2 Cor 3:12-18

Believers Transformed by Glory


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Therefore, since we have such a hope, we employ great boldness; 13 we do not act like Moses, who placed a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel were unable to gaze intently upon the culmination of that which was being rendered ineffectual; 14 but their minds were hardened.’ For until this very day, when the old covenant is read that same veil remains; it is not lifted, for only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even today, whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But whenever he turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now 'the Lord' is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom; 18 and we all, as with unveiled face we contemplate as in a mirror the Glory of the Lord from encounter to encounter, are being transformed into that same image, just as Moses was transformed by he Lord of the Spirit.

Paul picks up the Exodus narrative again at 34:33,

33 And when he stopped speaking to them he placed a covering over his face. 34 But whenever Moyses would enter before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the covering until coming out. And when he came out, he would tell the sons of Israel what the Lord had  commanded him. 35 And the sons of Israel saw the face of Moyses, that it was charged with glory, and Moyses put a covering over his face until he went in to converse with him. (Exod 34:33-35 NETS)

As Paul understood the narrative (it is suggested), Moses feared that the people would soon grow accustomed to the divine glory of his face and, losing their fear and shame, would stare impiously, bringing judgment upon themselves; so when he had finished speaking to them, he put on a veil.

Though it lacks the verbal parallels of a formal chiasmus, the argument develops in a ring structure:[1]

A  3:12-14a Unlike Moses, Paul acts with great boldness: he does not veil the glory that attends his ministry.

B 3:14b To this day, when the old covenant is read the Mosaic glory remains veiled

C 3:14c for only in Christ is the veil set aside.

B' 3:15 Even today, when Moses is read the veil remains over the hearts of the Jews.

A' 3:16-18 But when they turn to the Lord the veil is taken away, and like Moses they, and all believers, are transformed progressively into Christ's likeness

Paul’s boldness (παρρησία, v. 12) is made possible by the freedom (ἐλευθερία) believers enjoy in the presence of the Spirit (v. 17). The argument continues his subtle polemic against his Jewish opponents, the false apostles, laying the groundwork for 4:3-4.


12 ἔχοντες οὖν τοιαύτην ἐλπίδα πολλῇ παρρησίᾳ χρώμεθα, 13 καὶ οὐ καθάπερ μωὑσῆς ἐτίθει κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ, a πρὸς τὸ μὴ ἀτενίσαι τοὺς υἱοὺς ἰσραὴλ εἰς τὸ τέλος b τοῦ καταργουμένου·
a א D K 630 1241 Majority Text read ἑαυτοῦ for αὐτοῦ.
b A b f* vg (bomss) read πρόσωπον for τέλος.

‘Therefore, since we have such a hope,[2]we employ[3] great boldness;[4] we do not act[5] like Moses, who placed[6] a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel were unable to gaze intently[7] upon the culmination[8] of that which was being rendered ineffectual[9];'

Paul’s thought focuses on Exod 34:33, ‘When Moses had finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face’ (NIV), as he draws a conclusion (οὖν) from the argument of 3:7-11: having this hope, unlike Moses, he does not veil the glory that attends his (new covenant) ministry, but employs great παρρησία. ‘This hope’ will refer to the point just established, that his ministry of the Spirit is attended by an enduring glory far greater than the transitory glory of the Mosaic ministry, a glory which, through the life-giving power of the Spirit, produces not condemnation and death, but righteousness and life. The phrase, ἔχοντες τοιαύτην ἐλπίδα, ‘since we have such a hope’, recalls the parallel phrase, πεποιθήσιν τοιαύτην ἔχομεν δὶα τοῦ Χριστοῦ πρὸς τὸν θεόν ('such confidence we have through Christ before God'), 3:4. In light of 3:4 and its chiastic partner 2:17, Paul’s παρρησία is the boldness of one who, as Christ’s envoy, stands and speaks in God’s presence (κατέναντι θεοῦ, 2:17),[10] who is to God the sweet savour of the Christ-sacrifice (2:15a). However, Moses was also a covenant mediator who stood and spoke in God's presence.[11] Paul's decision that (unlike Moses) he would not veil the glory that attends his new covenant ministry, follows from the fact that his ministry mediates the life-giving Spirit; for although to those who are perishing the suffering apostle is experienced as 'the stench of the advance of death' (2:16a), to those who are on the road to salvation, in whom the Spirit dwells, he is 'the sweet aroma of the advance of life' (2:16b).

The verb χράομαι may well recall 1:17, where Paul denies that he employed (ἐχρησάμην) ‘levity’ when he decided against a painful disciplinary visit to Corinth. [12]

He handled the recent crisis, not with ἐλαφρία, but with παρρησία. The expression παρρησίᾳ χρώμεθα conveys the connotation of speaking one’s mind,[13] and Paul is evidently alluding again to the Letter of Tears (compare 3:3). The letter was a personal communication, frankly expressing Paul’s love and profound concern for the Corinthians, and his solidarity with them in the face of impending judgment. In view of his self-identification as an Odysseus-like figure, to which he has alluded already in 1:17 (his alleged ἐλαφρία), and to which he will return in 10:3-6,[14] his language evokes the gentle παρρησία of the ideal Cynic philosopher,[15] in opposition to the harsh παρρησία of his opponents, who portray themselves as admirers of Diogenes.[16]

The apostle does not act like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel were unable to stare at τὸ τέλος τοῦ καταργουμένου. The substantive participle τοῦ καταργουμένου, the genitive of τὸ καταργούμενον (v. 11), refers again to the Mosaic ministry. Since the original intent of the Sinai covenant was that God should dwell in the midst of his people (Exod. 19:5f; 24:9f; 25:8; 29:45f; cf. Lev. 26:9, 11-13),[17] and given Paul’s engagement with Exodus 32-34, it may be inferred that the τέλος, the climax or culmination of the Mosaic ministry, was the epiphany of Yahweh’s glory on the face of Moses. When he was not declaring to them the word of God, Moses wore a veil to prevent the people staring impiously on the glory; but Paul, by contrast, through sufferings born of sacrificial love, reveals in his own person (πρόσωπον) the τέλος of the new covenant ministry: his body is the locus of an epiphany of the glory of Christ (see on 4:7-12).


ἀλλὰ ἐπωρώθη τὰ νοήματα αὐτῶν. ἄχρι γὰρ τῆς σήμερον ἡμέρας a τὸ αὐτὸ κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τῇ ἀναγνώσει τῆς παλαιᾶς διαθήκης μένει μὴ ἀνακαλυπτόμενον, ὅτι ἐν Χριστῷ καταργεῖται· 15 ἀλλ' ἕως σήμερον ἡνίκα ἂν ἀναγινώσκηται b Μωὑσῆς κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τὴν καρδίαν αὐτῶν κεῖται.
a ἡμέρας is omitted by K L Ψ 1241 Majority Text syp, perhaps under the influence of v. 15. [18]
b D P omit ἂν but retain the subjunctive ἀναγινώσκηται; F G K L 0243 365 630 1241 1505 1739 1881 2464 Majority Text omit ἂν and read ἀναγινώσκεται; the omission of  ἂν is no doubt due to haplography. p46 א A B C Ψ 33 81(*)c 104 1175 Origen Didymus (the Blind) read ἂν ἀναγινώσκηται.

'but their minds [19] were hardened.’ [20] For [21] until this very day, when the old covenant is read that same veil remains; it is not lifted, [22] for [only] in Christ is it taken away. Even [23] today, whenever [24] Moses is read a veil lies [25] over their hearts'.

V. 14a Paul's ministry contrasts sharply (ἀλλα) with that of Moses: Moses wore the veil because the minds of the people were hardened (ἐπωρώθη). The verb πωρόω, which occurs in the LXX only in Job 17:7, may have commended itself to Paul because it can have the sense, 'petrify', [26]

so evoking the 'heart of stone' motif of Ezek 11:19; 36:26. Cf. Rom 11:7-8,
What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened (ἐπωρώθησαν), 8 as it is written, "God gave them a sluggish spirit, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day (ἕως τῆς σήμερον ἡμέρας)." (NRSV)

The quotation is a conflation of  Isa 29:10 with Deut 29:3(4) LXX. Though the Isaianic oracles relate to a period later than that of Moses, it is clear that Paul derived his understanding of hardening from both the Deuteronomic and the Isaianic texts. [27] On Isa 29:9-10 Childs comments,

Israel is commanded to "act stupidly and be stupified," to "act blindly and be blinded." Then the reason is given for Israel's senseless behavior. God has drugged them with deep sleep and rendered them blind. Formulated in this astonishing paradox, the oracle sets forth the theological complexity of the prophetic understanding of hardening. The perverse and stupid behavior that has been initiated by Israel's rejection of God's will derives ultimately from a prior decision of divine judgment. [28]

This, in turn, brings to mind Isa 6:9-10,

He said, "Go and tell this people: 'Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' 10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn (ושׁב) and be healed." (Isa 6:9-10 NIV) [29]

The verb שׁוב (LXX ἐπιστρέφω) is the usual term for repentance; Watts comments that the final line of Isa 6:10 MT ‘in a backhanded way provides a lucid description of revelation’s final purpose: Seeing and hearing (the vision and word of God) should lead to understanding (of their perverted and evil ways) which should cause rational beings to change and be healed’.[30]

Moses wore the veil because of the hardened condition of the people's hearts; they were incapable of responding to the theophany with repentance. The commandments Moses spoke to them as covenant mediator were quickly forgotten, and had he permitted it they would have brought further guilt upon themselves by their impious staring. The hearts of the people of the new covenant by contrast, to whom Paul ministers, are not stony but fleshly and indwelt by the Spirit (1:22; 3:3; cf. Isa 29:18); their minds are capable of repentance, as they contemplate the divine glory and the Spirit writes the Law in their hearts. Therefore Paul does not veil the glory that attends his ministry, but acts with great boldness.

V. 14bc ἄχρι γὰρ τῆς σήμερον ἡμέρας τὸ αὐτὸ κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τῇ ἀναγνώσει τῆς παλαιᾶς διαθήκης μένει μὴ ἀνακαλυπτόμενον, ὅτι ἐν Χριστῷ καταργεῖται· With his Jewish opponents in mind, Paul now moves his temporal focus to the present day. As Hafemann points out, Paul construes Moses’ veiling himself as an act of both judgment and of mercy. [31] Due to an act of divine judgment, to the present day Jews living under the old covenant are unable to gaze upon the glory of the Lord when the old covenant is read. Such texts as Deut 29:3(4), Isa 6:9-10 and Ezek 12:2 still describe their spiritual condition.

The construction of v. 14bc is disputed. How is the participle ἀνακαλυπτόμενον constructed? Is ὅτι causative or declarative, or is it in fact τί, the neuter singular of ὅστις? Is the subject of καταργεῖται the veil, [32] or the old covenant? [33] For the participle, four main options have been proposed. The participle could be an accusative absolute,[34] ‘since it is not being revealed [to them] that [only] in Christ is it set aside’; [35] but this is unlikely. [36] Or it might be a loosely attached attribute of τὸ αὐτὸ κάλυμμα, ‘the same veil remains in place, unlifted because (only) in Christ is it abolished’. [37] It might be predicative to μένει: ‘the same veil remains in place, for [only] [38] in Christ is it set aside’);  μὴ ἀνακαλυπτόμενον would then be added for emphasis. Or perhaps, Paul actually dictated, not ὅτι, but τί, [39] the neuter singular of ὅστις: ‘the same veil remains in place, which [veil] is set aside in Christ’. [40] Whichever of the latter three options is preferred (and the sense is essentially the same), there is little doubt that the subject of καταργεῖται is τὸ αὐτὸ κάλυμμα. Paul's thought throughout vv. 12-18 is concerned, not with the abrogation of the old covenant, but with the setting aside of the veil, [41] under the ministry of the new covenant. [42]

In view of the role of Isa 29:9-10 in Paul's understanding of the hardening of Israel, Isa 29:11-12 clarifies further the imagery of the veiling of the minds of Jews as the old covenant is read. Childs comments,

Verses 11-12 function as further secondary prose commentary to vv. 9-10. The message of God to Israel has become a closed document that is either sealed or given to someone who cannot read. It is of interest to observe in this a comment that divine revelation has now been carefully related to the vehicle of a written scroll. The effect of hardening is that Israel can no longer understand her scriptures. [43]

The motif of the setting aside of the veil over the hearts of contemporary Jews recalls the promises of Ezek 11:19-20; 36:25-27 and Jer 31:31-33 echoed in v. 3 (cf. Deut 30:6; Isa 29:18), which are fulfilled in Christ. In conversion the hardened 'heart of stone' is removed and replaced by a 'heart of flesh', a heart capable of repentance and indwelt by the Spirit. This thought is taken up again in v. 16.

V. 15  ἀλλ' ἕως σήμερον ἡνίκα ἂν ἀναγινώσκηται Μωὑσῆς κάλυμμα ἐπὶ τὴν καρδίαν αὐτῶν κεῖται. Before taking up the theme of the setting aside of the veil, Paul wants to stress again that whenever Moses is read in the synagogues, the hearts of contemporary Jews are veiled: they are unable to contemplate God's glory as the commandments are read, nor is the Law written in their hearts. His point is clearly polemical: the hearts of his Jewish opponents are veiled, so that they cannot see the divine glory; cf. 4:3-4.


ἡνίκα δὲ ἐὰν ἐπιστρέψῃ πρὸς κύριον, περιαιρεῖται τὸ κάλυμμα. 17 ὁ δὲ κύριος τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν· οὗ δὲ τὸ πνεῦμα κυρίου, a ἐλευθερία. b 18 ἡμεῖς δὲ πάντες c ἀνακεκαλυμμένῳ προσώπῳ τὴν δόξαν κυρίου κατοπτριζόμενοι d τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα μεταμορφούμεθα e ἀπὸ δόξης εἰς δόξαν καθάπερ f ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος.

a L reads τὸ ἅγιον.

b א2 D1 F G K L P Ψ 104 365 630 1241 1505 1881 2464 Majority Text lat syh sa Epiphanius read ἐκεῖ ἐλευθερία, probably a scribal addition to provide a correlative to οὗ. [44]

c p46 vgms Speculum omit πάντες.

d 33 reads κατοπτριζόμεθα, p46 reads κατοπτριζόμεθα οἱ.

ep46 A 614 read μεταμορφούμενοι.

f B reads καθώσπερ.

‘But whenever [45] he turns [46] to the Lord, the veil is removed. [47] Now "the Lord" is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom; [48] and we all, as with unveiled face we contemplate as in a mirror [49] the Glory of the Lord from encounter to encounter, [50] are being transformed [51] into that same image, [52] just as [Moses was transformed by] [53] the Lord of the Spirit.’

V. 16 As an adverb of time, ἡνίκα is rare in the Hellenistic literature, and in the NT occurs only here and in v.15.[54] Paul is clearly alluding to Exod 34:34 LXX, ἡνίκα δ᾽ ἂν εἰσεπορεύετο Μωυσῆς ἔναντι κυρίου λαλεῖν αὐτῷ περιῃρεῖτο τὸ κάλυμμα ἕως τοῦ ἐκπορεύεσθαι, ‘But whenever Moyses would enter in before the Lord to speak with him he would remove the covering until coming out’ (NETS); [55] the implied subject of the aorist ἐπιστρέψῃ in v. 16 is therefore, in all likelihood, Moses. The expression 'turn to the Lord' (ἐπιστρέφω πρὸς κύριον), which has been substituted for the original 'goes in to the Lord', occurs quite commonly in the LXX with the sense, '[re]turn to the Lord [in repentance]';[56] but in Exod 5:22 it is used of Moses returning to the Lord to speak with him. The more remote imperfect περιῃρεῖτο has been changed to the historic present περιαιρεῖται, signalling typological application to the present day: when he turns to the Lord in the Tent of Meeting, Moses prefigures the contemporary Jew who turns to Christ.[57] As Hafemann points out, in the original context, Exod. 34:34a provides the concluding contrast between Moses' veiling of himself after speaking for YHWH to the people (v. 33, 34b) and his removing the veil when he speaks with the Lord. As such, it establishes the theological contrast between Israel's "stiff-necked" state and Moses as the one whose heart has been transformed by the Spirit.[58]

V. 17 In the typology of v. 16, Moses turning to 'the Lord' corresponds to the contemporary Jew turning to the Spirit: 'Now the Lord is the Spirit'.[59] The Tent of Meeting was the place of the manifestation of the glory of God,[60] and Moses was privileged to speak there with the Lord 'face to face', and to see him in visible form: 'With him I speak face to face (פה אל־פה), clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD (יביט תמנת יהוה)' (Num 12:8, NIV).[61] In the Priestly tradition, the Tent of Meeting became known as the Tabernacle, and was the place of the manifestation of the Glory of God,[62] the radiant divine figure described in Ezekiel's Merkabah vision: a manifestation of God in a form ‘like the appearance of a man’ (Ezek 1:26-28), known also as the Kavod (see on 2:14).[63] Commenting on the expression ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ('in the form of God') in Phil 2:6, O'Brien states, 'The expression does not refer simply to external appearance but pictures the preexistent Christ as clothed in garments of divine majesty and splendour'.[64] It seems reasonable, then, to suppose that Paul believed that the 'form of the Lord' which Moses saw in the Tent of Meeting, and whom he now equates typologically with the Spirit, was a manifestation of the preincarnate Christ, revealing his form, though perhaps not his (full) radiance.[65] : Just as the preincarnate Christ spoke with Moses, giving him the commandments of the Law, so the Spirit of Christ[66] now speaks with believers, writing the Law in their hearts.

The statement, οὗ δὲ τὸ πνεῦμα κυρίου, ἐλευθερία resonates with contemporary philosophical discussion of slavery and freedom.[67] Diogenes Laertius records an early expression of the Stoic Paradox, that freedom or slavery is a matter, not of legal status, but of moral choice: '[the wise man] alone is free and bad men are slaves, freedom being the power of independent action, whereas slavery is prevention of the sane' (7.121). Many are enslaved by anger or desire or some other passion or insidious vice (Philo, Prob. 45) and, according to Seneca, 'all men are slaves to fear' (EpMor. 47.17). Epictetus equates 'free man' with 'friend of God': 'I am a free man and a friend of God, so as to obey Him of my own volition' (Diss. 4.3.9; cf. Sencea, Prov. 5.6). Dio Chrysostom defines freedom as 'the knowledge of what is allowable and what is forbidden', and slavery as 'ignorance of what is allowed and what is not' (Or. 14.18). Though such knowledge is contained in the Torah, when it is read in the synagogues a veil covers the hearts and minds of the unbelievers so that, in effect, they remain ignorant. But the Spirit writes the Law in the heart,[68] setting free from enslavement to evil lusts and enabling a life pleasing to God. The one who lives in communion with the risen Christ through the Spirit enjoys the freedom to obey God of their own volition.

V. 18 Though Paul makes a negative comparison between his own new covenant ministry and Moses’ old covenant ministry, the comparison here between Moses’ personal experience of God’s glory and that of new covenant believers is a positive one.[69] Like Moses, all believers, both Jews and Gentiles (ἡμεῖς πάντες, 'we all without exception'), are free to contemplate with unveiled face the Glory of the Lord (τὴν δόξαν κυρίου). Unlike Moses, however, we do not see Christ face to face; rather, we see an image, a reflection of Christ. Corinth was well known for the production of good quality bronze mirrors. In literary metaphor, mirrors symbolized indirect vision. The mirror-vision metaphor strikingly echoes 1 Cor 13:12, a text which in turn echoes Num 12:8 LXX: 'Now we see by reflection (ἐν αἰνίγματι)  as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face'. In 1 Cor 13:12 the emphasis is on the hope of a future face to face encounter;[70] here, however, Paul seems to employ the mirror metaphor to flag up an important difference between Moses and new covenant believers: while Moses contemplated the glory of Christ face to face, we contemplate the Lord's glory indirectly, through his glorious image.

The idiom ἀπὸ δόξης εἰς δόξαν, together with the participle κατοπτριζόμενοι, images a trajectory in which believers (Paul included) repeatedly enter and leave conceptually identical 'locations' in which they encounter and contemplate, as in a mirror, Christ's glory.[71] As they travel along this trajectory, transformation takes place with each encounter: they are transformed progressively into the glorious image that they contemplate (cf. 4:16b, 'our inner man is being renewed day by day'; Rom 8:29a, 'for those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son'). Just as Moses used to contemplate in visible form the Glory of the Lord whenever he received the Lord's commandments in the Tent of Meeting (Num 12:8), so believers contemplate the glory of Christ whenever his image is made manifest among them through the Spirit. And as they contemplate these the divine Glory, the Spirit writes the Law in their hearts, progressively forming in them the living image of Christ - just as Moses was transformed by his direct encounters with the Glory of the Lord.[72] As Rom 12:2 makes clear, the inner transformation is ethical in nature: 'Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed (μεταμορφοῦσθε) by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will'. This transformation causes us to appreciate more fully the demands of love and, like Paul, , to gladly offer to God our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1; cf. on 2:15a, Χριστοῦ εὐωδία ἐσμὲν τῷ θεῷ).

As Hafemann points out, 'The answer to the question, "where and how does this encounter with the glory of God take place … is certainly presupposed in the matter of fact way in which Paul introduces the concept in 3:18 and 4:4-6, and in his reference to his own boldness in ministry in 3:12'.[73] Paul has represented himself as the incense bearer in an epiphany procession, a living sacrifice pleasing to God, spreading the aroma of the Christ sacrifice along his route (2:14-16a), and he has shown that his ministry is accompanied by a manifestation of the divine glory that is far greater than that of the Mosaic ministry. He has claimed that, unlike Moses, he does not veil his glory because, unlike the Exodus generation, believers have no difficulty in gazing upon the glory of his own πρόσωπον. Indeed, through the Letter of Tears, the glorious image of the crucified Christ has been made visible in the manifestation of the apostle's sacrificial love (2:4; cf. Gal 2:20a, 'I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me', NIV).


The manifestation of the glory of Christ is not confined, however, to the ministry of the apostles. Paul offered himself as a role model for his converts (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1), and the glory of Christ may also be seen in the sacrificial love of any faithful believer.[74] As believers contemplate Christ's glory, made visible indirectly through the sacrificial love of the saints, they themselves become mediators of the glory of Christ. However dimly, as images of Christ we ourselves begin to manifest the Lord's glory. The divine glory in the believer is an inner, spiritual reality which is made visible through sacrificial love, the outward manifestation of the renewed heart and mind, indwelt by the Spirit of Jesus.

The process of transformation is further clarified by means of the elliptical clause καθάπερ ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος. The elided verb is most naturally supplied from the preceding μεταμορφούμεθα and, since Paul has just established the imagery of  Moses as a type of the new covenant believer (vv. 16-17), the implied subject is most likely Moses. Just as Moses was transformed progressively through his repeated contemplation of the glory of the preincarnate Christ, as he received the commandments of the Law,[75] so the hearts of believers, as they contemplate Christ's glory in the Church, are being transformed by the indwelling Spirit into Christ's glorious image.[76]

Paul's adaptation of the Platonic doctrine of assimilation to God

Though, according to Gen 1:26-27, humanity was created in the image and according to the likeness of God, the notion of the restoration of the divine image through a process of assimilation to God (ὁμοίωσις θεῷ) is not found in ancient Jewish texts except in the writings of Paul's older contemporary, the Platonist Philo of Alexandria.[77] However, from the 1st century BC, Greek ethics increasingly favoured the Platonic ideal of 'becoming as much like God as possible', as opposed to the Stoic goal of 'living according to nature'.[78] The locus classicus for Plato's view on becoming like God, according to Van kooten, is Theaetetus 176b. Socrates is describing the ideal philosopher, as opposed to the worldly man who is preoccupied with the pursuit of social status and physical pleasures: 'Therefore we ought to try to escape from earth to the dwelling of the gods as quickly as we can; and to escape is to become like God, so far as that is possible; and to become like God is to become righteous and holy, with wisdom'. For Plato, 'so far as that is possible' (κατὰ τὸν δυνατόν) meant, 'so far as that is possible, for a mere human being' (cf. Phaedrus 253a); but when Eudorus revived the Platonic doctrine of assimilation to God in the 1st century BC, Plato's clause of limitation was reinterpreted to limit assimilation to the mind: the goal of ethics was the assimilation to God of the mind. The body cannot be assimilated to God, but the mind can be, by virtue.[79] Similarly, Paul's near contemporary the Platonist philosopher Plutarch says, 'man is fitted to derive from God no greater blessing than to become settled in virtue through copying and aspiring to the beauty and the goodness that are in Him' (De sera numinis vindicta 550E). Neo-Pythagorean anthropology, which identified man (or the ruler) as the image of God, and Neo-Pythagorean and Platonic ethics, with its emphasis on following God and assimilating to God, became intertwined.[80] Van Kooten concludes that both Philo and Paul 'seem to be part of the new movement which starts with Eudorus; they reflect extensively on man's assimilation to God or Christ, God's image. Both profited from a new direction in ethics which suited their own purposes'.[81]

Plutarch shows that Plato's doctrine of assimilation to God is fiercely anti-sophistic:

How wise a thing, it would seem, is quietude! In particular it serves for studying to acquire knowledge and wisdom, by which I do not mean the wisdom which is characteristic of a petty trader and of the market place (λέγω δʼοὐ τὴν καπηλικὴν καὶ ἀγοραίαν), but that mighty wisdom that makes him that acquires it like to God (ἐξομοιοῖ θεῷ). Those forms of study that are practised in the towns among the crowds of humanity exercise the so-called shrewdness that is really knavery ... But solitude, being wisdom's training-ground, is a good character-builder, and moulds and sets in order men's souls.[82]

Here Plutarch seems to allude to Plato's Protagoras:

We must see that the sophist, in commending his wares, does not deceive us. Like the wholesaler and the retailer who deal in food for the body ... so too those who take the various subjects of knowledge from city to city, and sell them by retail (καπηλεύοντες) to whoever wants them, commend everything they have for sale. (Plato, Protagoras 313d-e)

The doctrine of assimilation to God influenced most of the philosophical schools; for example, the Stoic Epictetus:

Now the philosophers say that the first thing we must learn is this: That there is a God, and that He provides for the universe, and that it is impossible for a man to conceal from Him, not merely his actions, but even his purposes and his thoughts. Next we must learn what the gods are like; for whatever their character is discovered to be, the man who is going to please and obey them must endeavour as best he can to become assimilated to them (κατὰ δύναμιν ἐξομοιοῦσθαι ἐκείνοις). If the deity is faithful, he also must be faithful; if free, he also must be free; if beneficent, he also must be beneficent; if high-minded, he also must be high-minded, and so forth; therefore, in everything he says and does, he must act as an imitator of God. (Epictetus, Dissertationes 2.14.11-13)

Van Kooten summarises Paul's version of the doctrine as follows:

Essentially, each man is the image of God: ἀνὴρ ... εἰκὼν καὶ δόξα θεοῦ ὑπάρχων (1 Cor 11.7). Yet it is only through metamorphosis into Christ, the image of God (2 Cor 3.18, 4.4 [...]), through metamorphosis in one's mind (Rom 12.1-2) that man is restored and acquires the right sort of ethical reflections (Rom 12.2); this process consists in acquiring likeness (ὁμοίωμα) to Christ's death and renewed life (Rom 6.5-6 [...]).[83]

[1] Cf. Lambrecht, Structure and Line of Thought 364.

[2] BDAG s.v. ἐλπίς 1b, ‘the looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment, hope, expectation … especially pertaining to matters spoken of in God’s promises.’

[3] BDAG s.v. χράομαι 1.

[4] BDAG s.v. παρρησία 3; cf. Heb. 10:16.

[5] Supplying from v. 12 the finite verb χρώμεθα, after καὶ οὐ.

[6] BDAG s.v. τίθημι 1.

[7] ἀτενίζω, cf. 3:7.

[8] The sense ‘summit’, ‘culmination’, ‘climax’, which is common in the Hellenistic literature of Paul’s day, has been proposed by Badenas (Christ the End of the Law 75); he assumes, however, that Moses’ glory was 'fading'.

[9] τοῦ καταργουμένου, cf. v. 11. In v. 11, the time reference of the participle is the present: ‘that which is being set aside’. In v. 13, however, the time reference is that of the Exodus, and the sense is different: ‘that which was being rendered ineffectual’. The glory of the Mosaic ministry remains ineffectual, as Paul goes on to explain (vv. 14b-15), and that is why it is being set aside (cf. vv. 3, 6-11; Heb 8:6-9:15).

[10] BDAG s.v. παρρησία 1, ‘a use of speech that conceals nothing and passes over nothing’; s.v. 3, ‘a state of boldness and confidence’.

[11] The παρρησία of the righteous who stand before God at the final judgement is described in Wis 5:1: ‘Then shall the righteous man (ὁ δίκαιος) stand in great boldness (ἐν παρρησιᾷ πολλῇ) before such as have afflicted him, and them that make his labours of no account.’  As Schlier points out (TDNT 5:876), ‘this free standing before God is manifested in the δόξα of him who stands therein.’ Hafemann rightly remarks (Paul, Moses and the History of Israel 342), 'In the same way, since Paul is confident that the righteousness of God is being revealed in his Gospel, he is already exercising the boldness that characterizes the righteous at the final judgement in proleptic anticipation of the eschatological consummation'.

[12] The only other occurrence of the verb in 2 Corinthians is in 13:10.

[13] E.g. Josephus, Ant. 2.116; 16.385; 18.346; Philo, Her. 1.19; Jos. 1.107; BDAG s.v. παρρησία 1a.

[14] See Malherbe, Antisthenes, Odysseus and Paul at War.

[15] On the philosopher’s παρρησία, see Malherbe, Gentle as a Nurse: The Cynic Background to I Thess II 203-17.

[16] Cf. Dio Chrysostom Or. 32:11-12; Malherbe, Paul and the Popular Philosophers 42-7. For the fierce rivalry between the mild Cynics, who modelled themselves on Odysseus, and the harsh Cynics, who followed Diogenes, see A. J. Malherbe, ‘Self-Definition among Epicureans and Cynics’, in B. F. Meyer and E.P. Sanders (eds.) Jewish and Christian self-definition.Vol.3 46-59.

[17] Hafemann, Paul, Moses and the History of Israel 226.

[18] Plummer, Second Epistle to the Corinthians 101.

[19] BDAG s.v. νόημα 2.

[20] L&N s.v. πωρόω glosses, ‘to cause someone to be completely unwilling to learn and to accept new information’; BDAG has, ‘to cause someone to have difficulty in understanding or comprehending’, harden, petrify’.

[21] BDAG s.v. γάρ 2, 'marker of clarification, for, you see'.

[22] BDAG s.v. ἀνακαλύπτω, 'uncover, unveil'. The participle is taken to be a loosely attached attribute of τὸ αὐτὸ κάλυμμα, but see the comment.

[23] BDAG s.v. ἀλλά 4b.

[24] BDAG s.v. ἡνίκα.

[25] BDAG s.v. κεῖμαι 2.

[26] BDAG s.v. πωρόω.

[27] NETS renders Deut 29:4 LXX, 'But to this day the Lord God has not given you a heart to know and eyes to see and ears to hear.'

[28] Childs, Isaiah 218.

[29] Cf. Ezek 12:2; Jer 5:3.

[30] Watts, Isaiah 1-33 75.

[31] Drawing upon his helpful exegesis of Exod 32-34 MT, Hafemann states (Paul, Moses and the History of Israel 189-225) ‘Against the backdrop of the explicit references of Exod. 32:9, 22 and 33:3, 5 and the function of the tent of meeting in 33:7-11, Moses’ veiling himself should be seen as an act of mercy to keep the people from being destroyed by the reflected presence of God’ (223; emphasis his). The veil is an expression both of judgment and of mercy: ‘The fact that the glory must be veiled is an expression of Israel’s sinful state and God’s consequent judgment; the fact that the glory is veiled is an expression of God’s unexpected mercy’ (224). The potentially fatal consequence of exposure to the τέλος (culmination) of the Sinai covenant, the (mediated) presence of Yahweh among his people, must be distinguished from the τέλος itself. 

[32] E.g. NIV, 'the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away'.

[33] E.g. NEB, 'and it is never lifted, because only in Christ is the old covenant abrogated'.

[34] E.g. Allo, Seconde Épitre aux Corinthiens 91; Grindheim, The Law Kills 109f; tentatively, BDF 424.

[35] E.g. Grindheim, The Law Kills 109-10.

[36] (i) this construction would require that ‘to them’ be read into the participial clause (Barrett, Second Epistle to the Corinthians 121); (ii) the construction is virtually absent from the NT (Moulton, Prolegomena 74); and (iii) in v. 18, ἀνακαλύπτω is used of the lifting of the veil (ἀνακεκαλυμμένῳ προσώπῳ), and it probably has the same sense here.

[37] Thrall, Second Epistle to the Corinthians I 264f.

[38] Belleville, Reflections of Glory 233, objects that (assuming ὅτι is read) ‘only’ would need to be read into the following clause (‘for only in Christ is it removed’); but her objection has little weight (cf. 4:3, where 'only' has to be supplied in English translation).

[39] In the uncial script of the first century both would have been written ΟΤΙ.

[40] ATR 729; KJV. One further option seems possible, though there seems little to commend it: μὴ ἀνακαλυπτόμενον could be the protasis of a conditional sentence, the apodosis being the preceding clause (cf. 1 Cor 11:29; Gal 6:9): 'that same veil remains, except where it is being lifted - for in Christ it is being set aside'.

[41] Hays,  Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul 134, points out that in Paul's usage the semantic domain of the verb καταργέω is the realm of legal process. Here the lifting of the veil is due to the change in the legal status of the believer in conversion.

[42] See Hafemann, Paul, Moses and the History of Israel 380 with n 142 and the literature cited there.

[43] Childs, Isaiah 218.

[44] Thrall, Second Epistle to the Corinthians I 275 n 600.

[45] BDAG s.v. ἡνίκα.

[46]ἡνίκα δὲ ἐὰν ἐπιστρέψῃπεριαιρεῖται is most naturally read as a frequentative temporal clause meaning ‘every time he returns … he removes …’, rather than ‘when’ or ‘as soon as he returns …’; C.F.D. Moule, '2 Cor. 3: 18b, καθάπερ ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος,' in Neues Testament and Geschichte 231-237, 233-34. The NEB goes too far, in portraying Paul's allusion to the Exodus text as a quotation.

[47] BDAG περιαιρέω.

[48] BDAG sv. ἐλευθερία

[49] The middle form of the verb κατοπτρίζω means ‘behold (something) as in a mirror’; LSJ s.v. II; BDAG s.v., and this must be its sense here; Thrall, Second Epistle to the Corinthians I 290-92; Hafemann, Paul, Moses and the History of Israel 409 n 231; cf. Philo Leg. All. 3.101; contra Van Unnik, With Unveiled Face 167f; Belleville, Reflections of Glory 273f, 277-82, who prefer the lexically unsupported sense, ‘reflect’ (for a rebuttal of Belleville’s arguments, see Hafemann, loc. Cit.). R. P. Martin rightly comments (2 Corinthians 71), ‘The translation “we reflect” removes the contrast of the Corinthians with the Jews, who because of their veil cannot see, so the rendering “behold” is to be preferred ...’. 

[50] For the idiom ἀπὸ δόξης εἰς δόξαν, see the Comment.

[51] BDAG s.v. μεταμορφόω 2, ‘to change inwardly in fundamental character or condition’.

[52] BDAG s.v. εἰκών 3.

[53] καθάπερ is often used elliptically, but the verb can easily be supplied from the context; BDAG s.v..

[54] Hafemann, Paul, Moses and the History of Israel 388.

[55] It is probable, therefore, that Paul introduced ἡνίκα in v. 15 ‘in conscious anticipation of the transition to be made in v. 16 on the basis of this OT text.’ (ibid.)

[56] Deut 4:30; 1 Sam 7:3; 2 Chron 24:19; 30:9; 36:13; Psa 21:28; Sir 5:7; Hos 6:1; 7:10; 14:3; Joel 2:13; Isa 19:22; cf. Amos 4:8, 9, 10, 11; Joel 2:2; Hag 2:17; Zec 1:3; Mal 3:7; Jer 3:12; 4:1; 15:19.

[57] Estius, cited by Thrall Second Epistle to the Corinthians I 271; Feuillet Le Christ, sagesse de Dieu 1966:130; Hafemann, Paul, Moses and the History of Israel 388; cf. C.F.D. Moule, '2 Cor. 3: 18b, καθάπερ ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος,' in Neues Testament and Geschichte 231-237, 234-35. Thrall discusses, and rightly rejects the other options (Second Epistle to the Corinthians I 269-71).

[58] Hafemann, Paul,  Moses and the History of Israel 387-88.

[59] In the statement ὁ δὲ κύριος τὸ πνεῦμά ἐστιν, ὁ κύριος, is anaphoric, referring back to v. 16; Barrett, Second Epistle to the Corinthians 122; Hafemann Paul, Moses and the History of Israel 397-400. Furnish notes that in Paul, κύριος ‘means Christ except when the apostle is quoting Scripture or working closely with a scriptural text’ (II Corinthians 211).

[60] Exod 25:8; 29:45; 40:34; Lev 9:23; Num 14:10; 16:19; 17:7 (English versions 16:42); 20:6; Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School 191 n 2.

[61] The LXX renders, στόμα κατὰ στόμα λαλήσω αὐτῷ ἐν εἴδει καὶ οὐ δι᾽ αἰνιγμάτων καὶ τὴν δόξαν κυρίου εἶδεν, 'Mouth to mouth I will speak to him, in visible form and not through riddles. And he has seen the glory of the Lord' (NETS), adding an allusion to the Sinai theophany. In the Hebrew OT, the expression 'the glory of the LORD' (כבוד־יהוה) is a technical term for Yahweh's visible, mobile presence; Newman, Paul's glory-Christology 17-24; cf. Quispel, C., Ezekiel in Jewish Mysticism and Gnosis, Vignette Christianae 34 (1980) 1-13, 2.

[62] Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School 191 n 2.

[63] The manifestation of God in a radiant form ‘like the appearance of a man’ (Ezek 1:26, cf. v. 28) was known also as the Kavod.

[64] Hawthorne, Philippians 211; for a careful demonstration of this point, see now Hellerman, MORFH QEOU as a Signifier of Social Status in Philippians 2:6.

[65] When the Tabernacle was filled with the divine glory, Moses was unable to enter; Exod 40:34-35Despite the objections of Dunn (Romans 1-8 490f), I think Rom 8:3 and Gal 4:4 support the view that Paul held a doctrine of incarnation.

[66] Phil 1:19; cf. Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 6:17; Gal 4:6.

[67] Keddie, Paul's Freedom and Moses Veil 270-274.

[68] 'Although the Stoics at least entertained the idea in the Hellenistic period, it is fair to say that the notion that no human is by nature a slave had become commonplace by the first century CE' (in opposition to Aristotle's theory that slaves are born slaves, since they lack the qualities of free men); Keddie, Paul's Freedom and Moses' Veil 271 n 16.

[69] Hafemann Paul, Moses and the History of Israel 409-10.

[70] BDAG s.v. αἴνιγμα 2, 'indirect mode of communication'. Danker states, 'In the context of mirror imagery αἴνιγμα signifies indirect image, and ἐν αἰνίγματι functions as an idiom meaning indirectly. βλέπομεν δι᾽ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι then gives the sense we see by reflection as in a mirror with emphasis on anticipation of direct personal encounter ' (ibid.). It should not be assumed that a mirror image was thought of as unclear; cf. Philo, Spec. Leg. I.219, cited by Furnish, II Corinthians 239.

[71] For the meaning of the idiom see Benware, Romans 1:17 and Cognitive Grammar, and Second Corinthians 3:18 and Cognitive Grammar: apo doxēs eis doxan see  also on 2:16. Benware assumes that Moses' glory is portrayed as fading and that κατοπτρίζω means 'reflect' rather than 'contemplate', and so he comes to a somewhat different understanding of the passage. J. W. Taylor, From Faith to Faith: Romans 1.17 in light of Greek Idiom 343, cites the following texts as proof that the idiom ἐκ noun phrase εἰς (identical) noun phrase can refer to an ascending sequence: (1) ἐκ δυνάμεως εἰς δύναμιν, Psa 83(84):8 LXX, which is taken to mean, 'from strength to (greater) strength'; but this interpretation is doubtful. Commenting on the underlying Hebrew the NET Bible states, 'With a verb of motion, the expression "from [common noun] to [same common noun]" normally suggests movement from one point to another or through successive points (see Num 36:7; 1 Chr 16:20; 17:5; Ps 105:13; Jer 25:32). Ps 84:7 may be emphasizing that the pilgrims move successively from one "place of strength" to another as they travel toward Jerusalem. All along the way they find adequate provisions and renewed energy for the trip' (The Net Bible Version 1.0, Electronic edition). (2) ἐκ προδοσίας εἰς προδοσίαν: Plutarch, Galba 14.1.9, which is taken to mean 'from betrayal to [worse] betrayal'; but contextually, the idiom simply portrays one betrayal after another. (3) ἐκ φωτὸς εἰς φῶς, Clement of Alexandria, Stromata VII 10.5.3, which is understood to refer to ascending stages of enlightenment. But the sense is simply, 'from enlightenment to enlightenment', imaging a sequence of  distinct but conceptually identical experiences in which knowledge is imparted again and again (cf. 'from lesson to lesson'). Benware's argument is compelling, and in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary it should be accepted.

[72] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians 1068-69, citing Senft.

[73] Hafemann, Paul, Moses and the History of Israel 1995:425-6; the quotation is from page 425.

[74] Cf. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God 304.

[75] Though Moses' external appearance was transformed in the Sinai theophany (Exod 33:19-23), Paul seems to assume an ongoing transformation of his heart as he met with Christ in the Tabernacle.

[76] For ἀπό indicating agency with the (implied) passive verb; BDAG s.v. 5eβ.

[77] Van Kooten, Paul's Anthropology in Context 1-91; 125. Van Kooten argues convincingly that Philo was not 'a Hellenizing, "secularizing" Jew', but 'a Jew who, by adopting Greek philosophy, draws some demarcation lines against the prevailing forces of the Second Sophistic' (ibid, 223). Philo's commentaries on the Pentateuch present 'an uninterrupted anti-sophistic reading' of the Pentateuchal narratives 'spanning the whole line from the creation to Moses' (244); they were aimed particularly at the Greek-educated Jewish youth of Alexandria, whom he feared were at risk of apostasy (241-5).

[78] Dillon, Middle Platonists, Index s.v. 'likeness to God'; cited by Van Kooten, Paul's Anthropology in Context 92.

[79] Van Kooten, Paul's Anthropology in Context 130 Eudorus, a first century BC Alexandrian Academic, was apparently the first to define the goal (τέλος) of Platonic ethics as ὁμοίωσις θεῷ, and he became widely influential, and led, it would seem, to 'a growth in religiosity in philosophical speculation' (Dillon, Middle Platonists 123; quoted by Van Kooten, Paul's Anthropology in Context 148); he seems to have been influenced in this by the Neo-Pythagoreans. A substantial excerpt from his book on ethics is preserved in Book 2, Chapter 7 of Stobeias' Anthology, and was itself preserved by Eudorus' Alexandrian contemporary Arius Didymus. The full text of Eudorus is conveniently available, with a commentary, in Van Kooten, Paul's Anthropology in Context 142-48.

[80] Van Kooten, Paul's Anthropology in Context 152.

[81] Van Kooten, Paul's Anthropology in Context 148.

[82] Plutarch, Fragment 143 [Sandbach] = Strobaeus 4.16.18; quoted by Van Kooten, Paul's Anthropology in Context 152.

[83] Van Kooten, Paul's Anthropology in Context 163.