Wednesday, October 26, 2011

John 8:31-36

This passage occurs as the recommend Reformation Sunday passage.
 
Summary:  I have never understood why this is a Reformation text.  It talks a lot about law and seems to remove the simul from the saint and sinner dialectic so essential for Lutheran thinking.  For me the most reformation insight here is that truth is Jesus Christ.  John's Gospel was not simply calling us to right thinking or apprehension of some set of facts, but in the Gospel of John, Jesus invites his followers to know him.  In the same way, Martin Luther didn't invite people to accept a set of tenets but invited them to know Christ and his benefits.

Key Words:
Ιουδαιους ("Judeans" or "Jews", 8:31).  This word is problematic for modern translators.  If we translate it as Jews, we think of, perhaps rich bankers on wall street or modern Israelis.  Jesus is referring to the people in the country side who believed in YHWH and practice Mosaic law.  In otherwords, to translate it as Jews misses out on the geographic and political realities of its day.  However, to translate it Judeans misses out on all of the religious connotations of the Mosaic law.  Good to remember that Jesus is not necessarily simply preaching to the Jewish people living today, but anyone who commits a sin.  The enemy in this text is not the Jewish law, but entitlements and moral laxity.
μεινητε ("abide", aorist form μενω, 8:31 and 35).  A key motif of the entire Gospel is abiding in Jesus.  The NET translation offers, "If you continue to follow my teaching."  This may push this too far, but abiding in Jesus' words certain carries with it an expectation of following Jesus teachings.
αληθεια ("truth", 8:32)  It is worth remembering that in the Gospel of John, truth is not a proposition or a collection of facts, but it is the person of Jesus Christ.  If you follow me, you will know me, and I will set you free...is another way to hear this verse.

Some tenses worth noting
8:31:  ελεγεν is imperfect, suggesting that Jesus had to repeat this more than once...
8:31:  μεινητε is aorist.  I would suggest this is an "inceptive" aorist meaning the action begins.  The previous verse talks about new conversions.  This verse says, look, now that you are believing, begin to stay in my word and then you will be my disciples.  The only problem with making this an inceptive is that it splits apart believing and being Jesus disciple, something that seems incoherent for John's Gospel.  However, perhaps Jesus points to a reality here that discipleship requires faith; but not all faith means discipleship (sadly).
8:32:  γνωεσθε (know) and ελευθερωσει (being set free) are both in the future tense; whereas being a disciple is in the present, suggesting that discipleship may preceed knowing the truth rather than be based on it.
8:33 δεδουλευκαμεν is perfect.  Perfect means past action with present reality.  Probably best to translate this:  We have never been enslaved.  Which is not really true because they were slaves in Egypt.  But if we really take the perfect to mean what it should, perhaps they are being more honest (even if wrong) in that they are currently not under the yoke of slavery.  (Which again is false).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Matthew 22:34-46

This passage occurs in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently October 2014.
 
Summary:  I suppose one could go to great lengths to parse out the Greek meaning of the words, "heart", καρδια, "soul," ψυχη, and "mind," διανοια.  After discovering that they mean different things in Greek than in English you learn that Jesus wants us to...drum roll...Love God and love our neighbor with everything we've got.  This is probably not much for a sermon, but I find it comforting that Jesus wants us to love God with our minds.  In my formation and candidacy, I was often made to feel guilty about my intelligence as if somehow, I just needed to be a big ball of emotions to serve God.  One of my professors, Dr. Henrich, pointed out that in this passage, we are called to love God with our mind.  This was an incredible word of Gospel to me.  We intellection exploration of God's Word is okay too!  Funny how law can be heard as Gospel sometimes...

Key words:
διδασκαλε ("Teacher", 22:36)  Thanks be to God Jesus wasn't simply a teacher, but also the savior.  However, let us not dismiss the idea of Jesus as teacher.  The word teacher appears throughout each Gospel a total of 48 times.  What can we learn from Jesus this week?
αγαπαω ("Love" 22:37)  One can parse the word love a number of ways.  What is interesting here is that αγαπη, which is often thought to refer to divine love, here refers to neighborly love.  A reminder that in the kingdom of God, love doesn't remain on heaven, but comes to earth.
καρδια ("heart", 22:37)  In Greek, the heart is NOT the center of emotions, but of will. 
ψυχη ("soul", 22:37)  BDAG points to the broad nature of this word.  The soul is, perhaps best said, that which makes flesh alive.  The Bible will use the word ψυχη to mean more than simply "the ghostly blue vapor" of our existence.  Perhaps another way:  our essence?  Hard to nail down...
διανοια ("Thoughts" or mind, 22:37):  As I stated in my summary, I want to point out that Jesus wants us to love God with our mind.  Also interesting is that God admits fulfilling this is impossible.  In Genesis 8:21 God says that all our thoughts (διανοια) are bent on evil.  Eph 2:3 and 4:18 are similiar.  Interestingly, in Jeremiah 31:33, God says he will put the law into our minds.  All this points out that not simply our "hearts," but our minds, are also a battle ground for God, a place that needs rebirth.  (In fact, this word is often translated from the Hebrew word that means "heart" because the Jewish thought located thoughts in the heart).
χριστος ("annointed" 22:42).  This is a very common word in the NT.  The reason why I bring it up here is because most of our thoughts about the word "Christ" are not what the listener's in the OT would have heard.  They would have expected someone to replace David as a true king over Israel.  The spiritualization of his role was a NT development.

Grammatical review:  "Hendiadys"
A Hendiadys is a very fancy way of saying "using two words to mean one thing."  Literally from the Greek:  "One through two."  An example of this might be from Genesis 1:  "Formless and void."  They both essentially mean the same thing.  Put them together and you get:  "A whole lot of nothing." 
In this particular passage, we have a hendiadys typical of the New Testament: 
ο νομος και οι προφηται (22:40)

The law and the prophets.  This is the NT way of refering to the Old Testament.  Sometimes they will include the Psalms, but more often, just these two sections.  So Jesus isn't simply saying, "All of the commands and words of the prophets hang on these two commandments" he is saying, "the whole Bible that you know of depends on this."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Philippians 4:1-9

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently October 2014.
 
Summary:  As I have stated previously, I view Paul's letter to the Philippians as a small treatise on sanctification.  You can find beautiful fruit in these passages, beloved words that evidence the Spirit's work in Paul to make him a little Christ for all of us.  What struck me this time around though was the profound way in which the community in Christ takes precedence in this passage.  Paul continues to offer many images of working together and community love, even calling his fellow Christian his "desired."  Paul doesn't conclude with his love of Christ, but the love Christ has given him for his fellow believers.  Our sanctification is precisely this:  OUR sanctification as the Holy Spirit moves us closer together in love and hope.

αγαπητοι and επιποθητοι ("beloved" and "desired" 4:1)  αγαπητοι is probably familiar enough to most Christians, especially those who work with Greek.  Paul calls his brothers and sisters in Christ who beloved.  Wow!  Yet, επιποθητοι is more startling.  This word comes from desire.  While we have seen the root verb elsewhere in Philippians (1:8; 2:26), no where else in the Bible do we find this term επιποθητοι!  This sense of desire can be positive, for example, the deer pants for the water like the soul desires God (see Psalm 84:3/Psalm 41:2).  However, Paul here is claiming the other Christians are his desired.  This truly is taking the mind of Christ -- when we love each so deeply that we can talk about a deep love for one another.  What does the mind of Christ and sanctification mean?  It means loving your neighbor, so much, that you desire to be with them like Christ desires to be with them, like their soul desires to be reunited with God.

και σε ("even you", 4:3)  Paul generally speaks in the second person plural throughout the letter.  Perhaps he is writing to someone specific; maybe he wants to drive home that these words are for each person.  Maybe its ambiguous so we all think, well, its my job to help those two women who are fighting.

συζυγε; συνηθλσαν; συνεργων ("yoked", "co-striving" and "co-worker", 4:3; the second is a verb, the other two adjectives)  Paul here presents us with a few images of the Christian life.  The first is from the idea of a yoke and can actually refer even to marriage.  The image of oxen plowing the field.  The next is to atheletes in contest with one another.  The last is co-worker, perhaps the least descriptive, but you put the three of them together and Paul profoundly gives us some images of our life together!

γνωσθητω ("let it be"; imperative (command), 4:5 and 4:6).  There first time Paul uses this verb, it is telling us to let our gentleness be known to all people; the second time it is Paul telling us to let our prayers be known to God.  In this context though, I wonder if they are so exclusive.  I wonder if we read this through a western-post-enlightenment idea of worship that would have our prayers of thanks be those in private.  Part of our joy and duty, as Psalm 66 suggests, is not simply praising God in private but offering thanks in front of the congregation.

Grammatical review:  "αυτο"
The word αυτο and its various conjugated forms (αυτου for example) can be a bit tricky for the reader.  First because another set of words, meaning this and that, looks very similiar but have different accents.  But it is also tricky because the word αυτο can mean three different things, even if it looks the same. 

It can function like a pronoun: αυτου for example, almost always means "him."  In this case, the pronoun is in the genitive, so it fully means "of him." It functions this way 95% of the time.
It can also mean "very."  This is when it stands alone (predicate position).  This is fairly rare.  An example of this is in Philippians 1:6 πεποιθως αυτο τουτο: "I am convinced of this very thing."
It can also mean "same."  It behaves like this when it follows an article.  Hence, in Philippians 4:2 you get:  το αυτο φρονειν: "The same thinking."  Paul actually uses this also in 2:2 and 2:18. 

Again, for 90-95% of translation, the word functions as a pronoun, but it can be helpful to remember these other uses.