Friday, November 4, 2011


The First Sunday in November is often called "All Saints."

A word on the "Saints"

The word saint is a translation of the adjective holy (or hagios) in Greek. Like in English, you can make an adjective a person-noun by sticking the word “the” in front of it: the poor, the rich, the lazy. What we translate as saint simply means “the holy” or “the holy one(s).”

More importantly, the phrase “oi hagios” (the holy ones) does not refer to a specific group of people within the church, but to all of those who bear Christ’s holy name. Take for example Philippians 1:1, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” You can read the first few sentences in almost all of Paul’s letters and you discover that he is addressing the congregation as the saints. You can also see this outside of Paul. For example, in Acts Ananias complains about what Paul has done to the saints in Jerusalem (9:13); the writer of Hebrews addresses the congregation as saints (13:24). In Revelation the blood was shed for all the saints (5:9). And so forth. It was no until much later that the church began distinguishing between “real” Christians, aka, the Saints, and the rest of us. In this sense, Luther returns to the Bible and the early church by claiming that all Christians are, by virtue of Christ, holy ones.

What does it mean to be a Holy One, a Saint, then? This is where the rubber meets the road. Holy (hagios) in Greek means to be put aside for God’s use. Some Christians emphasize the moral purity associated with or even necessary for God’s use. To avoid a long debate, I will simply say that the whole Lutheran orientation of holiness is distinct. I would offer that holiness as humans consists of joyful suffering for the sake of the other. I think one can get there with the beatitudes, often a text for All Saints. We do not seek to suffer to add to our own glory, but that as we follow Christ, we will suffer and that as we suffer, the Holy Spirit will meet us to renew and resurrect us, that is, once again, make us holy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

John 8:31-36

This passage occurs as the recommend Reformation Sunday passage.

Over time, I have done two separate posts on John 8.  I think my other post is actually more helpful.

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

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

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

Monday, September 12, 2011

Philippians 1:21-30

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently September 2014. 
Summary:  Paul begins to describe two paradoxes of the Christian faith:  First, our growth comes about through our decline.  Second, our heart is in heaven, but our hands are on earth.  Paul continues to work these themes throughout his letter to the Philippians.  I offer a third one.  Paul talks about the importance of the community giving both a unified and public witness of the faith.  My paradox:  The more unified, the less public the witness; the more public, the less unified.

ζην ("live"; present infinitive; 1:21).  Few translations catch the distinction here for Paul between living and dying.  They are not in the same tense; dying is in the aorist (which refers to a one tme event).  Paul is not talking about existential dying as he might in other letters.  He is refering to his physical death that will lead to heaven:  'Living is Christ; death is gain' is probably a more accurate translation.  Or perhaps 'Living is Christ; to die is gain.'  Excellent textbook example of the subtleties conveyed in tenses...

καρπος εργου ("fruit of work"; 1:22).  The NET translates this word here as 'productive work.'  This is the most American translation ever!  Paul is not driving toward productivity by modern metrics.  He is using the biblical idea of bearing fruit in Christ.  Keep it as fruit and help the reader see Paul's connections to other places in Scripture (including the Gospel for today).

επιθυμια ("desire"; 1:23)  Paul uses the word "desire" here, which he will elsewhere caution Christians against (make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires...Romans 13:14).  There is something intensely emotional about Paul's relationship with Jesus Christ. 

προκοπη ("advancement"; 1:25)  I assert that Paul's letter to the Philippians picks up this theme:  Christian advancement; what does Christian maturity look like?  Paul boasts in Galatians that he had progressed in his Judaism (1:14) but then indicates this was not really gain at all.  The root of this word is "cut" κοπτω; pioneers were cutting ahead in order to make advancement.  For Paul, advancement in Christ -- "sanctification" -- is related to being cut off, to having our plans, our pride and even our habits amended, if not ended.

περισσευη ("overflow" or "excess"; 1:25)  This word is not that remarkable in this context, but provides a nice contrast to the believe in scarcity found in this week's Gospel, Matthew 20:1-16

πολιτευεσθε ("live" from πολιτευομαι, 1:27)  This verse means not simply to live, but live as a citizen.  Paul does not use this word elsewhere; why?  I assert this is because Philippi was a Roman colony run by military heros turned citizens.  The idea of citizenship would have been important for his hearers.  Paul continues this theme, even discussing a heavenly citizenship (3:20). Here Paul begins to contrast citizenship in this world and in Christ's kingdom.  Worth noting is that this verb is in the plural!  Paul exhorts them all together.

συναθλουντες ("work together" from συναθλεω; 1:27)  Paul also commends people "in one spirit to fight/work together." Note:  In 4:3 he thanks God for the women who have done precisely this.  The root word here "αθλεω," from which comes our word for athelete.  Today this has connotations of merely sport, but in ancient Greek it means more broadly means battle or contest.  Paul is emphasizing first the challenge of Christian life, but also the importance of a) unified and b) public witness for faith which must be made.  As Paul notes, he should be able to hear and see the witness of the church!

πασχειν ("suffer" 1:29) and αγωνα ("struggle" literally agony); reminders of what our sanctification means for us, to return to the idea of being cut off.

Grammar:  Simple infinitive
Paul uses simple infnitives throughout this section:  το ζην "The living" e.g.  το αποθανειν, The dying (21); το επιμενειν, the remaining (24).
An infinitive is simply a verb that has not been conjugated; it is unclear who is doing the action.  In English, infinitives take to forms, here with the verb "run":  "to run" and "running."  These are fairly easy to translate, because they function like English.  They allow a verb to behave like a noun:  "The remaining here is better."  (Perhaps in English a good example is:  "I like running")
I call them simple because Greek can use the infinitive in some pretty striking ways, but here Paul is simply using a verb as a noun as a way to emphasize the act but still treat it like a noun.
One example of how Greek can use an infinitive is found in verse 29:  το εις αυτον πιστευειν (29)
Here this means "the believing in him"; Paul could have said, "the faith in him" but by using an infinitive it draws attention to the action.  In this case, the Greek is doing something that English should not, namely split an infinitive, this time with lots of information!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Matthew 14:13-21

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently August 2014. 
Summary:  The Greek highlights the key thrust of this passage:  When human beings feel overwhelmed, God's abundance and compassion continues.  Two Greek words help get at this.  First, Jesus has compassion (σπλαγχνιζομαι).  Yes, he is exhausted, but when he sees the crowd, his insides still get tight.  Also, right after the disciples see nothing but a few loaves of bread, Jesus has them sit down on the χορτος, the grass, a reminder that God provides.  In fact, the word for "filled" or "satisfied" means, literally, "grassed."  In the midst of the wilderness, God's abundance still is present, but we need Jesus to show us this!  Finally, this passage ends with a meal that echoes communion, the ultimate reminder of God's compassion in the midst of human limitations.

Key words:
αναχορεω; εν πλοιω; ερημος; κατα ιδιαν;  ("withdrew"; "in a boat"; "by himself"; "wilderness", 14.13)  Matthew puts together a string of words here to describe Jesus' determination to "get away" from it all.  While each of these words may have their own importance, the cumulative effect is powerful!
    κατα ιδιαν:  by himself.  This is the first time Jesus has done anything by himself in the Gospel of Matthew.
    αναχορεω:  withdrew.  This has been the response of Jesus before (news of John's imprisonment; news of Pharisee's plot against him.)  Jesus withdraw does not signify retreat though.  Normally it just sends him away from the powerful and back to the people, whom he heals.

σπλαγχνιζομαι ("compassion", 14.14) Here Jesus has compassion -- which in Greek literally means "intestined."   His gut is turning when he sees the crowds.  It is also worth noting that Jesus compassion does not simply signify feelings, but leads him into action, here, healing.

απολοσον ("release" or even "divorce"; here as an aorist imperative)  The reaction of the disciples to the crowd is the opposite of Jesus.  Where as Jesus is moved internally by their condition, the disciples ask Jesus to move away from the disciples.  Send them away! is what they are demanding.  The disciples lack of concern and lack of faith is also noted by how they respond in vs 17 to Jesus command to feed them.  First, the respond in the present tense, suggesting they are repeating this to Jesus!  Secondly, they respond with "ουκ εχομεν" which means we are not having.  Worth noting is that their response begins with ουκ mean "no!"  They first see and indicate their lack instead of their abundance, who is Jesus Christ.

δοτε ("give"; aorist imperative)  This is the same tense of the verb in the Lord's prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread." Perhaps this suggests that the disciples, in their worry about future provision are forgetting their only task is in the present.  I wonder if sometimes we make the task of serving Jesus far bigger than it is; Jesus is not asking them to feed the crowds forever, just this once.

λαβων ευλογησεν κλασας εδωκεν ("took, gave thanks/bless, broke and gave", 19)  Yes, yes, these appear again in Matthew 26:26.  The NET Bible has an interesting note here: 
"And after instructing the crowds to recline for a meal on the grass, after taking the five loaves and the two fish, after looking up to heaven, he gave thanks, and after breaking the loaves he gave them to the disciples." Although most of the participles are undoubtedly attendant circumstance, there are but two indicative verbs--"he gave thanks" and "he gave." The structure of the sentence thus seems to focus on these two actions and has been translated accordingly.  Yes, good Lutherans, giving thanks is not an optional part of communion...

εχορτασθηασαν ("satified/fill", 19)  The word here for "fill" is related to the word for grass -- the crowd sat on the grass "χορτος" and later was "χορτο"-ed.   This is a reminder that God's abundance is always there -- even in the midst of a "ερημος" (wilderness, vs 13; and 15) and when the "ωρα" (hour) has past (vs 15).

Translation:  "Genitive Absolute"
The genitive absolute has been cursed with a tricky name.  It is actually not that bad to translate!  Basically Greek writers will often begin a sentence with a phrase or clause that contains information about people/things besides the subject of the main sentence.  For example:  "After the sun rose, the people got up."  The people are the subject of the main sentence.  The rising of the sun is simply a phrase (adverbial) to give some background info.
What makes this tricky in Greek is that the writers stick the participle and the subject of the clause into the genitive case.  For example, Matthew 14:15:
Οψιας δε γενομενης
Is "evening and became."  Again evening and the participle became are both in the genitive case.  You don't translate them in the genitive case "of the evening" or something like this.  You simply put all these words together to form a little phrase to set up your sentence:  "As evening fell" or something poetic like this. 
Matthew 14:14 also has a participle phrase that sets up the rest of the sentence
και εκελθων   In this case, this is not a genitive absolute; it describes the action of the subject in the main clause (Jesus):  As he went out,...
So again, the genitive absolute is all in the genitive (which can sometimes make it easier to identify) and sets up a little participle phrase that the author uses to talk about something besides the subject.  Matthew 14:32 is the next genitive absolute.  Have fun.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Romans 8:26-39

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently July 2020.

Often theologians dwell on words the Bible does not.  For instance, in this passage, we have God predestining (προοριζω) his elect (εκλεκτος).  The word predestine occurs 6 times in all of Scripture; Paul at most uses the word elect 6 times.  Yet libraries are full of Paul's comments on predestination and election.  I think the more interesting question for this week, however, lies in 8:28 and not 8:29.  The standard translation of 8:28 is "All things work together for good for those who love God."  One might argue, very strongly in fact, that it should read, "God works all things together through those who love him for good."  This switches Paul's message from "God helps your pain" to "God uses you to help the pain of others."  Both are good sermons; I think the later is more true to Paul.

Key words:
συνεργεω ("work together" 8:28)  If I were not a Lutheran, I would not notice this verb.  However, Lutherans tend to be allergic to this verb.  We so want to protect the "bondage of the will" and God's grace that we tend toward a God-only-and-not-you theology for salvation.  Which is fine.  Unfortunately, we often carry this over and limit humanity's role in God's creative and redeeming work on earth.  Paul says that things work together; the Spirit prays for and through us.  God is making us right with him, God is praying for us; God is glorifying us; I would even argue that God is working through us.
προοριζω ("predetermine" or "predestine" 8:29)  Loaded theological term.  Means what it says.  God preordained us for salvation.  Deal.
εικων ("image" literally icon, 8:29)  Humanity is made in the image of God; even after the fall, God still declares us made in his image (Gen 9:6).  Yet Paul says we are being reborn in the image of Christ.  Something about humanity is both in God's image yet needing to be restored.
συμμορφη ("same shape" 8:29)  This word plays a key role in Paul's letter to the Philippians.  It is worth pointing out that Paul continues the work of the Spirit in chpt 8-- not only are we co-inheritors, co-sufferes or co-glorifieders, but we are also co-shapers.
χαριζομαι  (literally "grace"; "act favorably" or "forgive" 8:32) do you translate the word grace in action?
εκλεκτος (literally "elect")  Means what we think it means.  God elected and chose you.  Deal.

Translation:  Dative case in 8:28:  Through or for those who love God?
Greek has four cases:  nominative, accusative, dative and genitive.  (Okay, there is a vocative case, but that is quite rare in the New Testament).  The case of the word establishes its function within the sentence.  In English, we use word order and prepositions for this purpose:  "The man knocks a glass of wine onto a woman" means something different than "A glass of wine knocks the man onto a woman." In fact, in English the later makes no sense. In Greek, the later sentence word order could be used, because each word would be conjugated by case, which would give its function in the sentence.  So, the four cases and the basic functions:
Normally nominative case indicates subject (who does the action: the man);
accusative indicates direct object (whom receives the action:  the wine);
dative shows indirect object (to whom the action was directed: the woman);
genitive shows relation (the glass and wine are related somehow) 

Dative and genitive both can actually take a wide variety of meanings.  In 8:28, Paul employs the participial phrase "those who love God", τοις αγαπωσιν, in the dative.  The most common meaning of the dative is indirect object.  In this case then, all things work for God TO or FOR those who love God.  However, the dative can just as easily signify means or instrument.  Then this sentence could mean God works all things for good through those who love him.
Both seem pretty Pauline to me!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Romans 7:15-25

This passage occurs as a New Testament Lesson in the RCL "Pentecost"/"Ordinary"/"Proper" Season, Year A, most recently July 2014. 

Summary:  While this passage describes the human captivity to sin, I believe 7:22 is worth a closer look.  When Paul says he "delights" in the law, the word delight actually is a cognate of "hedonism."  The inner man has a "with-hedonism" relationship to the law.  I wonder if Paul, deep down, is pointing out that the inner person truly delights in doing the will of God.  To drive this a bit further, Paul says that he has a body of death.  We know he will later talk about an immortal body.  This immortal body, I believe, will experience tremendous pleasure doing the will of God, whether serving others, enjoying creation or praising God.

Key words:
οικει, οικουσα ("dwell" 7:17, 18, 20)  This word should be recognizable from the first few weeks of Greek (rememeber, οικος means house).  Paul will come back to this verb in Romans 8:9 and 11 as well as 1 Cor 3:16 also 8:9 and 8:11.  Here he speaks of the indwelling of the Spirit.  One key difference however is that when Paul refers to the indwelling Spirit, he is referring to the Spirit dwelling in the plural you -- all of you, not the singular you.  One might argue that he means the Spirit dwells in all of the individuals.  Regardless, it is interesting that when he returns to what God can come inside of us, he does not speak on individual terms any more.

νομος ("law"; 50 times in the book of Romans)   Alas, I cannot possibly do justice to Paul's use of this word.  What I want to bring up rather is that, t the very least, there is a theological use going on here.  By this I mean Paul is moving beyond specific commands or ceremonial practices; the law has become something else, something larger, something accomplishing God's purposes.  What exactly the law is doing and what is the connection between Paul's understanding of the law, the OT's approach to the Law and 1st century Jewish understandings of the law, well, you'll just have to do your own research on that one!!

αμαρτια ("sin" 39 times in the book of Romans).  Again, a bigger concept that I can take on here.  But I want to point out again a theological use of the word here:  sin no longer simply means a particular moral failure, but for Paul it has become a force enslaving and taking over his body.  Paul here moves from laws to law; sins to sin.

συνηδομαι ("delight", 7:22) This word is great!  It comes from hedon, like hedonism.  It literally means "with hedonism"; The noun form of this word will be found in 2 Peter 2:13, James 4:1-2, and Luke 8:14, and Titus 3:3 and will always be considered "lawlessness/debaucherous pleasure"  The irony of course is that Paul is talking about the law.  Perhaps, and I press this too far here, I believe, but perhaps the point is that deep down inside, we crave to do the will of God and this will be our true delight.

΄ρυοεται ("rescue" from ΄ρυομαι; 7:25): This means deliver. It is tough to see the cognate, but the word "hero" comes from this. Jesus is the hero who will save us.
Grammar Review:  Relative pronouns
Paul uses a number of relative pronouns in this section.  A relative pronoun works like this:
There goes Tommy, whose mom is Linda.  Whose is a relative pronoun.
I long for a vacation, which gives me the chance to relax.  Which is a relative pronoun.
In Greek, the relative pronoun functions much like it does in English. 
So Romans 7:19:  ου γαρ ο θελω ποιω αγαθος 
Literally:  "Not for [which I want] I do good"
You need to bracket out the whole relative clause.  Translate this:  ο θελω "that which I want to do."  Then move it back into the whole phrase:  "For I do not do the good which I want."
A few things make Greek relative pronouns tricky.  First, the relative pronouns themselves often look like the Greek word "the" but their accents are different (it has an accent!)  Second, Greeks are always more flexible about word order.  In English, we could not sandwhich a relative pronoun like Paul did.  Third, English gets sloppy about the true case of relative pronouns. 
"That is the woman who I love" should actually be "That is the woman whom I love."  Reading Greek we have to be ready for the fact that Greek will use all four cases for relative pronouns.  In English we still tend to use possessive relative pronouns (ie, whose) but we lump everything else together under "who" or "that" and ignore their case.  Greek, again, will use all four cases.  That said, Greek writers will also often get sloppy and the relative pronoun's case will "slide" to become like words around it instead of functioning like it shuld!
Lastly, participles in Greek take the case of the word which they modify; relative pronouns take the case of their function in the new sentence.  It can be easy to get these confused.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Acts 17:22-31

This passage occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary during the Easter Season. 

Note:  The previous few verses describe Paul's immediate reaction to Athens and will provide insight into this section of Scripture (Acts 17:16-21).

Summary:  Paul gives a great apology for the Christian faith here, weaving in Greek philosophy and religious thinking of his day.  Yet he never shies away from the most amazing and counter-cultural:  That Christ experienced a resurrection from the dead and he will return to judge people.  While we may not preach on this text, it is certainly worth reflecting on how Paul does it (or fine, be a modern biblical scholar:  how Luke does it through Paul).  The more one reads this passage, the more amazed one becomes at how subtly Paul uses words.  However, the reader of Paul's letters should not be surprised at Paul's amazing ability to proclaim Christ across cultural boundaries!

I have a websited dedicated to Paul's cross-cultural proclamation.  For more on Paul's visit to Athens, you can go here:

Key words:
Αεριου παγου ("areopagus" or "Mars Hill", 22)  Paul gives this speech on a hill named for the Greek god of war.  More remarkably, within 100 meters of him is the acropolis, upon which stood the Parthenon.  As Paul spoke about God not living in temples made with human hands, a 100 foot high statue of Athena was being worshipped with animal sacrifices; the smoke would have been rising up to the heavens behind Paul; to his left the meat would have been sold in the market.  Also, the Areopagus was the ancient court of Athens and hub of philosophical speculation.  It was the Harvard Cigar club and Supreme Court rolled into one.
δεισιδαιμονεστερους ("religious/superstitious", 22)  You can see the word "daimon" within the word.  It can mean god-fearing, but it also tends toward superstitious.  This word reminds us that Paul is going to splice words perfectly in this passage, subtly conveying his message.  He both compliments them and insults them all at once.
αγνοστω ("unknown" from αγνοστος, 23)  Paul says they have a monument to an "agnostic god."  I wonder how many in our society worship an "agnostic god"
χειροποιητος ("hand made", 24)  While hand-made may have nice connotations today, in the Bible it inevitably refers to idols made from hands.  Which is a very, very bad thing.  I find this striking that everything made by human hands is tainted with sin in the Bible; even Solomon's Temple will be destroyed by Jesus (Mark 14:58) in order to make the new temple!
θεραπευεται ("serve" or "heal" from θεραπευω, 25)  This is fascinating word I would like to study more.  English speakers will recognize the word "therapy" and immediately move to healing.  However, the original meaning of this word was much more akin to serving the gods, like a priest.  In fact, in the Old Testament the word never means heals, as in God heals, but means the people serve the god or king.  Jesus turns the Bible upside-down by actually doing the service toward people.  My sense is that those who did service to the gods were healed and this is how this word came to have its dual meaning, but I need to research this more.
ψηλαφησειαν ("grope" or "search", 27)  Paul uses this word to describe our searching for God.  Interestingly, Homer will use this word to discuss cyclops after he is blinded.  A striking word to describe our searching for God outside of proclamation!
υπαρχω ("be at one's disposal; exist", 24&27)  I never have liked this Greek word because it seems to mean all sorts of the things.  The point I want to emphasize here is that when Paul says that God is not far away from us, he more closely means, God is available to us; ie, Paul is not simply discussing physical space, but spiritual space.  I argue for this translation because Paul uses the word back in verse 24 to discuss how everything is at God's disposal; by verse 27 Paul is arguing that God is also at our disposal. 
μετανοειν ("repent" from μετανοεω, 30)  Most times when Biblical writers use this word, they are picking up off of the old Testament concept of repentance as a turning of one's heart and really actions away from sin and toward God.  However, within this philosophical mileau of the Areopagus, Paul here, I argue, leans into its more Greek meaning, which means "new mind."  Paul is calling them to a new way of thinking, namely, that, God has provided for the:
αναστησας νεκρον ("resurrection from the dead," 31)  This was a radical concept for the Greeks.  The immortal soul was acceptable, but the resurrection from the dead was just gross.  It is after this comment that Paul's speech breaks down and people said, "They've had enough!"

Grammar review:  Moods and the Optative
Greek has a number of "moods" for verbs.  Moods are not like tenses.  Moods describe the role of the verb within the sentence.  For example, a verb may be in the indicative mood, which means it describes what happens:  "Peter eats dinner."  A verb may be in the imperative mood, which means it tells someone what to do:  "Eat dinner, Peter!"  A verb may be in the infinitive mood:  "Peter needed to eat."  A verb may also be a participle mood, like "Eating his dinner, Peter..."  A verb may also be in the subjunctive mood.  "If Peter would eat."  In English, however, you need to add helping verbs to make a verb truly subjunctive.  Greek simply slaps on a different ending, much to the chagrin of Greek learners!  Greek also has another mood, called the optative.  It is very rare, occuring less than 40 times in the New Testament.  In fact, 15 of these are Paul saying "μη γενοιτο."  (Heck no!)  The optative mood describes a wish.  It is probably best to assume the translators get it right when it comes to the optative.   Books upon books are written about the death of the optative mood in Greek.  Let me again save you the time:  Trust the translators with the optative.  With the subjunctive, well, its more subjective ;-)  There you have to watch them...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Matthew 21:1-11

This passage occurs for Palm Sunday, year A.
Summary:  When I first wrote this blog post, there had been a large earthquake in Japan; hence the word "εσεισθη" (shook, akin to seismic) caught my attention.  The events of Holy Week shake the city.  They still shake our world today, perhaps even causing a fair amount of disruption, if not sadly violence, in our world.  Call it good, call it bad, but the events of Holy Week make every person ask the haunting question:  "Who is this man?"

Key Words:
απεστειλεν ("sent" in 21:1 and 3; aorist form of αποστελλω)  This is a well known verb to Greek students.  I find the particular use interesting -- Jesus sends the disciples to get a donkey.  A reminder that often times, our "missional" or "apostolic" calling can be very mundane, but serve a tremendously amazing purpose.

συνεταξεν ("commanded" in 21:6; aorist form of συντασσω)  Ah, the "syntax" of discipleship.  This would mean obedience to particular commands.  Okay, its Holy Week.  I am not going on a diatribe, but it is worth noting, especially for us Lutherans, that the disciples display here the syntax of discipleship:  hearing specific tasks and doing them.  Or to put it another way, the proper syntax of discipleship is "hearing, being sent and then obeying..."

οχλος vs πολις ("crowd" in 21:8 and 11 and "city" in 21:10).  The events of Holy Week force each of us, whether disciple, distant follower or outsider, to confront the question facing the whole city:  "Who is this?"  Also, the same crowds that cheer him now will vote for his death...

ὠσαννα ("Hosanna" in 21:9).  Here is the "NET" commentary:  Hosanna, literally in Hebrew, "O Lord, save" in the quotation from Ps 118:25-26 was probably by this time a familiar liturgical expression of praise, on the order of "Hail to the king," although both the underlying Aramaic and Hebrew expressions meant "O Lord, save us." In words familiar to every Jew, the author is indicating that at this point every messianic expectation is now at the point of realization. It is clear from the words of the psalm shouted by the crowd that Jesus is being proclaimed as messianic king. See E. Lohse, TDNT 9:682-84.

εσεισθη  ("shake" in 21:10; aorist form of σειω)  This word comes into English as "seismic."  The events of Holy Week shake the city and their aftershocks still continue to reverberate around the world two millenia later.

Often times participles are stacked near other participles and verbs, which can make them seem more difficult to translate.  Here are two examples: 
21:1  λυσαντες αγαγετε μοι
The verbs (and pronoun!) should be fairly familiar:  "loose/free", "lead", "me"
Let's translate this rather methodically.  First, let's do the non-participle parts:
"[participle] lead to me"
Now, let's go back and add in the participle, in this case, some form of "free."  The first thing to do is NOT worry about person, gender or any of that, but simply stick the verb in with an "ing"
"Freeing, lead to me"
Okay, now we need to check out the tense and voice.  In this case it is active voice, so we don't have to fix anything.  Tense wise, it is aorist.  An aorist participle occurs before the other verb.  So, we get:
"Freed, lead to me"
Yuck.  Let's put this back in the "under the circumstances" machine:
Under the circumstances of having freed, lead to me."
What makes this hard is that you don't have an object.  Let's add one in for clarity:
"UtC of having freed the donkey, lead it to me."
Now we simplify:
"After you freed/untied the donkey, lead it to me."
Next one is 21:9
ευλογημενος Ὁ ερχομενος εν ονοματι κυριου
Again, translate what you know here:
"[participle] the [participle] in the name of the Lord.
[Technical point:  In Hebrew, you don't have articles in expressions like "name of the Lord"  It is just assumed that it is all definitive:  "the Name of the Lord."  The Greek translators just left them out but we ain't talking about any Lord, here, but YHWH!  Which leads always to the question of, how do you translate this name?  Simply LORD using all caps??]
In this case, the second participle: ερχομενος is a lot easier.  It is a substantive:  You simply put in the "The one(s) that/which do X" formula.  You get:  "The one who comes"  What makes this a little tricky is the "μεν" in the middle of the participle which might make you think this is passive, but no, this is simply a deponent verb! 
But the first one...ευλογημενος...tricky.
Stick in the word+ing
"blessing the one who comes in the name of the Lord."
Now we check tense and voice.  Voice is passive, so we have to reverse the language:  "Blessed be" or "blessed is."  The tense is perfect which means the action, having occurred in the past, still has an implication for today.
"Blessed and still is blessed the one who comes in the name of the Lord."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Matthew 6:24-34

This passage occurs in the Epiphany season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A).

As usual, the Greek makes things more exciting!  First, the word for "serve" in 6:24, as "cannot serve God and Mammon" is not serve like "wait on the table" but serve as in "be a slave to."  Second, Jesus gives a number of commands throughout this passage.  The tenses of the commands (for which I devote an entire section) highlight Jesus’ point.  A brief review:  Jesus tells his disciples to look up into the sky using an aorist command; he tells his disciples to seek the Kingdom of God using a present tense command.  The one is a simple request; the other is a constant task.  The translations generally do not capture this distinction.

Key words:

δουλευω ("serve" or "be enslaved to," twice in 6:24):  This word does not simply mean "serve" as "I painted a wall for a poor person's house."  It is more akin to slavery and servanthood.  "It is not possible to be a slave to God and Money."  Saving "serve" allows us a bit more control, I think, than Jesus implies.  The word for serve as in clean-up/pitch-in is διακονεω.
μαμωνα ("mammon" or "money," 6:24): This word is not a Hebrew or Greek word, but is Aramiac, meaning wealth or property.  It it not found in the OT; it is not picked up in any of the NT letters.  It appears a few times, three times in Luke and once in Matthew.  I guess it is a deeper question -- is Jesus trying to personify money here or not?  I would suggest so, based less on what the word Mammon actually means, and more within the context of serving a master.
ολιγοπιστοι ("little faith," 6:30; appears in a few forms in Matthew's Gospel, also 8:26,14:31, 16:8, 17:20);  This is a "pet" phrase of Matthew.  The question is -- is this a rebuke or an encouragement?  Of course, there is some element of rebuke, but perhaps there is an element of encouragement.  Even being of little faith is better than being of none!  In fact, if you compare the stories in chapter 8 and 16 from Matthew's Gospel with their Marcan parallels, you will see that Matthew adds this word into to soften the words of Jesus!  (Or Mark excludes it).  It is a humbling reminder that Jesus teaches us, not simply when we are wise and have full faith, but even when we have little faith.
προσθειναι ("add" an aorist infinitive of προστιθημι in 6:27; also in 6:34):  Jesus here makes the point that worrying will not add an inch to our lives but seeking the kingdom of God will add all these things to us!

Translation issues
1)  What does that refer to?
In English grammar, a pronoun needs an "antecedent," ie, what it is playing the roll of pronoun for.  For example, "She and her sister are nice.  I like her."  The "her" doesn't really have a clear antecedent and so it is hard to understand.  In this case, Jesus says, "Seek the KoG and its righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you."  The question is, what are these things?  Righteousness or clothing and wealth?  (Kind of like King Solomon, who, in asking for wisdom, gained wealth).

2)  Tenses in commands:  Aorist vs Present

Jesus gives a number of commands in this section.  Commands can also be called imperatives.  They provide a helpful way to understand how tenses function in Greek commands.  In English, we really only have present tense commands:  "Go!"  or "Help!"  In Greek, however, the command can be given in either the aorist or the present tense.  This impacts how the verb should be translated.
The aorist is used for a simply command, like a "Do this now" sort of thing.  For example, εμβλεψατε ("Look up in the sky!", 6:26) or καταμαθετε ("Consider the lillies", 6:28).  An aorist command requests a specific action to be taken right now. 
The present tense is used for a command that requires continued action.  For example, ζητειτε ("Seek the Kingdom of God," 6:33).  Jesus wants his followers to ALWAYS seek the Kingdom of God.  While the "continuous" nature of present tense can be sometimes overstated, the present imperative strongly suggests a continuous action. 
In English the distinction between these two tenses is often overlooked.  In this case, a fair translation would be "always" or "continually seek the Kingdom of God."  (Whereas you don't always have to look up into the sky)

With negatives, it is a little more tricky.  I confess, I get them confused!  Jesus uses the same verb here in both the negative aorist and negative present command forms, so this will hopefully clarify.
Jesus uses the negative present imperative in 6:25:  μη μεριμνησητε.  In this verse, he is telling the disciples a forever command:  "Do not ever worry about your life."  The implication too, with a present tense negative imperative, is that the listener was in fact doing this action.  For example, angels often have to tell people μη φοβου.  (Present tense of "fear")  We translate this "Do not be afraid" but it would better as "Stop being and continue to stop being afraid."  Or perhaps, more poetically, "Do not fear."
Jesus then switches to a negative aorist command in 6:31 μη μεριμνατε.  This verb is actually an aorist subjunctive. (Why?  Well, I don't know the deep reason, but the basic reason is that negative aorist prohibitions take the subjunctive mood.)  In this verse, Jesus is telling the people not to ask "What shall I eat?"  While this could also be considered a permanent command, Jesus uses the aorist here because he was neither suggesting that the disciples were specifically doing that at that moment nor was he suggesting that this would be their constant question.  Lastly, Jesus tells the disciples (again using a negative aorist subjunctive) not to worry about tomorrow.  The use of the aorist is almost humerous here.  It is almost as if Jesus is saying, "For today, I tell you, don't worry about tomorrow."  The command is not in the present tense because Jesus doesn't want them to think about their actions for tomorrow!

Final note:  Sometimes trying to figure out why a particular author used a particular tense is challenging.  This is certainly true with negative aorist prohibitions!  They could easily have been present tense! Sometimes there is a bit of sloppiness in the tenses.  However, when you see Jesus using a present tense command for seeking the Kingdom of God, you can know that Jesus wants them to do this all the time!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Matthew 3:13-17

This passage occurs for the Baptism of Jesus in Revised Common Lectionary (Year A).
Unpacking this short passage of Jesus' Baptism is a delight.  What caught my eye this time was the word for dove, περιστερα.  This word can also mean pigeon.  Imagine...God's Holy Spirit finally taking a lowly pigeon!  I think that kind of captures the reality of Baptism...God working through pigeons like you and me!

Key Words:
βαπτιζω ("baptize"; 3:11,13,14,17):  Baptize is fairly straight-forward in Matthew's Gospel.  John does it to people; Jesus is baptized; Jesus tells people to baptize disciples in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  As I have mentioned before, it simply meant to dip in Hellenistic times. 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

περιστερα ("dove" or "pigeon"; 3:16).  What a difference it would make if our imagery was of an ugly black pigeon...but a few other key points in Scripture this little bird appears:
1)  During Noah's flood, the bird that brings him the olive branch is the dove
2)  When God makes his first covenant with Abram, Abram must offer a dove
3)  In Leviticus, the poor could offer a dove/pigeon for a sacrifice
4)  In all four Gospels, the dove descends on Jesus as he is being baptized
5)  Jesus turns out the doves (and their merchants) in the temple.

It is kind of interesting if you make out the spirit to be an ugly black pigeon that only the poor use for a sacrifice.  That is the vehicle through which the spirit works!

ευδοκεω:  (3:17; pleased).  Matthew also uses this verb in verse 12:18:
Matthew 12:18-21  18 "Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I take great delight. I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.  19 He will not quarrel or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. 20 He will not break a bruised reed or extinguish a smoldering wick, until he brings justice to victory. 21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope."

What is the hope of the Gentiles?  Baptism, of course, where they are connected to the promises of God!

Grammar Review:  "Articular Infinitive"

Greek has a million ways to express the intention of something.  A very intentional people if you will!  One of these such ways is through the "articular infinitive."  See verse 13:  του βαπτισθηναι.  Literally you might read this as:  " John of the baptizing."  However, because you have an article+ infinitive you can read this as "to John for the purpose of being baptized" or leave it as an infinite in English, "to John to be baptized."  In this particular example, the infinitive is in the passive (notice the θη suffix).  Question:  What else suggests its passive?  (Besides the overall context of the sentence?  Hint:  prepositions!)

Sentence Analysis:  3:16  βαπτισθεις δε ο Ιησους ευθυς ανεβη απο του υδατος και ιδου ηνεωχθησαν οι ουρανοι, και ειδεν το πνευμα ωσει περιστεραν ερχομενον επ αυτον

Divide and conquer!  Use the grammer markings (which I cannot easily copy) to help you here
1) βαπτισθεις δε ο Ιησους ευθυς ανεβη απο του υδατος  
2)  και ιδου ηνεωχθησαν οι ουρανοι
3)  και ειδεν το πνευμα ωσει περιστεραν ερχομενον επ αυτον

1) βαπτισθεις δε ο Ιησους ευθυς ανεβη απο του υδατος

Here we have a fairly easy sentence -- trust me.  Let's divide it up
βαπτισθεις:  Participle, but even if you don't know that, you recognize something with Baptism!
δε:  worry about later
ο Ιησους:  Subject
ευθυς:  worry about later
ανεβη:  main verb
απο του υδατος:  prepositional phrase

Get your subject and main verb:  Jesus came up/rose
Now add in the prepositional phrase:  Jesus came up out of the water.  hmm...Jesus rose from the water.

Now add in the little words (look up what they mean):  And Jesus came up immediately out of the water
Alas, what to do with the participle? this case just stack it onto the beginning of the sentence (but first make it an aorist past tense passive):
"Baptized, Jesus immediatedly rose out of the water."
Do we need to smooth out the pariciple?  (Technically determine the circumstances under which it happened?)  Add any other phrases or adverbs?  We could do:
"After Jesus was baptized..." however, we cannot do "While Jesus was baptized..."  We cannot do this because the participle is aorist which means it happened before the main verb.
So, "After Jesus was baptized, he rose from the water."
2)  και ιδου ηνεωχθησαν οι ουρανοι
This is even easier.  Word for word: 
and behold opened the heavens.
The only tricky part is translating the aorist passive verb, but not really, because we have this in English:  "The heavens were opened."  (in my mind, hard translation from Greek is when we don't have something really this case we do:  Simple past passive.)  You know its aorist passive by the θησ suffix in the middle.

So, "After Jesus was baptized, he rose from the water.  And behold, the heavens were opened."

3) και ειδεν το πνευμα ωσει περιστεραν ερχομενον επ αυτον

Let's divide up here, again, as always, trying to find subject and main verb:
και: filler
ειδεν:  main verb
το πνευμα: subject
ωσει περιστεραν ερχομενον επ αυτον:  let's come back to it.

So if we put verb+subject together, we get " And the spirit saw.

Hmm...what is going wrong here?  Well, it turns out that the word Spirit looks the same in the nominative and accusative case.  So actually, the subject is Jesus and the spirit is the object.  "And he saw the Spirit."

ωσει περιστεραν ερχομενον επ αυτον:  Literally:  "like (a) pigeon/dove coming upon him."

Two things worth pointing out:  First, for your own exploration, notice how Mark and Matthew differ on prepositions here...
But more over, the pariticple here is not that hard to translate.  it is always worth sticking in the easy translation of the participle (for present, add ing to the verb; to aoristl add ed to the verb) and see what happens.  In this case, the participle modifies the pigeon/dove so it works out nicely.

Final translation:
So, "After Jesus was baptized, he rose from the water. And behold, the heavens were opened.  Jesus saw the Spirit like a pigeon coming upon him."

(ΝRSV)  And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.