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In writing 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 (“[Jesus] has shown in our hearts…”), is Paul referring to Jesus's appearance to him?

  • Question

    When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, having seen God’s glory, his skin was shining so much that people were afraid of him (Ex 34:29-30, 35), but this traditionally faded over time. With this tradition in mind, Paul writes…

    • 2 Corinthians 3:13-4:6 — [My colleagues and I are] not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away... But to this day whenever Moses is read [by Jews], a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord [Jesus], the veil is taken away. ... But we all [Christians], with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory. … And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving SO THAT THEY MIGHT NOT SEE THE LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL OF THE GLORY OF CHRIST, WHO IS THE IMAGE OF GOD. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is THE ONE WHO HAS SHONE IN OUR HEARTS to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. [Emphasis added]

    Its Paul here just referring to some purely intra-mental experience that constituted Jesus’ “appearing” to him (as described in 1 Cor 15)?

“Yes, after all…
  • When Paul says “our,” he includes Timothy etc.

    In saying that Jesus “has shown on our hearts,” he is including Christians other than himself, including Timothy etc.1 This is relevant because, Paul felt Jesus appeared to him “last of all.”2 To be clear,…

    • Daniel Kendall & Gerald O'Collins: “The language of light in 2 Cor 4:6 refers to the general Christian experience of conversion, not to Paul's particular experience on the road to Damascus.” [“The Uniqueness of the Easter Appearances,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 54:2 (1992): 291.]
    • N.T. Wright: “Paul does not imagine that every time the gospel is preached, people see the lord in the same way that he did on the road to Damascus.” That is to say, while Paul claims to have converted as a result of Jesus’ appearing to him alive from the dead, Timothy (who he writes to) was not converted through an appearance, nor did others who Paul refers to in saying ‘our.’” [The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress, 2003), 385.]
    1. The plural includes Timothy and likely Silvanus, Titus,, and—frankly—the whole Corinthian church.
    2. Robert Gundry: “The plural of the first-person pronoun includes at least Timothy, probably also Silvanus and Titus, if not the Christians in Corinth as well (2 Cor 1:1, 19; 2:13), and contrasts with Paul’s using the singular of the first-person pronoun in 1:13–2:13. Surely Lüdemann does not include Timothy, Silvanus and Titus—much less the Corinthians—along with Paul in the vision near Damascus. Paul’s reference to the face of Christ would comport better with a resurrected body than with a featureless light anyway.) [Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or figment? (IVP, 2000), 118.]
  • Paul’s conversion was shocking (not warm)

    Rather than being some soft warm shining or inner illumination in Paul’s heart (leading to conversion), Paul’s encountering Christ was a violently disruptive experience.

    • Acts says so.
    • It’s predictable—a mere warm feeling couldn’t convert Paul.
    • 1 Cor 15 — “as to one untimely born”

    This is relevant because the “shown in our hearts…” language sounds far less shocking than what Paul had in mind for his conversion.

  • Context: it’s the “light of the gospel” that “shone”

    Contextually, what Paul is saying “shone in our hearts” is the gospel; i.e. Paul is referring to the faith-perceived luminosity given off by the life-transforming good news.

    Consider these 2 arguments…

    • Context topic: “light of the gospel” v4 (vs. “blinding” caused by Satan).1
    • Paul: “All Christians experience this. (See above.)

    This is relevant because, while Jesus is central to the gospel, the Gospel is not a person (not Jesus or any other person), and so it is not Jesus that shines here.

    1. It should be evidence enough that the “light” being referred to here is the “light of the gospel” that was just mentioned in verse 4, and which is contrasted by the “blinding” activity of Satan. This is relevant because Satan is not literally blinding people, and the light of the gospel is clearly an inner light.
“No, after all…
  • In Acts, Jesus’s appearance was associated with light

    According to Acts, when Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, there was an experience of light.

    • Acts 9:3-4 — “light from heaven flashed around him.”
    • Acts 22:6-8 — “a very bright light.”
    • Acts 26:13-15 — “ I saw on the way a light.”

    This is relevant because,

    • Gerd Lüdemann: “[2 Corinthians 4:6 is] a possible reflection of the Damascus event… [which would explain why it] ‘had the character of light’ [Resurrection of Jesus (Prometheus, 2004), 53, 163].

    But no...

    • Commentators rather identify the “light” as the light of the Gospel.1

    But so what?

    1. Contextually, “light” refers back to the preceding verse, where we read about the “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” v4 which contrasts with the “blinding” caused by Satan. While Paul is comparing this to the physical light that shone from Moses' face long ago, he is depicting it spiritually and non-physically here by way of pedagogical analogy.
  • “Face” refers to recognizing Jesus on Damascus

    Paul writes, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the one who has shown in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

    This is relevant because according to Acts, Jesus’ appearance to Paul was associated with light (see above), and inevitably this involved Jesus’ face shining with God’s glory.

    But no…

    • This is not the Damascus light. Paul’s discussion of “faces” links to 3:12-18 (“faces.. veiled.. unveiled”).

    But so what?