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."