Paul Duff on 2 Cor 3
I recently read an excellent article on 2 Cor 3 that I want to recommend to readers. As many know, this chapter in 2 Cor is perhaps the Mount Everest of exegetical challenges for Pauline scholars. What Paul B. Duff does, in his article ‘Glory in the ministry of death: gentile condemnation and letters of recommendation in 2 Cor. 3:6-18’ (Novum Testamentum, 46, 2004, 4, pp. 313-37) is to deny vv. 6-18 are a polemic against Judaism at all! Instead, the pitting of the old covenant against the new is part of an argument that maintains that the status of the gentiles before God has changed. The old covenant was a covenant of death only for those who didn’t follow the law, i.e. the gentiles (here he gathers evidence that the law was also meant for the Gentiles). This is why Paul can speak of its glory at the same time as referring to it as a ministry of death. In Paul’s ministry, the Spirit reaches the gentiles without the need for law, and thus without its condemning power. His reading is then justified in relation to the argumentation structure of vv. 7-11 and later vv. 12-18, the latter involving a rereading of ‘Israel’s hindered vision’. The veil refers to that which blinds people to the reality of the change of status gentiles enjoy in the new covenant. This reading is then tied nicely into the overall context of 2 Cor 2:14-7:4 showing that, according to his reading, 3:7-18 fits the wider context without problem, and is thus not an abstract aside on Israel, salvation history and the gentiles.
Do give this extremely thought-provoking paper a read!
Just a few quick thoughts in response before it gets too late: Does Duff’s case sit well together with the argument that Paul understands that the law brings death (and the curse) to all, not just gentile? Hence the universality of sin in Paul’s teaching. Duff claims his theory best explains the apparent paradox of Paul’s speaking of the glory of the new covenant at the same time as calling it a ministry of death. However, I wonder if Hafemann’s thesis (in his book Paul, Moses, and the History of Israel, which I reviewed here) has more to speak for it, in that the death refers to ‘the events surrounding the giving of the Law itself’ (334). One also wonders if Duffs argument, which he claims ‘has the added advantage of seeing Paul much more in sympathy with his own tradition’ (321 n. 30) can make sense of Paul heart’s desire and prayer for the Israelites to ‘be saved’ (Rom 10:1).