Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, November 02, 2013

As through a mirror darkly

I never really thought of this before but a recent comment on one of my blog articles set me thinking. The reference is to this text:
  For now we see through a glass, darkly 1 Corinthians 13:12
 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, [even] as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Due to the invention later about 100 AD by the Romans we think of these verses as talking about glass some kind of clear glass but not of course cloudy in the case of 1 Cor 13:12. But we have been wrong all this time in that assumption...or at least I have been wrong and I can't imagine why if others knew the correct meaning I was never told in all those years, so I think it is a pretty wide misunderstanding.

First here is what the comment on my blog article said:

"...all "see darkly, as in a glass". The apostle Paul was referring to the volcanic glass mirrors of his time that rendered an image in some places perfectly but in others flawed and distorted due to the uneven cooling of the liquid volcanic rock..."

This is probably not what Paul was referring too. As one website writes of Obsidian:

Other Uses of Obsidian Freshly broken pieces of obsidian have a very high luster. Ancient people noticed that they could see a reflection in obsidian and used it as a mirror. Later, pieces of obsidian were ground flat and highly polished to improve their reflective abilities.

 From the pictures of Obsidian mirrors you can see the image is indeed quite dark. Paul was likely not referencing obsidian mirrors but it is pretty sure he was referencing mirrors. Obsidian is a pretty delicate glass and to achieve the kind of polish necessary to be a good mirror would be difficult and probably not very long lasting.Still obsidian is very likely the first man made mirror, and certainly more convenient then a pool of water.

Most sources I have recently looked at think that Paul is referring to the mirrors of his day. Which were bronze mirrors. As a good article on 1 Cor. 13 says:
A good example is the phrase through a glass darkly, which centuries of English speakers have interpreted as peering through a clouded windowpane. But when the King James translation was made, a glass was the standard word for a mirror, since the new mirrors of that time were like ours, with a silvered coating applied to the back of a sheet of glass. The original Greek text has dia spektrou, or by means of a mirror, but Greek mirrors were made of highly polished brass which have a weak and imperfect mirror-image, so the figure has an entirely different thrust. Now you see yourself as if you were looking in your brass mirror, but THEN you will have a perfect mirror-image of yourself, you will see yourself as you really are. Of course there is an error in this too, since mirrors reverse right and left, but in the mirror of Heaven you will come fact to face with your real self, see yourself truly as you really are. It is singularly difficult to translate this passage from the Greek, since modern mirrors do give the impression of perfect reflection, and the original meaning is lost.
The oldest such mirrors appear to be bronze, Some have noted that Corinth was famous for the production of brass mirrors which make it the most likely mirror that Paul is referring to. Silver would have been another good choice but probably too expensive for most people as well as copper. If you were well to do you probably had a mirror. As you can tell by the pictures of ancient mirrors they are going to tarnish.So they required polishing to be used and if they were tarnished and in need of polish which would probably be often then they could be said to see darkly the reflection.

As this site says:
...The mirrors of the ancients were of polished metal, in many cases they were of brass and they required constant polishing, so that a sponge with pounded pumice-stone was generally attached to it. And it was  the apostle Paul who wrote this famous passage from the Bible in a letter to a church in Corinth, which was famous for the manufacture of these kinds of mirrors. The images reflected in these brass mirrors were indistinct in comparison to our modern mirrors. They were seen Darkly Which, literally translated from the original Greek language in which he wrote, means, “in a riddle or enigma…that the revelation appears indistinctly, imperfectly.”

Be sure and read the rest of the article found here and referenced above for some other interesting things about what may have been different by Paul's meaning then we normally think of today.

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