Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Acts 2:1-11

Summary:   Luke's use of language in his first two sentences of Acts chapter 2 sets up an incredible contrast.   Verse one captures the togetherness of the pre-Pentecost community; verse two shows the Holy Spirit bursting the community into the world.  As I contemplate the church over the centuries, I wonder if we always stand between verse 1 and 2; full of love and community, but waiting for the awesome movement of the Spirit to push us outside of ourselves.   Moving churches out of their walls is a Herculean task, but God is up to it!

Image one: The pre-Pentecost community (Verse 1 captures all of chapter 1)

ομου + επι το αυτο ("together" and "all together") Luke uses a rather redundant phrase. Both halves mean "together"; in English he basically wrote "They were together with each other in the same place." Luke wants to drive the point across that they were united. It is important to note that a united church is not a church in mission; a united church is a church waiting for mission.

(Snarky side comment:  The church of Acts 1 may as well be called First Lutheran Church of Jerusalem.  Great doctrine.  Great fellowship.  Perfect Committee Structure.  No outreach.)

εν τω συμπληρουσθαι (συμπληροω; fulfill)  To the point: By employing this particular construction, Luke makes it clear that they did not simply come together on Pentecost, but they had been together for a while. A few other points here about the verb fulfill:
* The verb fulfill occurs three times in just a few verses. The days of Pentecost were being fulfilled; the house was filled; now the people are filled.
* The verb is in the present  suggesting it is ongoing action; especially when paired with an imperfect as the main verb. The notion suggested here is that they have been together (rather obediently!) since Jesus told them to wait.
* Purely grammar note: Chapter two begins with an articular infinitive using the construction, εν τω + infinitive which means "During the ..." In this case, the verb is "fulfill."

Summary, Luke does not simply imply "The group was assembled for the celebration" but rather, "As the day of Pentecost approached, they were continually together in the same place."

Image two: The Spirit comes [vs 2 (and the rest of Acts)]

ηχος ("sound"; literally echo!) The Spirit comes as an echo...that has reverberated across the years.

φερημενης (φερω; "carry") The wind that comes is a carrying wind; a wind that will carry the disciples outside of their walls.

βιαιος ("violent") When this word occurs in the OT, it describes the wind blowing back the waters during Exodus.   Maybe that is one metaphor for the Spirit's activities during the 21st century: Making a way through the troubled waters for the church. Interestingly, this word is used in classical Greek to describe the "power" or "strength" of Hercules. This may also be a way to think about the Spirit -- overcoming the Herculean task of getting Christians to leave the door. Sometimes this might take shaking things up a bit!

To put this together, the Spirit carries with it...a hint of upheaval...that echoes across the centuries.

A few other points:
ευλαβης ("devout"; 2:5)  The men in Jerusalem are considered "devout".  Interestingly, Simeon was labeled as devout as well -- a rather rare term in the NT (only used four times). As Jesus was revealed (as a baby) to a devout man, the church was revealed (as a baby!) to a devout man.

ιδια διαλεκτω ("Our own language" literally "the idiom dialect"; 2:6) Luther hits the nail on the head: Muttersprache.

ακουω ("hear"; 2:6,8 and 11)  This verb means listening. Perhaps the more important activity of the Holy Spirit is working on the ears of the listener! 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Luke 24:44-53 (Ascension)

This passage occurs for Ascension in the RCL, all three years; sometimes this is marked on a Thursday other times it takes the place of Easter 7.

Summary:  Normally good-byes are sad.  But not the Ascension!  Luke wants to point out a few things about the ascension.  Namely that it is a commissioning; a celebration; and a crescendo.  A closer look at the Greek suggests this often overlooked story is vitally important for the Christian understanding of God in Christ Jesus.  In fact, as I read Luke's account of the Ascension this year (2013) I am realizing I have improperly truncated the Gospel.  The Gospel must include forgiveness and resurrection but also the sending of the Holy Spirit who brings us into the witness of the Gospel.  But if that just sounds too much for your Lutheran piety, you can go with this:  Jesus knows that preaching forgiveness will get us into trouble because the world cannot handle law and Gospel.

Key Words:
μαρτυρες ("witness", from μαρτυς, 24:48) The Greek word there for witness is "martyros," from which we get our word Martyr.  It originally had a simple legal connotation, as in give testimony, or generally, to speak on someone's behalf.  Yet in the Christian context, it very quickly came to mean suffer for this proclamation, including Jesus himself.   So Jesus says (literally), "You are martyrs of these things."  This is the ultimate commissioning:  You will go out and testify to the resurrection and forgiveness of sins and be persecuted for it.

χαρας ("joy", from χαρα, 24:52)  Luke uses this word more than other authors.  It is significant that worship of the ascended Christ still fills the believers with great joy.  Luke makes the point:  Just because Jesus isn't here on earth doesn't mean we cannot worship him. In fact, worship of the risen (and ascended Christ) still fills the believers with joy.  Jesus ascension means unlimited access instead of only local contact; hence the possibility of a universal church.

προσκυνησαντες ("worship", προσκυνεω, 24:52)  For all of the times Luke has Jesus praying, this is the only instance where people are worshiping in his Gospel.  The only other mention of the verb is in the temptation of Christ where Jesus declares we must worship God alone.  For Luke, the ascension confirms Jesus' divinity in a way that allows the disciples to worship him as God in way even his resurrection did not.  The ascension completes his first mission on earth: his suffering, his resurrection and his commissioning.  Now he shall return to be exalted and come again in glory.

διηνοιξεν ("open", 24:45)  We saw this verb last week in Acts account of Lydia's Baptism.  It is interesting that this word is associated in Acts and Luke with understanding the Word.  It also suggests the need for proclamation, because the Scriptures need to be opened.  They are not self-explanatory.

καθισατε ("sit", καθιζω, 24:49)  The disciples are told to "sit" until the Holy Spirit comes.  Part of the Christian life is waiting.

δυναμιν ("power" from δυναμις. 24:49)  This word comes into English as dynamite.  Christ calls us to be both the martrys and dynamite for the world.  The two seem related in tragic ways; yet, Christ does not call us to cause suffering in others, but simply to suffer for others as the world persecutes the news of forgiveness and resurrection.

Grammar concept:  hendiadys; or in this case, hendiatris
Hendiadys refers to the literary device of using two words to mean one thing.  For instance:  "formless and void" of Genesis 1 means "a whole lot of nothing!" or perhaps more accurately, "chaos."

In this case, Jesus refers to Scriptures by calling them:  Moses, Prophets and Psalms.  Here he is referring to all of the OT, not simply Gen-Deut; 12 prophets and Psalms.  He is laying out the Tanakh (Torah, Prophets and Writings) division of Scripture.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

1 Peter 3:13-22

his verse appears in the RCL for Easter 6A, most recently May 21, 2017

Summary:  The Greek in this passage is quite difficult, so much so, in fact, that it reads more like a puzzle.  I've tried to identify some meaningful pieces of the puzzle.  Once you put them together, you get a clear image:  God saves us; our job is to do good and share the good news.  Repeat:  God saves.  I also explore the meaning of the some of the key words.

Key words:
ζηλωται  ("zealotai", adjective meaning "be zealous", 3:13)  The word for "be eager" is "zelotehs," ie, be a zealot. It is a reminder that we are not simply encouraged to do good, but hunger for righteousness!

τον φοβον αυτων (meaning "the fear of them, 3:14)  Interestingly, this phrase is translated, "Do not fear what they fear." But it literally reads, "Do not fear their fear..." in an age of fear, this perhaps a more helpful translation!

απολογια (apology, meaning "defense", 3:15)  The word for defense here is "apologia" (ie apology); the word here for "reason/accounting" is "logos." In some ways our apology for the faith, our defense is not simply a negative word but finally is the logos, or Christ.  In other words, we are not really defending something but giving away the word, who is Christ.

απαξ ("hapax" (rough breathing) meaning "once and for all", 3:18)  Basic idea:  Jesus does not have to die again.

ζωοποιηθεις ("zoo-poietheis" meaning "make alive", 3:18)  There is also another word in this verse: "zoopoie-oo." "To make alive." This verb in the New Testament appears almost exclusively in the context of the Spirit.  Furthermore, it is only God who makes alive! Yet in the previous verse, we were called to "do good" (agathopoie-oo). A reminder of our calling -- do good and give a witness; and the Spirit's calling - to make alive.

αντιτυπον ("antitype" meaning "prefigure", 3:21) The word for "prefigured" is "antitupos" (anti here does not mean apposed but pre)

σωζει ("sozo" meaning "save", 3:21)  The verb "save," used in conjunction with Baptism, is in the present tense.  This means that it does not simply save at one point, but continues to save us (a nice tie in then with the Gospel lesson about continual repentance).

συνειδησεως and επερωτημα (3:21)  The real question is what does the phrase "an appeal (επερωτημα) of a good conscience (συνειδησεως ) to God" mean. There is a lot of ink written about this construction; the word "appeal" is a less frequent word, making its intrepretation more challenging.  I suggest this verse is not about works-righteousness or some sort of baptismal pledge. It seems clear that the overall thrust of the passage is on the work of God through the resurrection to create life. And in the end, if justification by faith means the death of the sinner and the resurrection of the new creation, certainly this creation has a clear conscience before God.  Regardless, Baptism saves us through the resurrection of God; there is no sense that our good works save us!

Grammar Review:  When a sentence becomes a puzzle
3:13 This sentence is complex one in Greek; 1st of all, the word for "do bad" is a substantive participle; the word for "good" is substantive adjective (the good) and the verbs are all out of order...In this case, one might really need to look at other translations even to get started.  Break down what one knows and then see if one can put it together:
Και τις ο κακωσαν υμας εαν του αγαθου ζηλωται γενησθε
Και and
τις The accent marks will tell you if it is a pronoun (any, a, certain) or a question (who/what/where).  In this case, you have a question mark at the end, so it makes it easier to figure out it is a question.
ο κακωσαν υμας The one who does you bad/harm
εαν  If
του αγαθου of the good.  Why is this in the genitive?
ζηλωται ...it looks like a verb, but it means 'zealous'  In this case we can go back and figure out that seeking and good go together: seeking the good
γενησθε are (in subjunctive)  That this is in the second person tells us that the subject of the sentence is "you."
So...And what the one who does you harm if of the good seeking you are?
Or  "What becomes of the one doing bad to you if you are doing good?
Phew!  Again, break down what you know and use other translations to help!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Acts 17:16-31

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4 (Most recently May 18, 2014)
This passage, really Acts 17:22-31, is also found in the Revised Common Lectionary, Easter 6A)

Here is some commentary on the speech:  http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2011/05/acts-1722-31.html
Also, here is a link from my travels to the aeropagus a number of years ago:
http://www.zionsjonestown.com/paul/athens/areopagus.htm

In this blog post I focus on the terms Epicurean and Stoic.  I think we all know many of these two stripes

Επικουριος (17:18)
Basically:  Lead a "happy" life, which consists not in lust but in moderation and keeping one's nose clean.  The gods exist, but don't interfere with human life; talk of good life makes sense, but talk of judgement and other-worldly salvation makes no sense.

NET Bible: 
An Epicurean was a follower of the philosophy of Epicurus, who founded a school in Athens about 300 B.C. Although the Epicureans saw the aim of life as pleasure, they were not strictly hedonists, because they defined pleasure as the absence of pain. Along with this, they desired the avoidance of trouble and freedom from annoyances. They saw organized religion as evil, especially the belief that the gods punished evildoers in an afterlife. In keeping with this, they were unable to accept Paul's teaching about the resurrection.
Wikipedia:
Epicurus believed that what he called "pleasure" is the greatest good, but the way to attain such pleasure is to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one's desires. This led one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear, as well as absence of bodily pain (aponia). The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism, insofar as it declares pleasure to be the sole intrinsic good, its conception of absence of pain as the greatest pleasure and its advocacy of a simple life make it different from "hedonism" as it is commonly understood.
Epicureans do not deny the existence of God, simply that the gods have moved on and are unconcerned with human life; His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. 

Στοικος (17:18)
Basically, lead a virtuous life.  This is difficult, but seed of good in each of us can be fostered to overcome evil.  God is in everything.  Although at odds with Epricureans, both stress an avoidance of passion.

NET Bible:
A Stoic was a follower of the philosophy founded by Zeno (342-270 B.C.), a Phoenician who came to Athens and modified the philosophical system of the Cynics he found there. The Stoics rejected the Epicurean ideal of pleasure, stressing virtue instead. The Stoics emphasized responsibility for voluntary actions and believed risks were worth taking, but thought the actual attainment of virtue was difficult. They also believed in providence.

Wiki on Scotism vs Christianity: 
The major difference between the two philosophies is Stoicism's pantheism, in which God is never fully transcendent but always immanent. God as the world-creating entity is personalized in Christian thought, but Stoicism equates God with the totality of the universe, which was deeply contrary to Christianity. The only incarnation in Stoicism is that each person has part of the logos within. Stoicism, unlike Christianity, does not posit a beginning or end to the universe.
Stoic writings such as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius have been highly regarded by many Christians throughout the centuries. The Stoic ideal of dispassion is accepted to this day as the perfect moral state by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Saint Ambrose of Milan was known for applying Stoic philosophy to his theology.

also:
σπερμολογος (17:18):  Seed talker, but more literally, sperm-logos.  For someone who simply picks up scraps of info; a babbler.
κατειδωλον (17:16):  Full of idols.  kata intensifies words!

Monday, May 8, 2017

John 14:1-14

This passage occurs during the Easter Season in the Revised Common Lectionary, year A, most recently May 14, 2017.
 
Summary
"I am the way, the truth and the life."  These three words in Greek are as multilayered as they are in English.  In fact, I put no special entry for them.  What does truth mean?  What does life mean?  What does way mean?  Perhaps the best story to explain this is found in the book of Acts, with our doubting Philip.  In the eighth chapter, the Spirit works with Philip in some profound ways! On the way, he preaches the truth and the Eunuch is given the life.  He does the work of Christ.  Does this satisfy you?  Well, don't let your hearts be troubled because, just like Philip, God works through us imperfect, doubting and sinful disciples to preach the truth to people, on the way, that they might have life, and have it abundantly. 

Key Words
ταρασσεσθω ("troubled" or "grieved", a form of ταρασσεσθω, 14:1).  Jesus himself will be grieved in John 12:27 and 13:21.  Here though he tells the disciples not to grieve.  Perhaps this a beautiful example of the communicatio idiomatum (the exchange of properties between God and man in Jesus Christ on the cross, often called the Glorious Exchange by Luther).  Jesus takes on our grief so that we don't have to grieve anymore.

πιστευετε ("believe" or "trust" 14:1).  This is a second week of class vocabulary word.  However, it is worth pointing out that in the Gospel of John, faith is never a noun, but is always a verb -- believing.  Faith is always an act, never a concept!

οικια - μονη  ("house" and "rooms" 14:2)  The NRSV butchers this one.  Yes, a μονη does mean a dwelling place and does come from the Greek for dwell/abide, μενω, a word of great importance in John's Gospel.  But it sounds so abstract!   οικια does not mean mansion, but I suppose if God lives there, its a big house. 

αρκει ("satisfy," form of αρκεω, 14:8)  Philipp earlier complains that a huge amount of bread wouldn't be enough to satisfy the crowd; now he claims that seeing the Father will satisfy him.  Obviously Phillip doesn't get it.  You might even say that this is Phillip's grand Peteresque moment.  Philipp will go out and on the road, preach the truth and give the eunuch the waters of life.

εργα ("works," 14:12)  Yes folks, faith does make works.  It is worth pointing out that here, there is no subjunctive in this sentence.  Simply, the one who is believe will do works

Grammar/translation
What I ought write about here is Greek subjunctive, but alas, I've done that a lot recently.  So let's turn to a new subject.  In Greek, you do not need to specify the subject because the verb conjugations reveals this to the listener/reader.  In fact, the subject is often dropped, especially when the subject is clear from the context or it is "I" or "you."  So, for example, in 14:7, the English reads:  "If you know me, you will know my father."  If you read the Greek, you will read:
ει εγνωκατε με και τον πατερα μου γνωσεσθε
Notice the lack of "you."  The verb endings reveal the subject as "you" to the Greek reader/listener.  However, in verse six, when Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth and the life" he includes the subject, the pronoun "I."  He says, εγω ειμι.  The word εγω is unnecessary because ειμι means "I am."  Normally the use of a pronoun with a conjugated verb is simply done for emphasis.  To be translated "I, I mean I, am the way."  Something else may be going on here though!  In the OT, God will also use the phrase εγω ειμι to name himself.  Like in Exodus 3:14  "I am who I am" begins with εγω ειμι. Often times in the Gospel, Jesus seems to refer to himself as God by calling himself εγω ειμι.  Like in Matthew 14:17 Jesus tells them not to be afraid as he walks across the water, for "It is I" or in Greek: εγω ειμι.  Peter responds by calling him κυριε, which means Lord, another name for God, and then Peter follows him out of the boat.  In John 18:6, when Jesus refers to himself as εγω ειμι, all the soliders fall in reverence, because Jesus is declaring himself God.  So, what about John 14:6 and the other εγω ειμι sayings in John, of which there are many?  Are these all declarations of Jesus divinity?  Yes!  John does play on this ancient name for God, but in Jesus Christ we continue to discover anew God's identity:  Here, the way, truth and life.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Psalm 23, take 2

For Good Shepherd Sunday I've looked at Psalm 23.  Given people's emotional resonance with the Psalm, this passage does not call for one's "exegetical underwear."  That said, reading the actual Psalm presents more "earthy" image than the bucolic landscape scene the Psalm often conjures in our minds.  There is wet grass to be eaten, wine to be poured, death to be encountered and God's disciplining rod to be felt slamming into our side. To put it another way, God doesn't simply want to paint pictures, but truly revive our soul that we might return to his temple, time and time again, even in our everlasting life, made possible by the Good Shepherd.

Instead of key words, I offer a translation with commentary.

Verse 1:
"Yahweh shepherds me.  I do not lack."

The word "LORD" in Hebrew is Yahweh. This most of us know; I think two things are worth reflecting on here. First is that in English we always put the word "The" in front of the "LORD." In Hebrew it simply reads, "Yahweh is my shepherd." Second, we read the "LORD" with a certain complacency unimaginable to early readers of this.  The Hebrew reader replaces "Yahweh" and always says, "Adonai"

The word "Shepherd" is a verbal noun in Hebrew, that is, it is a participle (shepherding) that has been fixed into a noun. Thus, every time you read the word "Shepherd" in the OT, you are reading something much more akin to, "The one shepherding." If you notice the Vulgate and Septugint translation of this verse actually leave the word as a verb: "The Lord shepherds me."  Although telling people their favorite Psalm has been mistranslated is unlikely to be helpful, it is worth noting that God's work as a shepherd is an action!

The word for lack here,חסר, (kaser) is also used in Deuteronomy 2:7, when God says the people lacked nothing.   At this point the people were in the wilderness and had been for years.  A reminder that what God says we need is probably different from our own estimation.

The Greek (and Latin) add the word "nothing."  The Hebrew simply reads: "I am not wanting..."  The "nothing"; but I it implicit enough in the language that I do not consider this a translation foul!

Verse 2:
He makes me rest in meadows of lush grass; he leads me beside still waters.

I've translated this as "lush grass" and not "green pastures."  The word "green" as in "Green pastures" does not appear in the Hebrew.  The word is "grass." God is not simply giving us a pretty picture, but food!


The second half of this verse is often translated, "He leads me besides to still waters."  However poetic, this does not fully capture the idea.  The Hebrew here, מנחה (minukah), means "resting place." As Bible Work's TWOT dictionary says: "Basically the root nûaµ  (which means resting place) relates to absence of spatial activity and presence of security, as seen, e.g. in the ark which "rested" on Mount Ararat (Gen 8:4),"  The NET prefers the more active "refreshing" but I think the words, "still waters" captures the sense of rest that comes from utter trust.

Verse 3:
He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his glory.

The word "restore" is the reason I find Hebrew so wonderful but so frustrating. If you look at the word in English, you might have no clue that its root is שוב, which means to turn, even to repent. The sentence could read, "He turns my soul."  This is the verb used in the phrase, "Return to the Lord your God!"  Here God is returning our soul to him.

Soul, here נפש, (nephish) can mean a variety of things, but certainly not the idea of a wispy part of us that lives on after we die.  The Hebrew is trying to get at the core of our being; the NET tries to get at this by saying, "He restores my strength."  I think soul is fine, but you can see how the English ends up making this whole Psalm more "spiritual."

The word "name" as in "Name's sake" might be a little weak here. The word שם in Hebrew "Shem" means name, but in the sense of "reputation" or even "glory."

Verse 4:
Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

How does one translate "Valley of the shadow of death"?  I again defer to the TWOT dictionary, which is so helpful here: "It describes the darkness of eyelids tired from weeping (Job 16:16), the thick darkness present in a mine shaft (Job 28:3), the darkness of the abode of the dead (Job 10:21ff; Job 38:17), and the darkness prior to creation (Amos 5:8). Emotionally it describes the internal anguish of one who has rebelled against God (Psa 107:10-14; cf. Psa 44:19ff [H 20f]). Thus it is the strongest word in Hebrew for darkness." Shadow of darkness is probably too weak a translation, but the idea here is that it encompasses more than death.  The NRSV tries to get at this by writing, "Though I walk through the darkest valley" but really, for the average reader, "Valley of the Shadow of Death" gets at this...

The Hebrew here juxtaposes two words:  rod and comfort.   נחם (nakam, comfort) is a lovely word, but I'd like us to slow down and considering Bible Work's BDB definition of שבט (shebet), used here for "rod":  rod, staff, for smiting; for beating cummin ; as (inferior) weapon; fig. of  chastisement; national; individual. b. shaft, i.e. spear, dart. c. shepherd's implement, club; used in mustering or counting sheep.

Strange that this would be comforting!

Verse 5:
You prepare a table in the presence of those wishing me harm; you anoint my head with oil; my cup is full of wine

The phrase "in the presence of my enemies" delights the investigator!  It has the sense of "in front of my enemies."  I have read this Psalm many times but it never caught me that the table is not simply prepared privately amid trouble but literally, in the presence of enemies the person is having the table set!  Also the word for enemies is another verbal noun.  Much like shepherding, this word has an active connotation; the enemies are actively seeking your down-fall!

(heehee) The word here for "oil" is also "fat" and the word here for "overflow" is "saturate," so here we have a feast with saturated fats :-)  In fact, the Greek uses the word "made drunk."  There is something a bit almost vindictive about this verse:  "I am getting drunk thanks to you in front of those who hate me!"

Note:  The NET Bible has a long commentary on the word "anoint" and why the use "refresh" instead.  I will save that for the very hungry, but suffice to say, the Hebrew literally reads, "He fattened the oil on my head."

Verse 6:
Surely goodness and love will pursue me all my days and I will continue to return to the house of the Lord for all my days.

Sometimes translated, "faithfulness" חסד, kesed, means "love-in-constant-action-over-and-against-people's stupidity."  To avoid a mistranslation, translators often avoid "love" because that is such an emotional word.  However, it is more than faithfulness.  Also, that it is חסד means that the subject (or possessor) is God! 

"Follow" is too passive for רדפ.  It means pursue, like pursue enemies!

The Hebrew literally reads, "I will return in(to) the house of the Lord."  I like the image not simply of dwelling but of returning to the house of the Lord.  The verb is in a continuous tense, so the idea here is that just as God's goodness and love pursue the person, the person returns to God's temple.  Furthermore, the continuous nature of the verb allows us to imagine, in a way that is probably untenable to the Hebrew mind, always returning to the house of the Lord, even after death!  The literal translation probably leans more toward "all the days of my life" instead of "forever" but again, I think this continual tense of the verb allows us to imagine the idea of a forever returning to God's holy presence.