Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Luke 2:1-20

This passage occurs as the Gospel for Christmas Eve in all three lectionary cycles.

Summary:  I have no desire to summarize the meaning of the incarnation in Luke's Gospel.  This passage has layers and layers of meaning for us to draw on this year and every year.  I offer this as a way to hopefully point toward something in the passage that can help launch your reflection and preaching.

Words I found interesting:
οικουμενη(ν) ("world", 2.1)  The word for "all the world" here really means civilized world, coming from the Greek work οικος.  It is a reminder that for those in the Roman empire, this meant the ENTIRE world.

δογμα (literally dogma, meaning "decree", 2.1)  No important theological consideration.  Just that Rome has always been interested in promulgating dogma ;-)

απογραφη ("registration" 2.2)  A few directions one can go with this word. 
First, power of Rome:  Liddell Scott refers to this as "a register of persons liable to taxation."  Rome wanted a census because they wanted to tax and conscript people.
Second, challenge of history:  Quirinius doesn't add up in terms of a chronology.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Census_of_Quirinius. (Other scholars are more generous.)
Third, sin of a census:  In 2 Samuel 24:10, David confesses to sinning as he has engaged in a census.  Why is this a sin?  Because the idea was not to count your troops but to trust the Lord in battle.  In fact, it may be that the zealots (mentioned in the New Testament) arose out of anger of this census being taken. 

Can we put this altogether:  Even if you cannot accept as historical fact the coincidence of Jesus birth with the census, Jesus would have been a young child during a census, a brutal reminder of the power of Rome, a foreign and pagan power.  Quirinius' biography is a great story of the "Roman dream" where someone rose through military victory and shifting political allegiances.  In short, Luke's setting the stage is correct:  The Jews existed under an imperial power, hostile to their faith.  Jesus was born in an empire that cared not for him.  This imperial power was and remains the envy of all other empires in its military and administrative might.

To drive this point home, the angle proclaims, "who is Christ, the Lord."  In Greek, this is spelled Χριστος κυριος, which is the basic confession of faith (Christ is Lord) that ran contrary to the Roman confession of faith (Caesar Kurios).  The angle here offers a subversive confession of faith!

καταλυματι  ("inn", 2:7)  There was no room for them in the inn.  Later Jesus will make room for himself in another inn -- the upper room (22:11)

μεγαλην (literally "great", 2:9 and 2:10).  Two things are great in this passage -- there is a great fear and then a great joy.  This sets up, in many ways, the background for the whole of Luke's Gospel:  Jesus will cause great fear, but also great joy.  It is a backdrop for any good Christmas sermon too -- there is great fear in our world, but because of Jesus, we have reason for great joy.

ευδοκιας ("pleasure", 2:14)  I often wondered about this word -- did God intend peace for all people or just those whom he liked?  First, the Greek has a textual problem.  The manuscripts seem divided (and even in manuscripts there are edits) whether this should be read as a nominative:
N) glory to God; peace on earth; good will among humans (i.e. three items distributed in three realms)
or as a genitive
G)  glory to God; peace on earth among humans of (his) pleasure.
If we go with option N) it seems that good will is toward all people, unambiguously.  Unfortunately, the evidence textually, even though divided, favors option G).
So, if we go with option G) we encounter a bit more ambiguity.  If this is the case (okay, bad pun there), Luke writes "upon the earth peace among people of pleasure/desire."  The Greek leaves out the phrase, "of him."  It simply states, "among people of desire."  I am not sure if we can, on the basis of grammar, solve this case (again, bad pun).  What is unambiguous is that God intends for peace on earth!  What is ambiguous grammatically and historically is how we humans live into this peace.

ρημα (literally "herema" meaning "word", 2:15)  This word is like logos, and it can mean thing or matter or word.  That I want to point out is that the shepherds literally say, "Let us behold the word."  John's Gospel is famous for such a construction (John 1:14), Luke has the same concept embedded here.

Ιωσηφ (literally "Joseph", 2:16) Just a reminder that Joseph isn't left out of the picture!

συμβαλλουσα (literally "symballoo", meaning "ponder", 2:19)  Mary "pondered these things in her heart."  The word for ponder is symbol -- to draw meaning, to pull together or literally to throw together.  This is fascinating that Mary is gathering together the images and thoughts of the angels in her mind.

Grammar Review:  Cognate Accusative
It is consider poor English to write a sentence in which the verb and object share the same word root.  For example:  I climbed a climb or I rode a ride.  We are trained to make the object and verb different words:  "I climbed a mountain" or "I rode a bike." 
Because of Hebrew's limited vocabulary as well as the importance of simplifying stories for oral transmission, cognate accusatives are very common.  Not so much in Greek, however.  Which is strange then that Luke uses two of them in this passage:
φυλασσοντεσ φυλακας (literally "guarded their guard," or "tended their flocks," 2.8)
εφοβηθησαν φοβου (literally "feared a great fear," 2.9)
Not sure why Luke does this other than to speculate he was reading a lot of the Old Testament as he wrote the Christmas narrative!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Matthew 1:18-25

This passage occurs in the RCL, Year 1, Advent IV, most recently December 18, 2016.

Summary:  This passage teems with Old Testament allusions.  These allusions make it clear that Christ is to be exalted.  Furthermore, they make it clear that Joseph is a special person.  I appreciate why the church has so adored Mary; I think Joseph is often overlooked.  As Rev. Daniel Clark said to me while he was serving at my parish as a Vicar: Joseph is the blue collar bible character; a quiet, humble and hard-working person that Scripture overlooks!

γενεσις (lit. 'genesis', meaning "beginning" or "birth", 1:18)  Matthew uses this word twice in his first chapter (also 1:1).  He could have picked simpler words for giving birth, as he does in vs. 25.  I believe he used this word intentionally to connect back the Old Testament opening creation passages.  The first book but also the first word of the Hebrew Bible is "beginnings" (in Greek -- Genesis). Furthermore, like in the Old Testament, Matthew seems to offer two creation accounts, first the grand and then second, the detailed version.

To have more fun with this connection:  I believe Matthew in vs 1:1 here riffs on Genesis 2:4, much like John's Gospel opens with a riff on Genesis 1:1.  Matthew employs the the phrase "βιβλος γενεσωες" found only in Genesis 1:1.  Both creation accounts are picked up by the New Testament!

υιος Δαυιδ (meaning "son of David", 1:20)  When this phrase is used elsewhere in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 13:13 ; 2 Chronicles 32:33), it does not refer to the Jews or all of the Hebrews.  It refers to the ancient kings of Israel.  Matthew here is calling Joseph a king.

οναρ (meaning "dream", 1:20)  I am embarrassed to admit that I never saw this connection until some pastors showed this to me last week -- both the Old Testament Joseph and the New Testament Joseph have dreams...and go to Egypt!  I wonder if I didn't discover this earlier because the Greek version of the Old Testament uses a different word for dream.   Regardless, a cool connection.

Iησους (lit. 'Jesus', 1:21)  This is the name to be given to the baby born to Mary.  It is the Old Testament name Joshua.  Names often change when they move across cultures (Robert=Roberto in Spanish), so believe it or not, Joshua and Jesus are the same name in Hebrew.  Joshua's name means "The LORD saves" and his job is to lead the people across the river Jordan into the promised land.  Jesus will save the people, get baptized in the river Jordan and lead the people into the promised land.  We miss that connection in English that would have been clear to Joseph and Mary:  They are to name their child "the Lord saves" for he will save the people from their sins.

Εμμανουηλ  (lit. 'Emmanuel', meaning "God is with us", 1:23)  Although he is declared here to be "God is with us" Jesus will not assume this title during his ministry of teaching and healing.  Why is this?  I would argue because he must first die and rise in order to be Emmanuel.  At the end of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus declares "I am with you."  However, the literal Greek here is "I with you am"; "I am" is the ancient name of God.  So here Jesus expands the title of God to include -- at its heart -- with you.  He then takes on the name Immanuel, but only after the cross and empty tomb.

μη φοβηθης (meaning "do not be afraid", 1:20)  Little side note on the Greek.  Although the English translators translate this the same way they translate the words of Gabriel to Mary (do not be afraid), it is slightly different in the Greek.  It is the same verb (φοβοω), but it is in the passive voice for Joseph and the active voice for Mary.  Technically then the translation for Mary should be "Do not fear" and for Joseph "Do not be afraid."  This is not very different, really.  But what is interesting is that when the passive construction is used in the LXX translation of the Old Testament, it often has an element (further suggested by the words' meaning in Homeric Greek, I would argue) of "Do not flee."  Perhaps the angel is telling Joseph, "Don't go anywhere!"

Monday, December 5, 2016

Matthew 11:2-11

This passage occurs in the Advent season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A).
 
Summary:
For some comments on blessing, scandal and Luther, see below!  I would like to focus though on the words Jesus attributes today to John the Baptist, claiming that "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you."  This passage is often said to refer to Malachi 3:1.  However, a careful reading, in English or in Greek, reveals that it is quite different from Malachi 3:1.  In Malachi, the Lord sends a messenger to prepare a way for himself (the Lord) to return to the temple and bring about the day of the Lord.  In the case of John, Jesus says that he prepares a way for YOU.  I think Jesus may be referring to another passage in Scripture, namely Exodus 23:30 (see also 33:2).  Here the messenger is supposed to show the people the way into the promised land and out of the wilderness. This sounds a lot more like the job of John than the messenger Malachi describes!  Regardless, Jesus is claiming to be the Lord!

Key words

ἀγγελος (11:8; "messenger")  The word is literally "angel," but it also means messenger (double -gg in Greek is pronounced -ng).  In the Bible, especially in the OT, the line between the messenger and God is often blurred.  Often a story begins with an angel speaking and then suddenly God is speaking.  Why is this?  One answer may be historical.  As the NET commentary writes, "Cassuto says that the words of the first clause do not imply a being distinct from God, for in the ancient world the line of demarcation between the sender and the sent is liable easily to be blurred."  I provide a Lutheran, and therefore cooler, answer:  Where the Word is, so is God.  

σκανδαλίζω (11:6; "take offense")  This word appears often in the New Testament.  It is most often translated as offensive.  If you want to shake people up though, translate it more literally, "become scandlized."  I recall here Luther's 95 theses:
62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16).

μαλακοις (11:8; "fancy")  Hardly a key word for this passage, but alas, it is word of intense scrutiny these days.  Paul uses this word in 1 Cor 6:9 to refer to, well, we really don't know.  Ask the NRSV and they will tell you male prostitutes.  Ask the NET and they will tell you "passive homosexual partners."  It seems that at least, in this case, it refers to soft as in luxury soft.  I think.

Sentence Translation:  NRSV Matthew 11:11.  I picked this sentence because it has no participles.  Instead, it has a lot of nouns in different cases!
αμην λεγω υμιν -ουκ εγηγερται γεννητοις γυναικων μειζων Ιωαννου του Βαπτιστου, ο δὲ μικροτερος ἐν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων μειζων αυτου εστιν

As usual, divide into little pieces, using the Greek punctuation provided by most Greek bibles to help
αμην λεγω υμιν
ουκ εγηγερται εν γεννητοις γυναικων μειζων Ιωαννου του Βαπτιστου
ο δὲ μικροτερος ἐν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων μειζων αυτου εστιν

1)  αμην λεγω υμιν:  This should be straight forward:  Amen, I am saying to you.  Or Truly I say to you all.  Just fill in the words!  The only mildly hard thing is the pronoun, "2nd person plural dative."  Or "To you all"

Proposed translation:  "Truly I am telling all of you:"

2)  ουκ εγηγερται εν γεννητοις γυναικων μειζων Ιωαννου του Βαπτιστου

Find the verb...εγηγερται   "perfect passive singular"  He/she/it has been born.  In Greek, the perfect makes sense here, because the perfect indicates a previous action that still has a linger impact, in this case, birth.  To translate the verb, you need to also translate the "not" or  ουκ.  So, before we get to the rest of the sentence, we know what has happened.  "He/she/it has not been born."  It turns out there is no obvious subject so far, so we will just leave it as "he/she/it."

Now divide up the rest of the sentence into "cars on the train."  Group them by case (hint:  cluster them by what looks the same in terms of endings):
A)  εν γεννητοις B)  γυναικων μειζων C)  Ιωαννου του Βαπτιστου

C) is the easiest:  John the Baptist.  But why is John in the genitive?
A) Bible works helps us here:  Among humankind.  To translate the word humankind, you don't have to worry it being in the dative because the preposition εν governs its translation:  in, with, among, etc.
B) "women" in also the genitive; μειζων means greater (at least here).

So what we know so far is:  "among mankind [genitive link] women greater [genitive link] John the Baptist."

To translate the genitive, just try "of"

"among mankind of women greater [of] John the Baptist."  This works in the first case, but not the second.  It turns out that μειζων grammatically requires a genitive.  This isn't how this works in English, so we will use "than" to establish the comparison.
... and at the same time, clean up the first part of the sentence:

"among people born to a woman greater than John the Baptist."

We combine this with earlier

"Truly I am telling all of you:"+"He/she/it has not been born."+ "among people born to a woman greater than John the Baptist."

Truly, I am telling you:  "No one has been born unto a woman who is greater than John the Baptist."

ο δὲ μικροτερος ἐν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων μειζων αυτου εστιν

Find the verb -- its at the end:  εστιν.  This means "is"  So now lets find the subject, which is something after the ο δὲ.  Hint -- when you have ο δὲ, the δὲ tells you that you are switching subjects.  But where to go from here?  Again, make you train cars:
A)  ο δὲ
B)  μικροτερος
C)  ἐν τη βασιλεια
D)  των ουρανων
E) μειζων αυτου
F)  εστιν

F and A you know.  Now E I put two words that seem different, but we've already learned that μειζων means greater and requires a genitive. So this means:  "greater than him."

C+D simply means:  "in the kingdom of heaven."  (Now what that means would take me the whole New Testament to explain."

B)  Means least.  And it is in the nominative.  So we combine with A) for our subject.  You get:  "the one who is least."  Or simply, "the least."

So we get:  "Even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater then he."

Monday, November 28, 2016

Matthew 3:1-12

This passage occurs in the Advent season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A).
 
Summary: The great fun of this passage is that everything is happening all at once and then over and over again.  First, John commands the people to repent, but tells them to do this repeatedly.  Then, people are continually getting baptized while at the same time continually confessing.  The order of baptism-confession-repentance is not entirely clear.  Well, actually, it is clear:  They all happen at once.  Over and over again.  Does this mean baptism happens again and again?  I think the baptism of fire does happen again and again, even if the ritual only happens once in our lives.  The question is, does the baptism of the Holy Spirit happen more than once?

Key Words:

μετανοιετε ("repent"; 3:2).  This verb is in the present tense.  This is significant because it implies that the action ought to be on-going.  In other words, the action of repentance is not a one time event, but a life-time one.  Interestingly, this is the verse that begins the 95 thesis.  When Luther read this passage in Mark in Greek, he saw that the Latin had removed this continuous aspect of the Greek and said, "Hey!"  "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent" he willed that the whole life is one of repentance." 

βαπτισμα ("baptism"; 3:7).  Originally, this word did not have religious meaning.  It simply meant to dip.  For your enjoyment, here are the Liddell-Scott hellenestic meanings of the word.  Wow!

I. trans. to dip in water
2. to dip in poison
3. to dip in dye, to dye
4. to draw water
II. intransitive the ship dipped, sank

Try preaching that:  Baptism as a dip in poison; as a dip in dye; as a drawing of water from God; as finally, a sinking ship!

πνευμα ("spirit"; 3:11).  The word can mean "breath" as well.  What is worth noting, especially as we begin the year of readings from Matthew's Gospel, that the Holy Spirit plays an integral role in Matthew's Gospel.  It is not fair to simply say Luke is about the Spirit...In Matthew he is there too, connected with the birth of Jesus (1:18) and the command to make disciples (20:18). 

This word also shows up in this week's Isaiah text (11:2).  The "Spirit of the Lord" is upon me.  The NRSV, always trying to avoid the Trinity in the OT, makes it "spirit of the Lord."  Everyone else, of course, gets it right and makes it "Spirit of the Lord" if not "Lord's Spirit."

Grammar point: 
Greek and Hebrew punctuation.  Well, they're ain't much!  Especially in the earlier manuscripts when things were all capitals (in Greek).  Anyway, there is some and Mark does a little slight of hand here:
"A voice cries in the wilderness:  "Prepare the way of the Lord."  The Hebrew more accurately reads:
"A voice cries, "In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord."  Ie, get ready to go back from exile on the road through the wilderness.  Mark and Matthew take the verse and give it new meaning!  A reminder of the freedom that the Spirit gives us to interpret the Word for our context.  Or maybe a warning too!

Verse Translation:
Matthew 3:6 και εβαπτιζοντο εν τω Ιορδανη ποταμω υπ αυτου εξομολογομενοι τας ἀμαρτιας αυτων

Sometimes, before you divide and conquer, just try reading the sentence by sticking in vocab you know and see where you get. When it comes to this verse, if you know a bit of Greek, you should be able to get: 

And baptize in the Jordan under/by/of him ?? the sins of them

Let's save that nasty participle and look at the first half of the sentence (ie, now divide)

και εβαπτιζοντο εν τω Ιορδανη ποταμω υπ αυτου

The key to translation here is to recognize that baptize is a passive voice verb.  This allows you to make sense of "υπ αυτου" which is how Greek tells you who did the action in passive voice:

"And baptized in the river Jordan by him." 

Now we nail down our verb a bit more:  imperfect, 3rd person:

"And they were continuously being baptized in the river Jordan by him."

So, now onto:  εξομολογομενοι τας ἀμαρτιας αυτων

 τας ἀμαρτιας αυτων should be clear:  Their sins or the sins of them.

However, the participle is a mess here.  It turns out it means "confess"  It is a middle present participle.  Hmm...middle means you can translate it as active.
So:  "confessing their sins."

What is the connection of this clause to the rest of the clause?  Well, the participle is a circumstantial participle...but what circumstances?  Well, the key here is the tense.  It is present tense.  That means the action is on-going.  However, the main verb is in the imperfect.  So does this mean the baptizing happened before the confessing?  No!  The present tense of the participle means that this action happens at the SAME time as the main verb.  In other words, the people did not baptize and then confess; or vice verse.  What is means is that while they were being baptized, they simultaneously were confessing.  So we get:

"And they were continuously being baptized in the river Jordan by him, while they were confessing their sins."

In the wilderness of life, our baptism and confession...and repentance are all related.

Matthew 3:1-17, Jesus Baptism, (and Mark 1:4-11)

I have done a number of blog posts in the past on the Baptism of Jesus:



A further comment for this year, especially for those preaching on the Gospel of Matthew.

A key word in Matthew's portrayal of the Baptism is:

μετανοια (metanoia, meaning "repentance", 3:8)  It might be tempting to dismiss these harsh words: "bear fruit worthy of repentance" or "the axe is ready..." We might want to view them simply as words of John the Baptist.  This would neglect the subsequent call of Jesus to repentance (Matthew 4:17) or his praise of repentance (Matthew 11:21).  Furthermore, it would dismiss the repeated passages where Jesus promises to burn away that which does not yield fruit (καρπος): 

Matthew 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 13:5-6  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.  But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.  

Matthew 13:30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' (In Greek the wheat "grain" is actually the word for fruit).

One could argue that in Matthew's Gospel, the Gospel in a nutshell is, "For God so loved the world, that he sent his son burn all that was not good."  In short, Matthew's Gospel and the words of John the Baptist provide the antidote to Baptismal theology robbed of its roots in repentance and destruction of the old Adam.  For Lutherans we have the language of this in our catechisms - what does Baptism mean for daily living?  "It means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever."

How do we preach this?  One could finesse; one could beat people down.  It is okay to start a fire this Sunday.  Just make sure you use the waters of Baptism to put out the fire and bring forth the new life.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Isaiah 2:1-5

This passage occurs in the Advent season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently November 2016.
 
*Note.  While this blog overwhelmingly looks at the New Testament passages from the weekly lectionary, this week the Hebrew Bible text is so compelling, that it deserves some closer examination.  For those of you that like Greek better (like me!), don't worry, there will also be some tie-ins to Greek, LXX style!  (no, not XXX style.  LXX style).

There are only five verses, so I want to add a few comments on each verse:


2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

"The Word..."  The word for "word" here is
דבר, davar.  Translated as "logos" in the New Testament, this word appears time and time again in the Bible.  The Word of The Lord speaks to and through the Prophets.  The Word of the Lord is said to be rare in the childhood days of Samuel (1 Sam 3:1) a sign of bad times.

"saw concerning"  This word, חזה , (khazah), means behold or see.  Normally the Word of the Lord comes to people, but in Isaiah's case, he beholds the Word.  The word becomes visible!

2:2  In days to come the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

"In the days to come...":  This specific phrase in the Bible, "In the after/end of the days" is often used in the prophets to connote the end times.  In this light, the NIV "In the last days" may be closer.  On other hand, the phrase may also simply mean the future.  I think the best word that provides this ambiguity is: "ultimate."  In the ultimate days...

"The Lord's House":  The specific phrase used by Isaiah, "Bet-YHWH" does mean House of the Lord literally, however, it refers to the temple in Jerusalem. Tricky to translate.  Do you take the historically and linguistically accurate translation of "The temple" or do you leave it as "House of the Lord."  I like the idea of House of the Lord because it gives the sense that the temple is not a place of human hands or even of human worship, but the place of God's dwelling. 

LXX (Greek) Note:  The LXX translates the word as οικος του θεου (house of God).  Interestingly, YHWH is almost always translated as κυριος (kyrios), however, not in this case.  This anomaly is perhaps explained by the insertion that it is the mountain of the "kyrios," leaving the sentence with at least one incidence of "kyrios."

Technical grammar note:  The preposition in the phrase, "as the highest of the mountains" is one of those strange "bet"s that would have certainly found its way onto a Hebrew exam...let's not get bogged down there, but if you have a bunch of spare time, have fun categorizing that particular preposition.

"All nations" (goyim) Once, while working at my firm in New York, I was called a goyim.  This is, in modern Jewish slang, often a derogatory term for non-Jews.  However, in the Bible, it simply refers to the nations -- the εθνε (ethne) in Greek.
 
2:3  Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

"For out of Zion shall go forth instruction"  The word for instruction here is "Torah" which can mean many things, including Law.  The LXX will actually translate this as νομος (nomos).  More broadly, Torah can also include, not simply the laws, but also the story that involves the instruction.  This is probably too technical a point for a sermon, but the point that people could understand is that in the Bible, instruction never drops from the sky, but always comes to the people in a relationship and for their good.

"the word of the LORD"  Here again we have the word "Devar" (translated as logos by LXX). 

"from Jerusalem."  Before, people were streaming to (אל) the city ..but now the word is going out from מן) Jerusalem.

2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

No language comment, but a point:  Good laws (justice) leads to peace

2:5  O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
"Let us walk"  This phrases echoes the previous verse:  "They will say...come, let us..."  This is why the translation, "In the last days," is not as helpful because 2:5 invites us to participate in that vision here and now.
"Light of the Lord"  This is the only time that this expression appears in the Bible.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Luke 23:33-43

This passage occurs on Christ the King Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary (Year C).
 
Summary
There is an ambiguity in the Greek this week.  Do those mocking Jesus disbelieve he is king or, knowing this, misunderstand what this means?  I think the world has often suffered, not simply because we deny Jesus' his title, but because we misunderstand what it means for him to be king.  This passage offers great contrasts between Jesus' rule (or even economy) and that of Rome (and the world):  Jesus willingness to die and forgive.  A smaller detail also offers a large contrast:  Jesus earlier had commanded his disciples to divide the bread during communion; here the soldiers divide his garments.  The world divides the spoils; Jesus shares the wealth. 

Key Words
σταυρόω (23:33; 'crucify')  As scholar Martin Hengel writes, “Death on the cross was the penalty for slaves, as everyone knew; as such it symbolized extreme humiliation, shame and torture.”  People wear crosses around the necks and jewelry today.  Not so in Jesus' day.

διαμερίζω  (23:34; see also 22:17, "divide")  The soldiers divide Jesus garments by lot.  Interesting, a scene early in the passion Jesus has the disciples divides the bread.  Quite a contrast between the kingdom of Rome and the Kingdom of Jesus!

χριστος (23:35,39, "Christ" or "Anointed.")  This word is from the Hebrew: "Messiah," which means anointed.  Worth pointing out is that Jesus has been called the Christ before.  First, by angels (2:11), then by Peter (4:41) and perhaps one could argue, by the penitent thief.

σωσάτω εαυτόν (23:25, 37 and 39, "Save yourself")  This is clear in the English, but worth pointing out.  Three times Jesus is commanded to save himself (or "save yourself).  Jesus was tempted three times in the wilderness.  At the end he is tempted three times as well.  This reveals the real purpose of the original temptations -- to avoid Jesus dying on the cross.  The kings of this world save themselves.  Jesus saves others.  (It also brings up an interesting question:  Could Jesus have saved himself at that point?  I believe the questions suggest he could of, but until the end, suffered willingly).

βασιλεύς (23:38; "King")  As BDAG puts it, "one who rules as possessor of the highest office in a political realm."  This doesn't mean mayor.  King.  In Athens, he had charge of the public worship and the conduct of criminal processes.

Grammar Review:  εἰ
Once again we come to the lovely word "εἰ."  This can mean "if" or "since."  The correct translation depends on context but especially on the mood of the verb.  If the verb is in the subjunctive, "εἰ" should most likely be translated "if."  If the verb is in the indicative mode, then "εἰ" should be translated as "since."  In this particular passage, the verbs are indicative, so perhaps we should go with "Since you are the son of God."  Perhaps it makes little difference, but the translation begs a question:  Are the passers-by, the soliders and even the thief wrong about him being the son of God; or are they wrong about what it means to be the son of God.  If you translate εἰ as "if" then you are arguing they don't know that he is the son of God.  If you translate εἰ as "since" then you are arguing that they know he is the son of God, they just don't have a clue what this means for the world.  I think the later translation probably makes us more uncomfortable and hence why we go with the grammatically incorrect (or at least less correct) "If you are the son of God..."

Sentence Translation. 23:33
καὶ ὀτι ἠλθον ἐπὶ τὸν τόπον τὸν καλούμενον Κρανίον, ἐκει ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτὸν καὶ τοὺς κακούργους, ὀν μὲν εκ δεξιων, ὀν δὲ εξ ἀριστερων

(NRSV) When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

I picked this sentence because its not that hard in the Greek, but you need to know a trick or two to get through it.

First task, as always is to divide the sentence in to smaller pieces.  Use the commas:
1) καὶ ὀτε ἠλθον ἐπὶ τὸν τόπον τὸν καλούμενον  Κρανίον
2)  ἐκει ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτὸν καὶ τοὺς κακούργους
3)  ὀν μὲν εκ δεξιων
4)  ὀν δὲ εξ ἀριστερων

Looking at section 1: First, look for a verb.  Ah!  Notice the nice verb: ἠλθον.  This normal, nice looking aorist verb tells you two things -- one, you have a relatively straight-forward part of the sentence here and two, the subject of your sentence is I or they.  Remember, Greek can bury the subject in the verb.

Fill in what you know:  "And when they upon the place the "something-ugly" Kranion."

The "something ugly" is an adjective participle.  Easy to translate; easy to recognize.  Notice the pattern:  the +noun+ the + participle:  τὸν τόπον τὸν καλούμενον

The formula is "the noun who/which does the verb of the participle."
Or in this case, "The place which calls Kranion."
You also need to recognize (perhaps again through software) that it is a passive participle.  You should be able to figure this out on your own...know how?  Hint:  μεν
So you fix for the passive voice:
"The place which is called Kranion."  Kranion, or Cranion, means skull.  So we fix this up:
The place which is called "Skull"

"And then they came to the place which is called "Skull"

2)  ἐκει ἐσταύρωσαν αὐτὸν καὶ τοὺς κακούργους

Again, find the verb.  Notice again, its a nice verb:  ἐσταύρωσαν   Long, but not too bad...classic aorist.  Adds an "ε" in the beginning and "σ" toward the end.  Also tells you the subject:  "They"

So another basic sentence with a little twist:  "Here they cruficified him and the-something or other"

Here we have the "substantive" participle.  Easiest in the book to translate.  Formula is:  "the+participle" and transaltes, "The one/ones who/which verb"  In this case:  "The ones who do bad things."

So we put it all back together:  "Here they cruficified him and the others who did bad things."

3) ὀν μὲν εκ δεξιων

4) ὀν δὲ εξ ἀριστερων

A little hint:  μὲν and  δὲ is a parallel structure hint:  "on the one hand...and on the other." 

To translate ὀν you should put in "who."  "who on the one hand of his left, who on the other hand of his left."
In fact, since ὀν is accusative, this should be"  "whom on one hand..."  But this is all too confusing and we let the words we've heard most of our life suffice:  "one on his left and the other on his right."

Two questions for you:  why is ὀν in the accusative?   (Because the sentence is describing the two bad guys.  The bad guys were in the accusative and so the writer is letting you know he is still talking about them by keeping things in the same case.)

And why is it εξ instead of εκ before ἀριστερων?  Because the Greeks like a harder sound before words that begin with vowels.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Luke 21:5-19

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary in Year C, most recently November 2016.
 
Summary:  The translators do a good job in this passage of not "covering up" the intensity of Jesus words.  As I played around in the Greek, I found a number of odd parallels between this passage and the resurrection account in Luke 24.  First, both this story and the resurrection story are haunting.  Here Jesus warns the people not to be terrified (πτοέω).  When his disciples encounter Jesus after the resurrection, they will be terrified.  Next, Jesus warns of the listeners they will be betrayed (παραδίδωμι); after the resurrection, the disciples will hear the angels announce that it was necessary for Jesus to be betrayed.  Finally, Jesus tells them about their future witness (μαρτύριον); after the resurrection, Jesus will send them out to be his witnesses to the world. 

These are loose parallels, I admit.  The basic point of the passage is that witnessing to Christ is connected with our suffering and finally, our own resurrection.  I would argue, both from the text and theologically, however, that witnessing to Christ finally is grounded in the suffering and resurrection of Jesus.

Theological curve ball, completely unrelated to the Greek:  This week Jesus promises to give words; in Mark's account, the Holy Spirit will give the words!

Key Words:
μαρτύριον ('witness'; 21:13; see also 24:48)  Originally this word simply meant "testimony."  Because so many Christians gave their life as a martyr, however, the word eventually came to mean one who would die for a cause; ie, their willingness to die became their witness.  Jesus, after the resurrection will say, "You will be my witnesses." (Again in Acts 1:8)

πτοέω ('terrified'; 21.9; 24.37)  This word means terrified; the only other appearance of this word in the New Testament is used in Luke 24 to describe the reaction of the disciples to the risen Christ, who they believe is a ghost.

παραδίδωμι ('hand over'; 21.12; 16)  A very common word in the NT (roughly 100 times!)  Jesus ministry in the Gospel of Mark, for example, begins with the handing over (or betrayal) of John the Baptist.  Interesting to point out here is that this word will also appear in the resurrection accounts -- from the angels and then from Cleopas.
- Oddly enough, sometimes handing things over can be good -- Paul, for example, says he is simply handing over the words of institution (11:23) and the core kyrgma (15:3).

ὐπομονή ('endurance'; 21.19)  Although rare in the Gospels, the epistles in the NT are filled with calls for endurance!  6x in Romans; 7x in Revelation.  The word means to endure and is often connected with suffering.  See Romans 5:3:  "Suffering produces endurance (NRSV)"

κτάομαι ('acquire'; 21.19)  This word appears rather infrequently in the NT.  One example is from Acts, where an official mentions he acquired his citizenship for a large amount of money (22.28).  This word does not mean hold but means acquire.

Grammar Review:  Non-necessity of an implied subject (its easier than it sounds)
In Greek, because you conjugate the verb based on who is the subject, you don't always need to list the subject.  For instance:  "λεγω" tells you both the action (speaking) and the subject (I).  Normally, in fact, Greek doesn't explicitly say the subject, but the reader/listener figures it out from the conjugated verb. 
Sometimes though Greek will leave in the non-necessary subject for emphasis.  This is true in a particular expression:  "I am" or "εγω ειμι."  This particular expression is often used as a name of God -- the one who is!  A handful of times Jesus will use this in the Gospels, most pointedly in John.  In this particular passage, Jesus says that many will come and that "I am," using two words, the subject and verb.  Again, the subject is unnecessary.  So why the emphasis?  First, because anyone declaring they are the messiah would probably want to emphasize the fact that they were indeed the Messiah.  Secondly, someone could employ this construction to indicate, in short hand, that they are God.

What is really worth pointing out is that only once will Jesus use these words for himself in the Gospel of Luke.  After the resurrection he stands in the midst of his disciples and say, "εγω ειμι."  (24.39)  A reminder that its not only in John that Jesus uses such expressions!

Sentence Translation: 21:9
οταν δε ακουσητε πολεμους και ακαταστατιας, μη πτοηθητε; δει γαρ ταυτα γενεσθαι προτον, αλλ ουκ ευθεως το τελος

First step, as always, is to break down the sentence into smaller parts.  Let the punctuation help you here.
1) οταν δε ακουσητε πολεμους και ακαταστατιας
2) , μη πτοηθητε;
3)  δει γαρ ταυτα γενεσθαι προτον
4) , αλλ ουκ ευθεως το τελος

Now you've got four fragments, each of which is really translatable
1) οταν δε ακουσητε πολεμους και ακαταστατιας

First step to translating a clause is to figure out its subject-verb.  Here this is ακουσητε , which is conjugated (thanks Bible Works) for a 2nd person plural.  But you knew that anyway, right ;-) 

The basic of the sentence is then:  You hear

- Do you know yet why the verb is in the subjunctive mood?

πολεμους και ακαταστατιας is the object:  wars and destruction.  Its in the accusative case telling you its the object of the action.  So in proto-english:
You hear wars and destruction
You gotta add in the "of" because in English the verb "hear" needs this
You hear of wars and destruction


Now lets go back (skip the de) and figure out this conjunction οταν.  Actually, pretty straight-forward again.  It means "when" or "whenever."  It also demands the subjunctive mood of the verb. 

Clause 1:  "Whenever you hear of wars and destruction."
2) , μη πτοηθητε;

Translation:  Do not be terrified.  Worth noting here.  Simple aorist subjunctive regarding a future event/action we are not to engage in ;-)  Normally in the Bible, the words "do not fear" are in the present (and not aorist) tense, suggesting that the person who hears them is currently fearing.  The aorist subjunctive doesn't assume the person currently engages in such actions!

Clause 2:  Do not be (or perhaps even become) terrified.

3) δει γαρ ταυτα γενεσθαι προτον

When you see a dei clause, look for a verb in the infinitive.  In this case - γενεσθαι.  So we know that the basic translation of this passage will be :  "It is necessary to happen/be/occur."  Once you know you are in an infinitive clause, then find your subject, which will be in the accusative case. 

Agh!  There are two things in the accustative:  ταυτα and προτον.  Well, it turns out that Greek likes to stick neuter accustative adjectives in there as adverbs -- προτον (first) in this case.  So you get "It is necessary for these (things) to happen first."  But even if you didn't know about first functioning as an adverb, "It is necessary for first to happen this" doesn't work.  Add back in the "gar" and you get:

Clause 3 "For it is necessary for these things to happen first." 

4) , αλλ ουκ ευθεως το τελος

"But not immediately the end."  If we recall from last week, sometimes Greek drops the "to be" verb.  So we can get:  "But the end is not immediately."  Or perhaps better: "But the end will not happen immediately."  It is not so hard to conceptually figure out what the Greek means, but its kind of awkward English.

Clause 4:  "But the end will not happen immediately."

Monday, October 31, 2016

Luke 6:20-31

This passage occurs in Revised Common Lectionary for All Saints Sunday in year C, most recently November 2016.
 
Summary:
You don’t need Greek to catch the big picture here: Jesus is turning the world upside down and is, well, happy about it! What the Greek can help us with, but not necessarily solve, is the trickier issue of who are blessed, when they are blessed, and what this blessing looks like. For example, Jesus does not say in Greek, “Blessed are you who are poor” but rather he simply says, “Blessed are the poor.” Are we included in that? Does Jesus himself bless the poor in heaven? Does Jesus bless them now with good things, like his relational love? Or, are the poor blessed because the Kingdom of God belongs to the disciples, who will, in turn, bless the poor. Again, the Greek doesn’t change the radical nature of the passage but rather invites us into the rugged yet rejoicing terrain of Jesus’ thought.

First, a little warm up:
Something the translators missed in the first verse of this section (6:20):  Jesus did not simply look up, but he lifted his eyes into them. Luke begins this passage with emotional intensity!

Key Words:

μακάριος (‘blessed’ or ‘happy’: 6:20; 21; 22): The theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Spicq) gets at both striking points of this word and how it is used in the beatitudes. After a long summary of the Greek understanding of what it means to be blessed (pretty much what average Americans think), The Lexicon finally reviews Jesus' words: “It is impossible to insist too strongly on the meaning of this μακάριος …This is much more than contentment; it is an interior joy that becomes external, elation translated into shouts, songs, acclamations. …Secondly, the new faith implies a reversal of all human values; happiness is no longer attached to wealth, to having enough, to a good reputation, power, possessions of the goods of this world, but to poverty alone.”

πλουσίος (‘rich’; 6:24): Luke uses this word more times than the rest of the Gospels combined. Generally, Luke has a fairly negative attitude toward the rich, however, it would be unfair to say that Luke, or therefore Jesus, simply criticizes them. Zacchaeus, for example, is rich; Jesus comes to his house!

οὐρανος (‘heaven’: 6:23): It might be tempting to think of heaven as a “state of being” rather than a place. However, in Luke’s Gospel, heaven is not simply a relationship or a state of the world, but a place. Luke uses the word 35 times, almost exclusively to refer to the dwelling place of God, but in a very concrete way, namely, the space above us. The point of this is to say that Jesus, according to Luke, is not saying: Well, you will be poor but you will have me. Jesus is saying, you are suffering now but have a reward (μισθός) in heaven. But we will return to this point!

μισθός (‘wages’ or ‘reward’: 6:23 also 6:35). This word literally means pay, as in a worker receives his pay for a day’s work (Luke 10:7; Matthew 20:8).

Grammar review: Predicate adjectives and nouns

In Greek, as in Hebrew, a sentence can occasionally lack a verb. For example, Psalm 25:8, translated as, “Good and upright is the LORD,” simply reads in the Hebrew: Good-upright LORD. Admittedly, Hebrew always seems to be missing words the English reader longs for. However, here Hebrew is simply putting the adjectives (good and upright) in predicate form. This is how grammar people, whose addiction to Latin is scary, describe the placement of the word “brown” in: “The cow is brown” instead of “The brown cow.” The point is that the author is saying that the rest of the stuff in the sentence (like in Psalm 25: Good and upright) describes the subject (God). Because of the rules of Hebrew, you don’t have to use a verb when you do this. You let the reader do the work.

Greek does this less frequently (far less frequently) but on occasion it still happens. In verse 6:23 we have such a construction:ιδου γαρ ο μισθος υηων πολυς εν τω ουρανω
or literally “Behold for your wages great in heaven.” A predicate adjective, meaning, the phrase “great in heaven” describes the wages (even though we lack the verb "is" or "will" or any form of "to be").

So has our grammar helped us derive meaning? Well, maybe. The point is that the wages are great and are in heaven. We know then, the WHAT (great) and the WHERE (in heaven). The question then is WHEN do we get them! The sentence grammar suggests they are in existence now.  But do we have access to them?

Verse Analysis:
NSRV: Luke 6:20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Και αυτος επαρας τους οφθαλμους αυτου εις τους μαθητας αυτου ελεγεν Μακαριοι οι πτωχοι, οτι υμετερα εστιν η βασιλεια του θεου

First step is to divide and conquer. Here you have at least three parts based on punctuation alone:

1 Και αυτος επαρας τους οφθαλμους αυτου εις τους μαθητας αυτου ελεγεν
2 Μακαριοι οι πτωχοι,
3 οτι υμετερα εστιν η βασιλεια του θεου

1 Και αυτος επαρας τους οφθαλμους αυτου εις τους μαθητας αυτου ελεγεν

This sentence is a classic mid-level sentence. The first part of the sentence is a participle phrase around the participle (επαρας). You probably don’t recognize the verb. That is okay. Bible Works tells you it’s an aorist participle. You also know it’s a circumstantial participle (see some of my previous articles). Anyway, aorist circumstantial participles are rather easy to translate. You can simply make them into indicative: “lifted up.” Sure, you might get flowery and add some adverbs or clauses to connect it, but for first go, just make it an indicative (and past tense verb). So if we plug all the words in we literally get:

“and he lifted up the eyes of him in the disciples of him he saying.”

The only slightly tricky part is how one gets “of him” from αυτου. That you can look up on your own, but you can tell that this sentence, once you get rid of the hanging slider of a participle, is actually quite straight forward.

By now you’ve also figured out that the English translators have watered down this puppy. It should not simply read “he looked at them,” but “Jesus lifted his eyes toward them.” (You could even go with “into” them for εις, but probably best to stick with “toward.” Furthermore, the imperfect on the verb “speak” (λεγειν) means that he was continually speaking, perhaps even repeating himself. So, we drop the “και” and here we go:

Αfter he lifted his eyes toward them, he began speaking,”

2 Μακαριοι οι πτωχοι,

Blessed are the poor. The Bible does not say, “Blessed are you who are poor.” It simply says, “Blessed are the poor.” I prefer talking about people as individuals first and adjectives second (the people who are poor vs the poor).  But it brings up the question here -- is Jesus talking about the individuals who are poor or the whole group?

3 οτι υμετερα εστιν η βασιλεια του θεου

On the one level, this too is easy to translate. Just stick in the words:

“Because yours is the kingdom of God.”

However, not so fast. η βασιλεια του θεου: “Kingdom of God” is tricky. The genitive case has a lot of possibilities. In English this ambiguity is preserved because the word “of” is ambiguous too. A few examples of possible translations:

a) “Kingdom belonging to God” (The house of my family)

b) “Kingdom from God” (Sound of water drops)

c) “Kingdom done by God” (Singing of a choir)

d) “Kingdom for God” (Love of money)

e) “Kingdom consisting of God” (as in “bag of money)

Two translation possibilities:

First, the not-very-exciting-leave-well-enough-alone

“Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

Second, the out there translation:

“Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom from God.”

In other words, the poor are blessed because we, who hear God’s Word, have the kingdom from God to give away to them!

Let’s put it all together:

After he lifted his eyes toward them, he began speaking, repeating, “Blessed are the poor, because yours, you who are listening, is the Kingdom which comes from God.”

Monday, October 17, 2016

Luke 18:9-14

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently October 2016.

Summary:

This is a small passage, but loaded with meaning! A little thing worth pointing out: The worshipers go up to worship and come back down. A reminder that worship isn't just like every other experience. We come into the presence of the living God. Like the tax-collector in this passage and Isaiah before him, this demands our confession!

Key words:
αναβαινω (go up; 18:10) and καταβαινω (go down; 18:14); It is a small note, but it is interesting that the worshipers go up to worship and come down into their homes. Luke does not seem to use the language often (Jesus does go up into the mountain to pray in Luke 9:28) but this seems like something worth mentioning in our casual culture -- even the sinners must go up to worship.

τελονως (tax-collector; 18:10,11,13): The word tax-collector is used almost exclusively in the same breath as sinners. Tax-collectors (publicanus in Latin) were notorious for taking more than their fair share.

εξουθενεω (despise; 18:9): This word is not just reserved for tax-collectors, but Christians run into this problem...(See Rom. 14:3, 10; 1 Cor. 1:28; 6:4; 16:11; 2 Cor. 10:10)

δικαιοω (justify; 18:14): Lovely word for us Lutherans (and all Christians). A reminder, God justifies. Never used in the active sense correctly; by this I mean that in the Bible and in real life, we can try to justify ourselves, but finally, only God makes right. Even in James, when works do the making right, the person is still only passively justified! (See James 2:21-25). (There are times when the verb appears in the active voice; but this normally occurs when God speaking or the people asking for God to bring justice).

ιλασκομαι (have mercy on; Luke 14:13). A rare word in the NT; only mentioned as verb in Hebrews 2:17. This word and its cousins are always a matter of intense debate: How do we translate the concept of appease/expiate for sins? What does Paul means by this in Romans 3:25?? What is interesting here is that the person does not offer a sacrifice of bulls (see Deut 21.8) or any animal following Old Testament codes, but simply a broken and contrite heart, recalling Psalm 51

υψοω (exalt; 18:14) The word here, interestingly, is used in Luke 1:52; God promises to exalt the humble! (And again in Luke 14:11, an almost copy of 18:14). Luke uses this word in an adjective form (exalted) quite frequently to refer to God.

Grammar review: Substantive participles

These are the easiest participles to translate. You get definite article+participle.

Easy formula:

The one/ones who do X.

The only thing that can trip you up is that occasionally you will get other words around them and in between them like: "de" or "pas" (all).

So: o δε ακουσας (Luke 18:23) is simply
The one who listens.

Verse analysis:
Luke 18:14 λεγω υμιν κατεβη ουτος δεδικαιωμενος εις τον οικον αυτου παρ' εκεινον οτι πας ο υψων εαυτον ταπεινωθησεται, ο δε ταπεινων εαυτον υψωθησεται
NRS Luke 18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

See also Luke 14:11 for the almost same sentence!
First step is to divide this sentence into three parts:

1) λεγω υμιν
2)  κατεβη ουτος δεδικαιωμενος εις τον οικον αυτου παρ' εκεινον
3) οτι πας ο υψων εαυτον ταπεινωθησεται, ο δε ταπεινων εαυτον υψωθησεται

How did I decide on this breakdown? Well, the comma and dot (semicolon essentially) suggest this. οτι (hoti) is a conjunction that also tells you as a reader that a new clause is starting

1) λεγω υμιν: Simple interjection -- I am saying to you.

2) κατεβη ουτος δεδικαιωμενος εις τον οικον αυτου παρ' εκεινον -- this is a big one, so let's break this down. Take the low hanging fruit first:

εις τον οικον αυτου: Into his house. εις takes the accusative case; αυτουis genitive to describe the relationship of the house to the man. Simply translate with "of" as in "into the house of him." Or more elegantly, "into his house"

παρ' εκεινον:
note:  I had translated this small phrase incorrectly.  Here are my revised comments:
The word "para" can mean "alongside of."  Some have then pushed this phrase (including NT scholar Amy Jill-Levine) to argue for the translation, "Justified, he went into his house along with the other one" arguing that the justification to which Jesus refers is given to both the pharisee and the publican.  I'd like to argue this is not the best translation, but rather "as opposed to the other one" as it is usually translated, is the preferred translation.

First, in terms of textual criticisms, there are a few different traditions in the manuscripts regarding this passage.  The other variants add in (or replace para with) η meaning "rather."  If you have a variety of manuscripts, it seems more logical, at least to me, that people would replace words with synonyms, than words that would signify an entirely different ending to the parable. 

Second, grammatically para in the accusative suggests a parallel position --  an "adjacent comparison of reference" in the words of my-becoming-friend Matthew Frost.  Any time you have para+accusative in the New Testament, para refers to someone living along a water body or it refers to something in opposition to something else.  I.e., comparison is the function of the preposition in the New Testament when used with the accusative.

Third, prepositions are hard to nail down...so let's even say we agreed that the changes from παρα to η were cover-ups of the uncomfortable nature of the story...and that this should mean "along with."  At this point, para ekeinon appears after the prepositional phrase "into his house" and not "justified" suggesting that this phrase would be modifying with "into the house" or functioning as an adverb for the main verb (went down.)  In short, at best, you could argue that the man walked along with each other.  But this seems really counter intuitive to the story.

Fourth, the whole context -- the whole story -- is one of contrast.  It seems entirely out of character to sandwich a moment of cooperation and grace in a story of over exaggerated contrast with a conclusion that says the outcomes are different for these different groups of people (the humble and the exalted).

Now...can you talk about how the pharisee is justified by grace and that in the Kingdom of God, both walk along side each other.  Yes.   But this is not a grammatical possibility for this story, although theologically always a a possibility!

Okay, so now you've got: κατεβη ουτος δεδικαιωμενος into his house as opposed to the other one.

The κατεβη is the east part: Simple means he/she/it went down, which makes sense because you have "into his house" and also, earlier the Greek says they went up to worship (vs 9).

The ουτος is a bit trickier because you don't see it that much. It simply means this/that. If Jesus had used "autos" it would have simply read: "He went down" By using ουτος Jesus can say, "This very one" adding a bit of emphasis.

Now you've got: "This very one went down into his house from there." You can officially tackle the participle! Which in this case means "being made righteous," or "being justified." A circumstantial participle to boot...So he did all of this going down under the circumstance of being justified.

So, let's put this all together: "This very one, having been made righteous, went down into this house unlike the other one.

Now we come to the last part of the sentence:
3) οτι πας ο υψων εαυτον ταπεινωθησεται, ο δε ταπεινων εαυτον υψωθησεται

Basically you have a little parallel going here:

substantive participle+infinitive; substantive participle + infinitive

So you get, "all who do X, then Y; all who do Y, then X."

(See above for substantive participle translation)

All who exalt themselves will be humbled; all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, most recently October 2016.

Summary:  I doubt many of us will preach on this passage, but I wanted to offer a look at a few quick things.  Ministry is hard.  But Christ is faithful.

Three words
αναλυσις (literally analysis, meaning "death", 4:6)  I find it telling that analysis literally means death in Greek.  Ultimately to analyze something is to break it down...to the point where it may or not be living!  This is not a note suggesting that analysis is bad (this blog is devoted to analysis!), but it is reminder of how analysis can destroy the goodness, if not even life of something.

αγωνα (literally agona, meaning "struggle", 4:7)  I have fought the good fight sometimes makes it sound almost romantically Olympic.  The word for fight here comes into English as agony.  Throughout his letters, but certainly in this chapter, Paul points toward the loneliness and even persecution that comes from serving Christ.  This truly is a pastoral epistle, encouraging Timothy (and all of us) not to lose hope, even in the most difficult of times.

αγαπαω (agape, meaning "love", 4:8)  This is really fascinating -- Almost every translation uses the phrase - "those who have longed for his appearing."  Paul literally writes, "those who have loved his appearing."  The first question is -- which appearing is Paul referring to?  His first (incarnation) or his second (paraousia)?  The bulk of the time Paul uses this word, it refers to the 2nd coming.  However, in 2 Timothy 1:10 Paul uses this word (appearing -- επιφανεια) to refer to the 1st coming.   What is also interesting is that Paul uses the perfect tense here, suggesting a state of affairs created in the past that still is in effect to the present.  In that light, it seems that Paul is referring to a love that began in this first appearing and still maintains itself as a love for the 2nd appearing.  I'm not sure we could easily capture this sense in English:  "those who loved and continue to long for his appearing."

A Greek concept:  Perfect tense
Just about every verb in this section is in the perfect tense.  The perfect tense in Greek is fairly easy to identify because the Greek verb adds a repeated sound to the beginning of the verb and the endings usually have "k."  Hence:  τελεω becomes τετελεκα. 

They are really cool because we do not have the same concept in English.  The perfect suggests a completed action (like in English) but one that still has a present state of affairs.
For example, in Greek, the stone at the tomb has been rolled away .  All four of those words are in the one verb in Greek, parsed in the perfect tense!!  The point is that at some point, the stone was rolled away (past completed action) that still has a present impact -- the stone is not there!  In the case of Paul's letter, Paul has kept (perfect) the faith.  Paul did this in the past, but it has a present implication -- he still has faith!  The perfect tense in English draws attention to when the action happened (completed in the past).  The perfect tense in Greek draws attention to the connection between the past action and present state (like in the example above regarding love.)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Luke 18:1-8

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary Year C, most recently in October 2016
 
Summary
This parable does not simply commend us or even command us to pray; rather it humbles into prayer. The Greek used indicates Jesus told them this parable to make it necessary for them to pray. The particular construction and use of the word "necessity" do not suggest a teaching moment, but a transformation one, where people are humbled into prayer. What kind of God would compare himself to an unjust judge, who only gives in when brow-beaten? Furthermore, the particulars of the grammar -- the inclusion of the word "they" -- reveal this is not simply about the need for prayer in the abstract, but this parable is intended for us who hear it that we would pray.

The preaching task then is not simply to teach about prayer but fill the peoples hearts (and guts) with a hunger for prayer.  For those preaching with the Revised Common Lectionary, this passage is paired with Jacob wrestling with God, perhaps the example of God making it necessary for someone to pray.

Key Words
δει: (It is necessary; 18.1). The translations suggest Jesus used this parable to 'show' people they should pray. Actually, the word in Greek carries more force then should; It is used, for example, when Jesus says, "it is necessary for the son of man to die." Furthermore, the word "show" is never used. Luke (in the Greek) does not say this parable shows them why prayer is necessary but the parable makes prayer necessary! See below for more on the construction.

εκδικεω (revenge, 18.3;5) This word is hardly used in the NT; it does not simply mean justice, but really vengeance (as in Romans 12:10; Vengeance is mine.")

υπωτιαζω (wear out or beat; 18:5) This word does not simply mean annoy or wear down, but means to give a black eye. Paul talks in 1 Cor 9:27 about beating his body (and not punching the air).

μακροθυμια (delay, 18:7). This word does not really mean delay. It means be patient (as in love is patient, 1 Cor 13:4). It seems that the verse ought to be translated, "Will God not be patient?" This is really strange because patience is one of the key characteristics about God.  Jesus really seems to be pushing his point here.  In the abstract, God is patient, but in our prayer life God becomes something more immediate and involved.

Grammar point
See sentence review about articular infinitives. Read this and then try 18:5, the first five words. Hint: δια here means "because."
Also 18:4 is a great example of an "ει" clause where "ει" means "since" and not "if"

Sentence review
NRS Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
18:1 ελεγεν δε παραβολην αυτοις προς το δειν παντοτε προσευχεσθαι αυτους και μη εγκακειν

ελεγεν δε παραβολην αυτοις : "Then he was telling them a parable." The four words here are all learned in the first few weeks of Greek: λεγω, to speak; δε, and; παραβολη, parable; αυτος, he/she/it. However, you've got to work a bit to put then together. Let's start with "δε." You can ignore this, or add a "then/when/and" to connect this sentence to the previous one. The next word to look at is "παραβολην." Easy enough -- you just have to realize that in Greek, they rarely ever include an indefinite article (τις) and so you have to add "a" before the word.

"λεγω" is simply to speak, but because it is in the imperfect (parsing review: why not aorist or future?), you have to give a little bit of umph here: "Was continually telling...", something that reflects the on-going nature of the action. Finally you go to "αυτοις ." This is "he" in the plural dative. First, make it plural: "they" now dative: "to/with/for/through them." Put this all together and you get: Then he was telling them a parable.

προς το δειν παντοτε προσευχεσθαι αυτους: "so they would need to pray all the time." The παντοτε is the easy part; simply an adverb meaning always or at all times The tricky part is the "articular infinitive with preposition." In this case, "προς το δειν." Pros means toward; when used in an articular infinitive, it shows purpose or reason. The purpose of the parable then, is the necessity of prayer. The parable is not really "to show them it is necessary" but really, "so that they would need to pray."  More tricky here, the verb "dei" requires another verb (it is necessary to do something), which in this case is "pray" (προσευχεσθαι ). So you get: "for the reason of being necessary to pray." The αυτους is simply here an accusative form of autos, or "they." Because its part of an infinitive clause, it behaves not as an accusative, but as a nominative, namely, the subject. This might not seem like much, but by adding this word it moves it from "the necessity of prayer" to "the necessity of them praying."

και μη εγκακειν: "Not be discouraged." The μη is the Greek "no" for non-indicative moods. What does that mean? Well, if the sentence is "I do not go to the store" the 'no' in Greek would be "ουκ." However, if you have a command or an infinitive or a participle, you get "μη " In this case, the word discouraged is connected with the verb, "δει" or it is necessary. You know this because it is an infinitive and not an imperative (a command). So the parable is also for the purpose of them not losing heart.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Luke 17:11-19

Summary:
This week has just about every key theological word: glory, salvation, Eucharist, healing, mercy. The word I want to draw you attention to, however, is "πιπτω," or fall. The man literally falls on his face to give God thanks. When was the last time you were not simply knocked to your knees, but you actually fell flat on your face in thanksgiving -- got so low to the ground you could smell the carpet??

I also spend some time throughout this blog reflecting on faith and healing, which have a fascinating relationship in this passage!

Key Words

αλλογενης (17:18, "foreigner"): This word is used only once in the NT. It literally means "other genes." That is the kind of God we have in Jesus Christ, one who welcomes ones with other genes; not other customs, but other genes!

πιπτω (17.16, "fell", "threw himself" or even "prostrated"):  The word here is not kneel, or pray but literally fall on his face. When was the last time you prayed with your face flat on the ground?  This is common in other religions, but I rarely see Christians do this (at least, in American contexts with which I am familiar).

λεπρος ('lepros', 17.12, "leper"): The Greek is interesting here in that the word 'leper' appears before the word for man (andros). The first thing we find out is not their humanness, but their disease. The NIV and NET cover up this fact their translations.  How often do we identify people by their disease and not their humanity!  Perhaps part of healing is the restoration of the primacy of our human identity!  To push is further, Christ's salvation means we are no longer called "fat" or "white" or "athletic" or "nerdy" but instead we are called "child of God."

ελεησον ('eleison', 17.13, "mercy"): The men today cry out, "Jesus have mercy" in the Greek, a chant we cry out weekly in our worship.

Some other words to notice:
ευχαριστω ('eucharistoo', 17.16, "give thanks"): Literally "Eucharist"; the man, from his knees, gives thanks to God!

δοχαζω ('doxazoo', 17.18 as noun; 17.15 as verb, "glory") Here it means give praise, but the word in Greek is doxe, as in doxology.  Orthodoxy is meant to ensure the glory is given to God!

σωζω ('sozo', 17.19, "save") The granddaddy of 'em all -- salvation -- appears in this sentence, a reminder that, as always, spiritual and physical healing are related.  When Jesus says that the man's faith saved him, we see very clearly that Luke is not suggesting "your belief in a set of propositional truths gave you keys to heaven."  What Jesus seems to be saying is more on long the lines: "your trust in my word and power motivated action from you that transformed your life in a way that have experienced the salvation of God."  For all good theologians, faith leads to action!  Salvation and healing are bigger than life-after-death.  (The only caveat from a Lutheran perspective is that even when faithful, sin mars our actions and certain our capacity to judge the actions and therefore faith of our neighbors).  This is not to argue against ever-lasting life, but rather to suggest that the salvation of God comes to us here and now.

ιαομαι ('iaomai', 17.15, "healed) This word comes into English in "psychiatry"

Grammar point: "Articular Infinitive"
Luke uses a whole bunch of articular infinitives. It is a construction we really don't have in English but it makes sense. 17.11 literally reads: "And it happened in the walking into Jerusalem." ' In the walking' is an articular infinitive with preposition. Which sounds complex but it means you have the following: preposition (in, with, for)+the+infinitive. In this case in+the+walking. To translate you need to figure out two things. First, who is doing the action. And second, what does the preposition mean. In this sentence, the subject of the infinitive phrase is not really given, but you can guess its Jesus and the disciples. (Reminder -- the subject of an infinitive is given in the accusative). Second, the preposition in this case, "en" signifies concurrent action. So... "And it happened in the walking into Jerusalem..." becomes "While they entered Jerusalem,"

See 17.14 to test yourself if you understand this.  In fact, 17:14 highlights that the being cleansed did not happen when they heard the word of Jesus (go to the priests) but when they left Jesus.  They were told to present themselves to the priests while they were unclean, either meaning that Jesus was giving them permission to be lepers in the temple or that they had faith in the certainty of their healing.  A fascinating debate -- either case would be a tremendous example of their faith!

Sentence breakdown:  Luke 17:16
NRSV He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.
Greek  και επεσεν επι προσωπον παρα τους ποδας αυτου ευχαριστων αυτω και αυτος ην Σαμαριτης

και επεσεν : Easy way to start a sentence. Ignore the kai (for now at least) and then translate the verb, 3rd person singular aorist: "He fell"

επι προσωπον: Easy preposition: Upon (a) face.

παρα τους ποδας αυτου: Similarly an easy phrase to translate: "at the feet of him." Reminder: αυτου and its various forms, 95% of the time, refer to prepositions. They can mean "very" and "same" but this happens rarely.

So "he fell upon a face at his feet." The NRSV simplifies: He prostrated himself.  I like it, although some many not know what "prostrated" means.

ευχαριστων αυτω: Now the sentence gets a bit trickier. However, its still pretty straight forward (as far as circumstantial participles go!). To translate the preposition, let's plug it in:
step one: Determine what type -- circumstantial
step two: rough translation by adding "ing": "giving thanks"
step three: figure out who: "the leper"
step four: adjust tense and voice -- in this case, unnecessary.
step five: put it in the sentence: "He prostrated himself at the feet of Jesus, (the leper) giving thanks."
In this case, because neither the subject nor even the verb tense changes from sentence to participle, its plug and play!

και αυτος ην Σαμαριτης: And he was a Samaritan.

This sentence can be a good review of your pronouns!