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Paul implies that the OT scriptures were veiled / not able to be understood. How can this be, that God would give guidance that they were not able to understand or comply with?

2 Corinthians 3:14 - But their minds were closed. For to this day the same veil remains at the reading of the old covenant. It has not been lifted, because only in Christ can it be removed.

Yet

Deuteronomy 30:10-11

10 if you obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments and statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to Him with all your heart and with all your soul. 11 For this commandment I give you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.

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  • See all the topics of "hardened eyes" God hardening Pharaoh eyes.
    – Michael16
    Feb 18, 2023 at 3:12
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    There is a difference between Old Covenant and Old Testament. You have incorrectly identified them as one and the same...they are not. The New covenant was first written about by the prophets in the Old Testament. Read Jeremiah 31
    – Adam
    Feb 25, 2023 at 13:08

5 Answers 5

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I suggest the answer is that they could indeed understand the commandments, as Deuteronomy tells them, but they could not see what their own scriptures were teaching about Christ and the new covenant. "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me" (John ch5 v46). This foreshadowing of the New Testament is the part which was veiled to them.

We need to follow through Pauls' argument from an earlier point in the chapter. Paul says that God has made the apostles "ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit" (v6, RSV). The two covenants are distinguished in v9 as "the dispensation of death" and "the dispensation of righeousness". He tells us that even the dispensation of death gave such brightness to the face of Moses that he was obliged to cover it with a veil, and concludes that the dispensation of righeousness must have an even greater glory and brightness.

Then from v12 he slightly alters the function of the veil. The purpose of the veil is now to prevent them from seeing the end of the Old Testament splendour, instead of the Old Testament splendour itself. When he says the veil remains unlifted (v14), he means they read the old covenant without being able to see the new covenant wrapped inside it. This limitation is removed in the act of turning to the Lord who is the Spirit, and the Spirit is associated with freedom. From Galatians, we learn that freedom is about freedom from the law; "our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus", Galatians ch2 v4. I see that as including freedom from a legalistic reading of the law. Only then can we see the Glory of the Lord "with unveiled faces" (v18).

I think the short answer is that Deuteronomy means they can understand the scripture literally; Paul means they could not understand it spiritually.

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    I love this passage “And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, dark sayings, difficult things to understand and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”” ‭‭Numbers‬ ‭12‬:‭6‬-‭8‬ God Himself says He didn’t speak to all the prophets like He did with Moses, namely clearly, face to face Feb 17, 2023 at 20:25
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Paul seems to have believed that God intentionally blinded the eyes of key Jewish readers of the scriptures, because it was part of God's plan for them to reject Jesus rather than accept him as the Messiah:

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Cor. 2:7-8)

For Paul, the Jewish scriptures could only be understood properly if one accepts Christ and reads them again in light of the Gospel. This is in line with what the disciples themselves experienced after the shock of the crucifixion, which seems to have caught them completely off guard. For example:

... concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel... And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:19-27)

Does Paul's attitude contradict the OT itself? The OT teaches that man is reconciled with God through obedience to the law and various types of ritual atonements. But for Paul, only faith in Christ's death and resurrection can reconcile man with God. So the honest answer is yes, this does contradict the OT. Such an answer does not negate the truth of the Gospel, however, unless one's faith is not able to encompass a bit of cognitive dissonance -- which Paul resolved in terms of "a secret and hidden wisdom of God."

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There might seem to be a contradiction, between Deuteronomy 30:10,11. “this commandment I give you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach” and 2 Cor 3:14 “the same veil remains at the reading of the old covenant.”

A bible scripture that can reconcile these two ideas is Romans 3:20: Romans 3:19,20

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

One important point is that the old covenant makes us conscious of sin. It was a clear set of rules and standards of what was permitted and what was a sin. However, the old covenant also law provided the corresponding provisions for forgiveness, procedures to be cleaned, and guidelines for punishment. While it was “impossible” not to sin against the law, it was perfectly possible to implement or deal with all the consequences of the law (as in Deut. 30:10,11), as an individual as well as for the society to implement this framework. Violators could be punished and/or forgiven if appropriate if the relevant procedures and sacrifices were followed.

The old covenant was however only a temporary provision (Heb 8:13, Heb 10:1). All the law and its specific rules were based on the general principles to Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And to love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). Also “the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious…” (1 Timothy 1:9-11).

Only by believing and understanding Jesus' teachings the Law of the old covenant could be truly understood from a more advanced perspective. Maybe the idea is similar to today's common illustration, to learn the difference between cats and dogs by labelled pictures. One can memorize the pictures and labels (the rules of the Law), in order to, after a while, generalize beyond the examples. Unfortunately, many religious leaders and people tended to make following the law to some sort of formalism. Their minds were closed to going beyond the examples and rules, and the true meaning of the law was veiled. They did not realize that they were concentrating too much on the shadow instead of the real thing.

For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things. (Hebrews 10:1)

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Paul, in 2 Cor 3 is discussing the New Covenant about salvation in Jesus, vs the Old Covenant that pointed forward to and was fulfilled by Jesus. The Old Covenant could not be understood except if one grasped that it pointed to Jesus. Paul says as much in V16 -

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord (ie, Jesus), the veil is taken away.

Let us be very clear that sum and substance of the entire Bible is the person and ministry of Jesus Christ as explained by the New Covenant:

  • Luke 24:27 - And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was written in all the Scriptures about Himself.
  • John 5:39 - You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me,
  • 2 Cor 1:20 - For all the promises of God are “Yes” in Christ. And so through Him, our “Amen” is spoken to the glory of God.

The OT was Jesus in anticipation and the NT is Jesus fully revealed. All the Jewish ceremonial laws and ceremonies contained devices to teach about the coming Messiah.

  • Jesus was the fulfilment of what the sanctuary/temple typified, John 2:19-21, Heb 9:1-28, 10:1-18
  • Jesus represented the foundation of the temple as well, 1 Peter 2:4-8 (Compare Isa 28:16, Ps 118:22)
  • Jesus’ body was represented by the curtain in the temple, Heb 10:20.
  • Jesus was the bread of life, John 6:35, 41, 48 (compare Ex 25:23-30, Lev 24:8).
  • Jesus was the light of life, John 8:12, 9:5 (compare the lampstand Ex 25:31-39, Lev 24:3, 4, Isa 53:11, Ps 56:13, etc)
  • Jesus provides the water of life, John 4:13, 14 (Compare the laver Ex 30:17-21. See also 1 Cor 6:11)
  • Jesus is the promised seed of the woman Gal 3:16 (compare Gen 3:15, and the Abrahamic Covenant)
  • Jesus was the Passover Lamb and thus the promised Messiah, John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 12:1-14).
  • Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant in fulfilment of the Levitical covenant, Heb 4:14-16, 5:10, 7:23-28, because He was “pure, blameless, set apart” exactly as the Levites were. See also Heb 9:15, 12:24.
  • Jesus provided the blood of the new covenant of which the communion ceremony was to be a memorial, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, Heb 13:20, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 24:5, 8).
  • Jesus was the anti-type of the “red heifer” (Num 19:1-10) and its associated ashes that “purify our consciences from works of death”, Heb 9:13, 14.

That is, unless one sees Jesus revealed in some way on every page, we are not reading the Scriptures as they were intended.

The ancient Jews missed this important point and confused the message with the medium (= the means of communication). That is, they put their trust in the ceremonies rather than what the ceremonies & covenant pointed towards - see appendix below.

Therefore, it not surprising that when people refused to recognize Jesus as the center of all Scripture, they effectively had blinkers on. Paul himself had this experience when he persecuted the Jews; but after his conversion, he saw Christ in all the Scriptures. Thus he said:

  • Rom 10:4 - Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
  • 2 Cor 3:14 - But their minds were closed. For to this day the same veil remains at the reading of the old covenant. It has not been lifted, because only in Christ can it be removed.

The Jews knew Messiah was coming and refused to recognize Him in Jesus and thus, their eyes were veiled and could not see the purpose for which the ceremonial law was given.

APPENDIX - Jewish Misunderstanding of the Ceremonial Law

In Old Testament times, the ceremonial system had been misunderstood and abused and did not provide propitiation but only symbolized the sacrifice of Jesus (yet to come), eg, Isa 1:10-17, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22, Hos 6:6, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Jer 6:20, Micah 6:6-8, etc. Jesus used some of these verses to teach the superiority of the moral and ethical requirements over the ceremonial rules. Matt 9:9-12, 12:2-8, 9-14, 23:23, 24, Mark 12:33.

  • 1 Sam 15:22 - And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
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There is no contradiction!

Take an analogy: if a drug-addict is offered a methadone plan to overcome the addiction, this plan implies that after three months of substitution of drugs with the methadone the drug addict would be given a multivitamin 💊 that will salutarily exorcize all the vestiges of drug-addiction in him, while the three-months methadone period was a necessary preparation for the crowning salubrious arrival of the multivitamin 💊.

But, now perceive that the methadone is not used rightly, but the hapless addict uses it for its own sake, forgetting that it was a substitution for drug not for good, but as a preliminary stage for preparation for the advent of the 💊. If this is the case, then the methadone is abused.

The same here: Jews were blinded by abuse of Law, for they considered it as sufficient. But exactly this is the abuse, for as the methadone plan implied the cancellation of the methadone after three months, so also the Law implied it’s own cancellation with the advent of Christ. That is why Paul brilliantly puts it: “I have died for the Law according to the Law” (Galatians 2:19) - the thing Jews failed to understand and in a tragic paradox they killed Christ in order to protect the Law from Him, while Law itself could be protected only through its abolition by advent of Christ.

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