FOR READERS: I have just started a new blog: xtremejesus.co which is intended to contribute to political and social debate from the point of view of the Jesus tradition. Some have found difficulty in accessing the site from their search engines and browsers. At present, Google Chrome gives it easily.
MEANWHILE, this old faithful blog continues to explore Paul’s Corinthian correspondence day by day. At present it is dealing with 2 Corinthians. I’m assuming that all his Corinthian letters were sent from Ephesos. The news headline is a reminder of the world we live in.
IMAGES OF PLUTO
2 Corinthians 3 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
3 Are we starting to recommend ourselves again? Or do we, like some, need letters of recommendation either to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You make it clear that you are a letter from the Messiah placed in our care, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on human hearts.
4 Such is the confidence we have through the Messiah toward God. 5 It is not that we are competent in ourselves to count anything as having come from us; on the contrary, our competence is from God. 6 He has even made us competent to be workers serving a New Covenant, the essence of which is not a written text but the Spirit. For the written text brings death, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if that which worked death, by means of a written text engraved on stone tablets, came with glory — such glory that the people of Isra’el could not stand to look at Moshe’s face because of its brightness, even though that brightness was already fading away — 8 won’t the working of the Spirit be accompanied by even greater glory? 9 For if there was glory in what worked to declare people guilty, how much greater the glory in what works to declare people innocent! 10 In fact, by comparison with this greater glory, what was made glorious before has no glory now. 11 For if there was glory in what faded away, how much more glory must there be in what lasts.
12 Therefore, with a hope like this, we are very open — 13 unlike Moshe, who put a veil over his face, so that the people of Isra’el would not see the fading brightness come to an end.
14 What is more, their minds were closed; for to this day the same veil remains over them when they read the Old Covenant; it has not been unveiled, because only by the Messiah is the veil taken away. 15 Yes, till today, whenever Moshe is read, a veil lies over their heart. 16 “But,” says the Torah, “whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” 17 Now, “The Lord” in this text means the Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us, with faces unveiled, see as in a mirror the glory of the Lord; and we are being changed into his very image, from one degree of glory to the next, by Lord who is the Spirit.
Readers who are comparing this text with their bible will see that I have changed “our hearts” to “your hearts” in verse 2, because the usual text makes nonsense of what Paul is saying. Some Greek manuscripts have “your”.
Paul is concerned throughout this passage with comparisons between the effect of the gospel and the effect of more legalistic teachings. The emissaries of such teaching require written recommendations; the emissaries of the gospel can point to their converts as a letter of the Messiah written on human hearts. The worldliness of Paul’s opponents is shown in their use of worldly accreditation.
Once more Paul contrasts emissaries who emphasise their own competence with the true emissaries who acknowledge their incompetence but praise the gift of the Spirit who enables them to serve a New Covenant (in contrast to the Old) which is not a written text but a spiritual partnership. Paul adds. for the benefit of fundamentalists of all faiths, that ” THE WRITTEN TEXT KILLS BUT THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE,” words which should be placed on the cover of every Bible.
He then contrasts the glory of the Sinai Covenant, evident in the shining of Moshe’s face, which reflected the glory of God, with the glory of the New Covenant. He makes three points about the glory shining in Moshe’s face:
1. It had to be veiled because the people of Israel couldn’t stand it;
2. It faded away eventually;
3. It declared people guilty of breaking the commandments.
In contrast he says, the New Covenant declares people not guilty, so its glory will never fade away, and can be seen transformed lives of believers. He asserts that the hearts and minds of his compatriots are still veiled, and therefore cannot interpret the Old Covenant (which points to the New) truthfully.Only by turning (changing their whole perspective) to the Lord can the veil of misunderstanding be removed. At various points in his letters, especially in Romans, Paul analyses the rejection of Jesus as Messiah by his own people. Here the veil symbolises the reluctance of his people to face the full glory of God; only an acknowledgement of Jesus as Messiah and an openness to his Spirit, can remove this obstacle.
But those who trust the Spirit of the Lord are open to God’s / Messiah’s glory which is seen by them in each other’s faces, that is, in each other’s open human lives, which are being gradually transformed by the Spirit into the likeness of God, which is after all, the fulfilment of God’s creative purpose declared in the Old Covenant, “Let us make humanity in our own image” (Genesis 1)
Clearly, Paul does not despise the written text of the Old Covenant. In fact he incorporates it into his own text constantly, interpreting it in the light of Messiah Jesus and the power of the Spirit, which is, he believed, a share in the life of God. Although Paul has been critical of the permissiveness of the Corinthian Assembly he is adamant that one of the marks of the New Covenant is freedom. In his view this is the power to be free from both legalism and shallow religiosity, and to grow as God’s sons and daughters.
Those who interpret Paul as authoritarian and negative have to be reminded of passages such as this which set out the astonishing range of Paul’s ambition for human lives, nothing less than theosis, that we should grow into God. The Orthodox Church amongst all denominations has been best a holding to this ambition in its worship and theology; my own faith was hugely enriched by a study of orthodox theology which is built on the assertion that “God became Man, so that Man could become divine.” The dignity this offers to human beings is extraordinary but it has also, in my view mistakenly, led it to a hierarchical view of church and society.It has sometimes forgotten the other side of Paul’s gospel, that the execution of Jesus has blown away human glory and hierarchy so that all people who trust in Messiah Jesus can equally reflect the glory of God in their frail flesh.