4. Moses' Veil; or, The Jewish Letter, the Christian Spirit
Throughout this book I claim that Paul's fundamental oppositions of the spirit and the flesh are hermeneutical in nature, that for Paul truth lies in the spiritual, allegorical interpretation of text, history, and world, while the physical is but a shadow of this truth. In contrast to regnant views claiming that Paul's hermeneutic is typological and not allegorical, I wish to unsettle this very opposition, claiming that typology is the revelation in time (apocalypse) of allegorical structures of signification that were always already in place. A key support for the hermeneutical nature—that is, its essential life as a response to the problem of language and interpretation—of Paul's binary opposition is the places where Paul draws a contrast between “spiritual” (ἐν πνεύμαρτι) and “literal” (ἐν γράμματι). These cases provide evidence that “spiritual” functions for Paul as a hermeneutic term, thus indicating that “according to the flesh”—the usual opposite of “according to the spirit”—does as well. There are three verses within the Pauline corpus in which the opposition is explicit: Romans 2:29, 2 Corinthians 3:6, and Romans 7:6. In this chapter, I will try to establish the necessity of a hermeneutical dimension of the first two of these texts, as well as its fundamentally allegorical nature, through detailed readings of them in their contexts. (Romans 7:6 will be interpreted in Chapter 7.) At the same time the participation of allegory as a mode of reading in an entire thought-world which structures it and which it in turn structures will be exposed through these readings.
Reading the Body in Romans 2
Romans 2:29: “He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and [real] circumcision is a matter of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter [ἀλλ' ὁ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ 'Ιουδαῖος, καὶ περιτομὴ καρδίας ἐν πνεύματι οὐ γράμματι].” The semantic opposition between “in the spirit” and “in the letter” in this verse suggests strongly that “in the spirit” is a hermeneutical term. “In the spirit” means, then, in the spirit of the language, as opposed to its letter. In order to understand the hermeneutical radicality of the end of Romans 2, a detailed reading of the entire chapter will be necessary.
This chapter, a stone ignored by the builders of Reformation Paulinism, has become the cornerstone of a new interpretation of Paul, one that is directly contradictory to that of the Reformation. The reason that the chapter has been a scandal for Lutheran theology is that it seems to assert strongly the value and necessity of works over mere “hearing” of the Law, which seems to contradict Paul's insistence in Galatians 3 on precisely the “hearing” of faith in opposition to the despised “doing of works.” Since Lutheranism had understood that Paul's major message is that Judaism is inadequate—or even sinful—because of its valorization of good works, such verses as 13—“For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be counted righteous”—seemed directly contradictory.
On the present reading, however, in Romans 2 Paul is not condemning Jews who keep the Law—as Reformation readers would have it—and certainly not attacking Judaism in general but rather criticizing Jews who believe that they are exempt from divine judgment, or even that they will be favored at the divine Assizes, simply by virtue of their being Jewish, without respect to their actual performance of the Law (Wilckens 1982; Dunn 1988; Watson 1986, 109–22). In other words, he is attacking Jews who think that works are not necessary for salvation, since God saves Israel, and only Israel, by grace alone. Such chauvinist notions, by no means universal in first-century Judaism, did exist. This interpretation can be supported from the very beginning of Romans 2 where in verses 1–3 Paul's diatribe is directed against one who condemns others for sins that he engages in himself. This condemnation is often taken to be an attack on simple hypocrisy, while I am suggesting that the person being attacked is not so much a hypocrite but rather a Jew who believes sincerely that mere possession, hearing, of the Law will save him.
Although at this stage, Paul addresses Everyman (οἦ ἄνθρωπε), this is, as Dunn perceptively suggests, to win rhetorical assent from his Jewish interlocutor, much as Nathan the prophet tells David a story about a man in general in order to win his assent before revealing that “You are that man” (Dunn 1988, 79). Paul is cleverly employing here topoi of Jewish attacks on gentile lawlessness, but will turn them, in the end, against the very Jews who employ them. As Dunn has shown, verse 2 is almost a parodic citation of the Psalms of Solomon:
Pss. sol.And those who do lawlessness shall not escape the judgment of the Lord.
Rom(Do you suppose you) who do the same things that you shall escape the judgment of God?
Pss. sol.καὶ οὐκ ἐκφεύξονται οἱ ἀνομίαν τὸ κρίμα κυρίος
Romκαὶ ποιῶν αὐτα, ὅτι οὺ ἐκφεύξῃ τὸ κρίμα τοῦ θεοῦ]. (Dunn 1988, 81)
The passage in the Psalms of Solomon is typical in that it is a condemnation of gentiles who do not have the Law, but Paul will turn it against the Jew who has the Law but does not keep it. His rhetorical strategy is, however, even more complex than that, for here he can be understood to be condemning simple hypocrisy, which his pious hearer will certainly condemn along with him: “The imaginary interlocutor is envisaged not as objecting to what Paul had said but as agreeing with it very strongly” (Dunn 1988, 81). This interlocutor will end up condemning himself through this very agreement when it is revealed later on in the chapter that Paul has a Jew specifically in mind and that it is not simply hypocrisy that Paul attacks here but the confidence of the Jew that his ethnic status will make the divine judgment lighter for him. That such confidence is not foreign to Pharisaic Judaism (or at any rate its successor) may certainly be established by such utterances as, “All Israel have a share in the Next World” without, of course, necessarily assuming that this rabbinic statement was already current at the time of Paul. Paul is systematically undermining a series of Jewish theologoumena, all of which would have been strong underpinnings for Jewish confidence in God (καυχάομαι ἐν θεῷ), not, I think, to be understood as boasting in the sense of prideful speech so much as a false sense of soteriological status by virtue of being part of the chosen People itself. I think that Dunn has put the matter with particular exactitude and sensitivity:
In all this it is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that Paul's aim is directed at what he sees to be the overconfidence in their election on the part of many of his fellow Jews. We of the twentieth century listening to this can point to other statements from the Judaism of the same period…but we cannot assume that these writings are typical of the actual Judaism of Paul's time, any more than we can assume that Deuteronomy and Jeremiah are representative of the Israelite religion of their time. The passages from Jewish writings already adduced, when set alongside the attitude Paul attacks, provide sufficient evidence that Paul's interlocutor was no straw man. The dominant or at least a prominent mood within Judaism prior to A.D. 70 may well have been more buoyant and self-confident than that which the sayings and writings actually preserved from the period represent. (Dunn 1988, 91)
There certainly is one theological tendency within Judaism which ascribes a privilege with God to the chosenness itself. It is this tendency—more or less typical of the Judaism of his time and place—which Paul attacks, not because of its association with complacency or self-righteousness but because of its implications for Jewish relations with Others.
This tendency is countered from within Judaism itself with another that regards chosenness not as privilege but as obligation. As Dunn has remarked, in verses 4–5 Paul is essentially appealing to biblical theology itself, as revealed in such Deuteronomistic sources as Deuteronomy 9–10 and Jeremiah:
Or do you think lightly of the wealth of his goodness and of his forbearance and patience, disregarding the fact that the kindness of God is to lead you to repentance? As a result of your hardness and impenitent heart you are storing up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath when will be revealed the righteous judgment of God. (Romans 2:4–5)
In Deuteronomy 10 it is clear that the only privilege that Jews have owing to their ancestry is to have it demanded of them that they repent and “circumcise the foreskins of their hearts.” Indeed, it is the very appeal to the ancestors and the choice of their descendants that issues in the charge, “So now you must circumcise the foreskin of your hearts,” because God “is no respecter of persons” (verse 17). A persistent danger in the concept of chosenness is that it leads to a conviction that one is privileged with God, while the Deuteronomist (and Paul in his wake) argues that chosenness is rather a special burden, a demand for repentance. Since Paul's Jewish interlocutor is not repentant but rather relies on the privilege to save himself, he is storing up not merit but rather wrath for the day of judgment (verse 5), and because God is no respecter of persons, therefore the judgment will fall equally on Jew and gentile alike—the Jew first simply because she has been given the special commandment and the special opportunity to repent and circumcise the foreskin of her heart. Now when Paul in verse 6 argues that God will render to each according to his works, he is not contradicting his doctrine of justification by faith but rather using a Jewish topos to convince (or trap) his Jewish hearer: Do not be confident in your Jewishness to save you, O Jew, for this serves only to increase the obligation upon you to repent and do good. God judges all according to their works and not according to their ancestry. Paul is engaging here not the contrast of works of the Torah, i.e., ritual acts, to faith but rather the contrast of privileged and static possession of the Law to doing that which God wants of us. In verse 11, Paul clearly echoes Deuteronomy 10:17 by clinching his argument that Jew and gentile will be judged alike with the claim that “there is no respecting of persons with God” (οὐ γάρ ἐστιν προσωπολημψία παρὰ τῷ θεῷ—אושמ ןיא 'ה ינפל מינפ). Election will not avail on the day of judgment.
However, Paul is also setting another rhetorical trap for the Jew, because once more, the Jew will nod her head and indicate that she agrees that God will judge people by their works, but the Jew will have in mind both ethical behavior—faithfulness to the Covenant—and the performance of such rituals as circumcision, kashruth, and keeping of the Sabbaths. In the context of this reading of Romans 2, the next section is crystal clear in its meaning and no scandal for Pauline interpretation at all:
For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without the law; and as many as have sinned within the law shall be condemned through the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be counted righteous. For when Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they not having the law are the law for themselves: they demonstrate the work of the law written on their hearts. (2:12–15)
Dunn has already written on this passage, “The aim of this argument is clearly to puncture a Jewish assurance falsely based on the fact of having the law, of being the chosen people of God. His argument is that this assurance must be false simply because there are Gentiles who show more evidence in themselves of what the law points to than many Jews…who keep the law at one level (circumcision) but who are not properly to be described as real Jews, as ‘doers of the law’” (Dunn 1988, 107 [emphasis added]). This talk of “what the law points to” and of levels of understanding certainly implies ascribing to Paul willy-nilly an allegoristic notion of hermeneutic. I will argue that this ascription is correct, and that even those Pauline scholars who most vigorously deny it are in fact assuming it unconsciously.
Let us look more closely at the text. Paul's argument here is actually twofold. He continues his critique of a Jewish theological notion—mightily contested by both the prophetic and Pharisaic traditions within Judaism—that mere possession of the Law counts for righteousness for all Jews. It is this which Paul refers to as “hearing of the law”—here to be understood as listening to it being read (Dunn 1988, 104–05). Paul, however, goes further than this, for he argues as well that gentiles who do not have the specific, the written Law can yet be a law unto themselves. It is possible to do what the Law requires without having the Law at all. How can this be so, since the Law requires such practices as circumcision about which without the Law one would not even know? Only because the true interpretation of circumcision is the allegorical one, the one available to all, men and women, Jews and Greeks, not an inscription of the flesh, σάρξ, רשב, penis, but an inscription in the spirit, figured as a writing on the heart, thus continuing the allusions to Deuteronomy 10 and Jeremiah 4! The connection between the allegorical interpretation of the Torah and its universal applicability is compelling. In a sense, what Paul says here is not unique, because certainly for many first-century Jews, the notion of a natural law (whether already figured as commandments to the children of Noah or not) which gentiles could keep, and indeed the concomitant possibility of gentiles being fully acceptable to God, would not have been foreign. Once more, I think that what renders the Pauline move so special is the factor—not, to be sure, emphasized particularly here—that Jews and gentiles will be justified in the same way, by the same standard. This point has been made by several commentators on this verse cited by Dunn, who insist that “the whole point of what Paul is saying here would be lost if νόμος was understood as other than as a reference to the law, the law given to Israel” (Dunn 1988, 99). Note the difference between “works of the law,” ἐργα τοῦ νόμου, and here the singular ἐργον τοῦ νόμου. The first, the specific physical works of the Law, which represent difference, is a pejorative term in Paul's economy, while the second, the singular spiritual universal one work of the Law is positive.
In the next several verses, Paul addresses a “Jew”:
But if you are called a “Jew” and rely on the law and boast in God, and know his will and approve the things that matter, being instructed from the law.…You then who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach “Do not steal,” do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you commit sacrilege? You who boast in the law—through transgression of the law you dishonor God. For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you,” as it is written. (17–24)
Once again, the simplest and most straightforward interpretation of this passage is that of Dunn, who sees it as a continuation of Paul's diatribe against the Jewish assumption that being a member of the covenanted People will provide some kind of privilege at the last Assizes. Paul argues—and here his argument, particularly in verse 24, could be found in many rabbinic texts—that Jews who profess the Law and do not perform it are worse, indeed, than gentiles who do not have the Law at all. Such Jews profane the name of the Lord. I think, moreover, that the “you” here is a figure for the Jews as a collective and Paul's argument is not so much against hypocrisy but against a self-righteous assumption that Jews are privileged as a whole because of their possession of the Law, when, in fact, there are many Jews who steal: “The argument is that the transgression of any individual Jew is enough to call in question the Jewish assumption that as a Jew he stands in a position of privilege and superiority before God as compared with the Gentile. The point is that once the typical Jew's a priori status as Jew before God by virtue of his people's election is seen to be called in question, then the broader indictment of man in general (1:18–32) can be seen to apply more clearly to Jew as well as Gentile (2:9–11)” (Dunn 1988, 116). The diatribe is, on this reading, a continuation of Paul's critique of religious chauvinism and nothing else. Furthermore, this passage makes manifest the precise connection between the Jewish ethnocentrism and the Law. It is having the Law and knowing God's will that leads the Jews to their assumption of privilege vis-à-vis the gentiles (Dunn 1988, 117).
As I have said, up to this point in Romans 2, Paul has essentially produced a sermon to which many if not most Pharisaic preachers as heirs of the prophets could have and would have assented. Although there certainly was a doctrine that Jews have a privileged position in salvation history, it is a perversion of that doctrine to imagine that it therefore did not require them to be faithful servants of the Law (within human limitations and possibilities) in order to earn that privileged position. Indeed, the privilege consists primarily in the guarantee that in the end of days they will be able to repent, and then God will restore Israel to its glory as he had promised to her ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God's covenant with Israel is exactly as Paul represents it in Romans 11, a covenant of grace enabling Jews to repent and be saved. Generally, Jews would have held exactly what Paul argues for, namely that only repentance will guarantee the Jew justification. Jewish theology did not provide for justification on the basis of being Jewish alone, although there were some strains that came close to such a view. The sense of Jewish privilege was rather that at the last all of the lost sheep would indeed repent and return to the fold—a position that even Paul did not abandon (see Romans 11:24). Dunn has gotten this just right in my view:
Paul does not imply that the typical Jew is content simply to have the law; what the law supports is a whole way of life, as Paul knew well (Gal. 1:14; Phil. 3:6). But it was a way of life where distinctiveness of the Jew from the non-Jew was always to the fore (as the next clauses confirm). What Paul is attacking, therefore, is precisely the Jewish reliance on this distinctiveness. (Dunn 1988, 111)
Insofar as Paul here is simply attacking hypocrisy, then, there is nothing in his preaching that is foreign to the prophets or indeed the Rabbis. Undoubtedly, certain Jews misunderstood the notion of Chosenness and indeed were led into the error of sola gratia.
At the end of the chapter, however, in verses 28 and 29, Paul draws a conclusion that would have shocked his Pharisaic teachers. The rhetoric of the chapter as a whole would have led an imaginary Jewish listener to assent to it at every point, and then the ending would have the effect mutatis mutandis that “You are that man” has at the end of Nathan's speech to David.
Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.
οὐ γὰρ ὁ ἐν τῷ φανερῷ 'Ιουδαῖός ἐστιν οὐδὲ ἡ ἐν τῷ φανερῷ ἐν σαρκὶ περιτομή. ἀλλ' ὁ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ 'Ιουδαῖος, καὶ περιτομεὲ καρδίας ἐν πνεύματι οὐ γράμματι.
Paul argues that the “Jew” is characterized by inner, invisible dispositions and not outer, visible circumcision, by circumcision of the heart, the spiritual (allegorical) circumcision, and not by the literal circumcision of the flesh. Note that here Paul goes beyond the claims he has been making in the chapter. This is not mere recapitulation but a fundamentally new idea, one that requires us to reinterpret the first part of the chapter in its wake. Up to this point, Paul has been arguing that mere possession or hearing of the Law will not justify any Jew, i.e., that being a member of the covenant people carries with it no grace; only works will do. A typical Jewish recipient of that message—particularly one “softened” up by Romans 1, with its fairly typical denunciation of gentile immorality—could easily assent to Paul's argument. After all, as I have claimed, the extreme notion that membership in the Jewish People was enough alone to guarantee salvation was hardly widespread.
But now we come to the climax and crux of the chapter, for here Paul thoroughly redefines precisely those theological terms to which we can expect that his Jewish interlocutor would have been assenting until now. The Jew has agreed that being Jewish is not sufficient for salvation, and one needs works as well. However, as Paul reveals now, when he speaks of good works, he does not mean what Jews intend by this—that is, he does not mean keeping (in theory and intent) all of the commandments, whether ritual or moral in nature, both those that divide the Jews from other peoples and those that bind them to others. The first category—synecdochized here by circumcision but certainly including food rules and Sabbaths—means nothing in the work of salvation. Such rules are only outer practices that signify the second category, that which Paul calls otherwise “the law of faith working through love.” In other words, in this coda to the chapter which seems until now to be calling Jews to repent and keep the Law as they have understood it—a keeping that maintains ethnic identity and specificity—, Paul introduces his major concern throughout his ministry: producing a new, single human essence, one of “true Jews” whose “circumcision” does not mark off their bodies as ethnically distinct from any other human bodies. Paul has been hinting that this is his theme throughout the chapter. Twice he has told us that judgment and reward will come to “the Jew first and then to the Greek.” He has, moreover, informed us that the gentiles, even though they do not have the Law, nevertheless have a law written on their hearts, to which the evidence of their ethical debates and attacks of conscience attest. Paul's universalist theme is thus clearly announced, and this ending merely confirms it powerfully. “True Jewishness” ends up having nothing to do with family connection (descent from Abraham according to the flesh), history (having the Law), or maintaining the cultural/religious practices of the historical Jewish community (circumcision), but paradoxically consists of participating in a universalism, an allegory that dissolves those essences and meanings entirely. As we shall see in the final chapters of this book, this dissolution of Jewish identity by spiritualizing and allegorizing it is a familiar move of European culture until today.
Hermeneutics or Ethics? Westerholm's Reading
Some modern interpreters contrast their interpretations of the end of Romans 2 with that current among earlier interpreters as ethical versus hermeneutical. Objections have been raised to the hermeneutical interpretation which I am espousing here. In a recent article, Stephen Westerholm has argued very cogently that the opposition of “spirit” and “letter” is an ethical one for Paul. His interpretation of Romans 2 runs as follows. Paul's target in Romans 2 is hypocrisy, and “in 2.17 he names his imaginary interlocutor a Jew, and notes the things of which the Jew boasts: he possesses the law of God, which embodies knowledge and truth; instructed in its precepts, he can play the role of leader for the blind, of light for those in darkness (vv. 17–20)” (Westerholm 1984, 233). At this point, according to Westerholm, Paul argues (similarly to the interpretation that I have proposed above) that Jews who do not keep the Law will be judged according to the Law. We now come to the crux of the interpretation, verses 27–29. Westerholm convincingly argues that διὰ γράμματος καὶ περιτομῆς in verse 27 does not indicate that the letter (written code) and circumcision are liabilities; they are not indices of a perverted understanding of the commands of God, but they are simply not sufficient in themselves. I am in complete agreement with this interpretation thus far; however, at this point I part from Westerholm.
Westerholm himself remarks:
Perhaps it takes a rabbinic Jew to sense the oddity—from our perspective—of this sentence, which simply repeats the oddity of Paul's formulation itself. Everything makes sense until the very last clause, but keeping the Law while being uncircumcised is simply an oxymoron from the perspective of rabbinic Judaism, because being circumcised is part of the Law! On the one hand, rabbinic Judaism was to develop (and perhaps the Pharisees already had) a doctrine whereby gentiles do not need to keep the Law at all in order to be justified. There is a separate Law for them: the seven commandments given to Noah. On the other hand, “the” Law can only mean one thing: the aggregate of all of the commandments both ritual—between humanity and God—and ethical—between humans and other humans. To be sure, there is a disagreement between Paul and “most Jews” as to whether gentiles need to be circumcised in order to become part of the People of God, but even more to the point, there is a fundamental gap in the definition of the Law. For prophet or Pharisee, it is possible to preach: “What good is keeping this ceremonial part of the Law, if you do not keep that ethical part of the Law?”  For Paul alone is it possible to generalize the one part as the Law tout court. For Paul, Law has come to mean something new, vis-à-vis Pharisaic Judaism; it has come to mean “the law of faith working through love,” in which “circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing” (1 Corinthians 7:19). Now whether he has crossed the line or not into true allegory, and I believe he has, in any case, once this new law of faith is defined as being that which is “in the spirit; not in the written,” ἐν πνεύματι οὐ γράμματι, we already have a hermeneutical moment, a moment of interpretation. Furthermore, the written is particular, the spiritual universal in Paul's scheme of things, a point to be further supported below. One of the best examples of Paul's allegorical readings of the commandments—in addition, of course, to his reading of circumcision—is found in 1 Corinthians 5:6–8, where the commandment to purge the house of leaven for Passover is reinterpreted ecclesiologically to mean that one must purge the Christian communities of the old leaven of the puffing up of pride (verse 2), as well as the leaven of “vice and wickedness.” Paul's reading here is very similar indeed to that of Philo in the Special Laws, where leaven is also interpreted as pride (Philo 1937, 193). The historical rite of a particular tribe has been transformed into an ahistorical, abstract, and universal human “truth,” the very essence of allegory.
When in v. 26, Paul writes that the “uncircumcision” of a Gentile who keeps the law will be counted as circumcision, his argument is admittedly one which most Jews of this time would have rejected, believing that literal circumcision was a prerequisite for a Gentile's admission to the people of God. Still, Paul evidently feels that he is simply pressing the logic of the situation to its conclusion: just as the (physical) circumcision of the Jew will be disregarded if he transgresses the law, so the (physical) uncircumcision of the Gentile will be disregarded if he keeps it. (Westerholm 1984, 235)
Westerholm's own conclusions regarding the usage of “letter” and “spirit” in Romans 2 brings this point out clearly. Westerholm adheres to the view that “‘Letter’ in Rom. 2.27 does not refer to a particular interpretation of the Old Testament law, but to the possession of God's commands in written form.” Paul is then preaching against a view that mere possession of the written text is sufficient for divine approval, whereas in truth only observance will win such approval. So far, so good—that is, the same as I wish to interpret. In the next paragraph of Westerholm's text, however, the enormous difference appears, for there he argues, “Similarly, circumcision which is (ἐν) γράμματι in v. 29 does not refer to a particular interpretation of circumcision, but simply to circumcision in a physical, external form.…Physical circumcision is contrasted with circumcision ἐν πνεύματι, which may or may not be meant to refer to the mark of the new age. In any case, it speaks of an inner reality which is not content with external forms, whatever limited legitimacy the latter may possess” (Westerholm 1984, 236). This very opposition, however, between a circumcision which is physical and one which is an inner reality is in its very essence a “particular interpretation of circumcision”! What else can it possibly be, especially if Paul argues that this inner reality is more important than and supersedes the physical observance? This does not preclude the ethical interpretation of “in the spirit” which Westerholm argues for; Paul is protesting an ethical defect in Romans 2—whether hypocrisy, as Westerholm would have it, or excessive reliance on ethnic privilege, as I interpret it. But there is no contradiction between an ethical reading of the opposition and a hermeneutical one. They go together and are homologous with each other.
Hermeneutics as Ethics: 2 Corinthians 3
A similar relation obtains in 2 Corinthians 3, arguably the most important passage in all of Paul for reading his hermeneutic of the Torah and of “Old Israel.” Richard Hays unsettles the opposition between two modes of interpreting the 2 Corinthians passage that have been considered mutually exclusive. In the tradition of the Church, 2 Cor. 3:6 has been understood from nearly the very beginning as denoting an opposition between literal and allegorical interpretation. This reading has in recent years been called into question by Pauline scholars, who argue that the opposition is rather between a written text of any kind and the fleshy [!] embodiment of Christian covenant in the actual community of the faithful. Hays refers to this embodiment as an Incarnation and remarks, “The traditional English translation of gramma as ‘letter,’ based in turn on the Vulgate's littera, is an unfortunate one…because it suggests that Paul is distinguishing between literal and spiritual modes of exegesis. This is the construal against which the advocates of a nonhermeneutical interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3 rightly object.” Hays goes on strikingly to remark, “Thus, the Christian tradition's reading of the letter-spirit dichotomy as an antithesis between the outward and the inward, the manifest and the latent, the body and the soul, turns out to be a dramatic misreading, indeed a complete inversion. For Paul, the Spirit is—scandalously—identified precisely with the outward and palpable, the particular human community of the new covenant, putatively transformed by God's power so as to make Christ's message visible to all. The script, however, remains abstract and dead because it is not embodied” (Hays 1989, 130). This formulation, however, discounts one very important fact: The script had not remained abstract and dead, because it was already embodied in the living practice of Jewish communities. There must always be, then, a hermeneutical dimension to such a claim, almost by definition. And indeed, Hays himself argues very perceptively that whether or not the letter / spirit opposition is in itself the index of a dichotomy of hermeneutical practices, in any case Paul posits a hermeneutical shift from the reading of Moses to the experience of the Spirit. There has, after all, been a change in the status of Scripture. The hermeneutical and ethical moments are indeed homologous with each other.
Of Veils and Fading Glory
I would further claim that the very notion of language as abstract and disembodied—that is, the very notion of the necessity for the word to become flesh, as it were—is already, in itself, an allegorical conception of language, paralleling the platonistic notions of non-corporeal Godhead which the Incarnation presupposes. Analysis of the continuation of the Pauline text, 3:7–18, will bring out this point more clearly:
Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letter on stone, took place with such glory that the Israelites could not bear to gaze at Moses's face, even though it was fading, will not the ministry of the Spirit be with greater glory? For if there is glory with the ministry of condemnation, how much more does the ministry of righteousness abound with glory. Indeed, what has had glory has not had glory, in this case, because of the glory which so far surpasses it. For if what was fading [τὸ καταργούμενον] was with such glory, how much more the glory of that which endures!
Having, therefore, such a hope, we act with much boldness, and not like Moses when he used to put a veil over his face so the Israelites could not gaze at the end [= true meaning] of what was fading [καταργουμένος]. But their minds were hardened. Right up to the present day the same veil remains at the public reading of the old covenant—unlifted, because it is in Christ that it is fading [καταργεῖται]. Indeed, to the present, whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. Whenever anyone turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now “the Lord” is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding [as in a mirror] the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, as from the Lord, the Spirit.
Hays reads the τέλος of verse 13, at which the Israelites could not gaze, not as the “end” but as the “goal” or “fulfillment”; note the parallel to the old hermeneutic problem of “Christ is the τέλος of the Law.”  The veil, for Paul, as in the Torah itself, was to prevent those who were not capable of standing it from seeing the glory of Moses' transformation. Paul's allegorical reading of this is that until this day those Jews who deny Christ show themselves not capable of bearing the true meaning of the text in Christ and so still read it with a veil. Because their minds were hardened, they are prevented from perceiving the true meaning of the text, which is the glory, the spirit that transfigured Moses. That is, the reading of “Moses” prevents the Jews from seeing the glory of the Lord, and this is typologically/allegorically signified by the covering of Moses' face when he gave the Law. The word is meant to point to the Spirit which lies behind it (and always did), but the Jews remain at the level of the literal—literally, at the level of the letter, the concrete language which, of course, epitomizes midrash, and this is the gramma which kills.
Once more, in Hays's excellent formulation:
For those who are fixated on the text as an end in itself, however, the text remains veiled. But those who turn to the Lord are enabled to see through the text to its telos, its true aim. For them, the veil is removed, so that they, like Moses, are transfigured by the glory of God into the image of Jesus Christ, to whom Moses and the Law had always, in veiled fashion pointed.…The telos of Moses' transitory covenant (which remained hidden from Israel in the wilderness) was the same thing as the true significance of Moses/ Torah (which remained hidden from Paul's contemporaries in the synagogue).…The veiled telos is, if we must express it in a discursive proposition, the glory of God in Jesus Christ that makes itself visible in fleshy communities conformed to God's image.…All the elements are necessary to express the hermeneutical and ethical significations that are packed into his metaphor. (Hays 1989, 137, 146)
This passage is thus typological and allegorical in its structure: That is, like the Spirit which must be incarnated in the Corinthian community and which Paul calls a writing, language always consists of a spiritual meaning which is embodied in the material. I think that Paul's argument is even more complex than this, for there are, in fact, four terms here, not two: Old Testament, its Jewish readers, Spirit, “we all.” The lesser glory, the Old Testament, is both revealed and annulled by the greater glory of the Spirit. As the sun reveals the moon during the night and conceals it by day, so the Spirit was reflected indirectly in the Old Testament, which is now completely obscured by the greater light of the Spirit directly shining from the New. Even that lesser glory, Paul argues, lesser because it is transitory, was too much for the Jews to stand, and they had to be protected by a veil. Even more so is it the case that the glory which will not be annulled is too much for them to see, and they remain blinded to it by a veil. What even Hays does not make explicit, although it is implicit in his text, is that Paul is, in fact, playing with both senses of τέλος in this passage and doing so brilliantly. Those who do not see that there is a τέλος beyond the text reach a dead end in a veil, while those who do see that Christ is the τέλος of the Law see through the veil—that veil which is the letter itself—or better, the veil is removed, and they see the true glory of which the physical, material, literal glory of the text was only a shadow which passes away. Moses, then, provided the veil presumably because the time was not yet ripe for the τέλος, the true meaning, to be perceived, but this very veil has resulted in a hardening of the minds which prevents the turning toward Christ which alone removes the veil. Paul, in fact, enacts the kind of reading that the Jews do not do at the same time that he talks about it. Whatever this passage is, it is not midrash, because it does not involve a close contact with the language of the verses of Exodus with which it deals, while midrash is precisely characterized by its attention to the physical, material details of the actual language (compare Hays 1989, 132; Davies 1965, 106–07). Paul's is typological/allegorical reading, whereby the events of the “Old Testament” signify realities in the present life of the Christian community. The metaphor of the veil is exact. Midrash, the way the Jews read Moses, is a hermeneutics of opacity, while Paul's allegorical/typological reading is a hermeneutics of transparency. Paul can boldly go where no Jew has gone before and reveal the true telos of the text because of the spiritual condition of his listeners who, protected by the Spirit, need not fear death. Paul thus asserts that the veil Moses put over his face symbolizes a veil the Jews had put over their hearts at the reading of the Law, because they do not expound it spiritually, which prevents them from perceiving the glory of the truth. Paul identifies the new readers of the Bible as “we all,” thus asserting the universalism of the Christian dispensation over and against the particularities of the Jewish reading of Moses.
With this, we can answer another conundrum of this chapter, most fully explicated by Morna Hooker: “He has told us that Israel could not gaze on Moses' glory: how, then, does it come about that Christians can now gaze on the overwhelming glory which belongs to Christ?” (Hooker 1981, 298) Paul, however, has given us the answer to this question himself. “The letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” And: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” In other words, all Christians now have the experience of Moses himself! He, after all, beheld the face of the Lord, through an undarkened glass, and was not destroyed, but all of the other Jews had to perceive even the reflected glory that was in his face through a veil. When Moses turned to the Lord, he removed his veil. Now, all Christians who turn to the Lord are in the condition of Moses, and because the Spirit, which is the Lord (= Christ), gives life, therefore they can perceive the τέλος without fear of death. The use of the verb κατοπτριζόμενοι, “looking as in a mirror,” is fully explained by the traditional topos that Moses saw God through a glass which was not darkened, while all the other prophets only saw God through a glass darkly. It thus strengthens the point that only the new Jews attain to the status of Moses himself.
This proposition is thus buttressed by the allusion to Exodus 34:34 in which we are told that Moses removed his veil when he went in before the Lord (Hooker 1981, 301). There is, however, a problem with this interpretation, a problem built into Exodus 34 itself: And the Children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the face of Moses was shining with light, and Moses replaced the mask (veil) on his face until he went to speak with Him. As Hooker acutely notes, in Exodus 34:34 it seems that Moses only replaces his veil after communicating the words of God to the people. This raises two questions: (1) if the people could not stand to see the face of Moses because of its glory, how come they were able to stand it later on, and every time he came out from the tent? and (2) What was the purpose of his placing the veil over his face after delivering the Divine discourse? One possible strategy for dealing with this (presumably the one that Hays would adopt) is to regard the clause “And the Children…with light” as a pluperfect, referring back to the first instance in which Moses came down and did not know that his face was shining and created the veil in order to protect the people. We would read verse 34 to mean that he put on the veil before speaking to the people.
Another line of interpretation, however, reads verse 34 as meaning indeed that Moses replaced the veil after speaking with the people, thus raising the questions above. Now, if we assume that this is how Paul interpreted the verse, then we can interpret Paul's midrash quite differently—and this is what Morna Hooker has done. If Moses replaced the veil only after delivering God's word, then the reason might very well have been that the glory was fading from his face, and he did not want the Jews to see this fading. Such a reading is known from Jewish texts of the early Middle Ages. The fourteenth-century Spanish commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra says:
There are those who say that the light would be replenished when he went into the Tent of Meeting and spoke with God. And he would go out and the light would remain all of the time he was speaking the words of God with the Israelites. And when he would finish, he would put on the mask, for he knew that the light would disappear, and his face would return to its normal state, and it would be a stigma to Moses if the people would see his face without the light.
Paul's interpretation would be virtually identical to that of this anonymous (“those who say”; are they Jewish, or maybe Christian?) reader—whose view, I might add, was vigorously rejected by Ibn Ezra, citing a commentator from the tenth century. The reason for the energetic repudiation of this interpretation could quite plausibly be reconstructed as the fact that Christians were citing such a reading as typological evidence for the fading glory of Moses' text! There is no need, however, to go along with Hooker's assumption that Paul is inconsistent and simply changes horses in midstream from a story in which the glory was too much for the Jews to one in which the veil serves to hide precisely the fading of the glory, since any interpreter who takes 34:34 to mean what it seems to mean on the surface will have to confront the question of Moses' replacement of the veil only after speaking to the Jews.
As Hooker herself notes, Paul does not explicitly mention the veil in the first part. He only remarks that the Israelites could not bear to gaze at Moses' face. The text of the Torah does not make explicit—and verse 34 seems to contradict—the notion that the purpose of the veil was to prevent the Jews from seeing the glory which was too much for them! Indeed, they could not bear to gaze, but the reason for the veil was something else entirely, namely Moses' desire that they not perceive that his glory was transient. As we have seen, at least one apparently Jewish interpreter (cited by Ibn Ezra) reached the same conclusion. Paul, of course, made use of it by allegorizing it: The glory that faded from Moses' face signifies the glory that will fade from his literal, physical text, while the glory of the Lord, from which his reflected glory was replenished, is everlasting. Paul's own methods of interpretation here thus enact a reading of the Torah which enables the view beyond the letter into the glory of the Spirit, while the Jews who insist only on the historicality of Moses' veil and not its figurative, hermeneutical sense remain unable to perceive the true meaning of Moses. Another way of saying this is that the assertion of the concreteness of Moses' mask, its literality, renders it opaque and thus a veil which prevents seeing of the truth, while believing in its translucence renders it transparent and the true message lucid. Those people (Jews and gentiles) who manage to set aside the veil that prevents them from perceiving that the glory of the letter is transient and only a pointer to the glory of the Spirit, which is forever, perceive that greater glory indeed, while the Jews who persist in looking only at the letter and not through it remain trapped behind the veil which that letter is.
On this interpretation, as on Hays's, the issue is hermeneutics: “Once again, we see how Paul makes a statement about Judaism which certainly would not have been accepted by his Jewish contemporaries—namely, that the true meaning of the old covenant is hidden from them” (Hooker 1981, 300). When someone turns to the Lord, as Moses himself turned to the Lord, then the veil is removed and they can see the glory directly, just as Moses did. The Lord is, however, the τέλος of the Law, that is, Christ:
But just as it seems as if the veil is being lifted from our minds, too, and we think that we begin to grasp Paul's meaning, he confounds us all by declaring: “Now the Lord is the Spirit.” Paul is not, of course, concerned here with the niceties of trinitarian theology. Rather, he is returning to the contrast with which he began—the contrast between letter and Spirit. The Lord is the Spirit who writes directly on men's hearts. In turning to the Lord, Israel not only experiences the removal of the veil, but moves from a relationship with God which is based on letter to one which is based on Spirit. (Hooker 1981, 301)
The very ministry chiseled in stone signifies and is replaced in history by the ministry of the Spirit, which has been revealed in the New Covenant, which is not, of course, for Paul a text, a γράμμα, but it is an interpretation of a text (Hooker 1981, 299, 304). When Paul refers to the Old Covenant, he means both the historical covenant with the Jews and also their text. He thus implies avant le lettre, as it were, predicts or enacts the coming into being of the New Testament, and the relation of these two is figured as that of “letter which kills” to the “Spirit which gives life.” Thus, the move of the modern readers of Paul, such as Hays, who deny the allegorical and supersessionist movement of Paul's text is ultimately not convincing. The supersessionism cannot be denied, because there already and still was an enfleshed community living out the “Old” Covenant. It certainly had not remained an affair of mere words on stone. “As the result of a gigantic take-over bid, we find all the functions of the Law attributed to Christ” (Hooker 1981, 303). Since the glory of the spirit hidden within the text is what Moses' veil conceals, and that hidden glory is the life of the Christian community, the Pauline structure is profoundly allegorical after all. He cannot mean, of course, that the text of the Torah has been abolished, so, therefore, he must mean that the literal meaning is what will be abolished. “It is clear that Paul—however inconsistent he may sometimes be—could hardly have referred to scripture itself as ‘abolished,' when scripture provides him with his primary witness to Christ” (Hooker 1981, 303). The “letter” is not only the written word but certainly, as Paul says almost explicitly, the literal reading of “Moses” by the Jews. Augustine read Paul well: “In the Old Testament there is a concealment of the New, in the New Testament there is a revelation of the Old.” A hermeneutic theory such as Paul's, by which the literal Israel, literal history, literal circumcision, and literal genealogy are superseded by their allegorical, spiritual signifieds is not necessarily anti-Semitic or even anti-Judaic. From the perspective of the first century, the contest between a Pauline allegorical Israel and a rabbinic hermeneutics of the concrete Israel is simply a legitimate cultural, hermeneutical, and political contestation. The denotation of “Israel” was to a certain extent up for grabs.
To be sure, Paul does not mean by spirit the spiritual meaning in the sense of a detailed allegorical consultation of the written text (as perhaps an Origen would mean), but he does mean literal Israel as the signifier of the new Israel “according to the spirit,” and literal circumcision as signifier of the inner disposition to which he referred in 2:29, and the letter of the Law as signifier of the Law of faith working through love, the Law of Christ, which is here called service in the new being of the spirit. The psychological and ethical dimensions are thus a consequence of the hermeneutic. In pursuing a fairly detailed reading of passages in Galatians, we will be able to trace these themes in their most concentrated form in Paul's writings.
1. Of these three, of course, my general interpretation of Paul is closest to that of Dunn. See also Carras 1992, and Campbell (1992, 156n.53). [BACK]
2. See Goodman (1992, 72), who is skeptical about the scope of such exclusivist notions. See also Sanders 1976. [BACK]
3. My version of this argument is slightly different from that of Dunn himself. [BACK]
4. Cf. also the text cited by Dunn from the Wisdom of Solomon 15:1ff. (Dunn 1988, 83). [BACK]
5. For “boast” (καυχάομαι) in the sense of “have confidence” see discussion above in Chapter 3. This further strengthens Sanders's complete rejection of the view that what Paul found wrong with Judaism was the self-righteousness that keeping the law allegedly promoted. [BACK]
6. See 2 Apoc. Bar. 48:22–24, cited in Dunn (1988, 110). [BACK]
7. I have specifically used the feminine pronouns here to emphasize another attractive aspect of Paul's spiritualization, namely, his at least partial transcendence of exclusive religious androcentrism. [BACK]
8. This chapter is a scandal for interpretation only if one has adopted the Lutheran theology, whereby attempting to perform God's will with the body is itself a form of sin! Cf. also Snodgrass 1986. See also next paragraph. [BACK]
9. This case has been best argued by Alan Segal, in an unpublished paper. [BACK]
10. I am puzzled by Dunn's remark that “within the Pharisaic Judaism with which Paul was most familiar, such Gentiles were probably only tolerated and were counted acceptable to God only when they actually became members of the covenant people as proselytes” (1988, 99). [BACK]
11. Note that, in a sense, this interpretation of Paul in Romans 2 is the precise obverse of the “Lutheran” one, for Paul here is denying salvation by “grace” to the Jew owing to the free election of God and insisting that only through works will the Jew be saved, as in 2:13, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” On this verse, which has been a scandal to much Protestant interpretation, see now the excellent discussion in Snodgrass 1986. [BACK]
12. I am nonplussed by Sanders's gloss:
The true Jew is one who keeps the law, who does not make an external show, who may not be physically circumcised “in the flesh”), but who is circumcised internally, in secret; it is a spiritual, not a literal, circumcision of the heart (en tōi kryptōi…kai peritomē kardias en pneumati ou grammati).…Thus far we have seen no evidence that at any point in Romans 2 does Paul step outside the Jewish perspective.
But Sanders surely knows how slippery the term “the Jewish perspective” is, and in this case, aside from Philo's allegorists, I know of no other first-century Jews who would regard one who is only circumcised spiritually as a “true Jew.” Indeed, I would suggest that Paul himself is here very close in spirit to Philo's allegorizers, and is therefore no less “Jewish” than they are. The difference between arguing that those who glory in Christ, as opposed to those who contemplate the One, are circumcised—or even that those who love their neighbors are circumcised—seems (from my Jewish perspective) trivial compared with the difference between all of those views and a view that insists that only those whose foreskins have been cut off are circumcised. In general, one of the few moments in Sanders's work with which I find myself in near total disagreement is his interpretation of Romans 2 (123–35). I hope that my interpretation obviates the need to state, “Romans 2 remains the instance in which Paul goes beyond inconsistency or variety of argument and explanation to true self-contradiction” (147). Similarly, in an otherwise very interesting and thoughtful work, Campbell makes what is to me one simply astonishing remark, namely, that “the fact that Paul concludes chapter 2 with a description of ‘the true Jew’ is further proof that he neither views Judaism from a sectarian stance, nor is his image of the Jew consistently negative” (Campbell 1992, 141). I trust that the reasons for my astonishment will be, by now, transparent. [BACK]
13. Although translations of the text customarily add silently the adjectives “true” or “real” before “Jew” and “circumcision” in the passage, these qualifiers are not there in the Greek. Paul is arguing that a Jew is defined by circumcision of the heart, and nothing else. [BACK]
14. “If there is a negative ring to the words διὰ γράμματος καὶ περιτομῆς, it is due to the fact that it is only the possession of the scrolls of the law, and only physical circumcision, which the Jew in question can claim in his favor. We may compare Paul's words in v. 20: ‘having the form (μόρφωσιν) of knowledge and truth in the law.’ The choice of the word ‘letter,’ like that of ‘form’ in v. 20, does indeed stress that it is only the written scrolls, the external form, which the Jew in question possesses, while he lacks the righteous observance to which possession of the ‘letter’ obligates; but the fault lies in what he lacks, not in what he possesses” (Westerholm 1984, 234–35). [BACK]
15. Alan Segal has clarified the issue thoroughly (1990, 192–201). [BACK]
16. A not atypical early modern Rabbi, Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotzk would say: “Too many Jews are concerned about a blood-spot on an egg and not a blood-spot on a ruble.” But every egg in the Rabbi's house was punctiliously examined for blood-spots! [BACK]
17. “According to 2 Cor. 3:7–18, when God's Spirit-inscribed people encounter Scripture, a transformation occurs that is fundamentally hermeneutical in character” (Hays 1989, 131). [BACK]
18. In my article (Boyarin 1990a) I have argued that the Rabbis of the talmudic period generally did not believe in a wholly non-corporeal Godhead, so God could be present in the world without an Incarnation. For a similar analogy (in a startlingly different context) between “incarnation” of divinity and a semiotics that requires going beyond the material, physical language, see Manganaro (1992, 43–44). [BACK]
19. Wright translates this simply, “which glory was fading,” and argues that it is not part of the argument of v. 7 but a foretaste of the argument to come in v. 11 (Wright 1992a, 178). [BACK]
20. Hooker (1981, 298 and 308n.7) notes commentators who have previously adopted this view but simply dismisses it (without argument) with “there are great difficulties with this interpretation.” For Hooker's other objection—“He has told us that Israel could not gaze on Moses' glory: how, then, does it come about that Christians can now gaze on the overwhelming glory which belongs to Christ”—see below. [BACK]
21. I think that Hays loses his way a bit on pp. 142–43, where he needlessly complicates the discussion by arguing that Paul is suggesting a dissimile between himself (and other Christians) and Moses, because “Moses' unveiled encounters with the Lord were intermittent, punctuated by times of withdrawal and veiling.” I see nothing in the passage which qualifies or discredits Moses' experience even with respect to Paul; rather, the experience being deprecated is that of the Israelites to whom Moses turned and who would/could not see his glory. Further, there is no difficulty occasioned by the veil being moved from over Moses' face to the hearts of the Israelites (pace Hays, 145), because the veil always and only existed to prevent the Israelites from seeing that which they could not stand, and never to prevent Moses from seeing anything. I find, therefore, the turn in v. 16 less dramatic than Hays (147) does. [BACK]
22. In Chapter 3 above, I have argued that the typology/allegory opposition is not a valid one—hence my somewhat slippery language here. [BACK]
23. I note now the similarity of much of this reading with that of Wright (1992a, 180). [BACK]
24. This does not preclude Wright's interesting suggestion that Paul is proposing that the Corinthians will see God's glory on each other's faces, just as the Israelites, I would add, would have seen God's glory on Moses' face had they had the strength. Wright's view is enhanced considerably by the good sense it makes of τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα in v. 18. [BACK]
25. I thus see much more virtue in Hooker's interpretation than does Wright (1992a, 181). She attends much more carefully than he does, in this instance, to the biblical text Paul is interpreting. Note the modification of Hooker's view implied by my account. She writes that Paul does not bother to prove his assumption that the glory faded, because he was not writing to Jews (300). In fact, what I am suggesting is that it is at least as possible that Jewish interpreters read this way also, without the typology, of course, and it was only in reaction to Paul's use of this interpretation that it was rejected in Jewish circles. [BACK]
26. I dissent, therefore, from Hooker's reading also which contrasts Moses himself to the Christians (303). See above n.21. [BACK]
27. Although, as I will detail below, I do not agree with those scholars who hold that there was controversy within Judaism as to the necessity of circumcision for converts, I do think that the Judaizers, quasi-Jews, God-fearers, and even apparently the relatively large numbers of converts to Judaism in the Roman period blurred both the extension and intension of the signifiers “Jew” and “Israel.” Symptomatic perhaps of this confusion is the following statement from Dio Cassius: “I do not know the origin of this name [Jews], but it is applied to all men, even foreigners, who follow their customs. This race is found among Romans” (qu. in Gager 1983, 91). What I find remarkable about this passage is its self-contradiction: Anyone who follows the customs of the Jews is termed a Jew, but the Jews are nevertheless designated a race. Unless “race” means something very different from what we take it to mean—and, of course, I am aware that it did not refer to genotype, but presumably it had some genealogical connotation—these two sentences are in tension with each other and thus themselves a sign of contestation. This will be further discussed in the final chapter. [BACK]