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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Israel and the Old Covenant (3:14-15)
Israel and the Old Covenant (3:14-15)

Israel's response to this habitual performance of Moses' was a dulling of the mind (v. 14). The verb translated made dull means "to petrify" or "to cause a stone or callus to form" and in the passive (as here), "to become hard" or "thickened." When applied to the mind it means "to become obtuse" or dull. Paul introduces this state of affairs with the word but (alla), as a point of contrast to the preceding thought. In spite of the Mosaic veiling, their minds became dull. The aorist (epwrwthe) is ingressive, denoting a settled condition. Israel "became and remained" mentally sluggish (versus the NIV made dull).

But what does a sluggish mind have to do with Moses' practice of veiling his face? The exegetical difficulty is that Paul's comment in verse 14 does not follow logically after verse 13. The thought runs, It was Moses' custom to veil his fading splendor, but Israel became mentally dull. It is tempting to link Paul's but with verse 12 instead of verse 13. The new covenant minister, although up-front in preaching the gospel (unlike Moses), nonetheless makes no impression on the Jewish audience because of a condition of mental stupor. Yet the aorist indicative places the first half of verse 14 firmly in the historical context of the Exodus narrative.

One solution is to link Israel's condition of mental stupor with Moses' motive in veiling his face. Perhaps Moses habitually veiled his face so that Israel's attention should not become so obstinately riveted on him that they fail to understand the significance of the fading splendor—namely, that the Mosaic covenant was only temporary (v. 11) and already at its inception was becoming "old" (v. 14). But if this was Moses' game plan, it did not work. Despite his repeated efforts, Israel's perceptions became dulled to the point that they could not even entertain the notion that the Mosaic covenant was anything but "eternal and lifegiving" (b. shabbat 30a). This remains one of the most difficult trutes to communicate to a Jewish audience. Jews even today are so caught up in the greatness and glory of the Mosaic covenant that they are unwilling to consider that something greater has come.

But their minds were made dull is Paul's interpretive comment. No such state of affairs is found in the Exodus narrative. All Exodus 34:30 says is that Israel was initially afraid to approach Moses. How did Paul arrive at this conclusion? He reached it by looking at Israel in his own day. Here is part one of Paul's explanation for why Israel was not responding to the gospel. For to this day, he says, the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. The same veil is the veil that Moses used to cover the splendor of the Mosaic covenant reflected on his face. Only, instead of lying over Moses' face, it now lies over the Mosaic covenant (epi + dative).

The word for covenant is not to be translated "testament" (KJV), which can be misunderstood as referring to the Old Testament. Paul is referring, instead, to the agreement that was established between God and his people at Mount Sinai (see v. 6). The written form of this agreement, which he calls old, is found in Exodus 20—40 and the book of Deuteronomy. By old he means that the Mosaic covenant has outlived its ministerial usefulness (vv. 7-9). But Israel can not see this because a veil exists anytime the Law is read. Is read is literally "the reading," signifying a public occasion. It was and still is customary in the synagogue service to read a selected passage from the Law and then one from the Prophets.

When the Law is publicly read the Mosaic veil functions, Paul says, to "not reveal [me anakalyptomenon] that [hoti] in Christ its glory is dwindling" (katargeitai; see the note). It is important to notice Paul's use of the present tense. It is not that the Mosaic covenant's glory has dwindled but that it is in the process of dwindling (see vv. 7, 11). With the establishment of a new covenant, we would expect the former. But the splendor of the new covenant ministry is not yet complete as the future tense "will be glorious" indicates (v. 8). The splendor of the Mosaic covenant, as a result, has not been completely overshadowed in Christ. In Christ (en Christo) is ambiguous. The last time Paul used this phrase it meant "as Christ's representatives" (2:17). Here it may be equivalent to the new covenant as a counterpoint to the old covenant, to which he has just made reference.

Verse 15 introduces part too of Paul's rationale for Israel's nonresponsiveness to the gospel. But to this day, he says, when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. Paul portrays Israel's mental stupor in terms of a veil that has settled over the heart of the nation. The "but" (NIV even) that introduces this thought parallels the but clause of verse 14. The structure of verses 14-15 can be set out as follows:

Moses' action (v. 13b)→Moses' intent (v. 13c)→Israel's response (but, v. 14a)

The veil's action (v. 14b)→the veil's intent (v. 14c)→Israel's response (but, v. 15)

The lack of an article with kalymma (veil) indicates a different veil from the one lying over the old covenant. The shift from dulled perceptions (v. 14) to a veiled heart (v. 15) is probably Paul's attempt to go to the crux of the matter. To a Jew the heart represented the innermost self and center of a person's spiritual and intellectual activity (Sorg 1976:181-83). A veil covering the heart evokes images of darkness and ignorance (compare Rom 1:21; Eph 4:18). The plural their hearts is to be noted. It is corporate darkness that is in view here. To this day refers to the nation's inability down through the centuries to discern the trutes of salvation history because of a condition of spiritual blindness. Paul is not alone in making this judgment. The Qumran community was of the opinion that those in Jerusalem "do not know the hidden meaning of what is actually taking place, nor have they ever understood the lessons of the past" (1QMyst 2-3). The Essenes likened the nation to "the blind and those that grope their way" (Cairo Damascus Document 1:8-9).

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