Wednesday, May 17, 2017

1 Peter 3:13-22

his verse appears in the RCL for Easter 6A, most recently May 21, 2017

Summary:  The Greek in this passage is quite difficult, so much so, in fact, that it reads more like a puzzle.  I've tried to identify some meaningful pieces of the puzzle.  Once you put them together, you get a clear image:  God saves us; our job is to do good and share the good news.  Repeat:  God saves.  I also explore the meaning of the some of the key words.

Key words:
ζηλωται  ("zealotai", adjective meaning "be zealous", 3:13)  The word for "be eager" is "zelotehs," ie, be a zealot. It is a reminder that we are not simply encouraged to do good, but hunger for righteousness!

τον φοβον αυτων (meaning "the fear of them, 3:14)  Interestingly, this phrase is translated, "Do not fear what they fear." But it literally reads, "Do not fear their fear..." in an age of fear, this perhaps a more helpful translation!

απολογια (apology, meaning "defense", 3:15)  The word for defense here is "apologia" (ie apology); the word here for "reason/accounting" is "logos." In some ways our apology for the faith, our defense is not simply a negative word but finally is the logos, or Christ.  In other words, we are not really defending something but giving away the word, who is Christ.

απαξ ("hapax" (rough breathing) meaning "once and for all", 3:18)  Basic idea:  Jesus does not have to die again.

ζωοποιηθεις ("zoo-poietheis" meaning "make alive", 3:18)  There is also another word in this verse: "zoopoie-oo." "To make alive." This verb in the New Testament appears almost exclusively in the context of the Spirit.  Furthermore, it is only God who makes alive! Yet in the previous verse, we were called to "do good" (agathopoie-oo). A reminder of our calling -- do good and give a witness; and the Spirit's calling - to make alive.

αντιτυπον ("antitype" meaning "prefigure", 3:21) The word for "prefigured" is "antitupos" (anti here does not mean apposed but pre)

σωζει ("sozo" meaning "save", 3:21)  The verb "save," used in conjunction with Baptism, is in the present tense.  This means that it does not simply save at one point, but continues to save us (a nice tie in then with the Gospel lesson about continual repentance).

συνειδησεως and επερωτημα (3:21)  The real question is what does the phrase "an appeal (επερωτημα) of a good conscience (συνειδησεως ) to God" mean. There is a lot of ink written about this construction; the word "appeal" is a less frequent word, making its intrepretation more challenging.  I suggest this verse is not about works-righteousness or some sort of baptismal pledge. It seems clear that the overall thrust of the passage is on the work of God through the resurrection to create life. And in the end, if justification by faith means the death of the sinner and the resurrection of the new creation, certainly this creation has a clear conscience before God.  Regardless, Baptism saves us through the resurrection of God; there is no sense that our good works save us!

Grammar Review:  When a sentence becomes a puzzle
3:13 This sentence is complex one in Greek; 1st of all, the word for "do bad" is a substantive participle; the word for "good" is substantive adjective (the good) and the verbs are all out of order...In this case, one might really need to look at other translations even to get started.  Break down what one knows and then see if one can put it together:
Και τις ο κακωσαν υμας εαν του αγαθου ζηλωται γενησθε
Και and
τις The accent marks will tell you if it is a pronoun (any, a, certain) or a question (who/what/where).  In this case, you have a question mark at the end, so it makes it easier to figure out it is a question.
ο κακωσαν υμας The one who does you bad/harm
εαν  If
του αγαθου of the good.  Why is this in the genitive?
ζηλωται ...it looks like a verb, but it means 'zealous'  In this case we can go back and figure out that seeking and good go together: seeking the good
γενησθε are (in subjunctive)  That this is in the second person tells us that the subject of the sentence is "you."
So...And what the one who does you harm if of the good seeking you are?
Or  "What becomes of the one doing bad to you if you are doing good?
Phew!  Again, break down what you know and use other translations to help!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Acts 17:16-31

This passage is found in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4 (Most recently May 18, 2014)
This passage, really Acts 17:22-31, is also found in the Revised Common Lectionary, Easter 6A)

Here is some commentary on the speech:  http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/2011/05/acts-1722-31.html
Also, here is a link from my travels to the aeropagus a number of years ago:
http://www.zionsjonestown.com/paul/athens/areopagus.htm

In this blog post I focus on the terms Epicurean and Stoic.  I think we all know many of these two stripes

Επικουριος (17:18)
Basically:  Lead a "happy" life, which consists not in lust but in moderation and keeping one's nose clean.  The gods exist, but don't interfere with human life; talk of good life makes sense, but talk of judgement and other-worldly salvation makes no sense.

NET Bible: 
An Epicurean was a follower of the philosophy of Epicurus, who founded a school in Athens about 300 B.C. Although the Epicureans saw the aim of life as pleasure, they were not strictly hedonists, because they defined pleasure as the absence of pain. Along with this, they desired the avoidance of trouble and freedom from annoyances. They saw organized religion as evil, especially the belief that the gods punished evildoers in an afterlife. In keeping with this, they were unable to accept Paul's teaching about the resurrection.
Wikipedia:
Epicurus believed that what he called "pleasure" is the greatest good, but the way to attain such pleasure is to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one's desires. This led one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear, as well as absence of bodily pain (aponia). The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism, insofar as it declares pleasure to be the sole intrinsic good, its conception of absence of pain as the greatest pleasure and its advocacy of a simple life make it different from "hedonism" as it is commonly understood.
Epicureans do not deny the existence of God, simply that the gods have moved on and are unconcerned with human life; His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. 

Στοικος (17:18)
Basically, lead a virtuous life.  This is difficult, but seed of good in each of us can be fostered to overcome evil.  God is in everything.  Although at odds with Epricureans, both stress an avoidance of passion.

NET Bible:
A Stoic was a follower of the philosophy founded by Zeno (342-270 B.C.), a Phoenician who came to Athens and modified the philosophical system of the Cynics he found there. The Stoics rejected the Epicurean ideal of pleasure, stressing virtue instead. The Stoics emphasized responsibility for voluntary actions and believed risks were worth taking, but thought the actual attainment of virtue was difficult. They also believed in providence.

Wiki on Scotism vs Christianity: 
The major difference between the two philosophies is Stoicism's pantheism, in which God is never fully transcendent but always immanent. God as the world-creating entity is personalized in Christian thought, but Stoicism equates God with the totality of the universe, which was deeply contrary to Christianity. The only incarnation in Stoicism is that each person has part of the logos within. Stoicism, unlike Christianity, does not posit a beginning or end to the universe.
Stoic writings such as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius have been highly regarded by many Christians throughout the centuries. The Stoic ideal of dispassion is accepted to this day as the perfect moral state by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Saint Ambrose of Milan was known for applying Stoic philosophy to his theology.

also:
σπερμολογος (17:18):  Seed talker, but more literally, sperm-logos.  For someone who simply picks up scraps of info; a babbler.
κατειδωλον (17:16):  Full of idols.  kata intensifies words!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Psalm 23, take 2

For Good Shepherd Sunday I've looked at Psalm 23.  Given people's emotional resonance with the Psalm, this passage does not call for one's "exegetical underwear."  That said, reading the actual Psalm presents more "earthy" image than the bucolic landscape scene the Psalm often conjures in our minds.  There is wet grass to be eaten, wine to be poured, death to be encountered and God's disciplining rod to be felt slamming into our side. To put it another way, God doesn't simply want to paint pictures, but truly revive our soul that we might return to his temple, time and time again, even in our everlasting life, made possible by the Good Shepherd.

Instead of key words, I offer a translation with commentary.

Verse 1:
"Yahweh shepherds me.  I do not lack."

The word "LORD" in Hebrew is Yahweh. This most of us know; I think two things are worth reflecting on here. First is that in English we always put the word "The" in front of the "LORD." In Hebrew it simply reads, "Yahweh is my shepherd." Second, we read the "LORD" with a certain complacency unimaginable to early readers of this.  The Hebrew reader replaces "Yahweh" and always says, "Adonai"

The word "Shepherd" is a verbal noun in Hebrew, that is, it is a participle (shepherding) that has been fixed into a noun. Thus, every time you read the word "Shepherd" in the OT, you are reading something much more akin to, "The one shepherding." If you notice the Vulgate and Septugint translation of this verse actually leave the word as a verb: "The Lord shepherds me."  Although telling people their favorite Psalm has been mistranslated is unlikely to be helpful, it is worth noting that God's work as a shepherd is an action!

The word for lack here,חסר, (kaser) is also used in Deuteronomy 2:7, when God says the people lacked nothing.   At this point the people were in the wilderness and had been for years.  A reminder that what God says we need is probably different from our own estimation.

The Greek (and Latin) add the word "nothing."  The Hebrew simply reads: "I am not wanting..."  The "nothing"; but I it implicit enough in the language that I do not consider this a translation foul!

Verse 2:
He makes me rest in meadows of lush grass; he leads me beside still waters.

I've translated this as "lush grass" and not "green pastures."  The word "green" as in "Green pastures" does not appear in the Hebrew.  The word is "grass." God is not simply giving us a pretty picture, but food!


The second half of this verse is often translated, "He leads me besides to still waters."  However poetic, this does not fully capture the idea.  The Hebrew here, מנחה (minukah), means "resting place." As Bible Work's TWOT dictionary says: "Basically the root nûaµ  (which means resting place) relates to absence of spatial activity and presence of security, as seen, e.g. in the ark which "rested" on Mount Ararat (Gen 8:4),"  The NET prefers the more active "refreshing" but I think the words, "still waters" captures the sense of rest that comes from utter trust.

Verse 3:
He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his glory.

The word "restore" is the reason I find Hebrew so wonderful but so frustrating. If you look at the word in English, you might have no clue that its root is שוב, which means to turn, even to repent. The sentence could read, "He turns my soul."  This is the verb used in the phrase, "Return to the Lord your God!"  Here God is returning our soul to him.

Soul, here נפש, (nephish) can mean a variety of things, but certainly not the idea of a wispy part of us that lives on after we die.  The Hebrew is trying to get at the core of our being; the NET tries to get at this by saying, "He restores my strength."  I think soul is fine, but you can see how the English ends up making this whole Psalm more "spiritual."

The word "name" as in "Name's sake" might be a little weak here. The word שם in Hebrew "Shem" means name, but in the sense of "reputation" or even "glory."

Verse 4:
Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

How does one translate "Valley of the shadow of death"?  I again defer to the TWOT dictionary, which is so helpful here: "It describes the darkness of eyelids tired from weeping (Job 16:16), the thick darkness present in a mine shaft (Job 28:3), the darkness of the abode of the dead (Job 10:21ff; Job 38:17), and the darkness prior to creation (Amos 5:8). Emotionally it describes the internal anguish of one who has rebelled against God (Psa 107:10-14; cf. Psa 44:19ff [H 20f]). Thus it is the strongest word in Hebrew for darkness." Shadow of darkness is probably too weak a translation, but the idea here is that it encompasses more than death.  The NRSV tries to get at this by writing, "Though I walk through the darkest valley" but really, for the average reader, "Valley of the Shadow of Death" gets at this...

The Hebrew here juxtaposes two words:  rod and comfort.   נחם (nakam, comfort) is a lovely word, but I'd like us to slow down and considering Bible Work's BDB definition of שבט (shebet), used here for "rod":  rod, staff, for smiting; for beating cummin ; as (inferior) weapon; fig. of  chastisement; national; individual. b. shaft, i.e. spear, dart. c. shepherd's implement, club; used in mustering or counting sheep.

Strange that this would be comforting!

Verse 5:
You prepare a table in the presence of those wishing me harm; you anoint my head with oil; my cup is full of wine

The phrase "in the presence of my enemies" delights the investigator!  It has the sense of "in front of my enemies."  I have read this Psalm many times but it never caught me that the table is not simply prepared privately amid trouble but literally, in the presence of enemies the person is having the table set!  Also the word for enemies is another verbal noun.  Much like shepherding, this word has an active connotation; the enemies are actively seeking your down-fall!

(heehee) The word here for "oil" is also "fat" and the word here for "overflow" is "saturate," so here we have a feast with saturated fats :-)  In fact, the Greek uses the word "made drunk."  There is something a bit almost vindictive about this verse:  "I am getting drunk thanks to you in front of those who hate me!"

Note:  The NET Bible has a long commentary on the word "anoint" and why the use "refresh" instead.  I will save that for the very hungry, but suffice to say, the Hebrew literally reads, "He fattened the oil on my head."

Verse 6:
Surely goodness and love will pursue me all my days and I will continue to return to the house of the Lord for all my days.

Sometimes translated, "faithfulness" חסד, kesed, means "love-in-constant-action-over-and-against-people's stupidity."  To avoid a mistranslation, translators often avoid "love" because that is such an emotional word.  However, it is more than faithfulness.  Also, that it is חסד means that the subject (or possessor) is God! 

"Follow" is too passive for רדפ.  It means pursue, like pursue enemies!

The Hebrew literally reads, "I will return in(to) the house of the Lord."  I like the image not simply of dwelling but of returning to the house of the Lord.  The verb is in a continuous tense, so the idea here is that just as God's goodness and love pursue the person, the person returns to God's temple.  Furthermore, the continuous nature of the verb allows us to imagine, in a way that is probably untenable to the Hebrew mind, always returning to the house of the Lord, even after death!  The literal translation probably leans more toward "all the days of my life" instead of "forever" but again, I think this continual tense of the verb allows us to imagine the idea of a forever returning to God's holy presence.