Monday, August 15, 2016

Luke 13:10-17

This passage occurs in the RCL year C, most recently August 2016.

Summary:  I do not think our culture needs to hear words encouraging us to ignore the Sabbath.  Clearly we are in the entirely opposite place than the Jewish world of 2,000 years ago.  What is the consequence?  We are bound by our exhaustion, our stress and our love of our works.  Jesus comes to free this woman from Satan's chains and evil spirits.  I argue that if Jesus were around today, he would seek to free us from the chains that our lack of Sabbath structure imposes on us.

Key words of interest for this passage:
λυω (luo, "free"; 13.15;13:16): "...untie his ox; should not this set free."  This word appears in two consecutive verses, however, we likely miss this.  First because the English translators translate the word differently in verses 15 and 16.  Second, it appears in a slightly more difficult form as λυθηναι in 13:16.  The verb, which many of us know from all sorts of conjugation charts, means "to loose, to set free." Jesus makes a play on words here: You set free your animals; I set people free. 

This passage puts this illness in terms of binding and releasing in two other places.  We are told in verse 12 that Jesus απολελυθαι the woman.  This word, essentially a linguistic sibling to λυω means "release."  Jesus even says that the woman was in δεσμος (chains, 13:16; also used as verb in this sentence).

ανωρθωθι (from ανορθοω, "straighten", 13.13): "...she stood up straight"  This verb comes from the prefix/preposition "ana" which means upright or again and the adjective "ortho" meaning straight. It simply means straighten up or restore. It is not an especially common word in the Bible, but it recalls the Psalms to mind: "The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down (146:8)." [Technical note:  The Psalm translation is in a slightly different order.]

παντελες (13.11): "could not straighten up at all..." The word builds "pan", meaning "all" and "teles" meaning complete together for a 1-2 punch, like a baseball announcer shouting "it could...go...all...the...way."  The woman was bound up over herself so she did not have the power to stand up into her full measure.

Other words worth reflecting on:
αγανακτων (aganakton, meaning "indignant", 13.14): "Indignant because Jesus..." The word here has its root in "agony." The people watching are in agony over Jesus performing a healing!  How easy it is to get upset about mercy!

εθεραπεθσεν (from θεραπευω, "therapy", meaning "heal", 13.14): "healed" The word began in Greek by meaning service to the Gods; almost like worship! It became to mean, it seems, service that the Gods could render, namely, healing.

υποκριται (hypocrites, 13.15):  This word came right into English!  (The rough breathing mark over the υ means it is sounded hy.)  The word literally means "down judge-er/answer-er." It comes from theater, where the person has to speak to the people from a different height than the others. It came then to mean someone who pretends.

Total breakdown of 13:11
και ιδου γυνη πνευμα εχουσα ασθενειας ετη δεκαοκτω και ην συγκυπτουσα και μη δυναμενη ανακυψαι εις το παντελες

NRSV Luke 13:11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

The sentence begins with "και ", typical for a Greek sentence and essentially translatable by either "and" or a "period."  It can also mean but, even, more, also, etc...

The next word is "ιδου " This word, like the Hebrew hennah means "pay attention!" It does not describe what happens in the narrative, but it is a direction for the reader.

"γυνη πνευμα εχουσα ασθενειας" Before we parse this, let's just stick in the word-for-word translations: "woman spirit having weakness." The specific cases (accusative verses genitive) help here, but one can probably deduce this reads: "a woman having a spirit of weakness." For modern readers we'd like to take out the word "having a spirit" and replace it with "illness" but this limits the connection we will make later when Jesus says that Satan had this woman bound.

The participle "εχουσα" looks like an aorist because it has an "s" toward the end, but this is a feminine marker! Sigh! How does one translate this participle? Because there is neither a "the" (definitive article) nor a helping verb anywhere near by, you can assume it is a circumstantial. If we then use the formula "A woman, under the circumstance of having, an ill spirit" we see we can toss out the formula and just roll with it, "A woman having a ill spirit."

"ετη δεκαοκτω" 18 years.

και ην συγκυπτουσα ; Here we come to a supplementary participle. You will come to love these because your brain in English already thinks this way.  If you see a form of a "to-be" verb (ie, ην) next to a participle, you can read it like in English -- just stick in the basic translation of the words -- "The woman was bent over." This is the very complex way in Greek of forming the imperfect tense!

και μη δυναμενη ανακυψαι: This is a train wreck by Luke! He basically continues to leave the helping verb, here δυναμενη (to be able) as a participle. This means he must use "μη " for a negative instead of "ou" (all non indicative no-s should be μη and not ou). He then connects it with an aorist infinitive. Ouch.  At the end of the day: "was not able to stand up"

εις το παντελες: This use of εις here basically makes the adjective, παντελες, an adverb because it now describes the action of standing up straight.  The way Luke writes this little tidbit here though leaves a very poetic end to the sentence:  "She was not able to stand up into completeness."  Her not standing up had an impact in her life beyond simply being hunched over.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

This passage appears in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C (most recently August 2016)

Summary:  The writer of Hebrews focuses on the reality of trials and tribulations of a faithful life here on earth.  The Christian life is not one of avoiding suffering, but embracing it as Christ embraced his own suffering.  We follow Christ who suffered before entering glory.  Along the way we have our faithful brothers and sisters to inspire us.

Key words:
πιστει (pistei, dative of πιστος , meaning "faith", throughout chapter 11).  I discuss this word and its use in my last week's post for Hebrews 11.

μαρτυρων (genitive form of μαρτυς, martys, meaning "testimony"; 12:1)  As I've written about 100 times before the word μαρτυς simply meant witness in a legal sense.  However, so many Christians died giving their witness, that the meaning of the word changed.  Here in Hebrews 12 we already see the shift in the meaning of this word, in that suffering is clearly connected with witnessing.  While we may not have modern martyrs in the same sense of direct persecution for faith, most of us have received a powerful witness from someone whose faith endured suffering and obstacles.

αγωνα (agona, meaning "race" or "struggle"; 12:1) The word is essentially agony!  We are invited into agony for Christ.  This word appears in another verse in relationship to witness:
1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight (αγωνα) of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Translating it as race makes sense given the verb "run" used in 12:1.  However, this may seem like a competition against others.  The focus here is on the struggle against sin.

This word can also mean "heat" like run a "heat." Or life on earth is like a heat!

αρχηγον (archegon, meaning "pioneer"; 12:2)  The word comes from two basic Greek words:  αρχη meaning first or primary; ηγον a derivative of αγω meaning lead.  Jesus is the first leader!  Moving beyond word games, this word appears twice in the letter to the Hebrews.  In 12:2 but also 2:10
Hebrews 2:10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer (αρχηγον) of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus the pioneer (αρχηγον) and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Both verses speak of Christ attaining perfection and pioneering our faith.  But both also clearly go via the way of the cross.  Christ leads the way, but it is always through Calvary.

Some fancy word play:
The writer of Hebrews plays on some words here in a way impossible to detect in English.
περικειμενον  vs ευπεριστατον:  In 12:1 the writer says that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses; sin is clinging to us.  Both words have a similar root: περι (peri, around).  The cloud of witnesses is abiding around us; sin is also standing around us.  The word describing sin is quite interesting:  ευπεριστατον which breaks down into ευ-περι-στατον:  Pleased-around-standing.  Sin is happy to stand around us!

Sermon connection:  How we can be reminded of the cloud of witnesses, that they may be ever before us as much as sin is?

περικειμονον vs προκειμενον.  Both words have at their root:  κειμον from κειμαι meaning "lie around."  περι (peri) means around vs προ  (pro) means before.  The cloud of witnesses surrounds us for what lay head of us.  And what does lay ahead of us?  Agony here but glory later.

Sermon connection:  What challenges do you have before you?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hebrews 11:1-3;8-16

This reading occurs in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C.  The Roman Catholic church includes slightly different verses, including either  Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 or Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12.

Summary:  The writer of Hebrews uses an advanced style of Greek that makes reading it more difficult.  I have included a number more technical notes than usual if you want to dig in.  The big picture is this:  Faith is a mighty, hard and costly matter.  A good preacher should be able to extol the power of faith.  A better preacher should help the people see that their faith is not their own, but a gift from God, that comes to us by the Spirit and the Word.  A great preacher, dare I say it, preaches in such a way that people hear the Word and by the Spirit have this faith.  As Jesus says in the related Gospel passage:  Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (12:32)."

Key words and grammar insights:
υποστασις (hypostasis, meaning "confidence"; 11:1)  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is the word from all of the Trinitarian debates:  One ousia and three hypostases!  First, let's break down this word:  It comes from υπο- meaning "under" and -στασις meaning "a standing."  The hypostasis is the thing that settles to the ground; the foundation.  This becomes understood metaphorically then as the base of confidence.  The thing upon which you can stand, not just literally, but emotionally.

This is an interesting way of looking at the Trinity -- we have one substance (God) but we have means of confidence, three bedrocks of our life: the creation, the cross and the community of faith.  Okay, I got a little cute there...

ελεγχος (elegchos, meaning "testing; 11:1).  Liddell-Scott defines this word as "a cross-examining, testing, for purposes of disproof or refutation."  Three facts that seem useless:
- It is only used once in the New Testament;
- Old Testament it is found almost exclusively in translations of wisdom literature;
- It has a different meaning if it is declined as a neuter instead of masculine noun. 
What is important here:  It is really hard to figure out what this word actually means because you cannot get many similar uses as the one here.  The other meaning of the word is "rebuke" which makes no sense in this context.  If anything, faith is the rebuke of things seen!

ελπιζομενων (participle form of ελπιζω, meaning "hope"; 11:1)  How to translate this participle?  First, it does not have any article, which would seem to rule out a substantive or an adjective participle.  Second, it is in the genitive case and there are no other nearby words in this case, making it difficult to translates as a circumstantial participle.  The word that helps us know how to translate this participle is πραγματων.  This word is also a genitive neuter plural word meaning "things."  There is a parallel structure in the sentence now genitive plural object - nominative singular subject.  I would argue to translate ελπιζομενων as a genitive substantive participle

ελπιζομενων υποστασις assurance of things hoped for
πραγματων ελεγχος:  proof of things (unseen)
You could argue that ελπιζομενων modifies πραγματων; in this case the above translation (and how everyone translates it) does not change.

βλεπομεν (participle form of βλεπω, meaning "to see"; 11:1;3) This word appears in both verse 1 and 3 in different participle forms.  The point is that faith and sight are often not connected.  The other point is that God can bring about things that we cannot yet see.  Who would have predicted that Africa would be the heart of Christianity over a century ago?  Who would believe in life after death when sitting with someone as they die in suffering?  Who would believe in forgiveness when they have seen the pain that people cause?

εμαρτυρηθσαν (from μαρτυρεω, martyreo, meaning "testify"; 11:2)  As I written about before, Christians changed the meaning of this word.  Because so many Christians were killed for their witness, the word martyr came to mean to die for one's witness!  The sentence literally reads "the elders were martyred in this faith."  In this case, the word means "be well spoken of", like a "we can say about them now" kind of thing.  But the most literal translation should shake us up.  Faith has a cost!

πρεσβυτεροι (presbyter(oi) meaning "elder"; 11:2)  This word can mean ancestors but also simply elders.  In the early church this became a position of leadership and is still used today in various churches to designate leadership.!

πιστει (dative form of πιστις, meaning "faith"; 11:3 and then throughout the passage).  The writer of Hebrews will begin using the word πιστει repeatedly.  It is the word for faith in the dative case.  The dative case can have many meanings, most likely in this case the "instrumental" idea.  (By means of faith...)  In English, we almost always have to have words with prepositions to show how they fit together.  Greek can simply "decline" them in cases so show their meanings.

κατηρτισθαι  (form of καταρτιζω, meaning "restore", 11:3)  This is fascinating. Typically translators understand 11:3 to refer to creation -- the old creation.  This would make sense in that the writer of Hebrews is going to begin a retelling of the Old Testament.  But the writer intentionally chooses restore (as in Galatians 6:1:  If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently).  I wonder if the writer of Hebrews here is connecting the old and new creation:  God is restoring the new creation -- at his word -- having made the seen from the unseen.  My sense is that belief in God's work in making the new creation takes more faith than belief in God's work in making the old creation!  I don't think translating this in terms of the old testament creation is wrong (in fact the verb tenses later in the verse suggest this as well as, again, the whole framework of the passage).  I just think there might be a small note of the new creation joining the chorus here.

Little bonus:  In verse 10 you find a curious word for builder:  δημιουργος or demiurge of gnostic faith!