Problems of Translation: II Cor 3:18

From the Differentiator magazine:
Vol. 17 New Series February, 1955 No. 1

II. COR. 3:18
A. V. 1611: But We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory (even) as by the Spirit of the Lord (margin: as of the Lord the Spirit).

R.S.V. 1946: And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

For many years I was troubled by the last few words in this verse. They did not seem to make reasonable sense. Was the Lord a spirit, or was He a Man? In Luke 24:37-39 the Lord had informed the perplexed disciples that a spirit did not have flesh and bones as He had. We know also, that all the fulness of the Deity now dwells in Him, bodily (Col. 2:9).

Doubtless most of our readers have sensed that there is something wrong somewhere. The versions here are singularly unhelpful, almost all repeating with monotonous regularity "as from the Lord the Spirit," "as by the Spirit of the Lord," or "as from the Lord's Spirit." The Companion Bible and others state that the word Spirit is in apposition to the word Lord. That, however, does not clear up the meaning of the verse.

Dr. Henry B. Swete in "The Holy Spirit in the New Testament" (1910) gives the meaning as "from a Lord who is spirit," but says these last words in the verse have caused much difficulty. He explains that the transforming process comes direct from the glorified Lord, "whose humanity is now quickening spirit, instinct with the powers of the Spirit of life." This explanation, however, does not supply a complete answer to our problem.

Dr. Bullinger, in "How to Enjoy the Bible," wrote that "2 Cor. 3:7-16 is a Parembole or Digression, concerning the Old and New Covenants, in which the subject is broken off from verse 6 and continued in verse 17. This subject Was the fact that 'as the body without the pneuma (or spirit) is dead' (James 2:26), so the 'letter' (or old Covenant) is dead without Christ; for the Lord (Christ) is its pneuma.'"

To understand the verse we are studying, it is very important to observe this digression. In the translation of the New Testament from the Codex Vaticanus by Charles Thomson, at one time Secretary to the Congress of the United States (Philadelphia, 1808), this digression is shewn in brackets (verses 7 to 16), and the final words in verse 18 are shewn as "as from the Lord of spirit." A note states that "In order to understand this it is necessary to keep in mind what is said in verses 6, 7, that he was qualified to be a minister of a new covenant not of letter, but of spirit."

The grammatical point at the end of verse 18 must now be explained. "Even as from (the) Lord (the) Spirit" is a rendering of the Greek kathaper apo Kuriou pneumatos, which is, very literally, "even-as from of-Lord of-spirit." The word apo (from) takes the genitive case. But it does not necessarily govern both words, "Lord" and "Spirit." Why should not the word "spirit" refer back to what is said concerning spirit in verses 6 and 8?

We therefore suggest for verse 18, "Now we all . . . . . are being transformed into the same image, from glory into glory, even as from the Lord—(a glory) of spirit." This detachment of the final word, "of-spirit," links up the statement with verses 6 and 8, and helps us to understand what Paul had in mind all through the chapter. The same suggestion is found in Rev. T. S. Green's most useful little book, "Critical Notes on the New Testament" (Bagsters, 1867), without which no one should attempt to translate the Scriptures. He explains that "The genitive pneumatos (of spirit) has here the same effect in grammatical dependence on the word doxan (glory) as it had just before (v. 6) on diathEkEs (of covenant), being appended for the purpose of intimating that the borrowed doxa (glory) was, in the case of the Christian, purely spiritual. Its detached position, by the interposing of the words kathaper apo Kuriou, serves to point out its significance. The Preposition apo (from) indicates the originating source, eis (into) the communicated effect."
Commentaries on 2. Corinthians fail in general to explain verse 18 of ch. 3, and demonstrate their failure by desperate efforts to shew how the Lord is "a Spirit." It is true that verse 17 states that "the Lord is the spirit," and doubtless this has misled translators in their understanding and punctuation of verse 18. A close examination of verse 17, however, will shew that it reads, literally, "Now the Lord the spirit is," that is, "the Lord means the spirit." In the rest of the verse we note that the word "is" does not occur in the Greek: "yet where the spirit of (the) Lord—freedom." This latter statement is very true to fact, whereas the former statement is very true in figure. The Lord means the spirit.

Paul tells us that God had made him a competent minister of a new covenant (or agreement, arrangement), not of letter, but of spirit, for the letter is killing, yet the spirit is life-giving (verse 6). "Now that spirit means the Lord," as we might explain the first part of verse 17; that spirit, or invisible power, is the Lord.

In verse 18 the last two nouns are anarthrous—without a definite article. Paul says "even as from Lord," which would mean, "even as from Jehovah." The final word, spirit, may not be read as "the spirit" or "a spirit." The Lord was not a spirit. We are therefore shut up to the reading suggested, "even as from (the) Lord—(a glory) of spirit."

Alexander Thomson

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Who is our God? Chapter 1
Who is our God? Chapter 2
Who is our God? Chapter 3
Who is our God? Chapter 4
Who is our God? Chapter 5
Who is our God? Chapter 6
Who is our God? Chapter 7
Who is our God? Chapter 8
Who is our God? Chapter 9
Who is our God? Chapter 10
Who is our God? Chapter 11
Who is our God? Chapter 12
Who is our God? Chapter 13
Who is our God? Chapter 14
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Who is our God? Chapter 16
Who is our God? Chapter 17
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Are You an Israelite? Chapter 2
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The Quality of Divine Love
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The Talmud of the Jews Parts 3 & 4
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The Differentiator Revisited 2009