Monday, January 16, 2017

Matthew 4:12-23

This passage occurs in the Epiphany season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently January 22, 2017.
Summary: Reading Matthew's call of the disciples after John's seems unfair.  John's seems a work of art.  Matthew's seems like a clean-up job on Mark!  However, Matthew's touch-up work is good theology and good writing.  See blog entry below for more details on this.  But what interests me is something Matthew doesn't clean up from Mark, namely Jesus' command to his disciples to "Follow me."  Actually, Jesus never says "Follow me."  He barks out three words, none of which are a verb:  "Here after me."  A bit rougher indeed than "Come and see" but effective nonetheless.  Get out of the way and let Jesus shake up the people!

Also worth noting:  The Greek reading of Matthew 4:17 is the foundation for Thesis 1 of the Luther's 95.

Key Words:
μετανοειτε (4:17; "Repent"):  It is worth pointing out that this verse, Matthew 4:17, begins the 95 thesis.  Luther had grown up reading the Vulgate, which translated this as, "Do penance."  Luther's reading of Greek helped him see the deeper ethical (and existential demand) of Jesus:  Always and continually repent.  It is not an aorist (one-time) command, but a present tense command, which indicates the intent is for continued action.  Thus Luther says that when Jesus says this, "He wills that the whole life be one of repentance."

καταλιπων (here a participle form of καταλειπω, 4:13; "abandon"):  Jesus leaves his hometown.  This is something that Mark leaves out.  I like this detail though because before Jesus asks his disciple's to leave their home, he has already left his.

πληρωθη (πληροω, 4:14; "fulfilled"):  One of the cliches regarding the Gospels is that Matthew wrote for Jews; Luke for gentiles.  However, a quick search on this verb reveals that Luke takes nearly as much time as Matthew to connect Jesus' actions as "fulfilling" OT prophecies.  The only Gospel writer seemingly unconcerned with fulfillment of the OT is Mark.  Helpful to remember that in the year of Matthew (and Luke) we will find lots of direct OT connections.

δευτε (with οπισω μου, 4:19; "Follow??"):  This word is not a verb.  It is more of an adverb like "quick" or an interjection, like "Here!" or "Come on!"  Jesus does not literally say, "Follow me" using the Greek word follow.  He simply says, "Hey, Come on!  After me!"  In other words, "Follow me" makes it sound like Jesus even gave them more instructions than he did.

ποιησω (4:19; "I will make"):  It is helpful to remember that the task of becoming disciples is not one that we accomplish, but rather Jesus says he will make them fishers (of men).  Jesus is the subject of transformation; we are the object.

Grammar review/ sentence translation:  Let me know if anyone reads this section.  I am trying a different format here.
4:14  ινα πληρωθη το ρηθεν δια Ησαιου του προφητου λεγοντος
NRS Matthew 4:14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

A couple of points:
1)  When you have a ινα, expect a verb in the subjunctive form.  Don't translate it with "would" as you might; just know that in Greek the ινα demands a subjunctive verb:  "in order to do X"  In this case, "in order to be fulfilled"
2)   Notice the -ου suffix train?  Three words in a row.  Nice to connect them:  "the prophet Isaiah." 
3)   There are two participles.  One is nice.  One is not.  The nice one is λεγοντος.  This circumstantial is surprisingly nice because your brain can probably recognize the root verb and figure out...the prophet Isaiah is saying something.  Although circumstantial participles are often difficult to translate, λεγοντος is so common you might even be able to recognize it and simply translate it "saying."  Lastly, even if you don't include it, you still get the sentence correct, "What was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:"
The hard participle is το ρηθεν.  It is hard to recognize the participle, in this case the aorist passive form of  λεγω.  It is also a substantive, so you translate it in the form, "The one who/what/which XYZ."  Because it is passive, it is "The one who/which/what XYZ (in passive form)"  In this case, "The one which is said."  Since it is aorist, it is the "the one which was said."  "The one" sounds silly so we just make it:  The thing.
4)  The preposition is δια.  So, you could read it, "The word spoken by the prophet Isaiah."  However, this stretches the preposition's meaning.  The more natural reading is, "The thing spoken through the prophet Isaiah."  Who says Matthew doesn't have a concept of the word as an eternal substance coming down to earth??

Monday, January 9, 2017

John 1:29-42

This passage occurs in the Epiphany season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently January 15, 2017.
Summary:  John's narrative is very basic to read...because he only uses about 30 words in 14 verses!  He invites us into the world of the Old Testament, he invites us to follow Jesus, and he also invites us into witnessing ourselves to the lamb of God.  Speaking of the lamb of God, what is John getting at here?  There is no lamb in the OT who takes away the sins on the day of atonement.  The main lamb in the Old Testament is the passover lamb, which has nothing to do with sins!  John's creativity, hopefully, inspires our preaching and teaching.

ερχομαι & οραω (1:39; 1:46; 4:29; 11:34, 19:33; 20:8 "Come and see")  These two verbs come together s number of times in John's Gospel.  A quite impressive list actually: 
A) When Jesus begins his ministry
B)  When the woman at the well returns to her hometown to invite others (different cognate for "come");
C)  When they bring Jesus to Lazarus' tomb
D)  When they find Jesus on the cross
E)  When they come to the empty tomb. 

John's Gospel invites us to come and see again and again, ultimately even the resurrection (20:8).

αμνος  (1:29; 36, "lamb").  The imagery of "lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" often makes us think of animal sacrifices in the Old Testament.  However, the main sacrifices on Yom Kippur (day of atonement) were not lambs, but a bull and two goats!  In fact, other sin offerings (Lev 4&5) are not lamb offerings but again bulls and goats.  I am sure that many other summaries would be better than this one, but the lamb was used in OT times for sacrifices in the following manner:
Daily offerings (Exodus 29):  To please the Lord and welcome his presence
Lepers (Leviticus 14):  To cleanse the lepers by its blood
Passover Meal (Exodus 12):  To protect the Israelites from the angel of death by its blood marking the door panes.

A lamb could be used a burnt offering, a type of sin offering, but we are getting further afield here.  The point of this discourse is to say that in the Jewish sacrifice model of the Old Testament, you do not find a theology where a lamb is constantly being used to take away the sins of the individuals.  Isaiah 53 develops the idea of the suffering servant as a lamb led to slaughter, but again the point here is that one cannot simply draw a nice line from OT sacrifice to Messiah predictions to Gospel of John.  Okay, you can, but it is not so simple.

More deeply, I do not think the Gospel of John is advocating an angry God who slaughters Jesus to be happy.  I think John is riffing on Old Testament themes here, but the connection between Lamb of God, Jesus and "taking away" the sins of the world, moves far beyond what the Old Testament was prepared to acknowledge.  Is this a problem?  Not for this Christian.  I just want to point out that John 1:29 is probably not a good time to bring out angry God needs a Jesus animal sermon.

μαρτυρεω (1:32, "witness")  This verb appears 33 times in the Gospel of John!!  It means to testify.  It came to take on the connotation of "martyr" as people began to die for testifying to the truth.  Stephen is often considered the first martyr (Acts 7 and 8), but it is worth remembering that John the Baptist also died.
Cheap sermon insight:  3+3=6.  Bad number.  Needs one more witness to be complete.  That witness is you.

επαρυριον (1:29, 1:35, 1:43, "tomorrow")  This little word appears three times in this section.  It is kind of a nice progression.  The first day Jesus is pointed out to the people.  On the second day, the people begin following Jesus.  On the third day they begin to invite others.

Grammar note: 
The present tense often connotes continuous action.  This can create some great insights but also make the narrative illogical.  For example, in verse 1:43, Jesus goes to find (ευρισκω; present tense) Philipp.  In the narrative this makes no sense that he "continually is finding" Philipp.  On the other hand, it does make sense  in theological terms that Jesus always is finding Philipp!  Then Jesus is saying (λεγω in the present), or really "continually saying" to Philipp, follow me.  This could make sense in both the narrative and in theology.  In fact, even the verb for follow (ακολουθεω), is in the present, meaning Jesus intends for Philipp to keep following him.  This all works out great on a theological level, but it pushes the narrative to the limits.  This is especially true when these verbs are used in the present tense in verse 41, when Andrew finds his brother to tell him about Jesus.  Is Andrew also continually finding Jesus and continually telling Peter about Jesus?   It was ingrained into me the "continuous" nature of the present tense.  This can create some great theological insight, but we cannot completely rest on it because authors often stretch the tenses more than we might expect.

John 1:41
ευρισκει ουτος προτον τον αδελφον τον ιδιον Σιμονα και λεγει αυτω  ευρηκαμεν τον Μεσσιαν ο εστιν μεθερμηνευομενον χριστος
John 1:41:    He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed).

We divide by punctuation and conquer: 
1)  ευρισκει ουτος προτον τον αδελφον τον ιδιον Σιμονα και λεγει αυτω
We find the subject and verb:
ευρισκει:  he/she/it finds - main verb
ουτος:  he -- subject!
προτον:  adjective in accusative case as an adverb: "first" or really "firstly"
τον αδελφον τον ιδιον Σιμονα:  His own brother Simon
και λεγει αυτω:  Another sentence:  "He is saying to him."
   Tricky to recognize this as another subject and verb combo, but the familiarity of the verb should make it possible.
2)  ευρηκαμεν τον Μεσσιαν
We have found the Messiah.  We is implicit in the verb.
3)  ο εστιν μεθερμηνευομενον χριστος
who/what/which is translated Christos.  Notice the o has a an accent and rough breathing accent, which means it is a relative pronoun.
So this sentence can almost be read word for word, once you divide it up.  The complicated part, as a we discussed in the grammar review, is translating the present tenses of the verb.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Luke 4:14-21 and Isaiah 61

This passage is found in the RCL, Epiphany Season, Year C (Most recently: January 24, 2016)  It is also found in the narrative lectionary year of Luke, most recently January 15, 2017.

Summary:  Home run point, here but it will take a full count to get there...Most times the New Testament quotes from the Greek version of the Old Testament.  On rare, rare occasions, the New Testament writers seem to be quoting from the Old Testament Hebrew in their own translations (Proverbs 10:12 vs 1 Peter 4:8 eg).  In this case, Jesus seems neither to be translating directly from the Old Testament Hebrew, nor is he reading directly from the Greek.  He is intentionally adding to the Word of God.  This is a bold move.  He does so, I would argue, out of a Trinitarian conception of his mission, whereby the people will be brought into the mission of God.  (If you are saying to yourself, this is too much for a sermon, the basic point remains:  The Spirit of the Lord on Jesus is also the Spirit of the Lord in the church!)

Two little Greek appetizers before the main course:
φημη (pheme, meaning "fame," 4:14)   The word for "news" is "pheme" or perhaps better in English "fama." This is the root of our word fame. Jesus is famous!

δοξαζομενος (from δοξαζω, doxaz-oo, meaning "praise", 4:15)  The people "praise" Jesus. Interestingly, in the rest of the Gospel, the only one praised is God. This is the only instance of Jesus being praised in the Gospels.

Digging into 4:18-19 vs Isaiah 61:1-2

This sentence is rather complex. Two nouns worth looking at are worth looking at. Perhaps the most interesting word here is "captive" which comes from the Greek "αιχμαλωτος" which means "spear." Literally, those who are speared. Also the word for oppressed (τεθραυσμενους, participle form of θραυω) is only used once in the NT and literally means "shattered." I wonder who in our congregations feels speared and shattered?

This text is really tricky though. This is a case where what Jesus says and the Biblical quote don't exactly match up. The problem here isn't really a Septuagint (aka LXX, the OT Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) problem. In fact, Jesus words compile (sort-of) the Septuagint and Hebrew Bible here!  He likely also pulls in a snippet (edited nonetheless) from Isaiah 58:6. 

Side note:  It is fascinating to look at the details of the passages to see how Jesus edits/combines/remixes Isaiah; but the don't miss the forest for the trees.  This passage lays out the source of the mission (God in the Spirit) and the direction (the downtrodden).  Furthermore, it alludes to the fact that we will be brought into this mission.

So, a few points of significant agreement:
A) Jesus words and the OT begin the same. The Spirit of the Lord (πνενμα κυριου) is upon me; he has annointed (εχρισεν, ie "Christed") me. It does well to remember the Hebrew words here: Ruach Adonai (רוח אדני) for Spirit of the Lord and Messiah (משך) for annoint.
B) Both have an obvious material/physical aspect. The blessings and impact of God are not simply spiritual, they relate to this world.
C) The blessings focus on the downtrodden.

However, we have some slight differences worth noting
A) In the OT, Isaiah never talks about sight to the blind. Jesus does (the Septuagint does also).
B) Isaiah (in both the Hebrew and LXX) plays on the idea of binding -- the broken-hearted are bound; the captive are freed. Jesus alters this image. The NRSV translates this sentiment as "free the captives" and "he will let the oppressed go free." Jesus, thus, seems to by-pass the image of repairing/releasing the broken-hearted.
C) Jesus puts in the idea that he is sent to send others.  The word send in fact, appears twice, "He sent send."  So why don't English bibles use the word "send" twice?  It is because they cover it up! The phrase "to let the oppressed go free" literally reads, "to send those shattered, in forgiveness, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." The translators are combing the phrase "send in forgiveness" into a single verb "free."  Not only is this in itself a sermon worth unpacking, I think the deeper and better sermon point is that Jesus has come to send those who are oppressed, in forgiveness, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Note: This may seem to technical for a sermon.  But it fits more broadly into the case Luke makes in Luke-Acts, that the work of the Spirit is to bring us into the triune Mission of God.
D) Jesus drops the line immediately following this passage in Isaiah (...a year of the Lord's favor and day of vengeance). Here the LXX does not use such striking language, but in any case, Jesus avoids this idea all together.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Luke 2:1-20

This passage occurs as the Gospel for Christmas Eve in all three lectionary cycles.

Summary:  I have no desire to summarize the meaning of the incarnation in Luke's Gospel.  This passage has layers and layers of meaning for us to draw on this year and every year.  I offer this as a way to hopefully point toward something in the passage that can help launch your reflection and preaching.

Words I found interesting:
οικουμενη(ν) ("world", 2.1)  The word for "all the world" here really means civilized world, coming from the Greek work οικος.  It is a reminder that for those in the Roman empire, this meant the ENTIRE world.

δογμα (literally dogma, meaning "decree", 2.1)  No important theological consideration.  Just that Rome has always been interested in promulgating dogma ;-)

απογραφη ("registration" 2.2)  A few directions one can go with this word. 
First, power of Rome:  Liddell Scott refers to this as "a register of persons liable to taxation."  Rome wanted a census because they wanted to tax and conscript people.
Second, challenge of history:  Quirinius doesn't add up in terms of a chronology. (Other scholars are more generous.)
Third, sin of a census:  In 2 Samuel 24:10, David confesses to sinning as he has engaged in a census.  Why is this a sin?  Because the idea was not to count your troops but to trust the Lord in battle.  In fact, it may be that the zealots (mentioned in the New Testament) arose out of anger of this census being taken. 

Can we put this altogether:  Even if you cannot accept as historical fact the coincidence of Jesus birth with the census, Jesus would have been a young child during a census, a brutal reminder of the power of Rome, a foreign and pagan power.  Quirinius' biography is a great story of the "Roman dream" where someone rose through military victory and shifting political allegiances.  In short, Luke's setting the stage is correct:  The Jews existed under an imperial power, hostile to their faith.  Jesus was born in an empire that cared not for him.  This imperial power was and remains the envy of all other empires in its military and administrative might.

To drive this point home, the angle proclaims, "who is Christ, the Lord."  In Greek, this is spelled Χριστος κυριος, which is the basic confession of faith (Christ is Lord) that ran contrary to the Roman confession of faith (Caesar Kurios).  The angle here offers a subversive confession of faith!

καταλυματι  ("inn", 2:7)  There was no room for them in the inn.  Later Jesus will make room for himself in another inn -- the upper room (22:11)

μεγαλην (literally "great", 2:9 and 2:10).  Two things are great in this passage -- there is a great fear and then a great joy.  This sets up, in many ways, the background for the whole of Luke's Gospel:  Jesus will cause great fear, but also great joy.  It is a backdrop for any good Christmas sermon too -- there is great fear in our world, but because of Jesus, we have reason for great joy.

ευδοκιας ("pleasure", 2:14)  I often wondered about this word -- did God intend peace for all people or just those whom he liked?  First, the Greek has a textual problem.  The manuscripts seem divided (and even in manuscripts there are edits) whether this should be read as a nominative:
N) glory to God; peace on earth; good will among humans (i.e. three items distributed in three realms)
or as a genitive
G)  glory to God; peace on earth among humans of (his) pleasure.
If we go with option N) it seems that good will is toward all people, unambiguously.  Unfortunately, the evidence textually, even though divided, favors option G).
So, if we go with option G) we encounter a bit more ambiguity.  If this is the case (okay, bad pun there), Luke writes "upon the earth peace among people of pleasure/desire."  The Greek leaves out the phrase, "of him."  It simply states, "among people of desire."  I am not sure if we can, on the basis of grammar, solve this case (again, bad pun).  What is unambiguous is that God intends for peace on earth!  What is ambiguous grammatically and historically is how we humans live into this peace.

ρημα (literally "herema" meaning "word", 2:15)  This word is like logos, and it can mean thing or matter or word.  That I want to point out is that the shepherds literally say, "Let us behold the word."  John's Gospel is famous for such a construction (John 1:14), Luke has the same concept embedded here.

Ιωσηφ (literally "Joseph", 2:16) Just a reminder that Joseph isn't left out of the picture!

συμβαλλουσα (literally "symballoo", meaning "ponder", 2:19)  Mary "pondered these things in her heart."  The word for ponder is symbol -- to draw meaning, to pull together or literally to throw together.  This is fascinating that Mary is gathering together the images and thoughts of the angels in her mind.

Grammar Review:  Cognate Accusative
It is consider poor English to write a sentence in which the verb and object share the same word root.  For example:  I climbed a climb or I rode a ride.  We are trained to make the object and verb different words:  "I climbed a mountain" or "I rode a bike." 
Because of Hebrew's limited vocabulary as well as the importance of simplifying stories for oral transmission, cognate accusatives are very common.  Not so much in Greek, however.  Which is strange then that Luke uses two of them in this passage:
φυλασσοντεσ φυλακας (literally "guarded their guard," or "tended their flocks," 2.8)
εφοβηθησαν φοβου (literally "feared a great fear," 2.9)
Not sure why Luke does this other than to speculate he was reading a lot of the Old Testament as he wrote the Christmas narrative!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Matthew 1:18-25

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year 1, Advent IV, most recently December 18, 2016.

Summary:  This passage teems with Old Testament allusions.  These allusions make it clear that Christ is to be exalted.  Furthermore, they make it clear that Joseph is a special person.  I appreciate why the church has so adored Mary; I think Joseph is often overlooked.  As Rev. Daniel Clark said to me while he was serving at my parish as a Vicar: Joseph is the blue collar bible character; a quiet, humble and hard-working person that Scripture overlooks!

γενεσις (lit. 'genesis', meaning "beginning" or "birth", 1:18)  Matthew uses this word twice in his first chapter (also 1:1).  He could have picked simpler words for giving birth, as he does in vs. 25.  I believe he used this word intentionally to connect back the Old Testament opening creation passages.  The first book but also the first word of the Hebrew Bible is "beginnings" (in Greek -- Genesis). Furthermore, like in the Old Testament, Matthew seems to offer two creation accounts, first the grand and then second, the detailed version.

To have more fun with this connection:  I believe Matthew in vs 1:1 here riffs on Genesis 2:4, much like John's Gospel opens with a riff on Genesis 1:1.  Matthew employs the the phrase "βιβλος γενεσωες" found only in Genesis 1:1.  Both creation accounts are picked up by the New Testament!

υιος Δαυιδ (meaning "son of David", 1:20)  When this phrase is used elsewhere in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 13:13 ; 2 Chronicles 32:33), it does not refer to the Jews or all of the Hebrews.  It refers to the ancient kings of Israel.  Matthew here is calling Joseph a king.

οναρ (meaning "dream", 1:20)  I am embarrassed to admit that I never saw this connection until some pastors showed this to me last week -- both the Old Testament Joseph and the New Testament Joseph have dreams...and go to Egypt!  I wonder if I didn't discover this earlier because the Greek version of the Old Testament uses a different word for dream.   Regardless, a cool connection.

Iησους (lit. 'Jesus', 1:21)  This is the name to be given to the baby born to Mary.  It is the Old Testament name Joshua.  Names often change when they move across cultures (Robert=Roberto in Spanish), so believe it or not, Joshua and Jesus are the same name in Hebrew.  Joshua's name means "The LORD saves" and his job is to lead the people across the river Jordan into the promised land.  Jesus will save the people, get baptized in the river Jordan and lead the people into the promised land.  We miss that connection in English that would have been clear to Joseph and Mary:  They are to name their child "the Lord saves" for he will save the people from their sins.

Εμμανουηλ  (lit. 'Emmanuel', meaning "God is with us", 1:23)  Although he is declared here to be "God is with us" Jesus will not assume this title during his ministry of teaching and healing.  Why is this?  I would argue because he must first die and rise in order to be Emmanuel.  At the end of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus declares "I am with you."  However, the literal Greek here is "I with you am"; "I am" is the ancient name of God.  So here Jesus expands the title of God to include -- at its heart -- with you.  He then takes on the name Immanuel, but only after the cross and empty tomb.

μη φοβηθης (meaning "do not be afraid", 1:20)  Little side note on the Greek.  Although the English translators translate this the same way they translate the words of Gabriel to Mary (do not be afraid), it is slightly different in the Greek.  It is the same verb (φοβοω), but it is in the passive voice for Joseph and the active voice for Mary.  Technically then the translation for Mary should be "Do not fear" and for Joseph "Do not be afraid."  This is not very different, really.  But what is interesting is that when the passive construction is used in the LXX translation of the Old Testament, it often has an element (further suggested by the words' meaning in Homeric Greek, I would argue) of "Do not flee."  Perhaps the angel is telling Joseph, "Don't go anywhere!"

Monday, December 5, 2016

Matthew 11:2-11

This passage occurs in the Advent season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A).
For some comments on blessing, scandal and Luther, see below!  I would like to focus though on the words Jesus attributes today to John the Baptist, claiming that "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you."  This passage is often said to refer to Malachi 3:1.  However, a careful reading, in English or in Greek, reveals that it is quite different from Malachi 3:1.  In Malachi, the Lord sends a messenger to prepare a way for himself (the Lord) to return to the temple and bring about the day of the Lord.  In the case of John, Jesus says that he prepares a way for YOU.  I think Jesus may be referring to another passage in Scripture, namely Exodus 23:30 (see also 33:2).  Here the messenger is supposed to show the people the way into the promised land and out of the wilderness. This sounds a lot more like the job of John than the messenger Malachi describes!  Regardless, Jesus is claiming to be the Lord!

Key words

ἀγγελος (11:8; "messenger")  The word is literally "angel," but it also means messenger (double -gg in Greek is pronounced -ng).  In the Bible, especially in the OT, the line between the messenger and God is often blurred.  Often a story begins with an angel speaking and then suddenly God is speaking.  Why is this?  One answer may be historical.  As the NET commentary writes, "Cassuto says that the words of the first clause do not imply a being distinct from God, for in the ancient world the line of demarcation between the sender and the sent is liable easily to be blurred."  I provide a Lutheran, and therefore cooler, answer:  Where the Word is, so is God.  

σκανδαλίζω (11:6; "take offense")  This word appears often in the New Testament.  It is most often translated as offensive.  If you want to shake people up though, translate it more literally, "become scandlized."  I recall here Luther's 95 theses:
62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16).

μαλακοις (11:8; "fancy")  Hardly a key word for this passage, but alas, it is word of intense scrutiny these days.  Paul uses this word in 1 Cor 6:9 to refer to, well, we really don't know.  Ask the NRSV and they will tell you male prostitutes.  Ask the NET and they will tell you "passive homosexual partners."  It seems that at least, in this case, it refers to soft as in luxury soft.  I think.

Sentence Translation:  NRSV Matthew 11:11.  I picked this sentence because it has no participles.  Instead, it has a lot of nouns in different cases!
αμην λεγω υμιν -ουκ εγηγερται γεννητοις γυναικων μειζων Ιωαννου του Βαπτιστου, ο δὲ μικροτερος ἐν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων μειζων αυτου εστιν

As usual, divide into little pieces, using the Greek punctuation provided by most Greek bibles to help
αμην λεγω υμιν
ουκ εγηγερται εν γεννητοις γυναικων μειζων Ιωαννου του Βαπτιστου
ο δὲ μικροτερος ἐν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων μειζων αυτου εστιν

1)  αμην λεγω υμιν:  This should be straight forward:  Amen, I am saying to you.  Or Truly I say to you all.  Just fill in the words!  The only mildly hard thing is the pronoun, "2nd person plural dative."  Or "To you all"

Proposed translation:  "Truly I am telling all of you:"

2)  ουκ εγηγερται εν γεννητοις γυναικων μειζων Ιωαννου του Βαπτιστου

Find the verb...εγηγερται   "perfect passive singular"  He/she/it has been born.  In Greek, the perfect makes sense here, because the perfect indicates a previous action that still has a linger impact, in this case, birth.  To translate the verb, you need to also translate the "not" or  ουκ.  So, before we get to the rest of the sentence, we know what has happened.  "He/she/it has not been born."  It turns out there is no obvious subject so far, so we will just leave it as "he/she/it."

Now divide up the rest of the sentence into "cars on the train."  Group them by case (hint:  cluster them by what looks the same in terms of endings):
A)  εν γεννητοις B)  γυναικων μειζων C)  Ιωαννου του Βαπτιστου

C) is the easiest:  John the Baptist.  But why is John in the genitive?
A) Bible works helps us here:  Among humankind.  To translate the word humankind, you don't have to worry it being in the dative because the preposition εν governs its translation:  in, with, among, etc.
B) "women" in also the genitive; μειζων means greater (at least here).

So what we know so far is:  "among mankind [genitive link] women greater [genitive link] John the Baptist."

To translate the genitive, just try "of"

"among mankind of women greater [of] John the Baptist."  This works in the first case, but not the second.  It turns out that μειζων grammatically requires a genitive.  This isn't how this works in English, so we will use "than" to establish the comparison.
... and at the same time, clean up the first part of the sentence:

"among people born to a woman greater than John the Baptist."

We combine this with earlier

"Truly I am telling all of you:"+"He/she/it has not been born."+ "among people born to a woman greater than John the Baptist."

Truly, I am telling you:  "No one has been born unto a woman who is greater than John the Baptist."

ο δὲ μικροτερος ἐν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων μειζων αυτου εστιν

Find the verb -- its at the end:  εστιν.  This means "is"  So now lets find the subject, which is something after the ο δὲ.  Hint -- when you have ο δὲ, the δὲ tells you that you are switching subjects.  But where to go from here?  Again, make you train cars:
A)  ο δὲ
B)  μικροτερος
C)  ἐν τη βασιλεια
D)  των ουρανων
E) μειζων αυτου
F)  εστιν

F and A you know.  Now E I put two words that seem different, but we've already learned that μειζων means greater and requires a genitive. So this means:  "greater than him."

C+D simply means:  "in the kingdom of heaven."  (Now what that means would take me the whole New Testament to explain."

B)  Means least.  And it is in the nominative.  So we combine with A) for our subject.  You get:  "the one who is least."  Or simply, "the least."

So we get:  "Even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater then he."

Monday, November 28, 2016

Matthew 3:1-12

This passage occurs in the Advent season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A).
Summary: The great fun of this passage is that everything is happening all at once and then over and over again.  First, John commands the people to repent, but tells them to do this repeatedly.  Then, people are continually getting baptized while at the same time continually confessing.  The order of baptism-confession-repentance is not entirely clear.  Well, actually, it is clear:  They all happen at once.  Over and over again.  Does this mean baptism happens again and again?  I think the baptism of fire does happen again and again, even if the ritual only happens once in our lives.  The question is, does the baptism of the Holy Spirit happen more than once?

Key Words:

μετανοιετε ("repent"; 3:2).  This verb is in the present tense.  This is significant because it implies that the action ought to be on-going.  In other words, the action of repentance is not a one time event, but a life-time one.  Interestingly, this is the verse that begins the 95 thesis.  When Luther read this passage in Mark in Greek, he saw that the Latin had removed this continuous aspect of the Greek and said, "Hey!"  "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent" he willed that the whole life is one of repentance." 

βαπτισμα ("baptism"; 3:7).  Originally, this word did not have religious meaning.  It simply meant to dip.  For your enjoyment, here are the Liddell-Scott hellenestic meanings of the word.  Wow!

I. trans. to dip in water
2. to dip in poison
3. to dip in dye, to dye
4. to draw water
II. intransitive the ship dipped, sank

Try preaching that:  Baptism as a dip in poison; as a dip in dye; as a drawing of water from God; as finally, a sinking ship!

πνευμα ("spirit"; 3:11).  The word can mean "breath" as well.  What is worth noting, especially as we begin the year of readings from Matthew's Gospel, that the Holy Spirit plays an integral role in Matthew's Gospel.  It is not fair to simply say Luke is about the Spirit...In Matthew he is there too, connected with the birth of Jesus (1:18) and the command to make disciples (20:18). 

This word also shows up in this week's Isaiah text (11:2).  The "Spirit of the Lord" is upon me.  The NRSV, always trying to avoid the Trinity in the OT, makes it "spirit of the Lord."  Everyone else, of course, gets it right and makes it "Spirit of the Lord" if not "Lord's Spirit."

Grammar point: 
Greek and Hebrew punctuation.  Well, they're ain't much!  Especially in the earlier manuscripts when things were all capitals (in Greek).  Anyway, there is some and Mark does a little slight of hand here:
"A voice cries in the wilderness:  "Prepare the way of the Lord."  The Hebrew more accurately reads:
"A voice cries, "In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord."  Ie, get ready to go back from exile on the road through the wilderness.  Mark and Matthew take the verse and give it new meaning!  A reminder of the freedom that the Spirit gives us to interpret the Word for our context.  Or maybe a warning too!

Verse Translation:
Matthew 3:6 και εβαπτιζοντο εν τω Ιορδανη ποταμω υπ αυτου εξομολογομενοι τας ἀμαρτιας αυτων

Sometimes, before you divide and conquer, just try reading the sentence by sticking in vocab you know and see where you get. When it comes to this verse, if you know a bit of Greek, you should be able to get: 

And baptize in the Jordan under/by/of him ?? the sins of them

Let's save that nasty participle and look at the first half of the sentence (ie, now divide)

και εβαπτιζοντο εν τω Ιορδανη ποταμω υπ αυτου

The key to translation here is to recognize that baptize is a passive voice verb.  This allows you to make sense of "υπ αυτου" which is how Greek tells you who did the action in passive voice:

"And baptized in the river Jordan by him." 

Now we nail down our verb a bit more:  imperfect, 3rd person:

"And they were continuously being baptized in the river Jordan by him."

So, now onto:  εξομολογομενοι τας ἀμαρτιας αυτων

 τας ἀμαρτιας αυτων should be clear:  Their sins or the sins of them.

However, the participle is a mess here.  It turns out it means "confess"  It is a middle present participle.  Hmm...middle means you can translate it as active.
So:  "confessing their sins."

What is the connection of this clause to the rest of the clause?  Well, the participle is a circumstantial participle...but what circumstances?  Well, the key here is the tense.  It is present tense.  That means the action is on-going.  However, the main verb is in the imperfect.  So does this mean the baptizing happened before the confessing?  No!  The present tense of the participle means that this action happens at the SAME time as the main verb.  In other words, the people did not baptize and then confess; or vice verse.  What is means is that while they were being baptized, they simultaneously were confessing.  So we get:

"And they were continuously being baptized in the river Jordan by him, while they were confessing their sins."

In the wilderness of life, our baptism and confession...and repentance are all related.