Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Matthew 5:21-37

This passage occurs in the Epiphany season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A).  Most recently it occurred in February 2017.
This passage is brutal, even in the Greek.  Normally English translations water down the Greek.  For example, in 5:25, most translations have Jesus saying, "Settle the matter."   He is more likely saying, "Get on good and friendly terms."  When it comes to the passages on divorce and adultery, the Greek makes the passage more complex, not necessarily more intense.  For example, the word for a divorced woman in 5:32 is "the freed one."  The grounds for adultery, furthermore, probably mean more than simply lustful looking.  I don't these subtleties change the preaching approach (which is "Lord have mercy"), but they might be helpful in studies with people to talk about lust, marriage, freedom and reconciliation.

Key Words for Preaching and Teaching:
ευνοων ("make friends" (participate of ευνεοω), 5:25).  This word occurs only once in the New Testament. 

The NRSV and NIV translate this along the lines of "come to terms quickly."  The original Greek here is sharper, meaning "make friends with."  Jesus wants more than simply a truce, he wants friendship!

επιθυμησαι ("desire" (aorist infinitive of επιθυμεω), 5:28).  This word does not necessarily imply sexual desire.  It simply means desire (literally:  upon-soul).  The NT uses this verb to refer to good desire, such as a desire for the coming of Jesus (Matthew 13:17).  So the verb is itself not sexual or "dirty."  Furthermore, given the use of this verb (within a "προς" infinitive construct), Jesus here means more than simply "looking at a woman" but means something more like, "looking with the purpose of desiring her" or "looking with the result that your heart is upon her."  Jesus is not saying that all looking at a woman is lustful, but lustful looking is already adultery. 

λογου πορνειας ("matter of unchastity", 5:32).  Jesus says this is an exceptable reason for divorce.  But what does it mean?  Both of these words have easy English cognates:  "logos" comes into English in the many words that end in -logy; "porneias" comes into English in the word pornography.  The combination is a bit strange, though.  "A word of porn" might be one literal translation.  A better translation is probably to treat λογου (here in genitive) as "matter." 

But what about πορνειας?  This can mean having sex out of wedlock and includes prostitution.  It covers the spectrum of "non permitted sexual intercourse."  It is odd that Jesus, while discussing adultery as a sin before God, expands the definition of adultery; when discussing grounds for divorce he seems to narrow the scope of adultery.  Maybe he wants to make sure that people don't think that lustful looking constitutes divorce?  If anything, he seems to offer narrow grounds for divorce:  sexual misconduct, which includes but is not limited to prostitution.  The NRSV (unlike the NET here, yuck), hits the nail on the head.  The Message also offers a helpful translation:  "If you divorce your wife, you're responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity)."

απολελυμενην ("divorced" (passive feminine participle of απολοω), 5:32).  This participle does not naturally mean divorced, but actually, "freed" or "released."  It is interesting that Jesus used this word here -- if you marry one who is freed, you commit adultery.  It is also interesting that the woman is not seen here as the one committing adultery.  The Message bible translation connects these two by suggesting that the one "freed" is the one who committed the sins earlier in the passage.  Not necessarily!  I find it powerful that the word for divorced is "freed."  Many divorced people might find a glimmer of comfort in this!

αρχαιοις ("ancient" from αρχαιος (dative plural); found in 5:21; 33). This word, from which we get "archeology," simply means old or ancient. It is used in the form here "the ancients." The question is, what is Jesus speaking about: the ancient days, the ancient times, the ancient generations? Not much worth investigating here, but wanted to point it out why translations differ.  Jesus implicitly critiques but affirms the tradition.   

Translation and Grammar Review:
Matthew 5:27, You have heard:  "Do not commit adultery."  Let's unpack what should be an easy sentence!  (And get around the road blocks it throws up!).
ηκουσατε οτι ερρεθη ου μοιχευσεις

ηκουσατε:  Remember here that Jesus is speaking not to individuals, but to everyone.  Hence the plural ending.  Also, this verb is really a familar one, but the aorist changes the first letter.  If you run across words beginning with η switch it to an α and see if you recognize it.  ακου...should be a familiar root!

οτι:  Can mean because or that.  When used with a sense verb (hear, say) it is almost always "that"

ερρεθη:  This is an odd form (aorist passive) of a very common verb:  λεγω.  Unless you read Greek a fair amount, the odd forms of words in the aorist or aorist passive are probably not going to be remembered.  No big deal.  This is what Bible works is for.  "To speak" in the aorist passive is simply, "was said"

ου:  When Jesus retells the OT commands, he presents them in an unusual way. The 10 commandments, when given to Moses in Hebrew, are not really commandments in terms of their linguistic form. They read, literally, "You are not murdering" instead of "Do not murder."  (If they were "Do not murder" they would be in the form with μη+aorist verb).  The odd use of language here is meant to emphasize the strict nature of these commandments.  Hence why Jesus (and everyone else in the New Testament) uses "ου" instead of "μη."  As a way to express this in English, most translators have used "shall" instead of "do" (natural English command form) or "will" (most linguistically faithful word to original Greek and Hebrew).

μοιχευσεις:  Adultery.  Now what that means is tough.  Does this include premarital sex?  Ten years ago I would have said no, but now I think it does.
Alas, sometimes easy words make for hard sentences to translate!

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