I have been mulling over this blog post for almost a year now, not sure how to write it, and not sure if I wanted to, but here goes.
Last year Kelly was studying Isaiah and wrestling through this section:
He [God] said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.’
“Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull, and their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed” (Isaiah 6:9-10 NASB).
This passage almost sounds like God intentionally prevents people from ‘understanding’ lest they ‘be healed’.
And at the same time, I was studying 2 Corinthians, going through chapters 3 and 4 a lot, and praying for friends who were ‘lost’, and praying that Satan could no longer blind their minds:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4 NIV).
Around that time Kelly and I were talking about the ‘lost’, and during one conversation Kelly said, “…it’s because Satan has blinded them.” Something went off inside my head, like an alarm, and I said, “What did you say?” and she repeated, “It’s because Satan has blinded them….” I replied, “No, that’s not Satan, that’s God!”
I wasn’t sure how or why I knew this, but I was confident that this passage was actually talking about God, and God being the one who blinded unbelievers, and I was puzzled as to why, so I started looking into it more, and here’s what I discovered.
Is Satan a god?
Nowhere else in Scripture is Satan ever referred to as ‘God’.[i] That’s not to say that it couldn’t be possible, but the context would have to be very clear that it’s referring to Satan, and nowhere in the surrounding context is Satan even alluded to. In fact, in the first seven verses of 2 Corinthians 4, the word ‘God’ is used seven times, and each time it is referring to the one true God.[ii]
The only reason for interpreting ‘the God of this age’ as a reference to Satan would have to be because the activity of ‘the God of this age’ could only be understood as the activity of Satan, since there are no other clues in any of the context that Paul might be referring to Satan.[iii]
Could blinding the minds of unbelievers be the activity of God? Doesn’t he want people to be saved?
That’s the problem! We automatically think that this passage is about Satan preventing people from getting saved, but it’s not.[iv] This passage, from about 3:7 to 4:7, is about the glory of God, which is veiled inside of us.
What is the purpose of a veil? This is important! A veil does not prevent the wearer from seeing out; it hides something within.
“Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed … And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing” (3:15-16,4:3 ESV).
When the glory of God shone in Moses’ face, he wore a veil so that people would not be able to see it. And now we, with unveiled faces, see the glory when we look in a mirror. What do you see in a mirror? Your reflection. The glory of God is in us! This is part of the good news of God’s Messiah and the mystery that was hidden from the ages – God’s glory is in us, all of us, Jews and Gentiles alike, but it is veiled, it is covered, until we turn to Christ. This is what Paul’s talking about in Colossians:
“…the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27 ESV).
Further, the gospel is not veiled to those who are perishing, but in those who are perishing, because God has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not radiate the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.[v]
Why would God blind unbelievers?
So why would God blind the minds of the unbelieving? To be honest, I don’t think Scripture is very clear on this, but here are my thoughts.
If people were to discover what was truly inside them, they would worship themselves. Essentially, we’d have unrepentant, unchanged, corrupt, individual demi-gods walking around craving and relishing what God has put in them without participating in the beauty of redemption, reconciliation, holiness, perfection, unity, and ultimately love, that come from a restored relationship with our heavenly Father, made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Just as Man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden was an act of mercy lest we eat of the Tree of Life and live for eternity in sin, so I think the veil was put there by God[vi] as an act of mercy, so that we would understand our sin, be repentant, and experience the redemption that we have in Christ, and then, with the veil taken away, see that the glory of God is in us, and as such we would be an appropriate temple of the one true God.
There is so much more that I wish I could say on this. I’ve added more notes below that explain some of the points, and a running commentary at the end on 2 Corinthians 3:7-4:7 that some might find helpful in breaking it down.
This is a theme that permeates Scripture, especially the New Testament. We have this muddled view of the gospel, that if we do something for God – invite Jesus into our life, confess our sins, give our lives to Christ – then God will do something for us. But the good news is that God has already done it for us! Sin was dealt with on the cross, 2000 years ago.
Jesus does not die on the cross every time a sinner repents. He was the lamb of God who took away the sin of the world, a long time ago. He who believes in him is not judged; he who does not believe is already under judgement. All of us who are believers were at one time unbelievers, under judgement, even though Jesus had already redeemed us. How could someone who is redeemed still be under judgement? Unbelief.
Salvation is not like swimmers drowning in the ocean, and God plucks some out and not others. Salvation is like a jail full of prisoners, whose cells God unlocks and says, “You’re free!” but most just sit there because either they haven’t heard it yet or they don’t believe it could be true, and so they sit there living out a punishment that has already been paid.
This is why the gospel is so exciting! The enemy has been defeated! Proclaim freedom to the captives! Praise God for the glorious thing that he has done through his Messiah, Jesus Christ.[vii] Whosoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. You have been freed! Do you believe?
[i] In John 12:31, 14:30 and 16:11 Jesus calls Satan ‘the ruler of the world’, and in Ephesians 2:2 Paul says that the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience is ‘the ruler of the authority of the air’. This is not the same as calling Satan ‘God’, and in each case it is clear to whom it is referring. Satan has many titles, but ‘God’ is not one of them, and it doesn’t make sense that Paul would call Satan ‘god’ without giving the reader some clue in the context. In 4:4 itself, Paul actually says, “The God of this age has blinded the minds … the glory of Christ, who is the image of the God.” ‘The God’ is mentioned twice in the one verse, and it’s obvious that both instances are referring to the one true God.
Further, if Isaiah 6:9-10 is saying that God is involved in bringing blindness and deafness to Isaiah’s audience, then it should be evident that this is the activity of God. It’s hard to determine what level of involvement God has in this, especially in the light of Jesus’ wording of Isaiah’s prophecy (“They have closed their eyes” (Matthew 13:15)). For this reason, I haven’t made a big point of this, but I think it’s sufficient to show that blinding people isn’t clearly an activity of Satan, and there’s no good reason to interpret ‘God of this age’ as Satan.
Also, 2 Corinthians 4:4 uses the word ‘age’ (AION), which is a different Greek word from ‘world’ (KOSMOS) and ‘air’ (AER). Because a number of major English translations use ‘the god of this world‘ (KJV, NASB, ESV, NLT), it is easy to see how the two phrases sound more similar than they should – ‘the god of this world’, ‘the ruler of this world’, must be the same, right? But that is not what the Bible says. Yahweh is the God of this age.
So why does Paul say ‘of this age’, that is, why doesn’t he say ‘of all ages’? I think he is emphasising that this is a work of God during this age on earth. He may be saying, “God has blinded the minds of unbelievers with reference to this age.” This would not be unusual wording for Paul, and although I’ve researched this, determining what ‘of this age’ means does not make or break the argument for this phrase referring to God. But just to show that mine isn’t a ‘new’ interpretation, here is a quote from St Augustine in his ‘Reply to Faustus':
“You [Faustus] often speak in your discourses of two gods, as indeed you acknowledge, though at first you denied it. And you give as a reason for thus speaking the words of the apostle: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not.” Most of us punctuate this sentence differently, and explain it as meaning that the true God has blinded the minds of unbelievers. They put a stop [comma] after the word God, and read the following words together [“of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers”]. Or without this punctuation you may, for the sake of exposition, change the order of the words, and read, “In whom God has blinded the minds of unbelievers of this world,” which gives the same sense. The act of blinding the minds of unbelievers may in one sense be ascribed to God, as the effect not of malice, but of justice.”
[ii] Greek, the language of the New Testament, did not use capital and lower-case letters to distinguish ‘god’ from ‘God’. All words were written in the same case, with no spaces, therefore in Greek it would look something like, ‘THEGODOFTHISAGE’. Bible translators choose to write capital letters on certain nouns based on interpretive choices (e.g., he/He, spirit/Spirit, lamb/Lamb). The translators of the New Living Translation even went as far as to write, “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe.” Because they believe that this is a reference to Satan, they chose to clarify that by putting it into the translation. I am not criticising the practice of clarifying terms in a translation, but I am suggesting that they have incorrectly identified Satan as the God of this age.
[iii] Although interpreting ‘the God of this age’ as God and not Satan is not common in the last few centuries, I was very interested to learn that a good number of early church fathers, many of whom spoke and wrote in the Greek of the New Testament, affirmed that Paul is referring to God, not Satan. Among such early writers are Irenaeus (2nd century, learned from Polycarp who was the apostle John’s disciple), Tertullian (also 2nd century), Marcion (1st-2nd century), Archelaus (possibly 3rd century), Chrysostom (4th century), and St Augustine (4th century). Origen (2nd century) is the only pre-5th century writer that I’ve found who attributes this reference to Satan. Therefore, my interpretation is neither unique nor new, but stems back to the earliest writings in church history, but appears to be an interpretation that was either lost or abandoned somewhere along the way. We often approach Scripture wearing the lenses of preconceived ideas, rather than taking it for what it says. It’s very hard to shed these lenses, because we rely on preconceived ideas to give us quick context for understanding related ideas. At times it’s helpful; at other times it blinds us to the reality. This kind of misinterpretation of a passage is further compounded when the concept is repeated to the point of becoming unquestioned. Everyone else says it’s Satan, so it must be!
[iv] Similarly, Isaiah 6:9-10 is not talking about salvation either. When Jesus quotes this passage in Matthew 13:14-17, he tells his disciples that they are blessed because they see and hear, and that many prophets and righteous people wanted to see and hear, but they didn’t! Not even God’s holy prophets in the Old Testament clearly saw and understood the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. They wanted to; they probed and inquired. But God did not let them see. This is not just about preventing heathens or the unrepentant or gentiles from understanding, for God withheld this mystery from his prophets and righteous people, and has revealed it to us (beginning with Jesus’ disciples).
[v] I believe there are more problems with these verses than just interpreting the God of this age as Satan, but I didn’t want to make the post too long or technical, so I’ve put this information here for the interested reader. 2 Corinthians 4:3 says:
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing” (NIV).
The Greek would be better translated, “it is veiled in those who are perishing.” Even though EN TOIS APOLLUMENOIS could be translated “to those who are perishing,” a more normal rendering of this phrase into English would be “in those who are perishing.” Translators have probably avoided ‘in’ because ‘to’ makes more sense to them, but I believe part of Paul’s whole point in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4 is that we all already have this treasure in jars of clay, but for those who don’t believe that Jesus is the saviour of the world, that treasure is covered by a veil. The gospel is in those who are perishing, but it is veiled. This may be hard for some to understand or accept, but I think this is very consistent with the whole scope of Scripture, especially Paul’s writings. For example, Ephesians 4:17, “They [gentiles/unbelievers] are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”
They aren’t alienated from the life of God because God hasn’t done a redemptive work for them, but because they are ignorant of it – they do not believe it. “Whoever believes is not judged; whoever does not believe is already judged.” And in Galatians 1:15-16 Paul writes, “But when God … was pleased to reveal His Son in me…” This is the same Greek construction as “in those who are perishing.” God did not (just) reveal his son to Paul, but he revealed him in Paul. See also Colossians 1:25-28.
The next problem occurs in verse 4:
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
The word Paul uses for ‘see’ is the Greek word ‘AUGAZO’, and it is not the normal, common Greek word for ‘see’. This is the only time it is used in the New Testament. It is used seven times in the Septuagint (Koine Greek Old Testament), and enough times throughout ancient Greek literature to establish well its definition. It means ‘to shine’ or ‘to radiate’. This is further strengthened by the Latin translation of this word in the Vulgate, ‘fulgeat’, which also means ‘to shine’. I believe that Paul is saying, “God, of this age, has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot shine the light of the gospel of the glory of Messiah, who is the image of God.” This is why the gospel is veiled in them – without this veil, they would radiate the light of the good news of the glory of Messiah.
[vi] It’s also possible that the veil is not put there by God, but is itself a consequence (effect) of sin, and so the event of trusting in Jesus as the payment of our sin is what removes the veil. But I haven’t looked into that enough to make up my mind.
[vii] I believe this is what many of the world’s religions are looking for, especially those seeking some kind of ‘enlightenment’ – they have sensed something and tried to probe behind the veil. But Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT), and he prove his supremacy and authenticity by the works that he did and by being raised from the dead.
Notes on 2 Corinthians 3:7-4:7 (NASB):
7 But if the ministry of death (the old covenant), in letters engraved on stones (10 commandments), came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was,
8 how will the ministry of the Spirit (the new covenant) fail to be even more with glory?
9 For if the ministry of condemnation has glory (glory that comes with the law), much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.
10 For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it (ministry of reconciliation is far more glorious than ministry of condemnation, they are almost incomparable).
11 For if that which fades away was with glory (the old covenant), much more that which remains is in glory (the new covenant).
12 Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,
13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away (so that they couldn’t see the fading glory of the old covenant in Moses’ face).
14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ (the veil over the glory remains unlifted when people try to approach God on the terms of the old covenant. The veil is not a blindfold, it hides something that is within. ‘The veil remains unlifted’ because it hides the glory, until, in Christ, it is removed and people see it).
15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart (to block what is in their heart);
16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away (when a person ‘turns to the Lord, the veil is removed, thereby revealing what was in their heart).
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord (we don’t have a veil on, so we shine God’s glory. We don’t see it like through a murky cloud, but we see it when we look in a mirror), are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory (I think this might be talking about the change from the glory of the first covenant to the glory of the second, but it’s not very clear), just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
4:1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart,
2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth (Paul declares what is already true, not what can be true if people would ‘ask Jesus into their hearts’ or something like that) commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing (veiled in those who are perishing – the reason the glory of the gospel isn’t obvious to everyone is because in those who are perishing, the gospel is covered),
4 in whose case the god of this world (God, not Satan) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (so that they might not shine the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ), who is the image of God.
5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord (in case anyone thinks that the glory is ours and originates with us), and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.
6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure (what treasure? God’s glory?) in earthen vessels (we are the vessel, and we contain the glory of God!), so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves (again, so that people don’t think that the great power that is within them originates with them, but is from God).
They who have ears to hear, let them hear.