1 Corinthians 13:12Context
For now we see in a mirror indirectly, 1 but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.
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1 tn Grk “we are seeing through [= using] a mirror by means of a dark image.” Corinth was well known in the ancient world for producing some of the finest bronze mirrors available. Paul’s point in this analogy, then, is not that our current understanding and relationship with God is distorted (as if the mirror reflected poorly), but rather that it is “indirect,” (i.e., the nature of looking in a mirror) compared to the relationship we will enjoy with him in the future when we see him “face to face” (cf. G. D. Fee, First Corinthians [NICNT], 648). The word “indirectly” translates the Greek phrase ἐν αἰνίγματι (ejn ainigmati, “in an obscure image”) which itself may reflect an allusion to Num 12:8 (LXX οὐ δι᾿ αἰνιγμάτων), where God says that he speaks to Moses “mouth to mouth [= face to face]…and not in dark figures [of speech].” Though this allusion to the OT is not explicitly developed here, it probably did not go unnoticed by the Corinthians who were apparently familiar with OT traditions about Moses (cf. 1 Cor 10:2). Indeed, in 2 Cor 3:13-18 Paul had recourse with the Corinthians to contrast Moses’ ministry under the old covenant with the hope afforded through apostolic ministry and the new covenant. Further, it is in this context, specifically in 2 Cor 3:18, that the apostle invokes the use of the mirror analogy again in order to unfold the nature of the Christian’s progressive transformation by the Spirit.