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With Unveiled Faces

“We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18 (CSB)

Unveiled Christians (We, Christians)

Paul concludes this section by combining the text of Exod 34:35 with a commentary. Moses wore the veil over his shining face until he went in to speak with the Lord. Paul asserts that all Christians can, like Moses, approach the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces and experience the same transformation. The emphatic “we all” refers to the experience of all Christians, not just that of apostles or Christian ministers, because Paul is not simply contrasting himself with Moses. It is “we” as opposed to the unbelieving Jews. In contrast to the Israelites who have a veil shrouding their hearts (3:15), Christians have the veil taken away (3:16). Christians are “able to bear the bold, direct revelation of God’s glory” because the state of their heart has been changed.

It is also “all” in contrast to the one, Moses. All Christians may approach the Lord as Moses did when he went up Mount Sinai into the presence of the Lord. The results are similar. Beholding with an unveiled face the glory of the Lord causes us to be transformed into the same image.

The rare verb katoptrizomenoi translated “looking as in a mirror” can also mean “reflecting as a mirror does.” This rendering implies that Paul continues to contrast himself with Moses. Unlike Moses, Paul’s face is unveiled so that he reflects the Lord’s glory to the people. We have argued, however, that Paul includes the Corinthians with the emphatic “we all,” and the lexical evidence tips the scale toward the translation “looking as in a mirror.” This meaning of the mirror image is found in 1 Cor 13:12: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.” In 4:3–4 Paul repeats the three themes of the veil, glory, and image and writes that those who have been blinded by the god of this age “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (4:4). Paul therefore is talking about the effects of the ministry of the Spirit: all who believe may now see, by means of a mirror, that glory.

To see by means of a mirror does not mean we see only “‘indistinctly’ or ‘in a distorted way’ but indirectly as over against our seeing God ‘face to face.’” In this mirror we see an image, a reflection of God’s glory, which is as close as human beings can ever get to this ultimate reality. As such, it is provisional. Direct vision of God is “not for this world” but awaits the end of the age. Christ, however, is the image of God (4:4; Rom 8:29; Col 1:15), and we have the privilege to see the glory of God in the face of Christ (4:6; see John 14:9). Christ mirrors God for believers. God is no longer isolated on a faraway mountain top but may be met in the heart of the believer who turns to the Lord.

Excerpt from the Christian Standard Commentary: 2 Corinthians by David E. Garland

David Garland received his M. Div. and Ph.D. degree from The Southern Baptist Theological  Seminary and served faculty for 21 years. Dr. Garland is an elected member of Studiorum Novi  Testamenti Societas and has authored, co-authored, and edited twenty-two books. He also has published more than fifty articles. Dr. Garland remains connected to local church ministry and has served as Interim Pastor of sixteen churches in Kentucky, Indiana, and Texas and has preached in numerous churches throughout the U.S. and in Australia and Africa.