Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Philippians 3:3b-14

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

Summary:  In certain theological circles I often find that justification is the aim; yet for Paul in this passage justification has a purpose.  As the Greek indicates, it has a purpose, namely that we would know Christ, his resurrection and his suffering.  Rather than claim this is something other than good Lutheran doctrine, Luther and countless other Lutherans have seen justification has the key to the kingdom, but not the kingdom itself, which is Christ.

Key Words
σαρξ ("flesh" 3:4 and elsewhere)  Normally we think that Paul sees the flesh as an entirely evil entity.  In this case Paul talks about his righteousness in the law (and therefore the flesh).  He never says that his Jewish upbringing was evil.  In fact, Paul's whole take on flesh and law may often be more a productive tact than the normal torpedo attack on human sinfulness.  Simply acknowledge that people have seen and accomplished great things, yet they still often sense a worthlessness about themselves and are haunted by a sense that something greater exists.  To reiterate, Paul is not claiming the flesh is evil, but he is clearly affirming its limits.

ζημια ("loss" or "damage"; found as noun and verb 3:7 and 3:8)  Interestingly, Paul calls his accomplishments a loss.  The Greek here is a bit stronger in that it can also mean "damage" or "penalty."  Paul here lays the groundwork for a later group of Lutheran orthodox thinkers who argued that good works are damaging to salvation.  While I don't like admitting this, I can see both Paul's and the orthodox thinker's point here that human achievement can cloud our vision from seeing Christ's blessings.
side note:  Paul here echoes back to 2:5 and 2:6 in the Christ hymn; Christ did not regard (ηγεομαι) equality with God as something to be exploited. Here Paul is saying he regards all of his beneifts as loss through Christ.

διωκω ("pursue"; 3.6,3.9 and 3.12):   Paul's bragging here has a double rheotical effect -- he will return to the words "persue" (διωκω) and "righteousness" (δικαιοσυνη) later in this section (3.9, 12 and 14).

σκυβαλα ("crap"; 3:8)  Rubbish is about as nice as you can translate this.  Paul wants a rhetorical effect here. 

καταλαμβανω ("receive, obtain, overcome"; 3:12,13)  This verb presents a problem in most cases for the translator because it has a broad array of meanings.  In this case, the challenge is in the tenses.  In verse 12 Paul claims that he has been obtained (aorist passive) by Christ; yet he also says in the aorist subjunctive that might obtain it; finally, in the perfect active he says he has not obtained it.  Here is Paul at his grammatical worst and perhaps theological best: The event of Christ's death and resurrection obtained Paul for Christ, but this process is not finished!
επιλανθανομαι ("forget"; in participle form in 3:13).  Most important is not the participle form, but the present tense.  Both verbs in the second half (forgetting and looking ahead) in the present tense, suggesting this is an on-going process of doing this.

Grammar review & theological commentary on verses 3:9-10
Infinitive purpose clausesIn Greek, the infinitive can be used to express purpose, especially when it is an "articular infinitive."  (ie, article + infinitive)  In verse 9 Paul discusses justification by faith.  He begins verse 10 (which the Greek scribes connect with a comma to the previous verse, not a period) with the "articular infinitive":  του γνωναι (the knowing).  Paul's use of an infinitive here suggests that justification's purpose is to know God, the power of the resurrection and the fellowship of suffering. In otherwords, 9 and 10 are linguistically linked by Paul and a strong possible reading is purpose...vs 9 (justification) is for the purpose of vs 10 (resurrection).  To build on last's weeks passage about μορφη (shape), justification leads to transformation as our "morph" becomes like Christ.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Philippians 2:1-13

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently September 2014.  It also occurs at other points in the Lectionary, including Palm Sunday.

Summary:
This is a very rich passage. By itself it stands as one the most powerful description of Christ and his work.  Worth pointing out though is that Paul continues to build off the imagery the rest of his letter to discuss not simply Christ's work on the cross, but also Christ's work on us.  He changed his shape (μορφη) into humility but will co-shape (συμμορφος) ours into glory, not simply through his suffering, but even our own.

Key words:

μορφη ("shape" or "form"; 7, 8)  If you look up this word, you will find it appears twice in Philippians, once in verse 7 and once in verse 8.  Jesus had the form/shape of God; took the form/shape of a human.  Sounds good.  However, later on in Philippians, Paul comes back to this word, but using it with the prefix συν (the -n becomes a -m...see note below) .  First, in verse 3:10 where he says that he is being συμμορφιζομαι-ed into Christ's death and later when he is  being συμμορφος with Christ's resurrected body (3:28).  Paul moves from talking about the form of Christ to the co-formation of the believer, both into suffering, death and then resurrection.  I think the word μορφη can be used to guide one's reflections on the whole letter:  The transformation of Jesus creates the transformation of the believer.  To put it another way, I see Philippians as Paul's personal exposition on his line in Romans 8:17:  If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ -- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

εκενωσεν and κενοδοξια ("emptied" from κενω, 7; conceit, 3)  Much is made from κενω, which means to empty.  I find it interesting that Paul gives warning just a bit earlier about conceit, literally false glory.  The only way to true glory, for Christ and for us, is through suffering and death.

κατεργαζομαι ("work out", 2:12; from kata (intensifier) and erg-oo (to work))  One possible meaning for this verb is simply "achieve" but another one is "to work up," ie, to make use of; fields, for example, are worked on to make them ready for harvest.  This verse can be problematic in that it makes it sound like our salvation is our responsibility.  However, Paul's never verse, 2:13, makes it clear that God is the author of our salvation.  I think in this case, Paul uses salvation (σωτηρια) to describe our entire relationship with God in Jesus Christ, specifically the process of dying and rising.  It is worth noting that the verb here (and also for "co-form" (see above) are in the present tense, suggesting this an on-going process.


Grammar/translation:  The morphing "n"
When someone learns Hebrew, they learn verbs like n-t-n, which means to give.  They then try to read these in the Bible and discover it hardly ever exists in that form and most often the "n"s drop out in conjugation so that words like y-t-l-m mean he gives or something like this.  This is true in Greek, but in a different way.  The problem is not Hebrew, but the letter "n" which has a soft sound.  It tends to morph into other sounds.  This actually happens in Latin.  For example, con is the prefix for "with"  But notice how often that "n" disappears or morphs:  communication, cooperation, combat, comfort, command, corroberate.  This happens in Greek, especially when verbs add the prefix συν.  The weekness of the "n" sound is also shown in the fact that its moveable (ie not very necessary).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Philippians 1:21-30

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently September 2014. 
 
Summary:  Paul begins to describe two paradoxes of the Christian faith:  First, our growth comes about through our decline.  Second, our heart is in heaven, but our hands are on earth.  Paul continues to work these themes throughout his letter to the Philippians.  I offer a third one.  Paul talks about the importance of the community giving both a unified and public witness of the faith.  My paradox:  The more unified, the less public the witness; the more public, the less unified.

ζην ("live"; present infinitive; 1:21).  Few translations catch the distinction here for Paul between living and dying.  They are not in the same tense; dying is in the aorist (which refers to a one tme event).  Paul is not talking about existential dying as he might in other letters.  He is refering to his physical death that will lead to heaven:  'Living is Christ; death is gain' is probably a more accurate translation.  Or perhaps 'Living is Christ; to die is gain.'  Excellent textbook example of the subtleties conveyed in tenses...

καρπος εργου ("fruit of work"; 1:22).  The NET translates this word here as 'productive work.'  This is the most American translation ever!  Paul is not driving toward productivity by modern metrics.  He is using the biblical idea of bearing fruit in Christ.  Keep it as fruit and help the reader see Paul's connections to other places in Scripture (including the Gospel for today).

επιθυμια ("desire"; 1:23)  Paul uses the word "desire" here, which he will elsewhere caution Christians against (make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires...Romans 13:14).  There is something intensely emotional about Paul's relationship with Jesus Christ. 

προκοπη ("advancement"; 1:25)  I assert that Paul's letter to the Philippians picks up this theme:  Christian advancement; what does Christian maturity look like?  Paul boasts in Galatians that he had progressed in his Judaism (1:14) but then indicates this was not really gain at all.  The root of this word is "cut" κοπτω; pioneers were cutting ahead in order to make advancement.  For Paul, advancement in Christ -- "sanctification" -- is related to being cut off, to having our plans, our pride and even our habits amended, if not ended.

περισσευη ("overflow" or "excess"; 1:25)  This word is not that remarkable in this context, but provides a nice contrast to the believe in scarcity found in this week's Gospel, Matthew 20:1-16

πολιτευεσθε ("live" from πολιτευομαι, 1:27)  This verse means not simply to live, but live as a citizen.  Paul does not use this word elsewhere; why?  I assert this is because Philippi was a Roman colony run by military heros turned citizens.  The idea of citizenship would have been important for his hearers.  Paul continues this theme, even discussing a heavenly citizenship (3:20). Here Paul begins to contrast citizenship in this world and in Christ's kingdom.  Worth noting is that this verb is in the plural!  Paul exhorts them all together.

συναθλουντες ("work together" from συναθλεω; 1:27)  Paul also commends people "in one spirit to fight/work together." Note:  In 4:3 he thanks God for the women who have done precisely this.  The root word here "αθλεω," from which comes our word for athelete.  Today this has connotations of merely sport, but in ancient Greek it means more broadly means battle or contest.  Paul is emphasizing first the challenge of Christian life, but also the importance of a) unified and b) public witness for faith which must be made.  As Paul notes, he should be able to hear and see the witness of the church!

πασχειν ("suffer" 1:29) and αγωνα ("struggle" literally agony); reminders of what our sanctification means for us, to return to the idea of being cut off.

Grammar:  Simple infinitive
Paul uses simple infnitives throughout this section:  το ζην "The living" e.g.  το αποθανειν, The dying (21); το επιμενειν, the remaining (24).
An infinitive is simply a verb that has not been conjugated; it is unclear who is doing the action.  In English, infinitives take to forms, here with the verb "run":  "to run" and "running."  These are fairly easy to translate, because they function like English.  They allow a verb to behave like a noun:  "The remaining here is better."  (Perhaps in English a good example is:  "I like running")
I call them simple because Greek can use the infinitive in some pretty striking ways, but here Paul is simply using a verb as a noun as a way to emphasize the act but still treat it like a noun.
One example of how Greek can use an infinitive is found in verse 29:  το εις αυτον πιστευειν (29)
Here this means "the believing in him"; Paul could have said, "the faith in him" but by using an infinitive it draws attention to the action.  In this case, the Greek is doing something that English should not, namely split an infinitive, this time with lots of information!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Matthew 18:21-35

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently September 2014. 
 
Summary:  A classic tale of forgiveness.  A man owes an absurd amount (Roughly 10.8 billion by my calculations).  After being forgiven he arrests his friends who him a couple of hundred dollars.  Take your pick:  Are we debtors, beggars or slaves?  All popular American terms.  At least the first one...

Key words:
δανειον  ("debt"; 18.27) This word for "debt" here is unique to the NT; there is a suggestion of interest, even usury with this debt.  Most simply it means a loan.  God is calling the loan and then forgives it.  What has God loaned you!?

ει τι ("whatever" 18.28)  The exact construction of the phrase "Pay what you owe me" is rather interesting. It actually includes an "ει τι" phrase. This phrase is normally translated "if anything," as if to say, the man was not even really sure what the debt was, if in fact, it was anything.

παρακαλεω ("encourage"/"plead"; 18.29, 32)  This is a powerful theological word used twice in this section.  Also used in the present tense.  Here the image is one of constant begging (used in present tense).  (The word for Holy Spirit is derived from this word:  "paraclete")

συνδουλος ("fellow-slave" 18:28, 29, 31, and 33)  The Greek can put "fellow" and "slave" together in one word.  Powerful word.  Fellow slave.

Grammar review:  Future vs. Subjunctive:  Sins aren't subjunctive in this case!
The Greek Augean is obsessed with the future.  There are multiple ways to show the future implications of a given action.  Worth noting is that there is no future subjunctive.  Either something will happen in the future or it might happen starting from this moment forward in an unknown time.  But you cannot do "might happen in the future"; that simply means might happen.  Today, when Peter is asking Jesus about forgiving others, he does not put the verb αφησω (forgive) in the subjunctive.  The whole sentence is in the future.  In short, Peter expects sin and forgiveness. The sentence literally reads: "How often will my brother against me and will I forgive him? Until seven times?"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Matthew 18:15-20

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently September 2014. 
 
Summary:  Jesus seems to let us off the hook today, telling us we can treat sinning Christians like gentiles and tax collectors, as long as we've gone through the appeal court system.  However, this is the worst news of all, because Jesus spends most of his time eating with tax collectors and even getting harassed for his association with them.  In other words, Jesus doesn't give us permission to drop them, but rather instructs us to bear them, teach them and even get persecuted because we continue to care for them over and against their difficulties toward us.  Yes, he does let us remove our heart strings a bit from them, but not our moral obligation.  Hence why Jesus has to promise us his presence in the midst of conflict!

Key Words:
αδελφος (brother/sister; found throughout section)  Earlier in Matthew's Gospel, he refers to his followers as his brothers and sisters (12:49).  He is telling his disciples that in the church they are also brothers and sisters to one another. 

εθνικος (pagan, gentile, literally "ethnic"; 18:17)  Jesus suggests we treat Christians who have greatly sinned against us as gentiles.  Interestingly, Jesus final words in the Gospel of Matthew instruct us to preach to the gentiles (all the nations of the world; same root word) and earlier Jesus reminds us to love our enemies, because even the gentiles to this.  Jesus is not giving us permission to be rude and dismissive to our brothers and sisters in Jesus, even those whom we are angry with.

τελωνης ("tax collector"; 18:17)  Jesus eats with tax collectors.  He repeatedly takes heat for being seen with them.  So considering someone a tax collector means something more like this:  "Treat them in such a way that no one knows how much they anger and embarrass you, bearing your cross and thanking God for this opportunity to become a more patient and compassionate person."

συμφωνησωσιν ("agree" or "match", from συμφωνεω; 18:19)  The actually meaning of this word is not that interesting.  What is interesting is the derivation, "symphony" which means "together-sounds."  Jesus says that if we make a symphony, God listens.  Haha!

συνηγμενοι ("gathered"; passive perfect participle from "συναγω"; 18:20)  This participle covers up a familiar word:  synago, from which we get synagogue.  The voice is significant here.  We do not gather ourselves in the church, but rather are gathered God.  Thus, we are moving  from human action to God's promise. Also worth noting that Jesus promises his presence in the midst of the office of the keys and congregational conflict.  The church is a gift, however human and sinful it can be!
 
Translation Issue:  Hypothetical situations with εαν

Technically, this word is a combination of:  ει αν, both of which are "subjunctive" markers.  Put them together and you have a very hypothetical situation.  If you have the word εαν, the writer/speaker is not specifying if this will actually happen.  It means something like, "if" or perhaps "whenever."  If is used in Greek to set up a simple phrase (so necessary for science), if-then.  So in our text for this week, Jesus is not promising conflict; nor is he promising that people will not listen.  He is simply saying, "If you experience this, well, then do this..."

Also worth noting:  Every other verse in this section has an "if" clause, yet in 18:20 Jesus simply declares -- Where two or three are gathered, I am in the midst of you.