IIcorinthians 3. The Veil and the Image.
Key Notes: Paul's credentials? A chart of Old and New Covenants. Moses' trips to the top of Mt. Sinai. The veil of unbelief. The vision.
This chapter contains a powerful message, a high goal for the Christian. Verse 3:18 is worth committing to memory and will be given as a separate lesson.
3:1–2 Paul asks whether letters of recommendation to or from the Corinthians were necessary. It sounds absurd that one who had founded the Corinthian church should need any introduction. There are several possible explanations.
*Paul essentially had to start over in his relationship with them because of the alienating effect that his discipline had on them. IICor.2:1–22
*He was competing with other legitimate Christian leaders who were more popular and so he must periodically reassert himself. ICor.1:12
*Paul was contending with new and dangerous pseudo-apostles. IICor.11:4–6
*He was setting up a situation to make the point of how little human leaders ultimately contribute to the life of the Spirit, ”...to show that the transcendent Power belongs to God and not to us.” (IICor.4:7)
*There was lingering attachment to legal religion (IICor.3:6) which he must overcome, perhaps pushed by the pseudo-apostles.
I would guess that all these explanations play a part in Paul’s motives. Churches are complex and delicate. They are not monolithic or easy to deal with.
The Corinthians were Paul’s advertisement for his ministry: not ink (Gr. melana ," black") on stone tablets, but transformed human hearts. Their spiritual life is a demonstration of the work of the Holy Spirit—and that will be the point of this chapter.
Ideally any congregation is a letter from Christ, known to all the pagans around.
“We are the only Bible the careless world will read;
We are the sinner’s gospel, we are the scoffer’s creed;
We are the Lord’s last message given in deed and word—
What if the line is crooked? What if the type is blurred?”
(“Christ—and We”. A.J.Flint. in Masterpieces of Religious Verse; edit. J.D. Morrison; Harper’s,’48.)
3:4–6 Paul argues that his competence is not an issue; even that comes from God, who bestows the ministry of the new covenant. Usually competence is an issue, and we see failures in the ministry fairly often, as Paul did. All leaders have a mixture of personality traits, skills and agendas. The core of the message which Paul gives us in this chapter could be used as the definition of competence: transforming human hearts is the goal. Paul got it right.
3:7–16 In the next section Paul makes a series of comparisons between Judaism and Christianity, between the Old Covenant, and the New. Since the Corinthians were mostly from pagan background, putting Judaism in the foreground implies that there was a serious attempt to convert them to the pre-Christian faith.
|OLD COVENANT||NEW COVENANT|
|A written code--deadly||A life-giving Spirit|
|Dispensation of condemnation||Dispensation of righteousness|
|On tablets of stone||On the human heart|
|Splendor fades||Permanent glory|
|Obscured by unbelief||Clarified in Christ|
3:7–11 The word “glory” (“splendor” in RSV) appears ten times in this passage, used 5 times to describe the Old Covenant, although surpassed by the New.
Paul’s argument is that the glory of the Old covenant faded. He takes an illustration from Moses’ experience on Mt. Sinai. The Exodus account is rich in detail and begs to be read. (Ex.20–34). Moses’ basic communication with God was face to face at the door of the tent of meeting (not yet the Tabernacle) with the pillar of cloud overhead. (Ex.33:11). Moses made not one, but at least three trips of forty days’ each to the top of Mt. Sinai. After Moses' last trip up Mt. Sinai with God, his face glowed.
Trip One. (Ex.19:20-). He went up into the glory of God on top of Mt. Sinai and returned forty days later with the basic law-book , the Torah, in his hand. Ex.20–24
Interval. Seventy elders of Israel were called up into Mt. Sinai to have dinner with God. Ex.24:9–11
Trip Two. (Ex.24:18). He was again gone forty days and returned with the details of the tabernacle and priestly garments.
Interval. In his absence, Israel created the golden calf. Three thousand were killed by the priests and a plague broke out. Moses smashed the table of the Law.Ex.32:15-
He had to make three intercessions with God for Israel:
To redeem Israel from death Ex.32:11-
To get forgiveness from God Ex.32:31-
To restore God’s personal guidance. Ex.33:12
To get final validation for these three successful intercessions, Moses asked to see God’s glory.
Trip Three (Ex.34:29-). Moses were given a vision of the glory of God. He was protected from seeing the face of God but saw His trailing glory and heard God describing His character. He came down from this visitation with his face glowing. (Ex.34:29-). He put a veil over his face so that the people could tolerate the sight of him but took the veil off in the presence of God.
“The dispensation of death” is vividly illustrated from the Mt. Sinai experiences. God’s first Law was that Israel was to have no other gods before Him. (Ex.20:3). That is exactly the law that Israel broke by making the golden calf, and death and destruction followed. (Ex.32:1-). God was at once alienated from Israel and prolonged reconciliation was necessary.
Moses had escalating experiences of the glory of God. Ex.32
*He spoke to God (Christ--God visible) daily, face to face.
*He had a unique experience eating supper in the presence of God. Ex.24:9–11
*He spent forty days at a time immersed in the glory on Mt. Sinai.
*In desperation, he asked for even more, to see the glory of the Uncreated Being of the Father. Only then did Israel perceive that Moses was changed.
And Paul makes the point that even then Moses’ face was not permanently changed. The glory faded. Further, Israel could not tolerate the change. But Paul points out that our experience is superior to that of Moses. The glory we are reflecting does not fade.
3:12–18 The veil is a symbol of unbelief and resistance. They could not bear to look at Moses'' face. Even today Moses’ message is hidden from them in spite of plentiful Messianic references found in the Pentateuch (Gen.3:15; Gen.12:1–3; Gen.49:10; Deut.18:18), as well as many other places in the OT. The Holy Spirit alone can remove the veil of unbelief. The veil in the Tabernacle /Temple also symbolizes the separation between God and humans. That veil was removed by the death of Christ. (Matt.27:51; Heb. 10:19). So God restrained Israel’s ability to enter His presence until the death of Christ, and much later will entirely remove the veil of unbelief which prevents them from seeking Him. Rom. 11:26
3:12 Since we have this hope (of greater glory), we are very bold. The Greek word for “bold” expresses freedom of speech, a bold face, with a tinge of daring.
Seek the glory of God.