Monday, December 5, 2016

Matthew 11:2-11

This passage occurs in the Advent season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A).
 
Summary:
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."

2 comments:

Merrilyn Mansfield said...

is there any possibility that Matt 11:11 refers to John's mother as a "greater woman"? So the Greek would read "Truly I say to you, there has not arisen among those born of a greater woman, than John the Baptist".

RJM said...

Merrilyn, sorry my comment is delayed. Although the endings on those words "woman" and "greater" look a like, the word greater is in the singular and not the plural (I even looked up the whole chart for that word!) so it must refer to the one born, not the women (which is also plural).