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 shape...as 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:  "Jesus...to 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?  Simple...in this case just stack it onto the beginning of the sentence (but first make it an aorist passive...ie 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 similar...in 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.