The word of the day is “veil.” In our reading of 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, St. Paul contrasts the clarity of our vision of Christ with the reading of the Law of Moses. The Apostle writes, “But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their hearts. Nevertheless, when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (vs. 13-14).
The key to the passage is its controlling metaphor, the image of the veil. Paul refers to the time when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Tables of the Law (Exodus 34:29-35). When Moses spoke to the Israelites, his face shown with the Glory of God. But the people were afraid to approach him (vs. 30). Consequently, Moses put a veil over his face as he gave the divine commandments to the Israelites. He took the veil off when he conversed with God and put it on to speak to the people.
The Veil Hid the Fading Glory
Why did he do it? In our reading, Paul seems to comment on the Septuagint (Greek) version of Exodus 34:33. It reads, “when he ceased speaking, he put a veil on his face.” In today’s passage, Paul interprets this statement to mean that Moses covered his face so that the people could not see the fading glory of “what was passing away” (vs. 13).
Paul continues that “to this day,” when the Old Covenant (Old Testament) is read, there is a veil that covers the hearts of nonbelievers. They can neither see the Glory of God revealed in it nor that its divine splendor is vanishing.
The Veil Removed
But, now, in the New Covenant, Paul states that when people turn to the Lord, that veil is removed. The Orthodox Study Bible notes that here “Paul is transforming the understanding of one God, the Lord, in the Old Covenant, into Jesus’ revelation of one God in three Persons, each of which is the Lord, in the New Covenant (OSB fn. on 3:16-18). Thus, we can say that when believers look to the Father and the Son “in the power of the Holy Spirit” (OSB fn. 3:17), the veil is removed. Their eyes are opened to the glorious revelation of God. The light of the Gospel of the Glory of Christ shines on them (vs. 4:4).
Beholding as in a Mirror
Paul goes on that when the veil hiding the revelation of God is removed, we see “as in a mirror.” The root of this word refers not merely to looking but to watching. In other words, we behold the Glory of the Lord as if gazing into a mirror (Strong’s #3700, 180).
Paul uses the same metaphor in 1 Corinthians when he writes, “Now we see in a mirror dimly but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). But this passages uses this image in a different way than the first. How can we understand the two different meanings? To answer we note that the ancients at this time made mirrors of polished metal. In such devices, they saw “dimly.” The image was obscure or indistinct (Strong’s 135, 8), for the image was not exact.
Here is the sense of “seeing in a glass darkly.” However, the polished metal of an ancient mirror gave a reflection a special glow. In this sense, Paul’s emphasis is not on the clarity of the image but its splendor. He is saying that we see the Glory of God as if it were an image in a shining mirror.
In our reading, the primary thought is that Jesus Christ is the image of God. The Book of Hebrews elaborates that the Son of God is “the brightness of His [God’s] glory and the express image of His person (Hebrews 1:3). A secondary idea, though, is that “we are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory…” (vs. 18). We are reflections of Christ. In Romans, Paul repeats the same thought. “For whom he foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son… (Romans 8:29). Thus, by the renewing power of the Spirit, we are becoming what we behold. We are being refashioned in the image of Christ our Lord.
Besides these insights, our reading also gives us the explicit warrant to interpret the Old Testament in the light of the Gospel of Christ. Furthermore, this passage expresses the hope of our ultimate destiny. It is the promise that the image of God will be fully restored in us. According to our reading, we look forward to our transformation into the image of Christ, who is the exact image of God. The Epistle of 1 John states, “…when He is revealed, we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. To be clear, it would be better to say, “we shall be like Him because we will see Him as He is.” This is is in line with Paul’s teaching that we will go from glory to glory, for the glory of Christ that we behold “face-to-face” ( 1 Cor. 13:12) will change us into the shining reflection of His Glory.