Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Matthew 14:13-21

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently August 2014. 
Summary:  The Greek highlights the key thrust of this passage:  When human beings feel overwhelmed, God's abundance and compassion continues.  Two Greek words help get at this.  First, Jesus has compassion (σπλαγχνιζομαι).  Yes, he is exhausted, but when he sees the crowd, his insides still get tight.  Also, right after the disciples see nothing but a few loaves of bread, Jesus has them sit down on the χορτος, the grass, a reminder that God provides.  In fact, the word for "filled" or "satisfied" means, literally, "grassed."  In the midst of the wilderness, God's abundance still is present, but we need Jesus to show us this!  Finally, this passage ends with a meal that echoes communion, the ultimate reminder of God's compassion in the midst of human limitations.

Key words:
αναχορεω; εν πλοιω; ερημος; κατα ιδιαν;  ("withdrew"; "in a boat"; "by himself"; "wilderness", 14.13)  Matthew puts together a string of words here to describe Jesus' determination to "get away" from it all.  While each of these words may have their own importance, the cumulative effect is powerful!
    κατα ιδιαν:  by himself.  This is the first time Jesus has done anything by himself in the Gospel of Matthew.
    αναχορεω:  withdrew.  This has been the response of Jesus before (news of John's imprisonment; news of Pharisee's plot against him.)  Jesus withdraw does not signify retreat though.  Normally it just sends him away from the powerful and back to the people, whom he heals.

σπλαγχνιζομαι ("compassion", 14.14) Here Jesus has compassion -- which in Greek literally means "intestined."   His gut is turning when he sees the crowds.  It is also worth noting that Jesus compassion does not simply signify feelings, but leads him into action, here, healing.

απολοσον ("release" or even "divorce"; here as an aorist imperative)  The reaction of the disciples to the crowd is the opposite of Jesus.  Where as Jesus is moved internally by their condition, the disciples ask Jesus to move away from the disciples.  Send them away! is what they are demanding.  The disciples lack of concern and lack of faith is also noted by how they respond in vs 17 to Jesus command to feed them.  First, the respond in the present tense, suggesting they are repeating this to Jesus!  Secondly, they respond with "ουκ εχομεν" which means we are not having.  Worth noting is that their response begins with ουκ mean "no!"  They first see and indicate their lack instead of their abundance, who is Jesus Christ.

δοτε ("give"; aorist imperative)  This is the same tense of the verb in the Lord's prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread." Perhaps this suggests that the disciples, in their worry about future provision are forgetting their only task is in the present.  I wonder if sometimes we make the task of serving Jesus far bigger than it is; Jesus is not asking them to feed the crowds forever, just this once.

λαβων ευλογησεν κλασας εδωκεν ("took, gave thanks/bless, broke and gave", 19)  Yes, yes, these appear again in Matthew 26:26.  The NET Bible has an interesting note here: 
"And after instructing the crowds to recline for a meal on the grass, after taking the five loaves and the two fish, after looking up to heaven, he gave thanks, and after breaking the loaves he gave them to the disciples." Although most of the participles are undoubtedly attendant circumstance, there are but two indicative verbs--"he gave thanks" and "he gave." The structure of the sentence thus seems to focus on these two actions and has been translated accordingly.  Yes, good Lutherans, giving thanks is not an optional part of communion...

εχορτασθηασαν ("satified/fill", 19)  The word here for "fill" is related to the word for grass -- the crowd sat on the grass "χορτος" and later was "χορτο"-ed.   This is a reminder that God's abundance is always there -- even in the midst of a "ερημος" (wilderness, vs 13; and 15) and when the "ωρα" (hour) has past (vs 15).

Translation:  "Genitive Absolute"
The genitive absolute has been cursed with a tricky name.  It is actually not that bad to translate!  Basically Greek writers will often begin a sentence with a phrase or clause that contains information about people/things besides the subject of the main sentence.  For example:  "After the sun rose, the people got up."  The people are the subject of the main sentence.  The rising of the sun is simply a phrase (adverbial) to give some background info.
What makes this tricky in Greek is that the writers stick the participle and the subject of the clause into the genitive case.  For example, Matthew 14:15:
Οψιας δε γενομενης
Is "evening and became."  Again evening and the participle became are both in the genitive case.  You don't translate them in the genitive case "of the evening" or something like this.  You simply put all these words together to form a little phrase to set up your sentence:  "As evening fell" or something poetic like this. 
Matthew 14:14 also has a participle phrase that sets up the rest of the sentence
και εκελθων   In this case, this is not a genitive absolute; it describes the action of the subject in the main clause (Jesus):  As he went out,...
So again, the genitive absolute is all in the genitive (which can sometimes make it easier to identify) and sets up a little participle phrase that the author uses to talk about something besides the subject.  Matthew 14:32 is the next genitive absolute.  Have fun.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Romans 8:26-39

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

Often theologians dwell on words the Bible does not.  For instance, in this passage, we have God predestining (προοριζω) his elect (εκλεκτος).  The word predestine occurs 6 times in all of Scripture; Paul at most uses the word elect 6 times.  Yet libraries are full of Paul's comments on predestination and election.  I think the more interesting question for this week, however, lies in 8:28 and not 8:29.  The standard translation of 8:28 is "All things work together for good for those who love God."  One might argue, very strongly in fact, that it should read, "God works all things together through those who love him for good."  This switches Paul's message from "God helps your pain" to "God uses you to help the pain of others."  Both are good sermons; I think the later is more true to Paul.

Key words:
συνεργεω ("work together" 8:28)  If I were not a Lutheran, I would not notice this verb.  However, Lutherans tend to be allergic to this verb.  We so want to protect the "bondage of the will" and God's grace that we tend toward a God-only-and-not-you theology for salvation.  Which is fine.  Unfortunately, we often carry this over and limit humanity's role in God's creative and redeeming work on earth.  Paul says that things work together; the Spirit prays for and through us.  God is making us right with him, God is praying for us; God is glorifying us; I would even argue that God is working through us.
προοριζω ("predetermine" or "predestine" 8:29)  Loaded theological term.  Means what it says.  God preordained us for salvation.  Deal.
εικων ("image" literally icon, 8:29)  Humanity is made in the image of God; even after the fall, God still declares us made in his image (Gen 9:6).  Yet Paul says we are being reborn in the image of Christ.  Something about humanity is both in God's image yet needing to be restored.
συμμορφη ("same shape" 8:29)  This word plays a key role in Paul's letter to the Philippians.  It is worth pointing out that Paul continues the work of the Spirit in chpt 8-- not only are we co-inheritors, co-sufferes or co-glorifieders, but we are also co-shapers.
χαριζομαι  (literally "grace"; "act favorably" or "forgive" 8:32) do you translate the word grace in action?
εκλεκτος (literally "elect")  Means what we think it means.  God elected and chose you.  Deal.

Translation:  Dative case in 8:28:  Through or for those who love God?
Greek has four cases:  nominative, accusative, dative and genitive.  (OKay, there is a vocative case, but that is quite rare).  The case of the word establishes its function within the sentence.  In English, we use word order and prepositions for this purpose:  "The man knocks a glass of wine onto a woman" means something different than "A glass of wine knocks the man onto a woman." In fact, in English the later makes no sense. In Greek, the later sentence word order could be used, because each word would be conjugated by case, which would give its function in the sentence.  So, the four cases and the basic functions:
Normally nominative case indicates subject (who does the action: the man);
accusative indicates direct object (whom receives the action:  the wine);
dative shows indirect object (to whom the action was directed: the woman);
genitive shows relation (the glass and wine are related somehow) 

Dative and genitive both can actually take a wide variety of meanings.  In 8:28, Paul employs the partcipial phrase "those who love God", τοις αγαπωσιν, in the dative.  The most common meaning of the dative is indirect object.  In this case then, all things work for God TO or FOR those who love God.  However, the dative can just as easily signify means or instrument.  Then this sentence could mean God works all things for good through those who love him.
Both seem pretty Pauline to me!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Romans 8:12-25

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

Summary:  Paul describes in some beautiful and novel ways our relationship to God through the work of the Holy Spirit.  First, Paul uses the word adoption (υιοθεσια); he, alone among NT writers, uses this concept to talk about our relationship to God.  Second, Paul uses a string of "συν" verbs to talk about our togetherness with God:  We have inheritance, suffering and glorification WITH Christ.  Lastly, Paul says we have the first-fruit of the Spirit.  EVERY time before this, first-fruits went to God to appease him.  Now, God is offering us the first-fruit (απαρχη) of the Spirit.  I am still pondering the interpretation of verse 23, but it is clear that Paul is pushing the dimensions of the God-humanity relationship in new (and strange) directions, made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ.

Key Words:
υιοθεσια ("adoption"; 8:15, 23)  Paul employs the imagery of adoption to describe our relationship with God.  Rather profound, not only because of the metaphor itself, but because Paul had no Biblical antecedents.  Paul claims that our adoption comes with rights, including inheritance and glorification.  (oh, yes, and suffering too).

ει ("if"; 13, 25)  This word is often translated as "if" but it can also mean "since."  For example, in verse 25, it would be a much more natural reading in English: "Since we hope for what we have not seen, we wait in patience."  I've written about this word before in my grammar review, but in this passage, it does have an impact on translation, especially in verse 13.  [Basic review:  "ει" with subjunctive verb means "if"; with an indicative verb it can range from "if" to "since under the condition of X."  The verbs in vs. 13 are indicative, so we have some flexibility.]  If you read verse 13 with "if" it reads like a moral imperative:  sin and die or put to death the body and live.  But if you read it with "since" it makes a much more Lutheran reading:  "Since you are sinning, you will die; since you, by the Spirit, putting the deads of the body to death, you will live."  In otherwords, Paul may simply be describing a situation rather than prescribing a situation.

ματαιοτης ("futility" or "vanity" 8:20)  This is the main word of the book of Eccles. in the OT.  I think keeping it as "vanity" might be a better translation.  This is life before Christ:  not simply dark or evil, but vain and rather pointless.

απαρχη ("first-fruit"; 8:23)  Paul employs this word in a striking way.  Normally this word refers to the choice part of the sacrifice offered to God.  God explicitly commands this part; the rest can be used for secular (ie our) use.  Paul says that we now have the first-fruit of the Spirit.  There a number of ways to read this passage (I assume) but one that strikes me is this:  We have Christ, the first fruit sacrifice of God.  This means the age of sacrifice is over.  We no longer have to live in fear of appeasing God, but we can live as his children, assured of his mercy and grace.  Another way to think of it is this.  The Spirit is the first-fruit, in the sense of the Spirit is the downpayment, the promise, the sealed legal papers, of our future glory with God.  This word remains an enigma to me, but it is clear that Paul is pushing beyond the bounds of its normal cultic and OT usage. 

σαρξ:  (Note:  This is a much longer entry)
Paul uses σαρξ three times in this passage (8:12 (twice); 8:13). It seems to have a variety of meanings concretely and abstractly related to “flesh.” Although Paul uses the word in various ways, in Romans he tends to offer a negative view of σαρξ, presenting it as hostile to the purposes of God.

BDAG suggests a variety of meanings for σαρξ ranging from purely physical to more abstract. Although BDAG suggests that Paul uses σαρξ to signify a variety of these possible meanings, it also indicates that

“in Paul’s thought especially, all parts of the body constitute a totality known as sa.rx or flesh, which is dominated by sin to such a degree that whatever flesh is, all forms of sin are likewise present, and no good thing can live in the σαρξ.”

The Theological Lexicon of the New Testament offers a similar assessment: “Paul treats the flesh – the inferior part of the person – as the locus of the passions and covetousness.”

In the beginning of the book, Paul seems more neutral on flesh.  His argument against flesh grows!  For example, although Jesus is the descendant of David according to the flesh, he is designated son of God in power according to the Spirit (1:4). Indeed, faith, not our fleshly ancestry in Abraham, provides us with justification (Romans 4:24; Paul reiterates this point in chapter 9). Paul even writes that the inward – real – circumcision is not in the flesh, but in the heart by the Spirit (2:28-29). It is clear that even when Paul uses σαρξ in a more neutral manner, he views it as incomplete, if not incompatible, with God’s purposes and the work of the Spirit.

Although Paul uses σαρξ throughout Romans, it overwhelmingly appears in the middle of his letter. Here Paul explicitly describes σαρξ as hostile to purposes of the God. He writes, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh (7:18).” Most of chapter 8 negatively contrasts the flesh against the Spirit. For example, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (8:6).”

In conclusion, Paul uses this word generally and also specifically in chapter 8 of Romans to describe something in our human nature opposed to God and the work of the Spirit. Paul seems more concerned with what it does (causes us to sin) than what it is (some entity in us). The Spirit will not work to improve the flesh, but the flesh and its works must be put to death.

Translation/Grammar Review:  συν verbs
Greek can easily make new verbs by combining prefixes to existing verbs.  In English, we could do this too, but perhaps not as easiliy:  "Co-suffering" would make sense, but it would be bad English.  But in Greek writers will often add suffixes freely to verbs to slightly modify their meaning.  Paul does this a number of times in this passage, see, for example, verses 16, 17 and 22.  Here Paul adds the prefix συν, which means "with" to a number of verbs.  Some words in English still have this prefix, for example:  "synergy" or "syntax."   But mostly in English we have words with the Latin "con" or "co" as their prefix (which also means "with").

At first, you might not notice the verbs because you don't see συν.  Don't worry!  The problem is "n" is a weak sound, so it often gets dropped -- in every language.  For example, it is not "con"operation, but cooperation.  It is not "con"munication, but communication.  The "n" is dropped or moved to another sound.  (In Hebrew this makes certain verbs very difficult to detect after they have been conjugated). 

This happens in verse 17: συγκληρονομοι, συμπασχομεν, συνδοξασθωμεν.  The point for translation is that you have to try to capture, in both 16-17 and 22 the great amount of "co"working that is happening:
We are "co" witnesses (16); "co" inheritors"; "co" sufferes and "co" glorifieders (spelling intentional).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Matthew 13:1-9;18-23

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently July 2014.  Since the two sections have similar vocabulary, I will focus my comments on one section, namely 18-23.

Summary:  What is this parable about?  The soil?  The seed?  In the parable, certain individuals endure hardship, survive temptation and finally bear fruit.  Well, how is that going to happen?  How will get the deep soil?  As Jesus says, the parable is about the sower, the sower who constantly comes to us again and again, sowing the seed that we might finally be at a point in our lives where the soil is deep, that we might repent, turn and be healed (13:15), that we will bear fruit.

Key words: 
σπειραντος ("the one who sows", participle of σπειρω; 18)  There is nothing distinct about this word, but it is worth pointing out that Jesus says the parable is about this, namely, the one who throws his seed, even into wasteful places!
παντος ("all"; 19)  The Greek here reads literally, "Everyone hears the word and does not understand it."  There is a sense of the impenetrable nature of God's Word in chapter 13!  I think the translators do a fair job of moving this word "all" to "anyone" because grammatically the rest of the paragraph lines up this way, but there is just a little suggestion here that all hear and don't understand.
καρδια ("heart"; 19)  Interestingly, this word never refers to the actually beating heart inside the body in the NT!  Hebrew and Greek map the whole heart-brain-feelings-thoughts a bit differently, but the basic point is that the heart here is not the Hallmark center, but the core of who we are, including our thoughts.
ακουω ("hear"; multiple times)   Warning:  Overly pietist comment coming up:  Hearing the word is not sufficient.
σπειρος  ("seed"; multiple times; also see 13:38)  In Greek the word "seed" is actually a participle made into a noun, literally "The thing that is sown."  It is worth point out that in verse 38 the good seed are the sons of the kindgom.  Moreover, the in this parable, the seed does not refer to the word, but consistently refers to the people who receive or do not receive the word.  Again, I think most times we view ourselves as the field and the word as the seed, but in Matthew 13, we are the seeds.
σκανδαλιζεται ("stumble"; 21)  This means "scandalize"; how does the word scandalize you?
απατη ("deception"; 22)  An interesting side note on this word.  It closely sounds like "agape" which Christian communion meals were often called.  2 Peter 2:13 plays on this a bit a condemns the "apate" at the communion meals.

Grammar Review:  Substantive participles
In Greek, you can make "substantive" participles very easily.  They are also easy to translate.
They follow the following pattern:  "The one who does X/Y/Z"  In English, this idea is accomplished with a relative pronoun clause:  I like the woman who married me.  Greek also has relative clauses, but the substantive participle is common.  Here we have a nice one:
ο τον λογον ακουων
Step one:  Identify it as a substantive participle.  How?  Well, you have a "the" (ie a definite article:  ο) and you only have one, otherwise it would be an adjectival.
Step two:  Get the participle:  ακουων
Step three:  Translate the basics under the formula "the one who does X":  The one who hears
Step four:  Correct for voice and tense:  Don't have to hear.
Step five:  translate the other stuff:  "The one who hears the word."  Greek will often sandwich important stuff for the substantive participle clause in between the article and the particple

Give it a try, with the last five words of verse 19...