A few days ago I wrote a post on “the Lord” of 2 Cor. 3.17-18 referring to the Holy Spirit as the antecedent was to be found in Ex. 34.34 and not v. 14 (read here). I cited Gordon Fee who holds this position in his book God’s Empowering Presence. Nick Norelli noted that Fee changed his position by the time he wrote his Pauline Christology. This led to a discussion between JohnDave Medina and myself the other night about this passage. I still maintain that Fee was correct in his former reading rather than his latter.

This week I have begun reading On the Holy Spirit by Basil the Great. I was pleased when I read his commentary on 2 Corinthians 3.17-18 which I will share here. Basil writes against those who denied the deity of the Spirit saying,

Let them listen to even more testimony of the Spirit’s Lordship: “Now the Lord is the Spirit” [1] and “this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”. [2] But to leave no room for further doubt, I will quote the Apostle’s words in greater detail: “To this day, when they read the Old Testament, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away…when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit…”. [3] Why does Paul say this? Because someone who adheres to the bare letter of the law, and busies himself with legal observances, had veiled his own heart with Jewish interpretation of the law. Such a person is ignorant that the bodily observance of the law has been abrogated by the coming of Christ, and the types have been exchanged for the truth. Lamps are not needed after sunrise, and since the truth has appeared, the job of the law is over, and the prophets become silent. On the other hand, someone given the ability to perceive the depth of the law’s meaning, who passes through the curtain of literal obscurity and arrives at unutterable truths, is like Moses, who removed his veil when he spoke with God. Such a man has turned from the letter to the Spirit. The veil on Moses’ face is analogous to the obscurity of the instruction offered by the law, just as spiritual contemplation corresponds to Moses speaking to the Lord with face unveiled. He who throws away the letter and turns to thw Lord when reading the law (and now the Lord is called Spirit) becomes like Moses, whose face shone with the glory of God’s manifestation. Objects placed near something brilliantly colored themselves become tinted through reflected light; likewise he who fixes his gaze on the Spirit is transfigured to greater brightness, his heart illuminated by the light of the Spirit’s truth. Then the glory, not stingily, or dimly, but with the abundance we would expect to find within someone who has been enlightened by the Spirit. [4]

It is most evident that Basil understood the Spirit to be the Lord of Exodus 34. This is part of his arguement for the deity of the Spirit. He rightly sees the contrast of this passage not between the letter and Christ (although Christ is important) but between the letter and Spirit. Therefore, in this context, to turn from the letter is to turn to the Spirit who is the Lord.

[1] 2 Cor. 3.17

[2] 2 Cor. 3.18

[3] 2 Cor. 3.14, 16-17

[4] On the Holy Spirit, 52. trans. David Anderson.