Saturday, 2 April 2016
The Lord is the Spirit.... WHAT? New thoughts on 2 Corinthians 3:16-18
I usually try to avoid too much theologising over the Holy Spirit, not because I don't love the Spirit but because I simply don't feel a drive to study the subject, in the same way I don't feel drawn to theories of atonement or theodicy (at least one post can be consulted here, however). That said, I have at various points thought with regard to 2 Corinthians 3:16-18: "huh, that's weird". Isn't the Spirit supposed to be distinct from Jesus, doesn't he go but send another? From a Triune-God advocate's perspective, you also might want to say that both Jesus and Spirit are God or fully-divine or essentially and perfectly united, or something, but that this unity still creates no confusion between their persons. So it's something of a head-scratcher. Here is the text from the NIV to refresh our memories:
But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Seems like a problem, doesn't it? I have a new thought on this passage following a little bit of research I'd like to share with you, and if possible, please feel free to share your perspective. What is fascinating about this problem is that it should represent a difficulty for any christological perspective, so you never know, this may be read with less scepticism.
Tiny details can have huge ramifications, right? Here's a whopper: I recently learned and shared an article from early Christianity specialist, Larry Hurtado, in which he also cited other scholars who noted that especially in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) but also through the Old Testament, there is a literary clue in the Greek translation of YHWH. Probably most people reading this blog already know that in the LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament scriptures, YHWH is substituted by KYRIOS. Kyrios is a flexible word that means Lord, master or simply "sir". It is most certainly this LXX version of the OT that the NT church used since the quotations cited in the NT texts align so closely to it. It is hard for me to realise why the point of this research is so unknown and even among some scholars. But here it is: KYRIOS is ANARTHROUS when in place of YHWH. Eh? Anarthrous means the word does not have an article attached. In the case of YHWH, the personal name of Israel's god, a clue to this origin was left by leaving out the article.
So why do we translate Yahweh with "THE LORD", and not just "LORD"? That is a very, very interesting question to which I cannot yet give you a satisfying answer. One reason might have been that translators wanted to draw out links between YHWH and Jesus Christ, who is undeniably assigned the title of the ultimate Lord. Some Greek specialists might like to quibble: sometimes the article is dropped anyway, it is difficult to predict article behaviour. On issues more associated with Theos, this would be Daniel Wallace's perspective, who spent a lot of time wrestling with the issue. We also know from other places like John 4:24 (God [the Father] is spirit), which leads me to roughly submit the following alternative translation:
16 But whenever anyone turns to LORD, the veil is taken away. 17 Now [the?] LORD is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of LORD is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate LORD's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from LORD's Spirit.
Nowhere in the Greek in this text is Lord prefixed with the article, except possibly at the start of verse 17. We can note especially that in verse 16 (turns to LORD), it is curious that there is no article. Acts 16:18 has the same verb for turning but states "turned to the spirit". Acts 9:40, 2 Peter 2:22 also supply the article. Finally, perhaps the most striking examples are John 13:3 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9. These two verses are two of only seven in the New Testament where God (theos) is
- mentioned twice
- is anarthrous in one instance AND articulated in the other.
In both John 13:3 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9 God (of all people) is articulated when prefixed by "to" (pro), literally: AND TO THE GOD HE WAS GOING (John 13:3) and YOU TURNED TO THE GOD (1 Thessalonians 1:9). 1 Thessalonians even has the same verb as 2 Corinthians 3:16.
So the question remains, why would a New Testament author curiously drop an article before Kyrios? This proposal provides the following hypothesis: Paul was totally familiar with the LXX practice of article dropping for KYRIOS when it replaced YHWH, and did so here, totally in line with the Old Testament context in which the passage is utterly soaked (tablets of stone, Israelites, Moses, the veil...).