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Verse 18 is the capstone of Paul's reflections in this chapter. It picks up the too major ideas of verses 12-17, namely, the open conduct of the gospel minister and the Spirit as the prime mover of the new covenant, and weaves them together into a clinching argument against those who would depend on the way things were under the Mosaic covenant. To start with, Paul introduces a final point of contrast between Moses and the new covenant minister. We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.
We . . . all might well be Paul's way of broadening his point of reference to include all believers. Even so, the focus is still on the new covenant minister. With unveiled faces invites comparison with Moses, but Moses in which role? Moses with unveiled face in the tent of meeting? Or Moses with his face veiled before Israel? Much depends on how one translates katoptrizomenoi. The verb is a rare one, and in the middle it can mean either "to behold oneself in a mirror" or "to serve as a mirror"—that is, "to reflect." Transfiguration through beholding God's glory is an attractive idea that a number of translators have opted for (KJV, NKJV, RSV, REB). Yet if Paul is continuing his commentary on the Exodus 34 narrative—with verse 35 being next in line—then he is thinking of how Moses habitually veiled his face on leaving the tent of meeting until his next encounter with Yahweh. New covenant ministers, by contrast, leave their face unveiled and in so doing reflect God's glory. Paul is drawing on the function of a mirror to pick up the light rays from an object and to reflect that light in the form of an image. The image that the new covenant minister reflects is identified in the text as the Lord's glory. This is a familiar phrase in Scripture. Here it anticipates "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God reflected in the face of Christ" (4:6) and, by association, [reflected] in the faces of Christ's representatives.
As gospel preachers do their job of reflecting knowledge of God to those around them, transformation occurs. The text reads, And we who reflect the Lord's glory are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory (v. 18). The word transformed means "to take on a different form or appearance." It can refer to an outward change or, as here, to an inward change. The present tense denotes an ongoing process: We are "constantly being transformed." Transformed into his likeness is literally "transformed into the same image." It is taken as a matter of course by many that the image Paul has in view is Christ's image (NIV into his likeness). He could also be thinking of how gospel ministers should be carbon copies of one another, if they are truly carrying on Christ's ministry of reflecting God's glory to a dark world.
Transformation is not a one-shot affair. It is transformation into a likeness that is with ever-increasing glory (v. 18). With ever-increasing glory is literally "from glory to glory." The phrase denotes a splendor that steadily grows, in contrast to the short-lived glory of Moses' face. It was the property of mirrors back in those days (which were made of a flat, circular piece of cast metal) that the more polished the surface, the clearer the image. Continuous elbow grease was needed to keep away corrosion. The picture is a provocative one. The life and ministry of the believer are depicted as a mirror that is in need of continual polishing so as to reproduce to an ever-increasing extent the glorious knowledge and trutes of the gospel.
This ever-increasing glory, Paul states, comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. As the unveiled glory of Moses' face is ascribed to his coming before Yahweh, so the unveiled, glorified face of the gospel minister is attributed to the activity of the Spirit. It is the third member of the Trinity and his work that take center stage in this chapter. The Spirit brings about understanding regarding the temporal character of the Mosaic covenant (3:13-17) and makes known in unveiled or plain fashion the trutes of the gospel through the preaching and transformed life of the new covenant minister (vv. 2, 18). It is also because of the Spirit that the gospel minister has the freedom, unlike Moses—and perhaps unlike Paul's opponents—to unveil his or her face (v. 17). This durable glory, according to Paul, stems from the new covenant as a covenant of the life-giving Spirit rather than a death-giving letter (3:6-11).