Transfigured Hermeneutics 9—With Unveiled Faces

Transfiguration and Exodus
Transfiguration as Theophany
Jesus as God’s Glory Face in John’s Gospel
The High Priest and the New Temple
The Climactic Word
The Bright Morning Star

Moses’ Veil

This is the ninth of a ten part series on the Transfiguration and its significance for Christian theology and the reading of Scripture. In my previous post I began to discuss Paul’s development of themes associated with transfiguration in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4. I argued, following Richard Hays, that Paul presents Moses both as the representative of the old covenant, but also as anticipatory of the new.

As with Moses, those who turn to Christ—in repentance and faith—are transfigured by the sight of his glory, with the effect of renewing them into his image. Kline writes:

Glory is again to the fore when the Scriptures speak of man’s recreation in God’s image. The renewal of the divine image in men is an impartation to them of the likeness of the archetypal glory of Christ… The mode of the impartation of Christ’s glory in image renewal is described according to various figurative models appropriate to Christ’s identity either as Spirit-Lord or as second Adam. Man’s reception of the divine image from Christ, the Glory-Presence, is depicted as a transforming vision of the Glory and as an investiture with the Glory. Moses is the Old Testament model for the former and Aaron for the latter. Beholding the Sinai revelation of the Glory-Face transformed the face of Moses so that he reflectively radiated the divine Glory. So we, beholding the glory of the Spirit-Lord, are transformed into the same image (II Cor. 3:7-18; 4:4-6).[1]

The end—the telos—of the old covenant was the glorious renewal and transfiguration of humanity in the image and likeness of God. Moses manifested this glory, but had to veil it for a people who weren’t ready for it. In Christ we see both transfigured humanity and the Glory-face of God himself—the telos of all previous revelation.

Paul’s discussion in 2 Corinthians 3:1—4:6 helps us better to appreciate the centrality and import of the themes of the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration declares that the glory of God, formerly only briefly glimpsed by Moses and a few prophets, is now openly proclaimed to all in the gospel of God’s Son. The Transfiguration also unveils the true telos of revelation—the transfiguration of humanity—so that we are renewed and glorified in the image and likeness of our Creator. Christ is the archetypal Image of God and Glory-face of God: as we gaze upon him, we are transformed into his likeness.

There is a pivotal move in Paul’s argument in verse 14:

In verse 13 Moses is the prophet and lawgiver who veils his own face; in verse 15, Moses is the sacred text read in the synagogue. The single intervening transitional sentence tells us that the veil over the minds of the readers is “the same veil” (to auto kalymma) that Moses put on his face. How can that be so? Because Moses the metaphor is both man and text, and the narrative of the man’s self-veiling is at the same time a story about the veiling of the text.[2]

A crucial implication of this is that the (veiled) glory of Moses is not just the glory of Moses the man, but also the glory of the Old Testament Scriptures that he stands for. Although Paul’s earlier contrast between inscription and incarnation may have led readers to expect that he was about to associate Scripture with the veil concealing the transfigured humanity, he makes the critical move of associating the Scripture, not with the veil, but with the glorious face of Moses that lay beneath it.

Having carefully developed the multi-layered metaphor of the veiled Moses, Paul’s stage is now set for the dramatic unveiling. Hays remarks:

The rhetorical effect of 2 Cor. 3:16 is exquisite because it enacts an unveiling commensurate with the unveiling of which it speaks. The text performs its trope in the reader no less than in the story. And—the final elegant touch—the trope is performed precisely through a citation of Moses. Moses’ words are taken out of Exod. 34:34, unveiled, and released into a new semantic world where immediately they shine and speak on several metaphorical levels at once. Thus, rather than merely stating a hermeneutical theory about the role of Scripture in the new covenant, 2 Cor. 3:12-18 enacts and exemplifies the transfigured reading that is the result of reading with the aid of the Spirit.[3]

Paul’s argument, which has been steadily building throughout the chapter, now erupts into a magnificent crescendo. The face of Moses—the face of the Torah—is no longer veiled when he turns—when we turn—to the Spirit-Lord, the giver of liberty. For those who turn to Christ in repentance and faith, the Scripture is now seen to be the mirror in which we perceive the glory of the Lord. Through gazing steadfastly at the glory revealed in that mirror, we ourselves are transformed into the likeness of the One revealed there by the Spirit of Christ, from glory to glory.

As our reading of Scripture is transformed in this new covenant manner, we ourselves are transformed by our reading, to bear the same image—of the glory of Christ—that we perceive within its mirror. The telos of the Scripture, the transformation of humanity, is thereby achieved in us as the veil is removed from our hearts, enabling us to perceive the glory of our Lord that fills it. The figural and Christological reading of Scripture that Paul exemplifies here involves a sort of ‘transfiguration’ of the text, as the glory of the Lord is encountered within it. What had formerly been veiled is disclosed and opened up in Christ, revealing his radiance throughout its pages.

This mirror of God’s glory precedes a greater revelation yet to come, when we see Christ face-to-face (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12). The transformation we currently experience is a partial one produced by a mediated encounter; it will be surpassed by the direct vision which it anticipates and promises. Once again, the self-forgetful vision of Christ will be the means of our transformation—‘when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is’ (1 John 3:2). The shadowy and fleeting glimpses and intimations that we have of transfiguration in our encounters with ‘transcendent’ natural or artistic beauty—as cynicism, fear, and distrust wash away from countenances that light up with joy, awe, wonder, hope, and love and the world and its peoples are bathed in a glorious radiance—may give us the faintest of apprehensions of the great transfiguration that awaits humanity and the creation in the age to come.

In my next and concluding post I will reflect upon what it means to read Scripture in the light of the Transfiguration.

[1] Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999), 28-29

[2] Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (London: Yale University Press, 1989), 145

[3] Ibid. 147

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in 2 Corinthians, Bible, Christian Experience, Hermeneutics, NT, NT Theology, Scripture, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Transfigured Hermeneutics 9—With Unveiled Faces

  1. Pingback: A Series on the Transfiguration - Journeying On

  2. Pingback: Transfigured Hermeneutics 10—Transfigural Interpretation | Alastair's Adversaria

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