1 Corinthians 13:12

The Talmud has an interesting contribution, I think, to our understanding of Paul’s little phrase ‘we see through a glass darkly’ when it remarks concerning Isaiah’s claim to have seen the Lord-

‘I saw the Lord’, [is to be understood] in accordance with what was taught: All the prophets looked into a dim glass, but Moses looked through a clear glass. (b. Yeb 49b).

If Rabbinic materials make use of the phrase ‘dim glass’ to describe the fact that none of the prophets really saw God as clearly as Moses did; and Paul uses the same phrase in reference to our own perceptions of God, then it stands to reason that Paul is following a tradition similar to the later Rabbis in which Moses alone saw God and everyone else only gets a dim vision through bad glass.

This has interesting implications for Paul’s supposed exalted Christology, no?

4 thoughts on “1 Corinthians 13:12

  1. Geoff 20 Sep 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Perhaps so, although in the second letter of the correspondence Paul does indicate that Moses himself cannot be read properly except through the lens of the resurrected Jesus.

    Interesting thought.

    Do you think it could mean that Paul understands God dimly through the glass of Christ? Or does it mean Christians should love each other because that demonstrates knowledge of God in a more significant way than even true facts about God? I’m thinking of 8:1-4 four.


  2. Martin Shields 20 Sep 2010 at 5:26 pm

    Perhaps so, but does this actually pre-date Paul?


  3. Victor 11 Oct 2010 at 6:04 pm

    First Corinthians 13:12’s Mosaic connection via Rabbinic tradition is reinforced by the fact that Paul point-blank uses the phrase “face to face” in the same verse, which evokes Moses’ relationship to God as described in the Torah:

    Deuteronomy 5:4 The LORD talked with you FACE TO FACE in the mount out of the midst of the fire.


  4. Victor 11 Oct 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Please note the intertextuality:

    1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a GLASS, DARKLY; but then FACE TO FACE: now I KNOW in part; but then shall I KNOW even as also I am known.

    Yeb. 49b All the PROPHETS looked into a DIM GLASS, but MOSES looked through a clear glass.

    Deuteronomy 34:10 And there arose not a PROPHET since in Israel like unto MOSES, whom the LORD KNEW FACE TO FACE.


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