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Note of the Day – October 23 (2 Cor 4:6)

This is the second of a pair of daily notes dealing with Paul’s use of the word gnw=si$ (gnœ¡sis, “knowledge”) in 2 Corinthians 2:14 and 4:6. Yesterday’s note discussed 2:14; today I will address 4:6. For the overall structure and context of the section 2:14-4:6, cf. the previous note.

2 Corinthians 4:6

“—(in) that (it is) God, the one saying ‘out of (the) darkness light [fw=$] shall (shine as a) beam [la/myei]’, who has shone a beam [e&lamyen] (of light) in our hearts, toward the lighting [fwtismo/$] of the knowledge of the honor/splendor of God in (the) face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

This climactic statement must be read both in terms of the section 2:14-4:6 as a whole, but also within the smaller structure of 4:1-6 (itself parallel with 2:14-17):

  • v. 1: Paul and his fellow missionaries have received this duty of service (diakoni/a) through the mercy of God, just as they were made slaves/captives of Christ through the favor (xa/ri$) of God (cf. 2:14a); note the specific use of dou=lo$ (“slave”) further in 4:5.
  • v. 2: As ministers of the Gospel they shine/manifest the truth to people everywhere (“in the sight of God”), just as they shine/manifest the scent of God’s knowledge everywhere (2:14b); here the verb fanero/w takes on more the literal sense of shining (in the darkness).
  • vv. 3-4: The Gospel gives light to those being saved, while the ones perishing remain blinded in darkness; similarly the contrast between the Gospel as pleasant fragrance (of life) to the one group, but a stench (of death) to the other (2:15)
  • v. 5 formally returns to the theme of v. 1 (and 2:14a), leading into verse 6:
    “For we did not proclaim ourselves, but Yeshua (the) Anointed (the) Lord, and ourselves as your slaves through Yeshua—”
    The word ku/rio$ is best understood as a predicate—i.e. Yeshua (the) Anointed (who is the) Lord, as (our) Lord, etc.

The specific relationship of Jesus to God the Father, implicit in verse 5, is given greater clarity in vv. 3-4; here the nature of the Gospel is stated in dramatic fashion:

“…to cast (as) a ray the light of the good message [i.e. Gospel] of the honor/splendor of (the) Anointed, who is (the) image [ei)kw/n] of God” (v. 4b)

The language Paul uses here is important for the way it brings together all the imagery of 2:14ff, before repeating it again in v. 6. The various words relating to light, as applied to the Gospel, are here stated explicitly—”the light [fwtismo/$] of the good message [eu)agge/lion]”. The Gospel itself conveys the do/ca (dóxa) of Christ. The full significance of this word (do/ca) is extremely difficult to render into English. Fundamentally, as related to God, it has the meaning “consider/regard (worthy of honor)”, “esteem, honor,” etc. However, it also connotes the nature and character of God which makes him worthy of honor. Typically it is translated flatly as “glory”; however, I tend to avoid this rendering, and, in such a context as 2 Cor 4:4 and 6, find something like “splendor” much preferable. While this splendor, honor or “weight” (i.e. the corresponding Hebrew term dobK*) is ultimately ineffable, it is often depicted or described in terms of light. Paul certainly draws upon this traditional imagery throughout 2:14-4:6, and especially in chapter 3 where he uses the episode of the shining (and veiling) of Moses’ face (Exod 34:29-35) to compare (and contrast) the Old Covenant with the New (3:7-18). The splendor (do/ca) of the Old Covenant, symbolized by the shining of Moses’ face, has passed away, eclipsed by the far greater splendor of the New Covenant in Christ. Believers, including, in particular, Paul and other ministers of the Gospel, are able to gaze upon this splendor without any veil or intermediary, through the presence of the Spirit (v. 17). This splendor is that of Christ’s face, which, in turn, is a (perfect) reflection of the face of God—described by Paul in v. 4 as the image (ei)kw/n) of God. Note the parallelism:

  • The face of Moses, along with the faces of the people (veiled)
    —The face of Christ (the veil is removed)
  • The face of believers, including ministers of the Gospel (unveiled)

This analysis will help us ourselves to see more clearly what Paul is finally stating in 4:6. He moves beyond the Exodus narrative to the very account of Creation—Gen 1:2-3 being paraphrased very loosely in Greek:

“…God, the one saying, ‘out of (the) darkness light shall (shine as a) beam'”
cp. “…darkness was over the deep…and God said, ‘Light shall come to be!'” (LXX)

The original act of creation God has now reproduced (as a ‘new creation’) for believers in Christ:

“…(he) has shone a beam (of light) into our hearts”

Both phrases use the same verb la/mpw (lámpœ), cognate with the English word lamp, from which it is derived. There is a clear parallelism of vocabulary joining the two creative acts:

  • fw=$ (“light”)
    la/myei (“shall shine”)
    e&lamyen (“he has shone”)
  • fwtismo$ (“light, lighting, [en]lightening”)

The latter word fwtismo/$ refers more properly to the act of shining light, or, perhaps, the means and/or source of light. In Christian (Pauline) conception, this source/means of light is to be identified with the Spirit, sometimes referred to as the (living) word of God, but also with the proclamation of the Gospel. Once a person receives the Gospel, it comes to abide in them as a living word through the presence and work of the Spirit; it is also the word (and Spirit) of Christ—the presence of Christ in the believer. This is powerfully summarized in the genitive chain that concludes verse 6:

“…toward the light(ing) of the knowledge of the splendor of God in the face of [Yeshua] (the) Anointed.”

The preposition pro/$ (“toward”) indicates purpose, i.e. the purpose of the proclamation of the Gospel. The four-part genitive chain represents an extremely exalted manner of description, which is found quite often in Ephesians, but rather less common in the undisputed Pauline letters. Most translations obscure this construction, but the chain of relationship it expresses is worth retaining in English:

  • the shining of light [fwtismo/$] reveals and leads to —>
    • knowledge [gnw=si$], which specifically makes known —>
      • the honor/splendor [do/ca] which belongs to, and reveals the nature/character of —>
        • God, that is, the Father (YHWH)—his splendor is manifest and expressed —>
          • in the face [pro/swpon] of the Anointed (Christ)

Ultimately, the light is identified with the “face” of Christ—that is, his presence made manifest to believers (through the Spirit). The Gospel is the means by which the elect (believers) first come to know and experience his presence.

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