainder of this Psalm [Stanzas 2 and 3]  will be discussed in next week’s study.)

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).


December 21: Isaiah 6:6-8

Isaiah 6:6-7

“And he soared to me, one from (among) the burning (creature)s, and in his hand (was) a glowing (stone) (that) he took with a pair of (tool)s for taking (stones) from upon the place of sacrifice. And he touched (it) upon my mouth, and said, ‘See, this has touched upon your lips, and your crookedness is turned (aside), and your sin is wiped (away)’.” (vv. 6-7, cf. the previous note)

The word j^B@z+m! literally means the place of ritual slaughter (i.e. the altar for sacrificial offerings); however, it came to be used regularly for other kinds of altars, such as those for offering incense. That is the altar referenced here—the incense altar located in the outer sanctuary. The smoke filling the room comes from the offerings of incense, and the hot (glowing [xr, rƒ¸) stones are the coals from the altar. Here again is another play on the seraphs ([rc, ´r¸) as “burning” creatures (cf. the prior note on vv. 2-3); one of them picks up a burning/fiery coal from the altar. Now, however, the fire from the altar serves a different ritual purpose—namely, to purify the prophet, specifically his mouth (and lips). For the human prophet to survive in the presence of YHWH’s purity and holiness, his impurity has to be removed. From a ritual standpoint, this may be referred to as expiation. The danger of contact between human and deity is “turned aside” (vb rWs); sometimes this entails a turning away of the deity’s anger and intent to punish, etc, but it can also involve the removal of any possible evil or offense from the human participant. In the case of the prophet Isaiah, it also involves a specific kind of consecration—for a particular prophetic mission.

Isaiah 6:8

“And (then) I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘See, I (am here)! Send me!'” (v. 8)

YHWH’s throne room is the location of His royal court, such as in the pattern of human palaces. This court-setting is only faintly indicated here; a more detailed example is found in the earlier throne-vision of Micaiah (1 Kings 22:19-22, mentioned above). In that vision, YHWH asks of his servants and messengers, “Who will open (up) to Ahab, and (then) [i.e. so that] he will go up and will fall on the heights of Gil’ad?” (v. 20). One particular divine/heavenly being (“spirit”) comes forward and volunteers for the assignment (v. 21), much as Isaiah does here. The purpose of the mission in the Micaiah vision is to entice Ahab so that he will end up facing judgment (by military defeat) for his wickedness. Isaiah’s prophetic mission has a similar purpose. It is likely that the burning coal that touches Isaiah’s lips contains an allusion to the message of (fiery) judgment that the prophet must bring to the people of Judah (see a similar use of fire from the altar in Rev 8:3-5). This represents the dual-aspect of the burning/fire motif in the vision: the purity of YHWH effectively burns away (and destroys) all impurity—for the wicked this means destruction from God’s Judgment, while for the righteous, their sins (1QIsaa reads plur. “sins” in v. 7) are wiped away. This is part of the powerful imagery depicting YHWH as a “devouring fire” (33:14; cf. 10:17; 30:27-33; 31:9; Roberts, p. 100).

The nature and significance of the message of Judgment given to Isaiah is expressed in verses 9-13. While part of the same vision scene, these verses (esp. 9-10) are better known to many readers, from their use (generally out of context) in several key passages of the New Testament. This secondary application, along with certain theological questions that tend to be raised, makes a more detailed study of vv. 9-13 useful here. In tomorrow’s note, we will focus both on the text itself, and on some of the wider issues of interpretation/application, as a way of demonstrating how a sound critical approach can help greatly in addressing such issues.

References above marked “Roberts” are to J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah, Hermeneia Commentary series (Fortress Press: 2015).

December 20: Isaiah 6:4-5

Isaiah 6:4

“And the ‘elbows’ of the (door)posts wavered from the voice of the (one) calling, and the (entire) house was filled with smoke.”

The imagery from the prior verses continues, blending theophany (manifestation of God) with the sacred space and ritual of the Temple sanctuary. In a sense, we are moving backward—from the throne of YHWH in the innermost shrine, out to the threshhold, and across into the outer sanctuary where the altar for burning incense stood. These last two details are reflected here in verse 4. The technical language can be difficult to render clearly in translation, with the expression “‘elbows’ [i.e. hinges, pivots] of the doorposts” referring to the threshhold of the inner shrine, and the “smoke” a reference to the burning of incense. The “house”, of course, is figurative for the Temple, either the entire building or the sanctuary specifically (here the latter is intended). On the image of the entire house being filled, one is reminded of the scene of the anointing of Jesus, in the Gospel of John: “and the house was filled out of the fragrance of the myrrh-ointment” (12:3). From an historical standpoint, this detailed use of Temple-imagery is interesting, since it is unlikely that Isaiah himself would have ever seen inside the sanctuary (on Hezekiah’s presence in the sanctuary, cf. 2 Kings 19:14-15ff).

Isaiah 6:5

“And I said: ‘Oh, (what this does) to me! For I have ceased (to be)! For I (am) a man of polluted lips, and I (am) sitting [i.e. dwelling] in the middle of a people of polluted lips! For my eyes have seen the King, YHWH of the (heavenly) armies!'”

This verse indicates Isaiah’s response to his great vision. He apparently sees himself positioned in the Temple, probably at the threshhold of the inner shrine. His initial exclamation may be rendered more concisely as “Woe to me!” or “Oh, for me!”, however in my expanded translation above I have sought to capture the proper sense of the effect this vision has on the prophet. From a literary-critical standpoint, it is worth considering the kind of wordplay (and play on images) that is being utilized in the narrative here, something that tends to be lost or obscured in most English translations.

For one thing, we have the contrast between YHWH sitting (bv@y)) on His throne (v. 1), with Isaiah who recognizes that he has been “sitting” (bv@oy, i.e. ‘dwelling’) in the midst of an unclean people. Here the uncleanness (amf, ‰m°) of the human condition is contrasted with the purity (vdq, qdš) of YHWH. The effect of this realization is expressed by another bit of wordplay (dual meaning) involving the verb hm*D*. This root fundamentally refers to something ceasing or coming to an end; it can be understood either in an existential sense (i.e. ceasing to exist, being destroyed), or in terms of an action or ability that ceases. The latter sense can specifically refer to the action/ability of speaking—to cease speaking, i.e. be silent. For a prophet (ayb!n`), a spokesperson for God, who speaks on His behalf, the effect on one’s ability to speak is most significant. I have rendered hm*D* rather literally above, more or less assuming that the existential sense is primary. This follows the basic religious-theological idea that a human being is unable to see God and still live (Exod 33:20, etc). At the same time, it expresses the awe the prophet feels, and so he is unable to speak; this is similar to the reaction of the seraphim in YHWH’s presence (covering their faces).

There is a similar play on the motif of one’s lips (<y]t^p*v=). It again relates to the idea of a person speaking, but it also serves as the focal point for the pollution that characterizes the populace. Here the ritual aspect (unclean food, etc, touching the lips) is used to express a religious and ethical point, well expressed, for example, in 29:13: “this people comes near with its mouth, and with its lips it gives weight [i.e. honor] to me, but its heart is wide (apart) [i.e. far away] from me”. The pollution of the people (their lips) has more to do with a false/corrupt religion and ethic, than it does with their ritual behavior, in spite of the cultic (Temple) setting of the vision.