All Commentaries are Not Created Equal, Part 2

Posted By on October 6, 2011

To continue with what separates a good commentary from a lame one (with respect to engaging the original text), we’ll look at a New Testament example this time. For newcomers, please see my first example, as well as the post that started this trajectory about ending Bible study as most think of it.

Like the example from Exodus that I used in the earlier post, here’s a New Testament passage where there’s a lot more than meets the eye:

1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

I’ll isolate the focus to verse 4. The questions should be obvious: (1) Who is the “god of this world”? and (2) What’s up with unbelievers being blinded from the gospel?

Let’s look at some selections (commentary types are described in my earlier post):

Popular Commentaries

Lone example (it’s long, and perhaps painful):

“Any of us who try to serve God in any way often have reasons for being discouraged. The awareness of our human limitation and the awareness of our imperfection gnaw at our self-confidence. Then, too, the indifference of people to whom we try to witness and share the gospel makes us wonder sometimes if it’s really such good news.

“It is easy to feel discouraged when we see the aggressiveness of evil in our world. And the disunity in the church and the lack of love among so many Christians certainly take the edge off of our witness. But when we read the Scriptures and the story of the lives of the early Christians, we discover that it has always been this way. Paul experienced this and yet wrote to his friends that in spite of everything, “we do not lose heart” (v. 1). And in the first six verses of the fourth chapter, he introduces the reasons for his encouragement.

“Paul felt that God had given him a ministry. There is a sense in which when he said, “we have this ministry” (v. 1), he was referring to the calling that had come to him out of God’s new purpose for his life. Before he met Christ his life was not without a purpose. After all, he had been a man obsessed with a mission, but it was a mission full of hatred and violence and destruction. Then when Christ captured his heart He made him a servant and gave him a ministry of love, of reconciliation, and of service. This is the pattern God has for all of us. He gives each of us a specific ministry—something we can do and that He wants done. Each life undirected has the potential to drift into an aimless, self-seeking, purposeless existence. But God comes to each one who trusts Him and gives something that needs to be done, and in the doing of it we find encouragement about ourselves and about life.

“My Aunt Orphea is a classic example of the way in which being given a ministry keeps our spirits up, keeps us encouraged. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a whole lot in Aunt Orphea’s life that couldn’t get her down. She’s in her seventies, has been a widow for years, has all sorts of problems with her health, and is trying to support herself in a time of high inflation on a small fixed income. There are just a lot of things in her life that could give her ample reasons for complaint. But the truth is that she is a very happy woman, and when we spend time with her, it is easy to see why she has a happy disposition.

“Her little church has made her responsible for the small children’s Bible study time on Sunday morning and she loves it. Each Saturday evening she has preparations to make: a gift to wrap, a song to learn, a game to plan, or a verse to copy. She has to be there early so she can greet the children and see that her room is the way she feels it ought to be. It was obvious that this “ministry” that she has been given is not only blessing all those with whom she works, but it is giving her life meaning as well. She feels needed and wanted and useful. Those Christians who do not have a ministry have missed God’s purpose for their lives.

“The apostle Paul was also encouraged by the gospel that he had been given to share. In verse 2 he has several things to say about the way in which he has shared the gospel. His wording suggests that he is answering some criticism which has been aimed at the gospel he preached. He contrasts himself with the methods of his critics.

“The gospel he preached did not include what he called “craftiness” (v. 2). The word translated “craftiness” here is translated “knavery” in other places and means the “readiness to do anything.” Paul was suggesting that his critics would stop at nothing in their efforts.

“Then Paul’s claim to not “handling the word of God deceit-fully” (v. 2) comes from a word which refers to a doctor adulterating medicines. His critics had accused Paul of adulterating the gospel, probably by not requiring persons to observe Jewish laws in order to become Christians.

“But Paul claimed that he would rest his case with “every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (v. 2). I think that the temptation to tamper with the gospel will always be with us. And every time we try to be clever or add something to it or take something away from it we empty the gospel of its power and our witness and ministry of its effectiveness.

“One rather prevalent temptation is to attempt to make the gospel more intellectually respectable. We are to love God with all our minds and to use our minds as we seek to communicate the gospel, but there has always been something in the very nature of the gospel that seems “foolish,” and people are often tempted to try to remove that stumbling block.

“There is also the temptation to try to make the gospel more acceptable. When this happens, repentance, the cost of discipleship, and the lordship of Christ are played down so it will be easy for people to respond. What Bonhoeffer referred to as “cheap grace” becomes acceptable.

“Still others use the gospel to support worldly values that are actually in conflict with the true Christian life. All the God-wants-you-to-be-rich messages that are heard so much today are nothing but a form of religious materialism. They ignore the extreme poverty of many early Christians and the fact that in many areas of the world today Christians pay a very high price for their faith in terms of material things. The temptation to “craftiness” and “deceitful” use of the gospel is one every Christian needs to continue to resist.

“We read in verse 5 that Paul was also encouraged by the fact that the gospel that he had been given to share centered in a person: “We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” Two words—Jesus Christ—epitomized the message of the early church. The apostles and evangelists didn’t preach a book, a ritual, an institution, or a set of teachings, but a person. To them world evangelization was the sharing of Jesus Christ with the whole world.

“While the Gospels record many of the acts and teachings of Christ’s ministry, they were meant to point a person to the living Christ. Though the apostle Paul did a great deal of writing about the atoning work of Christ, it was not a theory of atonement that he preached, but a person who could forgive sins. It is this aspect of the gospel that makes it possible for all Christians to become witnesses. Evangelism in its most wholesome form is one believer introducing someone else to the person of Jesus Christ.

“Then again, Paul was encouraged by the fact that the gospel did not have to be accepted by everyone to remain valid. I have often shared Christ with people and they have acted absolutely indifferent to what I was talking about.

(Kenneth L. Chafin and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, vol. 30, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 30: 1, 2 Corinthians [Thomas Nelson, 1985], 221).

Yes, this really is the commentary on 2 Cor 4:1-6. Completely unhelpful. Where is the interpretive beef? It’s hard to know that it’s even the right passage. This is a classic example of talking about the text (loosely speaking) and not giving people the text. At best one could read this after spending some time in the actual passage. But if this is what pastors give their people in the pulpit, they shouldn’t expect them to grow in the knowledge of the Word. They’ll be lucky to find the Word in all that.

Expositional Comemntaries

Example 1

“In addition to their own love of sin, unbelievers reject the gospel because the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving. The unbelieving are the same ones described in verse 3 as those who are perishing; the two terms are synonyms. Despite the claims of some, there can be no such thing as an “unbelieving Christian,” since the unbelieving are the perishing. Ai?n (world) is better translated “age” (as it is in Matt. 12:32; 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20; Luke 16:8; 18:30; 20:34; 1 Cor. 1:20; 2:6, 7, 8; 3:18; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:26; Titus 2:12; Heb. 6:5, etc.). The god of this world or age is Satan, (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Eph. 2:2; 2 Tim. 2:26; 1 John 5:19), who controls the ideologies, opinions, hopes, aims, goals, and viewpoints current in the world (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3–5). He is behind the world’s systems of philosophy, psychology, education, sociology, ethics, and economics. But perhaps his greatest influence is in the realm of false religion. Satan, of course, is not a god but a created being. He is called a god because his deluded followers serve him as if he were one. Satan is the archetype of all the false gods in all the false religions he has spawned.

“It is that massive and pervasive influence over society by which Satan deludes the unregenerate so that they might not see the light of the gospel. Except in rare cases, Satan and his demons do not directly indwell individuals. They do not need to. Satan has created a system that panders to the depravity of unbelievers and drives them deeper into darkness. In addition to being dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), veiled from the truth (2 Cor. 3:15), haters of light and lovers of darkness (John 3:19–20), unbelievers walk “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience … [living] in the lusts of [the] flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and [are] by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:2–3). They are “of [their] father the devil, and [they] want to do the desires of [their] father” (John 8:44). All the evil of the human heart—crime, hatred, bitterness, anger, injustice, immorality, and conflict between nations and individuals—is pandered to by Satan’s agenda. The world system he has created inflames the evil desires of fallen people, causing them to be willfully blind and love their darkness.” (John MacArthur, 2 Corinthians [Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003], 132)

Example 2

“Who are the unbelievers Paul mentions? Are they those Jews who refuse to accept Christ as the Son of God? Or are they those Corinthians who have heard the gospel but reject it? Because the Greek grammar of this verse is infelicitous, we do well to explain the term unbelievers as a synonym of “those who are perishing” (v. 3). The term, therefore, applies to all those who refuse to know Jesus Christ as Son of God. This term appears again in 6:14, where Paul warns believers not to be yoked with unbelievers. Faith stands in opposition to unbelief, and these two can never exist harmoniously.

“Paul calls Satan the god of this age, not to place the devil on a level with God, but to show that Satan is the ruler of this world. In the first few centuries of the Christian era, Gnosticism promulgated its doctrine that not God but an evil god had created and now controlled this world. Opposing this teaching, many theologians wanted to deprive Satan of the title god and ascribe it only to God. Thus they proposed the translation: “to those unbelievers of this age whose minds God has blinded.” But the Greek word order will not support this version. God does not want the death of anyone but desires that all repent and live (Ezek. 18:23, 32; II Peter 3:9). Satan is the adversary of God and his people. On this earth, he exercises the authority that has been given to him (Luke 4:6).

“Jesus calls Satan the prince of this world, but Paul designates him “god.” The Hebrew plural term elohim is translated in the singular as either “God” or “god.” When the writers of Scripture refer to a god, they usually do so with a qualifying genitive; for instance, “each cried out to his own god” (Jonah 1:5; see also Exod. 20:23; II Kings 19:37). When we translate the Hebrew text of Psalm 8:5 literally, we read, “a little lower than God” (NASB). But the Septuagint renders the verse as “a little lower than the angels.” Paul probably had in mind the Hebrew expression elohim, which he translated “god” and applied to the fallen angel, Satan.
Satan is capable of transforming himself into an angel of light (11:14) to deceive people. Through counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders, he employs his evil schemes to deceive those who are perishing (II Thess. 2:9). He prowls around like a roaring lion searching for prey to devour (I Peter 5:8). And as the spirit (god) of the age, he has the power to blind the minds of unbelievers. The contrast is striking: preachers drive away the darkness of the world with Christ’s illuminating gospel; Satan strikes the unbelievers with blindness so that their minds are unable to see the light of the gospel. A veil covers their minds, much as the Israelites refused to see Moses’ face radiating God’s glory and as the Jews were unable to understand the message of the Scriptures (3:13–15). Conversely, Christians send forth the light of Christ’s gospel and reflect his glory. Satan has no power over the believers who stand firm in their faith, even though he tries to deceive them—if that were possible (Matt. 24:24; Mark 13:22). Believers not only see the glory of Christ through the illumination of the gospel, but also reflect his glory in their daily lives.” (Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, vol. 19, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians [Baker, 1953-2001], 140).

Both of these commentaries presume that the “god of this world” is Satan (“god” is spelled lower case since that is the way it appears in the translation and commentary). Neither commentator even thought to look up the “blinding the eyes” referent in passage — Where might that come from? to what might it allude? Who blinds eyes in (what a novel suggestion) the Old Testament? This omission results in interpretive tunnel vision.

Scholarly Commentaries

To be honest, few scholarly commentators bother to ask themselves the blindness question I raised above. Sometimes you need to go beyond scholarly commentators, to where the real meat is at — academic journals and academic conference papers. The reason these resources are so valuable is that they are designed to devote 10, 15, 20, 25 pages to narrow questions, textual issues, and interpretive points. In other words, a good journal article is focused on very specific issues.

One of the few commentaries on 2 Corinthians that even gives us material to think in regard to the sort of “Scripture comparing Scripture” procedure that I hinted at above is the one by Murray Harris in the New International Greek Text series. Harris gives us a wonderful insight below, but then doesn’t follow his own trail. Apparently (pardon the pun) he was too blinded by the “obvious” conclusion that the god of this world must be Satan.

Harris notes on page 320 that there are some transparent parallels between the vocabulary used in 2 Cor 4:1-6 and 2 Cor 3:7-18. He puts the passages in parallel in Greek, but here’s a literalized English rendering to try to highlight what he directs readers to see:

2 Cor 4 2 Cor 3
v. 4 “He had made blind the minds of the unbelievers” v. 14 

“their minds were hardened”

v. 4 

“So as not to see”

v. 7″to not be able to gaze”


v. 13


“so as not to gaze”


v. 18



vv. 4, 6 

“the light”

vv. 4, 6 

“of glory”

vv. 7–11, 18 

“the glory”

Here’s the logical question that surfaces once this patterning is noticed: Who are the people whose minds are hardened so they cannot see the glory?

So, while Harris disappoints for not pursuing this question and its implications, his commentary did something for us that expositional commentaries won’t as a habit do — he searched for patterns in similar vocabulary across the Greek New Testament, specifically within Paul’s other letters (recall one of “Heiser’s Laws for Bible Study” – patterns are more important than word studies. The problem is that Harris didn’t take the pattern back into the Septuagint (or the English, since that’ll get you to what I want you to see).


About The Author


45 Responses to “All Commentaries are Not Created Equal, Part 2”

  1. Jonnathan Molina says:

    I really feel you on your statement that academic journals and papers can provide more light on biblical passages than some commentaries, etc. But how can the average Christian get access to these? Are they hard to find? Are they free? It’s definitely a point to be raised as more and more believers seek meatier answers that bypass the rhetorical fluff of mainstream ‘expository’ books.

  2. Paul D. says:

    Great post.

  3. Rafa says:

    Awesome post! It was very fascinating and scary. Scary because you have made us aware that (for better or worse) we (the non-academic crowd) are surrounded by more inaccurate information that we thought. It seems that scholars without the proper Semitic background education and for some reason don’t submit their material to peer-review are the source of this inaccurate information. The unfortunate thing is that folks like me (non-academic) are vulnerable to use these faulty sources, trusting that they accurate. If we don’t do a deep research with the proper sources and tools, this bad info will be recycled over and over again. So the conclusion is painfully obvious; the non-academic people that want to be serious about getting the bible right, have to invest money and time. Going the extra-mile and learn grammatical concepts, learning the original languages, word patterns ( Heiser’s laws for bible studies) is the way to go.

    One questions remains for you Mike: How can we, the general public, get our hands on these type of articles?

    • MSH says:

      you’ve captured the reasons I’m doing this short series of posts. Yes, it does take time and money, but more of the former than the latter. I’ll be doing a post on journal access as part of the series.

  4. Louis says:

    The Link to the PDF underneath the Homework does not work for me….

  5. Areadymind says:

    Have you given much thought as to the best way to bridge the gap between the scholastic and the non-scholastic Christian worlds?

    • MSH says:

      I think about it all the time. Then when I stop crying I go back to work. The hard reality (and I’ve been dragged to this kicking and screaming) is that most Christians don’t care. The folks who read blogs like mine and enjoy them are the minority. The majority can be broken down into the following sub-groups: those that don’t care because of apathy; those whose exposure to the text in any sort of depth has been boring or impractical (no one shows them a pay-off for the effort), and those who literally cannot imagine why anyone would bother anyway and for whom even Bible reading is an effort, in terms of time or intellectual capacity. What I mean here is that, for many people, it’s easy to see no need for something they’ve never used, or with which they’ve never been involved. And the thought is scary given the effort they’d expect to have to expend when they are genuinely busy. I’d also say that I’d only look at those in the first sub-group (apathy) as in need of a good spiritual cage-rattling. I actually get more upset with Christian media (esp. radio). Christian radio thinks depth means John MacArthur and Charles Stanley. I’ll grant that these preachers are beyond what many people experience in their own churches, and their popularity shows there is hunger for Scripture. And so they are a good thing, regardless of the fact that what they give people isn’t really meat — it’s moving people from milk (mere Bible reading) to the Gerber’s study Bible, but at least it’s a move. What bugs me is that there is no effort in Christian media to really hit at depth. The Bible Answer Man lacks depth (anyone sitting in front of a microphone with a laptop can look things up quickly; there is usually no analysis, and what is there is formulaic). Other than Ravi Zacharias, I can’t say I’ve heard anything of intellectual depth on mainstream Christian radio. But he’s not really about the biblical text; his focus is apologetics and philosophy. Very important, but too abstract for many believers.

      Solutions? I have ideas, but few resources and time. So I do this blog and putter away at other things that eventually will get out there to whoever is interested. I actually do have a plan and am working it, but it’s quite slow. I have 2-3 hours each day to devote to anything personal that would fall in this category.

      Working at Logos is a great help (for the audience you identify and for my sanity in this regard), since we are able to create things that move people toward more depth (baby steps, but they can and will have a cumulative impact). Logos is sensitive to the need you describe. Bible Study Magazine is part of that, for example. There are always 4-5 good content items in every issue (I write two each issue – which reminds me that’s part of my weekend!) along with the normal devotional and human interest stuff. That’s deliberate. A Septuagint Interlinear is another example. There are lots of such things, including things in process I can’t describe now. We think about this a lot and try to make good decisions as to where to throw resources each calendar year. But people have to care to look and use these things. Exposing them to what’s out there and (especially) why they should care is hard.

      • Areadymind says:

        I have been thinking about this today for a while, and my intention is not to add to your tears, but I also agree that apathy is one thing to consider. Not just because apathy is the temper of the church culture, but because apathy seems to be the summum bonum of our culture period. It would be nice if leaders rose above the malaise to be certain.

        I personally see a number of factors that would act as road blocks against your desire to see believers better educated.

        1.) Too many people in “leadership” only care to make followers after themselves. Engaging the text may reveal them to be not as “up” on things as they claim. I do not say this to suggest devious intentions, though I am sure there is plenty of that, merely to point out that in general, people don’t like to be wrong about things. I believe it has been recently scientifically proven that people simply are terrified of what they consider to be “new” ideas. Scholastic writing tends to invigorate new flora in petrified thought forests.

        2.) Too many pastor’s spend their time administrating affairs, and not enough time “giving themselves to reading,” or to “prayer and the apostles doctrine.” I wonder what would happen if Pastors gave the administrative affairs of the church over to more capable people. Granted, there is always a balance to be had in these things. To much reading will drive men mad.

        3.) Many of us are unaware of the fact that we teach traditions. So much of what gets repeated as tradition is autonomic. It is not that tradition is taught for tradition’s sake (some tradition is incredibly valuable), it is probably that we simply do not realize we are teaching traditions. I fall into this trap all of the time, which is why I love reading your blog because it challenges my predilections, and I attempt to have those challenged often in order that my sword may be honed for more accurate usage.

        4.) This is the big one, and I am of the opinion that it really is your toughest challenge. Many leaders in ministries simply do not trust scholars. This is for a number of reasons, but I have heard these reasons ad infinitum throughout my walk. Textual criticism being the main bone many people have in their throats. Many are afraid of the doubts that textual critics have foisted upon hapless youth. Even in my life, there was a time where if I heard some of the questions more scholastic believers raised, it would have really been hard for me to deal with, which is not a criticism of scholarship as much as it may have been a demonstration of my weakness. As I have grown as a believer and have developed a sense of discernment, I am now able to hear the underlying motive of almost anything I read, whereas when I was a new believer, I was entirely inept at separating what was written from why it was being written.

        5.) There is much truth in scripture that is “spiritually discerned.” I suspect that many bible teachers assume that too much scholarship is an attempt to understand the things of God “in the natural.”

        While I have mentioned some roadblocks here, I wonder if there are things that can be done about them. I think that trust needs to be developed. And trust, unfortunately, does not come from words. It comes from real demonstrations of love. I heard from a pastor one time that he had only ever met one “intellectual” christian that actually loved other people. His experience had pretty much made him write off most intellectuals as prideful, sounding gongs. Unfortunately, I think we allow experience to drive us more often than truth. The truth is not to blame for those who mis-handle it. I too, like one other poster, simply cannot afford the more scholastic stuff. I try to get a little here and a little there, but I can also say for sure that the more scholastic stuff is so much more to be thankful for than the biased stuff. I do not like commentaries that are trying to sell me on a systematic brand of theology. I find them to be pedantic. I want, more than anything else to get as close to understanding what it meant to the readers and hearers at the time they heard it. If we can get that right, then application is surely going to be more “applicable.” When we misinterpret something we play what I like to call the “theological telephone game.” If you ever played the telephone game in school, then you already know what I mean by it.

        Another thing to consider Dr. Heiser, is cost. I wonder how big of an impact, for the cause of the kingdom of heaven, making more “excellent” resources easily available to people would be? I mean, so much of what goes on in the “christian” publishing world is driven more by mammon than by charity, at least from my point of view, I am willing to concede that it may be different on the other side of the fence however. Your blog seems to be an exception to that potential pitfall. And I am sure there are probably other exceptions I am not aware of.

        All that is to say, you are certainly raising questions here and there, that hopefully help me to be a better bible teacher, and hopefully as I watch you do it enough, maybe the habit of looking at things scholastically as you do will rub off on me more. Continue to be salt and light.

        • Areadymind says:

          By the way, the payoff for the effort, as you put it. Is better, more acute application. Bad interpretation lends itself to misguided application. Misguided application leads to burn out and misrepresentation of our Lord. The payoff Dr. Heiser? The payoff is more excellent service to our King.

        • MSH says:

          These are all good points, though the cost of producing quality resources means they can’t be given away for free (I still like to eat, and so does everyone else at Logos). I think the balance here is to do things that you know won’t make money but because they have other value — and because you know how to hit financial winners to make up for any shortfall in the riskier propositions (risk being defined as something that isn’t going to earn back what’s put into it — no business can survive doing that).

          I wish congregations would do something about #2 (separate admin from preparation and preaching to give pastors more time); 3 & 4 are a vicious cycle (i.e., while distrust of scholars is often deserved, sometimes a scholar who says something correct against a theological reflex is not trusted for the wrong reasons).

          • Areadymind says:

            Here is a crazy idea…start a forum with a panel of Godly, trusted scholars. Charge people to be able to access the material in order to keep the time-wasters and the riff-raff out. Make resources of value available as compensation for joining the community. But also charge enough to help with the whole “not muzzling the ox” bit.

            • Areadymind says:

              By the way, that is only an “idea.” Not an expectation.

            • MSH says:

              I’ve been thinking along these lines in some respect. Journal material would be problematic since it’s not something that can be re-sold (no rights). Not sure about lengthy excerpts from books, either.

      • There’s a famous quote about the Velvet Underground, to the effect of ‘they only sold a few records, but each person who bought it started a band of their own.’ Hopefully that’s how God’s using you in Biblical Studies terms!

  6. Jeff says:


    I hope you are going to go one step further with your posts regarding commentaries to hopefully help with choosing descent resources. What I would really like assistance in is discerning three or four really good quality commentaries without breaking the bank (like I am not going to pick up the Yale Anchor Bible set any time soon).

    Would I like to study every passage in deep detail? Sure but like most I have time limitations. I would like to study every passage to the depth of what we saw in the scholarly journal, but that is not going to happen any time soon. I can’t even afford the time to read a few journal articles every time I study a passage to preach on. It was an in depth article, but isn’t there much more importance that the people ARE blind (even from an external source) rather than who is doing the blinding. Did I really need to read all that or could the information regarding the possible identities of “god” in the verse have been commented upon in 2-3 sentences? It IS an important conversation who is referred to in 2 Cor. 4:4 because we want to understand the Holy Scriptures accurately, but that is why some are theologians and some are pastors.

    I would like commentaries with a little less bias. Here is just an example; with the journal article you posted, I could sense what seemed to be a Calvinist bias [maybe I am wrong?]. Of course I reckon the journal articles are purposely written with bias since they are written to convince others (like what you mentioned regarding books on the end times), yet I would think many commentaries are written in a similar bias vain. The author might be correct that 2 Cor. 4:4 refers to YHWH, but I ended up having questions that were not really answered because in the author’s mind the argument was wrapped up. Like why is “of this world” an adjective to highlight YHWH rather than a qualifier to show it is not YHWH being referred to. He brought out nice parallels of how God blinds people, but did not adequately dig into how “of this world” is used elsewhere in the NT and its bearing on the topic at hand nor how other entities can blind.

    Finally, maybe I am an ignoramus or maybe it is just lack of training, but my mind is not in the habit of always asking those important exploring questions. Again, who can I trust to lend me a hand there? What commentator is going to help me interact well with the text?

    I understand that the preference is scholarly verses popular commentaries, but which ones and how do I root them out without taking forever to find them and without having to fast for 4 months because the food budget went to commentaries? What are quality sources (after all, even a heretic could write a “scholarly commentary”)?

    • MSH says:

      I’ll be making some comments in another post about recommending commentaries.

      Everyone has some bias — that isn’t the crime; trying to disguise that is the problem.

      A few notes: on “on this world” — what other world would Paul have known where *people* are blinded (there is only one – the one he and we was/were in). See the other lengthy comment by Doug O, which has some good observations on Pauline terminology.

      You’re not an ignoramus. And your comment hits something very important. Having the right sorts of questions float into your head doesn’t just happen. It comes from four places, over two of which we have some control: (1) experience in the text; just brute force practice over years; (2) exposure to people who ask those sorts of questions because they have experienced #1 – this is where detailed exegetical commentaries and journal articles are so crucial (and software, so you can check on people and run your own searches quickly); but going through all that takes time; (3) genetics; some people are just wired to think from all sorts of angles and synthetically; (4) an act of God – sometimes, in my experience, I really believe God got tired of waiting for my brain to work and literally bumped me into something that raised the perfect question or answered some puzzle (my mental image = my guardian angel rolling his eyes saying, “Can you believe this doofus?”). I’ll bet there were a good half dozen times I went to the library in grad school while working my dissertation with a call # for a book in hand only to find that book gone, but something prompted me to pull the book next to the empty spot off the shelf and it had exactly what I needed in one of the chapters (which I happened to see literally flipping through for a minute or two). After a few of those episodes I made a habit of not leaving the shelf until I’d glanced through several books to the left, right, above, and below of the one I came for.

    • Areadymind says:

      I appreciate your post here Jeff. Learning inductive bible study can go a long way towards helping you ask more questions of the text. I know it has helped me out significantly.

  7. Doug O says:

    The Most High God, Yahweh, made people blind in the Old Testament.

    Gen 19:11 The angels sent from Yahweh visiting Sodom made people blind.
    Ex 4:11 Yahweh makes people deaf and blind.
    Deut 28:28 Yahweh will smite his people with blindness.
    Zech 12:4 – He smites horses with blindness.

    The 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 asserts that Jesus Christ blinds those who know who he is and choose to actively work against his Kingdom.

    Here’s how I came to that conclusion:

    A.) The “god of this world.”

    The word translated as small-g god is “theos”. Paul used this word hundreds of times. Digging through my trusty Young’s Analytical Concordance (can’t afford Logos yet), I can’t find “theos” ever referring to Satan. Moreover, I can find only a single time when Paul used “theos” to refer to anything besides God: Phil 3:15, with respect to people being ruled by their flesh.

    When Paul referred to evil spiritual powers, he used the word “archon” (or a derivation), usually translated as princes or principalities.

    The word translated as “this world” is the word “aeon.” According to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, “aeon” is “sometimes wrongly rendered ‘world’”. In fact, it means “indefinite time”, “an age, era.” Vine states, “The force attaching to the word is not so much that of the actual length of a period, but that of a period marked by spiritual or moral characteristics. This is illustrated in the use of the adjective in the phrase “life eternal” in John 17:3, in respect of the increasing knowledge of God.
    “The phrases containing this word should not be rendered literally, but consistently with its sense of indefinite duration. Thus ‘eis ton aiona’ does not mean “unto the age”, but “for ever”. The Greeks contrasted that which came to an end with that which was expressed by this phrase, which shows that they conceived of it as expressing interminable duration.”

    Paul did not believe Satan’s kingdom would last forever.

    Since Paul never used the word “theos” to refer to a spiritual entity other than God, and since he didn’t believe that Satan’s kingdom would last forever, he must have referred to the age of God’s Kingdom, as inaugurated by Jesus.

    Through the authority Jesus seized through his death, burial and resurrection, he became the God of this World, although his Kingdom isn’t fully here yet. What is translated as “god of this world” is actually Jesus ?Christ.

    B.) “What is up with unbelievers being blinded?“

    The word “unbelievers” is “apistos”, the negative (antonym?) version of “pistos”, which means, in an active sense, “believing, trusting”. In a passive sense, it means “trusty, faithful, trustworthy.”

    Therefore the negative version in the active sense means, in a sense, “actively unfaithful” or “willfully disobedient” or possibly, “choosing to not believe.”

    With this in mind, let’s look at three verses in the Old Testament where God blinded people.

    In Genesis, He blinded men who were actively disobedient (arguably trying to form new nephilim by mating with angels, something that really ticked God off, apparently). In Exodus, it’s used to demonstrate his sovereignty and power. In Deuteronomy, it’s to punish those actively choosing disobedience, despite knowing the power, grace, and goodness of God.

    This passage in 2 Corinthian parallels Romans 1:18-29, when God turned those who, without excuse, actively rebelled against his obvious grace and power, to their own wicked ways. It may refer to election as well.

    Perhaps he’s referring to gnostics here, or those who heard the gospel but chose to fight him rather than embrace it.

  8. Doug O says:

    (Is it bad that when I clicked the link just now, and saw the title of the article, I put my fist in the air and whispered, “yes!”)??

    Looking forward to reading it.

  9. Patrick says:

    This was awesome. Research!

    Concerning the question “how can we non academics access such research”?

    My answer is if we want it, God will provide. I agree with Mike, too many of us could care less.

    I live in East Tennessee and I decided to listen to DVDs of a pastor near Pittsburgh simply because I can’t find one who accesses research like this and utilizes it.

    He takes advantage of researchers like this, I think pastors should do that.

  10. Robbie says:

    Hi Mike,

    I appreciate your commentary on the state of affairs with respect to how most North American Christians do not desire to reach for deeper,meaningful Biblically based content. Thank you for your many hours of research and dedication to getting meat on the table.

    The following video clip might explain why there is a lack of investors in sound Biblical exegesis and scholarly research. Simply put, these areas of study don’t fit in with the paradigm of the Emerging Church founders and their proteges.

    Consider this example of the perverse driven mega church, where a young pastor uses AC/DC lyrics as inspiration for his sermons. There is nothing in the way of scholarly journal reading or in depth Biblical analysis for this cowboy. Pop culture, yes. Holy Spirit, no.

    It is situational ethics applied in the worst way: the end justifies the means. Bear in mind a congregation of 10,000 sit under his teaching influence, receiving a veritable pittance of corn husks from the pigs trough of the prodigal son. Thee is no meat, no milk, nothing of substance. Watch it from about the 2:19 mark.

  11. Shaun says:

    I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but I find many of the comments here ironic. The paper argues the reason people don’t believe is because God blinds them. Then, a bunch of comments follow wondering why no one is interested in real, in-depth Bible study. Could it be because the majority of people are blinded by God? (The paper argues blindness is in regard to salvation. But wouldn’t it follow that a lack of interest in scripture in general would come along with that?)

    I too am frustrated with the lack of depth in most churches. (Just hours ago instead of a sermon we sat through a “humorous” skit on stewardship) But if the author of the paper is correct, shouldn’t we expect this? When we seek to rattle peoples cages and wake them up, are we fighting an up-hill battle that is ultimately against God? Do we try to explain it with human terms like “apathy” because we are afraid to admit what Paul teaches here? That God does the blinding and our frustration is the natural outcome of being in a divinely chosen minority? I don’t have an answer.

    I know I’m opening up the whole Calvinist “why even try if God chooses anyway” can of worms, but that is the implication of Paul’s passage. I’ve read a lot of Calvinists seeking to remedy this contradiction. The best I can come up with is we don’t know who is truly blind, and who will eventually come around. We don’t know the tares from the wheat until the harvest. So as frustrating as it is we have to keep trying.

    End of asking questions no one has an answer to. Now a serious question for Dr. Heiser.

    Could someone take your own Divine Council work and argue for the Satan is god of this world view? You teach that in the OT God gave the nations over to lower gods and chose Abraham for himself. Does this apply in anyway to the NT? Who is God’s portion now? I guess it would have to be the church. That would mean unbelievers are still the portion of lower gods (Satan).

    I assume I’m wrong somewhere in this thinking. Please correct me.

    Thanks for another great post.

    • MSH says:

      The bottom line is that God can do what he wants (but he lets humans be free for the most part, but keeps influencing and steering things to his own decreed end – that will sound familiar to those who recall my election posts!)

      If part of what God does to steer all things to the desired end involves blinding the lost as a judgment, then we need to let God be God (note that the text doesn’t say the blinding is permanent, but it could be; kind of ambiguous; it could be that it more or less provides a reason for the way things are at any given moment).

      • Nobunaga says:

        One short question regarding the blinding of people please.

        You said ” If part of what God does to steer all things to the desired end involves blinding the lost as a judgment, then we need to let God be God”

        It wasn’t clear to me in the paper and i’m sort of stuck in a form of the Euthyphro dilemma, are the lost blinded because they are lost or are they lost because they are blinded ?

        Can you explain.

        • MSH says:

          this is akin to the hardening of the heart issue (pharaoh), where the answer is “yes” (just more material on that).

  12. Ed Roberts says:

    In the paper he uses the word “transformational” all the time as though this is some theological technical word. Since he also uses the word “salvific”, I am assuming that “transformational” is something else?

  13. DT says:

    Great content again, comments included. I hope you have the desire and ability to continue doing what you do here for a very long time, Mike.

    Completely unrelated, are you aware of any way that I can obtain your book on Islam and Armageddon? Can’t find it anywhere.

  14. Patrick says:

    The activity of God blinding a human to the true identity of Jesus textually is the unbeliever’s fate due their negative attitude(IMO).

  15. […] the wake of the last post (the NT commentary example), I’ve had several requests about commentaries and journals. I’ll say something about […]

  16. Cris Putnam says:


    I’ve been chewing on this 2 Cor 4:4 argument for a week or so… I don’t buy it. Neither does Plummer in his ICC exegetical commentary on the Greek text. The qualification “god of this age” (it’s not world in the Greek) seems to me to be a dead giveaway because I am sure you are aware Hebrew eschatology is widely known to have seen two ages one rule by Satan and then the Messianic age to come. The god of this present age would correspond to the former, which is consistent with the “already but not yet” paradigm of NT theology. Even Louw Nida renders it as the Devil:

    12.24 ? ???? ??? ?????? ??????: (a title for the Devil, literally ‘the god of this world’) one who has power or authority over this world (or this age) and is so recognized by people of the world—‘the god of this world, the Devil.’ ? ???? ??? ?????? ?????? ????????? ?? ??????? ??? ??????? ‘the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers’ 2 Cor 4:4.

    Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible societies, 1996), 143.

    • MSH says:

      no problem – it’s only presented as a possibility. (what is the 12:24 reference?) I don’t see any evidence in Plummer other than him stating this or that is a title for the devil. That a scholar states something doesn’t make it so, as you know. “Widely known” that Satan rules this “age” – on what basis other than this passage? If we have already not yet, then “this age” is not ruled by Satan – Christ would be “already” ruling – ??

  17. Cris Putnam says:

    Ok I was a little hasty with the Greek. I read the TDNT on aionos and see where the “world” rendering comes from now but TNIV still goes with “god of this age.” Even rendering it world, it usually refers to the evil world system.

  18. […] in 2 Corinthians 4:4. For me, this text was never in question until I read a blog post by Michael Heiser. Previous to his post I had ever actually considered any other referent than Satan as possible […]

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