Friday, April 13, 2007

Fatehi and Christology in 2 Cor 3:16-18 Part 1 of 2

I noted in a previous post my christological understanding of 2 Cor 3:16-18 and was delighted to receive some immediate feedback from a few readers, especially Sean here. However, I am well aware that my own perspective runs against the tide of most modern commentators. To be sure, it is only in the last 20 years or so that this consensus has developed and for most of the twentieth century the scholarly world identified the kurios of 3:16 as Christ. However, this was often maintained in service of a wider scheme which sought to identify Christ and the spirit in Paul in such a way as to undermine trinitarian presuppositions in Paul (Hermann) and to have the apostle fit into a developmental scheme of Christology especially as it related to Religionsgeschichtliche Schule assumptions (Deismann, Gunkel, Bousset).

The modern consensus, which has insisted that the kurios in 3:16 is not christological at all, must be seen against this background to which it reacted. It has been maintained by arguing that 1) 3:16 is a loose citation from the Exod 34 narrative, and as such is referring to YHWH, that 2) 3:17 is thus an interpretive comment on the 'Lord' of the previous verse such that Paul reads the Lord pneumatologically (e.g. Belleville, Turner, Fee, Thrall, Harris etc.)

However, the older view need not be identified with the concerns of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule and a more nuanced understanding of the identity between Spirit and risen Lord in Paul is provided by Mehrdad Fatehi. This is important as there are good reasons to accept the older consensus. In this post and the next I summarise Fatehi's argument for a christological reading of 2 Cor 3:16-18. I happen to think that he is totally on the money and that his argument can even be strengthened.

His case is twofold, relating to both (A) the contextual matters and (B) the alleged exegetical comment of 3:17 on 3:16.

(A) He notes the contextual evidence in 3:3 that makes it clear that 'it is Christ who is the new covenant counterpart of the Yahweh of the Old Testament' (290). In other words, the Lord in 3:16 cannot simply be understood as YHWH because it is based on a Pentateuchal text. Furthermore, a broader analysis of the logic of the entire passage, especially as it relates to the meaning of the telos as not 'end' but 'goal' or 'purpose', leads Fatehi to suggest that:

'[I]t seems to make good sense to take "the Lord" whose glory the Christians behold with unveiled face to be the same telos who was hidden from the Israelites by the veil. And it seems that this is to a great extent what Paul actually affirm in 4:3f. What is veiled from the unbelievers in the latter passage is the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. This implies that what the believers behold with unveiled face is the glory of the same Lord' (292). Ergo, the reasoning would appear to suggest, the Lord of 3:16 is christological'.

After establishing that 3:14 is best read as 'The same veil remains; unlifted, because it is in Christ it is abolished', Fatehi asserts that the subject of katargeitai (abolished) would 'most probably be the veil rather that the old covenant' (293). Hence, '[i]n the context, from v. 13 down to v. 18, the problem which is under focus in the discourse is the veil rather than the old covenant itself' (293). However, if this is so, 'Paul has clearly expressed, just two verses before v. 16, the turning point in the situation of the Jews and the removal of the veil with reference to Christ [evn Cristw/ katargei/tai]' (294 italics mine). This link between 3:16 and 3:14 is made all the plausible given that 3:15 and 3:16 are simply further elaborations on 3:14.

Finally, he strongly maintains that 4:1-6 is more consistent with a christological interpretation of 3:16-18. First, in 4:4 it is the gospel of the glory of Christ that is veiled from unbelievers. Second, 3:18 speaks of 'being transformed into the same image' as the glory of the Lord that is beheld. In 4:4 the image is defined as Christ. Third, Fatehi notes that the gospel preached by Paul is that 'Jesus Christ is Lord' (4:5). This means that 'the two motifs of Christ's glory and his status as Lord are clearly associated in Paul's mind when writing this passage' (294).

These contextual arguments lead Fatehi to argue that a reading of kurios in 3:17 that is not as he maintains must make its case in such a way that makes a christological reading 'in no way compatible with taking kurios to stand for the risen Lord'. Only then would a christological reading be overturned. This has been done, as noted above, by asserting that 3:17 is an exegetical comment on the loose citation from Exod 34:34 in 3:16. But this argument simply doesn't manage to overwhelm the christological implications of the context. To support this claim he makes three points to which I turn in the next post.

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