Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Easter 5: John 15 and Acts 8 (Year B)

This post links to the Revised Common Lectionary passages for Easter 5, Year B, most recently May 3, 2015.  You can find my post by clicking here.

A tidbit of a sumptuous post:
αμπελος ("vine"; 15.1)  Like many metaphors in John's Gospel, a person new to the Bible can grasp its meaning, but a knowledge of the OT amplifies its significance.  The OT (Hosea 14; Jeremiah 2; perhaps also Ezekiel 19, but who understands Ezekiel...) makes the claim that Israel is the vine of the Lord.  Jesus here is saying "I am Israel."  All the promises, all the hopes (if not the judgment) of Israel in the Bible have been transferred to Jesus.

I have a bit older post on Acts 8 here.
Its all about the "way" but before we get there, a tidbit:
αναστηθι και πορευου ("Get up and go"; 8:26) Philip is told to "Get up and go" (a very familiar line from the OT; Abraham -- Get up and go!). The question is whether this is verbal coordination Hebrew style (Go in a quick way) or whether Luke is implying two separate verbs. 

Romans 1:1-17

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Year A (Most recently May 3, 2015).
To write a Greek analysis of Romans 1:1-17 I could stand by, I feel, would be to undertake way more than I can possibly achieve in a decade.  So I will focus on Romans 1:16-17, with an eye toward the Romans 1:1-17.  I walk away with many questions because it is hard not to see 500+ years of dogmatic history written all over every verse. 

Key words:
ευαγγελιον ("eu-angelion" or "evangelion", meaning "Good news,", Romans 1:16)  What is the meaning of Gospel?  The answer to the question probably drives how one sees every other theological matter of significance.  What do we learn in Romans 1:1-17?

- It was promised beforehand in Old Testament
  Χριστος (Christos meaning Messiah, 1:1) While we often thing of "Christ" as Jesus name, it is a title meaning anointed.  The Jews of the 1st century were awaiting a "Messiah" which means anointed, or in Greek, "Christos."  To call Jesus the Christ was making a statement about who we was, namely, the long awaited Messiah of Jewish teaching.

...yet the Old Testament does not fully deliver it. (1:2)

...and it is for gentiles!

- It is beyond this life in that the resurrection is crucial (1:4);

...yet it is embedded in the social-political reality of the day:
κυριος (kyrios meaning Lord, 1:4)  This was the term for Caesar, so this is political, but it means that Jesus is the big boss, even bigger than the Emperor of Rome.  Significant throughout the Roman Empire, but especially in Rome.  Later on Christians would be forced to recant their confession that Jesus is Lord and confess Caesar is Lord.  See article here.  Many chose to retain the Christian faith even at the cost of their life.

...and it heavily involves this life. Even though the terms salvation (σωτερια 1:16) and sainthood (αγιος, 1:7) are used, it never talks about "going to heaven."  In fact, it talks about the power of God for this life, culminating the righteous shall LIVE by faith.

- It is apprehended by faith (1:17;  faith, πιστις, is mentioned 1:5, 8, 12) and results in righteousness (δικαιοσυνη 1:17).
...yet obedience is expected (1:5)
...and no indication is given that faith and works are split from each other

Lastly, the task of sharing the Gospel seems embedded in the Gospel itself.

I haven't even gotten to spiritual gifts, obedience, love, peace or half the other words in 1:1-17.  Paul covers just about every theological theme.  Any one of these words is a sermon, no a sermon series, no a theological tome.  Is there a way to organize this?  I think the best bet for preaching is pick one contour / dialectic and run with it.

επαισχυνομαι ("to be ashamed", 1:16)  This is most curious -- why in the world would Paul be ashamed?  Perhaps because it is so antithetical to the ways of the world that there will naturally be some shame involved?  Paul here is not talking about how is ashamed of other Christians (something we all probably experience) but he is discussing the possibility of being ashamed of the Gospel itself.  How could this be?  Have we domesticated our own faith so much that we do not see how it calls us to a fundamentally different way of life?

δυναμις (dynamis, like dynamite, meaning "power", 1:16).  What does Paul here mean by power of God?  The letter of Romans 1:1-17 suggests the power of God is involved with the both classic theme of resurrection, justification if not also sanctification.  Furthermore, the power of God could be interpreted within a framework of overcoming social boundaries.  Lastly, though, I would offer that for Paul, the power of God is wrapped up in the ability to endure suffering.  I think he gets at this in Romans 8, but most explicitly in 2nd Corinthians, does Paul give an image of how the power of God becomes that which allows Christians to endure hardship. 

  • 7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;  9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  (2 Corinthians 4:7-9)
  • 8 We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed (u`pe.r du,namin) ‘beyond our strength’ that we despaired of life itself.  9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
  • 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,  5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;  6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,  7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; (2 Corinthians 6:4-7)
  • but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Grammar points: prepositions!

εκ πιστεως vs εις πιστιν.  Prepositions are notoriously difficult to translate between languages.  They often have many meanings; when one has mastered prepositions one really understands how a language works!  Skilled exegesis of Paul (and other authors) definitely requires one to get into the translation of prepositions.   Let's unpack the prepositions in Paul's phrasing from Romans 1:17 about righteousness being revealed εκ πιστεως εις πιστιν.  

εκ πιστεως means that righteousness is revealed a) by means of; b) consisting of/constituted out of; c) separate from; d) originating from; and a host of other possibilities -- faith. 

εις πιστιν indicates that righteousness has been revealed a) for the purpose of; b) into; c) leading toward; d) on behalf of; e) to, in the sense of corresponding to; and other possibilities -- faith.  To put it more theologically, does righteousness lead to faith?  Or does it create faith?  Is it for the faithful?  Does it speak to faith?  Depending on how one translates εις πιστιν, one could answer yes.

One could press these prepositions to interpret this phrase in a variety of ways.  How does one know where to go?   It turns out that Paul uses εκ πιστεως later in the same verse when he quotes from the Septuagint.  In this part of the verse, εκ πιστεως means "by means of faith" suggesting that the right way to translate/interpret this in the first use of εκ πιστεως is "by means of faith."  Phew.  Mysery solved.  However, Paul does not again use the phrase εις πιστιν forcing us to wonder -- what exactly did he mean? 

Ultimately, this is not simply a linguistic issue.  Paul's writing here would force even a native speaker in 58 AD to ask himself / herself -- what did Paul mean?  But the prepositions show us the range of possible meanings Paul intended.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Acts 14:8-18

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary (Most recently April 26, 2015).

Summary:  This is not a passage I am very familiar with.  A couple of possible sermon directions:
- The power of word to produce faith and salvation
- The importance of focus to create healing
- The reality that things can wrong even when they go right
- How one preaches to pagans
- If you want to talk about persecution of Christians, you can do all of chapter 14.

Key Words
ηκουσεν (aorist of ακουω, meaning "listen"; 14:9):  The man's transformation begins as he is listening.  Verse 7 makes it clear what he is hearing -- the Good News! God's Word transforms people, not crowds.  But yes, this requires listening.

ατενισας (aorist of ατενιζω, meaning "gaze"; 14:9)  Paul must focus in order to be an effective leader here.  Perhaps this is our challenge in ministry (and all of life), that we cannot focus enough to observe someone with the faith necessary for healing in their life!

εχει πιστιν (have faith; 14:9)  Is faith a noun or verb, as in, to believe? is a noun here, but the verb "have" is in the present tense.  Paul gazed at him, sees that he has faith, and...  Faith is a living thing, nourished by the word, that moves mountains.  In short, even if faith is something we can hold (as Luke indicates here), it is not static or bottled up.  In fact, when the man stands up (14:10), the verb is leap, like water, a reminder of John's Gospel where "out of the believer's heart will flow living waters."

του σωθηναι (from σωζω, meaning to save; 14:9)  The word translated as "heal" means save.  This word is always worth unpacking, at least in Bible study.  What do we mean by save?  Christians are clear that Jesus as savior -- but what does he save us from?  Here it is from sickness.

It is also worth noting that the word heal/save is in the passive voice, suggesting that even the man's faith did not automatically produce salvation, but that God's activity was needed.  This is a tricky point that could be interpreted in all sorts of bad ways.  Basic point:  we don't save ourselves.  More complicated point:  Sometimes we have faith, but we still need another word to liberate us!

ματαιων (from ματαιος, meaning here "the worthless things"; 14:15)  What a profound way to talk about the things not of God.  Paul avoids language of sin when speaking with a bunch of pagans, but he does refer to their focus on the worthless things of life.  See also 1 Cor 15:17, that our faith is ματαιος if Christ wasn't raised from the dead.

Grammar review -- the words του σωθηναι are an "articular infinitive."  (An infinitive with an article, "the").  It literally reads "the saving" or "the healing."  Greek often uses an articular infinitive to express purpose, in this case, faith for the purpose of being saved.