Volume 48 - Issue 1
Christ’s Surpassing Glory: An Argument for the “Inappropriateness” of OT Christophanies From Exodus 33–34 and 2 Corinthians 3:7–4:6By Greg Palys
Did the Pre-incarnate Christ reveal himself in the Old Testament? Many believe that visible manifestations of God in the Old Testament must be manifestations of the Son. Surely if this is true, then we would be able to identify Christ most clearly in the Old Testament’s grandest manifestations of God’s glory. However, Paul’s reflection on the Sinai theophany identifies that which was revealed to Moses as a lesser glory, one that we cannot equate with Christ’s surpassing glory. If Christ’s greater glory was inappropriate for the Sinai theophany, then it follows that all other lesser “Christophanies” would be equally inappropriate.
The Trinitarian God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This truth orthodox Christians hold dear. Yet Christians debate the extent to which God makes his tri-unity known in the pages of the OT. One sub-topic of OT Trinitarian debate centers on Christophanies. The term “Christophany” refers to any appearance of the second person of the Trinity. However, this debate centers around purported appearances of the pre-incarnate Son in the OT.
What leads some to find distinct manifestations of the Son in the OT? Theophanies provoke the question. The OT records several visible manifestations of God. The NT then identifies Jesus as God incarnate and links him to some of these theophanies. Christians with proper Trinitarian instincts often wonder if, piecing together the puzzle, they should view these theophanies as Christophanies.
Some believe the stakes are even higher. For instance, Matt Foreman and Doug Van Dorn recently co-wrote a volume arguing for Christophanies. In it, they do not undersell the importance they assign to their view. They believe the “Angel of the Lord,” a term they believe refers to the pre-incarnate Son, “is the most important and central figure in the Old Testament, the most frequent way God is revealed, and appears way more often than most people realize. The storyline of the Bible from the Old Testament to the New is about him.”1 To them, failing to see Christophanies is failing to understand the narrative of Scripture.
I would like to contend the opposite. My thesis is that visible, particular manifestations of the Son in the OT would be inappropriate for the old covenant age. As with proponents of Christophanies, I will look at OT revelation in light of the NT. However, I believe that the NT gives less reason for viewing OT theophanies as Christophanies, not more. Instead, the NT, while heightening awareness of the Son’s presence in the OT, increases the expectation that Christ’s visible manifestation waits for the incarnation.
Recognizing the enormous scope required to properly prove this thesis, I focus on one major instance of theophany with its NT commentary. I start with detailed exegesis of Exodus 33–34 followed by the same in 2 Corinthians 3:7–4:6. I hope to show that Paul’s logic in 2 Corinthians 3:7–4:6 makes any claim to identify Christ with the Sinai theophany in Exodus 33–34 seem inappropriate. I then employ a greater to lesser argument to suggest the same for any other lesser theophany in the OT. Finally, I respond to several anticipated objections. In making this argument, I do not want to temper enthusiasm for finding the fullness of the triune God in the pages of the OT. I do, however, want to recommend carefulness regarding the precision with which we should expect to identify manifestations of the Son prior to the incarnation. In doing so I hope to engender respect for both progressive revelation and the sheer immensity of the new covenant glory revealed in Christ.
1. Exodus 33–34
Any study of Christophanies should place a high value on conclusions drawn from Exodus 33–34. The text checks multiple boxes. Exodus 33–34 contains an uncontested theophany with NT commentary. Additionally, it is a theophany with little OT precedent. Except for Elijah, God reveals himself to no one else with this level of magnitude. In this way, Exodus 33–34 acts as a kind of high point of God’s self-revelation in the OT. Surely if Christ can be found in any theophany, it is here. The following is a summary of the text along with the key questions and conclusions the text presents.
1.1. Exodus 33:1–6
Exodus 32–34 functions as a literary unit that highlights God’s presence.2 After the Golden Calf debacle of chapter 32, chapter 33 opens with the Lord commanding Moses to leave Sinai and lead Israel into the land of promise. He promises an angel to lead them, but he will no longer promise his presence due to the people’s sin. His presence is now unbearable; it would consume them in a single moment of contact.
1.2. Exodus 33:7–11
In contrast, Moses alone experiences God’s presence in the tent of meeting. The text goes out of its way to portray the vast gulf between Moses’s experience of God and everyone else’s. When Moses would go to the tent, everyone would rise, stand at their tent doors, and watch Moses from afar. Then, when Moses would enter, the pillar of cloud would move to the tent entrance and God would speak to Moses intimately (“face-to-face, as a man speaks to his friend”).3 The close connection between the movement of the cloud and God’s speaking with Moses demonstrates that God’s actual presence is in the cloud. The Israelites recognized God’s presence in the cloud and therefore worshipped when it moved to the tent.4
1.3. Exodus 33:12–16
Moses, emboldened due to his unique intimacy with the Lord, challenges God’s reluctance to send his presence with his people. Moses questions how God can command him to bring his people into the promised land without also offering his entirely necessary presence. He requests that God show him his “ways” so that he would “know” God, appealing both to God’s desire to protect his name and the favor which God has shown Moses. At this, God relents and promises his presence.
1.4. Exodus 33:17–23
Moses, firmly assured of his special relationship with the Lord, decides to risk everything. He asks to see God’s glory. God responds positively: he will indeed allow his goodness to pass before Moses. He will also proclaim his name and character. However, he will not reveal his face. If anyone were to see what Moses desired to see, they would die. This reminds Moses that there is a level of God’s presence that even he can’t approach. God offers to hide Moses, letting Moses see his back, not his face, as his glory passes by.
1.5. Exodus 34:1–28
God makes good on his offer in a covenant renewal ceremony on Mt. Sinai. He reinforces that Moses alone would be allowed to experience such a great, though still not full, display of God’s glory. Then, finally, God shows himself. He descends in a cloud, stands with Moses, and passes by, all the while proclaiming his name and character. Moses does not take this lightly. He prostrates himself in worship and repeats his desperate request to have this God’s presence in their midst. God responds by rehearsing the terms of the covenant, promising his presence, and proclaiming the glory he will receive.
1.6. Exodus 34:29–35
When Moses comes down to meet the people after this momentous encounter, his face is shining.5 Moses does not realize his face is shining, but the text specifies that it shone “because he had been talking with God.” The people respond with fear. However, Moses invites them to come near to hear from him anyway. He proclaims the renewal of the covenant but afterward veils his face. This pattern continues every subsequent time he speaks with the Lord. When Moses enters the tent, he removes his veil to speak with the Lord face-to-face. Then, he reveals his shining face and the Lord’s command to his people. However, after he finishes proclaiming God’s words, he veils his shining face again until his next discussion with God.
1.7. Interpretive Questions
This narrative leaves the careful reader with several interpretive questions. First, what is the meaning of God’s “face”? At the most basic, “face” does not refer to one of God’s physical features, as if Moses simply wanted to “look God in the eyes.” God, of course, does not have a face in that sense. So, what does Moses ask to see? The Hebrew word translated “face” (פָּנֶה) does a lot of work in this passage. It refers to Moses’s face (34:29–35), God’s face which Moses apparently saw (33:11), God’s face which no one can see (33:20), and the “face of the earth,” though the latter does not seem to have bearing on the present study. Additionally, Ian Wilson notes that both in and outside of Exodus, “those who see God’s face receive ‘blessing,’ ‘vitality,’ and commissioning for service.”6 Finally, פָּנֶה refers to God’s presence (33:14, 15). This final meaning unlocks the others. At issue in this narrative is God’s presence and whether it would go with Moses and Israel. When Moses asks to see God’s glory, what he desires is even more of God’s manifest presence. God responds that he will show some of himself in his goodness, name, and attributes, but he will not show his face. By responding to a request for his glory with a statement about his face, God implies that his face represents the level of God’s presence Moses hopes to see. His response also renders virtually synonymous his face, name, glory, attributes, and presence. Therefore, to see God’s face is to see him.
At this point, another question arises: If Moses would die if he saw God’s face on Sinai, how does he survive regularly speaking to God face-to-face in the tent of meeting? This seems to be an irreconcilable tension: either man can or cannot see God’s face and live. Some resolve this tension by pointing to the different initiators of these two events. When Moses asked to see God’s face on Sinai, God declined because Moses initiated. But when God spoke to Moses in the tent, it was God who initiated.7 On this line of reasoning, man can only see God and live if he initiates. This could perhaps be true, but it is not clear from the text that God denies Moses a view of his face due to Moses’s uninvited boldness. Instead, his boldness results in God showing more of his glory than Moses had ever seen.
T. Desmond Alexander attempts to diffuse this tension by noting that Moses only speaks to God face-to-face. Perhaps this means that Moses never actually saw God in the tent of meeting.8 This interpretation is helpful in one sense because it draws the reader’s attention away from speculating as to what form God may have taken. Instead, the reader focuses on the more important matter of the significance of the phrase “face-to-face” (פָּנִיםאֶל־פָּנִים). To speak to God “face-to-face” seems to convey a locational nearness that goes beyond simply seeing one another. Elsewhere, this phrase conveys God’s fearsome, manifest presence among his people (Num 14:14; Deut 5:4; Judg 6:22). In some cases, God or a foe may draw extremely near to judge “face-to-face” (Jer 32:4; 34:3; Ezek 20:35).9 However, in the present context, Victor Hamilton believes the phrase conveys intimacy to a level experienced by lovers.10 Indeed, “as a man speaks to a friend” (33:11) seems to exegete this phrase in the text itself.
However, Alexander’s view has a potential problem. Moses left his post-Sinai tent encounters with a shining face. The people responded because they saw something different about his face, ruling out a mere metaphor. It seems in keeping with the point of the narrative to suggest that Moses’s “face” reflected the glory of the one he spoke to “face-to-face.” Hearing alone would not cause one’s face to shine. Further, Scripture exhibits this exact phrase elsewhere to describe actual, visual, physical encounters with characters indistinguishable from God. Jacob, for instance, understood he saw God “face-to-face” after his wrestling match, calling the place פְּנִיאֵל, the “face of God” (Gen 32:30).11
So, it seems that Moses probably saw something in the tent and that whatever he saw was glorious and intimate enough to be properly called God’s “face.” This has further defined the encounter, but it has not resolved the tension. Why did God deny his face on Sinai? The answer likely comes from thinking of God’s face/glory/presence in terms of degree. Just like “face” is not a technical term for a part of God’s anatomy, neither is it always referring to the totality of God’s presence in some kind of one-to-one relationship. Otherwise, the tension of this passage still exists. However, Moses’s face reflected glory both in seeing God’s “face” in some way in the tent and in seeing God’s “back” on Sinai. In both situations, he saw a heightened level of God’s glory. What he desired was even more. As Robert Chisholm notes, it appears that God’s face on Sinai refers to the fullness of his glory which he was not willing to allow Moses or anyone else to see.12
A third major question from this text surrounds this theophany. What exactly did Moses see? The text describes the “hand” and “back” of the Lord, both of which Moses could “see.” Some are reluctant to allow that God visibly manifested himself for similar reasons as those who deny a visual encounter in the tent of meeting. J. Carl Laney believes this is metaphorical speech referring to God’s revealing of his name and attributes.13 However, this seems to strain metaphorical speech to its absolute limit. The Lord “descended,” “stood with him there,” “passed before him” (34:5), and placed him in the cleft of the rock and covered him (33:22). Additionally, following the same logic as the tent encounter, Moses’s face coming down the mountain reflected the glory that he saw. Peter Enns is emphatic: “He most certainly does see something.”14 Yet going further to suggest what Moses saw goes beyond what this text on its own is willing to offer.
The veil compels one final question. Why did Moses veil his face? The text does not say directly, but it does imply that the reason is linked to the people’s fear. Joshua Philpot describes Moses’s descent from the mountain as a “contrast.”15 Moses carried the sheer difference between this encounter with God and every other in his face. The people were afraid because of another contrast evident in the broader narrative. The heights of glory Moses encountered made the people’s terrible sin that much more apparent. This stark contrast inspired fear in the people. So, after Moses said what God told him to say, he covered himself for reasons the text does not nuance further.
In conclusion, Exodus 33–34 presents a contrast between a wicked people on one side and a holy God along with his servant Moses on the other. God’s people could not stand in his presence. However, God allowed his servant Moses to experience his manifest presence without consequences. Moses saw God, or at least some form mediating God that could still be called “God.” In either case, Exodus 33–34 describes theophanies.
Yet the text also teaches that God can present varying degrees of his presence. Richard Gaffin notes that God’s presence, “without further mediation, will destroy his creatures, but which admits of mediated expressions involving the most intimate fellowship with him.”16 Moses was able to enjoy intimate fellowship with God. Though the contrast is evident even here. At most, on Sinai, God was only willing to reveal to Moses his “back,” a “Hebrew idiom” akin to seeing almost nothing at all.17 Yet even this restrained glory was too much for the sinful people, and so Moses veiled it from them.
2. 2 Corinthians 3:7–4:6
Second Corinthians 3:7–4:6 provides a commentary of sorts on the events of Exodus 33–34. While respecting the text and events of Exodus 33–34, Paul reflects on the text as one who has seen the risen Christ. He knows in fullness and in detail that to which the OT Scriptures only pointed. Therefore, he cannot read this or any other Scripture without his new covenant knowledge, nor should he. This is why, here in 2 Corinthians 3:7–4:6, Paul evidently observes more than would have been apparent to the original readers of Exodus 33–34, yet in keeping with the text’s intention. As with the previous section, the following is a summary of the text. Interpretive questions that arise readily in the flow of the text will receive treatment along the way.
2.1. Context of 2 Corinthians 3:7–4:6
This section nests inside a much longer section dealing with Paul’s defense and explanation of his apostolic ministry (2:14–7:4). Apparently, some in the Corinthian church were not impressed with Paul and his ministry, especially when compared to Moses. Paul responds by arguing that his ministry is superior because it is based on a greater covenant. Paul repeatedly goes to the old covenant and Moses to contrast its weakness, insufficiency, and resultant death with the strength, sufficiency, and resultant life that comes through Christ by the Spirit. Paul emphasizes that this new covenant has the power to change hearts. Beginning in 3:7, Paul continues this contrast by explicitly referencing the events of Exodus 33–34.
2.2. 2 Corinthians 3:7–11
This section could be summed up with the phrase “greater glory.” Paul asks: if even Moses’s ministry came with such glory that the Israelites couldn’t look at it for long, how much more will Paul’s ministry bring even more glory? In this question, several aspects of Moses’s ministry come into focus. First, Moses’s ministry was indeed glorious. Though the point of Paul’s commentary is to highlight the greater glory of the new covenant, he does not lose sight of the fact that the old covenant had glory. This drives his point home even better. Being greater than something undesirable is nothing special. Being so desirable that something once thought desirable now seems comparatively undesirable is a feat. Winning a spelling bee in a small town comes with some glory. Embarrassing a chess grandmaster makes one a legend.
This is the second aspect of Moses’s ministry Paul highlights. Comparatively, it is a “ministry of death,” a “ministry of condemnation,” and a glory “brought to an end” (καταργουμένην).18 Perhaps this would have come as a surprise to the Jews. Again, the glory in Exodus 33–34 truly was glorious. Nothing in the text would suggest that this glory was inferior in any way. Yet Paul reasons that glory that ended must be inferior to glory that is permanent. Now that Jesus ended the era of the letter and began the permanent era of the Spirit, it is as if the old glory has no glory in comparison to this new glory.
Third, the glories Paul references are the glories of the old and new covenants. Moses, his ministry, and his shining face are stand-ins for the old covenant. Therefore, the comparison Paul makes is not so much between Moses and Paul. Rather, it is between the glory of the old covenant, which Moses represents, and the glory of the new covenant, which Christ actualizes. Based on this text, it would be right to argue that the glory of Christ is newer, better, greater, lasting, and life-giving.
2.3. 2 Corinthians 3:12–18
The hope that Paul has in this new covenant, the greater glory of Christ, makes Paul bold to proclaim the gospel. If the glory is better, then the message which proclaims the glory is also better. Moses was not likewise bold in proclaiming God’s glory, as evidenced by his veiled face. The reason given for Moses’s motivation is somewhat ambiguous. Moses veiled his face “so that the Israelites might not gaze [τὸ μὴ ἀτενίσαι] at the outcome [τὸ τέλος] of what was being brought to an end [τοῦ καταργουμένου]” (3:13). What does this mean?
Murray Harris catalogs numerous opinions, ultimately concluding that Moses was cognizant of the fact that the glory on his face would fade. His face in turn visualized the reality of the fading old covenant. Therefore, to prevent the Israelites from looking at him long enough that they would be able to peer into the “outcome” of the old covenant, Moses veiled his face quickly after delivering his message.19 Harris’s interpretation hinges on his understanding of the word “gaze.” He notes that “ἀτενίζω occurs fourteen times in the NT, twelve times in Luke-Acts, and twice in 2 Corinthians (3:7, 13). Outside the present verse, it always depicts physical sight, never mental recognition: ‘look intently at (something or someone),’ never ‘perceive,’ ‘understand.’”20 On this view, Paul believes Moses did not want them to stare long enough to learn the bad news about the old covenant.
Paul Barnett and Duane Garrett argue along similar lines by focusing on another key term. They render τέλος as “purpose” or “goal.” On this reading, Moses did not want the Israelites to see the intended purpose of the old covenant, Christ. Why would Moses want to veil the purpose of the covenant? 3:14 provides a clue: the Israelites had hard hearts. Barnett believes that the veil acts as a kind of judgment. Because they did not see the new covenant realities the old covenant pointed toward, they were no longer allowed to see even the fading glory for very long.21 Garrett attempts to string together Paul’s logic by positing that the Israelites must have been so distracted by the glow on Moses’s face that they missed the point of the old covenant.22 Therefore, Moses veiled his face because they couldn’t handle the temptation to appreciate the show without losing its meaning.
Each of these options contain some truth. However, they all share a major flaw. Nothing in the Exodus text would lead the reader to believe that Moses or the Israelites believed the glory they saw was transient. If Paul indeed makes this argument, he ascribes knowledge and intentions to Moses that arise somewhere external to Exodus. Scott Hafemann, however, believes Paul has a different meaning that remains faithful to what could have been known by Moses.
Hafemann takes τέλος to refer to “what the glory would have brought about had it not been veiled.”23 On his view, the τέλος of the old covenant is to show the judgment that results when wicked people behold a holy God. 24 Therefore, Moses veiled his face as an act of mercy, shielding the people from the judgment reflected in his face. 25
Hafemann’s view is compelling for several reasons. First, he recognizes the broader story of Exodus 33–34 that highlights Moses as the mediator of God’s presence to sinful Israel.26 He argues that Paul undoubtedly has this entire section in mind, even though he only references a handful of verses. Second, the context of Paul’s letter aids in this interpretation as well. Paul juxtaposes his own ministry of “life” against Moses’s ministry of “death” and “condemnation.” These adjectives only make sense if they describe the typical effect they have on the recipients of the ministry. Though Moses could stand the glory of the ministry of death, the hard-hearted Israelites could not.27 Finally, this view seems to fit with the logic of the remainder of 2 Corinthians 3:14–18. Paul argues that even to this day, Jews do not see the glory of the old covenant because of their hard hearts. This necessitated Moses’s protection in the form of a veil. Now, however, if anyone turns to Christ, they have their hearts softened to see not only the glory of the old covenant without being destroyed but also the glory to which it pointed.
So, unlike Paul, Moses veiled the glory of his message because his message would only bring destruction to people whose hearts were hard. This again paints a stark contrast between the old and new covenants. Even the glory of the old covenant was futile to overcome sinful hearts. However, the glory of the new covenant can change hearts. This is the thesis of 3:14–18.
The key to interpreting this section is to pinpoint the precise identity of each veil. In between 3:14 and 3:15, the placement of the veil switches. Through 3:14, the veil stays over Moses’s face. Beginning in 3:15, the veil covers both darkened minds and hard hearts. Though some have seen three veils in Paul’s commentary, both in 3:15 refer to the lack of spiritual perception on the part of the reader of the OT. Two veils are therefore probable.28 These two veils are separate, though share in their “effect of obscuring vision or hindering perception” and Paul can therefore rightly call them the same.29 However, his introduction of a second veil makes a profound point. The veil of unbelieving Israel made necessary Moses’s veil. The problem was not Moses’s veil, as if they somehow just needed to look past the veil to see the glory of the old covenant. The problem was that the veil over their own hearts made them unable to even look at the glory of the old covenant. Where then should they look to have the veil lifted? Paul states emphatically: “when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (3:16).
Paul equates this Lord who removes the veil with the Spirit, and the Spirit with freedom (3:17). Therefore, though the old glory was hidden behind two veils, new covenant believers behold this new glory, “the glory of the Lord,” freely with an unveiled face. This glory, instead of destroying the wicked, transforms the beholder into the likeness of the one they behold. For this reason, some have suggested that “beholding” might be better translated as “reflecting.” Christians do not just see a better glory in Jesus. They reflect him as divine image-bearers.30
One final question surrounds the phrase “from one degree of glory to another.” Does this refer to progressive sanctification, the process of being transformed more and more into Christ’s likeness? While in some sense, believers experience a kind of moving from glory to glory in their walk with Christ, this is probably not the best interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3:18. Instead, Dane Ortlund believes that this phrase refers to the movement between the “two different eras in redemptive history.”31 On this interpretation, the sheer magnitude of the difference between the two covenants is again put on display. Moses looked, unveiled, upon a glory that was great, but still immeasurably less than what believers now “see.”
In summary, 2 Corinthians 3:12–18 teaches that everyone must look to Jesus to have the veil over their hearts removed. This has one final implication relevant to a study on theophanies. If one must turn to Jesus to have the veil removed, then Jesus is not identical to the glory behind Moses’s veil. If he were, then Paul would be condemning the Israelites for refusing to look at what Moses did not allow them to see. Stated differently, if Jesus were identical to the glory Moses saw on Sinai, then Moses refused the Israelites the opportunity to have the veil over their hearts removed when he veiled his face. This does not seem to be the logic of Paul. Instead, Paul implores all people to do what they can do: look to Jesus.
2.4. 2 Corinthians 4:1–6
Therefore, Paul says, considering the whole previous discussion of his greater ministry, believers should persevere in sharing the message of the new covenant. He has eschewed sinful tactics, boldly declaring God’s truth with a clear conscience. Yet he knows the Corinthians may have a question. If Paul makes this immeasurably great glory so clear, why do some not believe? Paul goes back to the veil over the hard hearts of these unbelievers. Satan is responsible for the veil. Unbelievers are “blind” in a sense because they see life through a veil. The veil filters the gospel and makes the message it communicates seem unappealing. Yet for others, God pierces the veil with the light of the glory of the new covenant, which this passage makes clear is the “glory of Christ” (4:4). Only God can change hard hearts, represented by the veil, and he does so through the message of the greater glory in Jesus Christ (4:6).
Two terms in this final section become important for further defining new covenant glory: image and face. Paul links these terms to the phrases “glory of Christ” and “glory of God,” which based on his preceding argument should be seen as synonymous. Second Corinthians 3:4 states that the gospel attests to the glory of Christ, who is himself the image (εἰκών) of God. What does it mean for Christ to be the image of God? Commentators such as Harris and Barnett focus on Jesus’s physical visibility, his corporeality.32 Though not claiming that invisibility exhausts the meaning of εἰκών in this passage, they reference several other texts (Phil 2:6; Col 1:15, 19; 2:9) that speak of God’s supposed invisibility. I examine God’s invisibility later, but for now, it is sufficient to note that 2 Corinthians 3:7–4:6 does not attempt to argue that Jesus is the visibly manifest glory of God. Instead, it argues that Jesus makes God’s glory in the new covenant known more fully. Therefore, Jesus’s role as the εἰκών of God is not so much to make God seen but rather to make him fully known.
Paul also asserts that the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God” has come to be made known “in the face (ἐν προσώπῳ) of Jesus Christ.” In what way does Jesus’s “face” make God’s glory known? Barnett again stresses an interpretation of this term that focuses on the visual.33 Jesus is the way we “see” God. Murray, on the other hand, recognizes that ἐν προσώπῳ must signify more than visible representation. He attempts to tie this phrase to the argument of 2 Corinthians 3:7–4:6. Just as Moses reflected the old glory, Jesus reflects the new glory. Because of this parallel, the reader must think primarily of Jesus’s “face” as the one reflecting glory in contrast to Moses. He rejects an alternative understanding of πρόσωπον that allows the term to function as a “synecdoche” for the whole person.34
However, this view that Harris rejects is most convincing, and it has implications for interpreting Exodus 33–34. First, as noted above and as will be discussed later, Jesus’s visibility does not seem to be in view in this passage. Second, the language of 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 4:6 equates the glory of God with the glory of Jesus. In what sense is Jesus’s glory simply “reflected” on his face? Third, in keeping with the flow of the argument, Jesus is put forward as the fullness of new covenant realities. His entire person, represented by his “face,” is the newer, better, greater, lasting, and life-giving manifestation of the glory of God (cf. Heb 1:3). Paul undoubtedly references the Exodus account in his use of “face.” Just like God’s “face” represented his manifest presence, so Jesus’s “face” represents the fullness of God’s glory previously denied to Moses but revealed in the new covenant.
2.5. The Inappropriateness of OT Christophanies
Given Paul’s commentary on Exodus 33–34, the argument against OT Christophanies boils down to a simple formula: If Jesus is the glory of the new covenant, it would be inappropriate for him to be the glory of the old. This simple formula, however, deserves unpacking.
Second Corinthians 3:7–4:6 argues consistently and from many angles that the new covenant glories are fundamentally different from the old. One brought death, the other brought life. It also specifically associates Jesus with the glory of the new covenant. Jesus is the “image of God” and the true “face” of God. Therefore, given Paul’s emphasis on the stark contrast between old and new, even Christians with NT Trinitarian knowledge need good reasons for finding this greater glory walking amidst the old.
If any theophany qualifies to potentially fit these criteria, it is the Sinai theophany. However, even the Sinai theophany fails to pass the test. As previously stated, Paul takes great pains to contrast the glory on Sinai with the glory in Jesus. Additionally, the argument of 2 Corinthians 3:7–4:6 and the narrative of Exodus 33–34 conspire to imply that the Sinai theophany should not be associated with a particular manifestation of the Son. In his discussion of veils, Paul implores the reader to look away from the glory of the Sinai theophany, the glory shining on Moses’s face, toward the glory of Jesus. Also, Paul makes clear that Jesus is the true “face” of God, the full manifestation of God’s presence. Yet this “face” is exactly what God withheld from Moses.
Therefore, by a greater to lesser argument, this precludes any other Christophany. If the Son was not revealed in one of God’s grandest OT manifestations, then it seems inappropriate to argue that the Son was revealed in lesser manifestations. Instead, Paul’s argument leads me to believe it would be better to assume that God would save the revelation of the Son until the incarnation.
As a caveat, this does not mean that the Son is somehow absent from OT theophanies. Indeed, some NT passages identify Christ’s presence at specific points in Israel’s history (John 12:41; 1 Cor 10:4, 9; Jude 5). For this reason, I stop short of saying that the Son “cannot” be the glory of the old covenant, preferring instead to argue that it would be inappropriate to assign this glory to the Son particularly. Due to inseparable operations, the triune God is present in any action attributed to God, even those that Scripture appropriates to a specific person in the Trinity. However, the debate over Christophanies centers around the question of whether readers of the OT can see actions and appearances distinctly appropriated to the second person of the Trinity. Though Christ is present in OT theophanies, I am arguing that it seems inappropriate that the Son would have a distinctly elevated role in these theophanies due to his association with the greater glory of the new covenant.
Additionally, this argument does not preclude finding distinct operations of the Son in the OT. It does, however, temper expectations for finding visible encounters with the pre-incarnate Christ. The NT contains a treasure trove of retrospective Trinitarian revelation. However, at least in the case of 2 Corinthians 3:7–4:6, I believe the NT casts a suggestive vote against OT Christophanies.
This final section addresses three potential counterarguments from those more willing to appropriate at least some OT theophanies to the Son. The first counterargument points to the Father’s supposed invisibility. Many assume that one of Jesus’s roles is to visibly reveal the Father. Therefore, it seems perfectly appropriate that Christ would do the same in the OT. The second counterargument considers the Angel of the Lord. Some identify this “angel” as a manifestation of God yet distinct from God. Who else could this shadowy figure be but Christ himself? The final objection relates to divine accommodation. Namely, the question of why Jesus could not have accommodated himself in the OT if he did in the NT.
3.1. Counterargument 1: The Invisibility of God the Father
Proponents of Christophanies find God’s supposed invisibility a key axiom in their argument. For instance, Walt Kaiser assumes that Moses could not have seen God’s actual glory “since God is Spirit and has no form.”35 Kaiser and others draw this inference from several biblical proof-texts. As previously discussed, Exodus 33:20 states bluntly that no one can see God’s face and live. The NT seems to suggest the same, inserting Jesus as the one by whom believers can see God. First Timothy 1:17 states plainly that God is “invisible.” John proclaims that no one has ever “seen” God, rather Jesus makes him known (John 1:18). Perhaps most definitively, Jesus is the image of God (Col 1:15) and his exact representation (Heb 1:3).
If God is invisible, yet Jesus became flesh, then Christophanies follow as a natural conclusion. However, if God is not invisible, then this straight line to Christophanies becomes blocked. Andrew Malone offers several reasons to doubt the traditional understanding of God’s invisibility.
After looking at these NT proof-texts more closely Malone concludes that the “invisibility” these passages supposedly teach refers not to whether God can be seen. Instead, “invisibility” refers to “a culturally appropriate way of depicting God as ‘beyond common earthly experience.’”36 He argues this based on the emphasis of the biblical authors in each proof-text. In each instance, he observes that the NT authors do not seem to be addressing God’s physical visibility but rather the level to which he makes himself known.
For instance, John 1:18 intentionally parallels Exodus 33–34. In doing so, John contrasts the revelation made to Moses with the revelation made through Jesus. In this way, John’s statement, “no one has ever seen God,” refers to the inferior revelation available to Moses in comparison to the fullness of revelation found in Jesus. Therefore, John argues that Jesus makes God known, not visible.37 Other statements in John’s writings follow similar avenues (John 6:46; 1 John 4:12). Likewise, 1 Timothy 1:17 highlights God’s incomparable greatness rather than his visibility.38
Additionally, Malone tackles passages that identify Jesus as God’s “image” (εἰκών). As demonstrated above, Paul uses εἰκών in 2 Corinthians 4:4 to declare that Christ makes God’s glory fully known. Paul seems to be making a similar point in Colossians 1:15. Here, Paul puts Christ forth as Lord over all creation. In that way he fully images God. While Malone does not preclude the possibility that Colossians 1:15 could also be referencing God’s incorporeality, he does urge caution before reading too much into the term “invisible.”39
Finally, Malone notes the theological impossibility of attributing invisibility to the Father alone.40 Since each person of the Trinity is fully God and shares the same attributes, either all three persons are invisible, or none are invisible. In denying God’s invisibility, we do not attribute to God a “form.” However, we do recognize that each person of the Trinity, as well as the totality of the triune God, has the potential to manifest bodily.
If Malone’s arguments hold, then Christophanies cannot be argued based on God’s invisibility. The most one could argue is that, based on the incarnation, the Son is the person of the Trinity most likely to manifest. My argument, however, is that his greater glory revealed in the incarnation makes him less likely to manifest amidst the old covenant.
3.2. Counterargument 2: The Angel of the Lord
Some view the Angel of the Lord as a pre-incarnate manifestation of the Son. Throughout the OT, a messenger from Yahweh (מַלְאָךְ יְהוָה) repeatedly appears to people at key moments in redemptive history. Yet some of these messengers seem to be indistinguishable from Yahweh. For instance, when the “angel of the Lord” appears to Moses as a burning bush (Exod 3:2–10), this “angel” identifies himself as Yahweh (3:6). Dating back to the early church, some conclude that the only person who can meet these criteria is the pre-incarnate second person of the Trinity.41 Thus appearances of the Angel of the Lord in the OT are Christophanies.
Though I can appreciate the connection between the Angel of the Lord and Yahweh, I believe we should refrain from qualifying the Angel’s appearances as Christophanies based on my overall argument. The thesis of this article is that no manifestation of God in the OT can be equated exclusively with the Son. If a theophanic high point like Exodus 33–34 cannot be equated with the Son, then any lesser manifestation cannot either. Additionally, I believe we have other options outside of concluding that the Angel of the Lord is Christ.
First, we should note that not everyone concludes that these “angels” are Yahweh. Another stream of interpretation dating back to Augustine views the “messengers” as just that: messengers who speak on God’s behalf.42 Second, even if we were to conclude that these messengers are Yahweh, we would not be required to draw a straight line to Christ. As previously discussed, any member of the Trinity up to the entire triune God is just as capable of taking a visible form as Christ. Why not the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:16)? Yet perhaps we could argue for a “fittedness” to the Son’s being “sent” due to eternal relations in the Trinity. If the Son eternally generates from the Father, then does it not seem appropriate that he would be the most likely to be sent by the Father to represent the Father similar to how the Father sent the Son at the incarnation? Again, we would be hard-pressed to argue that the Spirit is not equally likely to be “sent” (John 14:26; 15:26). It was only fitting for the eternally generated Son to become permanently incarnate because in doing so he fully revealed the Father (John 1:14, 17).
Third, some believe the NT makes the Angel of the Lord connection explicit. For instance, Michael Heiser believes Jude 5 undeniably identifies the “angel” in Exodus 23:20–23 as Christ.43 However, what seems on the surface to be a straightforward connection requires several steps. We must first believe that Jude intends to associate Jesus with the angel in Exodus 23:20–23. Yet this “angel” is not identified as the Angel of the Lord in Exodus 23:20–23, nor does he compel the same association with Yahweh apart from the vague comment that God’s “name is in him.” Next, we must assume Jude wants us to identify Jesus as the angel, rather than simply acknowledging his presence. Again, the Son has always been present in each of the triune God’s divine actions. Finally, we must argue that this angel, if he is Christ, was visible to the people of Israel at the same time that God withheld Christ from Moses on Sinai (Exod 33:2). If we are convinced of my thesis and that the Angel of the Lord is Yahweh, we have the option of following Malone in being satisfied with labeling these appearances “God unspecified.”44 Perhaps we might go further and highlight the way these theophanies “foreshadow” Christ’s incarnation.45
However, my treatment of the Angel of the Lord thus far assumes that my overall thesis trumps all other arguments for Christophanies. What if the evidence for viewing the Angel of the Lord as a Christophany was so great that it pressed upwards, compelling us to find a way to view Exodus 33–34 as a Christophany? Foreman and Van Dorn’s recent treatment of the Angel of the Lord makes this argument. As evidenced by their quote in my introduction, Foreman and Van Dorn put great weight on Yahweh’s tendency to reveal himself through the Angel of the Lord, whom they identify as the Son. In their chapter on Exodus 33, they argue that the theophanies in the tent of meeting and on Sinai are the Angel of the Lord.46
To make this argument, they take three steps. First, they recognize that פָּנֶה has at least a double meaning of “face” and “presence.” Therefore, when Moses asks to see Yahweh’s “face” after regularly speaking with Yahweh “face-to-face,” he appeals to Yahweh for a greater revelation of his presence.47 Second, they assert that when Yahweh revealed his פָּנֶה, Moses saw someone. Moses does not describe mere anthropomorphism.48 Third, they argue that פָּנֶה is consistently used throughout Scripture as a technical term referring to the Son, the Angel of the Lord.49 Therefore, when Moses asked to experience more of Yahweh’s presence, Yahweh revealed his Son, the “face” of Yahweh.
If this argument were true, it would of course severely undermine my thesis. However, I believe there are fatal inconsistencies in Foreman and Van Dorn’s argument. First, the logic does not hold. They assert that the Son is the “face” of Yahweh and therefore the one who reveals himself on Sinai. Yet Yahweh explicitly rejects Moses’s request to see his face, showing his back instead. To summarize what they imply more succinctly, it would be as if Moses asked to see Yahweh’s face/Son, to which Yahweh replied, “no, but here’s my Son.”
Second, they struggle to keep their referents clear. It seems that the authors have unintentionally doubled the referent of “face.” It appears that they view the Son himself as the “face” of God yet argue that Moses saw the Son because Moses did not see God’s actual, physical face but rather his back. Further, they point to Yahweh’s covering Moses from Yahweh as evidence of two divine persons yet seem to identify the Son as both the hand who covers and the back who was revealed. If the Son is both, it becomes hard to maintain that each Christophany is an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ. If they argue that the Son is only the back, then they imply that God, the hand, can manifest himself. In conclusion, it does not seem that Foreman and Van Dorn give compelling reasons for viewing the theophany on Sinai, or any other theophany for that matter, as anything more precise than the triune God.
3.3. Counterargument 3: Divine Accommodation
My argument assumes that God can accommodate his transcendence. Indeed, as Malone notes, “any theophany requires a degree of ‘accommodation’: God tones down his full essence for human consumption.”50 Otherwise, no one would survive the full blast of his glory, as evidenced by the many times someone in the OT sees God and believes they will die (e.g., Isa 6:5).
Additionally, my argument hinges on identifying Jesus with God’s greater glory reserved for the new covenant. However, some might wonder, “was not Jesus’s transcendence ‘toned down’ even post-incarnation?” If this is the case and even the NT contains varying degrees of God’s glory as visible through Christ, then why draw such hard lines prohibiting Jesus from accommodating further in the OT?
I acknowledge that accommodation occurs even post-incarnation. Indeed, as Malone notes, “accommodation is a central tenant of the Son’s incarnation.”51 The transfiguration and resurrection revealed a greater glory than Jesus evidenced in his 30 years of pre-ministry obscurity. Even after the resurrection many still did not see him for who he is. Still now, the picture of Jesus in Revelation shows that more of God’s glory remains to be known. If Jesus doesn’t fully reveal God’s glory post-incarnation, what would prohibit him from previewing his incarnation and subsequent glorification in pre-incarnate appearances?
Two factors make this unlikely. First, the nature of accommodation is different in the OT and NT. In the OT, God did not reveal his full glory. He withheld part of himself, removing a few pieces from the puzzle to fill in later. In the NT, God began fully, though not completely, revealing himself through Jesus. Jesus embodied the image of God even when his transcendence was veiled from those who saw him. Christians see the whole picture God created, though they will continue to grow in their knowledge of him forever (1 Cor 13:12). In the OT, the glory itself is transient. In the NT, the glory is permanent.
Second, my argument is not based on possibility but rather on appropriateness. It is possible that Jesus further accommodated his glory in OT times. Yet it seems that the reasons for making this argument run counter to their purposes. The instinct to see Jesus in the OT is an instinct to magnify God’s glory in his tri-unity and his singular plan of redemption. However, this line of thinking assumes that the one who is the full revelation of God’s glory is the only one who could reveal his lesser glory. Instead, it seems best to err on the side of appreciating the uniqueness of God’s glory manifest in the incarnation.
Though God is, will be, and always has been triune, the OT reveals God’s tri-unity to a lesser extent than the NT. To this statement, all will agree. However, the debate continues over just how wide a gulf this represents. My thesis is that Christophanies are a bridge too far. Though the NT sheds light on much Trinitarianism in the OT, at least in one, albeit important, circumstance, the NT actually tempers expectations for finding visible, particular manifestations of the Son in the OT.
The theophany on Sinai (Exod 33–34) provides one of the OT’s best examples of theophany. Surely, if Christ is to be found in any theophany, it is this one. However, though Moses sees God’s glory manifest, he is denied the opportunity to see more. Moses hid this glory from the Israelites due to their hard hearts. Second Corinthians 3:7–4:6 teaches that this greater glory is now available under the new covenant in the person of Christ. Jesus is the “image” of God—the way God is fully known. He is the “face” of God, the fullness of God’s presence denied to Moses. He is the one believers look to, who removes their veil and allows them to see God’s glory. The gulf between Jesus’s glory and the glory Moses saw is immense.
Therefore, it would be inappropriate to equate Jesus and his greater glory with the glory of the old covenant age. The argument for Christophanies unintentionally draws this parallel. However, the Sinai theophany makes this parallel highly unlikely. To argue for a Christophany on Sinai, one must imply that in response to Moses’s request to see a greater glory, God said “no” and showed him Jesus instead. If the Son was withheld in this great theophany, it follows that he would not manifest in lesser theophanies either.
Key objections include appeals to God’s supposed invisibility, the Angel of the Lord, and the reality of Jesus’s divine accommodation even post-incarnation. However, none stand under scrutiny. While the NT teaches that God is not seen, at least in his fullness, this is different than saying he cannot be seen. If the Son is not the only visible member of the Trinity, then the clean argument for Christophanies gets murkier. In turn, God’s ability to be seen impacts one’s interpretation of the Angel of the Lord. If God reveals himself on Sinai yet does not reveal his Son, then it follows that any other theophany, including those attributed to the Angel of the Lord, does not seem likely to be the Son either. Finally, Jesus accommodated the manifestation of his glory to various degrees even in the NT. Why would it be impossible for him to do the same in the OT? To this, I reiterate that Christophanies are not impossible. Rather, they are inappropriate. Christ’s manifestation in the NT was fundamentally different than God’s in the OT. In the NT, the greater glory of the Son is revealed yet to various degrees. In the OT, God withholds the revelation of his greater glory.
If God chose to withhold the manifest revelation of the Son in the OT, what are the implications? Does this argument only serve to pour cold water on genuine hopes to see Christ in all of Scripture? I will close with the key benefit I have found from exercising caution regarding Christophanies. If God indeed withheld the revelation of the Son until the incarnation, how much more glorious is the incarnation? Even Moses was not allowed to see anywhere close to what we now see. How much I delight in this wonderful truth that I, though a sinner, get to partake in a glory so vastly superior simply because I am positioned historically on this side of the cross.
 Matt Foreman and Doug Van Dorn, The Angel of the Lord: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Study (Dacono, CO: Waters of Creation, 2020), 2.
 T. Desmond Alexander, Exodus, ApOTC 2 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017), 613.
 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible quotations come from the ESV.
 Alexander, Exodus, 635.
 Some argue that Moses’s face was “horned” as well as or instead of “shining.” The translation decision does not seem to affect the point of the narrative. In both cases, Moses’s face has been noticeably changed by a divine encounter. Eric X. Jarrard, “Double Entendre in Exodus 34: Revisiting the קרן of Moses,” ZAW 131 (2019): 388–406. Contra Joshua M. Philpot, “Exodus 34:29–35 and Moses’ Shining Face,” BBR 23 (2013): 1–11.
 Ian Douglas Wilson, “‘Face to Face’ with God: Another Look,” ResQ 51 (2009): 114.
 Mark D. Wessner, “Toward a Literary Understanding of Moses and the Lord ‘Face to Face’ (Panîm ʼel-Panîm) in Exodus 33:7–11,” ResQ 44 (2002): 109–16.
 Alexander, Exodus, 634.
 My thanks to editor Brian Tabb for pointing this out.
 Victor P. Hamilton, Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 528.
 My thanks again to editor Brian Tabb for noting this play on words.
 Robert B. Chisholm Jr, “Theophany,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 817.
 J. Carl Laney, “God’s Self-Revelation in Exodus 34:6–8,” BSac 158 (2001): 40.
 Peter Enns, Exodus, NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 456.
 Philpot, “Exodus 34:29–35 and Moses’ Shining Face,” 5.
 Richard B. Gaffin Jr, “Glory,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 508.
 Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, NAC 2 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 709.
 Some debate exists over the translation of this key, repeated term (3:7, 11, 13). Per BDAG, the gloss of the root καταργέω includes various ways of describing something coming to an end. Many translations have traditionally rendered this term “faded” (NASB, NLT). However, “faded” evokes a glory slowly flickering out. For this reason, Hamilton argues for a stronger “transient” or “transitory” to capture Paul’s point that the old covenant was prepared to end abruptly, not simply fade away. Other translations include “set aside” (CSB) and even “made ineffective” (NET). Regardless of the translation, the debate can take the focus off of the fact that the verb καταργενω functions as “pejorative circumlocution” referring to the old covenant, as Garrett helpfully points out. Peter Balla believes that in this way, 3:14 functions as a thesis statement for 2 Corinthians 3, since it seems to make a play on words in referencing Christ’s role in bringing to an end (καταργενω) the old covenant. See BDAG 525–26; Hamilton, Exodus, 546; Duane A. Garrett, “Veiled Hearts: The Translation and Interpretation of 2 Corinthians 3,” JETS 53 (2010): 750; Peter Balla, “2 Corinthians,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 759.
 Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 298.
 Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 298–99.
 Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 113.
 Garrett, “Veiled Hearts,” 755.
 Scott J. Hafemann, “The Glory and Veil of Moses in 2 Cor 3:7–14: An Example of Paul’s Contextual Exegesis of the Old Testament—A Proposal,” HBT 14 (1992): 41.
 Hafemann, “The Glory and Veil of Moses in 2 Cor 3,” 42.
 Hafemann, “The Glory and Veil of Moses in 2 Cor 3,” 35.
 Hafemann, “The Glory and Veil of Moses in 2 Cor 3,” 35.
 For a direct response to these claims, see Garrett, “Veiled Hearts,” 755 n. 63. Garrett does not believe that the Exodus narrative insinuates that Moses’s face was dangerous. He instead ties the glow to the revelation of God’s goodness and the renewal of the covenant. However, this is exactly the point Paul argues. Moses’s face indeed reflects the glow of God’s goodness, which is destructive to those who reject it. Paul argues that, if even this glory was glorious, how much more a glory that effects life?
 Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 302.
 Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 301–2.
 Laura Tack, “A Face Reflecting Glory: 2 Cor 3:18 in Its Literary Context (2 Cor 3:1–4:15),” Bib 96 (2015): 85–112.
 Dane C. Ortlund, “From Glory to Glory: 2 Corinthians 3:18 in Biblical-Theological Perspective,” CTJ 54 (2019): 30.
 Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 331; Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 123.
 Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 125.
 Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 336.
 Walter C. Kaiser Jr., “Exodus,” in Genesis–Leviticus, revised ed., EBC, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 653.
 Andrew Malone, Knowing Jesus in the Old Testament? A Fresh Look at Christophanies (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2015), 79.
 Andrew S. Malone, “The Invisibility of God: A Survey of a Misunderstood Phenomenon,” EvQ 79 (2007): 318–19.
 Malone, “The Invisibility of God,” 322.
 Malone, Knowing Jesus in the Old Testament?, 57–58.
 Malone, “The Invisibility of God,” 314–15.
 Justin Martyr emphatically equates Christ with the “angel” in the bush. Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 62–63, in The First and Second Apologies, trans. Leslie William Barnard, Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Paulist Press, 1997).
 See René A López, “Identifying the ‘Angel of the Lord’ in the Book of Judges: A Model for Reconsidering the Referent in Other Old Testament Loci,” BBR 20 (2010): 1–18.
 Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2015), 270.
 For Malone’s argument regarding his preferred “candidate” for the identity of the Angel of the Lord, see Knowing Jesus in the Old Testament?, 93–105.
 Vern S. Poythress, Theophany: A Biblical Theology of God’s Appearing (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 417.
 Foreman and Van Dorn, The Angel of the Lord, 80.
 Foreman and Van Dorn, The Angel of the Lord, 76.
 Foreman and Van Dorn, The Angel of the Lord, 79.
 Foreman and Van Dorn, The Angel of the Lord, 79.
 Malone, Knowing Jesus in the Old Testament?, 70.
 Malone, Knowing Jesus in the Old Testament?, 70.
Greg Palys is a pastor at College Park Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, and a ThM student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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