Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Romans 7:15-25

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently July 2014. 

Summary:  While this passage describes the human captivity to sin, I believe 7:22 is worth a closer look.  When Paul says he "delights" in the law, the word delight actually is a cognate of "hedonism."  The inner man has a "with-hedonism" relationship to the law.  I wonder if Paul, deep down, is pointing out that the inner person truly delights in doing the will of God.  To drive this a bit further, Paul says that he has a body of death.  We know he will later talk about an immortal body.  This immortal body, I believe, will experience tremendous pleasure doing the will of God, whether serving others, enjoying creation or praising God.

Key words:
οικει, οικουσα ("dwell" 7:17, 18, 20)  This word should be recognizable from the first few weeks of Greek (rememeber, οικος means house).  Paul will come back to this verb in Romans 8:9 and 11 as well as 1 Cor 3:16 also 8:9 and 8:11.  Here he speaks of the indwelling of the Spirit.  One key difference however is that when Paul refers to the indwelling Spirit, he is referring to the Spirit dwelling in the plural you -- all of you, not the singular you.  One might argue that he means the Spirit dwells in all of the individuals.  Regardless, it is interesting that when he returns to what God can come inside of us, he does not speak on individual terms any more.

νομος ("law"; 50 times in the book of Romans)   Alas, I cannot possibly do justice to Paul's use of this word.  What I want to bring up rather is that, t the very least, there is a theological use going on here.  By this I mean Paul is moving beyond specific commands or ceremonial practices; the law has become something else, something larger, something accomplishing God's purposes.  What exactly the law is doing and what is the connection between Paul's understanding of the law, the OT's approach to the Law and 1st century Jewish understandings of the law, well, you'll just have to do your own research on that one!!

αμαρτια ("sin" 39 times in the book of Romans).  Again, a bigger concept that I can take on here.  But I want to point out again a theological use of the word here:  sin no longer simply means a particular moral failure, but for Paul it has become a force enslaving and taking over his body.  Paul here moves from laws to law; sins to sin.

συνηδομαι ("delight", 7:22) This word is great!  It comes from hedon, like hedonism.  It literally means "with hedonism"; The noun form of this word will be found in 2 Peter 2:13, James 4:1-2, and Luke 8:14, and Titus 3:3 and will always be considered "lawlessness/debaucherous pleasure"  The irony of course is that Paul is talking about the law.  Perhaps, and I press this too far here, I believe, but perhaps the point is that deep down inside, we crave to do the will of God and this will be our true delight.

΄ρυοεται ("rescue" from ΄ρυομαι; 7:25): This means deliver. It is tough to see the cognate, but the word "hero" comes from this. Jesus is the hero who will save us.
Grammar Review:  Relative pronouns
Paul uses a number of relative pronouns in this section.  A relative pronoun works like this:
There goes Tommy, whose mom is Linda.  Whose is a relative pronoun.
I long for a vacation, which gives me the chance to relax.  Which is a relative pronoun.
In Greek, the relative pronoun functions much like it does in English. 
So Romans 7:19:  ου γαρ ο θελω ποιω αγαθος 
Literally:  "Not for [which I want] I do good"
You need to bracket out the whole relative clause.  Translate this:  ο θελω "that which I want to do."  Then move it back into the whole phrase:  "For I do not do the good which I want."
A few things make Greek relative pronouns tricky.  First, the relative pronouns themselves often look like the Greek word "the" but their accents are different (it has an accent!)  Second, Greeks are always more flexible about word order.  In English, we could not sandwhich a relative pronoun like Paul did.  Third, English gets sloppy about the true case of relative pronouns. 
"That is the woman who I love" should actually be "That is the woman whom I love."  Reading Greek we have to be ready for the fact that Greek will use all four cases for relative pronouns.  In English we still tend to use possessive relative pronouns (ie, whose) but we lump everything else together under "who" or "that" and ignore their case.  Greek, again, will use all four cases.  That said, Greek writers will also often get sloppy and the relative pronoun's case will "slide" to become like words around it instead of functioning like it shuld!
Lastly, participles in Greek take the case of the word which they modify; relative pronouns take the case of their function in the new sentence.  It can be easy to get these confused.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Matthew 10:40-42

This passage occurs as a RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently June 2014. 

Summary:  Last week we heard the Great Commission:  Go therefore...  This week we hear the Least Commission:  We are sent to do small things to the least of these.

Key Words
αποστειλαντα ("send" aorist participle of αποστελλω 10:40)  Perhaps you might be familiar with the phrase or concept:  "The sending of the Trinity."  This idea develops out of verses like this one:  The Father sends the Son; who sends the Spirit; who, along with Jesus, sends the disciples.  This motif is most recognizable in John (John 3:16 for Father sending son; John 14:26 and 15:26 for the sending of the Spirit; John 20:21 for Jesus sending the disciples.).  Luke has a similiar phrase in 10:16:  "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me" (This verse uses the same participle as Matthew 10:40; Mark 9:37 also is similar).  The point of these various Scripture citations is to show that Trinitiarian thinking is deeper in Matthew (and the other Gospels) than we often give credit.  Furthermore, one of the earliest ideas of the Trinity was this procession of sending.  It is also worth noting that even in Matthew's Gospel Jesus equates action with himself to action to God. 

This ties also back to Matthew 10:5 and the sending of the disciples by Jesus.
δεχομενος ("welcome" present participle of δεχομαι; 10:40).  This word can also mean accept (See Matt 18:5).  Instead of accepting Jesus, you need to accept your pastor, who stands in line of the apostles :-)

μισθος ("wages" or "reward" 10:41,42)  I am not sure what to make of it, but Matthew uses this word way more than the other Gospels.  I think it might reflect the fact that Matthew aims at the working class, who would be well aware of the reality of wages and rewards?  For the most part Matthew is telling others that they already have their reward or that they will not get theirs!  In this case though, Matthew has Jesus offer us a promise:  If you welcome a prophet, you get your reward; if you give a small cup of water, you also gain your reward.  The question remains, what is the reward?

προφητης ("prophet" 10:41)  Worth noting:  For Matthew, the notion of prophecy is very important; the word appears 34 times.  By comparison, in Mark the word only appears 5 times!  Luke 28; John 14. It is always worth remembering that connections to the OT are important for Matthew, but Luke doesn't leave them out!

μικρων ("least of these" from μικρος 10:42).  This phrase is often understood to mean "children."  This is because in Matthew 18 Jesus explicitly connects the phrase little ones with the word for children.  Also, Jesus says, "Who welcomes children, welcomes me" in all three synoptics.  So, it is probably a fair translation to say, "children" here.  However, I think that Matthew 25 and, "Do unto the least of these" is probably a fair direction for understanding this passage too.  Jesus is always concerned about the least in society, of which children are an example.  I'd rather leave the translation as the "least of these" instead of "children" to leave open this ambiguity.  As a side note, some manuscripts use the word "least" that is found in Matthew 25 (ελαχιστος).

Grammar Review:  ου μη
In Greek the strongest denial of a possibility is ου μη.  It probably best means "It ain't never ever gonna happen."  Whenever you see this, you can know the speaker is completely and totally sure about something.  In this case, we will never lose our reward when we give a cup of cold water to the least of these.