Friday, September 18

2 Corinthians 3:1-11: The chapter begins with two rhetorical questions, the anticipated answer to both being “no.” Paul speaks of commendatory letters, to which there are other references in the New Testament (Romans 16:-12; 1 Corinthians 16:10-11; Philemon passim; Acts 15:22-31; 18:27). Paul asserts here that his relationship to the Corinthians renders such letters superfluous (verses 1-3).

In the Greek text the expression “not in ink but in the Spirit” is more melodious: ou mélani alla Pnévmati. Paul’s imagery here evokes Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Paul has “confidence before God” (pepoithesis pros ton Theon–verse 4, an expression that has no linguistic equivalent elsewhere in the Bible). He has this confidence “through Christ,” not from any self-sufficiency (verse 5). The infinitive logisasthai is better translated “to claim” than “to speak”: “We are not sufficient to claim anything” (compare 2:17). Paul’s competence comes from the God who commissioned his ministry (verse 6).

The Apostle introduces here his contrast of letter and Spirit (cf. Romans 2:27-29), which he will elaborate through the rest of this chapter.

What is perhaps most surprising in the first six verses of this chapter is Paul’s confidence in the Corinthian church, where he sees the activity of the Holy Spirit as the fulfillment of the prophetic promises in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The Corinthians themselves are a testimony to the power and fruitfulness of his own ministry.

Paul them proceeds to contrast the Gospel ministry–the ministry of the Spirit–with the ministry of the Mosaic Law, a theme that runs through the rest of this chapter. Because “the letter kills” (verse 6), he calls the Mosaic ministry “a ministry of death” (verse 7). For someone that spent all his previous life in the study of the Torah, this is a very strong assertion.

The Apostle also introduces now the expression “glory,” which as a noun or a verb (“glorify”) appears thirteen times in the remainder of this chapter. Even the ministry of the Law, he says, was possessed of glory. How much more the ministry of the Spirit? (verses 8-9. Compare the same form of argument in Romans 8:32).

Saturday, September 19

2 Corinthians 3:12—4:6: Paul felt the “boldness” (parresia) displayed in what he had just written with respect to the Mosaic Law (verse 12). After all, he had jut referred to the dispensation of the Torah–the ministry of Moses himself–as “the ministry of death” (verse 7) and “the ministry of condemnation” (verse 9). This was certainly bold speech for a rabbi who had spent his whole life in the study of the Torah!

Nor do these words of Paul convey the entire truth. Indeed, Paul was still working his way through this subject when he wrote 2 Corinthians. A year or so later he would give a more developed, nuanced treatment of this matter in his dialectical argument in Romans 9—11.

This boldness in speech Paul contrasts with Moses, who veiled his face so that the Israelites could not behold the fading glory of his countenance (verse 13; Exodus 34:30-35). In this context, in which the word “veil” (kálymma) appears four times (verses 13-16), the “unveiled face” serves as a metaphor for boldness.

The expression eis to telos (verse 13) should not be understood as expressing purpose (“in order that”) but as expressing effect (“with the result that”). Otherwise Paul would be accusing Moses of deceiving the people.

The fault, however, was not of Moses but of the Israelites (verse 14). Here Paul has in mind less the Israelites of Moses’ time than the Israelites of his own day, those from whose synagogues, all over the Mediterranean basin, he and his companions had been expelled. These were the Israelites to whom the true face of Moses remained veiled. Satan, “the god of this world” (4:4), continued to harden their thoughts (noemata–verse 14). This veil has become, in Paul’s argument, an internal covering of the mind, which prevents the correct understanding of “the Old Testament.” This is the only place in the Bible, we may note, that uses this last expression.

The “abolishing” (katargeitai) of which Paul speaks here refers to the veil, not the Old Testament. This is clear in verse 16, where Paul refers to the removal of the veil from the heart (verse 15). No part of God’s Word is ever abolished or “out of date” (Matthew 5:17; Romans 3:31).

The Septuagint text of Exodus 34:34 throws light on this removal of the veil. It speaks of Moses taking the veil from his face when he “went in before the Lord to speak to Him.” It was in turning to the Lord that Moses’ veil was removed. Thus, says St. Paul, as soon as a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed (verse 16). This interpretation is important as it indicates Paul understood Jesus to be “the Lord” to whom Moses went in to speak. The Lordship of Jesus is, in fact, at the base of all Paul’s reflections here (cf. 4:5).

To speak of Christ, however, is concretely to speak of the Holy Spirit. We do not get the One without the Other (verse 17). They are necessarily, or at least practically, concomitant. It is as though a foreign diplomat were to say, “Washington is the United States,” or as if an epicure should remark, “Baltimore is crab cakes,” meaning that the one implies the other. With Christ comes the Holy Spirit; when a man turns to Christ, he receives the Holy Spirit. (Indeed, even this affirmation is oversimplified, because a man cannot even turn to Christ except through the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.)

Contrasted with the veiled Israelites are the unveiled Christians, beholding and being transformed by the glory of the Lord (verse 18). Like Moses in God’s presence, their faces are uncovered, because there is freedom in the new covenant (verse 17). To Christians, then, it is given to share in the doxological transformation accorded to Moses, as they are transformed progressively into the image of Christ.

Paul’s comments are partly biographical, of course; he is implicitly remembering his own experience of conversion to Christ and the glory on the road to Damascus, the experience that led to his radical reassessment of the Torah. This is why he shifts to the “apostolic we” in the next verse (4:1). It is this “we” that proclaims the Lordship of Jesus (4:5). The apostolic preaching is the means by which others contemplate the revelation of God’s glory on the face of Christ (4:6).

Sunday, September 20

2 Corinthians 4:7-15: Paul now returns to the dominant theme of this epistle—power made perfect in infirmity (verse 7). The clay jars means “in our body” (verse 10), “in our mortal flesh” (verse 11), “in us” (verse 12). Human beings, according to Genesis, are framed from the clay of the earth. Nonetheless, Paul’s references here do not indicate a spirit/material contrast. The whole human person suffers the pangs of mortality, the soul as well as the body. Of himself, and considered entirely within his own resources, man is like the clay jars in which Gideon’s army carried the victorious flame. The contrast here in Paul is between human weakness and divine power, not between the body and the soul.

For Paul the apostolic experience was like a sustained sense of being put to death, but not quite (verses 8-12). This sense of mortality, repeated in so many circumstances of Paul’s life and travels, is seen through the interpretive lens of the “dying” (nekrosis) of Jesus (verse 10). The death and resurrection of Jesus are the paradigm of power made perfect in weakness (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:25-31).

Paul’s preaching is based on that faith (verse 13). He understands what happens in his life through his deep communion with Christ (1:5; 13:4; Galatians 6:17; Philippians 3:10-11). This is the source of his “boldness.”

Job 27: Through the past several chapters, Job has been gaining a grip on his soul. His deep critique of the moral philosophies of his opponents has led him to neither skepticism nor despair. On the contrary, in this chapter we find him resolved to maintain the moral integrity that he displayed at the beginning of the book. Indeed, in his vow to do so, Job invokes the very God who has tried him so severely (verses 2–3).

As long as he lives, therefore, as long as “my breath [nishmati] is in me, And the breath of God in my nostrils [b’aphi],” Job will not use that breath, given by God, to “speak wickedness” (verse 4). Custody over his speech represents man’s most elementary stewardship, because breath itself is the first gift that man receives from God. Job’s reference to Adam’s reception of this initial gift seems pretty clear in the wording of the text: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils [b’aphyo] the breath [nishmat,] of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). (Elihu the Buzite will also cite this text from Genesis in Job 33:4.)

Whatever the cost, then, Job is determined to maintain this elementary stewardship of his moral life, no matter how painful, humiliating, and short that life may be (verses 5–6). All Job has left is his integrity, and he will wager everything on it. Job does not pretend to understand the moral structure of the world, as he has so often confessed. He does perceive, however, the difference between right and wrong, and he intends to live on the basis of that elementary perception.

Monday, September 21

Job 28: Job proceeds to meditate on the sheer inaccessibility of God’s secret designs, which lie concealed from human view.

In the previous chapter Job had considered the moral effects of money, or silver, on the conscience of man (27:16–17), but now he alters the sense and direction of the metaphor. These concealed wonders of the divine mind, he reflects, are more secret than veins of silver and other metals that lie buried in the bowels of the earth.

Because wisdom, like the lode veins of metals and nuggets of precious stone, lies concealed beneath the empirical surface of reality, man must dig for it. It is not available to him on the earth’s surface, the place where he earns his daily bread (verse 5). When he endeavors to dig deeper, nonetheless, man discovers that the divine secrets lie further down than his thought can hope to penetrate. God by His hidden wisdom made the world and continues to sustain it in existence. Wisdom rests at the very base of things, deeper than any precious metal or costly stone, and its worth is incomparably greater. Wisdom is buried, in fact, in the depths of God.

Job’s metaphor is strengthened by the remoteness from which these various metals must be brought. Gold comes from far-off Ophir (identified as Supara in India by Josephus, Antiquities 8.6.4, §164; cf. the Septuagint of 2 Chronicles 8:18) and Sheba in southern Arabia. Topaz comes from Ethiopia, equally far away (verse 19). Iron and copper are imported from Cyprus (the very name of which island gives us the root of “copper” itself). Pearls and coral are raised from the depths of the sea (verse 18).

In this text we observe that Job is no longer answering his critics; he has abandoned them to their shallow theories about how the world is constructed. Job pursues, rather, the mind of God, realizing even in his pursuit that the divine wisdom vastly transcends the mind and comprehension of man.

Only God knows the way to wisdom (verse 23). God gives to man only “the beginning of wisdom,” not its final meaning, and this beginning consists in “the fear of the Lord” (verse 28). By God’s gift man can make a start in his search for wisdom, and he does so by turning away from evil. This path of conversion, or “turning away,” is Job’s own chosen way, and it has been since the beginning of the book (1:8; 2:3).

Job cannot read the mind of God, then, not even in those matters that concern his own life and destiny; but he does know what God requires of him, and he has affirmed already his resolve to live in perfect integrity (cf. 27:4–7). That is to say, although Job is not given to share in the secret designs of history, even his own history, he does know what is expected of him, and this is sufficient. Like those Levites charged to bear the Ark without looking into it, Job must carry forward the divine wisdom in the plodding path of his life, even if he must do this in relative darkness.

For the rest, Job’s mind may quietly acquiesce in the evidence of divine wisdom revealed in the established structure of the world. Whatever else may be said about the formation of the elements, they display order and understanding, not chaos (verses 23–27).

Tuesday, September 22

Job 29: These next three chapter contain the longest of Job’s soliloquies, in the course of which he surveys, for the last time, the overwhelming tragedy that has befallen him and the great moral puzzle that it poses to his mind. He first reviews in some detail the happiness of his former life (chapter 29), then his subsequent misery (chapter 30), and finally his own innocence throughout the trial (chapter 31).

The present chapter, then, is about “the way things used to be,” those former days when Job was content, wealthy, and universally honored. Job enjoyed prosperity in those days. His lot was like that of the patriarchs in Genesis, notably Jacob. God’s protecting presence was tangible in those bygone times.

Those were the days in which Job was conscious of God’s protection: “God watched over me” (verse 2). The reader here recalls that Satan had made that very point with respect to Job when he told the Lord, “Have you not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side?” (1:10). Job enjoyed, in those days, what the Psalmist promised: “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, / So the Lord surrounds His people / From this time forth and forever” (Psalm 125[126]:10).

Bildad earlier taunted Job, “The light is dark in his tent, / And his lamp beside him is put out” (18:10), but Job can recall the days when “His lamp shone upon my head, / And when by His light I walked through darkness” (verse 3).

Job previously enjoyed the blessings that the wisdom tradition, notably the Book of Proverbs, promises to God’s loyal servants. Proverbs affirms of the Lord, “His secret counsel [sod] is with the upright” (3:32), and Job remembers those times, “When the friendly counsel [sod] of God was over my tent” (verse 4).

Respecting his relationships with his fellow men, Job was held in high esteem by everyone back then (verses 7–11, 21–23), not only because of his wealth, but also because of his righteousness and charity (verses 12–17). Contrary to the accusation of Eliphaz (22:6–9), Job was well known for his sense of justice (verse 11).

Job expected, moreover, to die in that state of universal approbation (verse 18), beloved of God and men. In those bygone days all these things seemed normal to Job, who related such blessings to his friendship with God and his doing of God’s will. But then, with no discernible explanation, everything changed all at once, and this change in Job’s fortunes is the subject of the next chapter.

What Job has established in the present chapter is that God formerly treated him as a just man, bestowing on him all the blessings that ancient wisdom had promised to just men.

Wednesday, September 23

Job 30: The motif of the present chapter, which is an extended and detailed contrast with Job’s earlier state as described in the previous chapter, is indicated by the repeated expression, “but now” (verses 1, 9, 16). This “but now” stands in contrast to Job’s “months of old” (29:2).

The thematic development of this chapter is the opposite of that in the chapter preceding. Whereas in chapter 29 Job began with his relationship to God (29:1–6) and then went on to speak of his relationship to his fellow men (29:7–25), in the present chapter he reverses the order, commencing with his alienation from his fellow men (verses 1–10) and then going to his sense of alienation from God (verses 11–31).

Formerly revered by elders, princes, and nobles (29:8–10), Job now finds himself contemned and reviled by utter nobodies. These have mocked him (verse 1) and treated him with obloquy (verses 9–10).

Never before in this book has Job been so harsh against his critics, even throwing back in their faces their low social standing. As we have seen, these three critics were men of the desert. Eliphaz came from Teman in the Negev, Zophar from Arabia, and Bildad from the far side of the Fertile Crescent. Now Job, in no little bitterness of soul, ridicules them as outlanders from the stark wilderness, “desolate and waste. . . . They had to live in the clefts of the valleys, / In caves of the earth and the rocks. / Among the bushes they brayed, / Under the nettles they nested” (verses 3, 6, 7). These are rough comments but hardly unique in the history of religious and critical thought.

For example, Thomas Aquinas later described the people in that part of the world as “bestial men dwelling in deserts,” homines bestiales in desertis morantes (Summa Contra Gentiles 1.6). If Job permits himself to be carried away somewhat at this point, we recall that he has, after all, been sorely tried by his critics.

All such treatment might be bearable from others, claims Job, but not from God (verses 16–19). In his supposed rejection by God, Job feels that his soul has been “poured out” (verse 16; cf. 10:1), an expression reminiscent of the Psalmist when he speaks of the Lord’s Passion (Psalms 22[21]:15–16).

Then, abruptly, Job stops speaking about God and turns to address the Lord directly (verse 20), for the first time since 17:3. In sentiments that form a counterpart to the previous chapter (29:2–4), Job accuses God of cruelty and persecution (verse 21), but most especially of remaining silent (verse 20).

We must note here that Job does not ask to be restored to his former state. He simply wants to know why he is being so treated, since he has never treated anyone as badly as both God and man are currently treating him (verses 24–25). He does not deserve this, Job avows, and he wonders why.

Thursday, September 24

Job 31: We readers have known, since the beginning of the book, that Job is on trial. Indeed, this is the indispensable key to understanding the story. (For this reason, those modern critics who regard the first two chapters of Job as a later addition to the text find themselves interpreting a completely different book from the Book of Job.) The trial of Job is the major premise of this work.

This trial of Job has a clear parallel in Zechariah 3:2–6, where Satan brings accusation against the High Priest Joshua. We observe there, as here, that God is on the side of the one accused. In that passage the Lord rebukes Satan and, as a sign of Joshua’s acquittal, commands that the High Priest be clothed with clean garments. Moreover, in Zechariah 6:11–14 “crowns” (yes, plural, ‘ataroth) are prepared for Joshua, to indicate his innocence. Curiously, in the present chapter Job also speaks of “crowns” (again plural, ‘ataroth) with which he will be adorned (verse 36).

Job does not seem to know, at first, that he is being tried in accord with God’s own will. We even sense that Job’s mind would be greatly relieved if he knew that he was being tested. Indeed, how reassured Job would be if he were aware of God’s own assessment of him to Satan!

The notion of a trial has been imposed on Job’s mind, not by the misfortunes that he has suffered, but by the steady flow of accusations brought against him by these three friends of his. They had originally arrived to be his “comforters,” but they very quickly became his accusers. Over and over, without a shred of empirical evidence against Job, they have accused him of dreadful crimes.

If Job feels himself to be on trial, therefore, it is hard to blame him for it. Now that his three witnesses have already borne their testimony against him (more as “character witnesses” than as “eyewitnesses,” to be sure), it appears now that “the prosecution rests its case” in Job’s regard.

But this is all absurd, thinks Job. Even before the trial started, he had already been sentenced. In fact, the sentence is even now being executed! Everything is proceeding backwards. This is chaos! (For a strikingly similar sensation of a legal trial as an outright nightmare, an outlandish exercise in anarchy, one may profitably read Franz Kafka’s Der Prozess or The Trial.)

No matter, says Job, his defense will be made, no matter what. So he “swears himself in” and proceeds with a detailed testimony to his own innocence. Job runs through a fairly high code of ethics (not unlike that of Ezekiel 18:5–9) and rings the changes on his “not guilty” plea, giving specific rebuttal to the slanderous testimony of his accusers (notably Eliphaz in chapter 22).

In this defense Job repeatedly employs the normal Hebrew formula for a legal oath or imprecation: “If I have done such-and-such, may the Lord do this-and-that to me.” Often, in this formula, only the antecedent, not the consequent, is actually spoken, implying that the person swears that the accusation against him is untrue. Job employs both the complete and the truncated form of this oath rather frequently in this chapter (verses 5, 7, 9, 13, 16, 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 29, 31, 33, 38, 39). Thus, this entire chapter is just a series of imprecations, at the end of which “the words of Job are ended” (verse 40).

Is Job correct and proper in all these affirmations and denials? Does his defense actually prove Job to be innocent? In the sight of men arguably so, but not in the eyes of God. Man cannot litigate against God. In this chapter, then, Job has clearly gone too far in his claims, and the book’s next speaker, Elihu the Buzite, is going to call him on it. In the book’s final chapter, moreover, Job will very explicitly retract this defense.

Friday, September 25

Luke 9:1-9: In these verses Luke compresses a much longer and more detailed story found in Mark 6:7-29. In place of Mark’s elaborate account of the murder of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas, Luke tells of Herod’s confusion about Jesus; He wonders if Jesus, about whom he is currently hearing so much, might not be a John redivivus/i>. He is very curious about Jesus, and he hopes to meet him.

In these brief comments, Luke prepares his readers for Jesus’ appearance before Herod during the course of his trial (23:6-12); only Luke provides information on this detail of the Passion.

What was Luke’s source for this material, a source apparently not available to the other evangelists? Luke himself provides a hint toward answering this historical question when he mentions a certain Chuza, described as Herod’s “steward” (epitropos). The term designates a high political office, such as a chief of staff.

It does not tax belief to imagine that such a person would be present at Jesus’ arraignment before Herod Antipas. Indeed, this would be exactly the sort of person we would expect to be present on that occasion, when Herod was in Jerusalem to observe the Passover. Furthermore, Chuza is also the sort of person we would expect to be familiar with Herod’s own thoughts, sentiments, and motives with respect to Jesus.

And how did Chuza’s information come to Luke? Most certainly through Chuza’s wife, Joanna, whom Luke includes among the Galilean women who traveled with Jesus and the Apostles, providing for Him “from their substance” (Luke 8:3). Joanna, whom Luke is the only evangelist to mention by name, was surely his special channel of information that only he, among the evangelists, seems to have had. Married to a well-placed political figure in the Galilean court, Joanna was apparently a lady of some means, who used her resources to provide for the traveling ministry of Jesus and the Apostles. Acting in this capacity, she
must have been very well known among the earliest Christians. Only Luke, however, speaks of her by name, a fact that seems to indicate that he had interviewed her in the composition of his Gospel.

2 Corinthians 7:13—8:7: Now that the delicate and critical situation in Corinth has been settled by the mission of Titus (verses 13-16), Paul brings to the attention of the Corinthians the charitable collection of resources currently in process for the impoverished Christians in the Holy Land. The role of Titus in this collection will be crucial, as we see in chapters 8 and 9.

Paul proceeds to tell the Corinthians of the generosity of the churches of Macedonia, partly with the intent, no doubt, of encouraging a like generosity among his readers. Chief in generosity among the Macedonians, it seems, are the Philippians, who have already established the custom of sacrificial giving with respect to Paul (11:8-9; Philippians 4:15-16).

The collection had already begun at Corinth, in fact, during the previous year (8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4), and it will continue into the following year (Romans 15:25-27).

Everything about this enterprise is grace, charis (verses 1,6,7,19). It begins with the generosity of God. The Macedonian Christians are poor, after all, and Paul strains his images to express how this poverty abounded in generosity (verse 2). This generosity was spontaneous (verse 2); the Macedonians asked for the opportunity to give (verse 4). Indeed, this giving was the expression of the gift of themselves (verse 5).

Paul is sending Titus back to Corinth as the bearer of the present letter. Hence he mentions now that Titus, on his return to Corinth, will be organizing the collection in that city too (verse 6). This will be the perfecting of the good ministry that Titus had already commenced among the Corinthians.