Use of Scripture (in 2 Corinthians)
Of the many puzzling elements of Paul's letters, few outrank the way he interprets Scripture in his arguments. Perhaps the last phrase is key: he interprets Scripture in his arguments. 2 Corinthians 3 is no exception, even though several scholars have pointed to that chapter as a prime example of Pauline exegesis: discovering meaning inherent in a text. Paul's reference to the glow and the veil on Moses' face are said to be in line with the Palestinian-Jewish way of commenting on a text (midrash pesher), in which the present significance of a text is found in its details, words, sequence, numbers, etc. In the argument of 2 Corinthians, however, where the text of Exodus 34 is clearly in view, Paul alludes to particular elements to speak a word on target into the particular situation of the moment at Corinth. His method is more that of allusion and echo than it is reflective commentary, much less historical critical exegesis.
The recent work of Richard Hays on Paul's use of Scripture offers valuable clues to solving "the puzzle of Pauline hermeneutics" (1989:1-33). Paul alludes to the LXX where he cites a text specifically within an argument (e.g., Rom. 11), and echoes texts at other points without direct reference. He brings his Scripture to bear on a situation in a congregation by linking one element from one text with another element from another, making an intertextual chain around which his argument is cemented. The intertextual linkage acts as authoritative reinforcement within the given discourse. As Hays puts it, Paul's scriptural allusions and echoes "generate new meanings by linking the earlier text (Scripture) to the later (Paul's discourse) in such a way as to produce unexpected correspondences, correspondences that suggest more than they assert" (Hays: 24).
What an echoed text of Scripture meant originally and what the same text means in the echo are not identical but analogous. Even in the more sustained echo of Exodus 34 in 2 Corinthians 3, the meaning for Paul is mediated by his experience of Christ, his call to Gentile mission, and the rival mission of his own Jewish-Christian contemporaries among his converts at Corinth. On the fading glory of Moses' face and the veil that covered the glow, his interpretation merges auspiciously with the thrust of his appeal in the argument: people who turn to the Lord, Jesus Christ, permanently reflect the greater glory to which the law (Moses) points as its end-fulfillment.
Paul's method of interpretation may not find a ready home among modern (or postmodern) readers steeped in the scientific method of Euro-American culture. Yet there is a hermeneutical lesson to be learned from Paul. The word of Scripture should be a word on target, an energizing word that speaks authentically to the issues of the moment. Such useful speech from Scripture will leave some textual elements behind, because they do not merge with the current life setting. The JewishChristian Paul set aside circumcision, a traditional sign of the covenant, in keeping with his Gentile mission. In many modern church settings, where women and men are now equally gifted and educated, it should mean lifting the traditional gender restriction for ministry. The role of Scripture is generative, not restrictive, as Paul's reading of Exodus 34 illustrates.
|—V. George Shillington|