Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

This passage occurs during Lent in the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A) and Epiphany (Year 1) of the Narrative Lectionary.

This is a text of testing.  That verb, πειραζω, appears three times!  Testing allows us to discover the nature of something.  What do we discover?  We discover that the devil is pretty good at tempting...tempting with the flesh, the power and the glory.  Even using scripture!  More importantly, we learn that Jesus draws his strength from the Word of God.  We learn that the Word of God comes from God's mouth, brings life in the wilderness, overcomes evil and is even worshiped by angels.

Key Words:

πειραζω & εκπειραζω ("tempt" or "put to the test,"  Found in 4:1, πειρασθναι (aorist passive infinitive), 4:3, πειραζων (participle present) and 4.7, εκπειρασεις (2nd person future)):   BDAG offers that this word means, "to endeavor to discover the nature or character of something by testing."  In this story, we discover the nature of two people, both the devil and Jesus.  The devil is the one who tempts us, tempts us with the flesh, glory and finally deceptive power, all so that we would worship him and not God.  He will quote Scripture and has no fear of God.  We learn also, here, by experience, that Jesus will draw on his power from the Word of God.  He alone, and not the devil, is master of Scripture.  He will also be ministered by angels, and though human, cannot be defeated by human weakness, but only by the will of God.

Note:  Although a slightly different word, εκ-πειραζω, is used when Jesus says to the Devil, "Don't test God," (4:7) I don't think this distinction is key.  It means essentially the same thing.  Furthermore, because it is a direct quote from the LXX, Jesus (Matthew) is forced to use it instead of simply, "πειραζω."  Regardless, this word comes into English in very clear way: "experiment"!  (literally e-x-p-e-r-i-m-e-n-t) Jesus is saying, "Don't experiment with God!" 

εκπορευομαι   ("come out" 4:4, εκπορευομενω (dative participle))  This word here is a fairly common word in Greek -- "come or go out."  What is significant here is that is goes hand and hand with the word and the mouth of God.  God's Word does not stay still, but goes out from God's mouth.  And what does it do?  It brings life in the middle of the wilderness and overcomes all evil.

προσκυνεω and λατρευω ("worship" 4:10, προσκεησεις & λατρευσιες (2nd person future))  προσκυνεω comes from the Greek for "forward kiss" as in lean down to touch and kiss the ground in front of the person.  λατρευσιες can also mean worship, but has to do with serving God in the temple, or more broadly, serving God as a way to fulfill obligations.  The root of the word is payment!  In the sense of "paying one's vows" before God.  When you put these two together, you have the image of full body worship, with both our knees (on the ground) and our arms (serving God through the offering plate, the acts of worship).

διακονεω ("serve" 4:11, διηκονουν (imperfect))  This word means to "serve" like a waiter serves on tables.  It comes into English and the church through a variety of servant ministries.  Here we see the other means of worship, not simply on our knees, or with our hands raised, but also on our feet, serving Christ.  To connect these last two works, you could argue that the angels fulfill the word of the Lord as the both worship and serve Jesus.

Grammar:  εαν vs ει

εαν is nice for translators.  It means "if" in a truly hypothetical sense.  "εαν" it rains today, the game will be canceled.  For example, in Matthew 4:9, the devil says, "εαν" you throw yourself down Jesus, I will give you all of this.
ει, however, is much harder.  It can mean "if" or "since" or "because not" depending on the context and the verb moods used around it.  Let's look at 4:3:
ει υιος [ει] του θεου, ειπε ινα οι λιθοι ουτοι αρτοι γενωνται
The  [ει] has breathing marks that indicate it is a form of the verb "to be," in this case, "are."  In fact, most of the words in this sentence an individual learns in the first couple weeks of Greek:
if son are of God, say in order the stones these bread [some form of become]
Because you know the sentence, you probably piece it together:
If you are the son of God, tell these stones to become bread.  Why the subjunctive γενωνται?  Why ουτοι?  For another day!  In this sentence, it seems odd that the devil would wonder if Jesus is the son of God.  The devil is saying, more likely, "As the son of God, do X, Y and Z."  Not only does this make more sense in the narrative, but grammatically, the fact that the verb [ει] is in the indicative and not subjunctive mood, also suggests this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Matthew 5:38-48

This passage occurs in the Epiphany season of the Revised Common Lectionary (Year A), most recently February 2017.
Summary:  Once again, Jesus offers us challenging words.  He calls us as a church, as the community of disciples, to act differently than the rest of the world.  He calls us to turn the other cheek; to love our neighbor and to give without counting the costs.  Yet he also points to the cross and God's act of self-giving.  Jesus is the one who will be slapped (ῤαπιζω), his coat (ιματιον) will be taken and finally Simon will be put into service (αγγαρευσω) to carry Jesus' cross.  Furthermore, Jesus will teach his disciples not simply to "give" but to pray to the heavenly father to "give" them their daily bread.  Lastly, the very gentiles (εθνικος) Jesus seems to chastise will be those Jesus calls us to baptize.  Read in isolation, these verses are simply moral exhortation, but read in the context of the whole, they powerfully remind us of the Gospel.

ῤαπιζει ("slap," 5:39; 26:67)  A rather rare word in the Bible (4x).  Interestingly though, the word comes back in Matthew's Gospel during the passion when Jesus is the one who is slapped.  (Ι included the accent mark to make it clear that the word is pronounced with a "her" at the beginning.)

ιματιον ("coat" 5:40, 27:31, 27:35)  A very common word in the Bible.  Like ῤαπιζω, this word comes back into Matthew's Gospel during the passion when they take Jesus' coat.

αγγαρευσει ("put into service", 5:41, 27:32)  The word only appears twice in the Bible, both times in Matthew's Gospel.  Here and in the passion narrative, when Simon or Cyrene is "put into service" to carry the cross.  Someone was asked to go the mile; now a "second" has come in its place.

δος ("give," aorist imperative of διδημι, 5:42; very common but also 6:11).  Jesus exhorts us to give to people who ask from us.  The same verb (in the same form) will appear only a bit later in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus teaches us how to pray, telling us to δος to God for our daily bread.  We are to live out of generosity, only dependent on God's graciousness.

διωκοντων ("persecute" or "persue," present participle of διωκω, 5:44)  The Gospel of Matthew never specifices that Jesus is himself persecuted, although the story clearly demonstrates that he is.  In fact, Jesus warns the disciples that they will be persecuted (10:23, 23:34).

εθνικος ("Gentile" or "Pagan," gentile as an adjective; 5:47)  Just a reminder of how "raw" the word for "Gentile" is:  Ethnic.  Gentile sounds so clean to us; I don't think it sounded this way in Greek!  Also, even though Jesus may disparriage the gentiles now, he will finally tell us to baptize them ("the nations") in his name!

Aorist tense as pastoral advice??
One mysterious issue I cannot solve is this:  Generally, the verbs describing the response of others are in the present tense; while the verb commanding our response are in the aorist tense -- for example the one "striking" us in the present tense, suggesting on-going action; we are commanded to "turn" the other check is in the aorist tense, suggesting this is a one time event.  Perhaps even Jesus here reminds us the limits of our passive response to the world's violence?  In comparison, the commands to love and pray are on-going.  I wonder if there is a real pastoral approach here to individuals (as opposed to systems) who are cruel to us -- in the short term, we are called to suffer abuse, but in the long term we are called to remove ourselves from the situation, only to offer prayers.

[Note, even more unusually, Jesus does tell us that we are to go the second mile continually.  This one I cannot figure out.]

Grammar + Translation:  Matthew 5:40
Translating participles when they connect with other verbs.

και τω θελοντι σοι κριθηναι και τον χιτωνα σου λαβειν, αφες αυτω και το ιματιον
NRSV  and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;

The second half of the sentence is more straight-forward:  αφες αυτω και το ιματιον

As usual, look for your subject and verb.  You don't have an obvious subject; this is because the verb "αφες" is an imperative (command) so, like English, you don't necessarily state the subject ("Give" instead of "You give").  It is important to recognize this as the subject (within the verb) because το ιματιον also could look like a subject.  το ιματιον (the coat) looks the same in the accustative or nominative!  But once you have the subject verb figured out, you have "forgive/permit/allow αυτω και the coat."  αυτω here is in the dative and simply means "to/for/with him." Now we have "permit him και the coat."  The και is probably best here translated as "even," so you end up with "permit him even the coat."

The first-half is where the action is:  και τω θελοντι σοι κριθηναι και τον χιτωνα σου λαβειν

You have three verbs:  θελοντι, κριθηναι, λαβειν
The first is a participle; the other two are verbs.
τω θελοντι is a substantive participle, which we translate as "the one who does X."  In this case, "the one who wants."  Now, the word "want" in both Greek and English is a helper verb (sometimes called modal); it often takes another verb.  I want to eat, for example.  The other verbs that it does with are in the infinitive.  And...wow...look, the other verbs in this sentence are in the infinitive!  So the outline of the sentence is:  "The one who wants to judge and take."  But we run into a problem here.  The verb κριθηναι is in the passive.  "be judged."  The one who wants to be judged doesn't make sense.  But if we add back in the σοι it helps a bit:  "The one who wants you to be judged."  Or as dictionaries suggest,  κριθηναι, should be translated (because it is passive) as "bring before court."  So, "The one who wants to sue you."  Then the second half becomes easy:  "Take your coat."  Do you see why σου becomes "your"?
Participles can act as helper verbs!  This can be confusing, but when you have verbs llike θελω, you should always look for another verb!

Monday, February 13, 2017

1 Corinthians 3:10-11;16-23

This passage occurs in the RCL during the Year A Epiphany Cycle, most recently February 2017.

Some brief commentary:
All of the "You"s in this section (You are God's building, you are God's temple, God's spirit live in you) are you plurals.  Paul argues that God's Spirit dwells in the collective, not the individual.  Interestingly, there is individual judgment, but there is collective blessing!  Furthermore, Paul reserves his judgment it seems, for church leaders.

σοφος αρχιτεκτων ("wise architect" or "master builder", 3:10)   Hebrews will call God the master builder and Jesus; Paul does not declare himself to be a master builder, but says he was like/as a master builder.  Important distinction!  We fill roles within the church, but God is the builder and ultimately, owner.

πυρ ("fire", 3:13;14)  Paul offers that we will be cleansed as if by fire.  For Paul judgment does not preclude salvation, but may in fact, be part of salvation!  This is a massive point that I will need, someday, to expand upon!

υμεις ("you"; 3:17)  To remind us all -- "you" in English can be translated a number of ways in Greek -- you individual (συ), you plural (υμεις), you in all sorts of cases  (υμιν e.g.)  In this case, the English translation: "You are God's temple" will almost certainly be heard by English ears as meaning "You individually are God's temple" rather than what the Greek suggests "You all are God's temple." 

Paul will pick up on the idea that our individual bodies are temples (νοας) of God (1 Cor 6:19) but in this section (3:10-23), Paul addresses our unity within the body of Christ.  Paul is able to tie together our individual responsibility with our collective unity.  I would offer that most of us as Americans need far more discussion and contemplation of our collective unity.

Grammar tid-bit
παρα (3:11)  This preposition can mean many things; in this case it means "outside of" more than "alongside of." 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

This passage occurs in the RCL Year A Epiphany Season, most recently February 2017.

Summary:  This passage is paired with Jesus teaching on adultery and divorce.  Therefore, this passage is unlikely to be preached on.   However, I find myself drawn this year (2017) to Paul's letter to the Corinthians because they struggled with division; likewise, our culture, if not our congregations, are struggling with divisions, over politics, but more deeply over a host of underlying issues.

Paul reminds us that our purpose is to be servants of Christ; to spread his Word; to build up the body of Christ.  In this purpose I believe that Christians of different political backgrounds can find common ground.

Key Words
ερις ("heris", meaning "factions" or "disputes", 1 Cor 3:3)  This is not essential for the meaning of the passage, but I wanted to point it out.  The word "heresy" comes from the Greek for faction.  It did not originally mean dogmatically false.  It simply meant different.  Overtime, the factions within the church were used by God to formulate the key doctrines of the Christian faith:  That Jesus died and rose from the dead; that Jesus is fully God and fully man; that the Holy Spirit is coequal to the Father and Son.  Disagreement can be worked for God's greater purposes!

ανθροποι ("anthropoi" meaning "humanly", 3:4)  The cognate here should be clear; I highlight this word because it raises a question -- is Paul criticizing disagreement in general or disagreement in the church?  My sense is that neither Paul nor Jesus questions the necessity of disagreement or even courts of law.  This in turn raises my question:  What is the spiritual way to deal with conflict?   Matthew 18 addresses this practically: address the person directly, etc.  1 Corinthians 3 addresses this theoretically:  Remember your works are nothing before the cross (1:18) and that everything good comes from God.

διακονοι ("diakonia", meaning "servant", 3:5)  The term "deacon" in the church often is seen as meaning servant.  In this case Paul means servant, but he also means servant of the Word.  Deacons in the Bible and in the church have a call to ministry that includes both hands-on service but also proclamation.

ηυξανεν (from auxanoo, meaning "cause to grow", 3:6,7)  This verb comes into English in words like "augment"  A couple of things about its use grammatically"
- Paul indicates that he planted and Apollos watered.  Both of these verbs are aorist tense, suggesting a one time event.  When Paul writes that God causes to grow, Paul uses the imperfect tense, suggesting an on-going action.  This means that God's work continues long after, if not long before, the work that we do. 
- Paul even gives God a title in vs 3:7 when he employs a participle form of this verb:  God, the one who causes to grow.

εν ("hen" meaning "one", 3:8)  The NRSV and NIV say that Paul and Apollos have one common purpose.  The Greek is stronger than this:  Paul and Apollos are ONE.  Not have a common purpose, they are one.  In the next verse Paul will describe them as συνεργοι, or co-workers.

οικοδομη ("building up", 3:9)  This word can mean building.  I do not think this is the best translation.  Throughout 1 and 2 Corinthians, as well as Ephesians, Paul uses this word frequently.  He almost exclusively uses it to refer not to the building, but the act of building up.

- On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.  1 Corinthians 14:3
- So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church.  1 Corinthians 14:12
- Now, even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it.  2 Corinthians 10:8
- So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come, I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.  2 Corinthians 13:10
- to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  Ephesians 4:12

(2 Cor 5:1 and Eph 2:21 are exceptions but I feel they prove the point in that the buildings they refer to are not earthly, but the heavenly home of Christians or the eternal body of Christ.  Paul never uses this word to refer to the earthly Kingdom.)

This is not to say that the idea of a building is a bad one; Paul continues with this metaphor the rest of chapter 3.  My point is that Paul has in mind, I believe, a more dynamic metaphor here, not a static one.  We are not the finished building of God, but the always-being-grown (see discussion on imperfect tense earlier) body of Christ.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Luke 7:1-17

The narrative lectionary offers Luke 7:1-17 as one of its readings during the Epiphany season (most recently, February 5, 2017).  In the RCL, this passage is two separate passages, both of which I have written about.  Here are the links to those passages

Luke 7:1-10:  http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2013/05/luke-71-10.html  I offer some thoughts on faith and healing.

Luke 7:11-17:  http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2013/06/luke-711-17.html    I offer some possibilities of what Jesus means by prophet.