Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Matthew 5:13-20

This passage occurs in the Epiphany season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently February 2017.

I updated this a fair amount in 2017.
The basic meaning of the passage should not be lost:  Discipleship of Jesus means living our lives in contrast to the world's general order.  This might invite the preacher to lean heavily on the law for such a sermon.  A closer examination of verses 18-20 suggests that Jesus clearly rejects the law as a path to salvation.  First, those who don't do law are still in the kingdom of heaven; second, those who love the law do not have the necessary righteousness and finally, the law eventually will give way in the new creation. 

Key words:
μωρανθη ("lost flavor" or "made fools," aorist passive subjunctive of μωραινω, 5:13):  The word here means "lose flavor" but elsewhere means "make fools."  Paul uses this saying that people, thinking they are wise, have become fools (Romans 1:22; 1 Cor 1:20).  Interesting to think about salt (ie, us) becoming fools!  Maybe this is precisely the call of the beatitudes and the sermon on the mount:  We are to become beaten down by the world, trampled underfoot.  Our hope is not in the world's kindness, but the power of Christ's resurrection to renew and restore us.

ορος ("mountain" or "hill", 5:14).  A small reminder that this passage takes place during the sermon on the mount!  In another blog post I look at how Matthew uses mountains.

λαμπει ("shine," of λαμπω, 5:15; also 5:16; also 17:2, during transfiguration).  The only time anyone truly shines in the Gospel of Matthew is Jesus during the transfiguration.  A reminder that the church only functions as the light when it reflects the light of Christ.

νομισητε ("think," aorist subjunctive of νομιζω, 5:17).  Jesus kind of does a play on words here.  He says that he has not come to abolish the law (νομος).  He starts out the sentence with a verb that has the same root.  Okay, nothing here for a sermon, more a little smile when you read the Greek :-)

ιωτα  ("iota," 5:18).  This is fascinating.  The law here has already been translated from Hebrew to Greek.  The tiddle of Hebrew has been changed.  Yet Jesus argues that even the smallest point of the law remains.  So do we assume here that this means the law is so eternal that it transcends language?

εως ("until," 5:18).  It is worth stopping for a second here -- until heaven and earth pass away, the law remains in power.  This suggests that the law is incredibly enduring, yet not eternal.  It too shall pass away.  It is worth remembering that the law was given to deal with sin (Galatians 3:19).  Once sin is gone, no more need for the law.  However, we will not get rid of sin until heaven and earth pass away and therefore, the law is with us.

ποιηση ("do" aorist subjunctive of ποιεω, 5:19):  Alas my Lutheran heart sinks.  Jesus actually expects us to do stuff.  It is fascinating to look up the word faith in the Gospel of Matthew.  Faith leads to sins being forgiven (9:2), heals people (9:22; 9:29; 13:58; 15:28), moves mountains (17:20), empowers prayer (21:22).  So it is not that faith and justification are separate in Matthew's Gospel.; rather, Jesus expects people to do stuff!

δικαιοσυνη ("righteousness"; 5:20)  If the Pharisees and teachers of the law have not achieved enough righteousness before the law to get into the Kingdom of Heaven, what hope do we all have?  Practically, I think Jesus reminds us that observation of the law is not just about the letter, but also the Spirit (which the Pharisees miss).  Existentially and ultimately, this verse, like so many others in Scripture, reveals that our righteousness before the law is not what gets us into heaven.  Even the most law observing people cannot achieve righteousness.  However, Jesus said in the verse prior that  people who don't do the right things are the least in the Kingdom.  So we need a righteousness that exceeds the most moral of people to get in; yet the least moral get in.  Clearly, righteousness before the heavenly throne is not based on the law.

Grammar review:  How to translate the aorist subjunctive
As you can tell from the words above, Greek likes to employ the aorist subjunctive.  This is both complex yet simple for the English reader.  It is complex because it is used in many and unusual ways.  "Subjunctive" normally refers to hypothetical events.  However, Greek conceives of the subjunctive in some different ways than English.  So understanding what is signified by the aorist subjunctive may not be very intuitive or directly translatable.  What makes it simple is that there are basically six (or so) categories of use and they all have a translation formula.  This passage has a most of the categories for translation.

εαν clause
In 5:13, you have the aorist subjunctive in εαν clause: μωρανθη
The word εαν signifies an uncertain event (technically ει αν) and will almost certainly have a verb in the subjunctive mood.  In this case, Jesus is saying that the salt may or may not lose its flavor.  The way to translate this is with the word "if."  If salt loses its flavor...

εαν + μη or ει + μη clause
In 5:20 you have this in εαν μη περισσευση.  The way to translate this is with "unless"

ος αν clause
This is akin to εαν in terms of hypothetical translations.  In 5:19 you have this with ποιηση, when its used with ος αν.  In this case you can translate it with, "whoever"

μη prohibition
5:17 reads μη νομισητε.  Greek will put simple commands in the μη + aorist subjunctive.  This implies that the listener should do this activity without implication of the action being on-going.  You could think of this as a prohibition.  It is how Greek does negative aorist prohibitions.  Like "Don't eat that" would employ aorist subjunctive.  In contrast, when Jesus says, for example, "Do not let your hearts be troubled," he uses the present tense, implying that they were worrying and they shouldn't ever again.  The way you translate this use of the aorist subjunctive is by saying, "Do not XYZ."  Aorist subjunctive makes no implication about past or future action.

ου μη prohibition
5:20  ου μη εισελθητε.  This simply should be translated as "no, not ever"  Strongest negative possible in Greek!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12

This passage occurs in the Epiphany season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently January 2017.
A very familiar passage.  What caught me this time was the focus on Jesus teaching them:  διδασκω.  Jesus is presented as a teacher in the Gospels.  Sometimes in our (Lutheran) emphasis on Jesus as savior we overlook Jesus as teacher.  This passage, if not Matthew's Gospel, can rub us the wrong way as theologians because it portrays Jesus as moralistic and therapeutic.  So where is the theology of the cross?  Well, in the beatitudes, God once again is showing up in the wrong places for the wrong people.  This is the theology of the cross and something worth teaching.

στομα ('mouth'; 5:2)  The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel all use this expression to talk about the Word coming from the mouth of the Lord.  It does not seem an entirely common phrase, but one really picked up by these three prophets, all of whom faced false prophets.  I suggest with this strange wording, Matthew harkens back to this prophetic tradition, portraying Jesus as the Word of God who had spoken through the prophets.

εδιδασκεν ('began to teach'; imperfect form of διδασκω; 5:2)  Jesus teaches in all four Gospels.  The question is, what is he teaching them?  About heaven?  About how to live?  About how they are all sinners in need of grace?  Sometimes as Lutherans we want to avoid Jesus as teacher - making him into Moses - but the Gospels have no problem with Jesus teaching!

παρακληθησονται ('they will be comforted', future passive of παρακαλεω; 5:4)  This is a major word in the Bible; in fact, the word for Holy Spirit (the advocate in John 14:26) comes from this verb.  In Isaiah 40, God promises to comfort the people.  Have fun with the concordance on this one!  It is fair to say that, although Jesus is not simply a big teddy bear, part of the mission of God is comfort.

ονειδιζω ('reproach' or 'insult'; see also 5:11; 11:20; 27:44).  This word appears twice more in Matthew's Gospel...once when Jesus rebukes the unrepentant and finally when Jesus himself is on the cross.  This would mean that Jesus is blessed even on the cross.  Moreover, it shows that Jesus is not simply talking about his disciples' conduct, but talking about his own ministry.

μακάριος (‘blessed’ or ‘happy’: 5:3 and throughout the passage): The theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Spicq) gets to the core of this word and its striking use in the beatitudes. After a long summary of the Greek understanding of what it means to be blessed (pretty much what average Americans think, namely, healthy, wealthy and wise), the Lexicon finally assesses Jesus' use: “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.”

η βασιλεια των ουρανων (5:3; the kingdom of heaven): Matthew's Gospel does not use the phrase kingdom of God.  Some scholars speculate this may be out of deference to the word God that comes from Matthew's Jewish piety.  Generally Matthew only uses θεος in quoting the OT; κυριος (often the NT translation of YHWH) is reserved for its more secular meaning, "master." 

Grammar review and verse translation:  To be or not to be?
NRS Matthew 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
μακαριοι οι πτωχοι τω πνεθματι οτι αυτων εστιν η βασιλεια των ουρανων

First clause:  μακαριοι οι πτωχοι τω πνεθματι
In Greek, you do not need to use the verb "to be."  You can simply add it.  So the sentence reads:  "Blessed the poor in spirit."  You supply the "are." 
The phrase τω πνεθματι is challenging for a translator, even though the words are straight forward.  The simplest translation is to interpret the dative as indicating location (where it is).  But then what does "Poor in the spirit" mean?  Psalm 34:18 has a similar phrase often translated "discouraged." 

The second clause:  οτι αυτων εστιν η βασιλεια των ουρανων
is more interesting.  In this case we have a "to be" verb - "εστιν"
What is most peculiar is the genitive case in which we find "αυτων" and "ουρανων."  The genitive can be translated a number of ways.  Consider how many relationships the word "of" can imply in English:  Kingdom of Fish.  Does this mean possessive (it belongs to the fish) or partitive (it consists of fish) or objective (kingdom for fish).  So in this case, "αυτων" might be a possessive genitive, like "the kingdom of heaven BELONGS to them."  However, nothing suggests why it couldn't be partitive, ie, "the kingdom of heaven CONSISTS of them." In fact, it might even be "objective," as in "the kingdom of heaven is for them."  I think "belongs" (possessive) is probably the most natural use of the genitive, but this exercise reminds us possibilities.  Likewise, "heaven" is in the genitive, which mean all of these translation possibilities exist for it as well.  (Also worth throwing in there is that οτι  can mean "because" or "that")

So, this sentence could read:
"Happy are the poor in spirit that the kingdom belonging to God consists of them."
"Blessed are the poor in spirit because the kingdom which belongs to God belongs to them."
"Blessed are the discouraged because the kingdom from God is for them."
And so forth!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Matthew 4:12-23

This passage occurs in the Epiphany season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently January 22, 2017.
Summary: Reading Matthew's call of the disciples after John's seems unfair.  John's seems a work of art.  Matthew's seems like a clean-up job on Mark!  However, Matthew's touch-up work is good theology and good writing.  See blog entry below for more details on this.  But what interests me is something Matthew doesn't clean up from Mark, namely Jesus' command to his disciples to "Follow me."  Actually, Jesus never says "Follow me."  He barks out three words, none of which are a verb:  "Here after me."  A bit rougher indeed than "Come and see" but effective nonetheless.  Get out of the way and let Jesus shake up the people!

Also worth noting:  The Greek reading of Matthew 4:17 is the foundation for Thesis 1 of the Luther's 95.

Key Words:
μετανοειτε (4:17; "Repent"):  It is worth pointing out that this verse, Matthew 4:17, begins the 95 thesis.  Luther had grown up reading the Vulgate, which translated this as, "Do penance."  Luther's reading of Greek helped him see the deeper ethical (and existential demand) of Jesus:  Always and continually repent.  It is not an aorist (one-time) command, but a present tense command, which indicates the intent is for continued action.  Thus Luther says that when Jesus says this, "He wills that the whole life be one of repentance."

καταλιπων (here a participle form of καταλειπω, 4:13; "abandon"):  Jesus leaves his hometown.  This is something that Mark leaves out.  I like this detail though because before Jesus asks his disciple's to leave their home, he has already left his.

πληρωθη (πληροω, 4:14; "fulfilled"):  One of the cliches regarding the Gospels is that Matthew wrote for Jews; Luke for gentiles.  However, a quick search on this verb reveals that Luke takes nearly as much time as Matthew to connect Jesus' actions as "fulfilling" OT prophecies.  The only Gospel writer seemingly unconcerned with fulfillment of the OT is Mark.  Helpful to remember that in the year of Matthew (and Luke) we will find lots of direct OT connections.

δευτε (with οπισω μου, 4:19; "Follow??"):  This word is not a verb.  It is more of an adverb like "quick" or an interjection, like "Here!" or "Come on!"  Jesus does not literally say, "Follow me" using the Greek word follow.  He simply says, "Hey, Come on!  After me!"  In other words, "Follow me" makes it sound like Jesus even gave them more instructions than he did.

ποιησω (4:19; "I will make"):  It is helpful to remember that the task of becoming disciples is not one that we accomplish, but rather Jesus says he will make them fishers (of men).  Jesus is the subject of transformation; we are the object.

Grammar review/ sentence translation:  Let me know if anyone reads this section.  I am trying a different format here.
4:14  ινα πληρωθη το ρηθεν δια Ησαιου του προφητου λεγοντος
NRS Matthew 4:14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

A couple of points:
1)  When you have a ινα, expect a verb in the subjunctive form.  Don't translate it with "would" as you might; just know that in Greek the ινα demands a subjunctive verb:  "in order to do X"  In this case, "in order to be fulfilled"
2)   Notice the -ου suffix train?  Three words in a row.  Nice to connect them:  "the prophet Isaiah." 
3)   There are two participles.  One is nice.  One is not.  The nice one is λεγοντος.  This circumstantial is surprisingly nice because your brain can probably recognize the root verb and figure out...the prophet Isaiah is saying something.  Although circumstantial participles are often difficult to translate, λεγοντος is so common you might even be able to recognize it and simply translate it "saying."  Lastly, even if you don't include it, you still get the sentence correct, "What was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:"
The hard participle is το ρηθεν.  It is hard to recognize the participle, in this case the aorist passive form of  λεγω.  It is also a substantive, so you translate it in the form, "The one who/what/which XYZ."  Because it is passive, it is "The one who/which/what XYZ (in passive form)"  In this case, "The one which is said."  Since it is aorist, it is the "the one which was said."  "The one" sounds silly so we just make it:  The thing.
4)  The preposition is δια.  So, you could read it, "The word spoken by the prophet Isaiah."  However, this stretches the preposition's meaning.  The more natural reading is, "The thing spoken through the prophet Isaiah."  Who says Matthew doesn't have a concept of the word as an eternal substance coming down to earth??

Monday, January 9, 2017

John 1:29-42

This passage occurs in the Epiphany season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently January 15, 2017.
Summary:  John's narrative is very basic to read...because he only uses about 30 words in 14 verses!  He invites us into the world of the Old Testament, he invites us to follow Jesus, and he also invites us into witnessing ourselves to the lamb of God.  Speaking of the lamb of God, what is John getting at here?  There is no lamb in the OT who takes away the sins on the day of atonement.  The main lamb in the Old Testament is the passover lamb, which has nothing to do with sins!  John's creativity, hopefully, inspires our preaching and teaching.

ερχομαι & οραω (1:39; 1:46; 4:29; 11:34, 19:33; 20:8 "Come and see")  These two verbs come together s number of times in John's Gospel.  A quite impressive list actually: 
A) When Jesus begins his ministry
B)  When the woman at the well returns to her hometown to invite others (different cognate for "come");
C)  When they bring Jesus to Lazarus' tomb
D)  When they find Jesus on the cross
E)  When they come to the empty tomb. 

John's Gospel invites us to come and see again and again, ultimately even the resurrection (20:8).

αμνος  (1:29; 36, "lamb").  The imagery of "lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" often makes us think of animal sacrifices in the Old Testament.  However, the main sacrifices on Yom Kippur (day of atonement) were not lambs, but a bull and two goats!  In fact, other sin offerings (Lev 4&5) are not lamb offerings but again bulls and goats.  I am sure that many other summaries would be better than this one, but the lamb was used in OT times for sacrifices in the following manner:
Daily offerings (Exodus 29):  To please the Lord and welcome his presence
Lepers (Leviticus 14):  To cleanse the lepers by its blood
Passover Meal (Exodus 12):  To protect the Israelites from the angel of death by its blood marking the door panes.

A lamb could be used a burnt offering, a type of sin offering, but we are getting further afield here.  The point of this discourse is to say that in the Jewish sacrifice model of the Old Testament, you do not find a theology where a lamb is constantly being used to take away the sins of the individuals.  Isaiah 53 develops the idea of the suffering servant as a lamb led to slaughter, but again the point here is that one cannot simply draw a nice line from OT sacrifice to Messiah predictions to Gospel of John.  Okay, you can, but it is not so simple.

More deeply, I do not think the Gospel of John is advocating an angry God who slaughters Jesus to be happy.  I think John is riffing on Old Testament themes here, but the connection between Lamb of God, Jesus and "taking away" the sins of the world, moves far beyond what the Old Testament was prepared to acknowledge.  Is this a problem?  Not for this Christian.  I just want to point out that John 1:29 is probably not a good time to bring out angry God needs a Jesus animal sermon.

μαρτυρεω (1:32, "witness")  This verb appears 33 times in the Gospel of John!!  It means to testify.  It came to take on the connotation of "martyr" as people began to die for testifying to the truth.  Stephen is often considered the first martyr (Acts 7 and 8), but it is worth remembering that John the Baptist also died.
Cheap sermon insight:  3+3=6.  Bad number.  Needs one more witness to be complete.  That witness is you.

επαρυριον (1:29, 1:35, 1:43, "tomorrow")  This little word appears three times in this section.  It is kind of a nice progression.  The first day Jesus is pointed out to the people.  On the second day, the people begin following Jesus.  On the third day they begin to invite others.

Grammar note: 
The present tense often connotes continuous action.  This can create some great insights but also make the narrative illogical.  For example, in verse 1:43, Jesus goes to find (ευρισκω; present tense) Philipp.  In the narrative this makes no sense that he "continually is finding" Philipp.  On the other hand, it does make sense  in theological terms that Jesus always is finding Philipp!  Then Jesus is saying (λεγω in the present), or really "continually saying" to Philipp, follow me.  This could make sense in both the narrative and in theology.  In fact, even the verb for follow (ακολουθεω), is in the present, meaning Jesus intends for Philipp to keep following him.  This all works out great on a theological level, but it pushes the narrative to the limits.  This is especially true when these verbs are used in the present tense in verse 41, when Andrew finds his brother to tell him about Jesus.  Is Andrew also continually finding Jesus and continually telling Peter about Jesus?   It was ingrained into me the "continuous" nature of the present tense.  This can create some great theological insight, but we cannot completely rest on it because authors often stretch the tenses more than we might expect.

John 1:41
ευρισκει ουτος προτον τον αδελφον τον ιδιον Σιμονα και λεγει αυτω  ευρηκαμεν τον Μεσσιαν ο εστιν μεθερμηνευομενον χριστος
John 1:41:    He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed).

We divide by punctuation and conquer: 
1)  ευρισκει ουτος προτον τον αδελφον τον ιδιον Σιμονα και λεγει αυτω
We find the subject and verb:
ευρισκει:  he/she/it finds - main verb
ουτος:  he -- subject!
προτον:  adjective in accusative case as an adverb: "first" or really "firstly"
τον αδελφον τον ιδιον Σιμονα:  His own brother Simon
και λεγει αυτω:  Another sentence:  "He is saying to him."
   Tricky to recognize this as another subject and verb combo, but the familiarity of the verb should make it possible.
2)  ευρηκαμεν τον Μεσσιαν
We have found the Messiah.  We is implicit in the verb.
3)  ο εστιν μεθερμηνευομενον χριστος
who/what/which is translated Christos.  Notice the o has a an accent and rough breathing accent, which means it is a relative pronoun.
So this sentence can almost be read word for word, once you divide it up.  The complicated part, as a we discussed in the grammar review, is translating the present tenses of the verb.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Luke 4:14-21 and Isaiah 61

This passage is found in the RCL, Epiphany Season, Year C (Most recently: January 24, 2016)  It is also found in the narrative lectionary year of Luke, most recently January 15, 2017.

Summary:  Home run point, here but it will take a full count to get there...Most times the New Testament quotes from the Greek version of the Old Testament.  On rare, rare occasions, the New Testament writers seem to be quoting from the Old Testament Hebrew in their own translations (Proverbs 10:12 vs 1 Peter 4:8 eg).  In this case, Jesus seems neither to be translating directly from the Old Testament Hebrew, nor is he reading directly from the Greek.  He is intentionally adding to the Word of God.  This is a bold move.  He does so, I would argue, out of a Trinitarian conception of his mission, whereby the people will be brought into the mission of God.  (If you are saying to yourself, this is too much for a sermon, the basic point remains:  The Spirit of the Lord on Jesus is also the Spirit of the Lord in the church!)

Two little Greek appetizers before the main course:
φημη (pheme, meaning "fame," 4:14)   The word for "news" is "pheme" or perhaps better in English "fama." This is the root of our word fame. Jesus is famous!

δοξαζομενος (from δοξαζω, doxaz-oo, meaning "praise", 4:15)  The people "praise" Jesus. Interestingly, in the rest of the Gospel, the only one praised is God. This is the only instance of Jesus being praised in the Gospels.

Digging into 4:18-19 vs Isaiah 61:1-2

This sentence is rather complex. Two nouns worth looking at are worth looking at. Perhaps the most interesting word here is "captive" which comes from the Greek "αιχμαλωτος" which means "spear." Literally, those who are speared. Also the word for oppressed (τεθραυσμενους, participle form of θραυω) is only used once in the NT and literally means "shattered." I wonder who in our congregations feels speared and shattered?

This text is really tricky though. This is a case where what Jesus says and the Biblical quote don't exactly match up. The problem here isn't really a Septuagint (aka LXX, the OT Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) problem. In fact, Jesus words compile (sort-of) the Septuagint and Hebrew Bible here!  He likely also pulls in a snippet (edited nonetheless) from Isaiah 58:6. 

Side note:  It is fascinating to look at the details of the passages to see how Jesus edits/combines/remixes Isaiah; but the don't miss the forest for the trees.  This passage lays out the source of the mission (God in the Spirit) and the direction (the downtrodden).  Furthermore, it alludes to the fact that we will be brought into this mission.

So, a few points of significant agreement:
A) Jesus words and the OT begin the same. The Spirit of the Lord (πνενμα κυριου) is upon me; he has annointed (εχρισεν, ie "Christed") me. It does well to remember the Hebrew words here: Ruach Adonai (רוח אדני) for Spirit of the Lord and Messiah (משך) for annoint.
B) Both have an obvious material/physical aspect. The blessings and impact of God are not simply spiritual, they relate to this world.
C) The blessings focus on the downtrodden.

However, we have some slight differences worth noting
A) In the OT, Isaiah never talks about sight to the blind. Jesus does (the Septuagint does also).
B) Isaiah (in both the Hebrew and LXX) plays on the idea of binding -- the broken-hearted are bound; the captive are freed. Jesus alters this image. The NRSV translates this sentiment as "free the captives" and "he will let the oppressed go free." Jesus, thus, seems to by-pass the image of repairing/releasing the broken-hearted.
C) Jesus puts in the idea that he is sent to send others.  The word send in fact, appears twice, "He sent me...to send."  So why don't English bibles use the word "send" twice?  It is because they cover it up! The phrase "to let the oppressed go free" literally reads, "to send those shattered, in forgiveness, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." The translators are combing the phrase "send in forgiveness" into a single verb "free."  Not only is this in itself a sermon worth unpacking, I think the deeper and better sermon point is that Jesus has come to send those who are oppressed, in forgiveness, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Note: This may seem to technical for a sermon.  But it fits more broadly into the case Luke makes in Luke-Acts, that the work of the Spirit is to bring us into the triune Mission of God.
D) Jesus drops the line immediately following this passage in Isaiah (...a year of the Lord's favor and day of vengeance). Here the LXX does not use such striking language, but in any case, Jesus avoids this idea all together.