To continue with what separates a good commentary from a lame one (with respect to engaging the original text), we’ll look at a New Testament example this time. For newcomers, please see my first example, as well as the post that started this trajectory about ending Bible study as most think of it.
Like the example from Exodus that I used in the earlier post, here’s a New Testament passage where there’s a lot more than meets the eye:
1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with Gods word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyones conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
I’ll isolate the focus to verse 4. The questions should be obvious: (1) Who is the “god of this world”? and (2) What’s up with unbelievers being blinded from the gospel?
Let’s look at some selections (commentary types are described in my earlier post):
Lone example (it’s long, and perhaps painful):
“Any of us who try to serve God in any way often have reasons for being discouraged. The awareness of our human limitation and the awareness of our imperfection gnaw at our self-confidence. Then, too, the indifference of people to whom we try to witness and share the gospel makes us wonder sometimes if its really such good news.
“It is easy to feel discouraged when we see the aggressiveness of evil in our world. And the disunity in the church and the lack of love among so many Christians certainly take the edge off of our witness. But when we read the Scriptures and the story of the lives of the early Christians, we discover that it has always been this way. Paul experienced this and yet wrote to his friends that in spite of everything, we do not lose heart (v. 1). And in the first six verses of the fourth chapter, he introduces the reasons for his encouragement.
“Paul felt that God had given him a ministry. There is a sense in which when he said, we have this ministry (v. 1), he was referring to the calling that had come to him out of Gods new purpose for his life. Before he met Christ his life was not without a purpose. After all, he had been a man obsessed with a mission, but it was a mission full of hatred and violence and destruction. Then when Christ captured his heart He made him a servant and gave him a ministry of love, of reconciliation, and of service. This is the pattern God has for all of us. He gives each of us a specific ministrysomething we can do and that He wants done. Each life undirected has the potential to drift into an aimless, self-seeking, purposeless existence. But God comes to each one who trusts Him and gives something that needs to be done, and in the doing of it we find encouragement about ourselves and about life.
“My Aunt Orphea is a classic example of the way in which being given a ministry keeps our spirits up, keeps us encouraged. This isnt to say that there isnt a whole lot in Aunt Orpheas life that couldnt get her down. Shes in her seventies, has been a widow for years, has all sorts of problems with her health, and is trying to support herself in a time of high inflation on a small fixed income. There are just a lot of things in her life that could give her ample reasons for complaint. But the truth is that she is a very happy woman, and when we spend time with her, it is easy to see why she has a happy disposition.
“Her little church has made her responsible for the small childrens Bible study time on Sunday morning and she loves it. Each Saturday evening she has preparations to make: a gift to wrap, a song to learn, a game to plan, or a verse to copy. She has to be there early so she can greet the children and see that her room is the way she feels it ought to be. It was obvious that this ministry that she has been given is not only blessing all those with whom she works, but it is giving her life meaning as well. She feels needed and wanted and useful. Those Christians who do not have a ministry have missed Gods purpose for their lives.
“The apostle Paul was also encouraged by the gospel that he had been given to share. In verse 2 he has several things to say about the way in which he has shared the gospel. His wording suggests that he is answering some criticism which has been aimed at the gospel he preached. He contrasts himself with the methods of his critics.
“The gospel he preached did not include what he called craftiness (v. 2). The word translated craftiness here is translated knavery in other places and means the readiness to do anything. Paul was suggesting that his critics would stop at nothing in their efforts.
“Then Pauls claim to not handling the word of God deceit-fully (v. 2) comes from a word which refers to a doctor adulterating medicines. His critics had accused Paul of adulterating the gospel, probably by not requiring persons to observe Jewish laws in order to become Christians.
“But Paul claimed that he would rest his case with every mans conscience in the sight of God (v. 2). I think that the temptation to tamper with the gospel will always be with us. And every time we try to be clever or add something to it or take something away from it we empty the gospel of its power and our witness and ministry of its effectiveness.
“One rather prevalent temptation is to attempt to make the gospel more intellectually respectable. We are to love God with all our minds and to use our minds as we seek to communicate the gospel, but there has always been something in the very nature of the gospel that seems foolish, and people are often tempted to try to remove that stumbling block.
“There is also the temptation to try to make the gospel more acceptable. When this happens, repentance, the cost of discipleship, and the lordship of Christ are played down so it will be easy for people to respond. What Bonhoeffer referred to as cheap grace becomes acceptable.
“Still others use the gospel to support worldly values that are actually in conflict with the true Christian life. All the God-wants-you-to-be-rich messages that are heard so much today are nothing but a form of religious materialism. They ignore the extreme poverty of many early Christians and the fact that in many areas of the world today Christians pay a very high price for their faith in terms of material things. The temptation to craftiness and deceitful use of the gospel is one every Christian needs to continue to resist.
“We read in verse 5 that Paul was also encouraged by the fact that the gospel that he had been given to share centered in a person: We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord. Two wordsJesus Christepitomized the message of the early church. The apostles and evangelists didnt preach a book, a ritual, an institution, or a set of teachings, but a person. To them world evangelization was the sharing of Jesus Christ with the whole world.
“While the Gospels record many of the acts and teachings of Christs ministry, they were meant to point a person to the living Christ. Though the apostle Paul did a great deal of writing about the atoning work of Christ, it was not a theory of atonement that he preached, but a person who could forgive sins. It is this aspect of the gospel that makes it possible for all Christians to become witnesses. Evangelism in its most wholesome form is one believer introducing someone else to the person of Jesus Christ.
“Then again, Paul was encouraged by the fact that the gospel did not have to be accepted by everyone to remain valid. I have often shared Christ with people and they have acted absolutely indifferent to what I was talking about.
(Kenneth L. Chafin and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, vol. 30, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 30: 1, 2 Corinthians [Thomas Nelson, 1985], 221).
Yes, this really is the commentary on 2 Cor 4:1-6. Completely unhelpful. Where is the interpretive beef? It’s hard to know that it’s even the right passage. This is a classic example of talking about the text (loosely speaking) and not giving people the text. At best one could read this after spending some time in the actual passage. But if this is what pastors give their people in the pulpit, they shouldn’t expect them to grow in the knowledge of the Word. They’ll be lucky to find the Word in all that.
“In addition to their own love of sin, unbelievers reject the gospel because the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving. The unbelieving are the same ones described in verse 3 as those who are perishing; the two terms are synonyms. Despite the claims of some, there can be no such thing as an unbelieving Christian, since the unbelieving are the perishing. Ai?n (world) is better translated age (as it is in Matt. 12:32; 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20; Luke 16:8; 18:30; 20:34; 1 Cor. 1:20; 2:6, 7, 8; 3:18; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:26; Titus 2:12; Heb. 6:5, etc.). The god of this world or age is Satan, (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Eph. 2:2; 2 Tim. 2:26; 1 John 5:19), who controls the ideologies, opinions, hopes, aims, goals, and viewpoints current in the world (cf. 2 Cor. 10:35). He is behind the worlds systems of philosophy, psychology, education, sociology, ethics, and economics. But perhaps his greatest influence is in the realm of false religion. Satan, of course, is not a god but a created being. He is called a god because his deluded followers serve him as if he were one. Satan is the archetype of all the false gods in all the false religions he has spawned.
“It is that massive and pervasive influence over society by which Satan deludes the unregenerate so that they might not see the light of the gospel. Except in rare cases, Satan and his demons do not directly indwell individuals. They do not need to. Satan has created a system that panders to the depravity of unbelievers and drives them deeper into darkness. In addition to being dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), veiled from the truth (2 Cor. 3:15), haters of light and lovers of darkness (John 3:1920), unbelievers walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience [living] in the lusts of [the] flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and [are] by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:23). They are of [their] father the devil, and [they] want to do the desires of [their] father (John 8:44). All the evil of the human heartcrime, hatred, bitterness, anger, injustice, immorality, and conflict between nations and individualsis pandered to by Satans agenda. The world system he has created inflames the evil desires of fallen people, causing them to be willfully blind and love their darkness.” (John MacArthur, 2 Corinthians [Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003], 132)
“Who are the unbelievers Paul mentions? Are they those Jews who refuse to accept Christ as the Son of God? Or are they those Corinthians who have heard the gospel but reject it? Because the Greek grammar of this verse is infelicitous, we do well to explain the term unbelievers as a synonym of those who are perishing (v. 3). The term, therefore, applies to all those who refuse to know Jesus Christ as Son of God. This term appears again in 6:14, where Paul warns believers not to be yoked with unbelievers. Faith stands in opposition to unbelief, and these two can never exist harmoniously.
“Paul calls Satan the god of this age, not to place the devil on a level with God, but to show that Satan is the ruler of this world. In the first few centuries of the Christian era, Gnosticism promulgated its doctrine that not God but an evil god had created and now controlled this world. Opposing this teaching, many theologians wanted to deprive Satan of the title god and ascribe it only to God. Thus they proposed the translation: to those unbelievers of this age whose minds God has blinded. But the Greek word order will not support this version. God does not want the death of anyone but desires that all repent and live (Ezek. 18:23, 32; II Peter 3:9). Satan is the adversary of God and his people. On this earth, he exercises the authority that has been given to him (Luke 4:6).
“Jesus calls Satan the prince of this world, but Paul designates him god. The Hebrew plural term elohim is translated in the singular as either God or god. When the writers of Scripture refer to a god, they usually do so with a qualifying genitive; for instance, each cried out to his own god (Jonah 1:5; see also Exod. 20:23; II Kings 19:37). When we translate the Hebrew text of Psalm 8:5 literally, we read, a little lower than God (NASB). But the Septuagint renders the verse as a little lower than the angels. Paul probably had in mind the Hebrew expression elohim, which he translated god and applied to the fallen angel, Satan.
Satan is capable of transforming himself into an angel of light (11:14) to deceive people. Through counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders, he employs his evil schemes to deceive those who are perishing (II Thess. 2:9). He prowls around like a roaring lion searching for prey to devour (I Peter 5:8). And as the spirit (god) of the age, he has the power to blind the minds of unbelievers. The contrast is striking: preachers drive away the darkness of the world with Christs illuminating gospel; Satan strikes the unbelievers with blindness so that their minds are unable to see the light of the gospel. A veil covers their minds, much as the Israelites refused to see Moses face radiating Gods glory and as the Jews were unable to understand the message of the Scriptures (3:1315). Conversely, Christians send forth the light of Christs gospel and reflect his glory. Satan has no power over the believers who stand firm in their faith, even though he tries to deceive themif that were possible (Matt. 24:24; Mark 13:22). Believers not only see the glory of Christ through the illumination of the gospel, but also reflect his glory in their daily lives.” (Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, vol. 19, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians [Baker, 1953-2001], 140).
Both of these commentaries presume that the “god of this world” is Satan (“god” is spelled lower case since that is the way it appears in the translation and commentary). Neither commentator even thought to look up the “blinding the eyes” referent in passage — Where might that come from? to what might it allude? Who blinds eyes in (what a novel suggestion) the Old Testament? This omission results in interpretive tunnel vision.
To be honest, few scholarly commentators bother to ask themselves the blindness question I raised above. Sometimes you need to go beyond scholarly commentators, to where the real meat is at — academic journals and academic conference papers. The reason these resources are so valuable is that they are designed to devote 10, 15, 20, 25 pages to narrow questions, textual issues, and interpretive points. In other words, a good journal article is focused on very specific issues.
One of the few commentaries on 2 Corinthians that even gives us material to think in regard to the sort of “Scripture comparing Scripture” procedure that I hinted at above is the one by Murray Harris in the New International Greek Text series. Harris gives us a wonderful insight below, but then doesn’t follow his own trail. Apparently (pardon the pun) he was too blinded by the “obvious” conclusion that the god of this world must be Satan.
Harris notes on page 320 that there are some transparent parallels between the vocabulary used in 2 Cor 4:1-6 and 2 Cor 3:7-18. He puts the passages in parallel in Greek, but here’s a literalized English rendering to try to highlight what he directs readers to see:
|2 Cor 4||2 Cor 3|
|v. 4 “He had made blind the minds of the unbelievers”||v. 14
“their minds were hardened”
“So as not to see”
|v. 7″to not be able to gaze”
“so as not to gaze”
|vv. 4, 6
|vv. 4, 6
|vv. 711, 18
Here’s the logical question that surfaces once this patterning is noticed: Who are the people whose minds are hardened so they cannot see the glory?
So, while Harris disappoints for not pursuing this question and its implications, his commentary did something for us that expositional commentaries won’t as a habit do — he searched for patterns in similar vocabulary across the Greek New Testament, specifically within Paul’s other letters (recall one of “Heiser’s Laws for Bible Study” – patterns are more important than word studies. The problem is that Harris didn’t take the pattern back into the Septuagint (or the English, since that’ll get you to what I want you to see).